Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Final Four Preview, Part Two

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

Best Go-to-Guy

1. Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia: Butler was arguably the most clutch player in college basketball this season, knocking down six game-winning shots. He can score in a variety of ways, and is not afraid of contact at the rim.

2. Gordon Hayward, Butler: He demonstrated against Kansas State that he will take over offensively if necessary. His shooting numbers are down this season, but his ability to take defenders off the dribble has improved greatly.

3. Nolan Smith, Duke: Smith is only Duke’s third-leading scorer, but he might be the most difficult player on the team to defend. He has a great first step and can get to the rim or knock down mid-range shots. He can also shoot the three.

4. Durrell Summers, Michigan State: Without Kalin Lucas running the show, Summers has become the team’s best scorer. He has the ability to knock down the three with effectiveness, and can also drive past defenders.

Best Three-Point Shooter

1. Zach Hahn, Butler: Hahn took the fourth-highest number of three-pointers on the team, but he was by far the most accurate. The lefty is not afraid to take the big shot and has deep range from nearly anywhere on the court.

2. Jon Scheyer, Duke: Scheyer’s three-point percentage is not indicative of how good of a three-point shooter he is. He struggled at times in the early part of the NCAA Tournament, but seems to be finding his stroke again.

3. Chris Allen, Michigan State: Despite an injury, Allen is still the Spartans’ most effective three-point shooter. He is knocking down more than 40 percent of his three-point attempts and has versatile shooting range.

4. Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia: The Mountaineers don’t have an abundance of accurate three-point shooters, but Butler is the best of the bunch. He was hot from behind the arc against Kentucky, and has solid range.

Best Second Option

1. Kyle Singler, Duke: Take your pick for this one, between Singler and Nolan Smith. Singler is a match-up nightmare for defenders, due to his ability to knock down the outside shot as well as score around the basket.

2. Shelvin Mack, Butler: Mack has come up big several times in the last month. He is very strong for a point guard and can beat his defender off the dribble with ease. Mack is also a good three-point shooter who can get hot.

3. Kevin Jones, West Virginia: Jones is one of the more underrated players left in the NCAA Tournament. He can score with his back to the basket, but can also step out and hit the three-pointer with effectiveness.

4. Raymar Morgan, Michigan State: Morgan is a versatile combo forward who has been inconsistent throughout his career. He creates match-up problems due to his ability to score inside or outside, and with his athleticism.

Best Sixth Man

1. Draymond Green, Michigan State: Green might have been the best sixth man in the country. He is a versatile big man who can take defenders off the dribble and create shots. Green is also a tremendously effective rebounder.

2. Miles Plumlee, Duke: The older of the Plumlee brothers started at the beginning of the season, but has since moved to the bench in favor of Brian Zoubek. Plumlee can really rebound the ball and can also provide scoring.

3. Zach Hahn, Butler: He tends to take bad shots at times, but Hahn can really stroke the three. The lefty has deep range and is the team’s best three-point shooter. He has also hit some clutch jumpers in various games this season.

4. John Flowers, West Virginia: With Joe Mazzulla moving into the starting lineup, Flowers is the primary option off the bench for the Mountaineers. He can rebound well, and is very athletic. He also runs the floor well.

Best Coach

1. Tom Izzo, Michigan State: Izzo might be the best coach in basketball, at any level. He has reached back-to-back Final Fours and six in the last 12 years. Every player who has played under him for four years has reached a Final Four.

2. Mike Kryzewski, Duke: Coach K has done an excellent job this season without much size up front or depth in the backcourt. He’s experienced in the Final Four and will not be surprised by anything an opponent throws at him.

3. Bob Huggins, West Virginia: Of course he doesn’t look all that impressive on the sideline, but Huggins is an excellent defensive coach whose zone tendencies have transformed West Virginia into the team it is.

4. Brad Stevens, Butler: He looks like a 16-year old but Stevens is a mild-mannered rising star. He gets the most out of his players and helped the Bulldogs stay focused and get to the Final Four after a rough start to the season.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Final Four Preview, Part One

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

Best Backcourt

1. Duke: Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith carried the Blue Devils offensively in the Elite Eight against Baylor, and they form one of the top duos in the country. Both can score from inside and outside the arc.

2. Butler: A vastly underrated duo. Shelvin Mack is capable of getting to the rim against most defenders, and he is the prime perimeter scorer for the Bulldogs. Ronald Nored might be the best on-ball defender left.

