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Monday, March 31, 2008
Final Four Preview
Best Inside-Outside Combo
Best Three-Point Shooter
Best Second Option
Best Point Guard
Best Shooting Guard
Best Power Forward
Memphis vs. UCLA
North Carolina vs. Kansas
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Kansas vs. Davidson Preview
Kansas has not been the most dominant one seed thus far in the NCAA Tournament, but it has won each game by double-digits and has demonstrated why it deserved a top-seed. The Jayhawks opened the Tournament with an easy win over the champions from the Big Sky, Portland State. Against UNLV in the second round, it was a relatively close game for most of the contest, but Kansas pulled away down the stretch for a 19-point victory. The Sweet Sixteen brought a No. 12 seed in Villanova. This time, Kansas jumped out to an early lead in the first half and never looked back en route to a 15-point win.
Davidson has been the story of the NCAA Tournament so far. The Southern Conference champions received a No. 10 seed on Selection Sunday, but have proved the Committee wrong by winning three straight games after being tied or down at halftime in each of them. In the first-round, the Wildcats overcame an 11-point deficit in the second half to beat Gonzaga by six. Stephen Curry had 30 of his 40 points after halftime. The second-round needed more Curry heroics, this time against Georgetown. He had 25 of his 30 points in the second half, as Davidson erased a 17-point second-half lead by the Hoyas to win. He – and Davidson – was not done yet, as the Wildcats dominated Wisconsin in the second-half to win by 17 after going into halftime tied at 36. Curry had 22 points in the second stanza.
Kansas is certainly one of the most complete and talented teams in the country, with future pros up and down the roster. The Jayhawks have great inside-outside balance and are also one of the best defensive teams in the country. It all starts on the perimeter, where Kansas has one of the deepest guard groups in the nation. Brandon Rush is the team’s best scorer and shooter, but he tends to defer to his teammates too often and needs to become more aggressive offensively. Mario Chalmers is an excellent player at both ends of the floor, while Russell Robinson is a lockdown defender and a leader. Sherron Collins, who comes off the bench, is the most explosive and dynamic of them all. Up front, Darrell Arthur is a future first-round pick who is tough to guard, while Darnell Jackson is a banger down low who can score and rebound. Sasha Kaun does the dirty work off the bench, and Cole Aldrich also sees minutes up front.
Davidson came into the season as a trendy top-25 pick, but those thoughts went by the wayside during a 1-6 non-conference campaign. However, the Wildcats ran through the Southern Conference undefeated and won the tourney. They’re for real. Obviously, it all starts with Stephen Curry. The sophomore guard is one of the best shooters and scorers in the country, and he has the ability to take over a game if he gets hot. His partner in the backcourt is Jason Richards, a good scorer who also led the nation in assists. Max Paulhus Gosselin also starts on the perimeter. Bryant Barr can shoot and William Archambault can do a little of everything off the bench. Up front, Andrew Lovedale has been a factor at both ends of the floor, while Thomas Sander is physical down low. Boris Meno, who started last year, is a solid forward off the bench, and Stephen Rossiter can rebound.
On paper, Kansas obviously has the edge of Davidson, but many of the victims that Davidson has slayed this season could have said the same thing. With Stephen Curry and momentum on your side, anything can happen. If Kansas is going to put an end to the Cinderella run, it will obviously have to stop Curry, or at least slow him down. The Jayhawks have a plethora of outstanding perimeter defenders who will make life difficult for Curry. Furthermore, Kansas needs to control the backboards at both ends. Davidson is a scrappy team who will thrive on second-chance points and multiple opportunities. Offensively, the Jayhawks need to get the ball down low to Arthur and Jackson and take advantage of their edge in the paint. On the other side, Davidson needs to get the ball to Curry in positions where he can score, or at least get open shots. The Wildcats need him to perform at the same level he has during the entire NCAA Tournament. Also, the supporting cast needs to step up. Jason Richards has been solid all year, while Andrew Lovedale has been a factor in the Big Dance. Defensively, Davidson needs to keep an eye on Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush and not allow them to get hot from beyond the arc. The Wildcats also need to contain the bigs of Kansas – if the Jayhawks get their inside-outside balance working, it will be a long day for Davidson.
I think this is where we see the dream season and Cinderella run for Davidson end. Kansas is just too talented, inside and outside, and the Jayhawks have the perimeter defenders to force Curry into a tough night. If Curry goes for 35-40 again and two other players also chip in with double-figures, the Wildcats have a shot. But I don’t see it happening – Kansas moves on.
Prediction: Kansas 74, Davidson 66
Memphis vs. Texas Preview
Memphis, despite have just one loss all season, did not get the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and was placed in the second-most difficult region. The Tigers opened the Tournament with a blowout win over Texas-Arlington in a game that was never close. Against Mississippi State in the second round, victory was not assured until the Jamont Gordon’s three-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the rim. Missed free-throws late in the game nearly cost the Tigers. The Sweet Sixteen match-up against Michigan State was not nearly as competitive. The Tigers jumped out to an early lead and took a 30-point margin into halftime.
Texas might have received a No. 1 seed had it defeated Kansas in the Big 12 title game, but a regional final in Houston was a great consolation prize. The Longhorns began their quest for a Final Four with an easy first-round win over Austin Peay. Like Memphis, Texas had trouble in its second-round match-up against Miami (Fl.). It looked like the Longhorns might cruise to an easy win, but a late flurry by the Hurricanes put a scare into Texas. The Longhorns escaped by three. Their Sweet Sixteen battle against Stanford was expected to be a very competitive contest, but the Longhorns finished the game on a huge run and turned a one-point lead into a 20-point win.
Memphis came into the season as my preseason No. 1, and did nothing all season that made me regreat that pick. The Tigers are one of the deepest and most explosive teams in the country, and they have talent all over the roster. Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts form one of the best perimeter tandems in the country. Rose is a fantastic freshman point guard who can take over games, while CDR is a dynamite scorer who is difficult to defend. Antonio Anderson can do a little of everything on the perimeter, while Willie Kemp, Andre Allen and Doneal Mack provide depth. Up front, Robert Dozier is another player who is difficult to match-up with because of his size and skill set. Joey Dorsey is one of the best rebounders and defenders in the country, but only when he stays on the floor. He often struggles because of foul trouble. Shawn Taggart has developed as the season has progressed, and is now very solid off the bench.
Heading into the season, Texas faced several question marks regarding how it was going to replace Player of the Year Kevin Durant. So far, it has answered every one of those questions. It all starts in the backcourt, with arguably the best point guard in the nation, D.J. Augustin. He is very difficult to keep out of the lane and is fearless when driving to the basket. A.J. Abrams is a standout three-point shooter who can get hot from deep, while Justin Mason can help in a variety of categories. Up front, Damion James has been a huge factor in replacing Durant; he was one of the best forwards in the Big 12 all season long. Connor Atchley can stretch defenses with his size and shooting ability. Off the bench, Gary Johnson has provided a boost up front since being cleared to play because of a heart condition. Dexter Pittman was a bit player during the regular season, but played a key role in the win over Stanford.
With a berth in the Final Four on the line, expect an up-and-down game filled with lots of points and exciting back-and-forth basketball. Both teams have outstanding perimeter groups that can carry their respective teams if necessary, and both teams have match-up problems in the frontcourt. If Memphis is going to continue its dream season in San Antonio, it is going to have to keep Augustin out of the lane. Texas’ offense struggles to score when Augustin is contained and confined to the perimeter. Offensively, Rose needs to take care of the ball and get the Tigers’ offense going against Augustin. He has to hold his own. Furthermore, Memphis needs to take advantage of its size edge down low. Dorsey is stronger and more physical than anyone in the Longhorns’ lineup. On the other side, Texas needs to hit its perimeter shots. Memphis has shot-blockers and athletes in the lane, and the Longhorns will have to drag them away from the basket by hitting open shots. Defense will be the key, though. Rick Barnes might utilize a zone to force Memphis to shoot jumpers instead of allowing Rose and CDR to penetrate against man-to-man defense. James and Atchley will also have to step up down low. Atchley is not strong enough to outplay Dorsey, but he will have to put a body on him so Dorsey can’t get easy second-chance points. James will need to be his usual relentless self on the glass. The match-up between the smallish but quick Augustin and the strong and physical Rose at point guard is going to be great to watch.
