Friday, March 31, 2006

Final Four Preview, Section Three

Don't forget to check out Part One and Part Two of the Final Four Preview.

Best Point Guard
1. Jordan Farmar, UCLA
2. Darrell Mitchell, LSU
3. Taurean Green, Florida
4. Tony Skinn, George Mason

Best Scoring Guard
1. Arron Afflalo, UCLA
2. Lamar Butler, George Mason
3. Lee Humphrey, Florida
4. Garrett Temple, LSU

Best Wing
1. Corey Brewer, Florida
2. Tasmin Mitchell, LSU
3. Folarin Campbell, George Mason
4. Cedric Bozeman, UCLA

Best Forward
1. Tyrus Thomas, LSU
2. Al Horford, Florida
3. Will Thomas, George Mason
4. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA

Best Post Player
1. Glen Davis, LSU
2. Joakim Noah, Florida
3. Jai Lewis, George Mason
4. Ryan Hollins, UCLA

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Final Four Preview, Section Two

Click here to check out Part One of the Final Four Preview

Best Go-To-Guy
1. Jordan Farmar, UCLA: Ability to isolate himself and beat his defender off the dribble is crucial. Can create shots for himself or his teammates.
2. Glen Davis, LSU: Beast on the block can also hit the mid-range jumpshot. Moreover, he is surprising nimble for his size and can take opponents off the dribble.
3. Joakim Noah, Florida: Ridiculous all-around talent makes him difficult to stop. Can score with both his back to the basket and facing it. Also has good handle.
4. Jai Lewis, George Mason: Is very tough to stop once he gets the ball down low. Has a nice jump-hook and can score whenever he wants due to his size.

Best Three-Point Shooter
1. Lee Humphrey, Florida: One of the best shooters in the country has struggled the past three games. However, he is still shooting 46% from three.
2. Lamar Butler, George Mason: Was not overly effective at times during the regular season, but is shooting 50% in the NCAA Tournament from three.
3. Arron Afflalo, UCLA: More of a mid-range shooter, but most effective long-range bomber for Bruins. Size and athleticism allows him to get his shot off easily.
4. Darrell Mitchell, LSU: Shooting 40% this season, but only 7 for 22 in the NCAA Tournament. Has deep range and can hit the clutch jumper if needed.

Best Second Option
1. Arron Afflalo, UCLA: One of the best all-around players in the country. Can score in a variety of ways and is the premier mid-range player in America.
2. Darrell Mitchell, LSU: One of the more underrated players around, Mitchell was the best guard in the SEC. Can drive to the basket and shoot the three.
3. Lamar Butler, George Mason: Playing very well in the NCAA Tournament and shooting hot from three. A versatile scorer from inside and outside the arc.
4. Taurean Green, Florida: Somewhat inconsistent at times, but a very good player overall. Can shoot the three with efficiency and penetrate to create shots.

Best Coach
1. Ben Howland, UCLA: Prepares his team very well for any team they face. A plethora of injuries and lack of depth has not kept the Bruins from winning.
2. Jim Larranaga, George Mason: Has led this team to wins over some of the dominant programs in recent memory. Has put George Mason in nation's eye.
3. Billy Donovan, Florida: His teams usually underachieve in the Big Dance, but this year is different. He has molded a group of young kids into a title contender.
4. John Brady, LSU: Led a team that started three freshmen to an SEC title and a Final Four berth. Built upon the strong family bond already formed by the players.

NIT Championship Game Preview

Michigan vs. South Carolina (7:00 PM, ESPN): So which will it be? South Carolina is going for their second straight NIT title, while Michigan is aiming for their second in three years. Don't look at the previous game for either team for an edge. Both the Gamecocks and the Wolverines had blowout victories, although the scores are misleading. Michigan won by 23 and South Carolina 15, but USC was much more impressive. Louisville took an early lead but once the Gamecocks figured out the Cardinals' press, it was easy baskets all day for USC. In the other game, Old Dominion was in the lead for the majority of the first half and kept it close during the first part of the second half. However, Michigan began wearing the Monarchs' out down low and ODU's injuries and lack of depth began to catch up to them. Michigan did not play their A-game and still won by 23, while USC played one of their best games of the season.

Michigan has built off their disappointment of being left out of the NCAA Tournament and has been impressive in their run to the NIT Title Game. The Wolverines slumped down the stretch and were one of the last teams out of the Big Dance. Daniel Horton is one of the best point guards in the country and is a good scorer and passer. Wings Dion Harris and Lester Abram are both athletic scorers who can get to the basket. Abram played excellent defense on ODU's Isaiah Hunter, holding him to 1 of 15 shooting. Harris needs to improve off of his previous game, where he shot 1 for 9 and had only 5 points. Jerret Smith played a very solid game off the bench when Horton was in foul trouble. Up front, Courtney Sims has a lot of potential and has shown it at times. However, at other times, he fails to show up—which just happens to be in most of Michigan’s losses. He dominated the Monarchs in the semi-finals. Chris Hunter is an active player at both ends of the floor, while Graham Brown is a garbage-type player that gets rebounds. Brent Petway is very athletic and can change the momentum of a game with his dunking ability.

South Carolina has ridden an SEC Tournament finals run into another appearance at Madison Square Garden. They are athletic, crash the boards, and play solid defense. Against Louisville, they had the ability to isolate any of their players to get easy baskets. Their backcourt is one of the more underrated ones in the country. Tre Kelley is a good all-around player who is very quick with the ball, while Tarence Kinsey can do a variety of things on the court. He is the team's best scorer. Renaldo Balkman is playing the best basketball of his career down the stretch of the season. He was the star of the semi-final game against Louisville, getting 23 points and 4 blocks. His ability to run the floor and finish was really a plus for the Gamecocks. Brandon Wallace is a very good shot-blocker who is playing well lately. He had a career-high 19 points against the Cardinals. Rocky Trice is another athletic player on the wing who can do a little bit of everything. Bryce Sheldon is the only player that sees extensive time off the bench.

Both teams are playing excellent basketball lately, which means we should be in for a better game than we saw in the semi-finals. The key is going to be the transition defense of Michigan and the interior defense of South Carolina. If Michigan decides to press South Carolina, they could be in trouble. They used pressure against Old Dominion and it worked, but USC showed against Louisville that they can get a plethora of easy baskets once they break the press. On the other side, USC's post defense is going to need to play very well to counter Michigan's inside presence of Courtney Sims. Balkman has played stellar lately, and will need another excellent defensive performance. Moreover, for Michigan, Dion Harris and Daniel Horton are going to need to play better. They shot a combined 5 for 20 against Old Dominion, and that won't cut it against the Gamecocks. Another key for South Carolina is going to be their ability to hit threes. If Michigan makes them play in the half-court, Kelley and Kinsey are going to need to hit their outside shots. They only hit 21% of their threes in the semi-finals. That has to go up if they are going to win this game. When it comes down to it, I think South Carolina's athleticism and versatility are going to be the difference for them. Their ability to spread the floor and attack the basket killed Louisville, and I think it will do the same to Michigan.

Prediction: South Carolina 66, Michigan 63

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Final Four Preview, Section One

Best Backcourt
1. UCLA- Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo are one of the best backcourts in the country; Darren Collison contributes at both ends of the floor.
2. Florida- Taurean Green is capable of big games, while Lee Humphrey is an outstanding three-point shooter. Walter Hodge provides depth.
3. LSU- Darrell Mitchell does not get much press, but he was the best guard in the SEC. Garrett Temple is very athletic and can really defend on the perimeter.
4. George Mason- Lamar Butler was very impressive against UConn, while Tony Skinn is quick with the ball and a good all-around player.

Best Frontcourt
1. LSU- Ridiculous mix of athleticism and force for the Tigers. Tyrus Thomas might be the #1 pick in the Draft; Glen Davis is an All-American; and Tasmin Mitchell is a star in the making.
2. Florida- Much-improved trio from last season. Joakim Noah is rising quickly, Al Horford is a very good rebounder, and Corey Brewer is one of the better all-around forwards around.
3. George Mason- If the two best frontcourts in the country were not present, this would be #1. Will Thomas and Jai Lewis have dominated most of the post players they have faced.
4. UCLA- Underrated group. Ryan Hollins has stepped up in the Big Dance, while Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was a very good freshman. Cedric Bozeman is very versatile at the forward spot.

