Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Room Service: Devils Deny Butler, 61-59
Butler's Gordon Hayward let fly from half court with the clock running down to zero. The ball banged of the backboard and the front of the rim, his desperation heave just inches from being the most stunning buzzer beater of all time.
But it was not to be for the Butler Bulldogs, who growled and wrestled all the way to the final seconds of the final game. The Duke Blue Devils would be crowned the NCAA men's basketball champions - for the 4th time in school history - with a thrilling, 61-59, final game win.
All four of Duke's titles have come under the tutelage of coach Mike Krzyzewski, who joins Adolph Rupp and John Wooden as the only coaches ever to win four or more national championships. It was Krzyzewski's first championship since 2001. The others were in 1991 and 1992. Rupp guided the Kentucky Wildcats to four, in 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958. John Wooden, the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins has 10, a record which may never be broken. He took the championship with UCLA 10 times from 1964 to 1975, including an amazing 7 straight seasons from 1967 to 1973.
The game is being hailed as an "instant classic," a title it well deserves. Neither team gave an inch in a contest that saw multiple lead-changes, death-defying drives into the lane, extreme defense and enough drama to make Broadway critics cry. The biggest lead of the game was 6 points, by Duke, and Butler actually had a chance to take the last shot when they recovered the ball when Brian Zoubek inadvertently kicked it out of bounds in one of the many on-the-floor scrambles under the Duke basket.
Butler had the ball in hand with 33 seconds left, down a point, but Hayward's ten-foot baseline floater banged off the rim into Zoubek's hands. He was fouled with 3.3 seconds left, hit the first free throw and purposely missed the second, allowing Hayward to streak to mid-court for the final shot.
Give credit to the Bulldogs, who were painted as the David in the David vs. Goliath presentation, but in reality are a high-quality program from a mid-major conference. The Bulldogs had been ranked in the top 15 all season and entered the final with a 25-game win streak. No opponent during their five tournament wins - including victories over some of the best teams in the country: Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan St. - scored as many as 60 points. Duke broke the mold with the win.
Butler deserves the final ranking of #2, with their 33-5 record and 18-0 Horizon League total. Duke will finish the season #1, with a record of 35-5 (13-3 in the ACC) and a memorable final game victory, the closest since 1989, when Michigan beat Seton Hall, 80-79.
Duke will sport a whole new look next season, as three starters - Zoubek, Jon Scheyer and Lance Thomas - are all seniors. Juniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith could easily jump to the NBA, foregoing their senior seasons.
Butler, on the other hand, may come back ranked #1 preseason. They will lose only Willie Veasley to graduation. Star forward, Gordon Hayward, is only a sophomore, and Matt Howard, who was Horizon League Player of the Year in 2008-09, is a junior. Guards Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are also sophomores, so the Bulldogs very likely will return four of their starting five, and an upgrade at one forward position - where Veasley departs - is likely.
Game highlights can be found in numerous places on the internet: here and here, and can be seen in its entirety when it is added to the NCAA Video Vault, along with a decade's worth of games from the Sweet 16 through tourney finals.
College Hoops Player of the Day for Monday, April 5, 2010
Duke's win would not have been possible with the Herculean effort from Kyle Singler, who played all of the 40 minutes and was the game's high-scorer with 19 points. Singler hit 7 of 13 shots from the field, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range, all of them seeming to come at crucial moments. He went to the foul line just twice, canning both of his free throws, and added 9 boards, 2 assists, a steal and 2 blocked shots.
While Singler's stats exemplify his extraordinary all-around effort, what may be the bast part of his game may be overlooked. He defended Butler's Gordon Hayward man-to-man almost all night, limiting the Bulldog star to a sub-par 12 points on 2-for-11 shooting (0-3 on treys). Hayward notched 8 of those 12 at the foul line, where he was perfect. Singler's defensive effort kept Hayward away from the lane for much of the night, contesting every pass to him and every shot he took.
Singler was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, an award he most decidedly earned.
A few final notes: Ohio state's Evan Turner was handed the Naismith Award as NCAA Player of the Year, at half time of Monday's game. Turner had already notched the AP Player of the Year and similar awards from the Sporting News and US Basketball Writers Association. Turner led Ohio State to a 29-8 record and a share of the Big Ten title. A junior, Turner is expected to forego his senior season and jump to the NBA.
Coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse was named AP coach of the year.
The Big Ten and Big 12 tied for the best record in the tournament at 9-5, though one could make the case that the Horizon League (Butler being the sole entrant) topped all conferences with a 5-1 record.
NCAA Conference Scoreboard FINAL (through games of April 5)
Big East (8-8)
Big Ten (9-5)
Big 12 (9-5)
Mountain West (2-4)
West Coast (3-2)
Western Athletic (0-2)
*Conferences with only one tournament team listed as "Other."
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
NCAA Cranked Up: Four for the Final
Butler Bulldogs (32-4) vs.
Michigan State Spartans (28-8)
6:07 pm EDT
Butler enters the Final Four for the very first time in school history, but does so with a flourish, sporting not only the best record of all participants, but also the longest winning streak in the nation, a solid 24 straight.
The Bulldogs will have the advantage of playing just 7 miles from their campus, in what amounts to a short home tournament. They will benefit from having many of their fans n hand, though that could also work as a distraction leading up to the Saturday games and possibly a final game showdown for all the marbles.
Butler is led by Gordon Hayward, the Horizon League Player of the Year, who brings size and talent to the front court. In the big games, Hayward has stepped up. He scored 17 points with 5 rebounds against Syracuse and had 22 and 9 in the reginal final win over Kansas State. A lean, 6'9" forward, he's a nightmare to defend.
Shelvin Mack is the scoring guard for the Bulldogs. He too has been on his game in the tournament. Ouside of his 1-for-10 3-point effort against Syracuse, Mack has nailed 12 of 18 from beyond the arc. His scoring will be essential, but Butler wins with defense, mostly in the form of a 2-1-2 zone.
The Spartans have become accustomed to playing under big lights in big pressure games, so Tom Izzo will have his players ready for action. Michigan State has been hobbled by injury, most notably the loss of point guard Kalin Lucas, who is out for the duration of the tourney but has been admirably replaced by Korie Lucious, who staved off elimination with a last-second three-pointer to shock Maryland in the regional semi-final.
Forwards Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers will be called upon again to carry the scoring load for the Spartans, while Delvon Roe and Draymond Green will do the dirty work under the rim. Summers has carried the team through the tournament, all of which have been close calls for the Spartans. He's scoring at a 20 points per game clip, nearly double his seasonal average. Michigan State comes with grit and determination, but the Bulldogs display much the same attitude. This game will be a war. Butler is a slim, 1 1/2 point favorite.
West Virginia Mountaineers (31-6) vs.
Duke Blue Devils (33-5)
8:47 pm EDT
After the Butler - Michigan St. melange, this game will look like the Varsity kids following the JV game onto the floor. While the previous two teams will be engaged in what may look, at times, like a cage fight, the two more polished squads out of the Big East and ACC bring more finesse and subtlety in their games, especially the Blue Devils.
It's not likely that West Virginia will hold Duke's regular season leading scorer, Kyle Singler, to the 5 points he had in his prior game. Expect Singler to take his shots from the perimeter (he's a 38% three-point shooter) and also bang away inside, though the Mountaineers inside presence should slow him down a little.