3. Michigan State: Even without Kalin Lucas, the Spartans have a solid perimeter group. Korie Lucious has played well as his replacement, while Durrell Summers is scoring at will. Chris Allen is a solid scorer.

4. West Virginia: The Mountaineers have not received consistent guard play all season, but Joe Mazzulla lit up Kentucky for 17 points in the Elite Eight. Darryl Bryant is expected to return for the Final Four.

Best Frontcourt

1. West Virginia: The Mountaineers are loaded with versatile combo forwards. Da’Sean Butler is supremely clutch, Devin Ebanks is an excellent all-around player, and Kevin Jones is an inside-outside scorer.

2. Butler: With the way Gordon Hayward has been playing, he could be a first-round pick. Matt Howard is a good scorer and rebounder in the paint, and Willie Veasley is effective despite being undersized.

3. Duke: The Blue Devils’ frontcourt has been overlooked all season. Kyle Singler is a difficult match-up at forward, while Brian Zoubek has blossomed into a solid rebounder down low. Lance Thomas works hard.

4. Michigan State: The Spartans have three versatile players in the frontcourt, starting with combo forwards Raymar Morgan and Delvon Roe. Sixth man Draymond Green can beat defenders off the bounce and rebound.

Best Bench

1. Duke: The Blue Devils have a variety of options in the frontcourt, starting with the Plumlee brothers, Mason and Miles. Andre Dawkins is the lone perimeter bench player; he can really stroke the three from deep.

2. Michigan State: With Draymond Green and Chris Allen both coming off the bench, the Spartans might have the two best bench players in the Final Four. Garrick Sherman has provided serviceable minutes down low.

3. Butler: The Bulldogs aren’t explosive off the bench, but they get the job done. Zach Hahn can shoot the three from all over the court; Shawn Vanzant is an aggressive defender; and Avery Jukes can score.

4. West Virginia: The Mountaineers aren’t overly deep, but they get what they need. Joe Mazzulla has been a spark off the bench in the backcourt, while John Flowers has provided steady scoring and rebounding.

Best Inside-Outside Combo

1. Butler: When Matt Howard isn’t in foul trouble, he is an effective scorer and rebounder in the post. Gordon Hayward’s shooting has been off this season, but he is an unstoppable scorer at times.

2. Michigan State: Durrell Summers has played outstanding on the offensive end in the NCAA Tournament, especially since Kalin Lucas went down with an injury. Raymar Morgan is a tough match-up.

3. Duke: Jon Scheyer blossomed into an All-American this season at the point guard position; he has been a huge key for the Blue Devils. Brian Zoubek has come on strong towards the end of the season.

4. West Virginia: The Mountaineers don’t have any true inside or outside players. They are carried by their versatile forwards, but Joe Mazzulla can provide offense in spurts and Kevin Jones has a nice inside game.

Best Trio

1. Duke: The Blue Devils have three of the best players left in the NCAA Tournament in guards Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith, and forward Kyle Singler. All three can score in a variety of ways and carry Duke.

2. West Virginia: The Mountaineers have match-up nightmares galore, led by forward Da’Sean Butler. Throw in Devin Ebanks and his versatility, and Kevin Jones’ inside-outside scoring, and this team is tough.

3. Butler: The Bulldogs are balanced, but Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward make the team go on the perimeter. Both are adept at driving to the basket. Inside, Matt Howard has nice post moves and can finish.

4. Michigan State: Without Kalin Lucas, the perimeter offense starts with Durrell Summers, who has played well lately. Inside, Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green create match-up problem with their skill sets.

Monday, March 29, 2010

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

  • Butler vs. Michigan State
  • Duke vs. West Virginia

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday's Elite Eight Previews

Michigan State vs. Tennessee (2:20 PM): Two teams that were written off at various times this season will battle for the right to go to the Final Four. Michigan State struggled down the stretch and then lost starting point guard Kalin Lucas in the second round. However, the Spartans have escaped in the final minutes against New Mexico State, Maryland and Northern Iowa – and are just one win away from Indianapolis. Tom Izzo has done an unbelievable job. On the other side, Tennessee had its best player dismissed in January and three other players suspended, but the Volunteers held off San Diego State in the first round, dominated Ohio in the second and then upset favored Ohio State in the Sweet 16.

