Sweet 16 Preview: East Region

Posted by nvr1983 on March 27th, 2008

With the next games coming on Thursday (we don’t count the NIT or CBI), we figured you might want a preview. Since we have more than the usual 4 hours between games and sleep that we usually have before games the first week, we can offer you a little better preview. That doesn’t mean we will do any better with our admittedly awful predictions, but they will be more in-depth. I’ll cover the East Region first with the West Region to come later today and the Midwest/South tomorrow so check back later for our thoughts on the games.

East
#1 UNC vs. #4 Washington State (7:27 PM): This game should be a battle of contrasting styles. During the first two rounds, no team has been as impressive offensively as the Tar Heels have been (scoring 113 and 108 points). On the other side of the ball, no team has been as impressive defensively as the Cougars have been (allowing 40 and 41 points).

Normally, we would argue that the team who wants to slow the game down could control the pace and consequently the game. However, the Tar Heels have looked unbelievable in the first two rounds. They appear fresh and may be coming together at the right time. Tyler Hansbrough is pretty much a guaranteed 20/10 at this point and Ty Lawson appears to be getting close to 100% (0 turnovers the first weekend). If the Tar Heels have a (relative) weakness, it is that they don’t have a lot of great shooters. Wayne Ellington can certainly fill it up from the outside, but if he is off they do not another reliable shooter. Given the Tar Heels other strengths (including the ability to play defense as shown at the end of the game at Cameron), they can usually make up for it, but they are vulnerable if another team is hitting from the outside.

We would really like this Washington State team to advance to the Final 4 if they were in any other region. If they are to advance to the Elite 8, they will need solid defense and hope that Aron Baynes and the other inside players can find a way to slow Hansbrough and company down. On top of that, they will also need to be hitting their outside shot because UNC will dominate them on the inside even if they do a good job. Fortunately for the Cougars, they have 3 excellent perimeter players who all shoot over 38% from 3. Tony Bennett will need big games out of Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, and Taylor Rochestie to pull off the upset.

Opening Line: UNC -7.5 (O/U 142.5)
Prediction: Tar Heels by 10+. The Cougars have played well so far, but the Tar Heels are on a completely different level than Winthrop or Notre Dame. I think Washington State will keep it close for most of the first half, but the Tar Heels will start to pull away just before half and cruise in the rest of the way. A lot of the “experts” have been telling everyone who will listen that they think the Cougars can beat UNC, but I just don’t see it happening. Of course, you can look at my predictions from last week and draw your own conclusions. . .

- #2 Tennessee vs. #3 Louisville (9:57 PM): In my opinion this is the most interesting of the Sweet 16 games. Tennessee has been one of the top teams in the nation all season and in my opinion is/was the top #2 seed in the tournament. Louisville was one of the hottest teams in the country late in the season. Both teams would be legitimate Final 4 threats in any region and against any team. Obviously, potentially having to beat the Tar Heels in Charlotte will be a very tall task. Before they do that, they need to get by each other (and UNC has to win to, but we’re assuming that as almost a given with how good UNC looked last weekend).

While the mainstream media has had fun hyping this up as Rick Pitino in his Colonel Sanders suit versus Bruce Pearl in his orange blazer, the more important point is that they both have really good teams. The Cardinals have done an excellent job rebounding from a shaky early season start when they were slowed by injuries. While David Padgett is their “star” player, it is more of a committee of stars as 4 players average between 10.5 and 11.4 PPG and that isn’t counting the more well-known players like Edgar Sosa, Derrick Caracter, and Juan Palacios. However, the Cardinals calling card may be their defense that holds opposing teams to a meager 38.2% FG (6th in the nation).

