Big East NCAA Tournament Preview: Thursday Edition

Posted 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

Jardine And Company Will Have To Play Lockdown 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

Which Peyton Siva Will We See?

Peyton Siva Will Need To Be At His Best For Louisville To Win (AP Photo/F. Franklin)

Louisville’s point guard did not have the regular season most expected.  His scoring, rebounding, and assist numbers remained flat compared to last season and he turned the ball over 101 times.  Finally healthy after battling an ankle injury for a good portion of the year, Siva then turned the corner in the Big East tournament, leading the Cardinals to the title and taking home Most Valuable Player honors. Louisville needs Big East tournament Siva if they hope to make a deep run.
Clash of Styles:  Something’s Gotta Give
Davidson’s offense versus Louisville’s defense will go a long way in determining the outcome of this one. The Wildcats rank 12th nationally in scoring offense at 78.4 points per game while the Cardinals check in at 24th in points allowed (61.2 PPG).  As Louisville’s health and depth improved as year progressed, Rick Pitino was able to step up his signature pressure.  Conversely, despite their propensity to push the tempo offensively, Davidson turns the ball over a respectable 11.8 times per game.
Davidson Is Not Sneaking Up On Anyone
Many upset seekers have eyed this game since the brackets were revealed.  This is due to the fact that the Wildcats are a known commodity.   They have an NCAA Tournament pedigree that includes a 2008 Elite Eight appearance led by star guard and current Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry.  As for this season Davidson ruined any chance of flying under the radar when they beat Kansas back in December.  They also should be battle tested, having faced the likes of Duke, Vanderbilt and Wichita State this season.   
#9 Connecticut vs. #8 Iowa State — South Region
Introducing Royce White
Every year it seems there are one or two under-the-radar-type players who emerge and make names for themselves in the NCAA Tournament.  Iowa State sophomore forward Royce White could be next.  At 6’8”, 270 pounds, White is a load to be sure, but his versatility, court sense and quickness set him apart.  White leads the Cyclones in scoring (13.1 PPG) rebounding (9.2 RPG), assists (5.1 APG), steals (1.2 SPG) and blocks (0.9 BPG).  To say the least, White will be a difficult matchup for the Huskies.
How Much Will Size Matter?
Royce White’s girth notwithstanding, Connecticut holds a distinct size and strength advantage over Iowa State, who prefer to do their damage from the outside.  The Cyclones shoot threes at a 38% clip and make nearly nine per game. Connecticut has to limit Iowa State’s second chance opportunities behind bigs: Andre Drummond (7.7 RPG, 2.7 BPG), Alex Oriakhi (4.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG), Tyler Olander (4.0 RPG) andRoscoe Smith (3.3 RPG) and hope their front line can present an offensive threat to further free up Connecticut’s perimeter scorers: Jeremy Lamb (17.7 PPG), Shabazz Napier (12.7 PPG) and Ryan Boatright (10.5 PPG).
Been There. Done That.
While Connecticut employs freshmen (Drummond, Boatright) in a couple of key roles, the Huskies will be able to draw upon the experience that was last year’s National Championship run.  It will be interesting to see how players like Napier and Alex Oriakhi, who had outstanding tournaments last year but have regressed somewhat this season, will respond and lead.  Further the Huskies have played more inspired basketball since Jim Calhoun’s return to the sideline following a month’s leave while battling a painful back condition. Meanwhile this is the first NCAA tournament experience for the Iowa State players (Iowa State’s last appeared in 2005) and for Fred Hoiberg as a head coach.
mlemaire (324 Posts)

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