Thursday, March 25, 2010
NCAA Tourney: Friday Night Previews
A trio of guard -forward hybrids - Bobby Maze, J.P. Prince and Scotty Hopson - will be counted upon to do most of the scoring and rebounding, providing some balance, but no dominating inside presence. That's the Tennessee make-up, and they've done well with it thus far.
Ohio State features a similar squad of players between 6'3" and 6'8", led by budding superstar Evan Turner, who is a triple-double threat every time he steps onto a court. The NCAA Player of the Year, Turner average 20 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6 assists through the season and had a huge game (24, 9, 9) in the second round, 75-66, win over Georgia Tech after virtually walking through the opening win past UC Santa Barbara, 68-51, with 9 points.
The Buckeyes are dangerous on the perimeter with sharp-shooters Jon Diebler, David Lighty and William Buford, and led by upper-classmen. 12 of the 16 players on their roster are either seniors or juniors and there are no freshman. Rounding out the starting five - each of whom will play almost the entire game - is the potential game-changer, 260-pound Dallas Lauderdale, who provides heft inside. Tennessee does not have a player that can match up with him well, nor do they have anyone with Turner's all-around ability. The Vols tenacity and team play should keep this one interesting.
10 St. Mary's Gaels (28-5) vs. 3 Baylor Bears (27-7), 7:27 pm EDT - To many, it's no surprise that either of these teams have advanced this far as Baylor was near the top of the Big 12 standings and ranked all season long and the Gaels knocked off Gonzaga in the WCC tourney final to receive the automatic bid. One could make the case that, with the PAC-10 sending only two teams, St. Mary's was under-seeded and could have been as high as a 4 or 5. At least that the way they've been playing, with 6'11" Omar Samhan dominating the interior in both of St. Mary's blowout wins in the tourney.
Though the Gaels beat Richmond by 8 in the opening round and Villanova by 7, the games were really not that close. St. Mary's held the lead for most of both contests. Complementing Samhan's interior play are a couple of gunners in Matt Dellavedova and Mickey McConnell, both gritty guards with good range. Dellavedova will also drive the ball to the hoop and always seems to be on top of loose balls. Forward Ben Allen is a key on both ends of the floor and Clint Steindl operates well on the wings and is an excellent passer.
The Bears haven't impressed much with wins over Sam Houston St. and Old Dominion, but the guy who St. Mary's will find hardest to handle is guard LaceDarius Dunn, who can light it up from anywhere on the court and is one of the quickest players in the country. Additionally, the Bears bring plenty of inside heft with Ekpe Udoh (6'10"), Quincy Acy (6'7"), Josh Lomers (7'0") and Anthony Jones (6'10"). St. Mary's hasn't seen that kind of size thus far in the tournament, though they did handle Gonzaga just prior, who can put big bodies on the floor.
This one promises to be one of the most entertaining games of the entire tournament.
9 Northern Iowa Panthers (30-4) vs. 5 Michigan St. Spartans (26-8), 9:37 pm EDT - Besides Cornell, the Panthers are the real Cinderella story of the tournament. Prior to beating #1-ranked and top-seeded Kansas on Saturday, N. Iowa hadn't even played a Top 25 team, so beating the Jawhawks was a shock and busted many a hopeful bracket sheet in the process. The big star thus far has undoubtedly been Ali Farokhmanesh, who has hit timely 3-point bombs, enabling the Panthers to move forward through the field.
However, Ali is not even one of the team's top scorers. He's actually 4th, after center Jordan Eglseder, forward Adam Koch and point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe. Johnny Moran fills oout the starting five, who each play about 33-35 minutes per game. Northern Iowa is the classic "five iron men" who will go toe to toe with anyone in the nation. They are well-organized, solid in fundamentals and good defenders. They also have that extra X-factor that comes with winning 30 games in a season - they know what they are.
Michigan State comes into this game battered and bruised. Starting point guard Kalin Lucas will miss the remainder of the season with a ruptured left Achilles. He was replaced in the Spartans' second round win over Maryland by Korie Lucious who hit the game-winner at the buzzer for the 85-83 victory. Coach Tom Izzo's kids are trained to be tough and resilient, so it's no surprise they're here even without their point guard. They absorb adversity like a sponge and move forward, much of the load now shifting to forwards Durrell Summers and Raymar Morgan, both of whom have stepped it up in the first two rounds.
