Friday, April 28, 2006
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis freshman forward Shawne Williams is going to announce that he will enter the NBA Draft. However, Williams’ grandfather Leon Williams says that he is not going to hire an agent, leaving the option of returning to the Tigers open. He says, “He’s torn on the decision because he enjoys school, but the (financial) needs overshadow everything else. The time is right if he can get the money and get a good contract.” Moreover, Leon Williams also said that if Shawne is not a Top-20 pick, he will likely go back to Memphis. Williams helped lead Memphis to the Elite Eight this past season, averaging 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. Teammate Darius Washington has also said he is likely to enter the NBA Draft.
Darius Washington to Enter NBA Draft
According to DraftExpress.com, Memphis sophomore guard Darius Washington is going to enter the NBA Draft. Moreover, he also has said that he would not be testing the waters and would go in the draft “for good.” Washington, a two-year starter at the point for Memphis, helped lead the Tigers to the Elite Eight this past season, averaging 13.4 points, 3.1 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. Teammate Shawne Williams is expected to announce his intentions in the coming days.
Monday, April 24, 2006
According to various sources, Arizona freshman forward Marcus Williams has announced that he will enter the NBA Draft. However, FOX Sports says that he will not hire an agent, leaving the option of returning to the Wildcats open. On the other hand, though, Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star said that, earlier this month, Williams said that he would hire an agent if he decided to enter the Draft. Williams' stock has risen in the past few weeks, potentially making him a Top-20 pick. He averaged 13.0 ppg, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.0 steal per game this past season. Teammate Mustafa Shakur has already announced he is testing the waters.
Shannon Brown to Enter NBA Draft
According to ESPN.com, Michigan State junior guard Shannon Brown will enter the NBA Draft. However, he will not hire an agent, leaving the option of returning to the Spartans open. Brown said, “My lifelong dream has been to be an NBA player. By testing the draft waters, I am allowing myself to make a more informed decision while keeping all my options open.” Brown helped lead Michigan State to the NCAA Tournament this past season, averaging 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game.
Daniel Gibson to Enter NBA Draft
According to DraftExpress.com, Texas sophomore guard Daniel Gibson is expected to announce his intentions to enter the NBA Draft in the coming days. However, he is not going to hire an agent, leaving him the chance of returning to the Longhorns if he does not receive the feedback he wants. Sources say that one of the reasons Gibson is leaning towards the draft is that he and the Texas coaching staff do not agree on the role that he is going to play next season. He averaged 13.4 points, 3.1 assists, and 1.3 steals per game last season, helping lead the Longhorns to the Elite Eight. Teammates LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker have already announced that they are entering the NBA Draft.
George Washington Duo to Enter NBA Draft
According to George Washington’s official website, GWsports.com, George Washington junior guards Carl Elliot and Danilo “J.R.” Pinnock have announced that they are going to enter the NBA Draft. However, neither of them will hire an agent, leaving the option of returning to the Colonials open. The 6-4 Elliot is a three-year starter at the point, averaging 11.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 2.0 steals per game this past season. The 6-5 Pinnock was the Atlantic-10 Sixth Man of the Year in his sophomore season before moving into the starting lineup this past season, averaging 14.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 2.4 steals per game.
Larry Blair to Enter NBA Draft
According to Liberty’s official athletic website, LibertyFlames.com, Liberty junior guard Larry Blair has announced that he is going to enter the NBA Draft. However, he is just “testing the waters” by not signing an agent, leaving the option of returning to the Flames open. Blair said, “We felt this was a good opportunity and that I was prepared for it”, while his coach, Randy Dunton, said “Larry’s performance and abilities merit consideration by the NBA. Personally, I believe that the experience of competing with that caliber of athlete only provides Larry with greater incite and motivation to reach his goals.” Blair is a three-time all-Big South player who averaged 22.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game this past season.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
#1 San Antonio over #8 Sacramento in 6
#4 Dallas over #5 Memphis in 5
#6 LA Clippers over #3 Denver in 6
#7 LA Lakers over #2 Phoenix in 7
#1 San Antonio over #4 Dallas in 7
#7 LA Lakers over #6 LA Clippers in 6
#1 San Antonio over #7 LA Lakers in 6
#1 Detroit over #8 Milwaukee in 5
#4 Cleveland over #5 Washington in 7
#3 New Jersey over #6 Indiana in 4
#2 Miami over #7 Chicago in 6
#1 Detroit over #4 Cleveland in 5
#3 New Jersey over #2 Miami in 7
#1 Detroit over #3 New Jersey in 6
#1 Detroit over #1 San Antonio in 6
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
According to DraftExpress.com, Maryland juniors D.J. Strawberry and Ekene Ibekwe are going to announce their intentions to enter the NBA Draft. However, neither of them will hire an agent, leaving the option of returning to the Terrapins open. Strawberry, a 6-5 guard, averaged 10.3 points, 4.0 assists, and 1.8 steals per game, while Ibekwe, a 6-9 forward, put up 11.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per night. This move was relatively unexpected, as neither player had received much NBA interest up to this point.
Leon Powe to Enter NBA Draft
According to Andy Katz and ESPN.com, California sophomore forward Leon Powe is expected to announce today that he will enter the NBA Draft. However, his mentor Bernard Ward, said that he will not hire and agent, leaving the option of returning to the Golden Bears open. Many have expected Powe, a possible first-round pick, to make this move since the season ended, given that he has little left to prove at Cal. He averaged 20.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game last season, earning second-team All-America honors.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
According to the Indianapolis Star, Indiana sophomore forward Robert Vaden will follow former Hoosier coach Mike Davis to UAB and will play for the Blazers. Vaden said, “I came to IU to play for coach Davis and I want to continue my career where he is coaching. This wasn’t a real difficult decision.” This move has been expected ever since it was announced that Davis would be stepping down as the coach of Indiana. Teammate D.J. White has also been rumored as a potential transfer to follow Davis, but he has not yet made an announcement. Vaden averaged 13.5 points and 5.5 rebounds last season.
