Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: Midwest Region

Favorite: Kansas. One of the most complete teams in the country, the Jayhawks are one of the more popular national title picks in most brackets throughout the nation. There is a reason why: KU simply has it all. It can excel at multiple tempos; in the half-court or in a fast-break; and at both ends of the floor. The Jayhawks are very tough to beat no matter what type of team or style they are playing against. So far, they have destroyed Portland State in the first-round and struggled somewhat with UNLV before putting them away down the stretch in round two. KU is led by one of the best perimeter groups in the country in two-way stud Mario Chalmers, scorer and shooter Brandon Rush, defensive stopper Russell Robinson, and sixth man Sherron Collins, who might be the best of them all. Up front, Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson do most of the dirty work. The Jayhawks also have depth and experience. To put it simply, this team does not have a lot of weaknesses, and Villanova certainly won’t exploit them. Can Wisconsin or Davidson? I’m not seeing it – KU should roll to the Final Four.

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

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