The key for Michigan State will be to take care of the ball against Tennessee’s intense ball pressure. The Spartans have struggled with turnovers all season, and they will now be without Lucas. Korie Lucious will play a huge role at the point. The Spartans also need to crash the boards and get second opportunities. Draymond Green and Raymar Morgan are excellent on the glass, and Tennessee is not the most effective defensive rebounding team. Moreover, the Spartans need to attack the basket and draw fouls. Durrell Summers has provided a huge boost with Lucas out, and he needs to have another good game. Defensively, Michigan State needs to defend the two-point shot. Tennessee hits a high percentage of its two-point attempts and likes getting to the rim. Along with that, the Spartans have to stop the Volunteers’ transition opportunities.

On the other side, in order for Tennessee to continue its winning ways, it will have to force tempo and get easy baskets. The Volunteers love to force turnovers and attack the rim for lay-ups and shots in the paint. If they are able to get opportunities when Michigan State can’t set up its defense, they will have a big advantage offensively. Tennessee also has to knock down some perimeter shots to open up driving lanes. Michigan State is vulnerable to three-point shots, so the Volunteers need to exploit that. On the defense side, forcing turnovers and boxing out will be the main keys. Michigan State does not take care of the ball very well, and are much less dangerous at the point of attack without Lucas running the show. The Spartans are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, so Tennessee will need to control the glass and limit the Spartans’ second chances.

The difference in this one will be Tennessee’s ability to force turnovers and make life difficult for Michigan State’s half-court offense. Korie Lucious is no Kalin Lucas, and it might be tough for the Spartans to get points besides on the offensive glass. If Tennessee can limit second opportunities for Michigan State, the Vols will advance. Prediction: Tennessee 71, Michigan State 68

Duke vs. Baylor (5:05 PM): This has the potential to be one of the better games in the NCAA Tournament thus far. Both teams have been playing very well lately, and are clicking at the right time. Each team has offensive balance, plays good defense and are the chops to win a national title. Duke has been tested a couple of times in the NCAA Tournament, but the Blue Devils have yet to win a game by fewer than 13 points. They dominated Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the opener, then pulled away from California in the second half to win by 15. Against Purdue, the Boilermakers hung close for awhile, but Duke was too much in the end; it won by 13. As for Baylor, the Bears have yet to play a single-digit seed. They pulled away in the second halves against both Sam Houston State and Old Dominion, but saved their best performance for the Sweet 16. Baylor absolutely annihilated Saint Mary’s from the opening tip, beating the Gaels by 23.

The primary offensive key for Duke against Baylor will be to knock down shots. The Bears are susceptible to three-point shots, and the Blue Devils are excellent from behind the arc. Jon Scheyer has struggled with his shot in the NCAA Tournament, but he and Kyle Singler can really stroke it. Duke also has to continue to get offensive rebounds with Brian Zoubek and co. down low. However, Baylor starts three 6-10 guys in the frontcourt, which will make it difficult for the Blue Devils to get second chances. On the defensive side of the ball, Duke needs to slow down the Baylor backcourt of Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn. When those two get hot, the Bears are awfully difficult to contain. Duke also needs to keep Ekpe Udoh, Josh Lomers and the rest of the Baylor bigs off the offensive boards. The Bears are athletic and long, and can pose problems for Duke. If Duke can force turnovers and get transition opportunities, it will help too.

On the other side, Baylor needs to make shots and play to its strengths. Duke is the best team in the country at defending the three-point shot, but Baylor – namely Carter and Dunn – thrives when it is gunning from the perimeter. When those are making three-pointers, it opens up the paint for Udoh to make plays around the rim. Furthermore, Baylor is more effective when it is getting offensive rebounds and scoring on second opportunities. On the defensive side, Baylor has to guard the perimeter and slow down the Duke backcourt. If Scheyer isn’t knocking down shots and Nolan Smith can’t penetrate at will, Duke is that much easier to defend. Moreover, Baylor has the size to pose problems for Kyle Singler on the wing. Anthony Jones is 6-10, athletic and long and he is active in Baylor’s zone defense. Boxing out and controlling Zoubek on the offensive glass is another major key.

