Thursday, March 27, 2008

An Unbiased Sweet Sixteen Analysis…UNLEASHED!!! [Part Deux]

Pay and I have decided to stick with what works, revisiting last year’s Elite Eight format we enjoyed so much, as we deliver your Unofficial Unbiased Preview to the Sweet Sixteen.

Don’t worry. We aren’t afraid to tick off a few coaches, call out non-professional athletes, or let our gut reactions – not our corporate sponsors or contacts – decide our analysis and perhaps, a prediction or two.

Without further banter, let’s roll!

Thursday’s game get their pub yesterday, with Friday’s slate arriving today.


Contrary to what some of the "majors" have failed to tell you, guys like Jason Richards (8 assists a click) are teammates of recent all-world baller Stephen Curry for the Davidson Wildcats.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

#3. Wisconsin vs. #10. Davidson [Pay]

Here is one of the biggest misnomers in the NCAA Tournament: Davidson is a one-man team. Why? It’s because Jason Richards is one of the best point guards in the country. PERIOD. Additionally, the Wildcats have a host of players who The Rock would love, because they know their damn role. On the other side of the scorer’s table, Wisconsin brings a suffocating brand of defense that many thought during the season was symptomatic of the anemic offenses in the Big Ten. They thought wrong. While the Badgers are capable of scoring points, they prefer to slow it down. Chances are that if they are successful in that pursuit, they will be deemed victorious.

Players to Watch: Hmm, let me check. Oh yeah, Stephen Curry. Not only is he a classic tournament player who was not recruited by the big schools, he is one of the nation’s best ten players … as a sophomore. For an undersized shooting guard, Curry finds ways to get open, score and involve teammates against taller, stronger guards. As always, Jason Richards (8.0 apg) will be a vital role in making certain that Curry gets his looks. Of course, Michael Flowers and Travon Hughes have the grand responsibility of not only gloving both players while staying out of foul trouble, but also forcing action at the other end. Brian Butch, Marcus Landry and Joel Krabbenhoft almost always present matchup problems for opponents and can be a source of frustration for Thomas Sander, Andrew Lovedale and Boris Meno. This battle of the boards can be a game-decider.

Moment of Truth: When the Wildcats are inevitably down by double digits in the second half, what coaching decisions will Bo Ryan to prevent his men from being a self-fulfilling prophecy? If and when Stephen Curry gets hot, what adjustments will the Badgers make if Michael Flowers is unable to control the sophomore stud?

#1. Kansas vs. #12. Villanova

Role players interchange as stars and vice-versa for the Jayhawks (i.e. Russell Robinson).
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Is a 12-seed from a power conference truly a Cinderella? Whether or not they reached the Sweet Sixteen or not, Villanova isn’t a true Cinderella story. However, they will be the second after they defeat Kansas. Of course, that isn’t very likely to happen. Despite our problems with their coach being able to win the big games, Kansas’s rosters is LOADED with shooting, athleticism and clutch play. In fact, they probably have pound-for-pound the most talented roster in the entire country. Fortunately for the Wildcats, this game is in Detroit and not Kansas City. At least, that’s working for them.

Players to Watch: Despite losing his size, the injury to Casiem Drummond won’t decide this game. More important to the Villanova attack is the play of their three guards (Reynolds, Cunningham, and Fisher). While their frontcourt has plenty of work to do against the able-bodied Jayhawks, the Wildcats will only go as far as their slashing and shooting guards can carry them. As for Rock Chalk, the Jayhawks have a trio of guards of their own (Chalmers, Collins, and Robinson) who need to take care of the ball, attack the basket at will, and keep up with the intensity of the aforementioned Wildcats. It’d be too much to ask for Scottie Reynolds to put up a Herculean effort to carry his team to the Elite Eight, right? Right?

Moment of Truth: The first eight minutes of the game are always important. Duh. However, Kansas would be well-served to jump out early and put their feet on the throats of the Wildcats. If Villanova can keep it close early – or perhaps take a lead or two – Jay Wright will be able to push the buttons he wants to on offense, rather than try and keep up with the high-scoring Jayhawks.

