Saturday, March 24, 2007

Saturday Night Live...Tournament Talk

...South Region...
#2. Memphis vs. #1. Ohio State [aka And 1 Mix-Tape Team vs. More than just Greg Oden's Team]

A track meet to say the very least, Coach Calipari's Tigers gave Matta's Buckeyes just about everything they could handle for 34 minutes. During the final six minutes of action, the Buckeyes all but ran the Tigers out of the gym defeating second-seed Memphis 92-76. All four number one seeds still have the potential to match up in Atlanta.

Despite early foul trouble for 7-footer freshman phenom Greg Oden (nothing new in this tournament thus far), Mike Conley Jr./Ron Lewis/DaQuean Cook kept the Ohio State University within punching distance of the athletic, speedy Tigers. Despite lights-out first-half three point shooting (7-10 for the Tigers), foul trouble plagued them down the stretch. Between Andre Allen's (who played quite poorly) and injured (or so we were told) Chris Douglas-Roberts' 5 fouls apiece, the Tigers lacked the slashing and kick-out ability to find consistent shooting down the stretch. 4th-year senior Jeremy Hunt was impressive from the field, 26 points, but lacked enough scoring counterparts to take down the sharp-shooting Buckeyes.

When Oden was in, he was downright dominant. 17 points, 9 rebounds, and a key 3-point play were just the highlights of another impressive performance from the oft-heralded freshman. Returning with four fouls mid-way through the second-half, Oden help spark a key 20-8 run that allowed the Buckeyes to assume a commanding double-digit lead.

Hitting their final sixteen free throws was only icing on the cake for the Buckeyes, reaching their first Final Four since the Michael Redd-led 1999 team. Ironically enough, that team's appearance has been erased from the records due to violations. With this Buckeye team locked into one of the spot's in Atlanta, we will be able to see one of the best freshman trios in recent memory with Oden/Conley Jr./Cook. Only question that remains is who will they be matched up against???

...West Region...
#2. UCLA vs. #1. Kansas [aka Afflalo/Shipp are TWINS vs. Runnin and Gunnin Jayhawks]

One of the more interesting defensive-minded matchups of the entire tournament thus far (nearly a combined 30 steals), the Bruins and Jayhawks battled to the very end for the second spot in the 2007 Final Four. Despite a torrid start, Kansas rarely had a string a successive offensive possessions. Fortunately for Bill Self's squad, their defense was up to the challenge of the UCLA motion offense. At least during the first-half...

UCLA, often labeled as lacking offensive firepower, hit countless key shots late extremely late in the shot clock. Whether it was Afflalo or Collison, the Bruins seemed to have little trouble hitting daggers from beyond the three-point line despite being covered heavily by Jayhawk defenders. Extending their lead from 4 (half) to 11 early in the second half, the Jayhawks could never pull any closer than 5 for the rest of the game.

The 68-55 UCLA victory over Kansas was led throughout unsurprisingly by their savvy backcourt duo of Pac-10 Player of the Year Arron Affalo (24 points) and this year's best surprise out West Darren Collison (14 points and four clutch late free throws). Shooting 53% from the field was a nice surprise, yet in the end it comes as no surprise that UCLA was anchored by Howland's typical suffocating perimeter defense. It's no surprise many experts, including yours truly, believe that Coach Ben Howland has his Bruins playing better than last year's National-Runner Up Squad. Perhaps a re-match with Florida is only a week away (the Gators match up with 3-seed Oregon tomorrow afternoon).

The typical 18 points from Brandon Rush paced Kansas; however, Julian Wright (only 8 points) was a shred of his usual self. Kansas was limited inside the paint throughout the game, lacked consistent outside shooting, and often began pushing the ball in-and-out during their possessions until the final 10-12 seconds of the shot clock. Despite avoiding the first-round upset that plagued them in the previous two years (remember Bucknell and Bradley?), the Jayhawks have to be disappointed in not reaching the Final Four with perhaps the nation's deepest and most talented lineup.

Nevertheless, the Bruins march on and have impressively moved on from the loss of All-American guard Jordan Farmar to make a return trip to the Final Four in 2007.

UNC/Georgetown & Florida/Oregon tomorrow. Let's see if the chalk prevails...

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