Breaking Down the Field: Sweet to Elite

Chris Grinstead@@everest4009Correspondent IMarch 26, 2009

With the third round of the NCAA tournament kicking off today, many people are waiting and wondering what will happen. The air has become electrified with excitement and anticipation. Your record doesn't matter and neither does your seed.

The team that wants it more will win the game as long as they can execute their game plan.

The million-dollar question, that many devoted self-proclaimed bracket analysts try to conquer, is who will that be?

Teams That Can Expect to Advance


Michigan State





North Carolina


1. Louisville - 12. Arizona

This Cardinal squad has an automatic edge in the coaching department when considering Rick Pitino, an eight year coach with six years of tournament experience for Louisville vs. Russ Pennell who is an interim coach with no other experience.

Louisville also has an edge in the defensive and offensive areas as well, due to Arizona's weak defensive front and Louisville's viciously aggressive defense.

The Wildcats will have a hard time getting the ball in the middle of the Cards' zone, using Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger, but they could cause some trouble if they do.

Arizona's main edge in this game is free-throw shooting, so if this game is tight at the end then you may see Arizona walk away with the upset.

All this said, Arizona should keep it close for most of the game, but Louisville, especially with Terrence Williams and Earl Clark, midway through the second half.

My Prediction: Louisville 72

                               Arizona 61

2. Michigan State - 3. Kansas

There is no clear-cut edge for either team in coaching, as both have veteran coaches who have bountiful tournament experience.

Michigan State's Tom Izzo has 14 years of coaching experience with the Spartans and 12 tournament seasons making the Final Four four times and winning a National Championship.

Bill Self has gone to the Elite Eight three times and won last year's National Championship.

Big Ten Player of the Year, Kalin Lucas, Goran Suton, and Raymar Morgan should each put up some solid numbers against the Jayhawks' stiff defensive front. If they cannot or if Sherron Collins can get hot then, then it may be a long day for Izzo and his Spartans.

Michigan State has had a slightly tougher road to this game than that of Kansas, hence making it probable that the Spartan squad will be a bit more prepared to play a tougher team.

Michigan State is also a more experienced team with a bit more depth. In the end, the Spartans should be able to fend off the Jayhawks' upset bid as long as they can make their free-throws.

My Prediction: Michigan State 67

                                Kansas 63

1. Connecticut - 5. Purdue

Jim Calhoun's got 23 years of coaching experience at UConn with 16 years in the Big Dance. Matt Painter's only got four years with Purdue and only three tourney appearances. The obvious coaching edge goes to Calhoun and UConn.

Calhoun has coached his Huskies to five Elite Eight appearances and two National Championships. Painter reached the Second Round of the tourney the past two years and is now navigating uncharted territory in his coaching career by getting to the Sweet 16.

The stifling defense presented by Hasheem Thabeet's length is sure to give Purdue's offense some troubles, as the center averages more than four blocks per game.

If he can contain E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson by taking away the driving lane, this game could be over very quickly unless Moore or Johnson can get hot from the field, as they are both very capable of doing.

Thabeet should also prove to be an offensive force when AJ Price gives him the ball down low. However, if things aren't working out for the big guy, then he has a shooter to dish it to in Price or Jeff Adrien in the opposite post.

One off-court event may play a huge part in the focus factor for UConn, however, as Calhoun may be finding himself in some trouble with the allegations of NCAA recruiting violations tossed into the media whirlwind this week.

After watching player interviews about the matter during my daily morning session of SportsCenter, UConn seems to have their eyes solely focused on the goal ahead of them, but there is no way to know until they step out onto the court.

All in all, if UConn can stay focused amidst the controversies surrounding their coach and the future of the program, they will win this game. They are simply too talented and coached too well to let an opportunity like this pass them by.

You can expect to see the Huskies win by double digits.

My Prediction: Connecticut 86

                             Purdue 71

2. Memphis - 3. Missouri

In the battle of the Tigers, Memphis gets the slight edge in coaching due to John Calipari's experience in deep tournament play. He has visited the Elite Eight twice with Memphis and had a National Championship runners-up team last year.

Coach Mike Anderson is appearing in the tournament for the first time in his three year run with Missouri. He made the tourney in three of his four years at UAB, as well.

That said, these teams are about as even as they could possibly be in every other way. The team that can minimize turnovers and can throw together a solid shooting performance, will walk away with this game.

Missouri's depth should provide for a better chance of one of their players stepping up and making their shots. This should be a close, fast-paced, transition game with Missouri coming out on top.

My Prediction: Missouri 95

                    Memphis 90

1. Pittsburgh - 4. Xavier

Jamie Dixon has been the head coach for Pittsburgh for six years and he has not been left out of the tournament since he started. He has been to the Sweet 16 three times, along with two Second Round appearances and a First-Round appearance.