South Region

AJ Abrams will need to offer more than a helping hand to the Longhorns offensive attack.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

#2. Texas vs. #3. Stanford [Pay]

Forget Texas’s perceived home court advantage. If Stanford wants to win it all, they will have to beat everyone. Everywhere. This is the furthest the Cardinal have gone in the NCAA Tournament since 2001 and head coach Trent Johnson isn’t about to make excuses. He only has two NBA-ready 7-footers who deny and/or alter all shots in the half-court set that are 12 feet and in. Not to mention, they can score the ball. For the “home” team, DJ Augustin paces the Longhorns and must lead the way in harassing opposing ball-handlers en route to disrupting the Cardinal’s lethal half-court offense. The question for me is wildly clear: Will someone please induce a full-court press against Stanford and force the Cardinal out of their comfort zone? Perhaps, this is a testament to what Mitch Johnson means to this team in terms of engineering the offense.

Players to Watch: If AJ Abrams gets hot from behind the arc early, then the Cardinal are in serious trouble. Despite having tall defenders in Fred Washington, Lawrence Hill and Taj Finger who can cover on the perimeter, Abrams can shoot over them. Since Texas is decidedly smaller than Stanford, expect the Longhorns to use the physical 6’10” 299-pound Dexter Pittman or wiry big man Alexis Wangmene at the same time as center Connor Atchley during brief spells for Damion James. Meanwhile, the Cardinal perimeter players must hit open shots created by collapses on the Lopez brothers if they want to keep the Texas defense honest.

Moment of Truth: In a one-possession game, Rick Barnes has the luxury of turning to his trusty point guard, DJ Augustin. Though Mitch Johnson has been spectacular at the point for the Cardinal, he has only faced one team with a guard tandem as talented as Texas’s. Rick Barnes and his staff have likely watched the Stanford-Marquette game tape at least five times, and dissected exactly how the Longhorns can exploit the Cardinal.

#1. Memphis vs. #5. Michigan State

Coach Izzo's championship-experience and Morgan's stature are two reasons MANY people are lovin' the Spartans to be the first to bounce a 1-seed (Memphis).
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Never in the history of the Final Four have all four 1-seeds made the Final Four. While several analysts (notably Jay Bilas, Clark Kellogg and “America’s Bracket”) warmed up to the idea a few weeks back, popular theory has Memphis being the most vulnerable of the 1-seeds. Whether that’s due to their competition (a stacked bracket remains) or their own deficiencies (free throws and a 3-point obsession, of course) is up to you. If it’s up to me, I see a Spartans team that is easily playing its best basketball all season. That’s lethal when you have a seasoned coach (with a national title), a senior driven to overcome a disappointing year and a Big Ten pedigree that is in stark contrast to Memphis’s style of running and gunning with incredible depth, no less. Is this where the first, and potential only, 1-seed takes its bow before the Final Four? We know where history stands on that possibility.

Players to Watch: Most people think of Memphis and isolate their backcourt: Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose. While they will have their impact for sure, I can’t help but target two Tiger big-men – Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier (combined 16 points and 16 boards a game) – who may have just as much with the Tigers continuing their winning-ways. Their ability to control the boards, block shots and spark transition is key for the Tigers to dictate the pace of the game. As for the Spartans, you know they’re dead-set on forcing the Tigers to play Big Ten basketball. While Raymar Morgan is the team’s leading scorer, it’s the Spartans leading rebounder, Goran Suton, that needs to replicate his performance versus Pitt against the Tiger big men. His 14 points, 9 rebounds, and most importantly, 3 fouls were key in dealing with the plethora of Pitt bigs. He’ll need to take advantage of easy shot opportunities, crash the offensive glass and make smart passes to shooters behind the arc named Neitzel.

Moment of Truth: As soon as the game reaches the penalty, in either half, (which can be quite early in a Spartans game) the Tigers’ greatest weakness will be exposed: free-throw shooting. The worst in the nation and in the NCAA Tournament (remember, 15-32 against Mississippi State in Round 2), free throws may afford Memphis a lead before the half and the ability to put away Izzo’s crew. If they can’t, John Calipari’s consistent care-free attitude towards poor free-throw shooting may again bury the Tiger’s Final Four aspirations.

See you Saturday and Sunday with the treatment for the Elite Eight!

Until next time…

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