The difference in the end will be Baylor’s edge in the frontcourt and its ability to get points in a variety of ways. The Bears have the size to slow down Singler and control the backboards. If Carter and Dunn are able to get some points early, it will open things up for the rest of the Baylor offense. Prediction: Baylor 76, Duke 72

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday's Elite Eight Previews

Kansas State vs. Butler (4:30 PM): A complete contrast in styles and systems, the West regional final will be highly competitive. Kansas State has faced a variety of challenges in the NCAA Tournament, dominating North Texas before pulling away from BYU late to reach the Sweet 16. The Wildcats then played the best game of the tourney against Xavier, with Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly willing KSU to a win. On the other side, Butler has constantly surpassed the expectations, overcoming a first-half deficit to blow out UTEP in the first round and then escaping against Murray State in the second. The Bulldogs then pulled off a huge upset of Syracuse in the Sweet 16, making key baskets late to beat the Orange.

The key for Kansas State if it is going to reach the Final Four will be to take advantage of its quickness and talent edge in the backcourt. Pullen and Denis Clemente are excellent offensive players who need to get into the lane and score at the rim. Furthermore, the Wildcats have to get second chances. Butler is excellent on the defensive glass, while Kelly and Jamar Samuels thrive on the offensive boards. Defensively, Kansas State has to defend the perimeter, not allowing Gordon Hayward and co. to heat up from outside. The Wildcats also have to limit their fouls. They rank near the bottom of Division-I in fouls, while Butler draws fouls at a high rate. Forcing turnovers would also give them an advantage.

On the other side, Butler needs to do a lot of things in order to get home to Indianapolis and play in the Final Four. On the offensive end, the Bulldogs have to be aggressive and attack the rim. Kansas State tends to foul way too often, while Butler is adept at getting to the charity stripe. Inside, Matt Howard has to get points and a few offensive boards in order to provide balance for Hayward and Shelvin Mack to score from the perimeter. On the defensive side, Mack and Ronald Nored absolutely have to keep Pullen and Clemente out of the lane and also defend them around the arc. When those two are scoring, Kansas State is impossible to stop. Inside, Willie Veasley will need to play big against Kelly or Samuels; he will be undersized against one of those two. Butler also has to keep Kansas State off the glass and the free-throw line.

The difference will be Kansas State’s inside-outside balance and ability to get points in a variety of ways. The tempo will also be a huge factor – Butler wants to slow it down, while Kansas State would like to get some transition points. Whoever wins that battle could win the game. Prediction: Kansas State 65, Butler 60

Kentucky vs. West Virginia (7:00 PM): Quite possibly the two best teams left in the NCAA Tournament, this game is poised to be one of the best games of the season. There are great coaches on both benches and plenty of talent and future NBA players on each roster. Kentucky is the highest-seeded team remaining in the Big Dance, as the Wildcats throttled East Tennessee State and Wake Forest before ending Cornell’s dreams in the Sweet 16. West Virginia has started slow against each of its opponents – Morgan State, Missouri and Washington – before pulling away in the second half and moving onto the next round.

The primary offensive key for Kentucky against West Virginia will be to attack the basket from the opening tip. West Virginia has had trouble guarding dribble penetration throughout the season and now often line up with five forwards. John Wall and Eric Bledsoe need to try to get into the lane on nearly every possession. Additionally, the Mountaineers struggle with fouls, so Kentucky needs to try and get the bigs in foul trouble. Defensively, it is imperative for the Wildcats to control the glass. West Virginia is the best offensive rebounding in the country; DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson have to keep them off the boards. Forcing West Virginia to shoot threes would also help; the Mountaineers are not an effective jump-shooting team.

On the other side, West Virginia needs to take care of the ball. Without Darryl Bryant, the Mountaineers only have one consistent guard, Joe Mazzulla, and they have had problems with turnovers all season. If Kentucky is able to get turnovers and get transition points, West Virginia will have trouble. Along with that, the Mountaineers have to keep this a half-court game. When the Wildcats are running and getting fast breaks, they are much more effective. Additionally, West Virginia has to get better shooting from Da’Sean Butler; he has struggled with accuracy all postseason. Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones have been solid, but this team will go as Butler goes. The Mountaineers also have to get their usual number of offensive rebounds; they excel on the boards. Defensively, West Virginia has to box out. Cousins is a beast on the glass and can dominate on the interior. Keeping Kentucky on the perimeter and out of the lane is a must. Wall can get past any defender, but the Wildcats are not a very good three-point shooting team.