Sean Miller has made the tournament for the past four years, including an Elite Eight appearance last year and a First-Round appearance and a Second Round appearance the two years previous to that.

Neither team really seems to have much of an edge from coaching as these are both experienced young energetic leaders who know how to put together a solid tournament team.

Pitt has pretty much every other advantage that anyone can possibly imagine as they have a solid roster with DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields leading the pack. As long as Blair can stay out of foul trouble, this game is already over.

Xavier relies on a slow, methodical approach to basketball while Pitt muscles their way through the game. Pitt will simply overpower the Musketeers and should be able to win by double digits.

My Prediction: Pittsburgh 75

                                  Xavier 59

2. Duke - 3. Villanova

A very large coaching edge goes to the Duke Blue Devils as they have a Hall of Fame coach in Mike Krzyzewski. Krzyzewski has been at Duke for 29 years and has made the tournament 25 of those 29 seasons.

He has made it to, and then lost in, the Sweet 16 seven times, the Elite Eight once, and the Final Four three times. He has lost in the National Championship game four times and won it twice.

Jay Wright has made the tournament in the past five seasons of his eight year tenure with Xavier. He has lost in the First Round once, the Sweet 16 three times, and the Elite Eight once.

With every other aspect of each of these teams virtually equal, the coaching will be the biggest factor in this game. The other major factor that will play into the outcome of this game is the matchup between Villanova's Dante Cunningham and Duke's interior.

If Cunningham gets into foul trouble, though, Duke will be able to run away with this game as the backups for Dante are not even close to a full replacement.

At the end of the day, Kyle Singler should be able to contain Cunningham and get him into some serious foul trouble, elevating Duke to a close win and another Elite Eight berth to throw into Coach K's long list of accomplishments.

My Prediction: Duke 91

               Villanova 88

1. North Carolina - 4. Gonzaga

A huge coaching edge goes to UNC as Roy Williams leads his Tar Heels into yet another deep tournament run. In his 21 years as head coach, he was left out only one year due to NCAA violations. He has made the tournament 20 straight years as head coach of Kansas and then as head coach at UNC.

He has been the head coach at UNC for six years, not getting knocked out sooner than the Second Round during that time. In his career he has reached the Sweet 16 four times, the Elite Eight two times, and the Final Four three times, including last year.

He has lost in the National Championship game twice and won a Championship in 2005.

Mark Few, also a veteran coach, has been with the Bulldogs for 10 years and has also never been left out of the tournament. He has reached the Sweet 16 four times and has been knocked out in a First or Second Round game six times.

North Carolina has every possible edge imaginable with abounding talent and depth. Between the dominant Tyler Hansbrough, the electric Ty Lawson, and the pure shooter in Wayne Ellington.

Gonzaga's slim chances at winning this game depend on if they can get hot from the perimeter or get Heytvelt to start shooting some outside shots to pull Hansbrough out of the lane.

If they can achieve either or both of these tasks, then Gonzaga may have a shot at it. The only other ways for the Tar Heels to fall to this upset bid are if Ty Lawson isn't playing 100 percent or if Wayne Ellington falls into an extended scoring drought.

Overall, the Tar Heels should be title contenders this year and they won't let the Bulldogs set them back. The Heels have too much depth, experience, strength, and speed for the Zags to match up with.

Roy Williams should have his squad pulling away to a double digit lead by the end of this game.

My Prediction: North Carolina 88

                             Gonzaga 66

2. Oklahoma - 3. Syracuse

Syracuse gets the big advantage for coaching with their experienced leader, Jim Boeheim. Boeheim has been to the tournament in 26 of his 33 years at Syracuse. He has been to the Sweet 16 14 times, the Elite Eight four times, and the Final Four three times. He won a National Championship in 2003 and lost there in 1996 and 1987.

Jeff Capel has been with the Sooners for three out of his seven years of head coaching. He has reached the tournament with Oklahoma twice, losing in the second round last year and making a solid run this year.

The guard play of Syracuse has been phenomenal as of late, while Blake Griffin and his brother Taylor have, basically, carried the Sooners. The Orangemen can get hot in a hurry, and when they do their opponent feels it. Johnny Flynn and Eric Devendorf are both threats to shoot from the perimeter or to take the ball down low.

Oklahoma's Blake Griffin is quite the hoss, producing 25 double-doubles during the course of this season. Willie Warren is also a threat to explode if Griffin gets into foul trouble.

This game should be a close battle with both teams trying to run it up and down the floor and score in transition. This track meet style of play leaves a slight edge for Syracuse with their outstanding, speedy, ball-handling back-court.

My Prediction: Syracuse 79

                    Oklahoma 77

Each of these games should be fun to watch as these are all very talented teams. Make sure to check back in after these games are over for a preview of the Elite Eight.


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