North Carolina v. Radford (#1 v. #16)
This is probably the most interesting 1 v. 16 in the tournament. North Carolina will be heavily favored, and will probably win the game, but the Radford Highlanders are no slouch. They have four players that score in double digits, led by 7-foot-0 Artsiom Parakhouski, who is leading the team in scoring (16.3), rebounding (11.2). Matching Parakhouski with Tyler Hansbrough will be fun to watch. One analyst said the Tar Heels don’t even need to start Ty Lawson, but this is the NCAA Tournament, if he is ready to go, he will play.
The Tar Heels are more talented and deeper than Radford, so this wouldn’t be the game to hope for a monumental upset. Radford’s best win is against VMI in the Big South Conference Final, and they have been blown out by every team they have played in a major conference. I will still tune in, just to see Hansborough post up Parakhouski.
LSU v. Butler (#8 v. #9)
This game pits two teams that were under-seeded by the NCAA and as a result, will give the viewers a competitive, fast-paced game to watch. Both teams are in the middle of the tournament pack in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency but they both have great athletes and fun players to watch.
The key match-up will be on the wing where Butler’s Gordon Hayward and LSU’s Marcus Thornton will see a lot of each other. Both players can light it up offensively in a number of ways. Matt Howard and Chris Johnson should be a good one down low. Johnson has a significant height advantage, but Howard scores a lot of points of hustle, and can be a crafty scorer in the post.
Illinois v. Western Kentucky (#5 v. #12)
Everyone’s trendy upset pick is looking even better with the news that the Illini senior point guard, and best defender, Chester Frazier, is a “long shot” to play according to coach Bruce Weber. But, the Hilltoppers are not the same team they were last year when they made it to the Sweet 16 before losing to UCLA; however, they are good.
Illinois has not played well away from home (4-6), and Portland is quite a trip from Champaign. The Illini have not shot well from the field, and they will need to get Mike Davis (11.6 pts/game, 53.2 FG%) involved early if they want to keep up. The Hilltoppers have four players between 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-5 who average double digits and they will run away with this one if the Illini aren’t careful.
Gonzaga v. Akron (#4 v. #13)
I don’t think this game will be as close as many people think. The ‘Zags are one of the hottest teams in the country having won 18 out of their last 20 games, and dismantled Saint Mary’s 83-58 in the WCC Final.
The ‘Zags are in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and Akron just does not have the firepower or the athleticism to keep up with Gonzaga for 40 minutes. Akron has the advantage in depth though. The Zips can go ten deep, and defend well. If they can wear down Jeremy Pargo, they have a chance.
Arizona State v. Temple (#6 v. #11)
Anyone who thinks these teams are both one-man shows is sadly mistaken. There is absolutely no doubt the Sun Devils’ James Harden and the Owls’ Dionte Christmas can take over a game offensively, the there will be another battle to keep an eye on down low.
ASU’s Jeff Pendergraph (14.5/8.4/66.5%) and Temple’s Lavoy Allen (10.9/8.9/57.9%) will be banging on the low blocks, and crashing the glass will be extremely important for both teams. The role players will be the deciding factor in this game, and if ASU point guard Derek Glasser minimizes mistakes, and finds Harden often, ASU has the advantage over the surprising Owls.
Syracuse v. Stephen F. Austin (#3 v. #14)
The Orange enter the tournament playing some of their best basketball of the season, and despite their fatiguing run through the Big East Tournament are a heavy favorite over the Lumberjacks. Jonny Flynn and Andy Rautins have been absolutely on fire, and there is no one on the Lumberjacks roster to match up with them.
The Lumberjacks are an interesting case. They are in the top 20 in defensive efficiency, but are 242nd in offensive efficiency. They beat Drake in December, but they also lost by 16 to Arkansas and 14 to Texas Tech, and neither one of those teams are as good as the ‘Cuse. The Lumberjacks will rotate in a lot of guys, and they only stand a chance if Syracuse isn’t fresh and comes out slow.
Clemson v. Michigan (#7 v. #10)
Both teams and their coaches come into the game with something to prove. The Tigers have to prove they are for real this year, and that they can make noise in the tournament, and the Wolverines need to prove their system works outside of the plodding Big Ten.
The game will feature two of the more athletic combo forwards in Clemson’s Trevor Booker and Michigan’s DeShawn Sims. It will be interesting to see if the two guard one another. But, the Wolverine offense goes as Manny Harris goes, but he is inconsistent as he has nine games with single-digit point totals. If Clemson’s KC Rivers can frustrate Harris, the Wolverines will have a tough time offensively.
Oklahoma v. Morgan State (#2 v. #15)
On paper, the Sooners have a clear advantage in every facet of the game, but the Bears have beaten both DePaul and Maryland, and played close games with Mississippi and St. Mary’s. The problem is, they don’t have anyone who can guard Blake Griffin, or Willie Warren.
Oklahoma has been struggling late and if ever there was a time to strike for Todd Bozeman’s club, now is the time. But they might not have enough weapons to keep up with the Sooners, and Griffin will get to have his way on the low blocks.