Morris Almond to Enter the NBA Draft
According to Rice's official athletic website, riceowls.com, Rice junior forward Morris Almond has announced that he is going to enter the NBA Draft. However, he is just "testing the waters" by not signing an agent, leaving the option of returning to the Owls open. Almond said, "Having just completed my junior season, I feel the time is right for me to explore my options and take this next step towards my goal of playing in the NBA." Almond led Conference-USA in scoring last season with 21.9 points per game and also led the team in rebounding at 5.8 per game. He was named to the All-Conference USA first team.
Monday, April 17, 2006
According to a variety of sources, LSU freshman forward Tyrus Thomas will announce today that he is going to enter the NBA Draft. However, ESPN.com says that he will hire an agent, while DraftExpress.com says that he is just “testing the waters” and will not hire an agent. A press conference will be held today at 4 PM for Thomas to announce exactly what he plans on doing. Thomas, who scouts say has a chance to be the #1 overall pick, was the SEC Freshman of the Year and averaged 12.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game last season.
Rudy Gay to Enter NBA Draft
According to sources, Connecticut sophomore forward Rudy Gay will hold a press conference today at 3 PM to announce his intentions to enter the NBA Draft and hire an agent. He has been expected to skip the final two seasons of his college career since he first stepped foot on the UConn campus. Gay, a projected lottery pick, averaged 15.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game last season. Fellow UConn teammate Josh Boone has already announced that he was testing the waters, while reports have also said that Marcus Williams will announce that he will hire an agent and enter the Draft.
Adam Morrison to Enter NBA Draft
According to DraftExpress.com, Gonzaga junior forward Adam Morrison is going to hold a press conference this week to announce his intentions to enter the NBA Draft and hire an agent. He is going to hire Chicago-based agent Mark Bartelstein, according to sources. It has been expected all season that he would forgo his final year of eligibility. Morrison, a projected Top-5 pick, led the nation in scoring with 28.1 points per game last season and also won various Player of the Year awards.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
According to The News & Observer and the Greensboro News Record, North Carolina State sophomore forward Cedric Simmons is expected to enter the NBA Draft. However, he will not hire an agent, thus leaving him a chance to return to Raleigh if he does not receive the feedback he wants. Agent Kevin Bradbury says “As I understand it, he’s going to declare for the draft and go through the workouts. If he doesn’t like what he hears, he will go back.” Simmons averaged 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game last season and is considered to be a first-round lock.
Brandon Rush Staying at Kansas
According to The Kansas City Star, freshman Kansas guard Brandon Rush has reaffirmed his intentions to return to the Jayhawks next season. Following their first-round loss to Bradley, Rush had originally announced that he was staying in Lawrence. However, there were rumors swirling around the past few weeks that Rush was going to enter the NBA Draft. “I’m definitely coming back,” Rush said. “I would have to have heard I was a guaranteed first round pick. From everything I’ve seen I’m not a guaranteed first round pick. People say I’m a first or second round pick, so I’ll be back.” He averaged 13.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game a season ago.
Friday, April 7, 2006
Obviously, these rankings are definitely going to change over the next few months, with early-entries, coaching changes, etc. I will have a fresh set of revised rankings after the NBA Draft, but, until then, this is what the college basketball scope looks like heading into the offseason.
1. North Carolina: One of the most improved teams in the country from start to finish, the Tar Heels are my favorite to cut down the nets next spring. They lose All-Conference forward David Noel, but the nation's #1 recruiting class brings in more than enough reinforcements. According to several recruiting outlets, UNC has the #1 point guard (Tywon Lawson), the #1 shooting guard (Wayne Ellington), and the #1 power forward (Brendan Wright) coming in. Add that to the nation's top returning post player in Tyler Hansbrough and one of the most versatile scorers in the country in Reyshawn Terry, and you have a team capable of winning the title. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention two more returning starters in Bobby Frasor and Wes Miller and several other players that saw considerable time off the bench. If the young players develop enough, look for this team to be the National Champion next April.
2. Florida: The defending National Champions return all five starters and only stand to get better with the additional year of experience. So why not the preseason #1 spot? To put it simply, there is too much parity in college basketball for a team to repeat. However, they have more than enough talent returning not to be near the top of the polls all season long. Joakim Noah could come into the season as an All-America candidate, while Corey Brewer was one of the best all-around players in the country down the stretch. Al Horford has great potential down low, and Taurean Green is a solid point guard. Lee Humphrey is an excellent shooter on the wing. Moreover, the Gators return several bench players that played a key role in their title run.
3. Kansas: Similar to North Carolina, the Jayhawks were one of the most improved teams in the country from how they started to the way they finished the regular season. Kansas returns their top seven scorers, and also bring in one of the best point guard recruits in the country in Sherron Collins. Brandon Rush, if he decides to stay, could develop into one of the best players in the nation if he becomes more aggressive. Mario Chalmers improved in leaps and bounds as the season went on, and could be a star. Julian Wright is one of the most versatile forwards around. Throw in Russell Robinson, a very good all-around guard, and a host of post players, and KU has what it takes to make a Final Four run.