Duke's other two top scorers - Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith - both have been on the money during the past two games of the tourney. Smith had a career-high 29 points in the win over Baylor which got Duke on its way to Indianapolis. Scheyer scored 18 against Purdue and poured in 20 against Baylor, hitting 5 3-pointers in the process.
Of the many edges Duke has in this game, their front court size and free throw shooting should serve them well. Brian Zoubek goes 7'1", starter Lance Thomas stands 6'8" and the two Plumlees - Miles and Mason - each go 6'10" and should see plenty of floor time. At the foul line, Scheyer hits at an 88% clip; Singler, 79%, Smith, 78%, and all three get there with stunning regularity.
West Virginia appears to have destiny on their side. Coach Bob Huggins, who played for the Mountaineers from 1975-77, is in his third year with the school, and has developed a great rapport with his players, many of whom he personally recruited. The go-to guy is slick DaSean Butler, who has made a case for himself as tournament MOP. After seeing limited action - and just 9 points - in the opening round win over Morgan St., he put up 28, 14 and 18 points in wins over Missouri, Washington and Kentucky, nabbing 27 rebounds along the way. Butler, a senior, is the floor leader and, if the game comes down to one shot, he will be the one taking it.
Up front, the Mountaineers can keep fresh, tall bodies flowing into the game. Deniz Kilicli, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones can all rebound and defend, though they, like most of the West Virginia squad, are not particularly deadly on the perimeter. Point guard Joe Mazzula played a pivotal role in the win over Kentucky and he'll need to step it up again. The condition of Darryl "Truck" Bryant, who was the regular point guard until suffering a broken bone in his foot, is still up in the air. He hasn't practiced as of Tuesday, though it was announced that he would play against Duke. Having him back would be a boost.
In order to win this game, West Virginia will have to challenge Duke's outside shooters and maintain a solid presence inside, easier said than done. The match-ups favor Duke in many regards and the Mountainers are not a good free throw shooting team. Of the starters, Butler is the leader, at 78%. Not surprisingly, Duke is favored by 3 points.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
National Championship Analysis: Tar Heels vs. Spartans
North Carolina Tar Heels (33-4) (-7 1/2, 152 1/2) Michigan State Spartans (31-6)
How they got here (all stats for NCAA tournament only):
Michigan State beat Robert Morris, 77-62; USC, 74-69; Kansas 67-62; Louisville, 64-52; Connecticut, 82-73.
North Carolina beat Radford, 101-58; LSU, 84-70; Gonzaga, 98-77; Oklahoma, 72-60; Villanova, 83-69.
Average Points Scored
Michigan St.: 72.8
North Carolina: 87.6
Average Points Allowed:
Michigan St.: 63.6
North Carolina: 66.8
Average Margin of Victory:
Michigan St.: 9.2
North Carolina: 20.8
Just looking at the raw numbers, it's easy to see how the oddsmakers have the Tar Heels installed as 7 1/2-point favorites. If they play as they have, on average, Michigan State will score 69.8 points against North Carolina, but the Tar Heels will put in 75.7 points, so we come up with a final score of 76-70, in favor of North Carolina, meaning that the Tar Heels capture the national title, but don't cover the spread. Also, the number (146) falls short of the over/under of 152 1/2.
In the parlance of Las Vegas, this is called hedging. The Tar Heels maybe should only be favored by 6 points, and the O/U lower by 6 1/2, but owing to the idea that more people will bet the favorite, they're going to pay a premium. Those betting that Michigan State either wins or covers get an additional 1 1/2-point boost in their wager. Naturally, 1 1/2 points is nothing in a college basketball game, but the Las Vegas sharpies who calculate these things are uncanny at getting the final result right.
Further, since there are going to be more people betting on Carolina, their hope is that the Spartans pull off the upset, becaue the money line is massively tilted toward a North Carolina victory. You have to put up 360 to make 100 on a flat bet (no points) on the Tar Heels, though you could put up 100 to make 300 making a similar wager on Michigan State. Essentially, Vegas is saying that North Carolina is a 3-1 favorite, which, as most of us already know, is a pretty heavy choice.
How Carolina wins is pretty understandable. First, there's history. Earlier this season, the two teams met at the very same site, Ford Field, with Carolina romping to a 98-63 win. It was Carolina's 8th game of the season, Michigan State's 6th.
Two items stand out from that encounter. Kalin Lucas, Michigan State's point guard, scored 6 points and dished 5 assists. He's arguably a better player now than he was then, but by how much? Playing opposite Ty Lawson, who is possibly the best point guard in the nation, Lucas can't be expected to fare that much better in the final. Give him 15 points and 8 assists, and it's still a 24-point win for Carolina.
The second point is that Goran Suton, Michigan State's steady center, did not play. Suton is good for at least 12 points and 10 rebounds, even against the mighty Tar Heels. Those numbers are a little better than his season average, so give the Spartans another 12 points, plus 4 more due to the additional board strength. That still leaves Michigan State on the short end of the score by 8, which means there is hardly any way the Spartans can win this game, unless...
Draymond Green, a 6'6" freshman who plays bigger, and Delvon Roe, a 6'8" frosh, can contribute more on both ends of the floor. This is likely, since neither of them scored a single point in that December pasting, though Roe was fairly productive in his 26 minutes, with 8 boards, 3 assists and 3 blocks. Green played all of 6 minutes and fouled out. That's unlikely to happen again, considering the additional time both players are likely to see in the final.
Michigan State got an incredible 33 points from its bench in their semifinal win over UConn, many of those on layups and dunks in the fast break. will the Spartans actually try to outrun the Tar Heels. They just might, as it seems to be one way to get some quick scores and settle in on defense, which is the heart of Michigan State success.
With that in mind, the big stat - which probably won't come into play here, though it might - is that the Spartans are 30-0 when holding their opponent to less than 70 points. Of North Carolina's four losses, the lowest point total was 70, against Florida State in the ACC tournament. In the other three, they scored 75, 78 and 89. If North Carolina pours in 80 or more, their chances of winning are enormous, because Michigan State has only topped that number 4 times, the last just two days ago. The Spartans can score, but the Tar Heels - for all intents and purposes - can score more, so the idea of running on them sounds more like suicide than success.
Michigan State will throw more players into the mix, that's a given, but, even though those players may have fresh legs, they probably won't have much impact against North Carolina's impressive offense, which can hurt teams on the inside or out, with heft in the middle and gunners on the wings. Unless Michigan State comes up huge, or the Carolina kids have an off night shooting, this one looks like a pretty big win for the Tar Heels.
The other factor which may come into play is the fact that it's a virtual home game for Michigan State. Whether that matters much or at all remains to be seen. The Tar Heels are battle-tested and enjoy advantages in many aspects of the game - size, experience, three-point shooting, among the top reasons. Ty Lawson at the point and Tyler Hansbrough in the post are WMBs - Weapons of Monstrous Ballin' - who are unlikely to be denied.
Michigan State has provided some of the tournament's best moments in the regionals and semifinals, taking out the best teams from the Big East - Louisville and Connecticut - while the Tar Heels disemboweled Villanova. It's interesting, that for all the Big East hype all season long, none of their teams are represented in the national championship game. It's Big Ten vs. ACC.