The Cardinals will need that strong defense against the Volunteers, who are one of the most athletic teams in the nation averaging 82.5 PPG. While Tennessee doesn’t have a traditional low-post presence, they have plenty of guys who can get to the rim and finish. The Vols are led by preseason All-American Chris Lofton, who to be perfectly honest never really displayed the national POY level of play that he was predicted to provide before the season began as his numbers are down across the board most notably scoring from 20.8 PPG on 1.51 PPS (points per shot) down to 15.5 PPG on 1.32 PPS, a career low. However, he has picked up a lot of additional support from transfer Tyler Smith who averages 13.7 PPG and 6.8 RPG, who is as close to a low-post presence that Bruce Pearl has. With how good Pitino’s 2-3 zone has been, Pearl will need Lofton and JaJuan Smith to hit their outside shots. If they start hitting from 3, I wonder how long Pitino will wait before going man-to-man. One area of major concern for the Vols is their point guard play, which has been spotty at best lately.

Opening Line: Louisville -2.
It looks like Vegas isn’t giving the higher-seeded Volunteers any love. Neither will I. The Vols had a tough 2nd round game against Butler (a team that was much better than its #7 seed), but I just can’t shake the feeling that the Vols just haven’t raised their game to a March level quite like the other teams have. Of course, Bruce Pearl’s boys could come out and drop 100 on Pitino, but I just don’t see it happening. I’m going with Louisville in a close game (less than 5 pt victory).

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ATB: HowlandBall > IzzoBall (for now)

Posted by rtmsf on November 21st, 2007

ATB v.4

11.20.07

Game of the Day. #3 UCLA 68, Michigan St. 63. Whew. One night after declaring UCLA the best team in the country, we turned our tv on tonight and watched the Bruins go scoreless for the first 5+ minutes against Michigan St. and put in a lackluster first half before righting the Shipp in the second half (sorry, that was terrible). Down 11 at the break and shooting only 24% from the field, Howland must have implored his guys to execute better in the halfcourt in the second half. They did, and after keeping within contact of MSU through most of the second half, Love’s three-point play with 1:58 remaining initiated a 10-0 Bruin run to finish the game (from down 63-58 to up 68-63). It seemed that every time down the stretch that UCLA needed a play, whether defensively or offensively, they made it. From the Mbah a Moute follow-dunk to tie the game to the sick perimeter D they draped on Drew Neitzel’s three-point tying attempt (airball), UCLA did what was necessary to win. This is why we think this version of HowlandBall is the team to beat come March. They withstood an inspired performance by Michigan St. (54% FG, 93% FT), and still came out with the W. When they get Darren Collison and friends back at full strength, they should be even better. Final comment on Love (21/11): obviously, the guy is extremely skilled. Great court awareness, deft touch around the basket, and a nose for the ball (8 off rebs). Our only complaint with him is the same one we mentioned a week ago – we wish he had some explosion around the rim, as there were a couple of times he just couldn’t get the ball up against MSU’s athletes despite having inside position. But his numbers are still sensational for a freshman, and we recognize that’s a nitpick that will become a problem at the next level more than this one. Final comment on MSU: they’re better than we thought they would be this year, but the question is how will Big 10 teams (who are used to their style of basketbrawl) play them this year?

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WCC Pride. St. Mary’s 99, #9 Oregon 87. The upset of the night (was it really? yeah, we guess so…) took place in tony tiny Moraga, CA, on the campus of WCC annual also-ran-to-Gonzaga St. Mary’s College. We noted this as an upset alert last night, and sure enough, SMC really stuck it to the Ducks tonight. Despite winning its first four games by an average of 19.8 pts (all at home), and just like Pac-10 colleague Stanford (@ Siena) last weekend, the Ducks wilted when faced with an inspired opponent defending their home court. From what we saw, Oregon routinely played matador defense as one of the St. Mary’s guards glided down the lane for another score (most notably freshman Patrick Mills, who set a school record for a frosh with 37/5 assts for a blistering 36 efficiency rating). It also appeared to us that SMC just wanted it more, regularly beating the Ducks to loose balls and errant caroms. For Oregon, Hairston, Leunen, Porter and Kamyron Brown (Bryce Taylor was out with a shoulder injury) combined for 62 pts, but it was on 22-51 shooting. We take nothing away from St. Mary’s here, as they are a very good team that can potentially ride this win to an NCAA at-large berth next March (presuming a solid WCC campaign), but the takeaway here is just how different Oregon looked in a road environment. With a core group of seniors such as Leunen and Hairston, we just expected more poise. Enjoy RTC #2 of the year (both at the expense of Pac-10 teams, btw).

