Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: Midwest Region

Favorite: Florida. Who else could I go with? The Gators came into the Tournament as the overwhelming favorite in the Midwest Region, and nothing has changed that so far. They struggled for about a half against Jackson State, but blew the door wide open in the second half. Against Purdue in the second round, Florida was in a dogfight, but they made plays down the stretch and got the victory. Sometimes, it seems as if the Gators have a switch they can turn on late in games to get wins. Taurean Green is one of the best point guards in the country; Joakim Noah is started to regain some of the emotional swagger that made him so popular last year; Al Horford’s stock is rising very quickly in the Tournament due to his play. Corey Brewer is one of the best two-players in the country, and Lee Humphrey can shoot the lights-out. They shouldn’t have too much trouble against Butler, who doesn’t have the athleticism to match-up (I could’ve said the same for them against Maryland), and they have too much size for either Oregon or UNLV.

Cinderella: UNLV. I could’ve gone with either the Runnin’ Rebels or the Butler Bulldogs, but I think that UNLV has a better shot at getting to Atlanta, and they are also the lower seed. They looked very tough to beat in their opening two rounds, getting off to hot starts against both Georgia Tech and Wisconsin. They staved off second-half runs in both games to get to St. Louis. The Rebels are led by Wendell White, a match-up nightmare inside. He is only 6-6, but he is very athletic and can finish. Kevin Kruger is a very good shooter and makes smart decisions at the point, while Wink Adams and Michael Umeh can knock down shots from the perimeter. When they are hitting their threes, they are very difficult to beat. Defensively, they force turnovers with their perimeter quickness. With their depth on the perimeter, they don’t mind getting into a running game.

Most intriguing personnel match-up: Oregon’s Aaron Brooks vs. UNLV’s Kevin Kruger. The battle between UNLV and Oregon features many interesting positional match-ups, including UNLV’s Wendell White and Oregon’s Malik Hairston—two undersized power forwards that use their athleticism to get points. However, the battle between Brooks and Kruger will have a larger effect on the game. Brooks is one of the best point guards in the country, and has been very clutch this season. He is averaging 20 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. Kruger struggled in the opening game against Georgia Tech, but he was terrific against Wisconsin, scoring 16 points, grabbing 6 rebounds, and dishing out 7 assists—with no turnovers. The UNLV perimeter players love to force turnovers, and Brooks has to take care of the ball and utilize his superior talent. Kruger can’t Brooks to penetrate into the lane all game, and will also need to knock down his perimeter shots.

First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets came into the season as a threat to get a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament, and make a deep run in the Big Dance. However, they lost their leading scorer Lewis Clinch midway through the season due to academics, and they never seemed like they came together as a team. Next year, if Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young don’t go pro, Tech should be back for more—and could actually live up to the hype. They lose only one senior in Mario West, and will get Clinch back, as well as two good recruits in Gani Lawal and Maurice Miller. Crittenton and Young will have another year under their belts, and the post players should develop some sort of consistency down low.

All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Aaron Brooks, Oregon: 20.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.5 apg
Guard- Kammron Taylor, Wisconsin: 24.0 ppg, 2.5 apg
Forward- Wendell White, UNLV: 20.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg
Forward- Carl Landry, Purdue: 19.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.5 apg
Center- Al Horford, Florida: 16.0 ppg, 12.5 rpg
Sixth Man- Corey Brewer, Florida: 19.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.0 spg

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