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.
LSU is a balanced team which doesn’t do anything extremely well but is solid in all facets of the game. They can defend, shoot the three, block shots, and create turnovers. They have one of the most athletic starting lineups you’ll see in the tournament.
They have also lost three of four and played one of the weakest out of conference schedules of anyone in the field. They lost to the three good teams they played out of conference: at Texas A&M by 11, at Utah by 30, and against Xavier by ten.
They did beat Tennessee and Mississippi State on the road and seemed to have put things together until recently.
Butler is a solid team which relies on shot selection and defensive discipline. They are always a tough team to play against.
They lost by three at Ohio State and beat Xavier by nine.
However, they struggled in conference to put away teams which were inferior to them, which came back to bite them in the Horizon final against a Cleveland State team which outhustled them.
With Butler being untested against many quality teams, I have to go with what’s out there on the court. In that case, LSU should be able to shoot right over Butler’s defense.
Illinois scored 33 points in a home loss to Penn State, so it’s possible they won’t score for ten minutes against Western Kentucky. It’s possible, but not likely.
Western Kentucky can shoot the ball and rebound effectively, but that’s about it. They won a weak conference and have been hurt by the losses of their top two players from a year ago.
They did beat Louisville back when it seemed every mid major was doing so. They also lost on a neutral court to Florida State and were blown out at Mississippi State and at Evansville.
They have to be on point from behind the arc and it might still not be enough to beat the Illini.
The size difference is just too much as Illinois should be able to just outmuscle the Hilltoppers.
Arizona State is hard to figure out. On one hand, they beat BYU on a neutral court and swept UCLA and Arizona. On the other hand, they were swept by Washington in the regular season, as well as Washington State.
To the Sun Devils' credit, they avenged their losses against the Huskies in the conference tournament.
When the Sun Devils are on their game, they are a well balanced team. They defend it well but struggle at times against quality defense.
Sun Devils star G James Harden is one of the best players in the country when he wants to be. He’s too unselfish at times.
Temple is an inconsistent team which can put up a good fight when everyone besides G Dionte Christmas shows up. They gave Clemson all they could handle on a neutral court and beat Tennessee at home rather easily.
When they go cold, it doesn’t end well. They were blown out at Villanova and lost by 12 at Kansas.
This is an interesting matchup which either team could win. When push comes to shove, good defense has typically won out against the Owls, so I’ll take Arizona State.
Michigan is a team with a litany of focus issues. This team split with Duke, losing on a neutral court and beating them at home. They beat UCLA, lost by just five at Maryland, and lost by just eight at UConn.
They also needed overtime to beat arguably the two worst teams on its schedule: Savannah State and Indiana.
The fact that they actually try against good teams and falter against bad ones is a lack of focus, which their numbers reflect. They are horrible shooting the ball and defending it but can stop the three point shot and don’t turn the ball over. They can beat a lot of teams when they put it all together, but that doesn’t happen very often.
Clemson once again got off to a smoking start but has since stumbled all over the place.
They beat Temple on a neutral court and won at Illinois. They slaughtered Duke but lost the next game to FSU at home. They were swept by Wake Forest and had an inexcusable loss at Virginia.
The interesting thing about Clemson is that it seems they play better away from home at times, as they took care of their business on the road all year with the exception of Virginia. They’re not as good as FSU, Wake Forest, and North Carolina, but took care of teams like Boston College, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Maryland on the road.
They did lose in the conference tournament to Georgia Tech, and even though it was effectually a road game, it’s a pretty bad loss. There’s a reason they’re a seven seed.
With both teams unsure as to who will want to play in this game, I’m going with the team that can afford a bad game from one of its key pieces: Clemson.
First round winners: (1) North Carolina, (8) LSU, (5) Illinois, (4) Gonzaga, (6) Arizona State, (3) Syracuse, (7) Clemson, (2) Oklahoma
Syracuse proved they had the heart of a champion in the Big East tournament but ultimately came up short. In all honesty they are the most overrated team seed-wise in the field, as they would have been a five seed at best if not for UConn’s inability to put them away in each of the first five overtimes.