4. UCLA: Another young team that improved as the season wore on, and was playing their best basketball at the end of the year. If they carry the momentum from their Title Game run over to next season, the Bruins could make a repeat Final Four run. Of course, it all depends on what the star backcourt of Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo decide to do about their NBA futures. Afflalo is likely to stay, but Farmar could decide to go early. If they return, UCLA has the best backcourt in the country. Moreover, on the perimeter, Josh Shipp returns from injury. Up front, Luc Richard Mbah a Mboute could develop into an All-Pac-10 player. If the inside players give the Bruins solid production down low, look for UCLA to take the conference title again.
5. Memphis: In most seasons, the top teams in the Pre-Preseason Poll are not completely filled with teams that were young a season ago and developed into a very formidable club as the season wore on. But that is just how this season is shaping up. Memphis is another team just like the aforementioned four--they started off somewhat slow but improved steadily until March. However, the Tigers lose All-American Rodney Carney on the wing. He could be tough to replace, but Memphis has loads of athletic wings to take his place. Darius Washington is a scorer at the point (if he stays), while Shawne Williams could become a dominant player (if he stays). Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts are very good wings that can score and defend. Andre Allen came on strong in the postseason. Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier anchor the interior. Don't forget about incoming point guard Willie Kemp, either. Memphis will dominate Conference-USA once again.
6. Ohio State: They lose four starters, including the Big Ten Player of the Year. So why the high praise? Just look at the recruiting class. Greg Oden is being regarded as the next dominant big man in the world of basketball. He will more than enough as a replacement for Terence Dials. His high school teammate Mike Conley was one of the best point guard recruits and Daequan Cook was the third McDonald's All-American on the squad. Throw in David Lighty, an athletic wing, and the Buckeyes should be stocked for a couple years. Add the incoming players to a group of returnees including point guard Jamar Butler, super sixth man Ron Lewis, and post man Ivan Harris, and OSU fans will quickly forget about the loss of all the players from this past season.
7. Texas: What many considered one of the two most talented teams in the country this past season could be in the running for a national title again. However, that depends on the status of P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Longhorns already lost to Brad Buckman to graduation; if Tucker and Aldridge both go pro, Texas could have a down year in the Big 12. However, if one stays (I see Tucker returning), expect the Longhorns to compete against Kansas for the league title. The incoming players will give them a boost as well. Kevin Durant has emerged as the clear-cut #2 player in the class behind Greg Oden and could be a star next season. D.J. Augustin will also give the Longhorns solid play at the point. As for the returnees, Daniel Gibson is one of the better guards in the Big 12, while A.J. Abrams has a lot of potential. Mike Williams will have to have a big season next year up front.
8. LSU: This past season, John Brady took a young team that started three freshmen and had no true point guard in the lineup to an SEC title and a Final Four berth. He will have a lot more talent to deal with next season. However, that all depends on what Tyrus Thomas and Glen Davis decide to do. Thomas has the chance to be the #1 pick in the next Draft, while Davis is likely to go in the first round. If both stay, LSU could make another deep Tournament run. For now, I expect Thomas to go and Davis to return for another year. Also up front, Tasmin Mitchell can do a variety of things at the small forward spot. Garrett Temple is an athletic wing, while Magnum Rolle and Darnell Lazare are two more very good forwards. Add that to the fact that point guard Tack Minor returns from injury and Marquette transfer Dameon Mason is also elgibile. Another big year should be in the makings for LSU.
9. Georgetown: Surprised to see the first Big East team at #9? Don't be. The country's best conference this past season is going to have a down year next season. However, Georgetown will be the best that the Big East has to offer--and that is plenty good enough. The Hoyas return one of the best frontcourt combos in the country in versatile forward Jeff Green and improving 7-2 center Roy Hibbert. They also get an influx of more talent up front in the form of Indiana transfer Pat Ewing, Jr. and five-star recruit Vernon Macklin, as well as inside-outside recruit DaJuan Summers. The perimeter loses a lot, but Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp should be solid in the backcourt.
10. Wisconsin: The Badgers collapsed down the stretch and were blown out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Arizona. However, they should be much better next season. Likely Preseason All-America Alando Tucker will be back, and his ability to get points in a variety of ways will be crucial. Kammron Taylor is a very good scoring point guard, while Brian Butch is a nice inside-outside big man. Michael Flowers and Jason Chappell also return as starters, while Marcus Landry, if academically eligible, will give the Badgers a player that can create his own shot. The incoming backcourt duo of Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes will help out Wisconsin's depth and scoring ability on the perimeter.
11. Texas A&M: Texas A&M? Yes, the Aggies could contend for a Big 12 title next season. Acie Law IV is going to be one of the best point guards in the country, while Joseph Jones is a very good big man. Josh Carter and Dominique Kirk are solid on the perimeter, and Antanas Kavaliauskas and Marlon Pompey provide scoring and rebounding in the paint. Watch out for A&M next year.
12. Villanova: While the Wildcats lose All-America guards Randy Foye and Allan Ray, they should be competitive again. Curtis Sumpter returns from a knee injury, and Kyle Lowry (if he stays) and Mike Nardi will form a very good backcourt. Will Sheridan is a solid big man, while Dante Cunnigham and Shane Clark are developing forwards. Forwards Reggie Redding and Antonio Pena lead a nice recruiting class.
13. Pittsburgh: This is banking on Aaron Gray smarting up and returning to school instead of entering the NBA Draft. If he goes pro, drop the Panthers a few slots. Either way, Pitt is loaded on the perimeter. Levance Fields and Ronald Ramon are crafty scorers, while Antonio Graves and Keith Benjamin are solid. Up front, Sam Young and Levon Kendall are good rebounders and all-around players.
