NCAA Sweet Sixteen: South Region PreviewPosted by nvr1983 on March 26th, 2009
RTC interns Matt P. and Mike L. are our NCAA Tournament East Region correspondents.
Isn’t it amazing how perfectly paired the Sweet 16 games look in the South Region? It’s almost as if the best four teams advanced, or something like that. Currently, Ken Pomeroy has both match-ups at nearly 50-50 odds: UNC with a 55% likelihood of beating Gonzaga and Syracuse with an even slimmer 52% of moving on over Oklahoma. Here’s hoping both games come down to the last shot so all the chalk haters out there can’t complain about a boring tournament.
Team That Almost Went Home
The Gonzaga Bulldogs were 0.9 seconds, some semblance of transition defense, and an acknowledged timeout away from going to an overtime session with Western Kentucky. Luckily for them, none of that happened and a guy who averages 3.8 points per game hit the shot of his life at the buzzer helping Mark Few’s team advanced. Things don’t look to get any easier though. After WKU’s starting guards, A.J. Slaughter and Orlando Mendez-Valdez, dropped 24 and 25 points each on the Zags, they get to try to slow down a rested Ty Lawson and hot-shooting Wayne Ellington from UNC.
Team That Has Cruised So Far
After their marathon time in the Big East Tournament, Syracuse desperately needed two no-sweat wins in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, in which they only trailed once – a 24 second stretch in the first four minutes against Arizona State. Most likely, the ho-hum affairs end when they meet Oklahoma in Memphis. Guard Jonny Flynn is currently projected as a mid/late first round draft pick, but a dominant performance against Blake Griffin’s team could boost him into lottery contention.
Team With the Most to Prove
Despite having the player expected to be Player of the Year and first pick in the upcoming draft, there is still a bit of uncertainty surrounding Oklahoma. They’ve yet to win that defining game. They seemed to sputter a bit at the end of the season, but much of that is due to Blake Griffin’s injury. But what seems most uncertain is how freshman guard Willie Warren will play when facing the more experienced guards of Syracuse.
Team With Highest Expectations
For Gonzaga, Syracuse, and Oklahoma, a trip to the Sweet 16 might constitute a respectable 2008-2009 season. For a North Carolina team that came in with talk of running the table, it would mean an embarrassing failure. The week off before Friday’s game against Gonzaga has to help UNC’s chances of surviving, giving point guard Ty Lawson a chance to heal the injured toe that hobbled him for much of March. It should be interesting to watch the Josh Heytvelt/Tyler Hansbrough match-up after the Zags center owned Psycho T two years ago, admittedly while Bobby Frasor was still UNC’s main point man. Then, the Heels went as Tyler Hansbrough went. Now, they go as Ty Lawson goes. He’ll be the key to any championship hopes in Chapel Hill.
Sweet 16 Previews
No. 1 North Carolina v. No. 4 Gonzaga
The Favorite: All year the Tar Heels have been in the Top 5 in the country, and although at times they have struggled to play defense in key games, when they are healthy and running the floor effectively, they are not likely to be beat. Wayne Ellington is trying to make sure that people don’t forget that Episcopal Academy had two superstars now playing in the ACC (Duke’s Gerald Henderson being the other). Ellington has been on fire scoring 25 and 23 points on a combined 6-11 from behind the arc. Ty Lawson made his triumphant return from an injured ankle and showed he can still play with 23 points and six assists. Ed Davis has been a pleasant surprise of the bench as well with 24 points and 12 rebounds over the two games.
The Underdog: Calling Gonzaga an underdog in this game shows just how much talent will be on display when the two teams square off. The ‘Zags used a balanced offense and one spectacular full court drive by reserve Demetri Goodson to defeat both Akron and Western Kentucky. Against the Hilltoppers it was Josh Heytvelt who played the starring role with 22 points and eight rebounds, but against the Zips it was Matt Bouldin and his 20 points, eight rebounds, and six assists who led the way. With so many weapons it will be difficult for the Tar Heels to focus on one player. These are the types of teams that give UNC nightmares with their offensive ability.
