Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Final Four Preview, Part One

For a complete preview of the Final Four, click here.

Best Backcourt
1. North Carolina: Ty Lawson has been one of the best point guards in the country, and Wayne Ellington can really shoot the three. Larry Drew and Bobby Frasor provide depth.
2. Villanova: The Wildcats are loaded on the perimeter, led by Scottie Reynolds. Corey Fisher is a phenomenal sixth man and Corey Stokes can shoot. Reggie Redding provides a little of everything.
3. Connecticut: This group could be back to being outstanding if Jerome Dyson can play. A.J. Price is an excellent player, Kemba Walker is extraordinarily quick and Craig Austrie is solid.
4. Michigan State: The Spartans have an assortment of options, namely Kalin Lucas. Travis Walton is a good defender, and Chris Allen and Durrell Summers are shooters.

Best Frontcourt
1. Connecticut: The Huskies have the most imposing frontline in basketball. Hasheem Thabeet is a menace down low, Jeff Adrien is a double-double machine and Stanley Robinson is the X-factor.
2. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have plenty of talent up front, including Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green. Deon Thompson and Ed Davis have NBA potential despite playing a limited role.
3. Michigan State: The Spartans are versatile in the frontcourt, with Raymar Morgan and Delvon Roe interchangeable forwards and Goran Suton a very solid center. Draymond Green is a factor off the bench.
4. Villanova: The Wildcats are undersized but tough to defend up front. Dante Cunningham is one of the most improved players in the nation, and Shane Clark and Dwayne Anderson are difficult match-ups.

Best Bench
1. Michigan State: The Spartans have a ton of options off the bench, led by Chris Allen and Durrell Summers. Draymond Green has been solid, and Korie Lucious and Marquise Gray are also factors.
2. Villanova: The Wildcats' bench is led by Big East Sixth Man of the Year, Corey Fisher. Corey Stokes is a dynamite shooter, and Antonio Pena is solid down low.
3. North Carolina: The Tar Heels aren't as deep as expected, but Ed Davis is a stud and Bobby Frasor provides experience. Larry Drew is solid at the point and Tyler Zeller is talented.
4. Connecticut: The Huskies' depth has been a problem all season, especially without Jerome Dyson. However, Kemba Walker and Gavin Edwards could start on most teams across the country.

Best Inside-Outside Combo
1. North Carolina: Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough are among the best in the country at their respective positions. Both can carry the team if necessary.
2. Connecticut: A.J. Price has been one of the better guards in the nation down the stretch, and Hasheem Thabeet is an absolute force defensively.
3. Villanova: The Wildcats are a balanced group, but Scottie Reynolds is their go-to-guy and Dante Cunningham is a very difficult player to defend.
4. Michigan State: Kalin Lucas was the Big Ten Player of the Year, and Raymar Morgan is an inside-outside threat who can carry the team at times.

Best Trio
1. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have more talent than anyone in the country, and it starts with Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington in the backcourt. Tyler Hansbrough has had a phenomenal career.
2. Connecticut: The Huskies got most of their production frmo their frontcourt duo of Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet, but A.J. Price is capable of carrying this team to a win with his offensive ability.
3. Michigan State: The Spartans need to get production from three players in order to win: point guard Kalin Lucas, forward Raymar Morgan and center Goran suton. Suton has stepped it up lately.
4. Villanova: The Wildcats have a tough backcourt duo in Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, two players who aren't afraid of attacking the absket. Dante Cunningham has become a legit inside-outside option.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Final Four Preview

With the Final Four games coming up this weekend, it is time to re-evaluate the teams that are remaining. Similar to the NCAA Tournament Preview, the Final Four Preview is going to contain rankings of backcourts, frontcourts, shooters, etc. In addition, I will be have an in-depth preview for both of Saturday's games. One "part" will be released each day leading up to the Final Four.

Part One
Best Backcourt
Best Frontcourt
Best Bench
Best Inside-Outside Combo
Best Trio

Part Two
Best Go-to-Player
Best Three-Point Shooter
Best Second Option
Best Sixth Man
Best Coach

Part Three
Best Point Guard
Best Shooting Guard
Best Small Forward
Best Power Forward
Best Center

Part Four
Connecticut vs. Michigan State
North Carolina vs. Villanova

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday's Elite Eight Previews

Louisville vs. Michigan State (2:20 PM): Two teams who got off to slow starts this season but are playing some of their best basketball at the right time. Louisville has played very well the past three games, dominating the second half against Morehead State, escaping against Siena in the second round and absolutely annihilating Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen on Friday. Michigan State defeated Robert Morris handily in the first round but was threatened by both USC and Kansas. Against USC, they buckled down defensively late to pull away. In the Sweet Sixteen, it looked like Kansas was going to knock off the Spartans, but Kalin Lucas took over and led MSU to the win.

If Louisville is going to advance to the Final Four, it needs to force turnovers with its press. Siena broke the press fairly easily, and Michigan State has one of the best point guards in the country in Lucas. Furthermore, Earl Clark is going to have to contain Raymar Morgan, who will play despite a broken nice. Another key is going to be defensive rebounding; Michigan State thrives off of second chances, and Louisville needs to limit those opportunities. Offensively, Louisville will need to hit its three-pointers and get good point guard play. Edgar Sosa, Preston Knowles and Andre McGee have been solid thus far and need to continue. Also, Jerry Smith will need to hit a few threes early to spread the defense out. A big key could be Earl Clark – Michigan State doesn’t have anyone who can guard him.

For Michigan State, it needs to get production from Morgan. He only played 13 minutes against Kansas and had four points – they need more than that from him. Additionally, Lucas will need to handle the Louisville pressure and be able to take advantage of his huge edge at the point guard spot. Getting another 20-point, nine-rebound performance from Goran Suton would be helpful as well. The Michigan State bench could be a key, as guys like Chris Allen and Durrell Summers need to step up. Defensively, the Spartans have to keep Terrence Williams and Clark from taking over on the offensive end. Both players are very difficult to defend.

In the end, Louisville’s outstanding team defense and the match-up problems that Clark and Williams cause will be the difference. Prediction: Louisville 66, Michigan State 62

North Carolina vs. Oklahoma (5:05 PM): Two of the powerhouse teams in the country all season long will face off for a spot in the Final Four. North Carolina has coasted to the Elite Eight, dominating Radford in the first round before getting a competitive game from LSU for the first 30-35 minutes. Ty Lawson then took over and the Tar Heels rolled to the Sweet Sixteen, where they blew Gonzaga out in one of the more surprising margins of the round. Oklahoma struggled down the stretch of the season, but has completely turned it around in the Big Dance. The Sooners dismantled Morgan State in the first round and then pulled away from Michigan down the stretch in the second. Against a hot Syracuse team in the Sweet Sixteen, Oklahoma jumped out to an early lead and never looked back en route to a 17-point win that was not even that close. This game will feature a phenomenal head-to-head battle between two of the nation’s premier players, Blake Griffin and Tyler Hansbrough. That match-up highlights what should be an exciting game.

The key for North Carolina will be stopping Griffin, obviously. He is nearly impossible to contain, but the Tar Heels have the athletes and personnel to match-up with him. Furthermore, they will have to get out on the perimeter shooters that take the pressure off of Griffin. Offensively, North Carolina wants to push tempo and create transition opportunities. Lawson is much too quick for any of the Oklahoma guards to handle, and will be able to get into the lane at will. The Sooners are not that impressive defensively and Wayne Ellington and Danny Green could see open shots from three.

On the other side, Oklahoma is going to have to really lock down defensively and make it a half-court affair. North Carolina has so much offensive talent and the Sooners have not been the most impressive defensive team this season. Griffin will have to defend Hansbrough very tough, and Willie Warren, Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson need to be able to stay on their men and not double-down too often. If UNC is scoring both inside and out, it is going to be a long night for Oklahoma. Furthermore, Oklahoma has to slow the pace of the game down. If they can make it a possession-by-possession half-court game, North Carolina will need to play defense on every possession and execute offensively in the half-court. Offensively, Warren needs to have a big day and Crocker has to hit his open shots when UNC double-teams Griffin.

