A Dozen on the Tournament Hot Seat
When Budinger enrolled in the fall of 2006 he was proclaimed Lute Olson’s best recruit at Arizona. Two-and-a-half years later, and with Olson away from the Desert Sidelines for two seasons, C-Bud is still looking for his first NCAA Tournament win.
This season, in Arizona wins, Budinger averaged 19.1 while only putting up 16.2 in their losses. The key is his ability to attack. He sometimes falls in love with his jump shot too much.
If Budinger is truly going to be considered of the greats in the Old Pueblo, he might have to lead the Wildcats on a Cinderella run to the Sweet 16.
The Panthers have been one of the best teams in college basketball during this decade. The Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon eras have brought Pitt a level of consistency that has put the Panthers among the nation’s elite teams.
They have won three Big East Conference Titles and two Big East Tournament titles. Despite all that success, they have yet to advance past the Sweet 16. With a No. 1 seed, this has to be the year the Panthers win more than two games deep into March.
The key might be keeping DeJuan Blair out of foul trouble. Blair fouled out of three of Pitt’s four losses and picked up four personal fouls in the Panthers’ other loss.
Last season, Memphis made the jump from Regional Runner-up to National Runner-up. The key in the improvement was the play of freshman point guard Derrick Rose. With Rose one and done and starring for his hometown Chicago Bulls, this year the Tigers will once again look to a freshman point guard.
Memphis enters the tournament with a 25-game winning streak. The winning streak commenced after Memphis lost uncharacteristically lost three of five early in the season. They have taken off with Tyreke Evans at the point. A matchup with Missouri and their pressure defense looms in the regional semifinals.
Evans has averaged 16.6 PPG, 3.8 APG, and 5.5 RPG. He is an adept penetrator but has struggled from three-point range, hitting only 28.6 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Rose averaged 14.9, 4.5, and 4.7 and made 33.7 percent of his long-range shots.
Jim Calhoun and UConn
Connecticut has not won a postseason game since suffering its shocking loss to George Mason in the East Regional Final in 2006. That Huskies team had six players drafted. As the No. 1 seed, UConn will probably need to advance to at least the regional finals, or the Nutmeg army might start getting restless.
How well they replace injured point guard Jerome Dyson might determine their NCAA Tournament fate. A.J. Price is his likely replacement. Price led the Huskies with 4.7 assists per game this season.
The Terrapins are making only their third NCAA appearance since 2004 and have only won two tourney games in that same time span. Six years without a Sweet 16 is a long time in College Park. The previous six years included five Sweet 16 trips, two Final Four appearances, and the 2002 National Championship.
Point guard Greivis Vasquez leads the Terrapins. He put up 17.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 5.1 APG.
There have been some rumblings that Williams could be in trouble. A couple of wins in this year’s tournament would go a long way towards securing whatever problems Williams might have in the future.
The North Carolina Tys
Tyler Hansbrough has been a star at North Carolina since the moment he put on a North Carolina uniform. The Tar Heels were coming off of a National Championship, and with Hansbrough matriculating at Chapel Hill, another National Championship during his tenure was a foregone conclusion.
Hansbrough has accomplished a lot during his four seasons at UNC: three-time All-American, 2006 National Freshman of the Year, and the 2008 National Player of the Year. With one more shot to win a National Championship, the eyes of the South will be on Roy Williams' interior.
Tywon Lawson’s health might be the determining factor in whether North Carolina can win the National Championship. He is definitely out for the first round, and the second round is also in question. How well he recovers if the Tar Heels advance will be extremely important. He hasn’t played in two weeks.
Kellogg replaces Billy Packer as the lead analyst for CBS’ coverage of the NCAA Tournament. Previously in the studio, Special K will be teamed with Jim Nantz on CBS’ biggest games. Most fans will see this as an upgrade over the stodgy and aloof Packer. Teams with spurtability and stat sheet stuffers will become an even bigger part of the NCAA Tournament, and the games will be more fun to watch.
The Blue Devils once dominated college basketball. The Final Four seemed to be an inherent right for Duke. The last seven seasons have yielded only one Final Four appearance, and they haven’t advanced to the Sweet 16 since 2006. Duke has been eliminated by a lower seed for four consecutive seasons.
For the tide to change this season, the Devils are going to have to be able to connect from outside. They lack both an inside presence and a dominant point guard. Kyle Singler, Gerald Henderson, and Jon Scheyer are all adept from three-point range.
Since losing four of six earlier in the season, Duke has rallied to win eight of their last nine. Scheyer could be the key at the point. At 6'6", he will give most other PGs matchup problems.
Gonzaga has had a run of 10 straight NCAA Tournament appearances. They play a non-conference schedule that is more competitive than most of the BCS schools. They have dominated the West Coast Conference with nine straight regular season championships.
They have been considered among the major programs nationally for the last half of the decade, but the perception might not meet the reality. Like Arizona and UConn, they have not won a postseason game since 2006. Gonzaga has also advanced to only one Sweet 16 since 2001.
For this year’s team to be different, they must play with more mental toughness and better defense. Nine Bulldogs average over nine points per game.
The SEC earned an almost embarrassingly low three bids this season. If it wasn’t for Mississippi State’s run to the SEC Tournament championship, the number would have likely been two. The Bulldogs are a 13 seed. LSU is an eight seed and Tennessee a nine.
If the SEC is going to play like a BCS conference, than LSU and Tennessee both need to win their first round games. A soft showing in the NCAA Tournament could mean that the 2009 SEC will be remembered as the worst season by a BCS conference in college basketball.
The Big Ten’s seven bids to the NCAA Tournament equaled the mighty and powerful Big East and ACC this year for supremacy. The difference is that the Big East had three No. 1 seeds and two No. 3 seeds. The ACC has No. 1-seeded North Carolina, No. 2-seeded Duke, and No. 4-seeded Wake Forest.
The Big Ten has only Michigan State on the top four lines. Illinois and Purdue were both rewarded with five seeds. If the Big Ten is going to be considered among the very best conferences, they are going to need a few upsets and some unlikely tournament runs.
Michigan is making its first NCAA appearance in 11 years, and Purdue has a possible second round matchup with Washington. Illinois suffered a tough blow when starting point guard Chester Frazier went down with a hand injury. He will miss the Illini’s first round game against 2008 Sweet 16 participant Western Kentucky.
Wisconsin received one of the last at-large bids as a 12 seed. Minnesota makes its first appearance under Tubby Smith. Ohio State draws Siena in Dayton and then would face likely face No. 1 overall seed Louisville.
With five teams seeded three or higher, including three No. 1 seeds, the Big East might have a claim as the best conference in the history of college basketball. College basketball’s measuring stick will always be success in the NCAA Tournament. How well the Big East teams perform over the next three weeks will ultimately determine how great the Big East truly has been in 2009.
Louisville, Pittsburgh, and UConn have all been ranked No. 1 at some point this season and were all awarded No. 1 seeds. Louisville will not have to get on an airplane for the entire duration of their NCAA run. They were sent to Dayton for the first two rounds, then would advance to Indianapolis for the regionals and Detroit for the Final Four.
Villanova looks to make its fourth Sweet 16 in five years. Does Syracuse have anything left after their run to the Big East Championship Game? West Virginia will try to duplicate last year’s Sweet 16 run. Can Marquette overcome the loss of point guard Dominic James?
This special season can become even more legendary if the Big East lives up to the success of the regular season.
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