The long road to Detroit and ultimately a national championship won’t be any easier this year. The tournament is loaded with teams which can 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.
Oklahoma State appears to be playing its best basketball of the season.
Despite that, the only good win they have outside of the state of Oklahoma is a nine point neutral court win against Siena. The only road wins they have in the Big XII are at Nebraska in OT, at Texas Tech, and at Colorado.
They lost to Oklahoma twice but were able to edge them out in the conference tournament. All three games were decided by 10 points or less. They played Missouri tough in the tournament but couldn’t pull out the win.
They have a formidable set of guards in Byron Eaton, James Anderson, and Obi Muonelo. They can all make plays. They also can’t defend very well.
Tennessee, to their credit, stacked their out of conference schedule.
Unfortunately, they didn’t do that great against it. They lost twice to Gonzaga, on a neutral court and then at home. They lost at Temple, at Kansas, and against Memphis by just two points.
They did beat Siena at Siena and Marquette in Nashville.
In the SEC, they were all over the place with their inconsistent play. They don’t shoot the three very well but relied on it too much. They are too complacent and settle too often when they have the talent and athleticism to get to the rack.
If the good Tennessee shows up, they can easily win this game. They are the bigger team and will destroy the Cowboys on the offensive glass. If players like F Wayne Chism and F Tyler Smith actually play aggressively inside, they should beat up Okie State.
The Cowboys, because of their size, are a bad rebounding team. This game is a long way from Oklahoma.
While Tennessee isn’t a great road team either, at least they’ve left state lines a few times. The Vols just have a bit more potential, and in this tight matchup, that’s what I’m going with.
Xavier looked like a great team at the start of the season. They beat Missouri at home and beat Virginia Tech and Memphis on a neutral court in their first five games. They were later handled on a neutral court against Duke and lost at home by nine to Butler.
The Musketeers also won at LSU by 10.
Lately they’ve been losing to everyone on the road. They lost at Duquesne, at Dayton, at Charlotte, at Richmond, and then to Temple in the conference tournament. They easily have the talent to win multiple games in the field but could also find the upset bug early on.
Portland State is a run-and-gun team which hasn’t played many good teams out of conference. They’ve fared surprisingly well when they have though, beating Gonzaga on the road by seven and losing by just a point to Washington at Washington.
Later on in the year, they were dropped at Baylor.
They also dropped a bunch of games in conference but have won six in a row heading into this game.
The reason the Vikings can pull this off is their three point shooting. They make more threes then almost anyone in the nation and Xavier will allow you to shoot the three in order to protect the paint.
Xavier is dedicated to the boards and doesn’t like to give up offensive rebounds so they sacrifice defending behind the arc.
This is one of the toughest early-round games to evaluate since Xavier played Missouri and Memphis so early in the year. Both of those teams are markedly better than they were at the start of the year.
In the end, the Vikings have righted the ship while Xavier is sliding into the tournament. The double digit seed upsets have to show up somewhere and I’ve thought for a while Xavier is ripe for a first round shocker.
Portland State’s performances early on against the Huskies and Bulldogs show they aren’t going to be outmatched by Xavier.
It’s a risky pick but not with too much risk, since neither team can beat the Seminoles in the next round.
First round winners: (1) Pittsburgh, (9) Tennessee, (5) Florida State, (13) Portland State, (6) UCLA, (3) Villanova, (7) Texas, (2) Duke
Tennessee can give Pitt plenty of trouble, but their inconsistency and lack of desire at times will come back to bite them against the grittiest team in the field.
Florida State has the defense and size to ward off Portland State.
Texas has some players who can trouble Duke, but they’ve played way too inconsistent and are a lot like the Vols in their complacency throughout the year. Duke survives.
UCLA is a team which has fallen off from recent years but still has plenty of talent as a six seed. PG Darren Collison and F Josh Shipp give them two solid scorers when they’re on their game. They have a good supporting cast which could help them bust up the bracket.
Villanova will go as far as F Dante Cunningham takes them.
This game is very hard to call. Based on how they’ve performed this year, it’s hard to give the Bruins any shot.
Looking at the matchups, it’s hard not to like UCLA’s starters. Collison against Nova star G Scottie Reynolds will be one of the best one-on-one matchups in the tournament. F Alfred Aboya will give Cunningham a lot of trouble and could neutralize him.
Reynolds has been the most consistent player in this field. When he plays an opposing PG who can hang with him, he doesn’t score. Collison will limit him, so it’s up to Cunningham and the others to pick up the slack.
UCLA has been poor defensively against the three and from the field this year. That spells trouble against the Wildcats.
I really want to take the Bruins but they haven’t won a game like this away from L.A. all season. Nova is much more battle tested and will find a way to survive.
Playing in the Wachovia Center is as close to a home game as Villanova can legally play in. Home court advantage in college means a ton.
Second round winners: (1) Pittsburgh, (5) Florida State, (3) Villanova, (2) Duke
Duke is a solid team which is improving in its defense but still has plenty of holes for Nova to exploit. Duke’s defensive problems allow teams which are not close to the same talent level as they are to hand around against them.
Villanova has gone toe-to-toe with the best of the Big East. They are experienced and unlike in the UCLA matchup, both Reynolds and Cunningham will come up large.
Duke has been absolutely victimized by its point guard play at several points this year. If G Jon Scheyer is playing the point in this game, Reynolds will destroy him. You need solid PG play to advance in the tourney and Duke doesn’t have it.
Pitt and Florida State will play in a rematch which really was the start of the emergence of the Seminoles. The Panthers shot just 33 percent from the field in that game but held FSU under 30 percent. Sam Young had to carry the offensive load, and if that happens again, the Panthers might be out.
FSU has played great this season but continued to come up short against Duke and UNC. Teams with enough offense and shooting can beat them, but Pitt doesn’t have that on their side.
The Panthers have been exposed. If you get star F DeJuan Blair in foul trouble, the Panthers are borderline horrible offensively. F Sam Young needs Blair to clog the paint for his game to be effective, and the Panthers guards aren’t good perimeter shooters.
FSU has arguably the best scoring PG in the field in Tony Douglas. He has carried this team all season and will continue to do so in this game.
The Seminoles kept it close at home in the first meeting and will keep it close again. But ultimately they don’t have enough scoring options in the paint to overpower Pitt’s top-notch defensive intensity.
If the 'Noles were in the west, they would’ve been an Elite Eight team.
Sweet 16 winners: (1) Pittsburgh, (3) Villanova
It’s another rematch for Pitt. Nova beat them by ten at home earlier in the year. They were able to get Blair in foul trouble, allowing Cunningham to have a great game. For the Wildcats to have any chance to pull it off again, they will need this to happen.
If Blair can stay on the court, he should dominate this game. His presence inside would allow F Sam Young to also play well and piggyback the Panthers into the Final Four.
Ultimately, Reynolds is going to struggle but he could get to the rim and put Blair on the bench.
In the end Nova hasn’t beaten any defensive oriented teams since the Pitt win. When in doubt, take the team which won’t rely on three pointers.
East winner: (1) Pittsburgh
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 post-season 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.
And 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