One final word about this game needs to be mentioned. This North Carolina team may be one of the best ever, rivaling the great Michael Jordan-Sam Perkins-James Worthy era. If they win this game, which they should, will we someday come back to look at this national championship and say, "Wow, Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington all on the same team?" Maybe. I count as many as seven potential NBA players on the North Carolina roster right now, and there may be more. Danny Green, who has come through big during the tournament run, is not the most overlooked player on this squad, at least not now. That award would go to Deon Thompson, the 6'8" junior foward who's in on every loose ball, banging in the middle with the giants of every team, quietly doing all the little things like boxing out, swatting away shots and providing backside defense without any acclaim. He and Green make this team special.
North Carolina will win handily.
PREDICTION: North Carolina 84 Michigan State 71
Saturday, April 04, 2009
It's Spartans vs. Tar Heels for the National Championship!
What began more than a fortnight ago with 65 teams, has now been whittled down to just two. Here's how each team fared in their last outing. More detailed analysis will follow tomorrow in anticipation of the national title game.
(2) Michigan State 82, (1) Connecticut 73
ESPN Box Score
The stats don't like for the Spartans. They are simply unbeatable (30-0) when holding opponents under 70 points, and while this one doesn't qualify technically, it had all of the earmarks of a Michigan State, defense-first victory. The game was, as are many of the Spartans wins of this 2008-09 vintage, closely played, with neither team able to gather an advantage though the first half, which ended with Michigan State up by 2 points, 38-36.
Michigan State took control early in the second half, when consecutive layups by Kalin Lucas and Chris Allen gave the Spartans a 53-49 lead with just over 13 minutes left. After that, they would never trail or be tied again. Failure to hit anything from the perimeter by the Huskies allowed Michigan State defenders to pack the lane and make entry passes difficult for UConn. As usual, every shot was contested, and as the Huskies struggled for offense, the Spartan lead expanded to 8, then 10, then finally, 11, on Raymar Morgan's dunk at 3:21.
Morgan was one of the difference-makers for Michigan State, scoring 18 points and 9 boards, his best outing in the tournament. Lucas led all scorers with 21. The Spartans got an incredible 33 points from their bench. In the basketball world of Tom Izzo, it's still a team game. Everybody plays, and that was one of the most decisive aspects of this win. The Connecticut players were simply outmanned in the end as Izzo shuffled players in and out of the game throughout.
(1) North Carolina 83, (3) Villanova 69
ESPN Box Score
In stark contrast to the first game, North Carolina's explosive offense made this one rather one-sided right away, establishing a big early lead, hitting 10 f their first 15 shots, 3 of them from beyond the arc. Less than 10 minutes in, it was 26-12 and the Tar Heels just continued to roll along. Villanova eventually cut the lead down to 9 at the break, and to 5 early in the second half, but North Carolina responded to the challenge and played at a high tempo throughout.
While the tar Heels raced up and down and around the Wildcats, Villanova could not buy a bucket, especially from three-point range, where they hit just 4 of 28. By comparison, the Tar Heels were more efficient, nailing 11-22 threes.
Wayne Ellington and Danny Green were the deadliest bombers for Carolina. Green hit 4 of 10, while Ellington splashed 5 of 7. Ty Lawson was the game's high scorer, with 22 points; Tyler Hansbrough had his second double-double of the tournament, scoring 17 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
Friday, April 03, 2009
Final Four Analysis (Part 2) North Carolina vs. Villanova
Ford Field, Detroit, MI
(1) North Carolina (32-4) (-7, 158 1/2) (3) Villanova (30-7) 8:47 pm - The dark horse from the Big East, Villanova, is also possibly the most balanced and talented team overall from the conference. It's fitting that they'll face off with North Carolina, as both teams possess very subtle, but important similarities. Both teams are solid in the backcourt, strong up front, rebounds well and has no single player without which they cannot survive, though it could be argued that if Carolina is without either point guard Ty Lawson or forward Tyler Hansbrough, or the Wildcats are missing Dante Cunningham or Scottie Reynolds, their games would suffer on both ends.
So, there are the first and second similarities, at point guard and strong forward, where the Tar Heels seem to have edges. While Reynolds is as fine a point guard as can be found, Lawson is simply extraordinary, a gifted ball-handler with speed and quickness that has yet to be matched in this tournament. Where Reynolds evens things out, however, is in the strength department. Lawson probably won't be able to handle Reynolds man-to-man, and that could cause trouble for North Carolina. It's easy to see how both point guards will be able to penetrate into the lane and raise havoc. In that regard, the matchup becomes a draw.
In the power forward area, Tyler Hansbrough has a heft advantage over Cunningham. He is the more physical of the two, though Cunningham has better range and is quicker on his feet, so once again, the edge, if there is one, is marginal. Both players can play to their strengths within the offense. Look for Cunningham to set up either at the foul line or on the wing away from the basket. From either of those positions, he can either aid the offense with ball movement and screens or, should he so choose, shoot over Hansbrough while also drawing him away from the basket.
When Hansbrough is on offense, he'll want to be active in the low post, where he can hope to overpower his opponent for layups and dunks or feeds to his teammates for the same.
Cunningham will stand his ground, though he's not going to get a whole lot of help from teammates, and Carolina can also go very large, inserting either of their big freshmen, 6'10" Ed Davis or 7'0" Tyler Zeller. 6'8 Deon Thompson starts and plays much bigger. Compare those beasts with what Villanova puts on the floor. Cunningham is 6'8", Dwayne Anderson checks in at 6'6", and sub Shane Clark is 6'7". Also crashing the board will be Reggie Redding, who goes 6.5", but the Tar Heels have an obvious height edge in the lane.
A wild card in this game, as he usually is, is Danny Green, who lit up Oklahoma for 18 points in the Tar Heels' 72-60 win. Green is a do-it-all kind of player who will stick his nose in anywhere, can get out on the break, hit jumpers and rebound with the big boys. His counterpart on the Wildcats is Anderson, who has had some big games during the tournament, is seasoned and capable of guarding the best athletes on the floor. Again, whatever advantage North Carolina has with Green, it is offset by the defensive abilities by the corresponding Villanova player.
If there's an edge in terms of coaching, it has to go to Roy Williams, who is making his 7th appearance in the Final Four and has a championship ring, earned in 2005 with the Tar Heels. Villanova coach Jay Wright is the only coach in the Final Four (his first) without an NCAA championship. Williams has an experience edge. Wright will get some here.
In the final analysis, North Carolina looks indomitable on the inside and, with Lawson healthy, he's going to be difficult for even Reynolds to contain. The overall size and depth of the Tar Heel bench, plus the smarts of coach Williams makes North Carolina the team most likely to advance. Villanova's defense and heart will keep them in the game and not allow the Tar Heels to establish a huge runaway lead, but down the stretch, North Carolina has the players who can come up with the really big plays in Lawson, Hansbrough and Green. They're no lock to cover the spread, which will probably come down to the final minutes and free throws vs. three-pointers, but they seem capable of prevailing. The Over/Under is an equally risky proposition, as the oddsmakers seem to have that number nailed.
