Road to the Final Four at Ford Field: Breaking Down the Whole Bracket

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IMarch 19, 2009

There's not enough time to do a breakdown of the West Region (the one region I haven't done) and a full tournament analysis.


(For an explanation of first round winners, check out my preview)

Second Round (underlined team is my pick)

(1) Louisville vs. (8) Ohio State

The Cardinals are the hottest team in the country, but do have the disadvantage of playing this game in Dayton, Ohio, which is essentially in the Buckeyes' backyard.

Louisville's full court press will be way too much for Ohio State to handle. Ohio State is also a below average defensive team for an NCAA Tournament team, which should allow Louisville to operate efficiently in the half court for a change.

(12) Arizona vs. (4) Wake Forest

This is, surprisingly, a very tough call.

In the games that Wake Forest have played against a zone defense, the Demon Deacons have really struggled. Arizona plays a matchup zone and contains three star players, Nic Wise, Chase Budinger, and Jordan Hill. 'Zona's zone however isn't very good and shouldn't be quite enough to stop Dino Gaudio's Deacons.

Wake Forest is too good defensively for the big three to be able to overcome their defensive woes.

(6) West Virginia vs. (14) North Dakota State

The Bison will pull off one upset, but won't have enough to beat a West Virginia team that is too good offensively and rebounds too well.

Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks are disastrous matchups for NDSU.

(10) Southern California vs. (2) Michigan State

USC is playing great defense, but Michigan State is just as good defensively, and is functional offensively as well. MSU will pound the boards, not allowing the Trojans the second chances they need to score with their not-so-spectacular shooting percentage.

Sweet 16

(1) Louisville vs. (4) Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons are the only team in this bracket that can beat the Cardinals, because they shouldn't have any trouble breaking the press. Al-Farouq Aminu and James Johnson will be waiting near the basket for big time dunks and easy finishes.

Wake Forest could struggle against Louisville's halfcourt defense, since the Cardinals play a very active 2-3 zone. They are probably the only team that has their two defenders on the perimeter actually guard the opponents five to 10 feet past the three-point line.

The Deacons do have the defense that can stop Louisville from scoring. The Cardinals aren't a great offensive team, and could run into problems against Wake's superior length and athleticism.

(2) Michigan State vs. (6) West Virginia

The Spartans and Mountaineers are very similar teams from the standpoint that they both buckle down on defense and score more than their fair share of points after offensive rebounds.

The problem West Virginia has is Michigan State does everything better.

WVU is a more experienced team and it seems like no matter who's the coach there, they always exceed expectations in the tournament.

This game will be very tight the entire way. Whoever wins probably isn't beating Louisville for a berth to the Final Four.

Elite Eight

(1) Louisville vs. (2) Michigan State

The Spartans should handle the Cardinals' press pretty well, but MSU won't be scoring against Louisville once the ball gets across the timeline.

Louisville will use its extended zone defense to challenge Michigan State into shooting jump shots over it. Tom Izzo's Spartans aren't the kind of team to beat a team with shooting.

Louisville's front line of Samardo Samuels, Earl Clark, and Terrence Williams will make rebounding all of MSU's misses very difficult.


First Round

(1) Connecticut vs. (16) Chattanooga

Chattanooga is the 288th best team in the country in defensive efficiency. Connecticut should score 110 on this team.

(8) Brigham Young vs. (9) Texas A&M

These two teams met last year with A&M coming out winners. Similar teams this year, the Aggies win again.

(5) Purdue vs. (12) Northern Iowa

This is a 5-12 matchup that doesn't smell like an upset. The Boilermakers are hot and aren't losing.

(4) Washington vs. (13) Mississippi State

The Huskies are a tremendous rebounding team. The nation's best shot blocker, Jarvis Varnado, will give Jon Brockman a real challenge.

(2) Memphis vs. (15) Cal-State Northridge

What are the odds CS-N breaks 40?

(7) California vs. (10) Maryland

This is the ultimate matchup of guards. Neither team has much on the inside, but Cal has a little more. Take the Bears in this one.

(3) Missouri vs. (14) Cornell

The Tigers pressure defense will eat the Big Red alive.

(6) Marquette vs. (11) Utah State

The Aggies are very efficient offensively, but this team is terrible on the defensive end of the floor. Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews will eat the Aggie defense alive.

Second Round

(1) UConn vs. (9) Texas A&M

Even without Jerome Dyson, the Huskies shouldn't have a trouble beating a team slightly better than Providence, a squad UConn waxed the first time around.