The X-Factor: UNC coach Roy Williams is on the record as saying he doesn’t think Ty Lawson will be 100% for the game. If Lawson is 100%, the Tar Heels are a completely different team. With Lawson running the fast break the Tar Heels can score in bunches and everyone else in the offense will be better with Lawson playing distributor. I know that he said he wasn’t 100% before the LSU game and still dropped 23 points, but the responsibility of guarding Jeremy Pargo, and trying to beat him off the dribble will be a much more difficult task for the ACC Player of the Year. The Tar Heels aren’t going to be able to stymie the Bulldogs offense all the way, so they will need Lawson to help free up the offense and make their fast break that much more potent.
Chances for an upset: Mark Few’s team has actually been a trendy upset pick in people’s brackets, and when most pundits have been asked the “Who is the No. 1 seed most likely to be upset”, the majority of the answers have been UNC. But the Tar Heels looked really crisp against LSU, and Deon Thompson and Tyler Hansbrough are the type of low-post presences to shut down Heytvelt. Gonzaga has been on a roll since getting blown out at home against Memphis, but the Tigers showed that a athletic team can give the Bulldogs a lot of trouble. While the game will be entertaining, I think the chances of an upset are lower than people think…35% chance of an upset
No. 2 Oklahoma v. No. 3 Syracuse
The Favorite: Oklahoma has been another team that has, at one point, reached the pinnacle of the college basketball polls, and the Sooners only seem to struggle when star Blake Griffin is either out, or still recovering from his concussion. Griffin has been absurd in the first two rounds with a combined 61 points and 30 rebounds, but contrary to popular belief the Sooners are not just a one-man team. Freshman Willie Warren has been solid all tournament with 16 points against both Morgan State and Michigan. But if the Sooners want to assure themselves a victory on Friday, they will need to develop a third scoring option. The two most viable options are Taylor Griffin (17 points against Morgan State) or Austin Johnson (12 points against) Michigan. The Sooners remind me a lot of the Cavaliers in the sense that their offense revolves around one person, but they aren’t really effective unless they have shooters knocking down shots and another scorer to occasionally take the focus from the star.
The Underdog: No one has played more basketball in the past 14 days than The Orange have which might make one wonder when they will run out of gas, but Jim Boeheim’s club is playing their best basketball of the year at the right time of the year. No player has been more crucial to their team’s success over the past few weeks than Jonny Flynn has for ‘Cuse. He has 27 points and 14 assists in the two games so far and practically never comes out of the game. But Rick Jackson has been a monster on the low blocks in the tournament with 25 points and 18 rebounds. He will most likely draw the unenviable task of matching up with Griffin, which could give Arinze Onuaku (24 points and 10 rebounds in the tournament) a chance to flourish underneath.
X-Factor: The forgotten man in Syracuse’s run through the Big East and NCAA Tournament has been sixth man Andy Rautins. One of the premier shooters in the country, Rautins averaged just 37.5 % from behind the arc in the regular season, but seemed to hit his stride once the regular season ended. He scored 20 in the game against UConn in the Big East Tournament, and was 4/4 from three-point range for 17 points against Arizona State. Rautins long frame also makes him a key defender at the top of the ‘Cuse’s 2-3 zone. If he has a big game, and plays tenacious defense, he could be the most influential player on the court Friday, and that is saying a lot.
Chances for an upset: The other very trendy upset pick in people’s brackets has been this game, if you can even call it an upset. The Sooners were a mess at the end of the regular season, and I expected them to blow Michigan out of the water, but really didn’t run away from the Wolverines until late in the game. I like Oklahoma’s chances if Griffin has another 33/17 game like he did against Michigan, but ‘Cuse has a deeper and stronger frontcourt. Meanwhile, Syracuse was on cruise control for most of their second round game against the Sun Devils. They shot 55% from the field and had five players in double figures. If the Sooners perimeter players don’t make their outside shots, the Syracuse defenders can just sag down and crowd the middle in an effort to neutralize Griffin’s effectiveness. I am just not sure Oklahoma is ready to meet the buzzsaw that has been Syracuse…55% chance of an upset.