Best Bench
1. UCLA- Lots of depth on the interior led by Alfred Aboya. Additionally, Michael Roll is a very good shooter and Darren Collison could be a star whenever he gets the minutes needed.
2. Florida- Walter Hodge is a good shooter who has started some games. Chris Richard is a beast on the interior, while David Huertas is a versatile player on the wing.
3. LSU- Darnell Lazare started for the first half of the season. He and Magnum Rolle are both athletic match-up problems up front. Ben Voogd gives good backcourt minutes.
4. George Mason- Only wing Gabe Norwood really contributes. Good all-around player that sees twenty-plus minutes per game.

Best Inside-Outside Combo
1. LSU (Darrell Mitchell/Glen Davis): Mitchell does everything for the Tigers on the perimeter, while Davis is unstoppable down in the low block.
2. George Mason (Lamar Butler/Jai Lewis): Butler has had a huge NCAA Tournament in the scoring department, and Lewis is very difficult to defend down low.
3. Florida (Taurean Green/Joakim Noah): Green, while inconsistent, is a very good point guard. Noah has been one of the best players in the Big Dance.
4. UCLA (Arron Afflalo/Luc Richard Mbah a Moute): Afflalo is one of the best two-way players in the country. Mbah a Moute is an active rebounder.

Best Trio
1. LSU (Darrell Mitchell/Tyrus Thomas/Glen Davis): All the ingredients wanted in a dominant trio. Mitchell can shoot and handle the backcourt duties. Thomas is too athletic for anyone to defend, while Davis is a nearly impossible match-up.
2. Florida (Taurean Green/Corey Brewer/Joakim Noah): A very young but talented troika of performers. Green can play the point as well as anyone at times. Brewer is as good an all-around player as there is, and Noah might be the toughest match-up left.
3. George Mason (Lamar Butler/Will Thomas/Jai Lewis): Butler was the main catalyst in their Elite Eight game against UConn. Thomas and Lewis are one of the most underrated duos in the country. Tough with their backs to the basket.
4. UCLA (Jordan Farmar/Arron Afflalo/Luc Richard Mbah a Moute): The Bruins are made on their backcourt. Farmar and Afflalo were a dominant backcourt all season and carry the team. Mbah a Moute is an underappreciated freshman forward.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

NIT Final Four Preview

Louisville vs. South Carolina: The Cardinals, projected to be one of the top teams in college basketball headed into the season, had been a major disappointment, but can partly make up for it with an NIT title. For the Gamecocks, their eyes are on a second-straight NIT championship. Louisville has more talent than most teams that they go up against, but that obviously has not mattered much this season. Taquan Dean is one of the top shooters in the country, but did not really develop into the go-to-scorer that the Cardinals needed. Brandon Jenkins is much-improved from last season, and is now a solid scorer in addition to a good defender. On the inside, Juan Palacios has been solid on the inside, but has disappeared at key times. He is a decent inside-outside threat. Two freshmen have made key contributions, including athletic freak Terrence Williams and lightning-quick point guard Aaron McGee. South Carolina rode an SEC Tournament finals run into another appearance at Madison Square Garden. They are athletic, crash the boards, and play solid defense. Their backcourt is one of the more underrated ones in the country. Tre Kelley, averaging 17 points per game in the NIT, is a good all-around player, while Tarence Kinsey, putting up over 18 a game in the NIT, can do a variety of things on the court. Renaldo Balkman played the best basketball of his career down the stretch of the season. However, he left their previous game against Cincinnati in the second half with an injury. Brandon Wallace is a very good shot-blocker who is playing well lately. Rocky Trice is another athletic player on the wing.

Both teams are athletic and can play at varying styles. The difference is going to be Louisville’s inside-outside balance—especially if Balkman is out for South Carolina. Taquan Dean will do his job on the perimeter, while Palacios poses match-up problems down low. The Gamecock’s bid for a second-straight NIT title ends here.

Prediction: Louisville 63, South Carolina 59

Michigan vs. Old Dominion: Another CAA team in the Final Four? Although less impressive than George Mason’s run to the NCAA Final four, #5 seed Old Dominion went on the road and upset several higher-rated teams including conference rival Hofstra. Michigan, on the other hand, built off their disappointment of being left out of the NCAA Tournament and has been impressive in their run to the NIT Final Four. The Wolverines slumped down the stretch and were one of the last teams out of the Big Dance. Daniel Horton is one of the best point guards in the country and is a good scorer and passer. Wings Dion Harris and Lester Abram are both athletic scorers who can get to the basket. Harris is putting up 16 ppg in the NIT. Up front, Courtney Sims has a lot of potential and has shown it at times. However, at other times, he fails to show up—which just happens to be in most of Michigan’s losses. Chris Hunter is a solid all-around player down low, while Graham Brown is a garbage-type player that gets rebounds. Old Dominion came into the season as the favorite to win the CAA but never lived up to the expectations. They finished 4th in the conference and lost in the first round of the conference tournament. However, like Louisville, they can make up for some of that disappointment with two wins here at Madison Square Garden. Alex Loughton is one of the better big men in the mid-major world and can really take over a game. Arnaud Dahi is a match-up problem at the forward spot with his athletic ability. Isaiah Hunter was unstoppable against Hofstra and is the team’s leading scorer. Guards Drew Williamson, a very good passer, and Brian Henderson, a solid all-around player, are two decent role players that help the Monarchs gets wins. Valdas Vasylius is versatile, inside-outside threat at the forward spot.

Neither team lived up to their preseason expectations, but would still love to win the NIT. The match-up inside is going to be key with Courtney Sims going against Alex Loughton. I think that, in the end, Michigan’s host of weapons on the offensive end is going to make the difference. Daniel Horton could be in for a big game.

Prediction: Michigan 73, Old Dominion 68

Monday, March 27, 2006

Final Four Preview

With the Final Four games coming up this weekend, it is time to re-evaluate the teams that are remaining. Similar to the NCAA Tournament Preview, the Final Four Preview is going to contain rankings of backcourts, frontcourts, shooters, etc. In addition, I will be previewing both of Saturday's games.

Best Backcourt
Best Frontcourt
Best Bench
Best Inside-Outside Combo
Best Trio

Best Go-to-Player
Best Three-Point Shooter
Best Second Option
Best Coach

Best Point Guard
Best Scoring Guard
Best Wing
Best Forward
Best Post Player

Florida vs. George Mason

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Villanova vs. Florida Preview

What's with all the rematches? Memphis played UCLA earlier this season, and now we have a rematch from last year's NCAA Tournament. That game was much different than today's game will be. Florida saw their three leading scorers go to the NBA, but are better without them, while Villanova had the now-injured Curtis Sumpter for that game. The only guarantee I have for this year's game is that it will be closer than last season's 11-point 'Nova win.

Villanova, like most of the other #1 seeds, has not rolled through the first three rounds by any stretch of the imagination. In the opening round, #16 seed Monmouth hung with the Wildcats for much of the game. The champs of the NEC had a chance to make it a one-possession game with under five minutes left, but they couldn't execute down the stretch. Playing in Philadelphia did not have the effect that most thought it might have. Arizona did not seem to be intimidated by the near-homecourt advantage in the second round. The athleticism of Arizona gave Villanova some problems, but 'Nova made some key plays in the final minutes to give them a four-point win. One of the most anticipated games of the Tournament came in the Sweet Sixteen. Boston College's inside play and physicality gave the Wildcats problems. But 'Nova's guards did the same to BC's perimeter players. With under five seconds left in overtime, BC had a miscommunication on an inbounds play and Will Sheridan ended up with a wide-open lay-up to give Villanova a one-point win.

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.

Villanova is one of the most confident teams in the country as demonstrated by their fearlessness when it comes to taking contested shots and going into the lane and finishing against bigger players. They have an outstanding four-guard backcourt. Randy Foye is an All-American as he can do anything on the court, from rebounding to defending to scoring. Allan Ray is an excellent scorer that can be unstoppable when he is hot. Kyle Lowry does not get the same type of publicity as the aforementioned two, but he is just as important to the team. Mike Nardi is a very good shooter. The frontcourt does not get the same type of recognition as the perimeter does, but they are just as important. Will Sheridan is a solid rebounder and defender who is the lone big man on the floor on most occasions. Dante Cunnigham has come on strong lately, and Jason Fraser is experienced and had a big game against Florid last season.

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.