Down the stretch, North Carolina simply has too many options offensively and I don’t think Oklahoma will be able to keep up with them. Prediction: North Carolina 85, Oklahoma 77

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday's Elite Eight Previews

Connecticut vs. Missouri (4:40 PM): A contrast in styles, personnel, history, coaching – pretty much everything that could possibly be different about these two teams is. Well, except for winning. Connecticut is a physical group that plays excellent half-court defense and would rather play at a relatively slow pace (compared to Missouri). The Huskies have won each of their NCAA Tournament games by double-digits, not really being threatened too seriously. Missouri is a helter-skelter, “40 Minutes of Hell” type of team. Mike Anderson has this team confident, especially after putting up 102 points on arguably the best defensive team in the country, Memphis.

The key for Connecticut will be handling Missouri’s pressure. If the Huskies turn it over, Missouri will get easy baskets, which is where the Tigers thrive. UConn needs to make it a halfcourt game where Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien can score down low and A.J. Price can get open looks from the perimeter. Defensively, Connecticut has to keep Missouri out of the lane. The Tigers got into the paint against Memphis time after time, and also picked up a ton of second-chance opportunities. UConn has to grab defensive rebounds and play solid half-court defense.

For Missouri, they have to try to speed up the game and get Connecticut in an up-and-down game where turnovers and chaos can occur. The Huskies have three point guards – Price, Craig Austrie and Kemba Walker – in their top seven, which means the Tigers could have trouble turning them over. They also have to find a way to defend Thabeet down low. He is too big for anyone on Missouri to defend. Shutting down Price with either J.T. Tiller or Zaire Taylor would make UConn more one-dimensional too. On the other side, DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons need to come up big offensively. They are both too quick for Thabeet and Adrien, and can draw them away from the basket.

The difference will be Connecticut’s ability to make it a half-court affair and take care of the ball. Prediction: Connecticut 74, Missouri 68

Pittsburgh vs. Villanova (7:05 PM): A Big East battle for a spot in the Final Four. Pittsburgh has struggled to get here, being threatened by each of its first three opponents, East Tennessee State, Oklahoma State and most recently, Xavier. It took heroics from Levance Fields in order for the Panthers to knock off the Musketeers in the Sweet Sixteen. On the other side, Villanova has been running through teams in the past five halves. The Wildcats had problems with American in the first round, but then knocked off historic heavyweights UCLA and Duke by a combined 43 points. Pitt and ‘Nova have faced off once already this season, a Jan. 28 meeting when Villanova outscored Pitt 41-26 in the second half en route to a 10-point victory. The Wildcats hit 40 percent from long-range and held Pitt to under 19 percent shooting from three-point land. More importantly, DeJuan Blair took just three shots and finished with seven points and four fouls. Will we see a repeat of that?

The key for Pittsburgh will be to establish Blair early and often – and keep him out of foul trouble. When he fouls out, Pittsburgh is very beatable. He needs to have a big game down low. Sam Young also needs to continue to carry the team offensively. Furthermore, the Panthers need to hit their outside shots and get consistent scoring from a third option. Defensively, they need to keep Villanova out of the lane. The Wildcats have a plethora of guards who can drive to the basket and create. If they are able to consistently beat the Pittsburgh perimeter defenders off the dribble, Pitt could be in for a long night.

On the other side, Villanova has to try to go at Blair from the opening tip, forcing him to defend and potentially foul. Dante Cunningham is tough to guard due to his inside-outside ability, which poses a problem for Pittsburgh’s interior defenders. Additionally, Villanova has to attack, attack, attack. The Wildcats are explosive going to the basket and need to take advantage of that. They only hit six threes in the first meeting between the two teams and still won by 10. The key to beating Pittsburgh is to spread the Panthers out and hit shots and drive to the basket. Villanova has the personnel to do that. Defensively, they need to be able to rebound. Pitt, mainly Blair, is a phenomenal offensive rebounding team and thrives off of second chances. If Blair can dominate the glass, it could be tough for Villanova. Additionally, they need to defend Young. Reggie Redding is an excellent defender and needs to contain him.

The difference will be Blair down low and Pitt’s defense. Prediction: Pittsburgh 73, Villanova 70

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday's Sweet Sixteen Game Previews

Louisville vs. Arizona (7:07 PM): Will Arizona’s Cinderella run continue, or will Louisville take down the last non-top five seed remaining in the Tournament? Despite Arizona’s low seed, this game could be closer than expected. The Wildcats have plenty of talent at the key positions, and might have an advantage on the Cardinals in a few spots. Plus, Louisville’s pressure defense showed some holes against Siena, and Nic Wise has the ability to exploit that. Furthermore, will the Cardinals be able to stop Jordan Hill down low? The key for Arizona will be its ability to find a fourth scorer to complement Wise, Hill and Chase Budinger. On the other side, Louisville needs to get out to a quick start and not allow Arizona to think it can stay in the game. Samardo Samuels will have to come up big against Hill, at both ends. Additionally, Earl Clark could be poised for a big game. He is way too talented, quick and athletic for Jamelle Horne. Arizona’s defense in the Tournament has been predicated on its opponents missing three-pointers; if Louisville hits its threes, it will advance. Prediction: Louisville 81, Arizona 71

Oklahoma vs. Syracuse (7:27 PM):
Arguably the most intriguing of the Sweet Sixteen match-ups. Both teams play completely different styles and have entirely different sets of key personnel. For Oklahoma, it relies on the inside production of All-American Blake Griffin and his ability to take the defensive attention of the opposition. When he is scoring easily down low, it opens up the arc for the Sooners’ perimeter options to hit shots. Against the Syracuse 2-3 zone, Taylor Griffin could be a key in the foul line area. If he gets the ball there and forces the defense to collapse, there will be opportunities for Austin Johnson, Willie Warren and Tony Crocker. Defensively, Oklahoma needs to defend the three a lot better, especially against the Syracuse shooters. Syracuse has the advantage on the perimeter, with the way Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf are shooting. If they are still hot from deep, the Orange could advance. Jonny Flynn could be a key at both ends of the floor. He is a fantastic point guard and needs to dictate tempo. Can Syracuse defend Blake Griffin down low? That will be the difference. Prediction: Oklahoma 74, Syracuse 71

Michigan State vs. Kansas (9:37 PM):
A rematch of a game back in January, which Michigan State won fairly handily. Of course, that was before the Jayhawks won the Big 12 regular-season title and looked poised for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. This game will be different. For Kansas, Sherron Collins needs to dominate. He had eight turnovers in the first meeting and can’t have a repeat of that. He is too strong for Kalin Lucas and needs to get into the lane. Cole Aldrich also needs to make his presence known down low. Outside of those two, who will step up? Tyshawn Taylor? Brady Morningstar? Defensively, someone needs to guard Raymar Morgan. He is a very difficult match-up for any opponent. On the other side, Michigan State needs to play more consistently. The Spartans have as much talent as anyone, but they have had stretches where they don’t look very good at all. They can’t afford prolonged durations of time where they can’t score and struggle to defend. Offensively, they have to try to get Aldrich into foul trouble; the Spartans have plenty of interior depth to counter him. The perimeter shooters – Chris Allen, Durrell Summers – could be crucial for the Spartans as well. Prediction: Michigan State 73, Kansas 69

North Carolina vs. Gonzaga (9:57 PM): This game is going to be an NBA scout’s dream, with a cadre of talent on both teams. North Carolina gets all the attention, but Gonzaga has as much offensive talent as anyone in the country. If the Bulldogs are to pull the upset, Jeremy Pargo has to play like he did last year. He hasn’t asserted himself as much offensively this year, and needs to get into the lane at will. Austin Daye also needs to toughen up. If Deon Thompson pushes him around and takes him out of the game, Gonzaga will suffer. Defensively, the Bulldogs need to keep Ty Lawson out of the lane and be sure to get out on Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. For North Carolina, having a healthy Lawson would be a huge plus. He is expected to play and needs to perform like he did against LSU in the second half. Last season, when Gonzaga defeated North Carolina, Josh Heytvelt dominated Tyler Hansbrough – that can’t happen again. Holding Matt Bouldin in check is the key defensively; he is the best player Gonzaga has and creates for himself and his teammates. I expect an up-and-down game with not too much defense being played. North Carolina is just a little better and more consistent offensively; they will move on. Prediction: North Carolina 90, Gonzaga 84

