Wednesday, March 19, 2008

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.

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