14. Arizona: With the loss of two players that never lived up to their potential in Hassan Adams and Chris Rodgers, Arizona will be better off. Mustafa Shakur looked better towards the end of the season, and Marcus Williams was one of the best freshmen in the country. The return from injury of Jawann McClellan and the arrival of Chase Budinger should bolster the perimeter, while Ivan Radenovic and Kirk Walters are back down low.
15. Connecticut: They potentially lose five starters, but I am confident that Josh Boone will return to school after realizing he's not ready for the NBA. Even without him, UConn has talent. Jeff Adrien could breakout down low, while Craig Austrie has proven himself at the point. Incoming forwards Curtis Kelly and Stanley Robinson could both start immediately, while Jerome Dyson is a scorer on the wing.
16. Wichita State: Maybe I'm high on the whole mid-major thing, but the Shockers sure look impressive. They return four starters from a Sweet 16 team. Kyle Wilson and P.J. Couisnard are excellent forwards, while Sean Ogirri is an outstanding shooter on the wing. Matt Braeur and Karon Bradley anchor the backcourt. Incoming forward Arbry Butler will provide athleticism in the frontcourt.
17. Boston College: A distant second behind the top ACC team, the Eagles will still be competitive without All-American Craig Smith and senior leader Louis Hinnant. Jared Dudley is one of the top forwards in the country, while Sean Marshall is a good defender and shooter. Tyrese Rice has potential in the backcourt, and Sean Williams is an exceptional shot-blocker up front. Al Skinner's teams are always tough to beat.
18. Alabama: After being forced to play shorthanded last season due to injuries, the Crimson Tide will be back in the SEC race after an offseason to recover. Ronald Steele is one of the top three point guards in the country, while Jermareo Davidson is a double-double threat down low. Richard Hendrix should dominate the low post with a year under his belt and Alonzo Gee should be a very good scorer.19. Duke: The Blue Devils this far down? Yes, especially if Josh McRoberts enters the NBA Draft as is expected. Without him, Duke only returns Greg Paulus and DeMarcus Nelson from last season's rotation. Both are solid players, but they are going to need a lot of help. Gerald Henderson was one of the best shooting guard recruits, while Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek will also contribute immediately.
20. Southern Illinois: Another Missouri Valley team in the Top 20. The Salukis play outstanding defense and return all five starters and every contributing player from last year's MVC Tournament Champion team. Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young form a very good backcourt on both ends of the floor, while Matt Shaw is a versatile forward. Randal Falker anchors the low post. As long as coach Chris Lowery is back, SIU will be a tough team.
21. Florida State: The Seminoles were on the bubble this past season, but should be comfortably in the Big Dance next year. Al Thornton and Alexander Johnson form one of the conference's best inside tandems and can carry FSU. Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann also return as starters in the backcourt. Add to that group Auburn transfer Toney Douglas and the Seminoles should have the goods to make a run in the ACC.
22. Louisville: The Cardinals didn't make the NCAA Tournament last season and they lose star guard Taquan Dean. So why the optimism? Well, to put it simply, Louisville is loaded. Juan Palacios and David Padgett are a very good inside duo, while Brandon Jenkins and Terrence Williams form a solid perimeter tandem. Moreover, Rick Pitino is bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
23. Syracuse: As long as the Orange find a suitable replacement for Gerry McNamara, they should be fine. Five-star recruit Paul Harris will help on the wing, while Eric Devendorf should be a go-to-guy on the perimeter. The key will be the frontcourt play of Terrence Roberts, Demetris Nichols, and Darryl Watkins. If those three play to their potential, Syracuse will not fall at all. If they don't, 'Cuse will be an also-ran in the Big East race.
24. Georgia Tech: An 11-17 team this past season, the Yellow Jackets return their top seven scorers and bring in two of the top recruits in the country. Javaris Crittenton is a super-scorer at the point, while Thaddeus Young is a future NBA star. Tech also returns an excellent inside-outside duo in shooter Anthony Morrow and inside force Ra'Sean Dickey. Jeremis Smith is a big-time rebounder down low.
25. Washington: For the second season in a row, the Huskies lose four key players from a Sweet 16 team. And, once again, they will bounce back strong. Justin Dentmon is developing at the point and Ryan Appleby is a good shooter. Jon Brockman could be an All-Pac-10 forward. Lorenzo Romar also brings in an exceptional class. Spencer Hawes is the #2 center behind Greg Oden, and Quincy Poindexter is a scorer on the wing.
Ten Other Teams to Watch:
- Xavier: A-10 Tourney Champ adds OU transfer Drew Lavender to a deep and talented team.
- Hofstra: Best backcourt in the mid-major world should keep the Pride in the national eye.
- California: If Leon Powe returns, the Golden Bears will be in the thick of the Pac-10 race.
- Oklahoma State: Top ten scorers return and Cowboys bring in very good recruiting class.
- Tennessee: Shooter Chris Lofton and coach Bruce Pearl should keep Vols competitive.
- Marquette: Dominic James could be one of the best PGs in the country next season.
- Michigan: NIT runner-up has nice inside-outside combo in Courney Sims and Dion Harris.
- Gonzaga: If Adam Morrison stays, move Zags into the Top 20. If not, Zags will still win WCC.
- Indiana: As long as D.J. White and Robert Vaden stay, Hoosiers will be tough in Big Ten.
- Kentucky: If the perimeter players play to their ability, Kentucky will be in the SEC race.
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
Feel free to take a look back at some of the biggest projects I've done this past season: 2005-2006 College Basketball Season Preview, 2006 Championship Week Preview, and the 2006 NCAA Tournament Preview.