This game is going to be an outstanding battle between two supremely talented teams that could easily win the National Title. As with most Villanova games, it is also going to be a contrast of styles. Florida has a terrific frontcourt, while 'Nova counters with the best backcourt in the country. Joakim Noah has been one of the top players in the NCAA Tournament and is going to give Will Sheridan fits inside. He is too athletic and quick for Sheridan. Moreover, Al Horford is an excellent rebounder and is very athletic. Randy Foye will not be able to defend him on the inside. Villanova has held their own against some of the best frontcourts in the country, but Noah and Horford are playing as well as any duo in America. Villanova's guard play is going to give Florida trouble, though. Randy Foye simply does not allow the Wildcats to lose, while Allan Ray is one of the best shooters in the country. Corey Brewer is going to draw the assignment of guarding one of the two, and I think he is going to play very good defense and force whoever he guards into a tough day. Kyle Lowry and Taurean Green are also going to do battle in the backcourt. Lowry is a tough and strong penetrator, and Green is going to have to prevent him from getting in the lane whenever he wants. If he sags off of Lowry, he could have more success as Lowry is not that great of a shooter. When it comes down to it, though, Florida will put out the win. Their balance is going to be too much for the Wildcats. Noah and Horford should dominate the interior, while Green and Brewer are very good perimeter players who are plenty good enough to match Villanova's guard production. Billy Donovan will be heading to his first Final Four since 2000.

Prediction: Florida 76, Villanova 73

Connecticut vs. George Mason Preview

David vs. Goliath. Cinderella vs. Favorite. Those are just two of the myriad storylines that have been discussed leading up to the George Mason-Connecticut regional final. However, lost in the hype is the fact that this is going to be a terrific game. Both teams have balance, coaching, and Final Four talent. Forget the storylines, just watch the game--you could be witnessing history.

Connecticut, a team that most would agree is the most talented team in the country, has not played that well in the NCAA Tournament thus far. They opened with Albany in the first round, and were down by 12 with under 12 minutes left, on the verge of becoming the first #1 seed ever to lose to a #16 seed. However, they outscored the Great Danes 34-9 down the stretch to get the win. In the second round, they jumped out to an early lead on Kentucky but needed timely free throws from Marcus Williams to escape with a four-point victory. Another tight contest awaited them in the Sweet Sixteen. Washington looked like they were going to upset UConn, but foul trouble and missed free throws allowed Rashad Anderson to hit an improbable three-pointer to send the game into overtime. The Huskies of Connecticut once again jumped on the back of Marcus Williams in overtime and moved on to the Elite Eight.

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.

Connecticut came into the NCAA Tournament as the favorite because of their talent and their performance throughout the season. Their only losses came on the road to Marquette and Villanova and in the Big East Tournament to Syracuse. Moreover, the Huskies have the most Top-50 wins in the country. However, at times, the Huskies look uninterested and don't focus unless they are playing very good teams. When they are on, though, they are unbeatable. Rudy Gay is the most talented player in the country and has great potential, while Marcus Williams might be the best point guard in the nation. Rashad Anderson is an outstanding shooter and the best sixth man around, and Denham Brown has played very well lately. Up front, Hilton Armstrong is an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker, while Josh Boone is capable of a double-double every night. Jeff Adrien is a beast off the bench. Ed Nelson and Craig Austrie also play major roles contributing coming off the pine.

George Mason has been the most surprising team of the Tournament. They came in not playing their best basketball of the season, but have 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.

It would be easy to say that George Mason is going to be outclassed against Connecticut because of the talent and size differential. However, one could have also said that going into the Michigan State or North Carolina games. In other words, this game is going to be much closer than it looks on paper. The Patriots actually match-up surprisingly well with the Huskies. In the paint, Will Thomas and Jai Lewis are wide bodies that are not afraid to trade elbows and play physical in the three-second area. Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong are also going to have to play solid defense and not just try to block shots as the Patriots' post men are smart and crafty. On the other side, Thomas and Lewis are going to have to be sure to block Armstrong and Boone out because UConn will have an edge in athleticism. Folarin Campbell is also going to have to play a tremendous defensive game on Rudy Gay. Gay has a height advantage and could be in line for a big game. In the backcourt, Lamar Butler of George Mason could take advantage of the lazy defense played by Denham Brown and Rashad Anderson at times. Both are more offensive-minded players, but they are going to need to keep an eye on Butler on the other end. The point guard match-up should be interesting. Marcus Williams is playing as well as anyone in college basketball, and Tony Skinn can't allow Williams to dominate the game as he has done the entire Tournament. In the end, George Mason's lack of interior depth and someone to guard Gay and Williams is going to be the difference. Expect the Patriots to keep it close with their inside play and overall balance. History, however, will not be made.

Prediction: Connecticut 73, George Mason 67

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Texas vs. LSU Preview

Talent and athleticism. Who says that they don't mean everything in college basketball? Ask Duke about it. Ask West Virginia about it. LSU and Texas, respectively, defeated those teams primarily on natural ability. What happens when two talented and athletic teams go against each other? You get an outstanding game.

Texas has been solid throughout the NCAA Tournament. They struggled against Pennsylvania in the first round, but bounced back to blow out North Carolina State in the next round. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Longhorns used a three-pointer at the buzzer from Kenton Paulino to defeat West Virginia. Texas has played against three teams that don't play up-tempo basketball and would rather run their half-court offense. Moreover, none of the three squads are overly impressive with their athletic ability. What does this mean? The Longhorns have not seen a team like LSU in several weeks.

LSU has been one of the most talked-about teams in the NCAA Tournament this March. Like others in the Elite Eight, 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.

Texas came into the season as a favorite to win the league and as one of the candidates to win the national championship. Once conference play, people were starting to contemplate if Texas would go through the Big 12 undefeated. That obviously didn't happen. However, the Longhorns still have the type of team capable of winning the title. The only negative about this team is that they tend to get blown out when they lose, which doesn't bode well against very good teams. It all starts in the frontcourt for Texas. P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge are the two best players in the conference and two of the best in the country. Tucker might be the most difficult player to match-up with in the nation, while Aldridge is an excellent all-around inside performer. Brad Buckman does a lot of the dirty work inside, but can also step up and hit the jumper. In the backcourt, Daniel Gibson is a good scorer and a terrific defender who can erupt for big games at any time. Kenton Paulino is a solid point guard who can score on occasion, plays good defense, and distributes. A.J. Abrams has played a big role off the bench down the stretch due to his all-around production.

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 enabled LSU to pull the upset.

This is going to be a match-up of two of the best frontcourts in the country. LSU's Tasmin Mitchell is one of the few players in the nation capable of matching-up with P.J. Tucker. His athleticism and length could give Tucker problems. Inside, the lanky LaMarcus Aldridge will have to hold his own against the burly Glen Davis, while the physical Brad Buckman is going to have his hands full vs. the athletic Tyrus Thomas. The frontcourt match-ups are going to be outstanding. Texas is one of the few teams that can match LSU's talent up front, and vice-versa. On the perimeter, Darrell Mitchell and Daniel Gibson will lock heads in what could be the key personnel match-up. Both are solid defenders and all-around players, although Gibson is more inconsistent. In what is such an evenly-matched game, the role players are going to play big parts in whoever wins. Kenton Paulino and A.J. Abrams are capable of shooting the ball, while LSU does not have any proven offensive threats besides the aforementioned players. In the end, I think Texas' experience and the presence of P.J. Tucker will be enough for the Longhorns to pull out the victory.

Prediction: Texas 75, LSU 72

Memphis vs. UCLA Preview

#1 vs. #2. Even with all of the upsets and tight games, the Oakland region has ended up the way it should have--with the two best teams playing each other with a berth in the Final Four on the line.

Memphis, the #1 seed, has been the most impressive team in the NCAA Tournament thus far. They have not really been pushed in any game yet, beating Oral Roberts, Bucknell, and Bradley by 16 points each. The Tigers played ORU's up-tempo game in the first round; Bucknell's slow-down game in the second round; and Bradley's attempt to run with Memphis/their attempt to slow the game down in the Sweet Sixteen. In other words, they have played against every style in the NCAA tournament, and have passed each test with flying colors.

UCLA came into the region as the most popular Final Four pick (along with Kansas), and has 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. Against 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. Don't think that UCLA is just happy to be here, though--they fully expect to get to Indianapolis.