PREDICTION: North Carolina 85 Villanova 75
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Final Four Analysis (Part 1) Michigan St. vs. Connecticut
Ford Field, Detroit, MI
(1) Connecticut (31-4) (-4, 131 1/2) (2) Michigan State (30-6) 6:07 pm - Hoops fans could not have asked for a more balanced Final Four, with two teams from the nation's best conference, the Big East, and one each from the Big Ten and ACC. Interestingly, two of the three Big East #1 seeds did not make it to Detroit, as Louisville - the #1 overall seed - and Pitt were ousted in their respected regional finals. However, Villanova picked up the Big East slack, by beating Pitt but still representing the conference.
In the matchup between UConn and Michigan State, the player which stands out most prominently is the Huskies' 7'3" man in the middle, Hasheem Thabeet, who is a terror to anyone who dares drive to the tin, swatting away would be layups with alarming regularity. Keeping Thabeet out of foul trouble will be coach Jim Calhoun's main concern. For Tom Izzo, finding a way around, over or through the big guy is the challenge.
Izzo used an interesting ploy in his win over Louisville, spotting his own big man, Goran Suton, at the high post offensively. Suton responded with key jumpers, three of them 3-pointers, four assists and 10 boards (4 offensive). He proved to be the absolute key to beating the Cardinals by sticking to the coach's plan and executing to perfection. Should Izzo determine to employ the same tactic, Connecticut will be not caught unaware. They can either choose to send Thabeet out to play man-to-man on Suton, though that would open up the inside, where Michigan's slashers and drivers, particularly point guard Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan (shut out against the Cardinals) might just find a happy place in the lane.
Calhoun has other options, however, one being keeping Thabeet in the low post and putting the more athletic Stanley Robinson on Suton to limit his effectiveness by contesting his shots or denying him the ball. Robinson is a good match for Suton, being just an inch shorter than the 6'10" Spartan.
Besides Suton, Michigan State has some limitations when it comes to offense, though the play of Lucas during the late regular season and into the post-season has been a real boost for Michigan State. He is speedy and a deft ball-handler, though he's prone to hoisting treys more often than coach Izzo might like. Almost as comic relief, Lucas has been hitting at a respectable 40% during the tournament, including 2-of-4 against Louisville.
The other Spartan player who's been a boost during the tournament is Durrell Summers, who filled in the scoring nicely over the past three games, scoring 11 against USC, 9 against Kansas and 12 against the cardinals. His contribution and ability to bury a number of treys (4 of 6 during the tournament) will be another key to Michigan State's success.
For the Huskies, they cannot rely heavily upon Thabeet for scoring because he does so much work on defense, though sending the ball into the low post and trying to get Suton in foul trouble is a ploy Calhoun no doubt has under consideration. The bulk of the scoring will come from A.J. Price (averaging 20 ppg in the NCAAs), point guard Kemba Walker (who exploded for 23 against Missouri) and Robinson (15 ppg). Craig Austrie has been inconsistent, missing all 6 of his three-point attempts in the Huskies' opener against Chattanooga, but going 3-for-3 beyond the arc and scoring 17 points against Purdue.
Getting points against the stingy Spartan defense will not be easy for Connecticut. All of their players are hard-nosed defenders, and Lucas is probably a bit of an overmatch for Walker at the point. Though Walker should hold his own, don't expect him to blow by Lucas more than a couple times. The Michigan State point guard is the embodiment of quickness and speed.
If the pace of the game is to Michigan's liking, forcing the Huskies to work hard for every basket, they may be able to get out on the break on a number of occasions. Suton is especially good at getting up and down the floor in a hurry, while Thabeet is not. Expect the Michigan State big man to be on the receiving end of a number of passes to the post or the happy trailer on the break.
The real kicker in this game is UConn's Jeff Adrian and his ability to hit jumpers from inside 15 feet. When he's on, the Huskies are virtually unbeatable. When he's not, which is often enough to raise concerns, UConn is vulnerable.
If there is one big key or stat it's this: Michigan is 30-0 when holding opponents under 70 points. While Connecticut can generally put up 75 points or more, they do have 9 wins (and 3 losses) when they have scored in the 60s, so they are capable of playing the defense-first game as well. It would not be a surprise for the Huskies to score 65 points and win, though a final score in that range surely works in Michigan State's favor.
Both coaches have been here before, and Calhoun has a pair of championship rings to Izzo's one, so there's no advantage when it comes to sideline smarts. Bottom line, this could go either way. Giving Michigan State points at this juncture might just be a mistake, as they've turned back the critics with crisp play thus far and have shown incredible heart and desire, key factors in tournament play. Take the points and hope nobody scores for the first five minutes. That will help Michigan State's confidence.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 67 Connecticut 63
Tomorrow: Part 2: Villanova vs. North Carolina
Sunday, March 29, 2009
FINAL FOUR: Huskies, Wildcats, Spartans and Tar Heels Head to Motor City
West: (1) Connecticut 82, (3) Missouri 75 - The Huskies were undaunted by Missouri's pressure and built a 13-point lead only to have the Tigers whittle it down and eventually take the lead back, by a point, with less than 6 minutes left. From that point onward, Connecticut stepped up the defense and made shots and freebies when they had to. Missouri continued to try to cut into the advantage, but Kemba Walker and A.J. Price controlled the backcourt tempo for the prevailing Huskies. Walker had the game of his life, outscoring everybody with 23 points while dishing 5 assists and snatching 5 rebounds. Price scored 18 points for UConn, which hit only 2 of 12 3-pointers, turned the ball over 17 times to Missouri's 6, but controlled the paint, outrebounding the Tigers, 47-32.
Midwest: (2) Michigan St. 64, (1) Louisville 52 - Tom Izzo's defensive-minded Spartans limited Louisville to their second-lowest point total of the season ending the Cardinals' 13-game win streak while rewarding themselves with a virtual home game in Detroit at the Final Four. Michigan State's fearless defenders took Louisville out of their game and outhustled them at every opportunity. Louisville shot just 38% (18-47), including a respectable 6-16 from beyond the arc, but the Spartans shot 45% and outdueled Louisville in the paint, grabbing 37 boards to Louisville's 28.
Michigan State's big man, Goran Suton, positioning himself 15 to 18 feet from the basket on offense, kept getting open looks and hitting them, sharing game-high honors with Louisville's Earl Clark at 19 points. Suton also managed to corral 10 rebounds and fed his teammates with 4 assists.
East: (3) Villanova 78, (1) Pittsburgh 76 - This one figured to be close all the way and it was, ending finally on Scottie Reynolds' four-footer in the lane with 1/2 second left. Both teams played their hearts out, but Villanova ended up with the last possession at 8 seconds from the final buzzer and they made their play. There was nothing more Pitt could do to win this game; they were simply one-upped by another team from Pennsylvania. For the Panthers, Sam Young had 28 points to lead all scorers, and deJuan Blair recorded his usual double-double, with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Villanova's scoring was led by Dwayne Anderson with 17, followed by Reynolds with 15 and Dante Cunningham's 15. The Wildcats did everything right, as did Pitt, in the tournament's best-played game. Villanova was actually outshot by the Panthers, 48% to 45%, but the Wildcats won it at the line, hitting 22 of 23 free throws.
