Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thursday Night Tournament Previews...

...Pay is tackling the West [Chalk Region] and I'll be handling the South Region...

West Region Game #1:
Kansas (1) vs. Southern Illinois (4)
Southern Illinois have shed the mid-major like Gonzaga has. After six straight trips to the big dance, two of which have led to Sweet 16 visits, the Salukis are a major college basketball program. Kansas aren't expecting some lucky slouches to be across the court. In the last two tournaments, the Jayhawks have been snakebitten by mid-majors. They know fully well that Southern Illinois is the 3rd-best defensive scoring team (56.1 ppg) in Division I, while SIU is cognizant of Kansas' terrific offensive team buoyed by great depth - both hitting its stride in March. It will be a battle of the guards; however, the potential absence of Salukis forward Matt Shaw (sprained ankle sustained Friday night vs. Holy Cross) may allow Kansas to work the ball inside to Wright, Jackson, and Arthur. If the Salukis are to pull this one out, they will have to take an early lead and consistently make shots from beyond the arc with Falker getting his share on the blocks, as the Jayhawks are always due for a quick scoring run regardless of the opposition.

Players to Watch
: Tony Young [Southern Illinois] and Sherron Collins [Kansas]
Moment of Truth: How will the team who falls behind by double digits react to the intensity and momentum of the opposition? If SIU gets up by 15, don't expect a swift comeback by Kansas as they did twice against a young Texas squad. If Kansas gets up by 15, it will have meant that the Salukis gave up more than 60 points.

West Region Game #2:
#2. UCLA vs. #3. Pittsburgh
For all intents and purposes, I doubt this one will be pretty to watch. Plain and simple, UCLA's lack of that one extra big men has been exploited this month. The question remains: can Aaron Gray exploit that deficiency? Given his inconsistency since the ankle injury and the proverbial eggs he's laid in big games, Pittsburgh will need lots of help from Mike Cook and the versatile Levon Kendall. Expect Darren Collison to be stifled by Pittsburgh's stingy defense, but do the Panthers have an answer for Arron Afflalo. We see him and the effort of Mbah a Moute getting UCLA into the regional final. (Note: I did not mention the coaches or Howland's daughter)
Players to Watch: Josh Shipp [UCLA] and Levon Kendall [Pittsburgh]
Moment of Truth: When the teams return to the court after halftime, who will hit the big shots before the 16-minute media timeout? My bets are on Afflalo and Shipp. Ramon, Fields, and Graves need to shoot well from the perimeter in order to pave the way for Gray, Cook, and Kendall inside.

South Region Game #1:

#2. Memphis vs. #3. Texas A&M
-This is going to be a knock-down, drag-out boxing match. It’s going 15 rounds and both teams are going to be left battered, bruised, and beaten. Question is: who survives in the end to advance to the Elite Eight? Sure, I picked A&M…but I also grossly underestimated the outside shooting of the Tigers. Calipari seems due for a Final Four one of these years at Memphis, but I wonder if this team has the poise to match clutch shots and key decisions from the likes of Acie Law IV? Perhaps the best clutch player in the tournament, Law exhibits the self-control and fluidity to dominate games in the closing minutes.

Players to Watch
: Antonio Anderson [Memphis] & Dominique
Kirk [A&M]
Moment of Truth: How Douglas-Roberts’ ankle reacts to the first break in the game. Will he be able to tape it tight enough to last? I honestly have zero idea. What I do know is that without their star backcourt go-to-guy, it’ll be awfully tough for Memphis to survive this all-out battle.

South Region Game #2:
#1. Ohio State vs. #5. Tennessee

-Most of us remember their past encounter on January 18th (68-66 Buckeye victory in Columbus)…especially Oden’s dominant double-double. Yet, Bruce Pearl’s squad is much more under the radar this year than last (when they seemed to be an easily identifiable overrated #2-seed); yet always seem mortal with their customary slow starts to most games. Chris Lofton, as talented as any player in the country, has to be on…and I mean really on. It’ll take over 50% shooting and at least 20-25 points for the Vols star for his squad to grind it out against the Buckeyes. Memo to the Vols: Don’t let Oden stay in the paint the entire game. It’s imperative he be forced to move around and reach a few times for errant balls, perhaps committing that deadly 4th foul before the 8 to 10 minute mark. As for the Buckeyes, they have to guard the perimeter much tougher than they did against Xavier and must allow Oden to get through the typical early cobwebs and then sit back and ride their star 7-footer into the Elite Eight.

Players to Watch
: Ron Lewis [Ohio State] & Dane Bradshaw
Moment of Truth: Tennessee needs its role players to step up just as they did against the Cavs down the stretch. Bradshaw, a little too quiet thus far in the tournament, may be exposed on defense by the quicker, athletic Buckeyes. Or so Ohio State thinks. It’ll be interesting to see how Tennessee matches up on D and tries to avoid off-the-dribble screens and slashes.

Can another freshman lead his team to the Final Four?
Step 3 of 4 begins around 10pm tonight for Greg Oden.

Play-by-play is a 50/50 tonight. But either way, enjoy the night's matchups...

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