The difference in the end will be the ability of Kentucky to keep West Virginia off the glass with Cousins and Patterson. With the Mountaineers unable to get consistent points on the rim, they will become a jump-shooting team. When that happens, they are much easier to beat. Prediction: Kentucky 71, West Virginia 67

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday's Sweet 16 Previews

Ohio State vs. Tennessee (7:07 PM): This could be an unpredictable game, as it remains to be seen if Ohio State’s lack of depth will ever catch up to them, while we never know which Tennessee team will show up. If Ohio State wants to continue its winning ways – the Buckeyes have won nine in a row and 15 of 16 – the Buckeyes need to keep doing what it has been. They have four perimeter scorers who can all come up with a big game, led by Player of the Year Evan Turner. Tennessee forces turnovers with its pressure defense in the half-court, so Turner will need to limit his turnovers; he has struggled with that in the NCAA Tournament. Moreover, Ohio State will need to find a way to get open three-point shots in order to create driving lanes for penetration. Defensively, the Buckeyes have to keep Tennessee out of the paint and need to force them to shoot jumpers. For the Volunteers, they obviously need to slow down Turner and force turnovers. If Tennessee can get transition points and constantly drive to the basket, it will have a chance to win. The Buckeyes struggle to guard three-pointers at times, so Tennessee has to knock down a few. In the end, Ohio State has the trump card that Tennessee lacks: Evan Turner. Prediction: Ohio State 76, Tennessee 65 

Baylor vs. Saint Mary’s (7:27 PM): There are intriguing personnel match-ups all over the court. At the guard spots, there is Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova vs. Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn. Down low, you have Omar Samhan vs. Ekpe Udoh. Baylor is the favorite going into the game, but the Bears will not have an easy time with the Gaels. Offensively, Baylor needs to get into the lane for easy baskets around the rim. Despite Samhan’s presence down low, Saint Mary’s allows the highest percentage of two-pointers in the country. With Udoh and two other 6-10 players in the frontcourt, Baylor has the personnel to get points in the paint. Defensively, Baylor has to contain Dellavedova, McConnell, Ben Allen and the rest of the Gaels’ shooters. Samhan is going to get his no matter what, so Baylor needs to focus on the sidekicks. On the other side, Saint Mary’s has to be able to hit three-pointers. Baylor is vulnerable to hot shooting nights from opponents, and Saint Mary’s has the shooters to exploit that. Moreover, Samhan has to dominate again, but he will have trouble against shot-blocker extraordinaire Udoh and co. Defensively, the Gaels have to keep Baylor from getting second chances and also can’t allow Dunn and Carter to heat up. Baylor’s balance will be the difference. Prediction: Baylor 79, Saint Mary’s 70

Michigan State vs. Northern Iowa (9:37 PM): This might be the least enticing of the Friday contests. Northern Iowa pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament so far, defeating top-seeded Kansas, and the Panthers might be the favorite against Michgian State. The Spartans will be without starting point guard and leader Kalin Lucas, who is out the rest of the season after injuring his knee against Maryland. To overcome his loss and beat UNI, Michigan State has to rely on what has been its strength for years: rebounding and second chances. The Spartans, led by Draymond Green and Raymar Morgan up front, excel at getting points off of offensive rebounds. Without Lucas’ penetration, though, Korie Lucious and Durrell Summers will need to step up on the perimeter. On the defensive side, Michigan State needs to guard the perimeter and not allow first-weekend hero Ali Farokhmanesh to get open for threes. For Northern Iowa, the Panthers need to keep the game at a slow pace, providing them an opportunity to hit threes from the perimeter and get Jordan Eglseder involved down low. On the defensive side, it is imperative to keep Michigan State off the glass. When the Spartans are getting second-chance points, they are tough to beat. I think Northern Iowa prevails – Michigan State is a shell of itself without Lucas at the point. Prediction: Northern Iowa 64, Michigan State 61

Duke vs. Purdue (9:57 PM): Had these two teams faced off about a month ago, it might have been in the Final Four and would be a fantastic battle. Instead, Purdue struggled without Robbie Hummel – but might be getting back on track. The Boilermakers are nowhere near the same offensive team without Hummel, but they still play excellent defense and have players who can get points when necessary. In order to beat Duke, though, Purdue will need to get easy baskets somehow. Duke gives up a high percentage of two-point shots, and JaJuan Johnson will need to exploit that down low. He will need to control the boards at both ends. E’Twaun Moore is one of the few Purdue players who can create his own shot, but some role players will need to step up offensively. On defense, Purdue has to key on Duke’s trio of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant will need to come up big. Furthermore, Purdue has to defend the perimeter so Duke doesn’t get hot from outside. As for Duke, the Blue Devils have to exploit Purdue’s occasional struggles to defend the three-point shot. They also have to get second opportunities with Brian Zoubek for easy baskets. On defense, shutting down Moore is huge, while keeping Johnson from dominating down low would also help. Taking those two out of the equation makes Purdue easy to defend. If Hummel was around, he would be a perfect match-up for Singler. Without Hummel, though, Purdue has no one for him. Prediction: Duke 65, Purdue 55

