Big East NCAA Tournament Preview: Thursday EditionPosted by mlemaire on March 15th, 2012
#1 Syracuse vs. #16 UNC-Asheville — East Region
1. Will Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita step up?
The Orange may not need the duo to step up to get a win tomorrow, but it will be a nice tuneup game for two players who will need to raise their game in the tournament. Christmas is the one who has started the majority of the team’s games, and he seems like the likely recipient of Fab Melo‘s minutes, but he will need to perform on both ends on the floor. If he doesn’t, most won’t expect Syracuse to escape their region.
2. Syracuse needs to make sure it brings its perimeter defense
The only way the Bulldogs are going to hang around in this game is if they can exploit the 2-3 zone by making their three-pointers. If either Matt Dickey or J.P. Primm catch fire, the Bulldogs will be able to make a game of it, so the onus falls on the Orange guards to make sure they contest shots, keep the shooters close, and stay active in the passing lanes. If they can do that, they should win with ease.
3. Syracuse should respond
Melo’s absence is a really bad blow to the team’s title chances, but there is nothing they can do about it now. Jim Boeheim knows how to keep his team focused, and they have fought off-the-court adversity all season long and had plenty of success. A lot of pundits and armchair bracketologists don’t think the Orange have much of a chance anymore. A decisive, crisp, blowout victory tomorrow won’t silence the critics. But it will give them something to think about.
#7 Gonzaga vs. #10 West Virginia — East Region
1. Which team will be more physical?
The Bulldogs, led by senior center Robert Sacre are making a lot of noise about showing the country that they can play the same physical brand of basketball that is common place in the Big East. The Mountaineers are pretty sure the Bulldogs, no matter how much they talk, are not going to be able to out-physical them after a season of physical play in the conference. Whichever team gives an inch first, could end up folding down the stretch.
2. Good Truck or Bad Truck?
Kevin Jones is the centerpiece of the Mountaineers’ offense and defense, but they won’t win the game unless point guard Truck Bryant keeps the ‘Zags defense honest. Bryant has the ability to get hot and give the Mountaineers a lethal scoring combination, or he could toss up a bunch of bad shots, miss most of them, and let Gonzaga double-team Jones. West Virginia is a young team, and Bryant is the unquestioned second banana, but he needs to play that way if they are going to have a chance to advance.
3. Feels like home
One minute the Mountaineers were worried about making the tournament at all, the next they find out they are in, and playing a de facto home game in Pittsburgh against a higher seed that has to cross the country. This lucky break may be the difference between winning and losing for a young team that thrives off momentum. Rest assured, the West Virginia faithful will travel well, and if they make a run, it may be difficult for Gonzaga to respond.
#3 Marquette vs. #14 BYU — West Region
1. It’s all about the big men baby!
Matt Carlino is a nice player, but it is no secret that BYU’s strength lies in its frontcourt tandem of Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies. The duo are the team’s two leading scorers and they will actually have a distinct size advantage over a physical but undersized Marquette team. The Cougars will be significant underdogs, especially after the season the Golden Eagles put together, but Buzz Williams would be wise to emphasize to his frontcourt players that stopping Hartsock and Davies will be the No. 1 key to winning the game tomorrow.
2. How much does BYU have left?
The Cougars’ incredible comeback win over Iona was a heck of way to start off the tournament with a bang, but it may have made Marquette’s job easier. No one is saying the Cougars aren’t prepared for something like this, but two games in three days is difficult even if the first game hadn’t involved a furious second-half rally that may have exhausted the Cougars. Marquette likes to get out on the break on the offensive end and they will be playing physical, in-your-face defense. It will be interesting to see if BYU has enough in the tank for another surprise or whether they will run out of gas.
3. Born to run
Anytime you can sneak a Bruce Springsteen reference into your college basketball previews, you have to do it. The Golden Eagles’ offense is predicated on their fast break. They are #15 in the country in adjusted tempo and they like to create most of their offense while the defense is on its heels. BYU on the other hand, is #5 in the country in adjusted tempo, so expect this game to feature a lot of points. The question now is, can Marquette’s superior athletes and players prove they can run better than the Cougars. Both teams will want to run and everybody knows that, which team does it better will be discovered tomorrow.
#4 Louisville vs. #13 Davidson — Midwest Region