Memphis was near the top of the rankings throughout the season, and for good reason. They are one of the most athletic and talented teams around, and can not be rivaled in terms of their length and depth. The Tigers love to pressure the ball and get points in transition. When their run-and-gun game is going, they are very difficult to defend. Rodney Carney is a freak in terms of athleticism and is one of the best players in the country. Darius Washington is a solid point guard who is a very good playmaker. Shawne Williams is an inside-outside player who is one of the top freshmen in the land. Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts provide scoring and defense on the wings. The only thing this team lacks is a dominant low-post player and experience. However, if Joey Dorsey is consistent on the glass and defensively, the Tigers will be fine. Robert Dozier is an underrated inside player, while Andre Allen has played very well off the bench in the backcourt.

UCLA has been one of the top 15 teams in the country the whole year, and are playing excellent basketball lately, having won 15 of their past 17 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.

This game is a rematch of a Preseason NIT semi-final. Memphis won that game by eight points in a contest they controlled from beginning to end. Don't expect the same type of game. The second battle between the two teams should be a classic. UCLA has better guards than Memphis, but they don’t have an answer for the forward duo of Rodney Carney and Shawne Williams. Neither team is overly dominant down low, but Memphis would get the edge in the post. Williams vs. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute would be a great match-up of two of the top freshmen in the country. I think that Carney and Douglas-Roberts, with their long arms and athleticism, would be able to slow down Afflalo. If Carney is able to get his game going against Afflalo, Memphis will get the win. If Farmar and Afflalo control the game right away and don’t allow the Tigers to run, UCLA will win. My money is on Memphis in what could be a last-possession game.

Prediction: Memphis 73, UCLA 71

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday's Sweet Sixteen Previews

Wichita State vs. George Mason- A dream game for mid-major fans everywhere. Two Cinderella teams will face off in a rematch of a Bracket Buster game played in February in which George Mason went on the road to beat Wichita State. George Mason, a team many people thought should not even be in the NCAA Tournament, upset Michigan State and North Carolina to get here, while Wichita State dominated Seton Hall and then made clutch baskets down the stretch to defeat Tennessee. It should be a great game, with the winner taking on the Huskies of either Connecticut or Washington. A key match-up will be Wichita State's PJ Couisnard vs. George Mason's Folarin Campbell. Both have had great NCAA Tournaments and will look to carry their team to another victory. The inside battle should be excellent as well. Jai Lewis is a beast on the interior for GMU, while Will Thomas is a ferocious rebounder. WSU counters with MVC Player of the Year Paul Miller and underrated Kyle Wilson. The guard play is also very even, with shooter Sean Ogirri leading the way for the Shockers and Lamar Butler and Tony Skinn forming a solid one-two punch for the Patriots. With such an evenly-matched game, it is going to come down to who can make the clutch shots down the stretch. With that in mind, I think George Mason's overall balance is going to be the difference. Not to mention the fact that they are playing close to home in Washington, D.C. Either way, it should be an outstanding game. Prediction: George Mason 68, Wichita State 65

Connecticut vs. Washington- Battle of the Huskies. Two supremely athletic and deep teams will go at it with the right to go to the Elite Eight on the line. Connecticut, by far the most talented team in the country, has not played to their potential at all this Tournament and struggled to wins over Albany and Kentucky. Washington, on the other hand, looked very impressive in their victory over Utah State, in which they controlled the game, and their come-from-behind win against Illinois. If UConn focuses and plays hard for 40 minutes, no one will beat them. That has only happened on a few occasions this season, though. Meanwhile, Washington is going to have trouble with the tempo of the game. If they play to their transition game, UConn's superior athletes will get easy baskets. If they slow the game down, UConn will just toss the ball inside to their host of big men. However, any team that has Brandon Roy has a chance. He is one of the best players in the country, and will need a big game to keep Washington in it. The Huskies are going to have to find someone to guard him. The key personnel match-up will be Washington's Bobby Jones vs. UConn's Rudy Gay. Jones is the only player on the Washington team with the size and athleticism to guard Gay. He held Dee Brown to 5 of 18 shooting, demonstrating his ability to defend quicker players. Jones can defend any position on the floor, and will need to shut down Gay if Washington is to win this game. Moreover, Justin Dentmon is going to need to play a great game against UConn's Marcus Williams. He is a freshman, but has played very well in the NCAA Tournament. Williams is the best point guard in the country, though. The difference will be UConn's depth and inside play. Jon Brockman and Jamaal Williams are not big enough to defend Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone, while Mike Jensen is simply not strong enough. If Washington plays a near-perfect game or UConn decides to play with a lack of interest, they could pull the upset. UConn is prone to lackadaisical spells, but I think they will be up for this game. Prediction: Connecticut 76, Washington 69

Villanova vs. Boston College- One of the most anticipated match-ups of the Tournament so far. The current co-Big East Champion takes on a former Big East power. Villanova, at the top of the rankings throughout the season, defeated Monmouth and Arizona in less-than-impressive fashion, while Boston College, a popular sleeper pick to the Final Four, came back to beat Pacific in double overtime and then blew out Montana in the second round. It will be a contrast of styles. Villanova's quick, aggressive guards against Boston College's strength and power inside. 'Nova has been vulnerable to teams with excellent frontcourts, while BC has been suspect against squads with great guard groups. It should be interesting. The best head-to-head match-up will take place between Randy Foye of Villanova and BC's Jared Dudley. Foye is the biggest of the 'Nova guards, while Dudley is the most versatile of the BC forwards. He is going to need to stay in front of Foye and not allow him to constantly penetrate for easy baskets. On the other hand, if Dudley posts Foye up, Foye could be in trouble as Dudley is such a solid all-around player that he can overpower Foye or pass out of a double-team. Allen Ray vs. Sean Marshall is going to be another interesting battle. Marshall is BC's best perimeter defender, while Ray is an outstanding all-around scorer. Boston College's perimeter players have been performing much better lately, which will be key. Up front, Will Sheridan is going to have his hands full with BC's Craig Smith, one of the best post players in the country. Smith could have a huge game. If he does, BC will win. The difference will be Boston College's overall balance. They have a solid perimeter game to slow down Villanova's somewhat, and they also have a far superior interior group to overpower the Wildcats inside. The old Big East gets the win in what will be an unbelievable game. Prediction: Boston College 72, Villanova 70

Florida vs. Georgetown- A battle between two balanced teams that, at the start of the season, were not popular picks to make it here. However, each group improved as the season went on, and they are both peaking at the right time. Florida has been the most dominant team of the Tournament so far. They destroyed both South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee en route to the Sweet Sixteen. On the other hand, Georgetown has also been very impressive. They survived a close game against Northern Iowa, and then overpowered Ohio State on the interior to blow out the Buckeyes. Both teams are fairly evenly matched, which makes for a phenomenal game between two teams with loads of talent. The most intriguing battle comes between Georgetown's Jeff Green and Florida's Joakim Noah. They each are versatile players that usually pose match-up problems for the opposition. Noah has been one of the most impressive players in the Tournament, while Green is an inside-outside threat. Noah's athleticism and quickness could be the difference. Corey Brewer of Florida and Brandon Bowman of Georgetown are also going to be matched-up. Bowman has been a major disappointment so far in the Big Dance, while Brewer has played well. Bowman is going to have to step his game up if the Hoyas are going to win. Also up front, Roy Hibbert of Georgetown has been outstanding. At 7-2, he is a load for anyone to handle. Florida's athletic super-rebounder Al Horford is going to do his best. On the perimeter, the Hoyas' Ashanti Cook has performed well in the NCAA Tournament, and could be in line for a big game. Florida's Lee Humphrey is a shooter, but does not have the athleticism or quickness to stay with Cook. Also, the Gators' Taurean Green is going to have to step up his game. Florida's overall balance will end up being the difference. They have the frontcourt to hang with the Hoyas, and their backcourt might be superior all-around. Watch out for Noah and Brewer to come up with big plays down the stretch in what will be a close game. Prediction: Florida 67, Georgetown 65

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Thursday's Sweet Sixteen Previews