South: (1) North Carolina 72, (2) Oklahoma 60 - The much-anticipated mano-a-mano between Tyler Hansbrough and Blake Griffin never really materialized as Hansbrough was saddled with fouls early and had to sit out much of the first half. By the numbers, Griffin outplayed North Carolina's Psycho-T, scoring 23 points with 16 rebounds. Hansbrough had 8 and 6, though Carolina's lead expanded and Griffin's scoring was limited with Hansbrough on the floor.
Otherwise, the game went almost completely north Carolina's way thanks to Ty Lawson and Danny Green. Lawson, virtually unchecked at the point, scored 19 points and had 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Green scored 18 on 6 of 9 shooting. Both players hit 2 of 4 3-pointers.
Once the Tar Heels had established a first half lead of 11 points, they maintained a similar edge throughout most of the remainder of the game. The Sooners were pathetic from outside, missing their first 15 3-point attempts until 5:14 left in the second half when Willie Warren finally splashed one in the middle of a 9-0 late Sooner run. Oklahoma got to within 12 points after the tar Heels had led by as many as 19, but failed to get any closer, going xxx from beyond the arc.
In the semifinal games to be played Saturday, April 4 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan, the Connecticut Huskies face Michigan State and the Tar Heels meet Villanova.
The Final will be played Monday night, April 6.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Getting to the Final Four: A Perspective
The 32 first round games are a mix of easy and "forget it" choices, with the 1-16 matchups nearly automatic choices, but where everything from 3-14 on up can turn into nightmares.
I've broken down the first rounds in previous posts, so all that's left is to figure out who's going to beat who to make it to the round of 16, then 8 then the Final Four. At the end, as always, there will be a champion, and some of us will have bragging rights for a few months. OK, I've dithered long enough, so, here goes...
Midwest: I'm taking the #4 seed, Wake Forest, to knock off the #1 overall seed, Louisville, in the Regional Semifinals on Friday, March 27. Both the Cardinals and Demon Deacons have superior credentials in comparison to the other teams in the top part of this bracket. The bottom side could produce anything from #2 Michigan State to #10 USC or #11 Dayton. The mid-range seeds - #3 Kansas, #6 West Virginia and #7 Boston College - could catch a break or get hot and reach the Regional Final on Sunday, March 29.
No matter which team emerges from the bottom of the bracket, they won't have a chance against Wake Forest. The Dekes have the talent, coaching and pedigree to go all the way to Detroit.
West: There are two teams which are obvious to many in this region: Memphis and Connecticut. The Tigers and Huskies have enough leadership, coaching and history to go deep into the tournament, but when comparing the two, Memphis - with their 25-game winning streak, incredible defense and John Calipari looking for a national crown to silence Conference-USA critics - is clearly Final Four material.
The Tigers did everything but win it all last season, when Kansas produced a miracle rally in the final two minutes of the last game and Mario Chalmers hit the game-winner with no chance for Memphis to get off a retaliatory shot. Calapari is a world-class coach and author of books about basketball. The only thing missing from his resume is a national championship, and this could be his year. Everything is coming together for the Tigers at the right time and their draw at the bottom of the braket doesn't look very tough.
Their toughest games will come in the second and third round. Either Cal or Maryland could pose problems if they get hot, but Memphis will probably pummel either of them in the second half. In the regionals, Missouri looks like the most likely foe, but they don't have enough scoring to worry the Tigers much. Sure, DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons are solid, but the rest of the team won't match up well. If not Missouri, either Utah State or Marquette could slip in, with the Aggies the more dangerous. Marquette is headed for an early out, and may even lose their opener to Utah St.
Once the Tigers dispatch with the their regional opponent, they're probably not going to face Connecticut. The Huskies are vulnerable to teams with strong guard play and almost anyone in their side of the bracket - BYU, Washington, Texas A&M, Miss. St., Purdue, Northern Iowa - could pull the upset. UConn won't last past the third round. Memphis will go to the Final Four to face the Midwest winner.
East: This region offers one of the easiest advances at the bottom for #2 seed Duke, which will have to get through either #3 Villanova, #7 Texas or #11 VCU, and they should reach the regional finals on Saturday, March 28. Their foe is more than likely to be the #1 seed in the region, Pitt, though #5 Florida State could hand Pitt their walking papers in the first regional game. If Florida State does that, they would give the Blue Devils one heck of a time, but, Duke has already beaten them 3 times this season, and that is an awesome advantage. If Pitt gets to the Regional Final, it could go either way. A lot of people like Pitt to win it all, but if DeJuan Blair gets into foul trouble, they are a different team. If he doesn't, they could just roll people.
I'll be hedging this bracket in my various bracket picks, but I'm really leaning toward the Blue Devils. They're easily as solid as any other team in the region, and who can doubt coach K's ability to make the Final Four. He's only been there about a gazillion times.
South: There's little doubt that North Carolina is one of the top three or four teams in the nation and they are the #1 seed. They should cruise to the Regional Final on Sunday, March 29, and probably match up with either #2 Oklahoma or #3 Syracuse, though #6 Arizona St. looms as a distinct possibility. Carolina's games will be interesting after the first round. Either LSU or Butler will play them petty hard, and they may have a real struggle if Gonzaga advances to the regionals.
Overall, however, the Tar Heels just look too talented and deep to not make it to the Final Four. If my selections are right, they could be the only #1 to make it, though Pitt could easily get there.
In the semifinals, Midwest plays West and East plays South. I like Memphis to beat Wake Forest in what could turn out to be a real pressure-cooker, and North Carolina to beat Duke, but Pitt to win it if they reach from the East. That sets up a final of either North Carolina or Pitt against Memphis, and I like the Tigers to beat either of them by 8 to 12 points.
Come Monday, April 6, the Tigers will be crowned national champions. (I hope)
Good luck to everyone with your selections. Let the games begin!
Saturday, March 31, 2007
NCAA Semi-Finals Game Picks
While what the 7-footers accomplish in the lane will certainly have an impact on the game, there are going to be 8 other players on the floor at all times and none of them are more important than Georgetown's Jeff Green and the Buckeyes' Mike Conley Jr.
Conley has been an exemplar of consistency and cool throughout the tournament. Even as a freshman, he's displayed the kind of floor leadership that has propelled Ohio State to the pinnacle of college basketball. Often overlooked because of the plaudits going to Oden or the 3-point exploits of Jamar Butler or Ron Lewis, when there's a big play to be made it's Conley who's the trigger man. Whenever there's a critical play, Conley's usually in the middle of it.
While there's no way to accurately measure things like off-the-ball movement, intensity and hoops instincts, Conley gets high marks on all of those. His penetration and distribution of the ball will be key to Ohio State's success.
For the Hoyas, beyond Hibbert, they have the incomparable Jeff Green, the Big East Player of the Year. Green exploded in last year's post-season and has been vital to the Hoyas' success this season. He's already hit two big shots in tournaments this year - game winners against Notre Dame in the Big East tourney and last weekend's tough banker for the win over Vanderbilt.
Green's game is complete. He's got the size to compete in the lane and a shooting touch that is deadly from 3-point range. Defenders have a difficult choice when guarding him. Get in his face and he's likely to blow by you for an easy layup or dunk. Lay off him and he'll knock down long and mid-range jumpers.
Defensively, Green is a ferocious rebounder with incredible leaping ability. He's the most athletic player on the floor most nights and his all-around play will lead Georgetown to a win here.
One other player to keep a close eye on is Georgetown's Jonathan Wallace. The purest shooter in the game, if he gets hot, the Hoyas could romp.