Moving on...sorry for the lack of posts the past two days, but I've been very busy with a variety of things. In order words, I simply have not had the time.
But don't worry, I'll be back with new articles on Friday and every week thereafter. Friday, I will have my Pre-Preseason Top 25 for next season, and some other teams to watch heading into next year.
Then, throughout the offseason, I'll have various articles discussing different things. For example, I'll analyze the early-entries into the NBA Draft and how they will affect their respective teams. I'll also have a Top Ten College Basketball Cities article, breaking down the top cities where college basketball players came from in the 2005-2006 season. And, of course, I'll have articles on next year's batch of recruits.
It should be a very interesting offseason, with all the coaching changes and personnel turnover. Stay locked into March Madness All Season for all the latest in analysis and news and you will never feel lost in the college basketball world.
Monday, April 3, 2006
How They Got Here:
UCLA came into their region as the most popular Final Four pick (along with Kansas), and has obviously not disappointed those who chose the Bruins. They opened the Tournament with an easy win over Belmont, followed by a very competitive win against Alabama. However, against the Tide, they seemed like they were in control the entire contest. In the Sweet Sixteen, UCLA made the type of comeback that can propel a team to a National Championship. After being down by 19 at one point, the Bruins came all the way back to take the lead on Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's lay-up in the waning seconds. Their Elite Eight game against Memphis was one of the ugliest games of the Tournament, but the Bruins played their game and forced the Tigers into an awful shooting night. They faced another team of Tigers in the Final Four when they went up against the vaunted athleticism and frontcourt of LSU. Potential #1 pick Tyrus Thomas of LSU had only 5 points, and UCLA's stout defense and rebounding did not allow the Tigers to use their length and size to dominate the game. UCLA rolled to an easy 14-point win that was not as close as that score.
Florida has been arguably the most impressive team in the entire NCAA Tournament so far. They blew out their first two opponents, South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In the first round, the Gators shook off a poorly-played first half to outscore the Jaguars by twenty in the second half for an easy win. Annual upset pick Wisconsin-Milwaukee did not get the chance to play in the Sweet Sixteen after playing the Gators. Florida jumped out to an early lead and controlled the game throughout for their second dominant victory in a row. It surely was not the same against Georgetown in the Sweet Sixteen. The slow-down style of the Hoyas gave the Gators some problems through the game, but their ability to play at any tempo helped them out down the stretch. Down one, Corey Brewer hit an acrobatic, falling-down three-point play with under thirty seconds left. Two free throws in the final seconds gave Florida a four-point win and a berth in the Elite Eight. The Final Four win over Villanova might have been the best win of the season for them, though. The Gators sent a message from the opening tap that they were going to control the paint, and they did. Taurean Green provided just enough from the perimeter in order for Florida to advance in what was never a competitive game in the second half. In the Final Four, the Gators went up against Cinderella story George Mason. The clock struck midnight for the Patriots, though. Florida used their advantage in athleticism and size to take over the second half in a 14-point victory.
5 Key Questions:
1. Which team will impose their style more effectively? Both squads play contrasting styles. Florida would rather get up and down the floor to get baskets in transition, while UCLA likes to play in the half-court, where they can play five-on-five. The Bruins slow down the game and force opposing teams to make shots in the half-court. If Florida can get their fast break offense game going, it forces UCLA to match-up with the Gators' athletes in transition. This could be the most important thing to watch for heading into the title game.
2. Can UCLA's underrated frontcourt match-up with Florida's trio up front? The Gators have had one of the most impressive post duos in the NCAA Tournament so far in Joakim Noah and Al Horford. Noah has used his versatility and energy to become a household name in college basketball, while Horford is averaging a double-double down low. Moreover, Corey Brewer has been a go-to-guy. UCLA does not have any "name" players up front, but they looked very good in shutting down LSU's frontcourt. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is one of the most underrated freshmen in the nation, while Cedric Bozeman, Ryan Hollins, etc. are also very effective. If UCLA can shut down the Gators' trio the same way they did to LSU, they have a better shot at winning this game.
3. Will Florida be able to hit enough outside shots in the half-court offense? Teams have shot 11 for 63 (17%) from beyond the arc against UCLA in the NCAA Tournament, which has been a key reason the Bruins have advanced this far. On the other hand, the Gators are a pretty solid three-point shooting team on the season, hitting outside shots at a 39% clip. Lee Humphrey is the main gunner for Florida and will need to hit a couple of jumpers early to give the Gators confidence and momentum in case it becomes a half-court game. Florida can play at any style or pace, and their outside shooting is a reason why.
4. Whose bench will come up bigger?/Which team will have the unsung player that makes a difference? This may not seem as important as the other ones, but it is. In the championship game, players are going to have to step up in order for their team to win. Some of those unsung players are going to come off the bench. Both teams can go fairly deep down the roster. UCLA's Darren Collison has contributed throughout the season in a variety of ways, while Florida's Walter Hodge and Chris Richard could be key players off the bench.
5. Who will be the go-to-guy to step up down the stretch? Neither team got to this point by riding one player. Florida is the most balanced team in the country, while UCLA has an excellent backcourt duo in Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo. When these two teams need a basket with the clock winding down, they have several options to go to. For the Bruins, I think that Farmar is very good at isolating himself and getting into the lane to create a shot for himself and his teammates. Moreover, Afflalo is very good in the mid-range. For Florida, Corey Brewer can score in different ways, making him difficult to defend. Joakim Noah is a match-up problem. If I had to give the edge to one player, I think Afflalo is the most difficult player in the game to defend. They could be crucial down the stretch.
