Georgetown vs. Syracuse
The battle of bitter Big Beast rivals—Ronnie Seikaly vs. Patrick Ewing, Stevie Thompson vs. Reggie Williams, Pearl Washington vs. Michael Jackson —Now Wes Johnson vs. Greg Monroe.
Syracuse is coming off of an embarrassing loss at Louisville and ready to solidify its claim to a national one seed. Georgetown is seeking to validate a resurgence fueled by the return of Austin Freeman. A win by Georgetown gives them a real shot to climb the ladder and grab a two seed if they can win the Big East tournament.
As for a prediction, I think the Syracuse zone will be too much for the Hoyas again, because the zone is built to limit John Thompson III’s Princeton on steroids attack and forces Georgetown to run offense right into the teeth of the big physical Orangemen backline.
Unless Freeman and Chris Wright go nuts, they should be able to slow down Monroe and win comfortably.
Villanova vs. Marquette
An old west Texas adage about two fellas acting like they want to fight applies to this game. The saying goes, “One fella was scared and the other is glad of it.”
Considering Villanova and Marquette are rather undersized in the frontcourt, I can’t help but think both of these teams are quietly breathing a sigh of relief because they don’t have to spend 40 minutes trying to find ways to guard a true post attack. Lazaar Hayward is happy to guard Antonio Pena and the feeling is probably mutual.
In the game, I like Villanova if they have the patience to establish an interior presence on the offensive end and really make Butler and Hayward defend the paint. If they get into an open floor shootout, don’t be surprised to see Marquette’s bevy of guards beat the Wildcats at their own game.
Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh
Quietly, the Fighting Irish have fought their way back into the big dance and they’ve done it by essentially changing their identity as a team. After a shootout loss to Louisville, Mike Brey made a conscious decision to switch from a high octane, 94 foot up-tempo attack in favor of a methodical, open post, back-cutting halfcourt team that values every possession.
The Irish now run 25 seconds off of every shot clock and the results have helped on both ends of the floor evidenced by their five straight wins following the 91-89 loss to Louisville.
With Luke Harangody back, the Irish can now take advantage of Luke’s skills as a perimeter oriented post-man, which gives Notre Dame even a bigger advantage with this style. Harangody is a great ballhandler and passer who can thrive in an open post offense designed to free shooters and cutters.
Keep in mind that Pitt was the first team to fall victim to the Fighting Irish switch to the contemporary version of four corners basketball, so I would expect Jamie Dixon to be better prepared to defend UND today than he was three weeks ago.
Both of these teams are in the tournament, now it’s just a battle for seeding. I lean to Pitt here because they should be ready for the slow-down style.
Cincinatti vs. West Virginia
The talented Bearcat duo of Deonta Vaughn and super frosh Lance Stephenson try their hand at back to back upsets when they square off vs. WVU tonight in Madison Square Garden.
If you haven’t watched Vaughn play this year, you’re in for a treat. He’s an NBA ready guard with game for days. Lance Stephenson is a physical specimen who has terrific skills putting the ball on the deck and getting to the rim as a hybrid wing. Lance is a surefire superstar and a player to keep an eye on.
This talented tandem will be tested by the West Virginia Flyin’ Illini. No, I know they’re the Mountaineers, but they remind me of Lou Henson’s Illinois Illini clubs that rolled out five 6'6" athletes on the floor and just balled. Replace Kenny Battle, Marcus Liberty, and Steve Bardo with Dasean Butler, Kevin Jones, and Devin Ebanks and you get the picture.
As for the game, look for the Mountaineers to use their similarly sized players to their advantage by switching almost all screens. This will be a key battle in the game. If the Bearcats can successfully punish interior mismatches as a result of these switches, then they can win.
If not, they’ll get run out of the gym because WVU can smother you with their athletes if you aren’t pounding the paint to make switching punitive.
All these games will feature some great college basketball so it should be fun in MSG today.
This article originally appeared on March To March
Follow Kevin Berger on Twitter: @MarchToMarch