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thursday's Sweet 16 Previews

Syracuse vs. Butler (7:07 PM): This might be the least enticing game on Thursday, despite the fact that it features the lowest combined seed of any game. Syracuse might just be too good for Butler. However, if the Bulldogs are going to pull the upset, they have a better shot now that Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku will miss Thursday’s game. Without him in the lineup, the Orange are far less physical and imposing in the paint. The key stat could be rebounding. Syracuse is an excellent offensive rebounding team, while Butler excels on the defensive glass. On the other side, ‘Cuse struggles on the defensive glass, and Butler will need to get second chances. Against the ‘Cuse zone, Butler will need to get inside the teeth of the defense to draw fouls and finish around the rim. Syracuse doesn’t have too many weaknesses, but Butler will need to force the Orange’s inconsistent point guards into turnovers and bad decisions. If Syracuse is able to get its transition game going and get easy baskets on offense, this game will be over quickly. The Orange simply do too many things well for Butler to win. Prediction: Syracuse 74, Butler 63

West Virginia vs. Washington (7:27 PM): This could be a fun game to watch, as there is plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. For West Virginia, the loss of starting point guard Darryl Bryant for the rest of the NCAA Tournament is a lot more damaging on the surface than it actually will be. Bryant’s minutes have been steadily decreasing and he has totaled only 14 points in the last six games. Joe Mazzulla will need to handle the Washington pressure defense, and forwards Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks will also need to take care of the ball effectively. Washington can force turnovers and create havoc for the Mountaineers, who have struggled with turnovers this season. However, the Huskies will also need to keep West Virginia off the offensive glass. The Mountaineers are dominant on the boards and have a litany of talented forwards to get baskets around the rim. West Virginia has also struggled at times with dribble penetration; it will have to keep Isaiah Thomas out of the lane. The tempo battle will also be key. West Virginia would prefer to make it a half-court affair where its size will have more of an impact. Washington wants to get out and run. Prediction: West Virginia 80, Washington 70

Kansas State vs. Xavier (9:37 PM): A rematch of a game earlier this season in which Kansas State defeated Xavier by 15. Don’t expect the same margin of defeat, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wildcats came out on top again. If the Musketeers want to avoid a repeat, they will need to slow down Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen. The Kansas State backcourt duo is capable of getting hot and carrying the Wildcats. Furthermore, Xavier has struggled to contain points around the rim; it has to keep Clemente and Pullen out of the lane. Offensively, someone besides Jordan Crawford needs to step up. Kansas State commits too many fouls and is susceptible on the glass; Xavier needs to take advantage. As for Kansas State, it simply needs to do what it’s been doing in the NCAA Tournament, and all season for that matter. If Pullen and Clemente and hitting their threes, this team is tough to beat. Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels need to provide points and boards inside, though. Additionally, Xavier takes great care of the ball, but Kansas State needs to try and force some turnovers to get its transition game going. Prediction: Kansas State 73, Xavier 67

Kentucky vs. Cornell (9:57 PM): There are storylines galore in the game. Of course, the major ones that the media is jumping on are the “athletes vs. academics” and “GPA vs. NBA” angles. Clever, I know. Don’t simply dismiss Cornell as a team lucky to be in the Sweet 16. The Big Red put on a tremendous offensive performance in the first weekend, and will scare the daylights out of Kentucky if they are hitting on all cylinders again. The main thing for Cornell is to hit its shots, especially from beyond the arc. Kentucky guards the ball very well, but it can be vulnerable to hot shooting nights. The Big Red also need to control tempo; they can’t get in a running match with the athletes of Kentucky. Defensively, Cornell has to take care of business on the defensive glass and now allow DeMarcus Cousins and co. to get second chances down low. On the other side, Kentucky has to guard the perimeter. Cornell has a long list of guys who can knock down the three with consistency, and Kentucky can’t let them get hot from deep. Offensively, knocking down a few three-pointers would help. Cornell isn’t that effective at defending the perimeter. If Kentucky can take care of the ball and Cornell isn’t hitting everything again, the Wildcats will prevail. Prediction: Kentucky 77, Cornell 68