(4) Washington vs. (5) Purdue

The Huskies got a really tough draw with the Boilermakers.

Purdue finally looks like the top ten team people picked them to be in the preseason. JaJuan Johnson has been out of this world good and has really asserted himself offensively. Purdue's defense which ranks among some of the nation's best will slow down a Huskie attack that has improved as the season progressed.

(3) Missouri vs. (6) Marquette

Without Dominic James, the Golden Eagles will eventually wear down against the Tigers' press. They shouldn't turn the ball over frequently against it, but Missouri isn't going to let them get good shots or drive the lane easy in the half-court.

Missouri is a very offensive team as well and should have no trouble scoring against a Marquette team that has struggled a little bit since James broke his foot.

(2) Memphis vs. (7) California

If Cal shoots well from three, the Bears could give Memphis a run, but the trouble California will have is even getting into its offense to get those looks.

Cal also ranks 91st in defensive efficiency which will allow the Tigers to have some freedom offensively in what should be a fairly up-tempo game.

Sweet 16

(1) UConn vs. (5) Purdue

The West represents upset city, as the Boilermakers will continue their hot run by knocking off the most vulnerable one seed in the entire tournament.

Purdue's Chris Kramer should guard the Huskies' A.J. Price and will have a good chance to shut him down. Kramer is one of the best defensive players in the country and is a large part of Purdue's top 10 defense.

In the paint, JaJuan Johnson draws over five fouls a game which could spell doom for Hasheem Thabeet. If Johnson can get a quick foul or two on Thabeet, Connecticut could be in big trouble.

(2) Memphis vs. (3) Missouri

With Connecticut out, Memphis can cake walk to the Final Four right? If Memphis meets Missouri in the Sweet 16, John Calipari's team could be in big trouble. Missouri is probably the only team in this region that could consistently beat Memphis.

Mizzou uses more intense defensive pressure, which should cause problems for Memphis as talented point guard Tyreke Evans is just a freshman and has never seen this kind of pressure in college.

Missouri ranks eighth in defensive efficiency, Memphis first, but offensively Mizzou sits 18th, and Memphis 38th. In the battle of top defenses, Mizzou will score more from Memphis' turnovers. That means Missouri will cut down on the amount of halfcourt possessions that Missouri will struggle in because of the Memphis defense.

Elite Eight

(5) Purdue vs. (3) Missouri

The Tigers will cause terrible mismatches for the Boilermakers. Purdue should struggle against the Missouri press and can be completely anemic at times offensively.

The Tigers should get enough run-outs to prevent Purdue's suffocating defense from completely setting in and keeping the Tigers off the board.


(For a breakdown of first round picks, check out my preview)

Second Round

(1) Pittsburgh vs. (9) Tennessee

The Volunteers haven't been very good defensively this year, and the Panthers have the second best offense in the country.

The Tennessee pressure might cause Pitt problems towards the end of the game. If the Volunteers can keep it close within the final five or six minutes of the game, then Tennessee might stand a chance to pull off an upset.

(5) Florida State vs. (4) Xavier

The Musketeers are over-seeded and not playing very well. The Seminoles have been playing well and their defense should give XU fits. Xavier does have a very long front line, but FSU has the athleticism to get past Xavier's size.

Star guard Toney Douglas will cause problems for Xavier, as the Musketeers don't have a shutdown perimeter defender. If FSU keeps this game down into the upper 50s or lower 60s, Douglas' performance should be enough to win the game.

(3) Villanova vs. (6) UCLA

The Wildcats will matchup really well against the Bruins. UCLA doesn't really have a big man that can stick with Dante Cunningham, and 'Nova's array of guards are better than all of the Bruins' guards minus Darren Collison.

UCLA's Jrue Holiday has been a disappointment offensively for Ben Howland, but his lock down defense has been there for the most. He's going to have to absolutely shutdown Scottie Reynolds (like Louisville did) or one of the Corey's (Stokes or Fisher) for UCLA to have a chance.

(2) Duke vs. (7) Texas

The Longhorns are also over-seeded as Texas has really struggled this year. It has been awhile since Rick Barnes' club knocked off a great team this season, and Duke is certainly a great team. Duke's solid group of wing players will cause Texas matchup problems defensively.

Texas must get a stellar performance out of AJ Abrams and exploit the size advantage the Longhorns have under the basket in order to have a chance to win.