In the end, I think Memphis has the talent and experience to beat Texas in its own state. Rose should be able to force Augustin into a tough night because of his strength and size, and I don’t think Texas has the bigs down low to keep Memphis off the glass. Memphis’ depth and defensive pressure will wear Texas down, and the Tigers will head to the Final Four.
Prediction: Memphis 77, Texas 72
Saturday, March 29, 2008
North Carolina vs. Louisville Preview
North Carolina, the overall No.1 seed in the entire NCAA Tournament, has been on a tear so far in the Big Dance, annihilating any team in its path. The Tar Heels opened the Tournament with an easy win over Mount St. Mary’s, although the game was close for some of the first half. In the second round, UNC jumped out to a 25-point halftime lead against Arkansas and never looked back. The Tar Heels scored over 100 points for the second consecutive game. Against Washington State in the Sweet Sixteen, they didn’t quite reach triple-digits again, but they overcame an early deficit to go on a big run in the first-half en route to a 21-point victory.
Louisville struggled early in the season, but was playing some of the best basketball in the country near the end of the year, and continued that trend in the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals defeated Boise State handily in the first-round, taking control early and winning by 18. In the second round, it was more of the same. Oklahoma seemed like a worthy challenger, but the Cardinals doubled the Sooners up in the first half and eventually won by 30. Against Tennessee in the Sweet Sixteen, Louisville took an early 24-8 lead before Tennessee made a comeback. However, the Cardinals got easy basket after easy basket in the second half and won by 19.
North Carolina came into the season as one of the favorites for the national title and did nothing to dissuade that for most of season. The Tar Heels lost just two games, to Maryland and Duke, both in Chapel Hill. North Carolina is led by Player of the Year co-favorite Tyler Hansbrough, who has carried the Tar Heels at times this season. He is relentless inside and can simply overpower and outwork for points and rebounds. In the backcourt, Ty Lawson is back and healthy. He is extremely quick with the ball and gets UNC’s offense going. Wayne Ellington is an outstanding shooter who can get hot from outside and the mid-range. Marcus Ginyard is a lockdown defender, while Danny Green is the ultimate role player and sixth man. Deon Thompson has shown flashes of his potential inside, while Alex Stepheson provides depth. Quentin Thomas has proven he can handle the point guard position if necessary.
As said earlier, Louisville didn’t get off to a good start this season, but it bounced back in Big East play and finished the season playing very solid basketball. The Cardinals are deep and talented and can beat opponents in a variety of ways. Terrence Williams and David Padgett lead the way. Both are playmakers who get their teammates involved. Williams is athletic and can do-it-all, while Padgett is a terrific passing big man who can also score. Earl Clark is a tough match-up at forward; he is supremely talented. Juan Palacios is solid, while Derrick Caracter is tough to handle around the basket. In the backcourt, Jerry Smith is the team’s best three-point shooter. Andre McGee is a good point guard who can play solid defense and shoot the three with efficiency. Edgar Sosa is arguably more talented, but he struggles at times to play within himself and the Louisville system. Preston Knowles also sees minutes in the backcourt.
This is going to be an outstanding game between two of the most talented teams in the country. There are going to be at least a handful of future pros on the court at all times, which should make for a great contest to watch. Additionally, these teams have been the most dominating of the tourney, as UNC has won its games by an average of 30.3 points per game, while Louisville has won its contests by an average of 22.3 per game. Both teams like to get out and run to try and get points in transition, but both can play in the halfcourt if necessary. If North Carolina is going to win, the Tar Heels need to force turnovers and get transition baskets. Louisville is prone to turning the ball over, but UNC has to take advantage of that. UNC also has to get out on the Louisville shooters; if the Cardinals get hot from deep, look out. Offensively, allowing Lawson to control the game and then throwing it down low to Hansbrough will be the best offense. On the other side, Louisville has to take care of the ball. They turned the ball over 20 times against Tennessee; they can’t do that again. Furthermore, Williams has to take over like he did against the Vols. Ginyard is a good defender, but Williams needs to get to the lane and create. Clark should have a big game against the UNC bigs, as well. Lastly, the Cardinals need to get out on the Tar Heel shooters and force them into poor nights.
If Louisville hits its three-pointers and takes care of the ball, I think the Cardinals will get the win. They have the frontcourt to force Tyler Hansbrough into a tough night, and the athleticism on the perimeter to make life difficult for the UNC guards. Earl Clark could be the difference down the stretch.
Prediction: Louisville 78, North Carolina 76
UCLA vs. Xavier Preview
UCLA, the top seed in the West Region, has been less than impressive so far in the NCAA Tournament – yet is still one of the favorites to win the national title. The Bruins opened the Tournament with an easy win over Mississippi Valley State, holding the Delta Devils to just 29 points. In the second round, Texas A&M looked like it might pull the improbable upset as the Aggies led by as many as 10 points in the second half. However, UCLA fought back and got the win on Darren Collison’s lay-up with nine seconds left. The Bruins blocked (fouled?) Donald Sloan’s game-tying attempt with time running out. UCLA was in control of its Sweet Sixteen game against Western Kentucky, but foul trouble allowed the Hilltoppers to keep it close in the second half. The No. 12 seed couldn’t take the lead, though, and UCLA was headed to the Elite Eight.
Xavier came into the NCAA Tournament on the back of some late-season struggles, but the Atlantic-10 champions clearly deserved their No. 3 seed. The Musketeers looked like it was going to be a short trip to the Big Dance, though, as they fell behind by 11 to Georgia in the first round. However, they made a late run and eventually won by 11 points. In the second-round against Purdue, it was another tightly-fought contest. Purdue took the lead in the second half, but the Musketeers went on a quick 7-0 run to take back a lead they would never relinquish. The Sweet Sixteen brought one of the hottest teams in the country, West Virginia. Xavier jumped out to an early lead, but the Mountaineers started knocking down shots and took a late lead. After Joe Alexander hit a turnaround back-shot for WVU with 14 seconds left but missed the ensuing free-throw, the game went to overtime. Back-to-back threes by XU’s B.J. Raymond would prove too much for WVU, though, and Xavier was moving on.
UCLA has been near the top of the rankings all season, mainly because the Bruins have one of the best point guards in the country (Darren Collison), one of the best big men in the country (Kevin Love), and arguably the best coach in the country (Ben Howland). This trio is trying to lead UCLA to its third consecutive Final Four appearance. Collison is lightning-quick at both ends of the floor, and can change games with his defensive tenacity and penetration abilities. He is a good three-point shooter but is at his best when driving into the lane. Love is dominant in the low-post, and is very difficult to stop due to his strength inside. He can also step out and hit the three-pointer if left open. Defensively, he is a very good shot-blocker. Russell Westbrook is one of the best defensive players in the country; he constantly gets into passing lanes to intercept passes. He is also very athletic and can finish around the basket. Josh Shipp has struggled lately, but he is a very good shooter and scorer. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute can do a little of everything, but has tended to turn the ball over too much in the NCAA Tournament. James Keefe put forth a career game in the Sweet Sixteen, scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Alfred Aboya and Lorenzo Mata-Real provide depth inside.
