UCLA vs. Memphis (6:07 PM): Coming into the tournament UCLA was picked by most analysts to win the championship, but after close games in the 2nd round and Sweet 16 several pundits (including your favorite college basketball blogger) wrote them off. The Bruins responded with what may have been their best performance of the year, a 76-57 beatdown of #3 seed Xavier. While super-frosh Kevin Love has given them consistent performances throughout the tournament (hence the West Regional MOP designation), the rest of the team has been up-and-down. The one thing that has carried this team has been that they play great D the entire 40 minutes. However, if the Bruins want to cut down the nets on Monday in San Antonio Ben Howland’s crew will need solid performances out of Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Josh Shipp, who has played poorly in 6 of his last 7 games.
On the other side, Memphis was getting ripped apart by every analyst the entire season for their poor free throw shooting heading into the Sweet 16. It’s true that nobody will confuse the Tigers for a bunch of J.J. Redicks at the free throw line, but it doesn’t really matter when you’re up 50-20 at half (on Michigan State). The Tigers followed up that massacre with a demolition of #2 seed Texas, who was playing a virtual home game in Houston. In that game, Derrick Rose established himself as the premier point guard in college as he totally dominated 1st team All-American D.J. Augustin. Despite all the athleticism this team has, Rose is really the catalyst for everything and that’s certainly saying something on a team that features C-USA POY and 1st team All-American Chris Douglas-Roberts. However, the key for Memphis may be Joey Dorsey who has a penchant for picking up quick fouls (note: Final 4 games tend to be officiated closely; see last year’s semi where Oden and Hibbert barely played in the first half). If Dorsey can avoid foul trouble, he will be a force inside. If he gets in foul trouble, the Tigers will have to rely on Iowa State transfer Shawn Taggert. (Fortunately for Dorsey, there is nobody left in the tournament who can dominate Dorsey on the inside if he decides to run his mouth like he did last year before playing Greg Oden.)
This is the part where I normally would feature the key matchup, but in this case there are just so many interesting matchups: Derrick Rose vs. Darren Collison; Chris Douglas-Roberts vs. Russell Westbrook/Josh Shipp; and Joey Dorsey vs. Kevin Love.
– Rose vs. Collison: Collison is an outstanding college PG, but he’s out of his league here. We all saw what Rose did to Augustin and Texas. He’s just at a different level than any of the PGs in college. While he can get a little out of control at times, his physical skills (size, speed, and strength) would put him near the top of NBA PGs in those categories, which means he’s a nightmare match-up for almost any PG. In addition to this, Rose has shown that he can hit the outside shot and create havoc defensively because of his physical skills. Rose will have to watch out for Collison’s outside shot because he shoots a high percentage even if he doesn’t pull the trigger that often. If Rose is making his jump shot, he’s basically unguardable and could dominate this game. If he does, Ben Howland may have to switch things up and put Westbrook on him. I don’t think it will matter. Advantage: Rose.
– Douglas-Roberts vs. Westbrook/Shipp: This will be an interesting match-up as it features several really athletic players. Douglas-Roberts usuallly has a big edge in almost any match-up, but I think that the UCLA guards have the length and athleticism to bother him. I think Shipp will spend most of the night against CDR, but UCLA might use Westbrook on him occassionally. Westbrook is one of the most athletic players in the country, but CDR’s 4″ height advantage and long arms might be too much for Westbrook to overcome. The key to this match-up is whether Shipp can score. If he does, this match-up might shift more towards a neutral decision, but he hasn’t done it lately and that’s what we’re going with. Advantage: Douglas-Roberts.
– Dorsey vs. Love: This will be a battle of contrasting styles as Dorsey is more of a bruiser in the paint while Love has an excellent all-around game. There is no question as to who will “win” this match-up in terms of the box score and individual match-up. The big question is whether Love will get Dorsey in foul trouble early taking him out of the paint to open up the basket to UCLA’s perimeter players’ drives. Advantage: Love.
The real key to this game is the pace. If Memphis can turn this into a running game in the 70s or 80s, they should win. If UCLA can keep it in the 50s, it will probably come down to free throws and. . .well you’ve heard it a million times in the past month.
Opening Line: Memphis -1.