Sweet 16

(1) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Florida State

These two teams met already in a really ugly game that the Panthers won on the road. This one will shape up the same way as Florida State has only gotten better defensively. The Seminoles have been scoring better since their December meeting, but will need to fire on all cylinders to stop an offense built to score.

Sam Young's inside-outside abilities mean Florida State doesn't have a defender to stick on him. DeJuan Blair could re-meet his match under the basket as Leonard Hamilton has several big men to stick on the sophomore to keep him off the glass. Blair leads the country in offensive rebounding, grabbing over five per game.

(3) Villanova vs. (2) Duke

'Nova's Dante Cunningham will again create tremendous matchup problems for Duke. Brian Zoubek is too slow to guard him, while Kyle Singler and Lance Thomas may not be big enough or athletic enough to stop him.

'Nova and Duke will turn this game into a track meet with both teams scoring very easily. Like North Carolina, who beat Duke twice, Villanova is a better transition team than the Blue Devils. Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, as well as Scottie Reynolds, can all take the ball to the hoop and score against bigger defenders.

Other than the mismatch with Dante Cunningham, Duke will have mismatches when its wings Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, and Kyle Singler are on the floor.

Villanova rebounds very well despite its size, so Duke will need to be hot from three-point range to exploit 'Nova's size.

Elite Eight

(1) Pittsburgh vs. (3) Villanova

Villanova also creates a terrible matchup for the Panthers. 'Nova's offense forces DeJuan Blair away from the basket which forces him to chase players all over the court and trail defensively. That's the easiest way to get the big fellow in foul trouble. When the sophomore is in foul trouble, Pitt loses. It's that simple. When Blair sits, Pitt loses.

Villanova has a wide variety of wing players that can guard Sam Young and enough guards to contain Levance Fields. The one problem 'Nova will have defensively is stopping Blair and keeping him off the boards. This undersized lineup is the kind of team Blair feasts on. As long as 'Nova stops Young and Fields, letting Blair go nuts offensively shouldn't beat the 'Cats.

The South

(For a breakdown of first round games, check out my preview)

Second Round

(1) North Carolina vs. (8) Louisiana State

If Ty Lawson is not healthy, UNC is in trouble against a team filled with upperclassman that can score the ball, but signs point to the Tar Heel floor general being healthy for round two.

Roy Williams doesn't need Lawson against Radford, so sitting him is probably a smart choice to make sure he's healthy for the Tigers.

LSU isn't good enough defensively to slow down UNC's up-tempo attack that can drop 100 on any given night. The Heels won't score 100 against LSU, but should score 80+.

(4) Gonzaga vs. (12) Western Kentucky

WKU isn't as good as last year and won't be pulling off a miraculous upset against the Zags. The Hilltoppers only reach the second round because Illinois likely won't be able to score without Chester Frazier, who broke his hand.

Gonzaga has lots of size and three-point shooters that will bomb WKU from long range. Even if the Bulldogs miss, the size of the Gonzaga frontcourt will provide Mark Few's team with plenty of second opportunities.

(3) Syracuse vs. (6) Arizona State

This game will be the battle of the zone defense. Only, Syracuse plays it better and has shown all year that when teams try to zone SU out, it fails miserably.

Florida tried to stop Syracuse with a zone defense and SU had one of its better offensive performances of the year. In the Big East Championship game, Louisville went zone for most of the first half and shredded it to pieces for 38 first half points.

Arizona State does have the advantage of owning one of the country's best players in James Harden. The slasher might actually enjoy playing against a zone instead of the man-to-man, since he'll be able to dribble into gaps rather than have one specific defender guarding him at all times.

(2) Oklahoma vs. (7) Clemson

The Tigers' press could give Oklahoma all kinds of problems, but the Sooners have enough guards to avoid constantly being trapped. Blake Griffin won't be guarded by anyone who can stop him and should be good for his average of 25 and 15.

The Sooners were considered one of the top four teams in the country for a while and essentially are almost as good as all the number one seeds in this year's bracket. They won't be going out in the second round against a team that has had more than its fair share of struggles in the tournament under Oliver Purnell.

Sweet 16

(1) North Carolina vs. (4) Gonzaga

The Tar Heels really get a tough draw, having Oklahoma, Syracuse, and Gonzaga in the same region. UNC may be the best team in the country, but is also the only one seed in the entire country that has a two, three, and four seed that can beat them.

