Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: South Region

Favorite: Texas A&M. This is a wide-open region, with the top three seeds remaining. However, with the final two rounds in San Antonio, the edge has to go to Texas A&M. The Aggies have played very well in the opening two rounds, dominating Pennsylvania for much of the game in the first-round, and holding off a very tough Louisville team in the second round. Their game against the Cardinals was one of the best games of the Tournament. Acie Law is the most clutch player in college basketball, and can carry the Aggies. Dominique Kirk has stepped up the past two games, and Josh Carter is a terrific long-range shooter. Inside, Joseph Jones and Antanas Kavaliauskas form one of the better post duos in the country. Moreover, Texas A&M might be the best defensive team in the country. The Aggies are going to face a pressing team in Memphis, but they faced one in Louisville, and handled it very well. If they face Ohio State in the Elite Eight, A&M has the big men to throw at Oden, and I think that Acie Law can win games for the Aggies as long as they keep it close.

Tennessee. With the top three seeds advancing, the only other team left is the 5 seed Volunteers. Tennessee was absolutely sensational in the opening round against Long Beach State, scoring 121 points and hitting shots from everywhere. They got off to a hot start against Virginia, and made plays in the second half and down the stretch to pull out the victory. Chris Lofton is the best three-point shooter in the country, and has unlimited range. If he gets hot, look out. JaJuan Smith is an underrated scorer on the wing and Ramar Smith is quick at the point. Dane Bradshaw is a glue guy and freshmen Wayne Chism and Duke Crews are athletic players down low. They nearly knocked off Ohio State in Columbus this year, when Lofton wasn’t very good. If they can use their pressure and force turnovers, they can spring the upset. They might not have the inside players to match-up, though.

Most intriguing personnel match-up: Ohio State’s Ron Lewis vs. Tennessee’s Chris Lofton. This is going to be a terrific battle on the wing. Lewis made a name for himself in the second round, when he hit the long three at the end of regulation to force overtime, but he has been doing that all year. He can score driving to the basket, and can also knock down perimeter shots. He is extremely efficient at getting fouled. Lofton is a big-time gunner who can carry the Volunteers if he gets hot. He has also developed his offensive game, so he is not one-dimensional. The key for both of these players will be their defense. Lewis can’t allow Lofton to get open shots on the perimeter, and he especially can’t let him get into a rhythm right off the bat. Lofton has to be able to guard the strong and more physical Lofton. There are also several interesting battles in the Memphis-Texas A&M game, including Robert Dozier vs. Antanas Kavaliauskas and Chris Douglas-Roberts (if he plays) vs. Dominique Kirk.

First weekend knockout that will be here next year: Louisville. The Cardinals were an Edgar Sosa jump-shot from reaching the Sweet Sixteen, but they will definitely make it in 2008. They lose only one player, guard Brandon Jenkins, and their depth this year will allow them to fill that hole with no problem. Sosa is a developing point guard, while Jerry Smith is a very good shooter. Up front, Terrence Williams will be an all-conference player. He could have a break-out season next year. David Padgett and Derrick Caracter are great down low. They also have versatile weapons in Juan Palacios and Earl Clark. With Rick Pitino at the helm, the Cardinals are going to run, press, and shoot their way to a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Provided no one goes pro, this team is loaded.

All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Acie Law, Texas A&M: 23.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 apg
Guard- J.R. Reynolds, Virginia: 27.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.5 spg
Guard- Marcelus Kemp, Nevada: 22.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.5 spg
Guard- Chris Lofton, Tennessee: 22.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 spg
Center- Greg Oden, Ohio State: 16.5 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.5 bpg
Sixth Man- Sean Singletary, Virginia: 21.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 7.0 apg

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