Team and Player Breakdowns:
UCLA has been one of the top 15 teams in the country the whole year, and are playing excellent basketball lately, having won 16 of their past 18 games, including 12 in a row--the longest winning streak in the country.. They are one of the most efficient teams in the nation shooting the ball and also have one of the better scoring defenses in the country. In their recent streak, they have only given up over 60 points once. They are led by their outstanding backcourt duo of Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar. Afflalo is an excellent defender and might be even more dangerous on offense, while Farmar is an outstanding passer at the point. Afflalo is very good in the mid-range and can also shoot the ball from outside. Farmar is excellent at getting into the lane off of penetration and either taking the shot himself or dishing it off to a teammate after drawing a defender. Darren Collison is a developing scorer coming off the bench. He contributes in a variety of ways. Up front, a newcomer leads the way. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has been the best freshman in the Pac-10, and is a very good rebounder. He also held the heralded Tyrus Thomas to 6 points and 5 rebounds in the Final Four. He has been nothing short of spectacular in the NCAA Tournament. Cedric Bozeman is a versatile wing who can do many things. His defense and athleticism is key for the Bruins. Inside, Ryan Hollins leads the way but Alfred Aboya also contributes. Neither is a big-time producer in either scoring and rebounding, but they provide a big body and some solid defense. Hollins has been a stellar performer in the NCAA Tournament. Lorenzo Mata has played well off the bench down low, while Michael Roll provides good outside shooting when he comes into the game.
Florida might be the most balanced team in the country, as they have five guys that average double-figures and are capable of having big games. They have won 10 games in a row, including an SEC Tournament title prior to the NCAA Tournament. The Gators can play at any style or pace, which makes them difficult to prepare for. Their balance is tough to defend against, as they can beat you in so many different ways. Florida has depth and talent in the post that few teams in the country can match. Joakim Noah is a terrific athlete who can score, rebound, and block shots with the best of them. His stock has risen considerably in the NCAA Tournament, as he has been one of the most impressive players in the country with his ability to do a variety of things. Fellow future pro Al Horford is a very good rebounder and defender who uses his athleticism to get putbacks. He has a solid mid-range game and has averaged a double-double in the NCAA Tournament. Corey Brewer rounds out one of the best frontcourts in the country. He is very athletic and can do nearly everything on the court. Brewer is an oustanding all-around player who was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and has developed into a go-to-guy for the Gators. Off the bench is Chris Richard, who could start for most teams in the nation. He is extremely efficient at scoring the ball once he gets it in the paint. Adrian Moss also sees minutes off the pine down low. Taurean Green is one of the most improved players in the country at the point guard position. He is a good scorer and a very solid distributor. When his shot is falling, he can be one of the better lead guards around. Lee Humphrey is an outstanding three-point shooter who is going to play a big role in tonight's game with his ability to knock down the outside shot. Walter Hodge is a good outside shooter who is quick and athletic. He provides a nice change of pace when he is in the game. David Huertas has seen more minutes in the NCAA Tournament due to the size that he provides in the backcourt.
Jordan Farmar vs. Taurean Green: They are two of the best point guards in the country. However, Farmar is more consistent and has the ability to dominate a game at the top of the key. Advantage: UCLA
Arron Afflalo vs. Lee Humphrey: A very interesting matchup. Afflalo is a versatile scorer and is also one of the best defenders in the country, while Humphrey is really nothing more than a shooter. Advantage: UCLA
Cedric Bozeman vs. Corey Brewer: Both players are versatile and athletic. Brewer, though, is an outstanding defender and has been a very good go-to-guy for Florida. Bozeman will have his hands full. Advantage: Florida
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute vs. Al Horford: Going into the NCAA Tournament, this would obviously go to Horford. However, Mbah a Moute has played superb in the Big Dance and has been key to UCLA's run. Advantage: Even.
Ryan Hollins vs. Joakim Noah: Both players have stood out in the NCAA Tournament, but Noah has received more press. There is a reason why--he is one of the top big men in the country due to his all-around play. Advantage: Florida.
UCLA Bench vs. Florida Bench: Other than Darren Collison, the Bruins do not have an overly consistent player that comes off the bench. However, Billy Donovan has a multitude of options when he needs to make a substitution. Chris Richard and Walter Hodge will be key in tonight's game. Advantage: Florida.
Ben Howland vs. Billy Donovan: Another outstanding match-up. Both have been mentioned as candidates for Coach of the Year. Howland has overcome injuries and lack of depth, while Donovan has molded an extremely young team into a team 40 minutes from a national title. Advantage: Even.
Who's Going to Win and Why:
This game is going to be a classic. After Saturday's Final Four contests, I sure hope it is. Both teams are complete contrasts of each other, but are relatively even when it comes down to it. UCLA's backcourt is outstanding, while Florida is driven by their frontcourt. UCLA likes to play in the half-court, Florida would rather play in transition. The differences between these two teams is going to make it fun to watch. On the perimeter, Lee Humphrey is going to need to hit some outside shots for Florida, and he also can't allow Arron Afflalo to dominate on the offensive end. In my opinion, both teams would be better off if Billy Donovan put Corey Brewer on Afflalo and Ben Howland put Afflalo on Brewer. Both players are their teams' best defender and all-around player. That head-to-head battle would be unbelievable. At the point guard spot, Taurean Green has to stay in front of Jordan Farmar and not let him constantly get into the paint to get easy baskets for him and his teammates. Down low, the key for UCLA will be if Ryan Hollins' length and size will give Joakim Noah problems. Noah is extremely athletic and versatile and has dominated nearly every team he has played so far. At the other forward spot, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is going to need to get offensive boards so Al Horford and the Gators do not control the glass. Both players are athletic and are outstanding rebounders. In what should be an excellent game that comes down to the final minutes, the difference is going to be Florida's balance. They have a huge edge in the frontcourt over UCLA's big men, and their backcourt is just good enough to keep up with UCLA. If Green and Humphrey are hitting their outside shots and Florida does not get bogged down in a slow-down game, the Gators will win the game. In other words, expect Florida to be crowned the 2006 National Champions.