Xavier was the Atlantic-10 favorite before the season, and proved it all year long, winning 18 of its last 20 regular-season games. The Musketeers are very experienced, with five juniors or seniors in their top six players. They also have plenty of inside-outside balance, making them difficult to defend. Josh Duncan leads the way. The team’s sixth man for much of the season has moved into the starting lineup for the NCAA Tournament; he is too good to keep off the floor. He is difficult to defend due to his ability to score around the basket as well as on the perimeter. Derrick Brown is the other forward – he is one of the most athletic players in college basketball. He is a tremendous rebounder. C.J. Anderson plays on the wing, but his game is predicated on taking smaller defenders into the lane and finishing inside. In the backcourt. Drew Lavender is one of the most underrated point guards in the country. He takes care of the ball and is a very good leader and distributor. Furthermore, he can score if he needs to. Stanley Burrell used to be one of the team’s leading scorers, but he has sacrificed his personal numbers and has become one of the best defenders left in the Tournament. He can shoot the ball well. B.J. Raymond is a tremendous outside shooter who can get hot from deep. Providing inside help is Jason Love, who started 20 games this season and can rebound and score down low. Dante Jackson comes off the bench in the backcourt; he is a solid shooter and defender.
This game should be a terrific battle between two teams who can hurt teams both inside and outside, and play very good defense. Both teams can play at multiple tempos and have won in a variety of ways this season. If UCLA is to advance to its third Final Four in as many years, it is going to have to take care of the ball. It has turned the ball over far too often in the NCAA Tournament, and Xavier will take advantage of that. Furthermore, the Bruins need to stay out of foul trouble. Collison fouled out against Western Kentucky, and Shipp and Westbrook both had four fouls. That helped fuel the Hilltoppers’ comeback. Defensively, UCLA has to contain Lavender and slow down Duncan. Lavender is the heart and soul of Xavier, and the Musketeers will be lost if he is not playing well. Offensively, Shipp has to hit shots and the Bruins need to get the ball to Love inside. On the other side, Xavier has to utilize its balance and multitude of weapons to its advantage. Six players average double-figures, and UCLA will have to play outstanding defense to defend everyone. UCLA has very good perimeter defenders, but Lavender will have to penetrate and then distribute. Defensively, the Musketeers have to stop Love inside. He is capable of taking over the game, and XU can’t allow that. Additionally, Xavier will have to be careful with the ball. UCLA has made runs in each of its games based off of steals by Collison and Westbrook, which they turn into easy fast-break points.
In the end, the difference is going to be Kevin Love inside; he is too strong for anyone on Xavier to handle. Additionally, UCLA has the guards in Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook to pester Drew Lavender and the Xavier wings. Unless Josh Duncan has a huge game, UCLA will move on.
Prediction: UCLA 71, Xavier 65
Friday, March 28, 2008
Friday's Sweet Sixteen Game Previews
Texas vs. Stanford (7:27 PM): This should be an outstanding game, with a complete contrast in styles and personnel at the forefront of the match-up. Texas thrives when its guards are controlling the game and getting points, while Stanford is loaded up front and can physically overwhelm most opponents. Which will prevail and get to the Elite Eight? Texas had an excellent year despite the loss of Kevin Durant. The Longhorns won the Big 12 regular-season title on the back of D.J. Augustin, one of the best point guards in the country. A.J. Abrams is a very good three-point shooter, while Justin Mason makes an impact at both ends of the floor. Damion James has developed into one of the tougher match-ups in college basketball, and Connor Atchley is the ultimate role player. Stanford is led by Brook and Robin Lopez down low, one of the best post duos in the country. Brook is an All-America, while Robin is a premier defender. Lawrence Hill is capable of putting up big numbers. In the backcourt, Anthony Goods is the leading scorer, while Mitch Johnson is a solid lead guard. He had 16 assists in their second-round win over Marquette. The key in this game will obviously be the battle between Texas’ backcourt and Stanford’s frontcourt. Augustin is nearly unstoppable when he wants to get to the lane, but Stanford has one of the better defenses around. The Cardinal also can’t allow Abrams to get hot from outside. On the other end, can Texas slow down the Lopez twins offensively and also neutralize them defensively? If James and Atchley pull them away from the basket, it will open up driving lanes for the guards. In the end, I think that Stanford has the defensive ability to contain Augustin, but I don’t think Texas will be able to stop the Lopez boys. Prediction: Stanford 69, Texas 65
Kansas vs. Villanova (9:40 PM): Will the surprising Cinderella run by Villanova continue or will the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament clock strike midnight against one of the most complete teams in the country and a national title favorite? The Wildcats, seeded No. 12, might have been the last team in the NCAA Tournament, but they have made the most of it since getting here. They came from behind to beat Clemson in the first-round, then handled Siena easily in the second. They were knocked out by Kansas last year, so they will hope to avoid a repeat. Scottie Reynolds has been playing some of the best basketball in the country, while freshmen Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes are solid on the perimeter. Dante Cunningham is tough down low, and Shane Clark and Antonio Pena pose match-up problems. Kansas is one of the most talented teams in the country, and should reach San Antonio. The Jayhawks are led by their deep and talented backcourt. Brandon Rush is the shooter and scorer; Mario Chalmers is an outstanding two-way player; Russell Robinson is a lockdown defender and leader; and Sherron Collins might be the best of the bunch. Up front, Darrell Arthur has shown the ability to dominate, and Darnell Jackson is physical. Will Villanova be able to handle Kansas’ talent and ability down low? Cunningham will have to come up big for the Wildcats. Furthermore, Kansas has plenty of very good defenders on the perimeter; one of the Jayhawk guards will be able to force Reynolds into a tough shooting day. If that happens, Villanova will struggle. In the end, the Wildcats simply don’t have the balance or offensive firepower to knock off the region’s top seed. Prediction: Kansas 80, Villanova 68
Memphis vs. Michigan State (9:57 PM): Heading into the season, many might peg this as a potential Final Four showdown, or at least a match-up in the Elite Eight. In fact, this is the only Sweet Sixteen match-up that pits two of my preseason top-ten teams against each other (I had both in the Final Four in the preseason). There is certainly a lot of talent on both sides. Memphis was one of the best teams in the country all season long, losing just one game all year. The Tigers are loaded with talent and might be the deepest team in the country. Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts form an outstanding perimeter duo. Rose can do-it-all, while CDR is a very tough scorer. Antonio Anderson is the consummate leader and role player. Up front, Rober Dozier is a difficult player to match-up against, while Joey Dorsey is one of the best defenders and rebounders in the country – when he stays on the floor. He has a tendency to get into foul trouble. Michigan State is another deep, talented team that can beat you in a variety of ways. Drew Neitzel’s numbers are down from last season, but he is still a clutch shooter who can get hot. Raymar Morgan is a tough match-up at forward, while freshman point guard Kalin Lucas is going to be a star one day. Goran Suton does not get a lot of publicity, but he can hold his down on the glass and in the paint. There will be plenty of interesting personnel match-ups, including freshman point guards Rose and Lucas, and scoring machines Douglas-Roberts and Morgan. The key to this game will be the inside play; can Dorsey stay on the court for Memphis, and who will win the rebounding battle? Both teams have plenty of perimeter depth, but I’m not sure Michigan State has the offensive firepower and overall athleticism to beat the Tigers. Prediction: Memphis 73, Michigan State 66
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Thursday's Sweet Sixteen Game Previews
North Carolina vs. Washington State (7:27 PM): This is going to be an outstanding game with an extreme contrast of styles. North Carolina likes to get up and down the court, scoring in transition and getting fast-break points, while Washington State would rather play a half-court game based on offensive execution and defensive dominance. The Tar Heels have one of the most talented teams in the country, with future pros up and down the roster. Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington form an outstanding backcourt, while Tyler Hansbrough might be the best player in the country. Danny Green is a terrific role player and Marcus Ginyard is a defensive stopper. Washington State is led by its perimeter duo of Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver. Low can score and distribute well, while Weaver is a defensive menace and one of the better all-around players in the country. Taylor Rochestie is an underrated guard and Aron Baynes is solid down low. The key will obviously be tempo. Which team will be able to control the pace of the game? If Washington State can slow the game down and get North Carolina to play a halfcourt game, the Cougars will have a chance to pull it out. On the other side, if WSU turns the ball over and UNC is able to get its running game going, it will be tough. Washington State will need to slow down Hansbrough inside and not allow Lawson to dominate the game from the point. Offensively, they simply need to hit shots. UNC isn’t the best defensive team around, and Washington State should get open shots. However, the difference is going to be UNC’s inside-outside balance and their overall talent. Prediction: North Carolina 75, Washington State 67