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thursday's Sweet Sixteen Game Previews

Connecticut vs. Purdue (7:07 PM): Expect a very physical game between two teams that play outstanding defense and don’t mind getting into a battle down low. Both teams would rather play a halfcourt game but have the athletes to get out in transition if necessary. One of the questions heading into this game is how will the off-court story of Connecticut’s potentially illegal recruitment of Nate Miles will affect the Huskies. Other than that, the key match-ups center on Purdue’s lack of size. Can JaJuan Johnson defend Hasheem Thabeet? Is Robbie Hummel physical enough for Jeff Adrien? Who’s going to guard the 6-9 Stanley Robinson? In order for Purdue to win, the Boilermakers are going to have to get Thabeet in foul trouble and then shut down A.J. Price on the perimeter with Chris Kramer. Prediction: Connecticut 70, Purdue 59

Pittsburgh vs. Xavier (7:27 PM):
In my opinion, this is going to have the biggest margin of victory of any of the Sweet Sixteen contests. To beat Pittsburgh, a team needs to be able to spread the floor and hit threes on a consistent basis. Furthermore, it has to be able to rebound the ball extremely well and keep the Panthers off of the offensive glass. Xavier simply does not have the personnel necessary to beat Pittsburgh. The Musketeers don’t have enough perimeter shooters, and they don’t have the requisite size down low to hang with DeJuan Blair and the rest of the physical Panthers. Furthermore, they lack a go-to-guy and have received inconsistent production at the point guard position. And who's going to guard Sam Young? The questions go on and on. This is not the recipe for defeating Pittsburgh. Prediction: Pittsburgh 74, Xavier 60

Memphis vs. Missouri (9:37 PM): Expect an outstanding game with a deep collection of athletes and players who can run the floor and finish at the basket. However, if you think it is going to be a game in the 80s or 90s, I think you are going to be disappointed. Anyway, the key to this game will be Memphis’ ability to handle Missouri’s pressure, as well as how effective Missouri can be scoring the ball in a half-court situation. If Missouri can’t score, it can’t set up its pressure defense. On the other side, Tyreke Evans is still a freshman and could be intimidated by Missouri’s non-stop full-court pressure. I think the difference in this game will be DeMarre Carroll. He is a phenomenal player at both ends of the floor who can really pose problems for Memphis’ defense. He and Leo Lyons are going to force Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart away from the basket, which is not where they are most comfortable. Also, an interesting thing to note is Mike Anderson was the last coach to beat Memphis in Conference-USA -- when he was at UAB. Prediction: Missouri 72, Memphis 70

Duke vs. Villanova (9:57 PM): I’m really looking forward to this game. Both teams have plenty of perimeter shooters who can knock down the three with consistency and effectiveness. Furthermore, each team also features a few match-up problems across the lineup. Villanova rolled through UCLA and has a lot of momentum heading into this game; of course, the Wildcats won’t be in Philadelphia anymore. If they are going to continue their winning ways, they are going to have to find a way to defend Gerald Henderson. Henderson has been playing like an All-American lately, and Villanova might not have an answer for him. On the other side, Duke is going to have to play better defense. Villanova has the ability to get hot from outside and really run up the score. Kyle Singler will have to slow down Dante Cunningham down low; Cunningham is physical and can get baskets in a variety of ways. Down the stretch, the difference is going to be Duke’s three-headed attack of Jon Scheyer, Henderson and Singler – Villanova will struggle to match-up. Prediction: Duke 79, Villanova 75

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: South Region

Favorite: North Carolina. The Tar Heels came into the season as the heavy favorite to win it all, and probably the leading favorite to win the title coming into the NCAA Tournament. They easily dispatched of Radford in the first round, but struggled with LSU in the second round before pulling away late in the game. Wayne Ellington has been on fire so far in the Tournament, averaging 24 points on 63 percent shooting from the field and 55 percent shooting from three. Ty Lawson returned against LSU, scoring 23 points and dishing out six assists. Tyler Hansbrough dominated against Radford, but had trouble with LSU’s length inside. He is shooting just 41 percent from the field so far. Deon Thompson has been non-existent so far, while Danny Green has struggled with his shot but has still been productive. Ed Davis has been absolutely crucial off the bench, averaging 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game. With Lawson back in the lineup – and hopefully healthy – the Tar Heels are going to be tough to beat. However, if he is not at 100 percent, this team could fall short of a title.

Cinderella: Gonzaga. Similar to the East Region, the top four seeds advanced to the regional semi-finals – leaving no true Cinderellas in the region. However, Gonzaga is a non-BCS team that would have to go through vaunted North Carolina to get to the Elite Eight. If that happens, the Bulldogs would be a Cinderella story. Gonzaga is one of the most talented teams in the country, and they do have the weapons and personnel to make a run at the Tar Heels. The Bulldogs struggled for the first 30 minutes against Akron before blowing out the Zips, and then needed a shot with 0.9 seconds remaining by Demetri Goodson to beat Western Kentucky. Matt Bouldin, as usual, has been the leader, averaging 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists in two games. Micah Downs has been solid, while Josh Heytvelt had 22 points and eight rebounds against Akron. Austin Daye also scored in double-figures in both games. Jeremy Pargo needs to be more aggressive driving to the basket, especially against UNC’s Ty Lawson.

Most intriguing personnel match-up: Oklahoma’s Willie Warren vs. Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn. With the Gonzaga-North Carolina match-up featuring interesting position battles across the board, it seemed right to head to the bottom of the region to talk about what could be the key to the Syracuse-Oklahoma game. Warren is not a true point guard, but he is the best playmaker Oklahoma has, and will need to come up big if the Sooners are to slow down the hot Orange. He can score in a myriad of ways, and has also improved defensively as the season wore on. Warren scored 16 points and dished out four assists in each of the first two games in the Big Dance, and the freshman has only turned it over three times. Flynn is one of the country’s premier point guards. He is an excellent scorer with deep three-point range who can also get to the lane on most defenders. He takes care of the ball and plays more than 37 minutes per game. Flynn is averaging 13.5 points and seven assists in the Tournament. It should be a fun battle to watch.

First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: Michigan. The Wolverines were not expected to reach the second-round in just two years under head coach John Beilein, but that is exactly what happened. They can go further next season. Guard Manny Harris and forward DeShawn Sims will be back, and will combine for one of the better inside-outside combos in the country. Shooters Zack Novak and Stu Douglass will also return, as will Laval Lucas-Perry and Kelvin Grady. Quick point guard Darius Morris will be welcomed into the fold. Clemson is another team to watch. The Tigers lose K.C. Rivers and Raymond Sykes, but five-star recruit Milton Jennings will join stud Trevor Booker down low. Demontez Stitt and Terrence Oglesby return as the starting backcourt.

All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Wayne Ellington, North Carolina: 24.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists
Guard- Marcus Thornton, LSU: 27.5 points, 6.0 rebounds
Guard- Orlando Mendez-Valdez, Western Kentucky: 18.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists
Guard- Matt Bouldin, Gonzaga: 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists

Forward- Blake Griffin, Oklahoma: 30.5 points, 15.0 rebounds
Sixth Man- Manny Harris, Michigan: 17.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: East Region

Favorite: Pittsburgh. If not for a terrible first half against American, Villanova might be the favorite to come out of this region. As it stands, I’m not sure if there’s really a favorite at all – therefore, I tend to lean towards the team with the best chance of winning this region, and that is likely Pittsburgh. The Panthers have struggled mightily against both East Tennessee State and Oklahoma State, needing to pull out wins in the final minutes in each round. They were outrebounded on the offensive glass by ETSU 19-9, and turned the ball over 14 times against Oklahoma State. DeJuan Blair is averaging 18.5 points and 14.0 rebounds, but he was invisible offensively for much of the OSU game. Sam Young put on a show against the Cowboys, scoring 32 points. Levance Fields has a 14-to-5 assist-to-turnover ratio thus far. Ashton Gibbs has been key off the bench, averaging 9.5 points per game and hitting 5-of-6 from beyond the arc. The Panthers have been getting solid role play as well, but have had some serious problems in the first two rounds that need to be answered if this team is to win it all.