Duke vs. LSU- This has been a popular upset pick since the regions were announced. People are pointing to the frontcourt talent that LSU has as a potential difference-maker in the game. Glen Davis is a beast inside, while Tyrus Thomas and Tasmin Mitchell will cause match-up problems for Duke. However, Duke has a solid frontcourt as well. Shelden Williams and Josh McRoberts will more than hold their own. McRoberts is athletic enough to hang with Thomas, while Williams is one of the best big men in the country. The toughest match-up for Duke will be Tasmin Mitchell. He is going to have a height advantage on either J.J. Redick or DeMarcus Nelson, and could use that to get points. On the perimeter, Greg Paulus is going to have his hands full with Darrell Mitchell. He can't allow Mitchell to get hot from outside. I think Paulus has been vastly underappreciated in the NCAA Tournament, but he is going to have to a big game tonight. The difference will be Redick. There is no one on LSU that is going to be able to stay with him, and he could have a huge game if his shot is falling. He has struggled the past couple of years in the late rounds of the NCAA Tournament, but I think that will change tonight in a Duke win. However, if the frontcourt of LSU gets Williams in foul trouble, don't be surprised if the Tigers get the victory. Prediction: Duke 73, LSU 70

Texas vs. West Virginia- A rematch of an earlier game this season where Texas escaped with a one-point win on LaMarcus Aldridge's block of Mike Gansey's lay-up at the buzzer. Both teams have vastly improved since then. West Virginia has not really been pushed thus far in the NCAA Tournament, with easy wins over Southern Illinois and Northwestern State. On the other hand, Texas struggled against Penn but blew out North Carolina State. This game will be a contrast of personnel. West Virginia has a host of perimeter shooters that can hit the three from anywhere on the floor. Mike Gansey is a versatile scorer, while Kevin Pittsnogle might be the best shooting post player in the country. Texas likes to beat up teams down low. P.J. Tucker is a tough match-up for anyone, while the aforementioned Aldridge is one of the best centers in the nation. Unfortunately for West Virginia, they don't have a true post player with the ability to defend Aldridge on the interior. Pittsnogle would rather play on the perimeter, and Frank Young and Joe Herber are not post players. The versatility of West Virginia could give Texas problems, though. Aldridge will not want to venture out to the three-point line to guard Pittsnogle. However, unless the Mountaineers are on fire from beyond the arc, I can't see them contending with Texas' frontline. LaMarcus Aldridge was the difference in the first game, and the rematch will be the same. Prediction: Texas 70, West Virginia 65

Memphis vs. Bradley- Will Bradley's Cinderella run continue, or will Memphis' run and gun offense move on to the Elite Eight? The Braves were not expected to be here, but they upset Kansas and Pittsburgh en route to the second weekend. Memphis, on the other hand, has had two relatively easy wins over Oral Roberts and Bucknell to get to the Sweet Sixteen. The key for Bradley will obviously be Patrick O'Bryant. He had 28 points and 7 rebounds against Aaron Gray in the second-round and could be in line for a huge game against Memphis and their weak interior. To put it simply, the Tigers don't have an answer for him. Joey Dorsey is not tall enough, while Kareem Cooper is too slow and not agile enough. Moreover, Robert Dozier is too skinny and won’t be able to handle O’Bryant when his back is to the basket. Several big men have taken advantage of Memphis’ lack of a true center en route to huge games. They can’t allow O’Bryant to have another break-out game. If Memphis slows him down enough, they will win. For Bradley, they have to slow down the pace of the game and not turn the ball over against the Tigers' pressure. A half-court game would allow O'Bryant to get in position to dominate. Bradley’s perimeter defenders also have to stop Memphis’ host of wings and guards from penetrating into the lane and kicking out for wide-open three-pointers. Even though the Tigers’ shooters are inconsistent, Bradley can’t allow them the opportunity to catch fire and shoot the Braves out of the gym. It will be a game of athletes, and the difference will be that Memphis has better athletes and more depth than the Braves. Moreover, Rodney Carney is going to be a tough match-up for Bradley. Click here for my complete preview of Memphis-Bradley. Prediction: Memphis 78, Bradley 73

UCLA vs. Gonzaga- This is one of the most-anticipated match-ups of the Sweet Sixteen. UCLA coasted past Belmont, and won a nail-biter vs. Alabama. On the other hand, Gonzaga played well down the stretch against Xavier and Indiana to pull away late in the game for victories. The key to this game will be Gonzaga's frontcourt vs. UCLA's backcourt. Adam Morrison is obviously the main man for the Zags. He struggled against Indiana, and his teammates played a big role in the win. However, they won't beat UCLA without a huge game from Morrison. Arron Afflalo is one of the best defenders in the country, while Cedric Bozeman is versatile and athletic. Both could pose problems for Morrison. Inside, J.P. Batista will look to dominate UCLA's big men. The Bruins don't have talented post players, but they have plenty of height and depth inside. Also in the frontcourt, Sean Mallon could have problems with UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. He is very athletic and is a terrific offensive rebounder. The big edge for the Bruins, though, will come in the backcourt. Jordan Farmar is one of the best point guards in the country, and Derek Raivio could have difficulties guarding him. Moreover, Afflalo will have an advantage over both Pierre Altidor-Cespedes and Errol Knight. As a result of their guard play, UCLA will get the win. Farmar and Afflalo are outstanding guards, while Bozeman will be able to slow down Morrison somewhat. Even though the Zags were able to pick up the slack after Morrison’s sub-par performance against Indiana, they can’t beat UCLA without a big game from their main man. UCLA moves on. Prediction: UCLA 68, Gonzaga 66

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: Minneapolis Region

Favorite: Florida. After the way the Gators have played the past two games, how can you go against them? Villanova is the #1 seed, but have shown some weaknesses, while Boston College has to go through the Wildcats to get to the Elite Eight. Florida has been the most dominant team in the NCAA Tournament so far, dominating both South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They have demonstrated excellent balance, even without great production from point guard Taurean Green. Moreoever, their frontcourt has played as well as any trio in the country. Corey Brewer has been a very good all-around player, while Al Horford is a monster on the glass and in the paint. Joakim Noah may have the most impact in the Tournament of non-All Americans. He is an impossible match-up and and can dominate games. Lee Humphrey has shot almost 60% from three-point range. If Green can step his game up, this team can win the title. Georgetown should provide a challenge, but it will be a game of frontcourts, and Florida has the better one. In the regional final, both Villanova and Boston College would be tough games, but the Gators' balance might be more than either team can handle.

Cinderella: Georgetown. Like West Virginia, the Hoyas are not much of a Cinderella as plenty of people had them in the Sweet Sixteen, but the rest of the teams left are Top-4 seeds, which is far from any type of Cinderella range. Georgetown, as a 7th seed, survived a tight game with Northern Iowa in the first round but blew out Ohio State in the next round. They did this with only a combined eight points in two games from talented forward Brandon Bowman. If he steps his game up, this team could make a Final Four run. Roy Hibbert has developed into a dominant center within the span of two games, while Ashanti Cook has provided perimeter balance. Jeff Green showed off his all-around ability, and the rest of the backcourt have contributed solid minutes and numbers. With their balance and dominant frontcourt, the Hoyas will be tough to beat. However, Florida will meet them in the Sweet Sixteen. The Gators have the frontcourt to match Georgetown's, and also have a better overall team. Either way, it has been a great season for John Thompson III and the Hoyas.

Most intriguing personnel matchup: Villanova's Randy Foye vs. Boston College's Jared Dudley. While it is not a guarantee that these two players will go head-to-head, it is likely that they will face-off against each other at one time or another during the course of the game. Foye is the biggest of the 'Nova guards, while Dudley is the most versatile of the BC forwards. Foye has had to match-up with the likes of Rudy Gay, Taj Gray, and P.J. Tucker so he used to going against bigger players. However, taller, more athletic players (like Gay) have had defensive success against Foye. Dudley is strong, but not overly quick. He is going to need to stay in front of Foye and not allow him to constantly penetrate for easy baskets. On the other hand, if Dudley posts Foye up, Foye could be in trouble as Dudley is such a solid all-around player that he can overpower Foye or pass out of a double-team. This is going to be a very interesting battle.

First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: Ohio State. Did you expect anyone else? Yes, the Buckeyes lose Big Ten Player of the Year Terence Dials, shooter Je'Kel Foster, clutch player Matt Sylvester, and all-around stud J.J. Sullinger, but don't cry for Thad Matta. He brings in arguably the best recruiting class in the country to go with the returnees. Greg Oden is the best high school player in years and could dominate the Big Ten for at least a year. On the perimeter, Mike Conley is an excellent point guard that has played with Oden in high school. Their chemistry will be noticeable immediately. On the wing, Daequan Cook and David Lighty are two of the top five shooting guards coming into college. Add those four to returning starter Jamar Butler and super sixth man Ron Lewis, and the Buckeyes are going to be loaded.

