2010 NCAA Tournament: Ranking the Sweet 16, No. Four to No. One

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2010 NCAA Tournament: Ranking the Sweet 16, No. Four to No. One
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Finally, on this Thursday afternoon, we’re back with our final installment of our “Ranking The Sweet 16″ series.  Here, we’ll highlight the four teams left in the NCAA Tournament that we feel have the best chance at winning the National Championship in Indianapolis.

Without further ado…

 

4. West Virginia Mountaineers

 

Seed

No. 2, East Region

 

How’d They Get Here?

Defeated No. 15 Morgan St. 77-50, Defeated No. 10 Missouri 68-59

 

Outlook

The Mountaineers are as athletic as any team in the nation, but they certainly are not without flaws. Bob Huggins’ squad has a tendency to fall into shooting slumps (they finished just 12th out of 16 teams in the Big East in FG percentage) and when their other offensive weapons go cold, they can lean on senior Da'Sean Butler a little too much.

Even with these flaws, WVU has a good chance to get to Indianapolis or even take home the school’s first national championship.

The Mountaineers know how to play slash-and-pass basketball, and they are extremely adept at getting to the basket and finishing around the rim.  Their length on the perimeter with Butler, Devin Ebanks, and Kevin Jones really causes problems for other teams on both sides of the ball (they were second in the Big East giving up just 63.3 ppg).

WVU hasn’t faced a stiff test yet in the tournament, but they’ll come up against a hot Washington team and they’ll be without their starting point guard, Truck Bryant.  Yes, WVU has the depth to handle the loss of Bryant, but they’ll need to keep Quincy Pondexter’s touches down as the Huskies don’t really have anyone else who can match up.

I think WVU runs away with this one and the Pac-10’s run finally comes to an end.  The Mountaineers are just too good defensively to lose this game.

With a win, they’ll likely get Kentucky in a matchup of possibly the two most athletic teams in the country; that could be one for the ages.

 

Player to Watch

Butler’s heroics to get West Virginia the Big East Tournament Championship haven’t been needed thus far in the NCAAs, but he is clearly WVU’s most versatile and most important offensive weapon. 

He can score from anywhere on the floor but when he has an off night, the entire Mountaineer offense struggles to find points. He won’t need to be huge against UW, but deeper in the tournament they’ll need him to show up every game.

 

3. Kentucky Wildcats

 

Seed

No. 1, East Region

 

How’d They Get Here?

Defeated No. 16 East Tennessee St. 100-71, Defeated No. 9 Wake Forest 90-60

 

Outlook

There is no denying that Kentucky has the looks of a possible national championship contender. As previously mentioned, they are one of the most athletic teams in the country and when they are clicking, their versatility is almost impossible to stop.

It’s no secret by now that star freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are capable of carrying the load for John Calipari’s team, but they’ve got role players as well.  Eric Bledsoe has been on fire in the two NCAA Tournament games thus far and his three-point shooting ability opens up the lane even more for Wall to drive or Cousins to get position inside.

That three-headed monster has helped the ‘Cats destroy their two opponents thus far, and they’ll need to stay hot against Cornell.

If there is one bad thing to say about Kentucky, and it’s been well publicized (even by Calipari himself), it’s that they are young and sometimes inconsistent.  They can tend to turn the ball over a little too much at times, though Wall has cut down his turnovers since the beginning of the year, and even though they like a fast tempo they can run themselves right out of control.

They’ll need every possession they can get against Cornell, a senior-laden squad that won’t give the ‘Cats anything and shoot it better than any team in the country from three-point range.

Even with Cornell having a near home game in the Carrier Dome, I think Kentucky’s athleticism will be too much for the Big Red. Kentucky’s good and long enough to defend relatively well on the perimeter and even if they speed up the game, they’ll take a few extra turnovers to keep that tempo, which clearly works in their favor.

If it’s a tight game, Kentucky’s youth might come into play down the stretch, but I think this one could be a blowout by halftime.

 

Player to Watch

Wall is without a doubt the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, and he’s a very skilled player, but I’ll be keeping an eye on Bledsoe.  If he turns into a consistent third scoring option behind Wall and Cousins, this team will be the hardest team left in the tournament to defend.

 

2. Duke Blue Devils

 

Seed

No. 1, South Region

 

How’d They Get Here?

Defeated No. 16 Arkansas Pine Bluff 73-44, Defeated No. 9 California 68-53

 

Outlook

The Blue Devils get the nod over the Wildcats because of their leadership and their consistency. While I just focused on Kentucky’s three-headed monster, Duke has three players that can match up with anyone in the country. Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith have really turned it on in the NCAA Tournament and have helped Coach K’s team breeze through the first two rounds.

