The long road to Detroit and ultimately a national championship won’t be any easier this year. The tournament is loaded with teams that could blow up your bracket, if they actually show up.
The selection committee actually did a great job overall for once. If Wisconsin was out and St. Mary’s was in, I’d have no major problems.
With that said, it’s on to the bracket and bragging rights with your buddies.
BYU is a quality team. They lost by just a point to Arizona State on a neutral court and lost by seven to Wake Forest at home.
They have a problem which many teams have: They don’t have many quality road wins.
The only good one they had was against San Diego State, who just beat them on a neutral court. They took Utah to OT but didn’t get the win. They also beat Utah State, but that’s another team with no power to do anything on the road.
Texas A&M is a team, with two very talented players, which has underachieved. Guards Josh Carter and Donald Sloan, when on, can play with anyone in the nation. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened too often.
They did beat Arizona and LSU, but both of those games were at home. In a solid Big XII conference, they have no good road wins. At home, they beat Missouri and Texas.
In another toss-up game, I like the team which has been more consistent and has the better shooting. At least BYU beat who they were supposed to beat in conference on the road. They will advance.
Washington is an up-and-coming young team with some great starters but not a lot off the bench. They lost to Kansas on a neutral court but beat Cleveland State, Oklahoma State, Portland State, and Morgan State at home.
In the Pac-10, they swept USC but lost at Arizona, at UCLA, and were swept by California. They won at Arizona State but just lost to them in the conference tournament.
The note to be taken here is that against teams who have a lot of good shooters, they struggled.
When they’re on, Mississippi State can be Cal with the best shot blocker in SEC history in C Jarvis Varnado. The Bulldogs have some different pieces from a year ago, when they took Memphis to the brink. But they still have Varnado, and his defensive ability makes this team very dangerous.
The Bulldogs have several good three-point shooters who can make shots when they take smart shots and work inside-out with Varnado. They have a freshman PG in Dee Bost who takes very good care of the ball for a freshman.
I like what Mississippi State brings to the table, but I don’t like them in this matchup. The best way to go at a shot blocker is right through his body, and Huskies F Jon Brockman is basically the DeJuan Blair of the West Coast. They have guards who are athletic enough to defend the Bulldogs and clamp down on the three-pointers.
California is the best three-point shooting team in the nation and is one of the best overall shooting teams around. They score through their guards and are undersized but have some forwards with great hustle and toughness.
They lost by three on a neutral court to FSU and were blown out by Missouri. They swept Arizona and Washington but were swept by UCLA and lost twice to USC. They play fine against offensive teams and struggle at times against tough defense.
Maryland is by far the biggest head case in this tournament. They are ranked 200th or worse in field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, three-point percentage defense, and rebound margin.
Despite all these deficiencies, they managed to beat Michigan State, UNC, and Wake Forest. They’ve also lost to Morgan State and were decimated on a neutral court by Gonzaga and Georgetown.
In the end, Cal thrives against defenseless teams, and while Maryland can beat anyone (somehow) when they play well, they absolutely can’t be trusted.
First round winners: (1) Connecticut, (8) BYU, (5) Purdue, (4) Washington, (6) Marquette, (3) Missouri, (7) California, (2) Memphis
UConn is susceptible to an upset, but BYU doesn’t have what it takes to get it done.
Memphis is the defensive team which will give Cal all kinds of trouble.
Marquette could have beaten Missouri with a healthy Dominic James. They have no chance now.
Purdue’s fate rests in the play of F Robbie Hummel. With a healthy Hummel on the floor, Purdue was able to beat Boston College on a neutral court and took Oklahoma to OT. Without him they were just another team in the mix in the Big Ten.
Washington played a lot of defensive teams in the Pac-10 and fared very well. They swept Oregon State, Washington State, USC, and Arizona State in the regular season.
The loss in the conference tournament was more of a wake-up call than anything else. The Huskies move on.
Second round winners: (1) Connecticut, (4) Washington, (3) Missouri, (2) Memphis
Missouri is a terrific story this season. They are one of the most well-balanced teams in the country in terms of offensive-defensive ability. If they were a four seed, they would take UConn out in this spot.
For that matter, if they were in the East or South (especially the South), they could have made it all the way to Detroit.
But they have to play Memphis, and these Tigers have experience and a major chip on their shoulders.
PG Tyreke Evans is the reason this team will continue to advance. In essence, Memphis is a better version of Missouri in a battle of pressure defensive teams.