Prediction: As we said, this game will likely decided by the pace of the game. Everyone likes to talk about the Bruins’ defense, but the key may be the Tigers’ defense. While they are more known for their athleticism and dribble-drive motion offense, the Tigers can play phenomenal defense. If you need evidence, ask Tom Izzo about the first half of their Sweet 16 game when the Spartans looked terrified to bring the ball up the court. The Tigers use their athleticism to put a lot of pressure on the dribbler and fill passing lanes. Collison and Westbrook will be pressured all night, but should provide more resistance than Michigan State or Texas provided. It will be interesting to see how UCLA utilizes Love and his ability to throw the outlet pass to try and avoid this pressure. In the end, I just think Memphis is playing on a different level than the Bruins right now. This all depends on whether the Tigers can carry over their momentum from Houston to San Antonio. I’m going with Memphis pulling away midway through the 2nd half to win by 5 as they hit enough free throws at the end to advance to the championship game to face the winner of. . .
Kansas vs. North Carolina (8:47 PM): The juicy and delicious backstory to this game is ol’ dadgummit Roy coaching UNC for the first time against his former employer Kansas. Although Roy didn’t recruit or coach any of the current players on the KU roster, there are still numerous friends and acquaintances associated with the program who remain stung by Huckleberry Hound’s quick 180 from not giving a sheit about Carolina to taking the job one week later. Naturally, we tend to side with the KU boosters when they rail on Roy because it’s true – he can’t have it both ways. Like Pitino when he took the job at Louisville, you dance with the devil you came with, and both of these gentlemen made professional decisions that they undoubtedly knew would lead to their sanctified statuses at KU and UK being called into question.
So what does this mean for tomorrow’s game between a bunch of players who were all in high school when Roy Williams alighted for Tarheel blue? Not much. We expect that the Kansas players know how much this game means to its fans, and they might come out a little stronger than they otherwise would have, but in terms of the effects on the game over forty minutes, we don’t see it mattering all that much. As always, it comes down to the matchups.
In looking at the numbers and the talent on the floor at positions 1-5, it’s difficult not to like Kansas. Their offensive and defensive efficiency are both in the top five in the nation. Their scoring balance creates a conundrum (whom to stop?) for a defensively-challenged UNC team, as four starters average between 12.7 and 13.1 ppg. And their experience (2 srs, 2 jrs, 1 soph in the starting five) also trumps the younger Heels (2 jrs, 3 sophs).
The player by player matchups tell a slightly different story, though. On the perimeter, we love the way that Kansas guard Mario Chalmers and forward Brandon Rush have been playing, but nobody in college basketball has the quickness and wherewithal to stay with UNC’s Ty Lawson when he ignites the engine on fast breaks. The x-factor we see in the backcourt is Carolina’s Wayne Ellington. He has a tendency to run hot/cold, but when he’s hitting his outside jumper the Heels are damn near unbeatable. In their only two losses of the year Ellington went 9-30, and KU’s guards must make sure to rotate out on him to eliminate his open looks.
In the post, nothing more needs to be said about Tyler Hansbrough. The way he’s playing right now we’re going to just pencil him in for 25/12 and wonder how Kansas plans to counteract him. The trio of Darrell Arthur, Darnell Robinson and Sasha Kaun collective are talented enough to challenge Hansbrough, but once again, the x-factor will be whether UNC forward Deon Thompson can hit his open looks that will come as a result of triple teams on Hansbrough. Whether x-factors Thompson and Ellington will knock these shots down will go a long way to determining who will ultimately win this game.
Opening Line: UNC -3
Prediction: In our view, this game will be a test of just how good Kansas’ defense actually is. Assuming they let Hansbrough get his numbers, will KU then be able to put the clamps down on everyone else, especially the two x-factors mentioned above – Ellington and Thompson? Should Kansas limit those players to poor shooting nights while also corralling Lawson’s fast break opportunities, then the Jayhawks will have a very good chance and probably should win the game. But this is a weighty task, and we have a feeling that there are too many things that need to happen for Kansas to win this game. Therefore, our prediction is that either Ellington or Thompson will have a good game, Lawson will break free enough times to get some easy points, and the Heels will run away with the game early in the second half, winning by 10+ points. Part of the reason for our assessment here is that we simply think UNC is purring too well right now to be denied, but what most worries us about Kansas is what they exhibited last week against Davidson, the same thing we’ve seen throughout the Bill Self era. KU played tighter than a Promise Keeper’s new wife on their wedding night, and it’s that tendency that is pushing us to lean toward the Heels.
FYI – Vegas Watch has its breakdown of the odds for the F4 games here. Pretty interesting reading, and we’re not a “sharp.”