Wednesday, March 14, 2007

East Region First-Round Previews


North Carolina vs. Eastern Kentucky: The Tar Heels had defensive struggles for most of the ACC season, especially the second half. Their inconsistency at that end of the floor hindered them in several games. However, it won’t matter in their first-round game against the Ohio Valley champion Colonels. This game will tune them up for the rest of the field.

Marquette vs. Michigan State: This game took a new turn on Tuesday, when Marquette’s starting guard, Jerel McNeal, was ruled out of the NCAA Tournament because of an injured thumb. He was going to guard Michigan State’s clutch star Drew Neitzel. Another storyline is the fact that MU coach Tom Crean was an assistant to MSU coach Tom Izzo. In terms of the game, neither team has much of an inside presence, so whoever gets the most production from their respective perimeter groups will likely win.

USC vs. Arkansas: Did either team have the resume to get the seed they were given? Both teams might have something to prove heading into the Big Dance. The Trojans have been competitive in nearly every game this season, and are not getting much hype on a national basis. Arkansas just snuck into the Tournament on the weight of their run in the SEC Tournament. USC has the huge edge on the perimeter, but Arkansas has depth and talent in the frontcourt. Which one will prevail? Whichever team gets the most balance.

Texas vs. New Mexico State: Everyone seems to have jumped on the Kevin Durant bandwagon heading into the NCAA Tournament, but don’t overlook this game. Reggie Theus has turned around the New Mexico State program with plenty of high-major transfers, and this team has athletes and size to give the Longhorns problems. Texas is still a young team, but they might have the best freshman duo in the country in Durant and point guard D.J. Augustin. This should be a fun game to watch.

Vanderbilt vs. George Washington: Here is another potential upset in the making. Vanderbilt has been up and down for much of the season, and they haven’t looked overly impressive during the second half of SEC play. George Washington is on a roll heading into the Tournament, fresh off their Atlantic-10 Tournament title. They have plenty of athletes and the length to give Vandy’s wing duo of Derrick Byars and Shan Foster trouble. If the Commodores can handle GW’s pressure, they should pull out the victory.

Washington State vs. Oral Roberts: This region is full of double-digit seeds capable of pulling a big upset—and this is one of them. Oral Roberts has the potential to be this year’s Northwestern State—the 14 or 15 seed to knock off the overrated 3 seed. WSU is very tough defensively, but they struggle offensively (sound like last year’s Iowa team?). They also have no tournament experience. ORU has Caleb Green, one of the best post players in the country, and a terrific shooter in Ken Tutt. They are ready to breakthrough to the second round.

Boston College vs. Texas Tech: This might be the least exciting 7-10 game of the Tournament. Neither team is coming into the Tournament on a high note, and both teams may have received too high of a seed. With that said, there are several high-quality players in this game. Both teams are solid in the backcourt, with Tech’s Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno and BC’s Tyrese Rice and Sean Marshall. The difference is going to be Jared Dudley. The Eagles star is very difficult to guard, and will carry BC to the win.

Georgetown vs. Belmont: The Hoyas seem to be the chic pick to reach the Final Four as a #2 seed. This will be the start to their quest to reach Atlanta. Belmont gave UCLA somewhat of a scare in the first half of last season, and will attempt to do the same this year. Even if they do, the Hoyas have way too much inside for the Bruins.

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