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sweet 16 Breakdown: South Region

Favorite: Duke. While I don’t think that the Blue Devils are going to get to the Final Four, it’s difficult to argue against them as the favorite to advance to Indianapolis. Duke manhandled play-in winner Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the first round by 29, outrebounding the Golden Lions by 15 and shooting better than 51 percent from the field. The second round featured a more difficult test from California, but Duke pulled away late despite hitting just 17.6 percent of its threes and getting only seven points from Jon Scheyer. Scheyer’s numbers have dipped in the NCAA Tournament, with the 6-4 guard averaging 10.0 points, 1.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists, while shooting just 5-for-18 from the field. He will need to step up the rest of the way. Nolan Smith has come up big, going for 20 points against California. He is a tough defender who is very strong with the dribble, enabling him to get into the lane. The third member of Duke’s vaunted trio is forward Kyle Singler, who is putting up 19.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in the Big Dance. His inside-outside ability makes him a very difficult match-up. Brian Zoubek took advantage of his edge down low against California, producing 14 points and 13 rebounds. Lance Thomas can rebound, while the Plumlee brothers, Miles and Mason, are solid down low. Freshman Andre Dawkins can shoot the three. Against Purdue, Duke needs to take care of the ball and get production from all three of its big scorers. Defensively, keeping E’Twaun Moore out of the lane and defending JaJuan Johnson is imperative. 

Cinderella: Saint Mary’s. Out of the remaining double-digit seeds, the Gaels might have the best chance of any to reach the Final Four, although they face a very difficult route in getting there. Saint Mary’s started off by handling Richmond in the second half and knocking off the Spiders by nine, outrebounding them by a whopping 23 boards. The first upset of the second round occurred when the Gaels took down Villanova, holding the Wildcats to 36.2 percent shooting. The main reason for the victories has been Omar Samhan, who has absolutely burst onto the national scene (although MMAS readers have known about him for years, no big deal). He went for 29 and 12 against Richmond, then followed that up with 32 points and seven rebounds in the win over Villanova. Mickey McConnell might be the best three-point shooter in the country; he is averaging 19.0 points in two games and has hit eight three-pointers. Backcourt mate Matthew Dellavedova is a crafty all-around player who has struggled shooting the ball in the Tournament. Ben Allen is an inside-outside scorer, while Clint Steidl is a good role player.

Most intriguing personnel match-up: Saint Mary’s Omar Samhan vs. Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh. This could be one of the marquee battles of the Sweet 16 round. Samhan has been one of the most dominant big men in the country throughout the season, scoring at will around the rim and control the glass at both ends of the floor. He can also block shots at a very high rate. Udoh, a former Michigan transfer, has completely transformed the Bears on both sides. He is an extremely athletic center and one of the best shot-blockers in the nation. Offensively, he finishes around the rim and can also beat slower big men off the dribble with his face-up game. Samhan has been a phenomenal performer in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 30.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in two games, while Udoh opened with 20 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, but struggled a bit against Old Dominion. He needs to keep Samhan from taking over around the rim.

First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: Villanova. As long as Jay Wright is the coach of the Wildcats and continues to recruit with the best of them, Villanova will always be in the hunt for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. They do lose Scottie Reynolds and Reggie Redding, but there are plenty of perimeter players to step into the starting lineup next to Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, namely rising sophomores Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek. ‘Nova will need additional frontcourt help, although if Mouphtaou Yarou continues to improve and incoming freshmen Jayvaughn Pinkston can provide a boost, the Wildcats will be fine up front. Fellow Big East power Louisville will also be back in the mix.

All-First Weekend Team:

  • Guard- LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor: 19.5 points, 6.0 rebounds
  • Guard- Mickey McConnell, Saint Mary’s: 19.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists
  • Guard/Forward- Frank Hassell, Old Dominion: 15.0 points, 8.5 rebounds
  • Forward- Kyle Singler, Duke: 19.5 points, 7.5 rebounds
  • Center- Omar Samhan, Saint Mary’s: 30.5 points, 9.5 rebounds
  • Sixth Man- JaJuan Johnson, Purdue: 17.0 points, 9.0 rebounds