With that said, the Orange is a solid team. They have arguably the most balanced starting five in the tournament as the makeup of their starting lineup has more of an NBA feel to it.
They don’t have a lot of depth behind those guys, especially at guard. If PG Jonny Flynn or G Eric Devandorf gets into foul trouble, it could spell doom for the Orange.
The Orange has some solid wins on its resume. They beat Kansas in OT on a neutral court and beat Memphis at Memphis earlier in the year.
In the Big East, an interesting trend developed. The great defensive teams which could be physical with Syracuse won out. They lost at Pitt and were swept by the full strength UConn and Louisville. They lost at Georgetown and needed OT to beat the Hoyas at home.
Teams with great guard play also gave Syracuse issues. They were swept by Villanova and needed OT to beat a Marquette team without G Dominic James.
The signs indicate that if Arizona State brings its best defensive effort, they will stay with Syracuse until the very end.
Syracuse at times has lapsed on the defensive end, as shown by giving up 100 at Providence and 102 in a virtual home game for Villanova.
The key matchup in this one is F Arinze Onuaku against F Jeff Pendergraph. If Onuaku stays on the floor, he’ll get the better of that one and put Pendergraph in foul trouble.
Syracuse is going to have to win in the clutch. That’s one thing they definitely have over the Sun Devils.
Oklahoma is another overrated team as they and Missouri should be switched around. They are obviously centered around F Blake Griffin, who is probably the best player in the game. They use him as a focal point to the point where it hurts the rest of the Sooners.
When he went down against Texas, the supporting cast nearly beat Texas on their home floor. Then against Kansas at home the supporting cast couldn’t hold serve but played valiantly. The Sooners actually have some solid pieces around Blake Griffin but are suffocating them by force feeding it into Blake.
What this has done is allowed teams which they should be blowing out by 20 points to hang around. They won by just eight at Oklahoma State, ten at Iowa State, six against Texas A&M, five against Colorado, and then four against Oklahoma State in their last regular season game.
Then they lost out by a point to the Cowboys in the Big XII tournament.
The Sooners seem to be mirroring the Kevin Durant Texas team, the O.J. Mayo USC team, and the Michael Beasley Kansas State team in that they don’t look like a team which will advance far in the tournament.
Clemson at its best is a frenetic, pressing team with very good athletes in the frontcourt which give you fits.
In the Big XII that would be Missouri. The Sooners played at Missouri and lost by nine.
In the non conference schedule, the Sooners beat up a lot of the good midmajors like VCU and Utah.
They almost lost to Davidson, needed OT to beat Purdue on a neutral court and beat USC by just a point at home. In the case of USC, it’s another example of how a team with an athletic frontcourt which can play defense gives the Sooners trouble.
Clemson loves to attack the rim, and if they’re willing to take on the beast in Griffin, they should find some success. With F Trevor Booker and C Raymond Sykes they have two to go at Griffin.
Clemson’s supporting cast is ultimately better than Oklahoma’s because they have stepped up in the past.
Clemson has a solid, experienced head coach and the ACC tournament loss to Georgia Tech might have been the spark plug they needed to refocus.
Second round winners: (1) North Carolina, (4) Gonzaga, (3) Syracuse, (7) Clemson
If PG Ty Lawson isn’t 100 percent, the Tar Heels have no chance against Gonzaga.
With a healthy Lawson, UNC has enough polish in their game along to ultimately win out against Gonzaga.
Gonzaga might be playing with its best team ever, but they just didn’t win the luck of the draw. They would’ve won the East.
Syracuse has one major quality the Tigers lack: composure. They are starting to take up the makeup of Flynn and it is getting them by.
They benefit from the luck of the draw as much as Gonzaga was slighted by it.
Syracuse may have reached the Elite eight in the East and West but they would’ve had a lot more trouble.
Sweet 16 winners: (1) North Carolina, (3) Syracuse
In a game where both teams have terrific guard play, only one team has a “Psycho T” to go to inside.
The more fluid Tar Heels are like last year’s Kansas team in that their sole purpose is to get back to the Final Four. Like their counterpart a year ago, they will do so as long as their floor general has two good wheels.
South winner: (1) North Carolina
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 they 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 Blair as 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
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