Cinderella: Xavier. With all top-four seeds advancing, there is not much room for a “Cinderella”, in its purest form. However, the only non-BCS teams remaining in the region would certainly be a sleeper and Cinderella story. Xavier came into the Big Dance struggling somewhat and even I picked them to get upset in the first round by Portland State. However, the Musketeers defeated both the Vikings and upstart Wisconsin en route to a berth in the regional semi-finals. Of course, the balanced Musketeers have not had anyone score more than 15 points and four different players have scored in double-figures. Athletic Derrick Brown and shooter B.J. Raymond are leading the way, but C.J. Anderson and Dante Jackson are also contributing at both ends of the floor. Xavier is getting good bench production, with 20 points each game coming from non-starters. With Pittsburgh’s struggles, Xavier could be poised for the upset if they shoot and rebound well.

Most intriguing personnel match-up: Duke’s Kyle Singler vs. Villanova’s Dante Cunningham. These are two of the most difficult players to defend in the country, and they will be facing off against each other. Singler is an inside-outside threat, with the ability to spot up and hit the three or get buckets down low. He is averaging 13.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, and has also hit five threes in the two games. Cunningham is one of the most improved players in the country, going from a reliable inside player to a very tough inside scorer who can hit a face-up jumper and also has a variety of post moves. He is averaging 21.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in the two NCAA Tournament wins thus far. Cunningham is shooting 16-of-27 from the field. It will be interesting to see if Cunningham can defend Singler on the perimeter and off the dribble, while it remains to be seen if Singler can stay out of foul trouble defending Cunningham down in the low post.

First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: Texas, Tennessee. Both of these disappointing preseason top-10 teams could be back in the Final Four mix as early as next year. Texas loses A.J. Abrams and Connor Atchley, but Damion James is likely to return as an All-American, while Dexter Pittman, Gary Johnson, Justin Mason and Dogus Balbay will all be back. Plus, the Longhorns are bringing in a phenomenal recruiting class, including five-star guard Avery Bradley, and talented forwards Jordan Hamilton, a five-star recruit, and Shawn Williams. Tennessee returns its top ten players, including Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism, as well as budding guard Scott Hopson. J.P. Prince and Bobby Maze will also be back. Additionally, recruit Kenny Hall is an athletic and versatile forward who can make an impact.

All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Byron Eaton, Oklahoma State: 17.5 points, 8.5 assists, game-winning shot vs. Tennessee
Guard- A.J. Abrams, Texas: 21.5 points, 10-21 three-point shooting
Forward- Dante Cunningham, Villanova: 21.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 16-of-27 field-goal shooting
Forward- Sam Young, Pittsburgh: 23.0 points, 10.5 rebounds

Center- DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh: 18.5 points, 14.0 rebounds
Sixth Man- Gerald Henderson, Duke: 18.5 points, 6.0 rebounds

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: West Region

Favorite: Connecticut. The Huskies have easily been the most impressive team thus far in the tournament. Their margin of victory in both of their wins was the most of anyone in the first two rounds: 56 against Chattanooga and then 26 against Texas A&M. UConn is averaging 97.5 points per game and allowing just 56.5 per contest. A.J. Price has been the star so far, averaging 23.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. He also hit 9-of-18 from three-point range. Hasheem Thabeet has only played 20 minutes in each game, and did get into foul trouble against Texas A&M. He can’t have a repeat of that against Purdue. Jeff Adrien is putting up 18 points and 12 rebounds and dominating down low. Stanley Robinson, the team’s X-factor, has been phenomenal, making a difference at both ends and averaging 18 and 6 per game. The Huskies are also getting quality bench production from Kemba Walker and Gavin Edwards. This team looks tough to beat right now.

Cinderella: Purdue. With Purdue the only non-top three seed advancing, it is clearly the Boilermakers that will be the underdog heading into the Sweet Sixteen. They have played well so far, holding off Northern Iowa by five in the first round and surviving a furious second-half comeback by Washington to escape by two. They are not shooting particularly accurately, from inside and outside the arc, but are playing very solid defense. JaJuan Johnson has been dominant down low, averaging 18 points per game, while E’Twaun Moore is leading the way on the perimeter. Robbie Hummel is contributing in a variety of areas, and Chris Kramer has been part of the reason for the excellent defense on Washington’s Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon, as well as Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh. Freshman Lewis Jackson will be a key at the point guard against Connecticut. If Kramer can slow down A.J. Price and Hasheem Thabeet gets into foul trouble again, Purdue might have a chance.

Most intriguing personnel match-up: Memphis’ Robert Dozier vs. Missouri’s DeMarre Carroll. Although the battle in the top half of the bracket between Connecticut’s Jeff Adrien and Purdue’s Robbie Hummel may have more star power, this match-up will pit two of the best and most athletic forwards in the country against each other. Dozier struggled in the first round against CSU-Northridge, but bounced back with 17 points and eight rebounds against Maryland. He is versatile and difficult to defend because of his ability to score in different ways. Carroll is supremely athletic and can run the floor as well as any big man in the country. He is also an excellent defender, spearheading the Missouri press. Carroll has contributed in every area this Tournament, averaging 14.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. Dozier will have to keep up with Carroll when he runs the floor, while Carroll can’t allow Dozier to get going offensively and grab offensive rebounds.

First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: California. The Golden Bears came out of nowhere to reach the NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed, but their three-point shooting went cold and they were bounced by Maryland in the first round. However, they only lose one senior – Jordan Wilkes – and will return the dynamite scoring backcourt of Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher. Shooter Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin also return to the starting lineup. Harper Kemp came on strong as the season went on, and could be poised for a big season. Jorge Gutierrez also impressed during the season. Texas A&M only loses Josh Carter, and will bring in Naji Hibbert to replace him, while Maryland gets an influx of two talented big guys to help shore up its frontcourt weaknesses next season. Keep an eye on the Aggies and Terrapins.

All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- A.J. Price, Connecticut: 23.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists
Guard- Greivis Vasquez, Maryland: 22.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists
Forward- Leo Lyons, Missouri: 20.5 points, 7.0 rebounds
Forward- Lazar Hayward, Marquette: 19.5 rebounds, 9.5 rebounds
Forward- Quincy Pondexter, Washington: 21.5 points, 9.0 rebounds
Sixth Man- Roburt Sallie, Memphis: 24.0 points, 13-19 three-point shooting

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: Midwest Region

Favorite: Louisville. The Cardinals might not be the most impressive team in the region so far, but I still believe they are the favorite to come out of the Midwest. Although Morehead State hung around longer than expected and Siena was leading in the final several minutes, Louisville played well down the stretch in both games. Terrence Williams has been fantastic so far, putting up 18.5 points and 12 rebounds per game. Earl Clark’s numbers are down, but he has come up big in spots and is tough to defend. Rounding out the frontcourt is Samardo Samuels, who has been dominant in the first two rounds, at both ends and on the glass. The backcourt play has been spotty, with no guards scoring in double-figures in either of the first two games. Jerry Smith is an excellent three-point shooter, but he has only attempted four in two games. Edgar Sosa and Andre McGee are averaging more assists than turnovers, which is a plus, and Terrence Jennings has been productive off the bench down low. The Cardinals should be able to handle Arizona.

Cinderella: Arizona. By far the lowest seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen, the Wildcats are either finally playing to the potential of their talent or are the benefactors of a lucky draw. They did face the worst No. 5 seed in Utah, and then played No. 13 seed Cleveland State in the second round. Their regional semi-final battle against Louisville will be much tougher. Obviously, the trio of Nic Wise, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill has led the team so far. Wise is averaging 24.0 points and 5.0 assists per game; Budinger is putting up 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists; and Hill is contributing 16.5 points and 11.0 rebounds. The key has been production from a fourth scorer. In the first round, it was Kyle Fogg with 11 points. Against Cleveland State, Jamelle Horne came through with 15 points and five rebounds. They are getting very little production from the bench, with just five points total from non-starters (all by Fendi Onobun) in the two games. Against Louisville, Nic Wise is going to have to be the leader. He has an advantage at the point, but can’t turn the ball over against Louisville’s press. Furthermore, Horne will have to come up big against Earl Clark.