Bottom Line: Hibbert gets a slight edge over Oden, Green has 20 or more, Ohio State goes cold from beyond the arc and Georgetown wins 82-71.
8:47 pm EDT Florida (-3) vs. UCLA - Call this one "The Rematch." Most of the characters from last year's championship game are back in similar roles.
The Florida Gators, while they haven't shown much of the emotion that got them the rings last season, are nevertheless on a mission, this time to prove that they are once again, the top team in the land. They're just doing it with a little more control and confidence this time around.
It's difficult to say which players will be key for the Gators, but since Arron Afflalo is the key to UCLA, Corey Brewer, who will likely be guarding him, is the main focus for Florida. Brewer is long and lean and difficult to defend himself, which creates matchup problems for the Bruins.
Afflalo, however, is regarded as the Bruins' best defender and top scorer and should be able to front Brewer effectively. When he has the ball, he's going to have to create offense on his own, and that's going to prove difficult. In last year's finals, Afflalo was invisible for large parts of the game, mostly due to Brewer's defense.
This time around, however, it's a little different. Ben Howland has a different offense, with explosive Darren Collison at point instead of the more careful, sometimes plodding, Jordan Farmar. If Collison is handling the ball, Afflalo and Josh Shipp should be able to work off screens for open looks and keep UCLA from going though extended scoring droughts.
Beyond the matchups, the real impact here is going to be UCLA's team defense. They're better than they were a year ago, and they know what's coming. While they won't exactly frustrate the Gators, the Bruins will be able to create enough havoc and turnovers to keep the game close and maybe put together some scoring runs of their own.
Bottom Line: UCLA turns up the defense, Joakim Noah spends much of the 2nd half on the bench and Collison emerges as star of the game in a 74-69 Bruins win.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Saturday Semi-Finals: Georgetown vs. Ohio State
Both 7-footers dominate the middle, can block shots, rebound well, distribute the rock and are serious scoring threats. Putting them on the same floor at the same time recalls famous bouts between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain or Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes. The confrontation, on the biggest stage in college basketball, has the potential to be a classic.
Like many of these confrontations often turn out, this one may end up somewhat of a stalemate. Both centers are power players and thus, each will have their moments. Hibbert and Oden are so evenly matched that the only possible derailment of this encounter would be the refs calling the game too close. The last thing basketball fans want to see is one or the other cooling out on the bench because of foul trouble, but, as both players have shown, they are not very careful about picking up nickel-dimers (as Bill Raftery might say) and hurting their team's chances.
If there's any advantage at all, it would be Hibbert's maturity. As a junior, he's got a couple of years playing time over Oden, which means his footwork and game understanding is likely to be a little more advanced than that of the Ohio State star.
Statistically, Hibbert has the edge on paper, though not by much. His shooting percentage is 67%, as compared to Oden's 62%. Both are capable free throw shooters; Hibbert hits at 70%, Oden, 64%. Defensively, Oden has the edge with 9.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game, compared to Hibbert at 6.9 and 2.5. Hibbert averages 12.7 points per game, Oden, 15.4. Obviously, there's little separating the two.
That gets us to the rest of the starters, the bench and the coaches. The other star for Georgetown is Big East Player of the Year, Jeff Green, who can score from anywhere on the court, but it most dangerous on slashing moves to the hoop. His Buckeye counterpart would be Ron Lewis, an all-around performer who's leading Ohio State (and all remaining players) in scoring at 21.8 ppg. He's a proven commodity as a clutch player, having hit the game-tying 3-pointer against Xavier. When the Buckeyes stared elimination in the eye, Lewis didn't blink.
The Buckeyes may be known more for their 3-point shooting than the Hoyas, as, in addition to Lewis, Jamar Butler can also throw down from well beyond the arc and Mike Conley Jr. hasn't shown any shyness in hoisting from 3-point land. The Hoyas, however, have two players with high percentages from behind the line: Patrick Ewing Jr. and Jonathan Wallace, who hit at 46% and 49%, respectively.
Wallace is especially dangerous whenever he has an open look. A bona fide pure shooter, Wallace is the X-factor for Georgetown. If he gets hot, forget the Oden-Hibbert games and everything else; Ohio State will have to trade baskets with the Hoyas - no easy feat.
Jessie Sapp and DaJuan Summers of the Hoyas are both slashers, not necessarily outside threats similar to Ohio State's Conley Jr. The Buckeyes' Ivan Harris is more a jump shooter than a driver and he'll opt for 3's rather than drive.
Both teams can go 9 deep, with the key subs being Daequan Cook and David Lighty for Ohio State. Cook is the Buckeye's most consistent 3-point shooter at 42% efficiency, while Lighty is a good ball-handler, slasher and rebounder with excellent instincts. The Hoyas will have Jeremiah Rivers off the bench early on. He's an excellent point guard who can control the offense. Ewing Jr. will also see plenty of floor time when the Hoyas want to go big.
Emotionally, the Hoyas seem to have an advantage. They were a #2 seed, Ohio State a #1, so they may take on the relished role of underdog, thinking they have something to prove, while the Buckeyes, who came into the tournament ranked #1 in the nation, have bullseyes on their backs.
Both coaches, Georgetown's John Thompson Jr. and Ohio State's Thad Motta have serious top-notch credentials and are masters of discipline and game-situation understanding. Both will be into the game from the start and neither will hamper their teams chances of winning.
The other advantage in this contest is the Hoyas' overall height differential. Here's an odd stat, that you'll see nowhere else. Ohio State's combined starters' height is 32'2". The Hoyas starting five measure up at 32'11". That's 9 inches difference or nearly 2 inches per starter. Not that the Buckeyes' players are small, but there's a height advantage for the Hoyas just about everywhere. Hibbert is actually 2 inches taller than Oden. Whether the overall height makes a difference will be hard to tell, but there's definitely an effect.
Tomorrow, I'll present my final picks for both semi-final games.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Saturday Semi-Finals: Florida vs. UCLA
The Gators are on an 8-game win streak which includes winning the SEC tourney. Even in their own conference tournament, though, the Gators didn't face the best teams in the SEC, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Florida skated through the conference tournament with wins over Georgia, Mississippi and Arkansas. Only the Razorbacks made it to the Big Dance, and they were summarily dispatched in the opening round.
The teams Florida has played since then won't really have them properly prepped for UCLA, either. Jackson State was a walkover (112-69); they struggled with a very suspect Purdue team (74-67); struggled even more against the Butler Bulldogs (65-57), before beating up on Oregon, 85-77, a team which lost its shooting touch at precisely the wrong time.
Florida was not impressive in any of their wins, but they did what they had to do to advance. Against Oregon, specifically, they rode the red hot shooting of Lee Humphrey (7 of 13 3-pointers) and Taurean Green (4-8) to commandeer a healthy lead over the Ducks until the closing minutes of the game. Despite their substantial size advantage and Oregon's foul problems - 2 Ducks fouled out and 2 others finished with 4 fouls - the game got close late.
The considerable edge Florida had at the free throw line (28-43 to Oregon's 15-16) was also more than the margin of victory, so in retrospect, the Ducks (who also hit only 8-22 3-pointers) did more to lose that game than Florida did to win it.