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Maui Wrapup. #11 Duke 79, Illinois 66. The third marquee game of the day was in Maui, where Duke rode great shooting (eFG% = 63%) to a dominating performance over Illinois. This game went pretty much as expected. Duke’s guards scored 62 of their 79 total pts, Illinois couldn’t throw it into the Pacific (eFG% = 35%), and the Illini kept themselves from being humiliated by murdering Duke on the boards (19 off rebs to 4). This is why Marquette, with its trio of talented guards, may have a chance to beat the Devils (again) tomorrow night in the Maui finals. The wildcard is what Duke gets from Singler, as tonight he was in foul trouble and relatively quiet (8/1). They’ll need his production tomorrow night. #12 Marquette 91, Oklahoma St. 61. Marquette got 51 pts from its starting guards, as this game was never close (MU was up 18 at halftime). At the risk of annoying one of our prominent critics, all we’ll say about OSU in this game is that Sean Sutton has perfected his father’s trademark scowl.

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Ridiculous Score of the Night. #6 Tennessee 109, Middle Tennessee St. 40. UT is starting to scare us a little bit. Beating a D1 team – any D1 team – by 69 pts is something not seen very often. The Vols started this game on a 31-4 run and clearly never looked back, leading by 40 at halftime and as much as 71 in the second stanza. Some absurd stats – UT scored 1.47 ppp, had an eFG% of 79%, and scored on almost two-thirds of its possessions in this game. JaJuan Smith led the way for the Vols with 32 pts (on 7 threes), and Chris Lofton broke out of his slump with 17 pts on 6-9 (5-8 from three) shooting. 69 pts… Bruce Pearl better watch himself in Murfreesboro.

Other Ranked Teams.

  • #1 Memphis 84, Arkansas St. 63. Kemp 22, Mack 19, CDR 16.
  • #2 UNC 110, South Carolina St. 64. Only 46 pts, Roy? Bruce Pearl says “pfshaw…”
  • #10 Indiana 95, UNC-Wilmington 71. E-Giddy with 30/6/3 assts.

On Tap Today (all times EST). The Maui Finals are in action and the NIT semis kick back up.

  • Texas A&M (-4) v. Washington (ESPN) 7pm – NIT semis - we think this will be a fun game to watch.
  • Georgetown (-20) v. Ball St. 7pm - JTIII may take his bro Ronny’s frustrations out on BSU.
  • Davidson (-4) v. W. Michigan 7pm – an excellent mid-major road test for Davidson – avoid the letdown!
  • Oklahoma (-25) v. Morehead St. (ESPN FC) 8pm – snooze…
  • Kansas (-26.5) v. N. Arizona (ESPN FC) 8pm – we like KU, really we do, but we’d like to see them outside of Allen Field House.
  • Syracuse (-1.5) v. Ohio St. (ESPN2) 9pm – NIT semis – anticipating our first look at Flynn and Green.
  • Louisville (-3) v. UNLV (Vs.) 9pm – a no-joke road test for the Cards.
  • Duke (NL) v. Marquette (ESPN) 10pm - let’s hope this game is half as exciting as last year’s version.
  • Butler (-6) v. Michigan (ESPN2) 11:30pm – Great Alaska tips off with a solid mid-major/BCS matchup where Butler is expected to win.
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The West Side is the Best Side…