Most intriguing personnel match-up: Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas vs. Kansas’ Sherron Collins. Two of the best point guards in the country will battle it out in a rematch of the two teams’ Jan. 10 contest, which Michigan State won, 75-62. In that game, Collins had 25 points and eight assists, but also eight turnovers, while Lucas had 22 points and five rebounds. Collins has been phenomenal so far in the Tournament, averaging 28.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists – with just two turnovers in the two games. He is one of the most difficult players in college basketball to defend, due to his strength, quickness and shooting ability. Lucas hasn’t been as productive, putting up 11.5 points and 5.0 assists per game. He is one of the fastest players in the country, and can get into the lane on almost anyone. He also doesn’t turn the ball over much. Whoever takes care of the ball better and runs their respective offense more smoothly will determine the winner.

First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: Wake Forest. If the Demon Deacons’ core trio of Jeff Teague, James Johnson and Al-Farouq Aminu all stay in Winston-Salem for another year, they will be a tough team to beat. Teague is one of the best guards in the country, and Johnson and Aminu are very difficult to match-up with. Wake also returns starters Chas McFarland and L.D. Williams, as well as sixth man and second-leading assist man Ish Smith. Recruit Ari Stewart will also be welcomed into the fold next season; he will only add to their dominant frontline. West Virginia and USC will also be teams to watch next season, while Ohio State will return everyone.

All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Sherron Collins, Kansas: 28.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists
Guard- Nic Wise, Arizona: 24.0 points, 5.0 assists
Guard- Cedric Jackson, Cleveland State: 17.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 4.0 steals

Forward- Terrence Williams, Louisville: 18.5 points, 12.0 rebounds
Forward- Edwin Ubiles, Siena: 22.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 3.0 steals

Sixth Man- Dwight Lewis, USC: 19.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 steals

Monday, March 23, 2009

Seven Figures

Since I began March Madness All Season in February of 2005, it's never really been about the number of hits or page views or unique visitors or anything like that. However, earlier today, I reached what I think is a fairly decent milestone: one million hits.

This blog started out as nothing but a way to get my college basketball analysis online, but March Madness All Season has been part of the vast Collegehoops.net network since the fall of 2005, and yours truly has appeared on dozens of radio shows and been interviewed by media outlets on numerous occasions.

It would be nothing without the support of my loyal users, so I appreciate all the visits and consistent audience I am provided with. I guess it's only fitting that I reached one million hits in the best college basketball month of the year, March.

Well, why slow down now? Continue to come back for the best college basketball analysis on the web, and you may be in store for a few changes and surprises in a few months. Thanks again.

Odds and Ends

Starting tomorrow, I will have a complete Sweet Sixteen preview, broken down region-by-region. It will include players to watch, favorites and sleepers, and much more.

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 seven 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 22, 2009

Dominic James Cleared to Play Sunday

It's not often one gets a meaningful, informative, potentially NCAA Tournament-changing e-mail at 1:51 a.m. Well, that's exactly what happened when I checked my BlackBerry late last night. The title was "Marquette's Dominic James Cleared to Play Sunday," and it was from Scott Kuykendall, the Sports Information Director for Marquette basketball.

“I don't know how much he'll be able to contribute,” head coach Buzz Williams said. “The thing that I'm excited about is we're going to give him an opportunity to close out his career in the best way he possibly could. And I think the recovery has been due in large part to his work, but also because of the wisdom of Ernest (Eugene) and Dr. (Darrin) Maccoux."

James, the team's starting point guard and one of the better defensive guards in the Big East, suffered a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot in the first half of the Golden Eagles' game against Connecticut on Feb. 25. He was expected to miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on Feb. 27, but has been cleared to play after being evaluated over the past week.

"He worked out the day we got here, he worked out Friday morning before our game, worked out Friday night, practiced with us today," Williams said. "So medically he's been cleared, but how much he'll be able to contribute, I don't know."

Ernest Eugene, Marquette's athletic trainer, said James reached every milestone the team set for him.

“We’ve talked to some experts in the field, and these cases are known, have happened in elite athletes – college and the pros,” Eugene said. “He's been very instrumental in all this, obviously. He's been so dedicated being where he's supposed to be every day, doing what he needs to do, and he's surpassed every goal.”

James was averaging 11.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game prior to the injury. Marquette was 2-5 in his absence, defeating Utah State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and advancing to face No. 3 seed Missouri today.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

2009 NCAA Tournament 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 2009 NCAA Tournament. I know this is what everyone wants to see anyway. Enjoy.

My Complete Bracket

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

South Region Preview


The South Region features some of the most talented teams in college basketball, a team that was formerly No. 1 in the country and a couple of the hottest teams in the country. North Carolina came into the year as the overwhelming favorite to win it all, while Gonzaga and Syracuse are playing very well lately. Oklahoma and Arizona State both have All-Americans on their roster, while the SEC and Horizon League regular-season champions are also represented, as well as the Atlantic-10 Tournament winner.

Favorite: North Carolina. The Tar Heels remain the most talented team in the country and have the personnel best-suited to win the national championship. However, they struggle defensively at times and All-American point guard Ty Lawson has an injured toe. Still, Lawson and Wayne Ellington form an outstanding backcourt duo, and Tyler Hansbrough is an All-American up front. Danny Green is a versatile player on the wing and Deon Thompson is a budding star.

Contenders: Oklahoma, Gonzaga. Oklahoma was near the top of the rankings all season long, before struggling down the stretch. However, Blake Griffin is back and fully healthy and is the best player in the country. He is a dominant force and can carry the Sooners, while Willie Warren is developing into a star on the perimeter. Taylor Griffin is an underappreciated option in the frontcourt. Austin Johnson runs the show and is a key for the Sooners. Gonzaga excels at both ends of the floor and has the weapons to play with anyone in the country. The perimeter is led by Matt Bouldin, one of the most underrated players in the nation, and Jeremy Pargo, who regressed this season but is still outstanding. Steven Gray and Micah Downs can shoot it. Jojsh Heytvelt is back to being his dominant self down low, but Austin Daye struggled late and needs to get much tougher up front.

Sleepers: Arizona State, Clemson. Arizona State has been an enigma all season long. The Sun Devils swept UCLA but were swept by Washington State and lost by double-digits to Stanford at home. ASU is home to one of the nation’s best inside-outside duos, though, in All-American James Harden and inside force Jeff Pendergraph. Harden is a fantastic all-around player. Forward Rihards Kuksiks is an inside-outside option and Derek Glasser is a solid distributor. This team also players great defense. Clemson is in the midst of its typical late-season swoon, but don’t count them out. The Tigers still have plenty of weapons, and are only a month removed from obliterating Duke by 27. Trevor Booker has developed into one of the best big men in the country this season, and K.C. Rivers is the go-to-guy on the perimeter with his scoring ability. Terrence Oglesby is an excellent albeit streaky three-point shooter, while Demontez Stitt is quick and has solid playmaking ability.

Non-BCS Teams to Watch: Butler, Temple. Butler should have received a higher seed than a No. 8, based on its season performance. However, the Bulldogs are capable of playing with anyone in the nation, and could even scare North Carolina if they beat LSU. They don’t rely on their backcourt like last season; their frontcourt leads the way this season with Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward up front. Shelvin Mack and Willie Veasley anchor the backcourt. This team needs to hit its outside shots to win, though. Temple struggled in mid-February, but bounced back to win the Atlantic-10 Tournament title in impressive fashion. The Owls made a similar run last season. Dionte Christmas is one of the best shooters and scorers in the country, while Lavoy Allen is a double-double threat every night down low. Ryan Brooks is a good three-point shooter who provides balance for the Owls.

Upset Pick: Western Kentucky over Illinois. Yes, Western Kentucky made a run to the Sweet Sixteen, but no, the Hilltoppers are not the same team. Courtney Lee and Ty Brazelton are gone, but A.J. Slaughter and Orlando Mendez-Valdez lead a cast of three-point shooters. Illinois has struggled offensively all season long, and will likely be without point guard Chester Frazier. He spearheads the Illini’s defense, and without him, they might struggle to contain WKU defensively and keep up with the Hilltoppers ay the other end.