UCLA vs. Western Kentucky (9:40 PM): Can the Cinderella run by Western Kentucky continue, or will UCLA prove too much for the upstart Hilltoppers? This could be one of the more entertaining games of the Sweet Sixteen, as WKU loves to get up and down the court and score, while UCLA is one of the most complete teams in the country. UCLA was my pick to win the national title heading into the NCAA Tournament; the Bruins have everything. Kevin Love is a dominant freshman who can get 20 and 10 every night out. Darren Collison is one of the best points guards around, while Russell Westbrook has developed into a threat at both ends of the floor. Josh Shipp needs to start hitting his shots, while Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has to step up as well. Western Kentucky won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, then knocked off Drake and San Diego in the Big Dance. The Hilltoppers are led by the backcourt tandem of Tyrone Brazelton and Courtney Lee. Brazelton is extremely quick and can get into the lane, while Lee is a future NBA Draft pick. First-round hero Ty Rogers leads a plethora of three-point shooters that also includes gunners A.J. Slaughter and Orlando Mendez-Valdez. Jeremy Evans is the leader up front. If Western Kentucky is to win, they will have to find ways to score against the tough UCLA defense. Westbrook can lock down Lee, while Collison may be able to handle Brazelton. Those two will need to score about 60 points if WKU is to have a chance. On the other side, Kevin Love may be able to dominate the weak Western Kentucky interior. That is going to be the difference in the game; the ability of UCLA to play at both ends of the floor, and the presence of Love inside. Prediction: UCLA 77, Western Kentucky 65
Tennessee vs. Louisville (9:57 PM): This might be the best game of the entire Sweet Sixteen round; it features arguably the best collection of talent and depth in any game remaining. Both teams love to get up and down the floor to get points off attacking the basket and transition three-pointers. Tennessee was one of the best teams in the country all season long. Chris Lofton has been inconsistent in the NCAA Tournament, but he is an outstanding shooter. JaJuan Smith can make plays at both ends, while Ramar Smith and Jordan Howell handle the point. Tyler Smith may be the most important player on the team and Wayne Chism has played well lately. J.P. Price is the x-factor. Louisville played some of the best basketball in the country down the stretch of the season. The Cardinals are loaded in the frontcourt, with Terrence Williams and Earl Clark posing very difficult match-ups for opponents and David Padgett making plays inside. Edgar Sosa is the point guard; if he plays within himself and the system, the Cardinals are tough. Jerry Smith can really shoot the ball from deep. The key to this game will be the ability of Tennessee to turn Louisville over, and if the Volunteers can handle the Cardinals’ size inside. Louisville has a tendency to be careless with the ball and take ill-advised shots, while Tennessee struggles against bigger teams who can control the point. Sosa will have to play excellent tonight in order for the Cardinals to win. He has to take care of the ball and get Louisville into its half-court offense. On the other side, Tennessee has to shoot better from deep. Louisville will play a 2-3 zone at times that will the Vols to shoot three-pointers. The difference will be the Cardinals’ inside-outside balance and their size advantage up front. Prediction: Louisville 79, Tennessee 75
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: West Region
Cinderella: Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are responsible for the Tournament’s best moment so far, when Tyrone Brazelton dribbled three-quarters down the court and pitched the ball back to Ty Rogers, who nailed a 28-foot three-pointer at the buzzer with multiple defenders in his face to knock off Drake by two points in overtime. They followed up that win with one over San Diego in the second-round, and now are just two wins from the Final Four. They will be going against one of the national title favorites in UCLA, but no one is going to count WKU out just yet. It has one of the best backcourts in the country in Brazelton and Courtney Lee, a legit NBA prospect. The Hilltoppers have plenty of capable long-range shooters who can get hot from deep, as well as solid inside players who rebound and defend. They will need to play a near-perfect game if they want to beat UCLA, though. Brazelton went for 33 against Drake, while Lee had 29 vs. San Diego. If they both put up 30-point nights, and the role players pitch-in, look out.
Most intriguing personnel match-up: Xavier’s Josh Duncan vs. West Virginia’s Joe Alexander. With the upper-half Sweet Sixteen game expected to be a blowout, the bottom half will be the marquee match-up in this region. Xavier has been one of the top teams in the country all year, while West Virginia made a late run in the postseason to get here. This individual battle will be outstanding. Both players can score in a variety of ways, and are very difficult to defend one-on-one. Alexander is one of the hottest players in the country with his excellent face-up game and athletic ability, while Duncan is arguably the best sixth man in the nation. He has had back-to-back games in the NCAA Tournament, and will need another one to keep Alexander in check. Furthermore, will Duncan be able to take Alexander into the post and get points? It should be a very interesting head-to-head match-up.
First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: Connecticut. The Huskies played some of the best basketball in the country in February, when they were without star guard Jerome Dyson. However, once he came back, the chemistry simply wasn’t the same and UConn was upset in the first-round by San Diego. Next year there won’t be any first-weekend upsets – the Huskies will be legit. Assuming A.J. Price recovers from knee surgery and Jeff Adrien returns (Hasheem Thabeet is up in the air), the inside-outside combo will be back. Stanley Robinson could have a breakout year, and the Huskies will still have plenty of perimeter firepower with Dyson, Craig Austrie and Doug Wiggins. UConn has several big men that it can throw into the paint, and stud point guard recruit Kemba Walker could make an immediate impact if Price isn’t ready to start the season.
All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Ty Brazelton, Western Kentucky: 24.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.5 spg
Guard- Courtney Lee, Western Kentucky: 22.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.0 spg
Forward- Josh Duncan, Xavier: 18.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg
Forward- Joe Alexander, West Virginia: 18.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 bpg
Center- Kevin Love, UCLA: 19.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 5.5 bpg
Sixth Man- Gyno Pomare, San Diego: 21.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.0 spg
Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: South Region
Cinderella: Michigan State. Considering the Spartans were one of my preseason picks to reach the Final Four, it feels strange using them as my Cinderella choice for this region. To put it simply, though, there are no other options. Michigan State struggled greatly down the stretch of the season, going just 6-6 in its last 12 games. However, the Spartans have bounced back in the NCAA Tournament, defeating Temple handily in the first-round and then knocking off a very hot Pittsburgh team in the second-round. When Drew Neitzel is hitting his shots, this team is tough to beat. Raymar Morgan is a difficult match-up in the frontcourt, while Goran Suton leads a deep group of big men. Kalin Lucas is very quick at the point; he is a future star for Tom Izzo. However, the Spartans have struggled offensively for much of the season – will they revert back to those days against Memphis? The Tigers are quicker and more athletic, and MSU can’t get rattled early if the Tigers force a few turnovers and get off to a hot start.
Most intriguing personnel match-up: Texas’ Damion James vs. Stanford’s Brook Lopez. Wow, what a battle in the frontcourt in the bottom half of the bracket. One is an athletic inside-outside threat who poses match-up problems for most defenders, while the other is one of the most dominant players in college basketball. James has stepped up greatly in the absence of Kevin Durant, and has become one of the better forwards in the Big 12, if not the nation. He is relentless on the offensive glass. Lopez is an All-America, hands-down. He single-handedly took the game over late against Marquette, and has the ability to control the paint at both ends of the floor. He has a size advantage on James, but he might have to come away from the basket and defend him, which will open up driving lanes for D.J. Augustin and co. On the other side, will the athletic James be able to defend the taller Lopez? It will be a great back-and-forth.
