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

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