Top Five Players (only one per team):
1. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
2. James Harden, Arizona State
3. Ty Lawson, North Carolina
3a. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina

4. Marcus Thornton, LSU
5. Jonny Flynn, Syracuse

East Region Breakdown


The East Region might have the highest-number of very good teams in it, and it also features one of the few Tournament favorites in Pittsburgh. Duke won the ACC Tournament title, Villanova and Florida State are playing very well lately, UCLA has reached three straight final fours and Xavier was in the top-10 for much of the season. Simply put, this region has a ton of talented teams – all squads that can win at least a couple of games. Don’t forget about Texas and Tennessee, both of whom were preseason top-10 teams.

Favorite: Pittsburgh. The Panthers have been one of the best teams in college basketball all season long, and they head into the Big Dance playing good basketball, despite the loss to West Virginia in the Big East Tournament. They have one of the best frontcourt duos in the country in DeJuan Blair and Sam Young, as well as an experienced point guard in Levance Fields. There are a plethora of solid role players as well, plus plenty of experience.

Contenders: Duke, Villanova. The Blue Devils have been on a roll since putting Elliot Williams and Lance Thomas in the lineup, and taking out Greg Paulus and Brian Zoubek. Gerald Henderson has developed into an All-American in conference play, while Kyle Singler is a very tough match-up. Jon Scheyer can handle the ball and shoot the three. However, Duke is still poor at defending perimeter penetration. Villanova has plenty of perimeter talent, starting with Scottie Reynolds, who can get hot and shoot this team to the next round. Corey Fisher has improved this season, and Corey Stokes is a shooter. Up front, Dante Cunningham creates match-up problems and is capable of putting up 20 and 10. Furthermore, the Wildcats are playing in the Wachovia Center for the first two rounds – that is basically ‘Nova’s second homecourt.

Sleepers: UCLA, Florida State. UCLA is not the Final Four threat it was predicted to be at the season’s outset, but the Bruins are hitting their stride at the right time and should be not be overlooked in the NCAA Tournament despite their early entrance in the Pac-10 tourney. They are phenomenal shooting team and can score from every position. Darren Collison and Josh Shipp are the go-to-guys on the perimeter, while Jrue Holiday has not lived up to his lofty expecations. Alfred Aboya is much-improved down low, and Nikola Dragovic is an inside-outside threat. Florida State is not the most explosive offensive team in the world, but the Seminoles play outstanding defense and they have Toney Douglas. Douglas was one of the best players in the ACC season long, at both ends of the floor. Uche Echefu and Chris Singleton are solid up front, and Solomon Alabi can defend and rebound. Derwin Kitchen adds athleticism on the perimeter.

Non-BCS Teams to Watch: VCU, Xavier. There’s only six non-BCS teams in this region, so the pickings are slim. However, VCU is once again a threat to reach the second round by upsetting a historical power. The Rams don’t force as many turnovers as they used to, but they are very solid at both ends. Eric Maynor is still one of the best point guards in the country, and he can carry this team. Larry Sanders is a shot-blocker down low with a developing offensive game. Joey Rodriguez can shoot and handle the ball, while Bradford Burgess and Brandon Rozell bring quickness. Kiril Pishchalnikov is a banger. Xavier won the Atlantic-10 regular season, but struggled down the stretch. As most Musketeer teams are, this year’s version is very balanced, with three guys averaging between 10.2 and 13.8 points, and another five putting up between 5.6 and 7.2 points per game. B.J. Raymond can really shoot, while C.J. Anderson is a tough match-up. Derrick Brown is an athletic freak who can finish with the best of them. Point guard has been a question mark.

Upset Pick: Portland State over Xavier. I think that Portland State was overseeded and should be a No. 14 or No. 15 after winning the Big Sky tournament championship. However, the Vikings have already defeated Gonzaga this year on the road and also lost at Washington by just one point. Xavier has been struggling lately, and could be primed for an upset. The Musketeers turn the ball over a lot, which could turn into points at the other end for a talented and balanced PSU team.

Top Five Players (only one per team):
1. DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh
2. Toney Douglas, Florida State
3. Gerald Henderson, Duke
4. Eric Maynor, VCU
5. Darren Collison, UCLA

West Region Breakdown


The West Region is very intriguing, as it features what was clearly the last No. 1 seed selected (Connecticut) and the first No. 2 seed picked (Memphis). Are they headed for an Elite Eight showdown? We’ll see. This region also has the Pac-10 regular-season champ, the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC tournament champions, as well as several other talented teams across the board. Don’t forget about another 30-win team: Utah State. Imagine if Marquette still had Dominic James? This region would be loaded.

Favorite: Connecticut. The Huskies haven’t been the same since losing Jerome Dyson to season-ending knee surgery. However, they still have the weapons necessary to win the title come early April. Hasheem Thabeet is a force in the middle defensively, and he is coming along at the other end. Jeff Adrien is a double-double lock every night out, and A.J. Price can put the Huskies on his back. Freshman Kemba Walker could be the x-factor.

Contenders: Memphis, Missouri. Memphis is undefeated since moving freshman Tyreke Evans to the point guard spot and is playing their best basketball of the season. They have the most efficient defense in the country, and plenty of weapons offensively. Evans is very difficult to contain, while Antonio Anderson can do it all. Robert Dozier is a match-up problem up front and Shawn Taggart can score and rebound. Doneal Mack is a shooter. Missouri surprised many people this season, riding its pressure defense and helter-skelter style of play to the Big 12 Tournament title. DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons are both very difficult players to match-up with in the frontcourt for the Tigers. On the perimeter, Zaire Taylor handles the point, while Matt Lawrence does the shooting and J.T. Tiller contributes in a variety of areas. The Tigers have not proven they can win consistently away from home, though.

Sleepers: Purdue, California. Purdue was inconsistent throughout the conference campaign, mainly because of a lingering back injury to Robbie Hummel, who had to sit out several games as a result. However, when he is healthy, this team is solid. E’Twaun Moore is a very good scorer who can also rebound and pass, while JaJuan Johnson has developed into a go-to option down low and a shot-blocker defensively. Keaton Grant is a leader and Chris Kramer is a standout defender. California can beat any team in the country when it is shooting the ball well. Jerome Randle is a jitterbug at the point who can get into the lane on anyone, while Patrick Christopher can score and Theo Robertson can shoot. Mike Montgomery is a tournament-tested coach who brings experience to the Big Dance. However, if the Golden Bears have an off-night from beyond the arc, they don’t have the inside play to make up for it.

Non-BCS Teams to Watch: BYU, Northern Iowa. BYU has been receiving plenty of praise of lovers of tempo-free stats all season long, as the Cougars are one of just a few teams to rank in the top-25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy. They have one of the most impressive trios in the country, led by Lee Cummard, who was named an All-American by FOXSports.com. Jonathan Tavernari is a versatile and multi-dimensional player, while Jimmer Fredette can score and also contribute in a variety of ways. Northern Iowa plays at one of the slowest tempos in the country, but the Panthers are suited for it and force teams to adjust. Adam Koch is the leading scorer up front, while 7-1 Jordan Eglseder is a match-up problem for nearly everyone in the conference. Kwadzo Ahelegbe can score effectively and also contribute in other areas, and Ali Farokhmanesh can shoot. Johnny Moran might be the best all-around player in the backcourt.

Upset Pick: Utah State over Marquette. As mentioned above, Marquette is certainly not the same team without Dominic James at the point. Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews are a great wing duo and Lazar Hayward causes match-up problems, but this team is not going to make a run without James. On the other side, Utah State is a veteran squad that has size up front and plenty of shooters on the perimeter. Gary Wilkinson is a 26-year old forward who has the ability to carry the Aggies.

Top Five Players (only one per team):
1. Jerel McNeal, Marquette
2. Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut
3. Jon Brockman, Washington
4. Tyreke Evans, Memphis
5. Lee Cummard, BYU

Midwest Region Breakdown


The Midwest Region has plenty of very good teams, including champions from the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West, MAAC regular-seasons, as well as the Pac-10 tournament, plus a team that was the No. 1-ranked team in the land just a couple of months ago. Furthermore, this region is home to the overall No. 1 seed in the entire bracket, Louisville. West Virginia has proven it can compete with some of the best teams in the country, and Boston College beat Duke and North Carolina. This could be an exciting region.