First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: Marquette. Going into the season, the Golden Eagles were a popular top-12 pick in the polls, mainly because of their backcourt. However, the same problems that plagued them in the preseason ended up being their demise: lack of a big man and inconsistent long-range shooting. Next year, the entire perimeter group returns, including two-way stud Jerel McNeal, outstanding point guard Dominic James, and do-it-all Wesley Matthews. Forward Lazar Hayward improved greatly as the season went on, and he will also be back. Tom Crean brings in a solid recruiting class, but questions about the frontcourt will still be asked. Dwight Burke and Trevor Mbakwe could play key roles down low.
All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Derrick Rose, Memphis: 17.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.0 spg
Guard- Jack McClinton, Miami (Fl.): 28.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Guard- A.J. Abrams, Texas: 26.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 12 three-pointers
Forward- Charles Rhodes, Mississippi State: 24.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg
Center- Robin Lopez, Stanford: 16.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.0 bpg
Sixth Man- Jerel McNeal, Marquette: 25.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.5 spg
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: Midwest Region
Cinderella: Davidson. Sure, Villanova is the lower seed and will be going against top-seeded Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, but the Wildcats fit the profile of a Cinderella much better. ‘Nova is a major-conference team that snuck into the field with an at-large bid, while Davidson is a 1,700-student school that is just two wins away from the Final Four. The Wildcats were a popular pick in the preseason, but struggled in the non-conference and did not have much national momentum heading into conference play. However, after going undefeated in the Southern, they have notched back-to-back comeback victories over Gonzaga and Georgetown. In both games, Stephen Curry really carried the Wildcats, while Jason Richards played an outstanding supporting role. Those two comprise one of the best backcourts in the country. Andrew Lovedale has been key at both ends of the floor, while a variety of role players have performed key roles. If Curry is hitting his shots, this team can beat anyone.
Most intriguing personnel match-up: Wisconsin’s Michael Flowers vs. Davidson’s Stephen Curry. Both sides of the bracket have huge battles between two big-time scorers on double-digit seeds and two great defenders on the favorites. In the upper half, it is Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds against Kansas’ Mario Chalmers. However, I think that the Curry vs. Flowers battle will have much more of an effect on the game – the Jayhawks should blow-out the Wildcats. Curry has been the premier player of the NCAA Tournament so far, scoring 40 in the first-round and 30 in the second. On the other side, Flowers has been a major asset for the Badgers, due to his ability at both ends of the floor, as well as his leadership. He will need to keep Curry in check if the Badgers are going to advance to the Elite Eight, while Curry will have to continue to hit big shots late in games in order for Davidson to have a chance.
First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: USC. I jumped on the USC bandwagon last season and did it again this season, and actually chose the Trojans to reach the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. However, the inconsistency that the Trojans demonstrated at times this season showed up against Kansas State, and they fell. However, fret not, USC will be back. And, no, this does not hinge on the return of O.J. Mayo. USC brings in a five-star recruit in Demar DeRozan, a very athletic scorer who can hit mid-range jumpers and score around the basket. Daniel Hackett will be healthy, while Dwight Lewis is solid. Taj Gibson needs to return to his dominating self. If Mayo and Davon Jefferson return for another year in Los Angeles, the Trojans could be making a lot of noise in the Pac-10.
All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Stephen Curry, Davidson: 35.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 4.0 spg
Guard- Scottie Reynolds, Villanova: 23.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.5 apg
Guard- Mario Chalmers, Kansas: 16.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.5 spg
Guard- Trevon Hughes, Wisconsin: 16.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.5 spg
Forward- Michael Beasley, Kansas State: 23.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 1.0 spg
Sixth Man- Kenny Hasbrouck, Siena: 23.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.5 spg
Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: East Region
Cinderella: Washington State. With all top-four seeds advancing, there is not much room for a “Cinderella”, in its purest form. However, with UNC and Tennessee winning their respective conferences, and Louisville playing some of the best basketball of anyone in the country, the Cougars are the only team left. However, if their play in the last three halves are any indication, the Cougs are going to be a tough out. After heading into halftime tied with Winthrop in the first-round, WSU outscored the Eagles by 31 points for a blowout win. They continued that against Notre Dame, knocking off the Irish by 20 points and holding them to just 41 overall. Kyle Weaver is one of the best all-around players in college basketball, while Derrick Low can score. Aron Baynes is the main option down low, although Robbie Cowgill has been contributing. Taylor Rochestie does a little of everything. If the Cougars can keep their game against North Carolina in the halfcourt, and keep the Heels from getting up and down, they may have a shot.
Most intriguing personnel match-up: Tennessee’s Tyler Smith vs. Louisville’s Terrence Williams. Although the battle in the top half of the bracket between North Carolina’s Wayne Ellington and Washington State’s Kyle Weaver may have more star power, this match-up will pit two of the best all-around players in the country against each other. Both players can do nearly everything on the court, from scoring inside and outside to passing to rebounding to playing defense. Smith might be the most important player on the Vols; he has contributed in every way possible in the NCAA Tournament, although he can’t have a repeat of his a seven-turnover performance against Butler. Williams needs to take good shots, but when he does, he is a factor all over the court. He is extremely athletic and is difficult to defend. He is also an excellent playmaker who can create for himself and his teammates. It should be fun to watch.
First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: Notre Dame. The Irish were picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference, but they overachieved and eventually received a bye in the Big East Tournament. They bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in a disappointing way, losing by 20 to Washington State. However, they will be back next year. Rob Kurz is the only loss, meaning Luke Harangody returns on the inside, while Tory Jackson and Kyle McAlarney are back on the perimeter. Harangody is dominant down low; Jackson can do-it-all; and McAlarney is a dead-eye shooter. Ryan Ayers can really shoot the ball, while Zach Hillesland is a very solid all-around performer. Notre Dame has always been able to score; with another year of experience on everyone’s belt, the defense will be able to match the offense.
All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Ty Lawson, North Carolina: 20.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 5.5 apg, 2.0 spg, 0 TOs
Guard- A.J. Graves, Butler: 19.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 4.0 apg, 4.5 spg
Forward- Sonny Weems, Arkansas: 25.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg
Forward- Wayne Chism, Tennessee: 16.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.0 bpg
Center- Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina: 19.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg
Sixth Man- Kyle Weaver, Washington State: 14.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 spg
Monday, March 24, 2008
Odds and Ends
Also, how is everyone's bracket doing? My bracket started slow in the first-round, as many of you have told me, and it actually tied my career-worst. I only got 22 first-round picks right, but bounced back with a decent 11 second-round games correct. 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. Furthermore, I still have six Elite Eight teams and all four Final Four teams remaining -- so I have time to make-up some ground. How is everyone else's doing?