All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Randy Foye, Villanova: 20.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 3.5 spg
Guard- Mustafa Shakur, Arizona: 19.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 7.0 apg
Forward- Craig Smith, Boston College: 23.5 ppg, 14.5 rpg
Forward- Joakim Noah, Florida: 16.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 6.5 apg, 2.5 spg, 4.5 bpg
Center- Roy Hibbert, Georgetown: 18.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.0 bpg
Sixth Man- Jared Dudley, Boston College: 21.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.0 spg

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: Washington, D.C. Region

Favorite: Connecticut. As the most talented team in the country, the Huskies are still the most frightening team to play left in the Tournament. However, their complacency has hit an all-time high in the past two games, a comeback victory over Albany and a close win against Kentucky. They should have blown both of those teams out, but what seems like a lack of interest continues to hold them down. On the bright side, Marcus Williams has demonstrated that he is the best point in the country and could carry UConn down the stretch of games. Denham Brown is a consistent scorer, while Rashad Anderson might be heating up. Rudy Gay can still be dominant at times, and the inside play of Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone is more than enough to take over the paint. Washington could pose a problem with their balance and the play of Brandon Roy, but they have a freshman point guard in Justin Dentmon. Williams should be able to control the game. In the Elite Eight, UConn is flat-out better than either George Mason or Wichita State. If they play to their potential and don't get lazy, the Huskies will be in Indianapolis. If they don't show effort, expect them home soon.

Cinderella: George Mason. No one expected the Patriots to be in D.C. this week--unless they were attending classes at their nearby university. Some didn't even think GMU should have been in the NCAA Tournament. Well, based on their recent performances, I'm pretty sure they deserved a bid. They controlled the entire game against Michigan State in the first round and then came back from an early deficit against North Carolina to get the win. Folarin Campbell has been of the best players thus far in the NCAA Tournament, stepping up and leading the Patriots to the Sweet Sixteen. Jai Lewis and Will Thomas have played very well against All-American big men Paul Davis and Tyler Hansbrough. Meanwhile, Lamar Butler and Tony Skinn have continued to contribute on the perimeter in all aspects of the game. Coming up is Wichita State--a rematch of a Bracket Buster game played a month ago. The Patriots beat the Shockers on the road--I think they will also get it done in D.C. The regional final is another story, but this is a great story already.

Most intriguing personnel matchup: Connecticut's Rudy Gay vs. Washington's Bobby Jones. Some people think that Jones might guard Marcus Williams as he did with Dee Brown in the second round. However, Jones is the only player on the Washington team with the size and athleticism to guard Rudy Gay. He held Brown to 5 of 18 shooting, demonstrating his ability to defend quicker players. Jones can defend any position on the floor, and will need to shut down Gay if Washington is to win this game. Gay, on the other hand, has the ability to take over a game if he is focused. Most of the time, though, he is not aggressive enough and defers to his teammates. If he wants to dominate this game, he can. It will be interesting to see if Gay plays with a little more selfishness--which is needed. If he does, watch this match-up.

First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: North Carolina. The Tar Heels could be a preseason Top-5 pick next season, and don't be surprised to see them in their second Final Four in three years. The only key loss is David Noel, and, while he was definitely a crucial part of their success, he is replaceable. UNC brings in an excellent recruiting class, including three stud players in point guard Tywon Lawson, wing Wayne Ellington, and forward Brandan Wright. Given the fact that they also bring back Tyler Hansbrough, the National Freshman of the Year, UNC is going to be a juggernaut next season. Throw in scorer Reyshawn Terry and a plethora of talented role players, and North Carolina should be at the top of the rankings all season long.

All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Marcus Williams, Connecticut: 20.5 ppg, 8.0 apg
Guard- Brandon Roy, Washington: 24.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg
Forward- Bobby Perry, Kentucky: 22.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg
Forward- Folarin Campbell, George Mason: 18.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.5 apg
Forward- Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina: 17.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg
Sixth Man- Dee Brown, Illinois: 16.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 8.0 apg, 3.0 spg

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: Oakland Region

Favorite: Memphis. Prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament, I had Pittsburgh as my Final Four pick, but I thought there was four other teams with a chance of winning the region. With the Panthers out of the picture, and Memphis playing their best basketball in a couple of months, the Tigers are the new favorite. In the first round, they scored nearly 100 points in dispatching Oral Roberts, a game in which many people thought we would see the first #16 over a #1 ever. The second round brought another easy win--this time over Bucknell. Memphis is using a balanced offense--no player has scored over 19 points in either game--and a pressure defense--they have forced an average of 16 turnovers per game--to get victories. Their next game brings Bradley, a team that was not expected to be here, and their 7-foot center Patrick O' Bryant. After that, if Memphis wins, they will get either UCLA or Gonzaga. They match up well with both of those teams. Don't be surprised to see Memphis in the Final Four.

Cinderella: Bradley. The lowest-seeded in the Sweet Sixteen right now, the Braves have had two wins in a row in which they jumped out to an early lead and controlled the game the entire team. In the first round, they shot 52% from long-range and forced 18 turnovers to defeat Kansas. In the second round, the Braves held Aaron Gray to 12 points and 4 rebounds to take down Pitt. Bradley is an athletic team with a lot of talent that can play with any team in the country. They play very good defensively, both in the half-court and full-court, and like to disrupt a team's offensive sets. Patrick O' Bryant has become one of the most dominant forces in the NCAA Tournament, while Marcellus Sommerville has been a very good offensive performer. Their three-guard attack, led by Tony Bennett, has been key at both ends of the floor.

Most intriguing personnel matchup: Memphis' Shawne Williams vs. Bradley's Marcellus Sommerville. Two versatile, athletic combo forwards will battle it out for the right to go to the Elite Eight. Both players are terrific offensive players who can score both inside and outside. They each are more efficient going to the basket, but tend to hang out on the perimeter too often. Williams has been one of the best freshmen in the country throughout the season. He can score in a variety of ways, and is also a very good defender. His all-around play and athleticism make him difficult to stop. Sommerville is a very tough one-on-one player because of his versatile scoring ability and athleticism. He sometimes forces shots and tries to take over the game, but with O'Bryant becoming a star, he has adapted well to becoming the second option on the offensive end. It should be an exciting match-up.

First-round knockout that will be here next year: Kansas. The Jayhawks have a chance to be the preason #1 heading into next season with all the talent they have returning. They will return all five starters and will also bring in another perimeter scorer in Sherron Collins. Brandon Rush announced he will return for his sophomore year, giving Kansas a potential All-American. Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson became a very solid backcourt, both offensively and defensively. Moreover, Julian Wright is sure to become a household name next season. He might be more versatile than anyone in the country. Inside, C.J. Giles, Sasha Kaun, and Darnell Jackson will be more than enough to compete for a national championship. With the way that Kansas played down the stretch this season combined with all the talent on the roster, it's easy to see why the Jayhawks will be one of the best teams in the country next season.

All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Ronald Steele, Alabama: 22 ppg, 6 apg
Forward- Adam Morrison, Gonzaga: 24.5 ppg
Forward- Marcellus Sommerville, Bradley: 19.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg
Center- Patrick O'Bryant, Bradley: 18 ppg, 8.5 rpg
Center- J.P. Batista, Gonzaga: 19 ppg, 8.5 rpg
Sixth Man- Earl Calloway, Indiana: 15.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 6.5 apg

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: Atlanta Region

Favorite: Duke. Coming into the Tournament, I pegged the Blue Devils as the favorite of the region. Nothing so far in the first weekend has made me change my mind. Duke is playing like they did before their season-ending slump, taking care of Southern in the first round and then comfortably handling George Washington in the second round. Shelden Williams has dominated the interior so far, while J.J. Redick seems to have his shot back. Moreover, Josh McRoberts is developing into a star. The regional semi-final game against LSU poses a problem, however. Glen Davis is a beast down low, while Tyrus Thomas and Tasmin Mitchell are athletic, versatile forwards. Darrell Mitchell is playing very well on the perimeter. If the Blue Devils get past that game, a rematch with Texas likely awaits. Even with all of that, Duke is still the favorite to win the region in my mind.