Inside, Draymond Green will provide an interesting match-up with Eglseder, though he's giving up 6 inches and about 50 pounds to the Northern Iowa center. A couple of inside bangers, Delvon Roe and Derrick Nix will see plenty of action, as Izzo will try to wear down the Panthers with fresh bodies. On the wing, Chris Allen is a real unknown, though he's capable of big games as well as being somewhat invisible for long stretches.
This one will go to the team that displays the best survival skills, especially if the refs let them go at it physically.
1 Duke (31-5) vs. 4 Purdue (29-5), 9:57 pm - Here is a game in which a #1 seed could easily been seen waving good-bye to its tournament hopes at the final buzzer. Purdue has regrouped after injury sidelined their #2 scorer and rebounder, replacing Robbie Hummel with gutsy, tough-as-nails senior guard Chris Kramer, a defensive specialist who will likely have the assignment of taking Duke's sharp-shooting Jon Scheyer off his game.
Should Kramer be successful, the rest of the Boilermaker squad looks like a solid match for the Blue Devils. Purdue can get plenty of scoring from center JaJuan Johnson and guard E'Twaun Moore, who is plays with emotion and quickness. Duke will be going to their best player, Kyle Singler, along with guard Nolan Smith for their scoring punch, while using Brian Zoubek and twins Miles and Mason Plumlee to clog up Johnson inside.
There isn't much separating these two teams, especially considering that, with Hummel, the Boilermakers might have even been the favorite. Coach K gives Duke an edge, though Purdue is by no means an easy out.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Big Trouble for Big East: St. Mary's Knocks 'Nova
10 St. Mary's 75
2 Villanova 68
Just as he did in their opening round win over Richmond, St. Mary's Omar Samhan dominated the interior - though this time with even more emphasis on the offensive end - scoring 32 points to lead the Gaels past the South region #2 seed, Villanova.
Samhan had 29 in the first round and upped the ante against the Wildcats, hitting 13 of 16 shots and 6 of 8 from the foul line. St. Mary's led by as many as 10 points in the first half, gave up the lead in the second half, but batted on and eventually overcame the higher-seeded Wildcats.
Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova scored 15 and 14, respectively. Both cashed key three-pointers late in the contest, especially McConnell, who banked one in from 35 feet with just over a minute left to play.
With the loss, the Big East drops to 4-5 in the tournament. Villanova was the highest seed to be ousted thus far.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Samhan's 29 and 12 Thursday's Top Effort
Omar Samhan's domination in St. Mary's 80-71 opening round win over Richmond was worthy of player of the day honors. Samhan manhandled the Spiders inside, hitting 11 of 16 shots from the floor and 7 of 10 free throws en route to 29 points and 12 rebounds.
The 6'11" senior center has led the Gaels in scoring and rebounding all season, averaging a double-double (21.2, 11), so his continued strength inside will be important in Sunday's second round match-up with Villanova.
16 more games are on tap Friday, which will whittle the field down to 32 heading into the weekend. Thus far, the Big East looks like the most overrated of the conferences, checking in with a 1-3 record on Thursday. Four more Big East teams - Syracuse, Louisville, Pitt and West Virginia - will try to right things, though Syracuse, the #1 seed in the West, will be without the services of one of their starters. Arinze Onuaku is day-to-day according to the Orange, and will be replaced in the starting lineup by Kris Joseph, usually the first man off the bench.
Syracuse will sacrifice some heft inside, as Joseph is two inches shorter than Onuaku but nearly 50 pounds lighter. The fitness of the already-thin Orange will be tested in their opener against Vermont, as they normally only go 7 deep. Onuaku will likely not see much action Friday.
NCAA Conference Scoreboard - through games of March 18
Big East 1-3
Big Ten 0-0
Big 12 3-1
Mountain West 2-2
West Coast 1-0
Western Athletic 0-0
*Conferences with only one tournament team listed as "Other."
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Advancing: K-State, Murray St., St. Mary's, Baylor, Butler
Kansas State easily cruised past North Texas, the #15 seed in the West region. The Wildcats, the #2 regional seed, took command of the game early and were never threatened. Denis Clemente led the way to the 82-62 victory, with 17 points. Three other players scored in double figures for the Wildcats, who face BYU in the second round.