Gonzaga will have one easy way to beat North Carolina; drill three-pointers in transition since almost every player Gonzaga will put on the court can knock down an outside shot.

The Zags need to force UNC to identify all the shooters on the court every time Gonzaga moves out into transition, which should be often with the tempo UNC usually plays at.

North Carolina has too many players that can score and Gonzaga doesn't have enough good defenders to stop them all.

UNC is good enough to keep Gonzaga from winning in the track meet this game will likely become.

(2) Oklahoma vs. (3) Syracuse

This game is an absolute toss up because of the way these two teams matchup. SU can pack its zone in on Blake Griffin and force Oklahoma to try to shoot over the zone. The Sooners have enough shooters that they should be able to hit enough three-pointers to bury the 'Cuse.

The Orange will also have no problem scoring against a lackluster Oklahoma defense. Syracuse will need its big men to be active enough to keep Blake Griffin busy and possibly off the boards.

This game will come down to whether SU gets production out of its stable of guards. Eric Devendorf has shown he can completely take over a game when needed to and Andy Rautins can shoot this team to a victory. When the threes aren't falling for these two, the Orange isn't a good enough offensive rebounding team to make up for all the missed shots.

Elite Eight

(1) North Carolina vs. (2) Oklahoma

Oklahoma's defense is well below average for an Elite Eight team, and North Carolina will absolutely exploit that. The Sooner guards won't be able to stick with Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Danny Green.

North Carolina's big men also matchup better against Oklahoma's because the combination of Deon Thompson and Tylers Hansbrough, with the defensive-minded Ed Davis coming off the bench, is better than the Griffin brothers and Juan Pattillo.

Final Four

(1) Louisville vs. (3) Missouri

Another battle of the pressing defenses will be won by the team that presses better this time around, and that team is Louisville. The Cardinals play the passing lanes better than any team in the last few years and will completely stop Missouri in the halfcourt offense.

The Tigers don't have the kind of players that can rip apart a 2-3 zone, so Louisville's extended zone will keep Missouri from scoring. If the Cardinals can get around the Tigers' pressure defense, then Rick Pitino's club could win this game easily.

Louisville has four different guards capable of running the offense and bringing the ball up the court as well as just as many forwards to patrol the front-court. Louisville's top to bottom depth is more talented than Missouri's, which will be a deciding factor.

When Pitino has to go to the bench, he'll be putting in players that are just as effective in the press, but also bring different attributes to UofL's offense.

(1) North Carolina vs. (3) Villanova

The Tar Heels have the size, speed, athleticism, and depth to match up with any lineup Jay Wright puts on the floor for the Wildcats. Both teams will look to get out and run, but North Carolina does it better.

For the first time in a while, a Villanova opponent will put a better set of guards on the floor than the Wildcats. 'Nova is a good defensive team, but has really struggled against the top offenses the 'Cats have faced this year.

North Carolina is the best offense of them all. With the projected pace of this game, the Tar Heels could approach 90, maybe even 100 points against Villanova.

The 'Cats simply don't have enough scoring options to beat the Heels. Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds are very capable scorers, but after that, 'Nova doesn't really have another player that can also score 15-20 points in a game that Cunningham and Reynolds play well. This lack of scoring depth will do Villanova in.

Title Game

(1) North Carolina vs. (1) Louisville

This matchup would provide the most entertaining championship as the UNC fast paced offense would be slowed down against the Cardinals' incredibly effective pressure.

UNC likes to move the ball up the court very quickly, but they do it with dribbling, not passing. That will hurt Louisville's press because UofL waits for the bad passes against the pressure. They'll read the passing lanes and take the ball the other way for two easy points.

But with Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington's dribbling ability, the two should be one-man clears. Neither a man-to-man defense or a zone defense can really slow North Carolina down. Roy Williams' Heels can knock down perimeter shots, but also take the ball to the hoop. Tyler Hansbrough can exploit the gaps of a zone defense, while Deon Thompson can break a defender man-to-man.

North Carolina will have the most trouble scoring it has had all year, but should still be able to beat Louisville.

If Louisville wins this game, it's going to be with offense and not defense. UNC doesn't guard the three-point line particularly well, so the fact that the Cardinals like to chuck threes (and usually do so at a proficient rate) could play to their favor.

If two or three Cardinals have a good day from beyond the arc, and the defense isn't spectacular, but solid, Louisville can pull off the victory and become the 2009 National Champions.

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