Cinderella: West Virginia. As a #6 seed, the Mountaineers aren't much of a Cinderella--they have a legit shot at winning the region. However, given the fact that they are the lowest seed remaining and are also the least talented of the group, they are the long shot of the region. With that said, West Virginia has been one of the dominant teams of the NCAA Tournament thus far. They ran Southern Illinois out of the gym in the first round, and took control early against Northwestern State and never looked back. WVU has been getting balanced contributions on the offensive end and have forced almost 20 turnovers per game in the first two. Against Texas, they obviously don't have the size to compete with the Longhorns on the inside, but they have the versatility to contend. If the Mountaineers are hitting their threes, they can beat anyone in the country.

Most intriguing personnel matchup: Duke's Shelden Williams vs. LSU's Glen Davis. The top three post players left in the Tournament all reside in this region. Two will go against each other in this game. Williams has been one of the best players in the country the past two games, dominating the paint in both contests. Granted, he was not going against the best low-post talent out there, but he nonetheless owned the block. On the other hand, Davis has been a constant star for LSU throughout the season and the NCAA Tournament. He is more athletic than he looks and can hit the mid-range jumper. Moreover, he is not bad at taking post players off the dribble--not something you see everyday from a 6-9, 310 lb. big man. Williams tends to dominate smaller centers, but Davis is not your ordinary big man. It will be interesting to see who wins this battle.

First-round knockout that will be here next year: Texas A&M. The Aggies finished the season on a hot streak, and were one last-second shot by Darrell Mitchell away from the Sweet Sixteen. Acie Law has developed into one of the best guards in the country, and could get some preseason accolades next season. Moreover, Joseph Jones will also return on the inside. If those two don't go pro, A&M could be one of the Big 12 favorites. They only lose Chris Walker from the rotation, but shooter Josh Carter performed better than him throughout the season anyway. Another key to this team will be coach Billy Gillespie. He is sure to get interest from other schools, but if he stays, A&M won't miss a beat. Their slow-down style and tough defense will continue to cause teams problems in 2006-2007.

All First-Weekend Team:
Guard- Acie Law, Texas A&M: 19 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 4 apg
Guard- J.J Redick, Duke: 24.5 ppg, 47% 3pt
Forward- P.J. Tucker, Texas: 17 ppg, 11.5 rpg
Center- Glen Davis, LSU: 21.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.0 bpg
Center- Shelden Williams, Duke: 23 ppg, 16 rpg, 5.5 bpg
Sixth Man- Omar Williams, George Washington: 15 ppg, 12 rpg

Monday, March 20, 2006

Odds and Ends

Starting tomorrow, I will have a complete Sweet Sixteen preview, broken down region-by-region. It will include players to watch, favorites and sleepers, and much more.

Also, how is everyone's bracket doing? If you use the typical one point for each first round win and two points for each second-round victory, I would have 44 points. Not bad, but not good by any means. How is everyone else's doing?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sunday's Second Round Breakdown

Pittsburgh vs. Bradley- Not the dream match-up between Kansas and Pittsburgh that everyone expected, but it will suffice. The Panthers are coming off of a dominant win over Kent State in which they jumped out to a big lead and never looked back, while Bradley upset the Jayhawks in the first round in a game that they were leading for the entire contest. The Braves do not match-up as well with Pitt, though. Aaron Gray battling down low against Bradley's Patrick O' Bryant should be very interesting to watch; O' Bryant might be the only player in the region that can defend Gray one-on-one. Marcellus Sommerville had a big first-round, but he is going to have his hands full defensively guarding one of Pitt's quick perimeter players. Moreover, Carl Krauser does not seem like he wants to end his career anytime soon, which does not bode well for the Braves. The Panthers like a half-court game, while Bradley likes to get out and run with their athletes for baskets. This game will not be an up-tempo contest, which goes in favor of Pitt. The Panthers' experience and depth will be the difference. Prediction: Pittsburgh 71, Bradley 64

Memphis vs. Bucknell- A complete contrast of styles. Memphis has phenomenal athletes all over the roster, and they prefer and up-and-down game, forcing turnovers with their pressure, and scoring in transition. They demonstrated that by dropping nearly 100 points in the first round on Oral Roberts. On the other hand, Bucknell would rather the game be played in the half-court, and the score in the 60s. However, the Bison showed against Arkansas in the first round that they can deal with pressure and get easy baskets out of it. The key, though, will be seeing if Bucknell can break the press and not turn the ball over early in the game. Surprisingly, the Bison have more NCAA Tournament experience than Memphis, which could help them in a close game. Bucknell executes exceptionally well on offense, while Memphis tends to lose focus and lack aggressiveness at times on the offensive end. In the end, the difference will be Memphis' far superior talent. Rodney Carney will keep Charles Lee from having a big game for Bucknell, and the Bison have no answer for Shawne Williams. It will be a great game, though. Prediction: Memphis 69, Bucknell 63

North Carolina vs. George Mason- Coming into the Tournament, people thought that Kansas-Pitt and UNC-Michigan State would be the two best second-round games. Neither of those games ended up happening. Just something interesting I thought I'd throw out there. North Carolina is coming off of a hard-fought win against Murray State, while George Mason handled Michigan State fairly convincingly. The Spartans never really looked like they were going to pull out a win. Now, the Patriots have second-leading scorer Tony Skinn back, who was suspended for the first-round contest. If UNC plays the way they did against Murray State, they are in trouble. Jai Lewis vs. Tyler Hansbrough will be a battle to watch on the interior, while it will be interesting to see if either of the GMU wings can guard Reyshawn Terry, who will have a significant height advantage. George Mason is very balanced, and has five guys capable of having big games. If they can utilize that balance and keep UNC's frontcourt in check, they can pull off yet another upset. I can't see it happening, though--the Tar Heels have a great coach in Roy Williams and too good of a frontcourt. Prediction: North Carolina 76, George Mason 71

West Virginia vs. Northwestern State- Could this be part of another West Virginia run? Or are we looking at this year's Cinderella in Northwestern State? The 14th-seeded Demons upset Iowa on a last-second heave by Jermaine Wallace from the corner, while the Mountaineers destroyed Southern Illinois in a game that was never really that close. In this game, it will be a match-up of two very experienced teams that like to score. Northwestern State starts four seniors and like to press and attack on both ends of the floor. West Virginia also starts four seniors, but they like a half-court game where they can spread the floor and get their plethora of shooters open looks. If they are hitting their shots, the Mountaineers can beat anyone in the country. The Demons are going to have to have to be patient in the half-court and attack WVU's 1-3-1 zone if they are going to win this game. Moreover, they can't allow WVU's shooters to get going on. This could be a blowout if that happens. Prediction: West Virginia 77, Northwestern State 68

Connecticut vs. Kentucky- A match-up of two of the best programs in college basketball. Connecticut nearly became the first #1 seed to lose to a 16, but they used a 34-9 run against Albany in the last ten minutes to turn a 12-point deficit into a 13-point win. Kentucky avoided a repeat of history as they did not fall victim to UAB's pressure and pulled out a win over the Blazers. If UConn plays to their potential, this game will a blowout. However, you can never really predict how the Huskies are going to play. Randolph Morris is going to have his hands full inside with UConn's host of quality big men. If he gets neutralized by the Huskies' bigs, that could spell trouble for Kentucky as they need that inside presence to take the pressure off of the perimter players. Rudy Gay is also going to be a difficult match-up for whoever the Wildcats put on him--he is simply too big and talented for Kentucky. The only way Kentucky will win this game is if UConn plays another lackadaisical game and the Wildcats are on fire from three-point range. Anything other than that, though, and UConn will win. Prediction: Connecticut 76, Kentucky 64

Texas vs. North Carolina State- Another battle between a higher-seeded team that struggled with an inferior opponent and a medium-seeded team that looked fairly solid in their first-round game. Texas was neck-and-neck with Pennsylvania throughout the game, while North Carolina State made big plays down the stretch and knocked off California. The Longhorns have as much talent as anyone in the country, but don't play to their potential at all times. NC State runs a patient, half-court offense, utilizing passing and cuts to get easy baskets. If Texas does not play disciplined defense, the Wolfpack could pull off the upset. However, NC State may not have the frontcourt size and depth to slow down LaMarcus Aldridge, P.J. Tucker, etc. The Wolfpack can play with any team in the country when they are hitting their three-pointers, but they had been slumping heading into the NCAA Tournament. Cedric Simmons is going to have to play well for the Wolfpack inside if they want the necessary inside-outside balance to win. In the end, however, Texas has too much talent at all positions for NC State. Prediction: Texas 73, North Carolina State 65