Favorite: Louisville. The Cardinals are one of the hottest teams in the country right now, and won both the Big East regular-season and tournament titles. They have plenty of talent, led by Terrence Williams, who has become an all-around star this year. Earl Clark is a match-up nightmare for opponents, and Samardo Samuels is tough down low. Jerry Smith knocks down shots from the perimeter. Plus, Rick Pitino is tournament-tested. The only question with this team is consistency at the point guard spot.

Contenders: Michigan State, Wake Forest. Michigan State came into the season as one of the contenders for a Final Four, and have shown flashes of that talent – but not on a consistent basis. Tom Izzo has a load of talent on his hands, led by ultra-quick point guard Kalin Lucas and versatile forward Raymar Morgan, who battled walking pneumonia for several weeks. Goran Suton is a solid inside player, while Durrell Summers and Chris Allen provide scoring from the perimeter. Travis Walton is an outstanding defender and leader, and forward Delvon Roe has a lot of potential. Wake Forest might have the most NBA talent in the country outside of maybe North Carolina. The Demon Deacons were ranked No. 1 in January before slumping somewhat in February. Jeff Teague is one of the best guards in the country, though he has slowed down recently. James Johnson and freshman Al-Farouq Aminu are two very talented forwards who create match-up problems. Chas McFarland adds to the big Wake frontline.

Sleepers: West Virginia, USC. West Virginia has shown it can beat anyone in the country, as it defeated Pittsburgh just one week ago in the Big East Tournament. The Mountaineers have a great wing tandem in Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff, and plenty of athletes and depth along the frontline. Devin Ebanks is tough to defend. They are young, though, with two freshman starters, including Daryl Bryant at point guard. USC is one of the hottest teams in this region, coming off of a Pac-10 Tournament title. They have a tremendous amount of talent, starting with Demar DeRozan and underrated scorer Dwight Lewis on the wing. Daniel Hackett can do a little of everything, and Taj Gibson is an inside force at both ends of the floor. Plus, coach Tim Floyd is the king of junk defenses.

Non-BCS Teams to Watch: Siena, Utah. How can you go wrong with the Saints? They blew out Vanderbilt in the first-round of last year’s Tournament, and are even better this year. The Saints are led by their outstanding perimeter group. 6-3 Kenny Hasbrouck and 6-6 Edwin Ubiles are the leading scorers on the team and are both capable of carrying the team to victory. Hasbrouck is one of the better guards in the mid-major world, while Ubiles has good size and a very tough-to-defend skill set. Ronald Moore, a terrific passer, is the least heralded of the three starters, but he might be the most important one. Alex Franklin is a load up front, and Ryan Rossiter is a very good rebounder. Utah has been flying under the radar all season long, but received too high of a seed and also got a terrible match-up with Arizona in the first-round. The Utes are a very balanced and efficient offensive team, and a phenomenal defensive rebounding squad. Luke Nevill leads the way down low. He is an NBA prospect at center and can carry Utah. Shaun Green flanks him up front. Shooter Lawrence Borha and double-figure scorer Tyler Kepkay are solid in the backcourt, with Kepkay the team’s sixth man. Carlon Brown can do a little of everything.

Upset Pick: Arizona over Utah; North Dakota State over Kansas. The Arizona-Utah game is going to be one of the most-picked upsets in the Tournament. No, I don’t think Arizona should have received a bid to the Dance, but once you’re in the Tournament, it’s a whole new season. The Wildcats have plenty of talent and one of the best trios in the country in Nic Wise, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. Hill vs. Utah’s Luke Nevill down low will be a great battle. As for North Dakota State, I’ve been on the Bison bandwagon since early in the season, and I’ve thought that if they played an inexperienced team that doesn’t take care of the ball very well, they could pull the upset. Enter Kansas. And enter NDSU into the second-round. The only question will be if NDSU can defend Cole Aldrich on the interior.

Top Five Players (only one per team):
1. Jeff Teague, Wake Forest
2. Sherron Collins, Kansas
3. Tyrese Rice, Boston College
4. Evan Turner, Ohio State
5. Luke Nevill, Utah

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Major Conference Sleepers


Although people sometimes overlook this category, identifying the teams from the power leagues that are apt to making a run is also crucial. These teams are usually seeded 6-11 and have the potential to take down one of the top-seeded teams in a region. Last year's surprise teams were Villanova, a 12 seed that reached the Sweet Sixteen, and West Virginia, a 7 seed that came within four points of an Elite Eight appearance. Here are the teams most likely to spring a few "upsets" in the tournament:

Arizona State: This might be my one true sleeper pick of the Tournament. I think the Sun Devils have the personnel to potentially reach the Elite Eight. James Harden is an All-American; Jeff Pendergraph is a force inside; and there are plenty of quality role players. This team can also lock opponents up defensively.

Arizona: The Wildcats were one of the last teams in the NCAA Tournament (and maybe the final selection), but they are going to make the most of it. Nic Wise, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill form one of the most talented trios in the country, and this team can beat anyone in the country – they’ve already proven that.

USC: The Trojans are playing their best basketball of the year, coming off of their Pac-10 tournament title run. When healthy, they have as much talent as anyone. Dwight Lewis and DeMar DeRozan form a great scoring tandem, while Daniel Hackett and Taj Gibson are a great inside-outside combo.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers always seem to be lurking in the middle seeds as a team that can make a run. They defeated Pittsburgh in the Big East Tournament, and are excellent at both ends of the floor. Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff are a dynamite scoring duo, and Bob Huggins knows how to win in March.

UCLA: The Bruins had one of the best offenses in the country all season, efficiency-wise, and Ben Howland has led this team to three straight Final Fours. Darren Collison is an outstanding point guard, while Josh Shipp can shoot. UCLA has plenty of scorers, and it still has the potential to shut teams down defensively.

LSU: If the Tigers weren’t placed in North Carolina’s pod, this team could be a Sweet Sixteen threat. They are one of the longest and most athletic teams in the country, and they have a variety of shutdown defenders. Plus, Marcus Thornton is a big-time scorer with the potential to carry this team.

Clemson: The Tigers went into their typical late-season swoon down the stretch, but don’t write this team off just yet. They are very difficult to play against due to their style of play and athleticism, and they have experience. K.C. Rivers can score, and Trevor Booker is a beast down low. If this team can force turnovers, look out.

Texas: The Longhorns disappointed for much of the season, but it’s not over yet. They have plenty of NCAA Tournament experience, and one of the better duos in A.J. Abrams and Damion James. Dexter Pittman is a space-eater, and Justin Mason can do it all. Plus, the Longhorns have depth and Rick Barnes can coach.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys finished the season very strongly, and also made an impression against Oklahoma down the stretch – twice. They have plenty of perimeter scorers and guys that can create their own shots when it counts. They would play Pittsburgh in the second round, but they have the pieces to give them a scare.

Tennessee: The Volunteers have been hot-and-cold all season long, but they seemed to be hitting their stride in the SEC Tournament – before falling in the title game. Still, they have a lot of postseason experience on the roster, and Bruce Pearl is tournament-tested. Tyler Smith is one of the most versatile players around.

Sleepers from Outside the Major Conferences


In addition to identifying the teams ripe for an upset in the first weekend, one must find the smaller conference clubs that have the potential to make a run into the second week. Every NCAA Tournament has them; you just have to figure out which ones. Don’t mistake this for a “Who is this year’s George Mason?” or “Who’s this tournament’s Davidson?” column, though – that’s simply not going to happen again. Here are the top sleepers from the mid-majors seeded 11 and below:

Note: Butler and Siena have a great shot at winning their respective first-round games, but are too high of a seed to be considered a deep sleeper.

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers made a run to the Sweet Sixteen last season, and could win at least another game this year. They face an Illinois team that struggles mightily to score and could be without Chester Frazier. Plus, WKU can really shoot the three and knows how to win.