The Gators also don't seem to have the same emotion as last year, which is understandable. Like sex, the first time is always the most thrilling, with each subsequent foray an opportunity to make mistakes. There are a lot of distractions which seem to have invaded Florida's game. The Gators are not as intense as last season's squad, despite having the same starting five. It's going to be a problem because the Bruins will be fired up.
Nothing prepares a team better than a loss. And last year's loss in the NCAA finals still stings the Bruins, especially their star, Arron Afflalo, who was basically invisible for much of the game.
Afflalo has raised his game, especially in the Bruins' last outing against Kansas. in which he led UCLA with 24 points in a 68-55 win. While Afflalo was doing the bulk of the scoring and hitting key shots at critical points, his running mate, Darren Collison was aiding the cause with tight defense, 5 steals and 14 points, including 2 of 3 3-pointers.
If anyone thinks defense doesn't matter, they'd better take a closer look at that game. The Bruins turned the ball over 24 times themselves! Most of the time, that would result in a big, fat L. Instead, the UCLA players contested every Kansas shot, forced 21 Jayhawk turnovers and barely won the battle of the boards. They also played with tremendous commitment and tempo on offense and ended up outshooting Kansas, 53-41%.
When it was all over, the Bruins had held the Jayhawks to their lowest point total of the season. They earned the win, and they did it the hard way.
When the Bruins take the court against Florida, Lorenzo Mata and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are going to give Al Horford and Joakim Noah a pair of steel-eyed looks that speak revenge. Collison and Afflalo match up very well with Humphrey and Green, though Afflalo may have to defend the taller, and more dangerous, Corey Brewer.
That matchup is the real key to the game. If Afflalo can limit Brewer's penetration, or Brewer can keep Afflalo off-balance on offense, their respective team will win the game. Brewer and his mates have already done it. Afflalo and the Bruins are hungry for a championship and they come in healthy and well-prepared.
On Friday, I'll give you the final take on who's going to advance, but right now, I'm leaning heavily towards UCLA.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Conference Scoreboard and Peak Performers
Player, game 1, 2, 3, 4, Total, Average
Ron Lewis, OHST, 13, 27, 25, 22, 87, 21.8
Arron Afflalo, UCLA, 22, 10, 17, 24, 73, 18.3
Corey Brewer, FL, 21, 17, 11, 14, 63, 15.8
Jeff Green, GTWN, 15, 11, 15, 22, 63, 15.8
Mike Conley Jr., OHST, 4, 21, 17, 19, 61, 15.3
Greg Oden, OHST, 19, 14, 9, 17, 59, 14.8
Darren Collison, UCLA, 14, 15, 12, 14, 55, 13.8
Joakim Noah, FL, 17, 9, 13, 14, 53, 13.3
Al Horford, FL, 15, 17, 16, 6, 52, 13.0
Roy Hibbert, GTWN, 10, 17, 12, 13, 52, 13.0
Player, game 1, 2, 3, 4, Total, Average
Roy Hibbert, GTWN, 13, 12, 10, 11, 46, 11.5
Joakim Noah, FL, 12, 9, 9, 14, 44, 11.0
Al Horford, FL, 16, 9, 7, 7, 39, 9.8
Greg Oden, OHST, 10, 12, 3, 9, 34, 8.5
Jeff Green, GTWN, 3, 12, 4, 9, 28, 7.0
Lorenzo Mata, UCLA, 7, 8, 9, 3, 27, 6.8
Player, game 1, 2, 3, 4, Total, Average
Taurean Green, FL, , 12, 2, 1, 3, 18, 4.5
Mike Conley Jr., OHST, 5, 4, 6, 2, 17, 4.3
Darren Collison, UCLA, 8, 2, 4, 1, 16, 4.0
Jessie Sapp, GTWN, 1, 3, 3, 8, 15, 3.8
Conference, Region:East, West, Midwest, South, Total
ACC: 4-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-1, 7-7
Big East: 4-1, 2-2, 0-1, 1-1, 7-5
Big 10: 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 4-0, 8-5
Big 12: 1-2, 3-1, 0-0, 2-1, 6-4
PAC-10: 3-2, 4-0, 3-2, 0-1, 10-5
SEC: 2-2, 1-1, 4-0, 2-1, 9-4
College Basketball Daily, a leading blog following the world of NCAA hoops, heads to the Final Four in full stride, with complete coverage, analysis and free picks for the two semi-final games and the championship game on Monday, April 2.
Rick Gagliano, publisher of the blog, says, "I've been putting in lots of hours analyzing the four teams remaining and despite only having Georgetown and Ohio State left in my original brackets, I'm pretty sure the Hoyas can win another national title."
"The game against Ohio State is one I've personally been anticipating for a long time. I can't wait to see the Roy Hibbert - Greg Oden matchup. It's going to be a war out there."
In the other semi-final game, Gagliano isn't about to tip his hand.
"I originally had Kansas facing Oregon, but now it's Florida vs. UCLA, a rematch of last year's championship. Last season, I had a shot at actually winning a pool with a partner, but when UCLA lost, we were knocked out of the first three spots, and wound up with nothing. I've got nothing invested this year except time and my reputation, and I'll put that up against the Vegas oddsmakers any day," said Gagliano.
"I've been covering college sports in one form or another for nearly 25 years and I still haven't figured it out, but I'm trying," joked the publisher.
Scheduled entries on the blog are the Conference Scoreboard (Tuesday), analysis of the Florida-UCLA game (Wednesday), analysis of the Geogetown-Ohio State game (Thursday), exclusive ATS picks on Friday. After that, Gagliano plans on analyzing the two semi-final games and providing a final pick on Sunday. After the championship, College Basketball Daily will do a season recap, name an All-American team and Player of the Year, before focusing on off-season recruitment and coaching changes.
As the name suggests, College Basketball Daily provides news, insight and analysis of college hoops every day.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Gators, Hoyas, Bruins, Buckeyes Head to Atlanta
Two teams seeded #1 in their respective regions, the Florida Gators and Ohio State Buckeyes, head into the Final Four the favorites over a pair of #2 seeds which arguably could have been 1s.
Georgetown, the #2 seed in the East, know the second fiddle role well. For much of the regular season, they weren't even ranked in the Top 25, trailing the Pitt Panthers in the standings through the midway point of the Big East campaign.
On January 13, following consecutive losses to conference foes Villanova and Pittsburgh, the Hoyas were just 11-5. But, just as people were beginning to write Georgetown - and their twin towers of Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert - off, they reeled off 11 straight wins, culminating with a 61-53 revenge win against Pitt.
Two days later, the Hoyas lost a road game at Syracuse, but finished with a win over UConn to capture the Big East title at 13-3.
But the Hoyas weren't done. Not even close. They swept through the Big East tournament, knocking off Villanova and Notre Dame before hammering Pitt, this time by a shocking 65-42 score. While North Carolina was winning the ACC tournament and locking up the #1 seed, the Hoyas came in as a hungry #2, knocked off Belmont, Boston College and Vanderbilt to set up the match with the Tar Heels.
For most of the game, it looked as though they would go home losers to the top seed, until they rallied late in the game, tying the score on Jonathan Wallace's 3-pointer to force overtime at 81-all.
The Hoyas left no doubt in the OT, outscoring Carolina 15-3 in a convincing performance. Georgetown will face Ohio State in one of the two semi-final games on Saturday, March 31.