Ohio State vs. Georgetown- A popular second-round upset pick. Georgetown is coming off of a close win over Northern Iowa, while Ohio State pulled away from Davidson late in the second half to come out with a victory. Both teams like to shoot the three-pointer often, but Ohio State is only shooting 23 percent from beyond the arc in the past seven games. If they don't start hitting their threes, the Buckeyes will be going home. On the other side, the Hoyas have been getting excellent production from their frontcourt, especially 7-2 Roy Hibbert. Hibbert vs. Big Ten Player of the Year Terence Dials is going to be an excellent battle down low. Another matchup to watch is Brandon Bowman vs. J.J. Sullinger at the forward spot. Both are versatile, athletic players that can score inside and out. The difference will come in the backcourt, mainly who can hit their jump shots more consistently. If Je'Kel Foster breaks out of his slump, look out Hoyas. Prediction: Ohio State 68, Georgetown 65

Villanova vs. Arizona- A game that, coming into the Tournament, would seem like an easy win for Villanova. However, in the first round, the Wildcats struggled with Monmouth for much of the game, while Arizona blew out Wisconsin right from the opening tap. Both teams are very talented and athletic, although 'Nova has played to their potential all season, while the other Wildcats were seemingly on the bubble all season. However, none of that matters now--it's about the matchups. Both teams play similar styles in terms of personnel, as both teams use four perimeter players and one big man. Hassan Adams going against Allan Ray will be the best battle of the day, as both are good scorers. Randy Foye against Marcus Williams will be another quality matchup. It's also a battle of Phildelphia point guards in Arizona's Mustafa Shakur and Villanova's Kyle Lowry. If you look at all the above matchups, Villanova has the edge. The only way Arizona keeps this game within reach is if they use their athleticism to force turnovers and get points in transition. Adams and Williams need to have big games. Prediction: Villanova 76, Arizona 69

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Saturday's Second Round Breakdown

Duke vs. George Washington- This has the potential to be a high-scoring game that could be closer than some would expect. Duke is coming off of a less-than-impressive victory over Southern, while GW came back from down by 18 points to defeat UNC-Wilmington. The Colonials' pressure defense and athleticism could give Duke problems, as the Blue Devils' have had trouble defending athletic teams that can spread the floor and take defenders one-on-one. Moreover, point guard Greg Paulus is prone to making bad decisions on occasion. On the other side, it will be interesting to see how Pops Mensah-Bonsu defends Shelden Williams. If he does not allow Williams to have a huge day, GW has a chance. Additionally, the plethora of wings that GW has are going to have slow down J.J. Redick. Prediction: Duke 86, George Washington 80

Florida vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee- Both teams looked pretty impressive in their first games, as Florida destroyed South Alabama, while UW-Milwaukee pulled off yet another upset with a win over Oklahoma. Will their second straight Cinderella run continue? If it is to happen, they are going to have to force turnovers like they did against Oklahoma. However, the Sooners were forced out of their style when the Panthers sped the game up. Florida does not mind running with UWM. The Gators have superb athletes all over the roster and can play at any pace. Florida's Corey Brewer is going to have to slow down Joah Tucker, while UW-Milwaukee is going to have to find a way to not allow Joakim Noah to have a major impact on the game. Prediction: Florida 77, Wisconsin-Milwaukee 72

Tennessee vs. Wichita State- Wichita State is a popular pick to upset Tennessee and move on to the Sweet Sixteen. But will it happen? The Shockers looked outstanding in their blowout win over Seton Hall in the first round, while Tennessee needed a shot with 0.4 seconds by Chris Lofton to down #15 Winthrop. Wichita State's frontcourt is very good, while the Volunteers don't really have an overwhelming frontline. If the Shockers can get Andre Patterson or Major Wingate in foul trouble early, the Volunteers are in trouble. On the other side, the backcourt of C.J. Watson and Chris Lofton are going to have to have a huge day to keep Tennessee in the game. Wichita State's backcourt is only average defensively, so it could happen. Should be a great game. Prediction: Wichita State 73, Tennessee 69

Illinois vs. Washington- Should be one of the best match-ups of the day. It will be a contrast of styles, between Illinois, who likes to play a half-court, defensive-minded game, and Washington, who likes to get out and run and score points in transition. The Fighting Illini held off Air Force in the first round, while Washington took command of Utah State from the opening tap and rolled to victory. The main key to the game will be the point guard play. Dee Brown is one of the best in the country, while the Huskies' Justin Dentmon is only a freshman. He can't allow Brown to dictate the game. For Washington, Brandon Roy is going to have to have another big game. If Rich McBride defends him, he could go off and take over the game. Brian Randle would give him a much more difficult time scoring, but I don't know if Bruce Weber is going to make that defensive switch. Washington showed against Utah State that they can play a half-court game in addition to their normal transition game, which gives them a good shot at winning this game. Prediction: Washington 75, Illinois 73

LSU vs. Texas A&M- This should be another good game, as Texas A&M looks to continue their upset run through the Tournament, while LSU tries to move on to the Sweet Sixteen. The Aggies upset Syracuse in the first round, while the Tigers struggled against Iona early on, but dominated them in the second half. Texas A&M likes to really slow the pace down and keep the game in the 40s or 50s. The problem for them is that LSU has the personnel to play in the half-court effectively. Glen Davis is nearly unstoppable down low, while Tyrus Thomas and Tasmin Mitchell are athletic and versatile. Texas A&M does not have the frontcourt talent or athleticism to hang with those guys. On the perimeter, Acie Law and Darrell Mitchell should be a great matchup. When it comes down to it, the Aggies simply do not have as many weapons as LSU does. Prediction: LSU 63, Texas A&M 55

Boston College vs. Montana- For some reason, this might be the least exciting game of the day. Considering the fact that Montana was in control for the entire game in their win over Nevada and Boston College needed double-overtime to take down Pacific, it is interesting to see that no one is really talking about the game. BC needs to start playing the way they did in the ACC Tournament--and the second overtime of their first-round game. For Montana to pull off another upset, Andrew Strait is going to need a big game down low, both offensively and defensively, in order to counter Craig Smith. The Boston College backcourt is going to have to step up and start to provide balance on the perimeter. Marcellus Kemp for Nevada had a huge game against Montana; it will be interesting to see if anyone on BC can duplicate that. In the end, Montana won't be able to deal with BC's physical style of play and BC's frontcourt will get them the victory. Prediction: Boston College 69, Montana 60

UCLA vs. Alabama- This should be another very good game between a higher seed and a team in the middle of the bracket (7-10 range). UCLA had one of the easier wins of the Tournament in their demolition of Belmont in the first round. On the other hand, Alabama looked very good in their game against Marquette, but they needed a heroic performance from Jean Felix to come out with a victory. Felix had 31 points and 8 three-pointers off the bench for the Crimson Tide. It may take another day like that from a role player on Alabama to beat UCLA. This is going to be a contrast of personnel. Alabama has mainly two guards, while UCLA has one of the top backcourts in the country in Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo. Farmar vs. Ronald Steele should be a great matchup. UCLA does not have a host of talented big men, while the frontcourt is where Alabama thrives. Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix are excellent on the glass, while Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is the main frontcourt player for UCLA. However, the Bruins showed, against Cal and Leon Powe, that they can slow down talented post players, and Alabama did not really dominate the paint against Marquette, who has even less talented frontcourt players that UCLA. Prediction: UCLA 72, Alabama 66

Gonzaga vs. Indiana- One of the more popular second-round upset picks this year. Gonzaga, as usual, struggled against inferior competition when it just got by Xavier in the first round. On the other side, Indiana was losing for nearly the entire game until Robert Vaden hit a three to give them the lead in the final minute. In other words, both teams are going to have to step their games up in the second round. Marco Killingsworth going up against J.P. Batista should be an outstanding battle down low. Killingsworth is more physical, while Batista tends to get into foul trouble at times. Indiana plays very good defense, due to their athleticism and versatility. Robert Vaden is going to have to play very good defense on Adam Morrison, and not allow to have another 35-point performance like he did in the first round. If they do not allow Morrison to dominate the game, they will pull the upset. Their amount of perimeter players that can shoot the ball with consistency is going to give the Bulldogs' problems. Prediction: Indiana 75, Gonzaga 71