Posted by rtmsf on June 9th, 2007

2Pac

2Pac was right after all

Quite a bit was made last season of a renaissance in the quality of basketball in the Pac-10 conference, as it ended the season as a top three conference in both the RPI and Sagarin ratings in addition to earning a record six NCAA bids for the conference and enjoying the prestige as the only conference with multiple teams in the Elite Eight (Oregon and UCLA). There has always been a surplus of talent on the west coast, especially in the Seattle and SoCal areas, but it was largely characterized by players opting to play for an eastern school just as often as staying home to play for State U. This has been changing over the last five years, however, as new coaches such as Lorenzo Romar at Washington, Tim Floyd at USC, Tony Bennett at Wazzu and Ben Howland at UCLA have endeavored and succeeded in keeping as many of those talents as possible close to home. This is no more evident than in some of the recruiting wars over the last couple of years that resulted in top ten players such as Spencer Hawes (Washington), twins Brook & Robin Lopez (Stanford), Kevin Love (UCLA) and Brandon Jennings (Arizona) signing to play in the Pac-10 (notable exception: Lake Oswego’s (OR) Kyle Singler to Duke).

Steve Lavin

Lavin’s former conference is on the rise

Still, we were a little surprised when Rivals released its top ten players at each position for the 2007-08 season, and the Pac-10 claimed by far the most players, with thirteen of the top fifty. This is especially remarkable given that the league is losing all-conference performers Arron Afflalo (UCLA), Aaron Brooks (Oregon), Marcus Williams (Arizona) and Nick Young (USC) to the NBA next season, while it welcomes likely top fifty players Kevin Love and OJ Mayo (USC) to the league. With talent like this staying on the west coast, we should expect another great season from the Pac-10 conference next year. Somewhere Steve Lavin’s hair gel is celebrating.

The ACC and Big East have seven players each on the list; the SEC has six, and the the Big 12 has five of the top fifty players. The Mountain West and Conference USA both have three of the top fifty, outperforming the Big 10 (again), who only has two. The Colonial (Eric Maynor – VCU), Horizon (AJ Graves – Butler), Missouri Valley (Randal Falker – S. Illinois) and Southern (Stephen Curry – Davidson) conferences each have one top fifty player returning. Below is the list including multiple-player conferences:

Rivals 2007-08 Top 50 Players

You probably noticed that we shaded the teams with three top fifty players returning next season – Stanford, UCLA, UNC, Kansas. It’s certainly no coincidence that three of those will begin next year in the top five of the polls, and the fourth, Stanford, will probably be knocking on the door of the top ten.

Thoughts -

  • Where is all the Big Ten talent? Having less players on this list than CUSA and the Mountain West is cause for alarm, and helps to explain why only one Big Ten team played into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament last season. Where are the usual stables of talent at Michigan State and Illinois? Aside from the yeoman’s work that Matta is putting into recruting at OSU, the rest of the Big Ten has signed only two top thirty prospects during the last three recruiting cycles – Joe Krabbenhoft of Wisconsin in 2005, and Eric Gordon of Indiana in 2007. An influx of coaching talent has entered the league (Tubby Smith at Minnesota and Kelvin Sampson at Indiana), but without the players to accompany those moves, the Big Ten is going nowhere fast.
  • Nitpicks. We probably would have found a place for the following players: Derrick Low (Washington St.), Edgar Sosa (Louisville), Jerel McNeal (Marquette), and Patrick Beverley (Arkansas). Expect each of these players to be all-conference performers in their respective leagues next season. We also have a sneaky feeling that guys like DaJuan Summers (Georgetown), Deon Thompson (UNC), Derrick Caracter (Louisville) and JaJuan Smith (Tennessee) will make a solid case to be on this list next season.
  • Surprises. NC State’s future looks bright with two young big men, Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley, returning for Sidney Lowe’s team. Alabama should be much improved next year as well, assuming Ronald Steele gets healthy (he was on many preseason all-american teams last year but struggled with tendinitis and ankle injuries that largely derailed Bama’s season). Apologies to the Mountain West, but who are Stuart Creason and Luke Nevill? Their inclusion on this list shows that the depth of talent at the center position in the college game is ridiculously thin.
  • Instant Impact Players in 2007-08. This list next season will be populated by the likes of OJ Mayo, Eric Gordon, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley (Kansas St.), Derrick Rose (Memphis) and Anthony Randolph (LSU).
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