Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thursday's Sweet Sixteen Previews

Kansas vs. Southern Illinois (7:10 PM): A very intriguing contrast of styles. Kansas likes to get up and down the court with their plethora of athletes, while Southern Illinois is a half-court team that plays arguably the best defense in the country. Kansas is led by their forward tandem of Brandon Rush and Julian Wright, while they have a terrific trio of guards in Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers, and Sherron Collins. They’re loaded. SIU has a very good backcourt in Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young, while Randal Falker anchors in the interior. The key match-up is going to be Brandon Rush against Tony Young. Young is a terrific defender, while Rush can really shoot the ball. Inside, it’s going to be interesting to see if SIU can match Julian Wright. Matt Shaw is a very good inside-outside player, but he’s doubtful for the game. He might be too athletic for anyone on SIU. For Kansas, they need to stop Jamaal Tatum. The Jayhawks have tons of defensive talent on the perimeter, and they should be able to keep him under control. Kansas is not explosive when they play against physical teams that can control tempo, but I think their athleticism and overall talent will be the difference. The Jayhawks are one of the few teams in the country that can play at multiple tempos as well as they do. Moreover, Julian Wright should have a big game for the Jayhawks—his all-around play will be key. Prediction: Kansas 67, Southern Illinois 61

Memphis vs. Texas A&M (7:27 PM): One of the best games of the Sweet Sixteen. It’s another contrast of styles, as Memphis presses all game, forcing turnovers and speeding the tempo of the game up. On the other side, Texas A&M is a terrific half-court defensive team and they like to play at a slower tempo. Memphis is a deep and talented team, especially on the wings. Chris Douglas-Roberts is a terrific finisher and Jeremy Hunt can really shoot it. Robert Dozier is athletic and active up front, while Joey Dorsey is a big-time shot-blocker and rebounder down low. A&M is balanced and have plenty of options. Acie Law is the most clutch player in the country, and Josh Carter can shoot the lights-out. Joseph Jones and Antanas Kavaliauskas are tough down low. The tempo game will be the key to this game. Louisville tried to press the Aggies, and A&M was well-schooled. If the Tigers can force turnovers and get it into a running game, they have the advantage. Moreover, they have to take advantage of Robert Dozier inside. He is too athletic for the inside players of A&M, and could have a big game. Additionally, they have to hit their outside shots. A&M needs to slow the game down and break the Tigers’ pressure. They need to get the game at their tempo. Moreover, Acie Law needs to dominate from the point position, and the A&M big guys need to get Joey Dorsey in foul trouble. In terms of foul trouble for A&M, Joseph Jones needs to stay in the game and off the bench. The difference, I think, is going to be A&M’s ability to handle the Memphis pressure and the presence of Acie Law at the point. He is going to come through down the stretch. Prediction: Texas A&M 74, Memphis 70

UCLA vs. Pittsburgh (9:40 PM):
This game features one of the best storylines of the Sweet Sixteen. Ben Howland, who brought Pittsburgh to Big East prominence, is now the UCLA coach and has transformed the Bruins into the national power it once was. Both teams like to play a physical game, mostly in the half-court. UCLA has a terrific backcourt in Darren Collison and Arron Affalo, two of the best two-way guards in the country. Josh Shipp is another scorer on the perimeter. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute leads the way up front. Pittsburgh is balanced and has multiple options. Aaron Gray is a go-to-guy down low, and Levance Fields and Mike Cook lead a deep group of perimeter players. For Pittsburgh to win, they are going to need to go to Aaron Gray inside early and often. He has a big advantage in the paint, and could have a huge game. Moreover, they will need to get perimeter scoring, even though UCLA has terrific defensive players at the guard spots. Levance Fields has to take care of the ball against Darren Collison, who can really rattle opposing point guards. UCLA plays unbelievable defense, but their offense will be the key. Arron Afflalo is a very good go-to-guy who has come through in the clutch; he needs to have a big game. Josh Shipp also needs to be more consistent as a scorer. Defensively, they need to keep Pittsburgh off the offensive glass. Pitt’s Sam Young, Aaron Gray, and Levon Kendall crash the boards with vigor, and UCLA is not overly talented down low. They need to slow down Gray on the interior. The difference will be UCLA’s defense and their guard play. Prediction: UCLA 63, Pittsburgh 59

Ohio State vs. Tennessee (9:57 PM): A rematch of a non-conference game played in January. Ohio State won that one in Columbus, by two points on a Ron Lewis jumper late in the game. Tennessee is looking for revenge—and a trip to the Elite Eight. Ohio State has improved as the season went on, typical for a young team like the Buckeyes. Greg Oden is a dominator at both ends of the floor, while OSU’s myriad of perimeter players are tough to defend. Mike Conley is one of the better point guards in the country, and Ron Lewis can score in a variety of ways. Tennessee is also a young team, and looked better late in the year. Chris Lofton has unlimited range, and JaJuan Smith can also score. Wayne Chism is an inside-outside threat down low. If Tennessee is to get the victory, Chris Lofton needs to play better. He struggled in the first meeting. Moreover, the Vols need to get the tempo at their pace, and they need to force turnovers. Lastly, Wayne Chism and Duke Crews have to be able to contain Greg Oden down low. For Ohio State, their perimeter players need to knock down shots. The Buckeyes need to keep some of the attention off of Oden, and guys like Daequan Cook and Ron Lewis need to score. Moreover, Mike Conley has to take care of the ball against the Tennessee press. If he gets rattled by the pressure, it’s going to be tough for the Vols. The difference is going to be Greg Oden down low—he is simply too big for anyone on Tennessee. Prediction: Ohio State 72, Tennessee 66

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