Even without facing an NCAA challenge yet, Singler and Scheyer won’t be dazed by close games after all they’ve seen in their years of ACC play. The two seniors have had disappointing NCAA Tournament showings their entire careers, but they’ve shown that they’re hell-bent on righting those wrongs in 2010, and they’re doing it with defense, giving up just 97 combined points in their two games thus far.

Duke is as versatile on offense as anyone in the country and even though Singler didn’t have the All-American season he expected, he’s still as dangerous an offensive force as you’ll find.

The big factor for the Devils has been the emergence of an inside presence with Brian Zoubek and the Plumlee brothers turning it on in the second half of the season.  The Plumlee’s are just starting to come into their talent and they’re finding it at the right time for Coach K.

Duke will need that leadership and poise coming up against a Purdue team that is gritty, tough, and likes the hound the ball. Luckily for Duke, they have the guard play with Scheyer and Smith to squeeze the orange and control the tempo in their favor.

Duke won’t beat themselves, but if their outside shooters are cold in this one, JaJuan Johnson is good enough to stop the Blue Devils’ inside game. I think Duke will win this one, but maybe not by as much as everyone expects without Robbie Hummel on the other side.

 

Player to Watch

Singler reminds me of a former Dukie, Josh McRoberts, in both good and bad ways.

McRoberts was 6′10″, Singler is 6′8″.

McRoberts could score from anywhere on the floor and was surprisingly athletic for his size; Singler is the exact same way, even though he’s a better outside shooter.

The knock on McRoberts, though, was his inconsistency, and Singler faces the same pressures now.  He has the talent to dominate a game offensively, but sometimes it seems he doesn’t come to play.

He’ll need to show up every game from here on out if he wants to be remembered in Durham for something other than disappointment.

 

1. Syracuse Orange

 

Seed

No. 1, West Region

 

How’d They Get Here?

Defeated No. 16 Vermont 79-56, Defeated No. 8 Gonzaga 87-65

 

Outlook

The Orange came into the season unranked, but once they got to the top, they haven’t looked back.

Jim Boeheim’s squad had a few minor speed bumps along the way, but all season long they’ve been as good and as consistent as any team in the nation, and they haven’t let up in the NCAAs with two 20-point-plus victories in the first two rounds.

They haven’t faced a tough test yet in the tournament as they exacted revenge on the Catamounts in the first round and dominated a Gonzaga team that looked like it had given up halfway through the game.

The Butler Bulldogs, however, will be a different story.  The Bulldogs can shoot it from outside and also have an inside presence with Matt Howard, but the Orange are versatile enough both offensively and defensively to weather the storm and advance.

Even without starting center Arinze Onuaku, the Orange zone should be able to lock up Howard on the inside, provided that Rick Jackson doesn’t get into early foul trouble as he did against the ‘Zags.

The problem Syracuse might face is the powerful outside shooting of Butler. If Gordon Hayward gets hot, the Orange will have to locate him floating on the perimeter and extend their zone a little bit to match up with him.

Even if Butler shoots it well, the Orange have enough offensive firepower to answer. Big East Player of the Year Wes Johnson has returned to form in the NCAA Tournament, showing that an injury suffered on his shooting hand in February has fully healed. Johnson’s 31-point, 14-rebound performance in the second round game has been the best individual showing of the tournament so far, and he’s capable of putting up those numbers night in and night out.

If Johnson comes to play, and Syracuse can extend their zone and keep Butler off the offensive glass, the Orange could run away with this one in the second half.  The Orange can’t let Butler hang around, though, as we’ve seen the Orange do against some lesser opponents all year.

 

Player to Watch

While Johnson is the best player on the team, senior Andy Rautins is the most important.  When Rautins finds his three-point shot early, he’s as good a shooter as anyone in the country.  When he’s making perimeter shots, the entire offensive end opens up for Johnson and Kris Joseph to get to the rim and score.

He doesn’t just contribute offensively, though. Rautins is also the defensive leader on the wing of the zone, jumping passing lanes (he led the Big East in steals this season) and being vocal to get his teammates fired up.


So there you have it, the four most likely NCAA Championship teams left in the tournament. Sweet 16 action kicks off tonight at 7 PM EST on CBS, and by the end of the weekend, we’ll know who’s making the trek to Indianapolis for the Final Four. 

We’ll have Elite Eight previews before those games, so be sure to check back throughout the weekend.

 

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