Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thursday's Sweet Sixteen Game Previews

Xavier vs. West Virginia (7:10 PM): A battle between two teams that have plenty of weapons and can beat you in variety of ways with their offensive balance. Both teams can also play at different tempos, and both are very good defensive teams. Xavier is led by senior guard Drew Lavender, one of the most underrated point men in America. Josh Duncan is a tough match-up in the frontcourt, while Derrick Brown is a supremely athletic rebounder and finisher. B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson are solid wings, and Stanley Burrell can shoot well from three. On the other side, West Virginia is led by one of the hottest players in the country, forward Joe Alexander. He has carried the Mountaineers in the postseason, both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. Darris Nichols is a very solid point guard, while forward Da’Sean Butler is a tough match-up. Alex Ruoff can really shoot it, and Joe Mazzulla played very well in the second-round. The key in this game will be which team hits their outside shots. Neither team has much of a post game, but each group has tough players to match-up with all over the court. Will the Musketeers be able to slow down Joe Alexander? He has carried WVU down the stretch, and can get hot in a hurry. Xavier will have to make sure Ruoff and the rest of the Mountaineers don’t get open three-point attempts. On the other side, Xavier has a lot of options and West Virginia will have to play outstanding defense. If WVU can disrupt the Musketeers’ offensive system, it will be interesting to see if Xavier will be able to adapt. The difference is going to be Xavier’s defense and its multitude of weapons. Prediction: Xavier 72, West Virginia 69

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

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