The upset of the day thus far belongs to the Murray State Racers, a #13 seed, taking out #4 Vanderbilt on a buzzer-beater by Danero Thomas, 66-65. The Racers clawed all day long to maintain short leads, but eventually found themselves down by a point with 4.8 seconds remaining. Thomas' 15-footer caught nothing but nylon as a celebration ensued with the ball going cleanly through the hoop. Murray State's next opponent is the winner of the Butler-UTEP game, the last of the Thursday day games. It was the second one-point win of the day.
The St. Mary's Gaels, winners of six straight, including the final of the West Coast Tournament over Gonzaga, took over after the break, and outgunned Richmond, the #7 seed from the Atlantic-10, 80-71. The big problem for the Spiders was 6'11" Omar Samhan, who scored 29 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, both game highs. Samhan dominated the interior, while his teammates lined up open outside shots. The Gaels earned their first tournament win since 1959, shooting 49%. They face Villanova in the second round on Saturday in Providence.
Baylor unknotted a tight game with a late spurt to put down pesky Sam Houston, 69-58, in the South region. Ekpe Udoh registered a double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds. The Bears advance to the second round game against upset winner Old Dominion on Sunday.
Trailing by 6 at the half, the Bulter Bulldogs advanced into the second round in the West region with a 77-59 win over UTEP, the region's #12 seed and will face upset winner, Murray State on Sunday. The Bulldogs roared out of half time, going on a 22-4 run. Shelvin Mack, on fire from outside, canned 7 of 9 3-pointers for a game high 25 points.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Bracket Busters and Myth-Breakers
We've all heard just how rugged the Midwest region is supposed to be, wherein Kansas, the #1 overall seed in the tourney, will be hard-pressed by any number of teams, but that is a flawed idea, a myth, as Kansas will likely breeze through the first three rounds and only face serious competition in their regional final.
While the region boasts some quality teams, the best of them are in the lower half of the bracket, meaning Kansas will only have to play one of the better teams. Tennessee, San Diego State, Georgetown and Ohio Sate are all in the lower half, while the only quality teams in the Kansas draw at the top are Michigan State (5) and Maryland (4). The winner of the Northern Iowa-UNLV game may give Kansas some trouble for the first 15 minutes, but the Jayhawks simply have too much size and experience to imagine that they'd be ousted as early as the second round. Whether Maryland or Michigan State emerges from the other side of the draw, it won't matter. Kansas should handle either of them by ten points at least.
If either Georgetown or Ohio State match up in the regional final against Kansas, that game will provide a true test, though Ohio State has no depth, playing six men at most, and Georgetown, while very good, probably won't be able to keep up with Kansas for a full 40 minutes. That's the big myth this season. Kansas should cruise into the Final Four without breaking a sweat.
As far as bracket-busters are concerned, there are good prospects for upsets in each of the other regions.
#1 seed Syracuse will have its hands full, given they get past Vermont in the opening round. The Orange were upset by the Catamounts in the first round in 2005, though the Orange were a #4 seed that season and Vermont, 13. Figure Syracuse will not allow lightning to strike twice, but after that, it looks like Gonzaga next and then possibly Butler. The Zags haven't exactly knocked over the world this season, though early wins over Wisconsin and Cincinnati and a close loss to Michigan State gave them impetus to cruise through the West Coast conference with a 12-2 mark. A talented team, the Bulldogs are always dangerous, though Syracuse is probably much better.
The other Bulldogs in the draw, Butler, poses different dilemmas for the Orange. A disciplined, well-coached team with tourney experience and a solid bench. Forwards Matt Howard, Gordon Hayward and Willie Veasley are slightly undersized, but match up well with the orange front line. The guard play is solid and Butler won't be intimidated by Syracuse's 2-3 zone. It's easy to see how the Bulldogs could create the first #1 casualty of the tournament.
If Syracuse survives to that point, Kansas State will likely end their Final Four dreams. The Wildcats would be a #1 seed were it not for the potent Jayhawks. K-State can run and score in transition, playing against one of Syracuse's weaknesses. The early games in the lower portion of this region could go any way, with the exception of K-State. Pitt, Minnesota, Vanderbilt or BYU all have solid teams.