The Buckeyes, 92-76 winners over South #2 seed Memphis on Saturday, ended the Tigers' 25-game winning streak by extending their own to 20 straight, now the longest in the nation.
The UCLA Bruins took an entirely different path to their #2 seeding in the West region. After being ranked in the Top 10 most of the season and wrapping up the PAC-10 title with a win over Washington State, the Bruins came up flat in their regular season finale at Washington, losing 61-51 and looking lethargic the whole time. Then, in the opening round of the PAC-10 tournament, the Bruins unexpectedly fell to lightly-regarded Cal, 76-69.
That was likely the game that cost the Bruins a #1 seeding, which went to Kansas instead. The Bruins, however, got the last laugh on both the Jayhawks and the selection committee, thumping Kansas in the regional final on Saturday, 68-55.
The Bruins head to Atlanta with a renewed confidence to face Florida, the top seed from the Midwest region. The defending national champion Gators beat Oregon, 85-77, to reach the Final Four for the second consecutive year. The game is a rematch of last year's championship.
The Georgetown-Ohio State game will be the first semi-final, with tip-off scheduled for 6:07 pm EDT. Florida and UCLA will take the floor roughly 30 minutes after the conclusion of that game.
Tomorrow: Conference scoreboard and peak performers.
Wednesday: Breakdown of Ohio State - Georgetown
Thursday: Breakdown of Florida - UCLA
Friday: Final analysis and picks
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Final Four and Championship Predictions
(#3 South) Texas A&M vs. (#2 East) Georgetown - Nobody should be surprised that the Aggies reach the Final Four. Entering the tournament, their record of 25-6 (13-3, Big 12), was one of the best in the nation. Five of those six losses were on the road or neutral sites, and their last four losses have been by 2, 2, 2 and 1 point. In that span, they lost twice to Texas Tech, but interestingly, they beat conference champion Kansas in their only meeting this season.
Georgetown (26-6, 13-3, Big East), when on their game, can beat anyone, and they proved that in the latter stages of the Big East season, winning 15 of their last 16 and capturing the Big East tourney title in the process. In their run to the title, they hammered highly-touted Pitt twice, 61-53 on Feb. 24, and 65-42 in the tournament finals.
The Hoyas are led by Big East Player of the Year Jeff Green and their imposing center, 7'2" Roy Hibbert. Add to the mix starting forward DaJuan Summers at 6'8" and with the 6'9" Green, the Hoyas are huge up front and that's been the key to most of their wins. They control the paint and the boards and usually find their way to the foul line more often than their opponents. They also bring in 6'8" Patrick Ewing Jr. off the bench for even more muscle and size.
By contrast, the Aggies rely more on their guards and will often put three guards on the court at the same time. Acie Law is the team leader and top scorer at 17.9 points per game. Law and backcourt mate Josh Carter need to hit their threes to keep A&M close.
The Aggies will struggle to keep Hibbert and Green from dominating and eventually, the size advantage will work to Georgetown's favor as they advance to the finals. The score will likely be somewhere in the 60s as the Hoyas have continued to improve defensively all season.
(#1 West) Kansas vs. (#3 Midwest) Oregon - The Jayhawks are supposed to reach the Final Four; Oregon will be somewhat of a surprise to many as the Ducks are an undersized, but overachieving, bunch.
Kansas (30-4, 14-2 Big 12) has been one of the most consistent teams throughout the course of the 2006-07 season. They captured the Big 12 regular season and tournament title and may have the easiest path to the Final Four of any team. The next best team in their bracket is probably UCLA, Gonzaga or Pitt, and they wouldn't have to play any of them until the regional final as they are in the bottom half of the bracket. There is simply a shortage of quality in the West region. Last season, the Jayhawks were ousted in the opening round by Bradley. Don't expect any slippage this time around.
Kansas may have the best backcourt in the country. Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers can each light it up from 3-point range or slashes into the lane. They also distribute the ball very well and Rush is an adept rebounder (2nd on the team at 5.7 per game). What makes the Jayhawks tough is their balance. In addition to Rush and Chalmers, forwards Julian Wright and Darrell Arthur also average double figures in scoring.
Kansas does have two weaknesses which will show themselves in this semi-final game: turnovers and free throws. Rush's assist/turnover ratio is slightly under 1-1, Chalmers' is only 3-2. Against the lightning quick Oregon guards, that's going to be a problem. They are also not proficient from the foul line. Only Chalmers and sub Sherrod Collins shoot over 70% from the charity stripe. Missing key free throws in close games has doomed many a potential national champion and Kansas is certainly not immune.
Oregon (26-7, 11-7 PAC-10) is one team in the field that is downright scary. Following a stretch in which they were 2-6 (including 6 road games), the Ducks finished strong, winning their final six games and the PAC-10 tournament in the process. Their average margin of victory in their three PAC-10 tourney games was an impressive 20.3 per game, including an 81-57 win in the final against USC.
Oregon lives and dies with the outside shooting of Aaron Brooks, Tajuan Porter and Bryce Taylor. They'll put up as many as 30 3-pointers in a game, something they do with regularity. When they're on they win. If they shoot less than 40% from beyond the arc, they are suspect. But their five top scorers, the three aforementioned guards plus Malik Hairston and Maarty Leunen, all average above 40% on threes.
Oregon is also one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the tournament. Porter hits at 92%, Brooks and Taylor at 83%. The only soft spot is Hairston, a 55% shooter. They are small, however. Leunen is the tallest starter at 6'9", Hairston and Taylor check in at 6'5", but Brooks is just 6' and Porter is a diminutive 5'6". The Ducks routinely are outrebounded, but what they lack in size, they more than make up with quickness and accomplished ball-handling. If allowed to run, they'll turn any game into a track-meet runaway.
Oregon's quickness, 3-point shooting and Kansas' inability to score consistently from the line will key a big upset in this semi-final as the Ducks race into the finals.
The finals matchup of Georgetown vs. Oregon is a replay of a November 29 meeting at Georgetown, won by Oregon, 57-50, despite shooting only 39%, including just 5-22 from 3-point range. Georgetown's big men were noticeably absent, though. Hibbert was 2-7 for 4 points, Green 2-4 for 5 points. Hibbert also had only 3 rebounds. That's unlikely to happen again.
Both teams have improved since that game of 4 months ago, but the Hoyas have probably improved more than any team in the country. Both the Ducks and Hoyas are peaking at just the right time and a game like the Nov. 29 meeting is unlikely. The Ducks will shoot better than 28% behind the line, and Hibbert and Green will certainly score more than 9 points between them.
The game is really one of contrast, pitting probably the tallest team in the tourney against the smallest. Georgetown wants to work the ball inside, while Oregon hopes to let fly from 3-point land. If these two do indeed reach the finals, expect a close game with plenty of lead changes. This one could go either way, but look for Hibbert, Green and Jonathan Wallace to make key plays down the stretch and bring another national championship back to Georgetown, 71-68.
Well, that's my best scenario and I'll be filling out my brackets in various pools along those general lines. Good luck to you in your bracket challenges and LET THE MADNESS BEGIN !!!
Niagara 77 Florida A&M 69 - On Tuesday, the Purple Eagles earned the right to play Kansas in the opening round on Thursday.