Prediction: Florida 62, UCLA 59
Saturday, April 1, 2006
Will George Mason's unforgettable Cinderella run continue to the National Championship game? Or will Florida reach their second Title Game of the decade? While LSU and UCLA are playing in what is sort of the "forgotton Final Four game" of the two, George Mason and Florida have been constantly talked about and discussed throughout the past week. The Patriots had not won an NCAA Tournament game before this season, while the Gators have made it to the Final Four without a senior in the starting lineup. There are storylines abound in this contest.
Florida has been arguably the most impressive team in the entire NCAA Tournament so far. They blew out their first two opponents, South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In the first round, the Gators shook off a poorly-played first half to outscore the Jaguars by twenty in the second half for an easy win. Annual upset pick Wisconsin-Milwaukee did not get the chance to play in the Sweet Sixteen after playing the Gators. Florida jumped out to an early lead and controlled the game throughout for their second dominant victory in a row. It surely was not the same against Georgetown in the Sweet Sixteen. The slow-down style of the Hoyas gave the Gators some problems through the game, but their ability to play at any tempo helped them out down the stretch. Down one, Corey Brewer hit an acrobatic, falling-down three-point play with under thirty seconds left. Two free throws in the final seconds gave Florida a four-point win and a berth in the Elite Eight. The Final Four win over Villanova might have been the best win of the season for them, though. The Gators sent a message from the opening tap that they were going to control the paint, and they did. Taurean Green provided just enough from the perimeter in order for Florida to advance in what was never a competitive game in the second half.
George Mason was not supposed to be in the NCAA Tournament. Or at least that's what the popular opinion was heading into the Big Dance. I'm pretty sure the Patriots have proven themselves with their performance so far. They opened the Tournament against a popular sleeper pick in Michigan State. GMU seemed to be in control for the majority of the game and pulled the upset over the Spartans--a sign of things to come. In the next round, against North Carolina, the Patriots were down big early, but they chipped away at the lead and hit clutch shots down the stretch to pull a second upset in a row to head to the Sweet Sixteen. A Bracket Buster rematch with fellow Cinderella team Wichita State turned out differently than the first meeting. As opposed to needing a clutch three-pointer in February to win, the Patriots jumped out to a lead early and were never really tested as they rolled to an easy win. The Elite Eight victory over Connecticut is what everyone will remember, though. Many are calling it the greatest NCAA Tournament upset of all-time. While I think that is a little extreme, it was extremely impressive, nonetheless. They actually dominated the vaunted UConn frontcourt and hit plenty of key shots down the stretch to advance with an overtime win.
Florida might be the most balanced team in the country, as they have five guys that average double-figures and are capable of having big games. The Gators have depth and talent in the post that few teams in the country can match. Joakim Noah is a terrific athlete who can score, rebound, and block shots with the best of them. Fellow future pro Al Horford is a very good rebounder and defender who uses his athleticism to get putbacks. Off the bench is Chris Richard, who could start for most teams in the nation. Corey Brewer rounds out one of the best frontcourts in the country. He is very athletic and can do nearly everything on the court. Taurean Green is one of the most improved players in the country at the point guard position. He is a good scorer and a very solid distributor. Lee Humphrey is an outstanding three-point shooter.
George Mason has been the most surprising team of the Tournament. They came in not playing their best basketball of the season, but have obviously looked very impressive thus far. The Patriots have a balanced offense with five guys in double-figures, and they are efficient from the field. Additionally, they play very good defense and have the ability to knock off quality teams. The backcourt of Tony Skinn and Lamar Butler is athletic and capable of matching up with some of the best guards out there. Butler is a good all-around player, while Skinn is a solid shooter and scorer. Folarin Campbell can do a variety of things well, and has stepped his game up tremendously in the NCAA Tournament. Up front, Will Thomas and Jai Lewis form one of the more underrated inside duos in the country. Both can get a double-double every night out, and they are physical and difficult to stop with their backs to the basket. The one downfall for the Patriots is their lack of depth. Only Gabe Norwood sees extensive minutes off the bench.
On paper, this may look like a mismatch. Florida has outstanding balance, and might have the edge in both the backcourt and the frontcourt. However, one could have said that for all but one of George Mason's NCAA Tournament games so far--Wichita State the lone game in which GMU could have been considered the favorite to win. In other words, expect this game to be another close contest that should come down to the final few minutes. The key to the game will be who wins the inside battle. Joakim Noah and Al Horford are much more athletic than Jai Lewis and Will Thomas, but Lewis and Thomas are extremely difficult to defend with their backs to the basket. They constantly got excellent position against UConn and hit a variety of turnaround shots and jump-hooks. However, Horford is going to be able to drag Lewis away from the basket with his ability to hit the mid-range shot while Noah might be too quick for Thomas. I think that the Gators' athleticism gives them the edge up front. On the perimeter, it will be interesting to see if Lee Humphrey can play defense against GMU's Lamar Butler. Humphrey is not known for his guarding ability, but he is going to have to play solid against Butler. On the other side, Butler can't allow Humphrey to get hot from deep. At the point guard spot, Taurean Green has been inconsistent for Florida shooting the ball. If he starts to get his shot back, Tony Skinn could be in trouble. On the wing, Corey Brewer has played outstanding throughout the year, while Folarin Campbell is having a superb Tournament. Campbell played well against Rudy Gay and is going to have to do the same against Brewer. When it comes down to it, Florida has too much balance on the perimeter and in the post for George Mason. Moreoever, their depth could wear the Patriots down. The Gators' athleticism and overall balance is going to get them the win. However, George Mason has constantly proven the experts wrong. Could they do it again?