UConn has beaten all kinds of teams but has struggled to live up to their early season greatness without the services of Jerome Dyson. Without him, they lack any perimeter scoring presence and rely too much on C Hasheem Thabeet and F Jeff Adrien for scoring. There’s a reason this team is just 4-3 since losing Dyson.
They are still one of the best teams in this field, but now, they absolutely cannot afford to lose Thabeet to foul trouble. When Pitt beat UConn the first time, DeJuan Blair just outmanned him and bullied him. He went right at the shot blocker and put him on the bench.
In the second meeting, Thabeet won the personal battle, but F Sam Young scored 31.
In the epic battle with Syracuse in the Big East tournament, Syracuse bullied Thabeet around all night. Thabeet is basically a defensive Roy Hibbert as he is soft most of the time.
Again, Brockman is the key player for the Huskies to advance. If he can go Blair on Thabeet and put him on the bench, the Huskies can match UConn man-to-man and force them into jumpers.
In a battle of who can make more contested shots, the Huskies are going to prevail in one of the upsets of the tourney.
Sweet 16 winners: (4) Washington, (2) Memphis
Much like Missouri, a determined Tigers team that can create offense, along with their tenacious defense, will cause the Huskies' undoing. Brockman will be matched by F Robert Dozier and F Shawn Taggart, and Memphis will use its physicality and size in the backcourt to outmaneuver the Huskies.
Memphis has simply been a different team since Evans was put at the point. They found their balance. And while Evans isn’t as natural at the point as Derrick Rose was a year ago, he has played just as well and is a better on-ball defender.
The team we saw whup Gonzaga is the real Memphis. They are determined to get back to the Final Four after seeing the title snatched away from them. This supreme motivation made the experienced players on the team truly buy into playing defense. This has made them one of the supreme defensive teams in the country.
The Memphis defense carries them to Detroit.
Midwest winner: (2) Memphis
Louisville and Memphis are playing to be the national champion. Whoever wins this game will cut down the nets.
Louisville is absolutely staunch in how they go about their defense. Their issue throughout the year is their struggle at times on offense, which is a bit hard to understand.
All of their losses except the beat down the healthy UConn gave them were against teams which had no business on the same floor—Western Kentucky by 14, Minnesota by six on a neutral court, UNLV by one, and at Notre Dame by 33.
Since mid-February, this team hasn’t lost but didn’t have to play Pitt or UConn. They are playing better but still not up to their ability. A B-level Cardinals team won the Big East regular and postseason crowns. If this team plays up to its full potential, their run in this tournament is going to be downright scary.
Memphis hasn’t lost since December, but with the exception of games at Tennessee and Gonzaga, they haven’t played anyone since December.
It’s also interesting in that Memphis has lost to the two Big East teams it’s faced—Syracuse by seven at home and Georgetown by nine in OT.
Tyreke Evans, at the point, has been magic for Memphis in their terrific run. Unlike Louisville, Memphis has found their A-game and has left a path of destruction against most of the teams it’s played.
In a game destined to become an instant classic, the only place I truly see an advantage is low-post scoring. The Tigers get a lot of their points inside on offensive rebounds and hustle plays, while Louisville has players in the frontcourt like Earl Clark and Samardo Samuels who can create offense for themselves in a half court set.
That gives the slightest of edges to Louisville.
In the other semifinal, it’s a complete contrast in philosophies.
Pittsburgh is the Rottweiler which smells blood and wants to rip you limb for limb, while North Carolina is the winner of the Westminster Dog Show.
In this game, Pitt’s fatal flaw emerges. They don’t get enough scoring out of their guards and don’t have any reliable shooting game to speak of. This makes it even more imperative that DeJuan Blair stay out of foul trouble.
Therein lies the problem. With the aggressiveness of Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough, it’s almost a foregone conclusion for Blair to get stuck on the bench.
With him a nonfactor, the Panthers simply don’t have the firepower to hang with the Tar Heels.
Advancing to the final: Louisville, North Carolina
Louisville can provide the defense, while having the balanced scoring threats all over the floor to take down the Tar Heels. Earl Clark and F Terrence Williams are going to have a field day against G/F Danny Green and G Wayne Ellington.
Hansbrough will have a big game himself in his last as a college player, but UNC will still come up a bit short.
The North Carolina team which started the season may have won this one. The injury to Marcus Ginyard killed their backcourt depth off the bench.
Louisville’s depth in the backcourt will net them a national championship.
In a way, since UNC is the team where everyone returned to get the title, this game will be what should’ve happened in last year’s final.
Louisville is playing as Memphis, and this time a three-pointer at the end won’t make any difference.
2009 National Champion: Louisville