It should be a great next two weeks -- exactly 14 days from today, someone will be crowned the new NCAA champion. I can't wait.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Sunday's Second Round Breakdown
Texas vs. Miami (Fl.) (2:15 PM): Prediction: Texas 74, Miami (Fl.) 63
Tennessee vs. Butler (2:30 PM): Prediction: Tennessee 69, Butler 65
Western Kentucky vs. San Diego (2:40 PM): Prediction: Western Kentucky 76, San Diego 70
Georgetown vs. Davidson (2:50 PM): Prediction: Georgetown 67, Davidson 61
Memphis vs. Mississippi State (4:45 PM): Prediction: Memphis 72, Mississippi State 63
Louisville vs. Oklahoma (5:00 PM): Prediction: Louisville 74, Oklahoma 66
North Carolina vs. Arkansas (5:20 PM): Prediction: North Carolina 84, Arkansas 73
Friday, March 21, 2008
Saturday's Second Round Breakdown
Wisconsin vs. Kansas State (4:20 PM): An interesting contrast between a Wisconsin team that is very balanced and relies heavily on its system at both ends of the floor and a Kansas State team that uses its abundance of talent to overpower teams. The Badgers struggled early on against Cal State Fullerton but pulled away in the second half, while Kansas State was very impressive against USC. Bill Walker controlled the first half and Michael Beasley dominated the second for the Wildcats. It will be interesting to see if Wisconsin will be able to slow down Beasley; Brian Butch is not quick enough to defend him. On the other side, is KSU disciplined enough to beat the Badgers? I think Bo Ryan will have something up his sleeve to slow down Walker, Beasley and the rest of the young Wildcats. Prediction: Wisconsin 68, Kansas State 61
Xavier vs. Purdue (4:40 PM): A very solid game between two balanced teams that can beat you in a variety of ways. The only different is that one is filled with upperclassmen and experience (Xavier), while the other has a plethora of freshmen and young players (Purdue). The Musketeers were down in their first-round game to Georgia for the first 30 minutes, but they went on a run late in the second half won going away. Purdue took control from the opening tip against Baylor and never looked back. The forward battles between Purdue’s Robbie Hummel and Scott Martin and Xavier’s Derrick Brown and Josh Duncan will be key. I think the difference is going to be Drew Lavender at the point for Xavier; he will get them the win. Prediction: Xavier 71, Purdue 65
Washington State vs. Notre Dame (6:40 PM): An interesting game between two teams that play completely different ways. Washington State likes to play a grind-it-out type of game, while Notre Dame likes to get up and down the court and would rather play in the 70s and 80s than the 60s. WSU won its first-round game against Winthrop by outscoring them by 31 in the second half after going into the half tied, while Notre Dame ended any talk of George Mason repeating its Cinderella run. For Washington State, the Cougs will have to slow down Luke Harangody up front, and get the tempo in their favor. If Notre Dame has to play a strictly halfcourt game, the Irish will fall. In the end, WSU’s defense will be too much for Notre Dame to overcome. Prediction: Washington State 70, Notre Dame 63
Stanford vs. Marquette (6:45 PM): A complete contrast of personnel. Stanford has one of the best frontcourts in the country, led by the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, and Lawrence Hill. On the other, Marquette has a loaded perimeter group, including Dominic James and Jerel McNeal, as well as Wesley Matthews. Which group will prevail? Stanford’s guards did a great job against Cornell on Thursday, hitting their perimeter shots, while Marquette’s Lazar Hayward gave great inside production. I think Stanford will be able to keep James out of the lane, and their guards will take care of the ball so Marquette can’t get steals and transition baskets. Brook Lopez will dominate down low. Prediction: Stanford 68, Marquette 58
Kansas vs. UNLV (6:50 PM): Definitely the biggest mismatch of the day, in my opinion. Kansas is one of the most complete teams in the country, while UNLV – despite the Rebels’ outstanding performance against Kent State on Thursday – has defeated just two NCAA Tournament teams all season and are simply not good enough to hang with the Jayhawks. Wink Adams is an outstanding guard who can single-handedly keep the Rebels in the game, but Kansas has a great group of perimeter defenders who will stifle Adams and co. UNLV reached the Sweet Sixteen last season after upsetting No. 2-seeded Wisconsin, but the Rebels’ run stops here this year. Kansas is just too balanced and too talented. Prediction: Kansas 79, UNLV 67
Pittsburgh vs. Michigan State (9:10 PM): Two of the best programs in college basketball over the past several years battle it out in one of the best second-round match-ups of the Tournament. Both teams have the talent and potential to make a deep run in the Big Dance, but both have been just inconsistent enough to lose to anyone on a given night, as well. Pittsburgh dominated its first-round game against Oral Roberts, while Michigan State handled a hot Temple team comfortably. The key match-up is going to be the frontcourt battle between Pitt’s Sam Young and DeJuan Blair and Michigan State’s Raymar Morgan and Goran Suton. Another key will be Michigan State freshman Kalin Lucas’ ability to handle the point against an experienced Pitt backcourt. The difference will be Michigan State’s inside-outside balance and the Spartans’ defense. Prediction: Michigan State 69, Pittsburgh 66
UCLA vs. Texas A&M (9:15 PM): An interesting rematch of a non-conference game from 2006-2007 between these two teams that was also played in Anaheim. UCLA won that game by three – expect a larger margin of defeat on Saturday. The Bruins absolutely destroyed Mississippi Valley State in the first-round, while Texas A&M played one of its better games in the past couple of months when it beat BYU on Thursday. The Aggies do have the inside-outside talent to hang with UCLA, but only if Josh Carter is knocking down threes and the inside trio of Joseph Jones, DeAndre Jordan and Bryan Davis are playing cohesively. A&M just hasn’t been consistent enough to make one think they can pull it together and upset the Bruins. Furthermore, with Darren Collison at the point, UCLA has a huge edge at the most important position on the floor. Prediction: UCLA 75, Texas A&M 61
Thursday, March 20, 2008
NCAA Tournament Prediction Bracket
After all the region analysis, match-up breakdowns, and hours upon hours of studying the 65 teams, here's my official bracket for the 2008 NCAA Tournament. I know this is what everyone wants to see anyway. Enjoy.
My Complete Bracket
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
West Region First-Round Previews
UCLA vs. Mississippi Valley State: Quite possibly the biggest mismatch of the first-round. UCLA is one of the favorites to win the national championship, and the clear-cut leader in this region to reach the Final Four. On the other hand, MVSU was 0-9 in non-conference play and scored just 26 points against Washington State earlier in the year. The Bruins scored 81 against WSU. Just a thought.
BYU vs. Texas A&M: BYU was a No. 8 seed last season and lost at the wire to Xavier; will this season hold the same result? The Cougars won the Mountain West regular-season title, but fell in the conference tournament. On the other side, A&M struggled during most of the Big 12 season but found a way to get a No. 9 seed after its victory over Kansas State in the tourney. The battle down low will be fun to watch: BYU’s Trent Plaisted vs. A&M’s Joseph Jones and DeAndre Jordan. Lee Cummard of BYU is one of the best players you’ve never heard of.
Drake vs. Western Kentucky: Wow, what a surprise – two mid-majors pitted against each other in the first-round. I’m not sure why the Committee had to do this all over the bracket, but that’s for another day. This game will match two of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, as both teams live and die with the three for the most part. WKU’s Courtney Lee vs. Drake’s Josh Young will be a great one-on-one match-up. The key in this one will be if either frontcourt can provide consistent production, and which team knocks down more threes.
Connecticut vs. San Diego: Some people think that this is going to be a potential upset, while others feel that UConn will roll. I’m somewhere in between those two camps. I don’t think San Diego has the depth and size to match-up with the Huskies, but Gyno Pomare is a solid big man and Brandon Johnson can single-handedly keep the Toreros in the game. Furthermore, Connecticut is inconsistent enough to get behind early. The difference might be Jim Calhoun’s tourney experience.
Purdue vs. Baylor: Two teams heading in the wrong direction as the NCAA Tournament gets underway. Purdue had won 11 in a row before losing three of its last six, while Baylor lost eight of its last 13, including a Big 12 tourney loss to Colorado. The Boilermakers are an extremely young team, with four freshmen in their top six players. On the other side, Baylor is carried by its deep and experienced backcourt, led by do-it-all star Curtis Jerrells. This game should go down to the wire; which team’s go-to-guy will step up late?