Utah State: The Aggies had one of the best records in college basketball this season, and they have experience and solid coaching. Plus, Marquette has not been the same team since Dominic James went down and USU’s Gary Wilkinson is the type of player who can carry his team to a win.

VCU: Well, look who it is. The team who stole everyone’s hearts two years ago against Duke and (almost) Pittsburgh is back. Eric Maynor is still leading the way, and he is enough to give the Rams a shot against anyone. Throw in shot-blocker extraordinaire Larry Sanders, and this team is tough.

Portland State: The Vikings probably received too high of a seed, but that’s for Xavier to worry about. This team won at Gonzaga earlier this season and nearly won at Washington. Jeremiah Dominguez is a very good point guard, and PSU has plenty of scorers who can get hot and fill it up.

North Dakota State: The Bison could be the deep sleeper to watch this year. They have a ton of experience in the starting lineup, and Ben Woodside and Brett Winkelman form an explosive duo. If NDSU is able to get up and down the floor and the three-pointers are falling, look out Kansas.

Cleveland State: One of the surprise teams during Championship Week, Cleveland State has wins at both Syracuse and Butler this season. J’Nathan Bullock is difficult to stop and Cedric Jackson is excellent at both ends of the floor. They are playing very well lately, and could pull the upset.

Temple: Although they are not technically a mid-major, don’t be surprised to see the Owls give Arizona State a run for its money in the first-round. Dionte Christmas is one of the most explosive shooters in the country, and he can single-handedly carry this team to a win. He’s done it before.

Northern Iowa: The Panthers don’t push the ball and beat opponents with a variety of explosive scorers, but they have several versatile weapons and they play tough defense. Adam Koch is a difficult match-up and UNI won’t back down from anyone. This is not a team you want to play.

Potential High-Seeded Busts


When filling out your bracket, there are always those higher-seeded teams that are going to be upset early and ruin your predictions. It would be nice to know which clubs are the ones bowing out in the first couple of rounds. Teams that struggled down the stretch or have inflated records are prime examples of these types of busts. Here are the top six potentially overrated squads:

Kansas: The Jayhawks won the Big 12 regular-season title, but struggled towards the end of the season, with bad losses to Texas Tech and Baylor. Outside of Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, to an extent, this team lacks experience. Plus, they don’t take care of the ball offensively.

Xavier: The Musketeers peaked earlier this season, and were rewarded with a No. 4 seed despite a poor finish to the season. They have had inconsistency at the point guard spot all season, leading to too many turnovers, and they lack a go-to-guy late in games.

Syracuse: The Orange could have been a sleeper if they had bowed out as expected in the Big East Tournament and received a No. 6 seed. However, at the three spot, they are vulnerable. They are prone to turnovers and allow too many offensive rebounds. Extra possessions are crucial in the Big Dance.

Oklahoma: The Sooners are another team struggling down the stretch, going 2-4 in their last six games. Furthermore, they have several weaknesses. They don’t get consistent perimeter production; they lack quality depth; and they don’t defend that well in general.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have as much talent as anyone in the country and could certainly make a deep run. However, they are very young and inexperienced, including coach Dino Gaudio. Plus, they struggle from the perimeter and Jeff Teague has slipped lately.

Villanova: I was tempted to go with Duke in this spot, but the Blue Devils are playing very good basketball lately. On the other hand, the Wildcats have some deficiencies that could hurt them. They lack size in the middle, and also struggle to defend inside the arc. If the threes aren’t falling, beware.

BONUS: Utah: I know the Utes are a five-seed, and I generally only look at the top four seeds, but Utah could be primed for an early-round loss. First, they are seeded too high. Secondly, they face a talented Arizona team determined to prove it belonged in the field. Third, they don't force turnovers and struggle to defend the perimeter.

Easiest/Toughest Roads


When looking at a bracket right after the pairings are announced, people will always say "Oh, so and so has a cakewalk to the Final Four." It obviously helps to have a fairly easy road to the national semi-finals. On the other hand, some teams get shafted in the seedings and end up with plenty of potential pitfalls. This ranking only took the top four teams in each region into consideration. Here are the teams in each region with the easiest and the hardest roads to the Promised Land.

Midwest Region
Easiest Path: Michigan State. The Spartans don’t have an altogether easy trek to the Elite Eight, but it is much easier than the rest of the top-four seeds. Boston College is overseeded and USC didn’t play well until the Pac-10 Tournament.

Hardest Path: Kansas. The Jayhawks won the Big 12 regular-season title, and get rewarded with the bracket’s best and most experienced No. 14 seed in North Dakota State, then a very tough No. 6 seed in West Virginia. Louisville also has a rough road.

West Region
Easiest Path: Connecticut. For the last No. 1 seed, the Huskies have a relatively easy road to at least the Elite Eight. BYU could pose a threat, but it doesn’t have the inside presence, and neither Washington nor Purdue will pose much of a threat.

Hardest Path: Memphis. The Tigers should have received the easiest road for a No. 2 seed, in theory. However, both California and Maryland have played the top teams tough, and Missouri is arguably the best No. 3 seed in the bracket.

East Region
Easiest Path: Pittsburgh. The Panthers should be able to skate to at least the Elite Eight. Xavier shouldn’t have been a No. 4 seed and Pitt has already defeated one-man show Florida State. And then Duke and Villanova don’t have anyone to defend DeJuan Blair.

Hardest Path: Xavier. I guess this is somewhat fitting, as I don’t think the Musketeers deserved a No. 4 seed. Portland State has already won at Gonzaga this year, and Florida State is one of the hottest teams in the country. Pittsburgh would await them in the Sweet 16.

South Region

Easiest Path: Gonzaga. With no team having an easy road to the Final Four or Elite Eight, the Bulldogs have the easiest road to the Sweet Sixteen. Neither Illinois or Western Kentucky will pose much of a threat to them in the second round.

Hardest Path: Syracuse. The Orange got rewarded with a No. 3 seed after their run in the Big East. However, there was certainly no reward, as they might have to play against All-American James Harden and Arizona State in round two.

Best First-Round Match-ups


Midwest Region:
No. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Siena
No. 5 Utah vs. No. 12 Arizona
No. 6 West Virginia vs. No. 11 Dayton

West Region:
No. 4 Washington vs. No. 13 Mississippi State
No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 11 Utah State
No. 7 California vs. No. 10 Maryland

East Region:

No. 8 Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 Tennessee
No. 5 Florida State vs. No. 12 Wisconsin
No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 11 VCU

South Region:
No. 8 LSU vs. No. 9 Butler
No. 6 Arizona State vs. No. 11 Temple
No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 Michigan


Monday, March 16, 2009

Top 30 Three-Point Shooters


Going towards a national championship, a team is going to hit some obstacles. Having a long-distance gunner lessens some of those roadblocks. If a team zones you, the shooter takes it away by shooting right over the top of it. Plus, a consistent player that can hit the three enables you to make up points in a hurry. Here are 30 of the best long-range shooters in the land:

1. Stephen McDowell, Chattanooga
2. Jon Diebler, Ohio State
3. Rihards Kuksis, Arizona State
4. Jerome Randle, California
5. Ryan Wittman, Cornell
6. Orlando Mendez-Valdez, Western Kentucky
7. Garrison Carr, American
8. B.J. Raymond, Xavier
9. A.J. Abrams, Texas
10. Jeremiah Dominguez, Portland State
11. James Anderson, Oklahoma State
12. Terrence Oglesby, Clemson
13. Ben Woodside, North Dakota State
14. Jeremy Chappell, Robert Morris
15. Wayne Ellington, North Carolina
16. Andy Rautins, Syracuse
17. Ravern Johnson, Mississippi State
18. Jerel McNeal, Marquette
19. Kenny Thomas, Radford
20. Gordon Hayward, Butler
21. A.J. Price, Connecticut
22. Trent Meacham, Illinois
23. Reggie Holmes, Morgan State
24. Justin Dentmon, Washington
25. Toney Douglas, Florida State
26. Dionte Christmas, Temple
27. Alex Ruoff, West Virginia
28. Jonathan Tavarnari, BYU
29. Maze Stallworth, Morehead State
30. Jon Scheyer, Duke