Wednesday, March 04, 2009

March Madness: Examining the Top of the Class

While it’s unrealistic to pretend there are only 4 finite teams who will contend for the national championship, it’s round enough a number to work with.

Below are (my) the 4 teams, highlighting one key performer - you might not automatically assume - whom might just be cutting down a pair of nets come March Madness.

Yes, that’s 1 for going to the Final Four and 1 after the National Championship game. Duh.

While these are FAR from role players, they are also not the “it” guys…yet.

And no, I'm still not looking for the next Josh Pace. Or am I???

UCONN Huskies

Senior leadership, in the frontcourt, is highly underrated.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Jerome Dyson’s injury is HUGE news for the #1 team in the country. Obviously, Clement. However, the recent play of Hasheem Thabeet (minus against a guy named Blair) and depth in the backcourt (Austrie, Price, & Walker) doesn’t mean UCONN is up the creek without a paddle. In fact, it might be the performance of leading scorer and 34 minute/per game power forward Jeff Adrien that propels UCONN to a third national championship.

Why? Adrien is often forgotten on the front line due largely to Thabeet; however, he’s a senior with a ton of experience, an affinity to bang, and offers up plenty of mismatches in the post. He would also draw assignments including Hansbrough, Griffin, Henderson, and Clark in the post.

North Carolina Tar Heels

If Ellington can draw extra defenders, UNC may be unguardable.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Hansbrough is the stud, Green is the glue, and Lawson is the dynamic playmaker. So why am I calling on Wayne Ellington? The former Mr. Basketball in Texas has been way too up-and-down this season. In fact, I consider him an outright top 10-recruit B-U-S-T. However, if he can go Ben Gordon on the field during the NCAA Tournament, he becomes a matchup nightmare and makes me settle up to dine on some crow.

Why? While UNC is far from a 3-point shooting team (which is a GOOD thing in Williams’ system), Ellington can put up 4 or 5 treys in less than 10 minutes and really deflate teams attempting to score with the Heels. He also afford the Heels a chance to break out of the funks many half-court defenses have attempted to put them in.

Oklahoma Sooners

Pay brought up to me the Terminator's brother; however, I took a different route.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Blake Griffin, as evident yet again after a 40 point, 23 rebound performance against Texas Tech, is going to be the most talented performer come tournament time. The concussion won’t linger either. Don’t worry about the Terminator. However, that didn’t exactly work out for the likes of fellow Big XII studs Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley (combined 1-2) in recent tournaments. Fortunately for Griffin, he has a talented roster surrounding him and a coach (while very young) who is pushing the right buttons; especially in Big XII play. Enter into the equation a pair of guards, Willie Warren and Tony Crocker, who w ill likely each need a pair of games for Oklahoma – while ranked #2 in the country – to appear to be the real thing. They couldn’t carry the Sooners sans-Griffin against Texas & Kansas, but with the big man back…they can be vital parts, even if they aren’t legitimate #1-scoring options.

Why? If neither can become a legitimate 18-20 point scorer come tourney time opposite Griffin, Oklahoma appears one of the “easier” 1-seeds to draw. Yeah, I said it.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Pitt's "Big 3" (Fields, Young, & Blair) can't do it alone. They'll need a Jermaine Dixon-type role player to help put them over the edge to cut down a pair of nets.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

DeJuan Blair and the Panthers can’t afford to make the same mistake they always seem to (yet nobody every mentions); specifically, putting too much stock in the Big East Tournament and coming out flat in the second weekend of the real March Madness. Perhaps if all there games could be in Madison Square Garden, the Panthers would have made at least one Final Four – or an Elite Eight no less - over the past decade. Perhaps with enough talent now – especially with NBA-ready Sam Young and 7-assist-a-game Levance Fields – Jamie Dixon finally has his ticket to reach a Final Four. I still am skeptical because of their reliance on the aforementioned conference tournament, as well as lacking a sharpshooter from beyond the 3-point line, and Blair’s ability to pile up fouls and “unclog” the post (while on the bench). Enter into the equation three names: Brad Wanamaker, Jermaine Dixon, and Tyrell Biggs. All three need to be that “extra” option – whether starting or off the bench – who can provide more than energy & foul relief (which Pitt will need with non-Big East refs). The real key is hitting open shots (particularly 3s) and allowing the Panthers to accumulate early leads, thus putting less pressure on Blair to stay in the game.

Why? Without them, Pitt is vulnerable as a bruising team who might run into a Curry, Harden, Delaney, McClinton, Calathes, or even a (homer pick) Maynor before the end of the second weekend. One shooter can put the Panthers into an offensive battle, which isn’t their forte necessarily.

Just for fun, here’s a list of some other “names” to consider…

"The Colonel" will need his senior guard to defer far more than take over.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Louisville’s up-and-down-to-the-extreme Edgar Sosa. Especially in the closing minutes of tight games.

Memphis’s Shawn Taggart seems to have all the pieces; yet, I remain as skeptical as ever. As long as he lives in the paint – and away from the longball – he offers up plenty-of-athleticism-and-difficult-to-matchup-with-size to bring on one key word: mismatch.

Duke’s is-he-starting-or-more-effective-off-the-bench Greg Paulus. Especially if Duke isn’t hitting its threes early on and its opponent is. In fact, nobody can save Duke if THAT happens. And it will…

(Mistake) Wake Forest’s phenomenal-freshman–who-does-more-without-the-ball-in-his-hands-on-offense-than-with-it Al Farouq-Amin. Especially if Jeff Teague isn’t decisive down the stretch with the basketball. This team is WAY too average the past four weeks.

Michigan State’s I-turn-over-the-ball-far-more-often-than-I-reward-teammates-in-the-post sophomore guard Durrell Summers. Especially since the dynamic sixth man might see more minutes than most starters for Izzo’s Spartans. Lucas better get healthy, too.

…sorry, I’ll try and find a West Coast school…

UCLA’s sensational-freshmen-who-needs-to-boost-his-draft-stock-ASAP Jrue Holliday, who appears unwilling to take big shots – especially inside the 3-point line – in the closing minutes of game. Especially when Collison needs to kick it out to a perimeter option.

Sorry Marquette, Clemson, Villanova, Missouri, Xavier, LSU, Butler, Kansas, Arizona State, and Gonzaga…you just don’t make the cut…yet.

Pay's brackets definitely got a shakeup (or two) after last night's hiccups.
Just like Jimmy Rollings, if you wanna be a champion, you gotta want it!

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