Xavier vs. Georgia: An interesting first-round match-up between one of the best stories of Championship Week and one of the best teams in the country. Xavier didn’t finish very strongly, but the Musketeers were consistently dominating opponents all season long. They are very balanced and can execute their offense against anyone. Georgia won four games in, technically, three days to grab the SEC’s automatic bid to the Big Dance – will that momentum carry over? If Xavier can slow down Sundiata Gaines, the Bulldogs are done.
West Virginia vs. Arizona: A battle between two teams going in opposite directions heading into the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia picked up two big wins in Championship Week to clinch an at-large bid, led by the emerging Joe Alexander. He is ready to make a name for himself on a national stage. Arizona had 14 losses on the season, including eight in its last 12 games. However, the Wildcats are loaded with talent, including the perimeter duo of Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger. Which Arizona will show up? That might have the most say on the outcome.
Duke vs. Belmont: This might be the least talked-about No. 2 seed in the Tournament – and it’s Duke, of all teams. Simply put, the Blue Devils have fallen off the radar after losing two of their last three games; they probably didn’t deserve a No. 2 seed. Still, they have a plethora of very solid perimeter players that will create match-up problems with any team in the country. The only question is when their lack of a big man will catch-up to them. It certainly won’t be against the Bruins, even though they have won 13 in a row heading into the Big Dance.
South Region First-Round Previews
Memphis vs. Texas-Arlington: The Tigers seemed to have regained the swagger they lost when they fell to Tennessee and barely beat UAB back in February; they are ready to go after a national title. That road will start against a UT-Arlington team that has a talent but has been inconsistent all season long. Jermaine Griffin is a go-to big guy for UTA, but don’t expect much of a game.
Mississippi State vs. Oregon: This is going to be one of the better games of the region. Mississippi State was arguably the second-best team in the SEC throughout most of conference play, but the Bulldogs were relegated to the dreaded 8-9 game. They play outstanding defense, and will need it against an Oregon team that shouldn’t even be in the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks have a lot of weapons, but struggle defensively. The difference could be the battle between Jamont Gordon and Malik Hairston on the perimeter.
Michigan State vs. Temple: Michigan State was expected to contend for the Big Ten title heading into the season and even a Final Four spot, while Temple was projected to finish in the bottom half of the Atlantic-10. However, this could be a potential upset – I think that Tom Izzo’s experience and the physicality of the Spartans will prevail, but look out. Dionte Christmas and Mark Tyndale can really fill it up for the Owls, and the A-10 Tournament champions are hot at the right time.
Pittsburgh vs. Oral Roberts: Even though Pitt was struggling before they won the Big East Tournament, the Panthers’ bandwagon is pretty much filled up by now. They played very well in the conference tourney, and some are even picking them to upset Memphis in the Sweet 16. Let me be the first to tell you: be careful with Pitt. They may be emotionally drained after their great run. Oral Roberts is not the same team it has been over the past few seasons, but the Crusaders are still solid.
Marquette vs. Kentucky: Could be one of the best first-round match-ups in the region. Both teams rely heavily on their perimeter groups. Marquette has Dominic James and Jerel McNeal leading the way, while Kentucky counters with seniors Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford. Since UK lost Patrick Patterson, the inside game hasn’t been there, but Marquette doesn’t have much down low either. The key could be Marquette’s Lazar Hayward going against UK’s frontcourt. He is an inside-outside threat that can make a difference.
Stanford vs. Cornell: Two of the smartest schools in the Tournament, this is not going to be a battle of wits on the court. Stanford is coming in on a bit of a sour note, having lost three of its last five games heading into the NCAA Tournament. Cornell ran through the Ivy undefeated, led by Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale and Adam Gore on the perimeter. However, the Big Red have absolutely no one to defend Brook and Robin Lopez down low for the Cardinal.
Miami (Fl.) vs. Saint Mary’s: This might be the least exciting 7-10 game of the Tournament. Neither team is coming into the Big Dance on much of a high note, and I’m not sure Miami even deserved a seven seed. The Hurricanes have lost three of their last six, while St. Mary’s dropped three of its last five heading into the Tournament. However, both teams have plenty of options offensively and have shown the ability to beat high-quality teams. Can Miami stop Diamon Simpson up front, and can the Gaels slow down Jack McClinton on the perimeter?
Texas vs. Austin Peay: The Longhorns seem to be the one of the chic picks to reach the Final Four as a No. 2 seed. If they can get this game, and then get by the winner of the Miami-St. Mary’s game, they will be heading to Houston for the regionals. That gives them a huge edge in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. Austin Peay is very balanced and has a lot of offensive weapons, but they don’t have the quickness on the perimeter to deal with D.J. Augustin and co.
Midwest Region First-Round Previews
Kansas vs. Portland State: A match-up of two of the hottest teams in this region – Kansas is coming off a Big 12 Tournament title, while Portland State won 14 straight Big Sky games heading into the NCAA Tournament. Still, don’t expect much of a game, even though PSU has knocked off Akron and IUPUI this year. Catch Jeremiah Dominguez if you have a chance, though – he is a joy to watch at the point.
UNLV vs. Kent State: One of the more interesting 8-9 games of the Tournament. UNLV is coming off of a Mountain West Tournament title on its home floor, while Kent State rolled through the MAC Tournament after winning the regular-season too. There are several intriguing match-ups in this one, not the least of which is UNLV’s Wink Adams and Kent State’s Al Fisher. Adams is one of the Rebels back from last year’s Sweet Sixteen run, while Fisher was the MAC Player of the Year. Will either team get enough from its frontcourt to win the game?
Clemson vs. Villanova: Two teams that used a solid conference tournament to either make their case for a top-five seed or just to get into the Tournament. Clemson is on a roll, having made a run to the ACC title game before losing to North Carolina, while Villanova collapsed against Georgetown in the second half in the Big East Tournament. The Wildcats will need to slow down Clemson’s inside duo of Trevor Booker and James Mays, but the key battle will be Clemson’s Cliff Hammonds against ‘Nova’s Scottie Reynolds in the backcourt.
Vanderbilt vs. Siena: Here’s my potential upset special of the year. Vanderbilt has a great inside-outside duo in Shan Foster and A.J. Ogilvy, as well as plenty of experience from last season’s Sweet Sixteen run. However, the Commodores have struggled away from home for much of the season and do not perform very well defensively. Siena, on the other hand, has a variety of scoring options, namely Kenny Hasbrouck and Edwin Ubiles. Furthermore, the Saints have already defeated Stanford earlier this season.
USC vs. Kansas State: This might be the most intriguing first-round match-up in the entire Tournament – it’s certainly one of the most talented battles. It features two of the best freshmen in the country, including Player of the Year candidate Michael Beasley and USC star O.J. Mayo. Moreover, there’s another storyline – Mayo and Kansas State forward Bill Walker played high school ball together. Will the Beasley-Walker combo be enough to knock off an underrated USC team poised to make a run in the Big Dance? Tim Floyd shut down Kevin Durant last year; he might do it again, this time to Beasley.
Wisconsin vs. Cal State Fullerton: A complete contrast of styles between the Big Ten champions and the Big West title-winners. Wisconsin loves to slow the ball down and execute its offense with efficiency. It has several options, although none are stars and they do struggle against athletic defensive teams. CSF likes to push the ball and put up points in a hurry. Josh Akognon is a big-time scorer and shooter for the Titans. The battle of tempo will be key.
Gonzaga vs. Davidson: Another one of the best first-round games of the entire Tournament. Gonzaga has been the non-BCS flag-bearer for the past several seasons, but Davidson made a name for itself over the past couple of seasons, and will be a popular upset pick in this year’s Big Dance. Stephen Curry and Jason Richards form a tremendous backcourt for Davidson, while Jeremy Pargo and Josh Heytvelt lead a balanced Gonzaga attack. Can Davidson defend the Bulldogs’ height and talent in the frontcourt? Curry needs to have a big game.
