March Madness Bracket Analysis: The Beasts of the East
If the South is a region of guards, the East is a region of men. Large men that play an old school, physical brand of basketball. Guys like Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Jones, Damion James, Trevor Booker, and Al-Farouq Aminu put the power in power forward.
These guys rebound above the rim, and woe be to the fool that tries to block them out because they’re going over or through you to pull a man-sized rebound.
This bracket is the Al McGuire bracket. Don’t be afraid of the guy who takes off his jacket before a fight…be afraid of the guy who takes off his watch.
And there isn’t a Timex or Seiko to be found at any of the East regional sites.
These teams are coming ready to brawl.
Glass eaters, aircraft carriers, warriors are the themes of the East.
It all starts with Kentucky and their beastly lineup. John Wall is a lottery pick playing point guard in college, which, if you’re Kentucky, is nice. However, Kentucky didn’t turn into a full blown beast until the light went on for Demarcus Cousins.
When Cousins went from Bruce Banner to the Incredible Hulk, the Kentucky Wildcats became elite. Simply put, there isn’t a single player in America that can handle Demarcus Cousins in the low block one-on-one without some help.
If that wasn’t bad enough news for the rest of the college basketball world, the fact that Coach Calipari does an amazing job of making it hard to deliver the necessary help to Cousin’s dominance should keep opposing coaches up at night. Cal not only has the know-how, but he’s got the tools to isolate Cousins in the paint.
Forget for a second that Eric Bledsoe and Wall form a tremendous backcourt that needs a great deal of attention. Having players that can penetrate and shoot on the floor with a singular talent like Demarcus is certainly helpful.
More important is Calipari’s use of power forward Patrick Patterson, the other post, and a player who is almost always the source of the truly effective help because he draws a big defender.
You see, doubling guards and wings are only as good as Demarcus allows them to be. If he has the ball below his waist, then yes, small-to-big help can work. If Cousins plays soundly, however, he can simply swat away the guards like gnats, or make easy passes right over the smaller defender for open threes or cutting layups.
That’s why Patterson’s face-up skills and then deployment on the floor are so important. Calipari uses Patterson in the high post as a shooting/passing threat which makes it impossible to help big-to-big.
Thanks to Patrick Patterson adding a three point shooting arrow to his quiver. Calipari can pull help even farther away by putting Patterson around the arc in a four out, one in look.
To the extent the Kentucky guards recognize Cousin’s advantage, they’ll be an impossibly tough out in the tournament.
The No. 2 seed in the region is West Virginia—probably the most physical team in the physical Big East.
WVU will straight up guard you, and they won’t be meek and mild about it. They’ll bump your cutters, hand check your guards, and bully you on the glass if you let them.
They also play a unique personnel group of similarly sized, big athletes that allow them to switch as many screens as they need to switch to take away any motion game advantage an offense might enjoy.
You have to be able to isolate mismatches and have the athletes to execute to be able to score efficiently on the Mountaineers. There aren’t many teams in this tournament with both the patience and ability to pull that off.
As for the other top seeds, three-seeded New Mexico is talented, and four-seeded Wisconsin guards with the best of them. But both of these teams are outclassed physically by UK and WVU.
Your two headliners are Kentucky and West Virginia, and I fully expect them to play according to seed until the regional final.
If you have Texas, Mizzou, or even Cornell making a run in your bracket, I hope you used an eraser.
Texas is a shell of the team that went 17 and 0. Mizzou misses Justin Safford like Tiger Woods missed on polygamy. And Cornell, well their claim to fame is almost beating Kansas.
The problem for Big Red is that the Temple Owls don’t almost guard you. They guard you and smother you. Ryan Wittman, the superstar Cornell forward, is about to be locked down by one of the best off-the-ball defenders in college basketball, Ryan Brooks.
The Temple captain is smart, tenacious, and athletic enough to run through a labyrinth of screens to prevent Wittman from getting many clean looks.
If Wittman is freed up by one of the hundreds of screens that Cornell sets for him, the Owls are a very well coached defensive team, and you can be sure the appropriate help defender will hedge and contest.
Temple coach, Fran Dunphy, will take away Wittman, and I’m not sure Cornell has anyone else on the roster talented enough to make Temple pay.
If you must have an upset I’ll give you Marquette over New Mexico in the second round, which would be a mild upset at best.
I told you this was a tough bracket.
Give me a backcourt of John Wall and Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom.
Okay, I dare you to stay in front of these electric slashers. Defenders must play these guards in the paint and hope they miss the jumper.
Otherwise it’s blow-by-at-will city (pardon my Vitale tinge).
One of my forwards is Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia’s heart and soul on both ends of the floor. He doesn’t need to take a shot, and he’ll still find ways to contribute. But we want him to shoot, especially with the game on the line.
The other forward is New Mexico’s explosive wing, Darington Hobson, a player that can do it all—shoot it, pass it, or explode the goal. We’ll play a four-out-one-in offense around Demarcus Cousins and then just watch the carnage ensue.
Off the bench I’ve got Texas forward Damion James as a rebounding specialist and Cornell’s Ryan Wittman to shoot teams out of zones.
Nothing fancy here. Nothing like the South bracket. On the topside, I’ve got Kentucky in a methodical March to the Elite 8 game taking out ETSU, Texas, and then a Temple team that hangs around like chewing gum in Carrot Top’s hair.
I’ve got Marquette upsetting New Mexico in the second round, thanks in part to some hot shooting from their five face-up personnel. New Mexico doesn’t have that post that can truly punish the smallish Golden Eagles for their four guard indiscretions.
West Virginia holds serve, dispatching of Morgan State as well as Clemson and their press, setting up a Big East Sweet 16 matchup.
Big East rivals go at it once again and WVU uses a mix of switching man-to-man and some zone to handle Marquette’s “flying circus around the arc” offense.
When the Mountaineers have the ball, they are patient enough to use Kevin Jones and Wellington Smith to keep pounding Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler, who go 6′5″ each on good days.
Eventually the Golden Eagles succumb to foul trouble and a barrage of Mountaineer free throws setting up a titanic clash between WVU vs. UK.
Kentucky has the perfect formula to beat the Mountaineers' physical defensive mixmaster. They can isolate Cousins when a switch causes a mismatch inside, or Bledsoe and Wall can take one of the weaker Mountaineer perimeter defenders off the dribble when one of those players gets caught on a switch.
The strategy works well enough for the Wildcats to jump out to a double digit lead in the second half.
Late in the game, Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks fuel a patented WVU 10-to-0 run with the help of some Big East style defense, making the game a one possession contest with two minutes to go.
Inexplicably, Wall and Bledsoe take early jump shots in back-to-back possessions, bailing out the Mountaineers from having to play defense against Cousins, the nation’s best interior scorer. The Mountaineers tie the game after the first poor UK shot on a tip in from Kevin Jones.
After Bledsoe’s ill-advised early mid-range jumper, Da’Sean Butler holds the ball for the final shot, backs down Darius Miller to 15 feet, and then hits a turnaround fade away, 17 footer as time expires to send WVU to Indianapolis.
Youth is served, courtesy of the heroic Mountaineer senior with a man-sized ticker.
It could happen.
Next up: the Final Four.
For more on College Hoops and March Madness, stop by my blog March To March
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