Kentucky probably has the easiest draw of any team in the tournament. They will dispose of East Tenn. St. in the opening round, then dust off the winner of the Texas-Wake Forest opener, probably the worst 8-9 match-up in the pool. After that, Temple, Cornell or Wisconsin all have equal opportunity to become the Wildcats' regional semi-final victim. Trouble looms in the regional final, where Marquette, West Virginia or New Mexico could emerge, though the Mountaineers seem to be the only realistic challenge to Kentucky. If West Virginia reached the regional final, their game with Kentucky could produce the national champion.
There's been some expression of a belief that Duke caught a break by getting into this regional draw, but there are minefields throughout what shapes up to be the most busted-up bracket of them all. Will the Blue Devils face Cal or Louisville in the second round? If the Golden Bears step up and beat the Cardinals, they could be the surprise of the tournament, as only two teams came out of the PAC-10. However, if Louisville plays to their potential, there aren't many teams they can't beat. Duke could be an early out.
Other sleepers in the top half of the draw include Sienna and Utah State, both of which are widely unknown, though Sienna has a history of knocking off higher-seeded opponents with regularity. They face Purdue in the opening round, and without Robbie Hummel, the Boilermakers are already vulnerable. Sienna could cause a quick exit.
Even if Duke survives the first two rounds, a win over either Utah State or Sienna cannot be taken for granted.
The bottom of the bracket also features the weakest #2 in the tournament, Villanova, which proved in the latter part of the season to be somewhat overrated. They haven't got the size or the shooters to go deep this year and their draw is loaded. Notre Dame, Old Dominion, St. Mary's, Richmond or Baylor are all teams capable of high levels of play. Villanova is unlikely to last three rounds, maybe not even two.
Baylor or St. Mary's could emerge as a regional finalist and either could reach the Final Four, though Notre Dame and Old Dominion's chances are not bad either. In any case, Villanova is doomed and Duke will be thoroughly tested.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
McConnell, Allen Lead Gaels in Rout of Zags; Four More Punch Dance Tickets
After losing twice to Gonzaga during the regular season, not many gave St. Mary's much of a chance against the Bulldogs in the West Coast Conference tournament final, but Mickey McConnell, who was shut out in the last meeting with the Zags, lit them up for 26 points and led the Gaels to the 81-62 upset win.
McConnell hit 10 of 17 shots, including 4 of 7 from three-point range, as he dashed through the Gonzaga defense en route to equalling his season high. At 6'0", McConnell was like a gnat amongst the trees, slashing into the lane for shots or dishing to teammates. He had 6 assists along with 4 steals as the Gaels pulled away steadily in the second half.
Also providing a significant boost was Ben Allen, who played his best game of the season when it counted the most, nailing 8 of 11 shots from the field - including 4 of 6 3-pointers - for a season-high 20 points. Allen was also solid on the boards, snatching 9 rebounds.
The win gave St. Mary's the automatic conference bid. Gonzaga, already a sure thing to make the tourney, will have to wait until Sunday to see where they are seeded.
Notable: Along with St. Mary's, the other teams winning conference tournaments were Old Dominion in the Colonial, with a 60-53 win over William & Mary; Sienna, slipping past Fairfield in OT, 72-65 (Edwin Ubiles, 27 points) for the Metro Atlantic crown; and, Wofford, winning the Southern Conference tourney, will be making its first ever appearance in the NCAA tourney, after a 56-51 win over Appalachian State.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Samhan Steady for 9-1 Gaels
Looking to get back to the NCAA tournament, the St. Mary's Gaels of the West Coast conference seem to have the players and chemistry to get there as they improved to 9-1 on Friday with a 80-65 thumping of Pacific.
The Gaels, despite finishing the 08-09 regular season with a 26-6 record, were denied an invitation to the Big Dance, eventually falling in the quarterfinals of the NIT. In 07-08, they lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Miami, after going 25-6. A mainstay in both of those seasons was 6'11" center Omar Samhan, now a senior, who's scored in double figures every game this season and has six double-double games this year.
In Friday's game, Samhan tallied 28 points, adding 8 boards and 4 blocks. He leads the Gaels in all three categories. Visting Vanderbilt, one of the top SEC teams this year, handed the Gaels their only loss of the season on November 20, 72-70. The season's biggest tests come on January 14 and again on February 11, when St. Mary's hosts, then plays at, Gonzaga.