Georgetown vs. UMBC: Although Georgetown has not looked exceptional very often this season, the Hoyas are coming off of a Final Four appearance and are difficult to beat due to their style of play and tremendous execution offensively. UMBC has plenty of weapons and a lot of talent in its starting lineup, but it doesn’t have anyone to defend Roy Hibbert down low and the Retrievers just don’t have the experience to beat Georgetown.
East Region First-Round Previews
North Carolina vs. Mount St. Mary’s: This game is obviously not going to be very competitive, but it will be interesting to see how the Tar Heels come out in their first game of the Tournament. MSM is already 1-0 in the Big Dance, so it will have some momentum heading into this game. That momentum will carry them for all of…about 35 seconds.
Indiana vs. Arkansas: Two preseason top-15 teams facing off in a battle of disappointments. Indiana didn’t finish the season very strongly after Kelvin Sampson resigned, while Arkansas made a run to the SEC Tournament final before falling to Georgia. The key is going to be the battle inside between D.J. White of Indiana and Steven Hill of Arkansas. Hill is a tremendous shot-blocker, while White can dominate inside. Furthermore, the Razorbacks are going to have to slow down Eric Gordon. On the other side, who is going to guard match-up nightmare Sonny Weems?
Notre Dame vs. George Mason: Many people are going to take a quick look at this game and immediately think of an upset, mainly because of George Mason’s run to the Final Four two seasons ago. Not so fast, though. The Patriots struggle against teams that can score points, and Notre Dame fills that requirement. If Mason can get the game at the pace they want, they will have a chance. Look out for the battle down low between Mason’s Will Thomas, a double-double lock, and ND’s Luke Harangody, the Big East Player of the Year.
Washington State vs. Winthrop: Yet another potential upset on the surface that likely won’t turn out that way. Winthrop is simply not the same team it was the past couple of seasons, despite the fact it has a great backcourt in Chris Gaynor and Michael Jenkins. The Eagles don’t have the multitude of weapons they did last season, when they picked off Notre Dame. Washington State is a tough team to play against because of the style it utilizes; the Cougars have the defense to turn this game into a blowout.
Oklahoma vs. Saint Joseph’s: One of the best first-round match-ups in the East region. It is going to be an outstanding battle of frontcourts, as both teams rely heavily on their frontlines and big men. Oklahoma is led by Blake Griffin, one of the best freshmen in the country, as well as Longar Longar and Taylor Griffin. St. Joe’s counters with 6-10 shooter Pat Calathes and post presence Ahmad Nivins. Robert Ferguson is a tough match-up. Which backcourt will give their team the edge? Tasheed Carr is a very solid point guard for SJU, while OU’s Tony Crocker can knock down shots.
Louisville vs. Boise State: Although Boise State is not going to win this game, don’t be surprised if the Broncos hang with Louisville for awhile. They have an outstanding frontcourt, led by Reggie Larry and Matt Nelson, and they can score points. Unfortunately, Louisville has the frontline talent to match-up with them, and the defense to exploit their suspect guard play. Larry vs. Earl Clark is going to be fun to watch.
Butler vs. South Alabama: Yes, Butler was drastically underseeded as a No. 7 seed, the bigger injustice may have been sending the Bulldogs to Birmingham to play their first-round game against USA. They have a very good team that was in the top-15 of the polls all season long, but South Alabama may have the pieces to knock them off. Demetric Bennett is one of the best players you’ve never heard of, and the Jaguars have the inside-outside balance to match-up with Butler. This is going to be an outstanding game.
Tennessee vs. American: This game is obviously going to be a blowout, but check out the battle in the backcourts if you get a chance. Tennessee’s Chris Lofton and American’s Garrison Carr are two of the nation’s best three-point shooters, while the Eagles’ Derrick Mercer is also a very good point guard. Will he collapse against the Volunteers’ defensive pressure? If he handles it, American may be able to stay in the game for a few TV timeouts before faltering.
West Region Preview
The West Region might be the least enticing of all the regions – and the clearest path for any of the No. 1 seeds. UCLA is at the top, but this region might be home to the weakest No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the bracket in Duke and Xavier, respectively. Throw in the only mid-major in the top-five seeds in Drake, and this seed does not have many potential pitfalls for the Bruins. Inconsistent Connecticut sits at No. 4. As for sleeper mid-majors, there’s not much in this region, either, outside of Western Kentucky. The second-round match-ups could be good, though.
Favorite: UCLA. With clearly the easiest path of any No.1 seed, the Bruins should roll to the Final Four without much competition from anyone. They are definitely the safest pick. Kevin Love leads the way on the interior; he is one of the best scorers and rebounders in the country. Darren Collison is one of the best point guards in the country, and Russell Westbrook is extremely athletic. Josh Shipp is a scorer, while Luc Richard Mbah a Moute can pitch in everywhere.
Contenders: Duke, Xavier, Connecticut. The Blue Devils struggled down the stretch but still managed to get a No. 2 seed. They have plenty of talented perimeter players, led by wings DeMarcus Nelson and Gerald Henderson and point guard Greg Paulus. Kyle Singler is one of the most difficult match-ups in the country due to his inside-outside ability. Their lack of a big guy down low, though, could hurt them. Xavier is one of the most balanced teams in the country, with six guys capable of going for a big game on any given night. The Musketeers execute their offense very well, making them even more difficult to defend. Drew Lavender is an outstanding point guard, while Derrick Brown and Josh Duncan are a very solid forward tandem. B.J. Raymond can really shoot the ball. Connecticut was playing some of the best basketball in the country late in the year, but the Huskies became somewhat inconsistent down the stretch. A.J. Price is an excellent point guard, and can carry the Huskies late in games. They have one of the best frontcourts around, led by the developing Hasheem Thabeet and Stanley Robinson, and double-double lock Jeff Adrien.
Sleepers: West Virginia, Arizona, Baylor. The Mountaineers are coming off of a great run in the Big East Tournament, and showed their potential. With all of their shooters combined with tourney-tested coach Bob Huggins, they can compete with anyone in the country. Joe Alexander is playing some of the best basketball in the country, and he can be enough to carry them to a couple of wins. Yes, Arizona is playing the West Virginia team I just talked about. Still, they have a ton of talent, and one of the best perimeter duos in Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger. Throw in Jordan Hill inside, and this team is a tough out. Nic Wise came back late in the season, and the Wildcats immediately improved under his guidance. Baylor could easily make a run to the second-round or Sweet Sixteen. The Bears were one of the last teams in the NCAA Tournament, but they will make the most of it. They have an outstanding perimeter group, led by Curtis Jerrells, and also get production inside from forward Kevin Rogers.
Non-BCS Teams to Watch: Drake, San Diego. The Bulldogs were one of the best teams in the country all season long, even going on the road and defeating Butler in the Bracket Busters. They are terrific from beyond the arc, led by athletic wing Josh Young and scorer Leonard Houston. Adam Emmenecker is one of the best all-around points guards in the country, and is a great story to follow. As for San Diego, don’t sleep on them. The third West Coast Conference team in the field, the Toreros will put a scare into UConn in the first-round. The Huskies are inconsistent, while San Diego is hot. Brandon Johnson is a tremendous player in the backcourt.
Upset Pick: Western Kentucky over Drake. Every bracket needs a 12-over-5 upset and this could be the big one. Both teams love to shoot the three, and whoever is hitting them more consistently will win. Furthermore, the Hilltoppers are battle-tested and have played against stiff competition. Courtney Lee is one of the best players in the country, at any level, while Ty Brazelton is a very good shooter and point guard. If they play their game and knock down shots, they will win.
Top Five Players (only one per team):
1. Kevin Love, UCLA
2. A.J. Price, Connecticut
3. Joe Alexander, West Virginia
4. Jerryd Bayless, Arizona
5. Courtney Lee, Western Kentucky