Prediction: Florida 73, George Mason 68
Athleticism and explosiveness on the offensive end vs. stout half-court defense. The best frontcourt in the country vs. the best backcourt in the country. Can you get a game that has more of a contrast in styles than this one? Moreover, this contest has enough stars to whet your palette. Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo of UCLA are super guards, while Tyrus Thomas and Glen Davis of LSU are sure-fire Top 20 picks in the NBA Draft. It should be an interesting game.
LSU has been one of the most talked-about teams in the NCAA Tournament this March--even before reaching the national semifinals. Like others in the Final Four, the Tigers have been tested each game in the Big Dance. They opened with a quick Iona team who went into halftime leading LSU. However, the Tigers came out in the second half and dominated the Gaels. In the second round, Darrell Mitchell hit a three in the final seconds to top Texas A&M. The biggest win in recent years for the LSU program, though, came in the Sweet Sixteen. The Tigers knocked off #1 overall seed Duke in a game that will be looked upon as one of the better wins this season for any SEC team. In the Elite Eight, LSU used their athleticism and versatility in the frontcourt to outplay Texas' beefy frontline. Clutch shots in overtime and down the stretch gave them the victory.
UCLA came into their region as the most popular Final Four pick (along with Kansas), and has obviously not disappointed those who chose the Bruins. They opened the Tournament with an easy win over Belmont, followed by a very competitive win against Alabama. However, against the Tide, they seemed like they were in control the entire contest. In the Sweet Sixteen, UCLA made the type of comeback that can propel a team to a National Championship. After being down by 19 at one point, the Bruins came all the way back to take the lead on Luc Richard Mbah a Mboute's lay-up in the waning seconds. Their Elite Eight game against Memphis was one of the ugliest games of the Tournament, but the Bruins played their game and forced the Tigers into an awful shooting night. Don't think that UCLA is just happy to be here, though--they fully expect to win the title and continue the tradition of UCLA basketball.
LSU won the SEC title by two games, and have been one of the most difficult teams to match-up with in the country due to their versatility and athleticism. Even though they are young and inexperienced, the Tigers have the talent to win the title. They are led by one of the best frontcourts in the country. Glen Davis is a beast down low who is tough to guard in the paint; Tyrus Thomas is an athletic freak who can rebound and block shots with the best of them; and Tasmin Mitchell is a match-up problem who can score inside and outside. Darrell Mitchell is one of the most underrated guards in the country, but he can do nearly everything on the court. Garrett Temple played outstanding defense on J.J. Redick and has improved his all-around game as the season wore on. Darnell Lazare and Magnum Rolle are two more athletic frontcourt players that pose match-up problems for the opposition. All the athleticism and talent that the Tigers have wore Duke down and also enabled LSU to take down Texas' experience and size.
UCLA has been one of the top 15 teams in the country the whole year, and are playing excellent basketball lately, having won 16 of their past 18 games. They are one of the most efficient teams in the nation shooting the ball and also have one of the better scoring defenses in the country. Aaron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar form one of the best backcourts in the country. Afflalo is an excellent defender and might be even more dangerous on offense, while Farmar is an outstanding passer at the point. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has been the best freshman in the conference, and is a very good rebounder. Darren Collison is a developing scorer at the guard position, and Cedric Bozeman is a versatile wing who can do many things. Inside, Ryan Hollins leads the way but Alfred Aboya also contributes. Neither is a big-time producer in either scoring and rebounding, but they provide a big body and some solid defense.
The differences in the two teams is what will make this game very intriguing. UCLA has an outstanding backcourt, while LSU has an unbelievable frontcourt. UCLA likes to lockdown defensively in the half-court and force teams to take bad shots, while LSU loves to crash the offensive glass and get in the paint. The key to this game is going to be which team demonstrates more balance throughout the contest. For UCLA, Cedric Bozeman and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are going to need to play one of their best games of the season in order to match Tasmin Mitchell and Tyrus Thomas. Mbah a Moute could struggle to deal with Thomas' athleticism, while Bozeman can't allow Mitchell to get his offensive game going. Inside, the lanky Ryan Hollins is going to have to use his length and athleticism to force Glen Davis into bad shots. Davis is a beast down low and could dominate Hollins. For LSU, they are going to have to hit their outside shots. Darrell Mitchell has struggled somewhat from behind the arc in the NCAA Tournament, but he is going to need to knock down a couple of threes. It wouldn't hurt to see Garrett Temple make a couple of baskets, either. Defensively, Temple is going to have to slow down Arron Afflalo. He shut down J.J. Redick but Afflalo is a little better at creating his own shot than Redick is. Moreover, Mitchell can't allow Jordan Farmar to beat him off the dribble and penetrate for easy baskets. If they play solid defense, it will give the Tigers a better chance of winning. In the end, LSU's inside-outside balance and their edge in athleticism up front is going to be the difference. UCLA's quest for a title ends, while LSU's lives for another day.
Prediction: LSU 67, UCLA 62