Friday, March 20, 2009

March Madness Midwest Region Part 2

No. 2 seed Michigan State Spartans:

Why they will win it all: Michigan State is probably the deepest team in the tournament, they had 10 players who averaged at least nine minutes a game. Their offense is led by sophomore guard Kalin Lucas and junior forward Raymar Morgan. Each averaged over 10 points a game and compliment one another with Lucas offering the outside shot and Morgan being a force inside. Morgan is supported inside by senior center Goran Suton. Suton doesn't excel at any one aspect but is solid across the board. He's even become somewhat of an outside shooter adding another threat to the Michigan State offense.

Why they won't win it all: Michigan State lacks a star presence to take over a game or that could take that game winning shot. They have a lot of solid to good players but don't have that one great player. Despite having decent size they weren't a good rebounding team this season and will only struggle when facing more athletic competition from other conferences. They are an average shooting team hitting only 45.5% of their shots and less than 36% of their 3-pointers. They struggled from the free throw line making just 68% of their attempts.

Player to watch: Kalin Lucas. Lucas is the one player who can be the dynamic scorer the Spartans need. He's a solid 3-point threat and was the Spartans second best free throw shooter, hitting 80% of his shots from the line. Lucas is also a good passer and helps set up the offense for his inside men.

Prediction: Michigan State should be able to make it through the first two rounds with relative ease but aren't a safe bet to advance past the Sweet 16. A potential match-up with West Virginia doesn't favor the Spartans. Michigan State lacks the size and big play ability to compete with the Mountaineers.

Other teams to watch: The 6th seed West Virginia Mountaineers can be a dangerous team in this bracket. They have three offensive stars in senior guard Alex Ruoff, junior forward De'Sean Butler and freshman forward Devin Ebanks. Ebanks had a strong Big East Tournament and has been getting better all year. The Mountaineers are quick and athletic and have a very heady leader in Ruoff. Ruoff is a smart veteran player who can be deadly from the 3-point line. The 4 seed Wake Forest Demon Deacons are another team that bears watching in this tournament. They match up well with the Louisville Cardinals and could be the team that knocks them off. The Deacons are led by a pair of sophomores, guard Jeff Teague and forward James Johnson. Teague is one of the best shooters in the nation and plays great defense.

March Madness Midwest Region Part 1

No. 1 seed Louisville Cardinals

Why they will win it all: The Cardinals enter the tournament as the number 1 overall seed after winning the Big East Tournament and regular season title. They are led by their three forwards senior Terrence Williams, junior Earl Clark and freshman Samardo Samuels. Clark and Williams are among the best players in the Big East. Both are very athletic two-way players that can take over a game. Clark is especially frustrating for opposing teams to guard given his size and strength. Though built like a forward Clark is as quick as a guard and blows by opposing forwards on the way to the basket. They have a very talented eight man rotation that give them quality minutes. All eight of their players are a threat to score. Louisville is one of the more balanced teams in the league with depth at both guard and forward.

Why they won't win it all: Louisville played well against their Big East competition beating Villanova, Syracuse and West Virginia twice and Marquette and Pittsburgh once apiece. They struggled though against teams they should have beaten losing to Notre Dame, UNLV, Western Kentucky and Minnesota. The Cardinals are also not a great shooting team hitting just 45.1% from the field. Louisville is one of the worse free throw shooting teams in this tournament, hitting just 64% from the line. While Louisville is a good defensive team they don't always rebound well despite having the size and athletic ability.

Player to watch: Terrence Williams. Williams is a great all around player, he can score from the perimeter or inside, an excellent rebounder and defender, and he leads the team in assists. He is an unselfish player who consistently finds the open shooter. He is so athletic and strong that he can guard players of any size with ease.

Prediction: Louisville should make it out of the Midwest region and in to the Final Four with some ease. They will likely face a strong challenge from Wake Forrest in the Sweet Sixteen but have the athleticism to match-up with them. Look for Kansas and Michigan State to get knocked out early leaving, leaving the Cardinals to face a West Virginia team they've already beaten twice.

1st round upset: 14th seed North Dakota State over 3rd Kansas:
This isn't the same Jayhawks team that won the National Championship a year ago. They are young and untested and they don't play great defense. If Kansas can't defend the perimeter they will have a long day as the Bison are one of the top 5 3-point shooting teams in the nation, hitting over 41% of their shots. North Dakota State is a very veteran team and seniors Ben Woodside and Brett Winkelman both are excellent shooters and can score at will.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March Madness: East Region Part 2

No. 2 seed Duke Blue Devils:

Why they will win it all: The Blue Devils won the ACC tournament and were a top team all year. They have three players that can score any time they touch the ball, in sophomore forward Kyle Singler, junior guard Gerald Henderson and junior guard Jon Scheyer. All three players are shooting at least 36% from behind the arc. All three players averaged at least 15 points per game as well. While not a great defensive team they play very fundamental basketball and force a number of turnovers. Henderson is an athletic guard who can shoot the jump shot or go to the basket with equal skill. He has created problems all season for teams trying to guard him one-on-one.

Why they won't win it all: Duke is not a physical team they lack a true inside presence and are frequently out rebounded. They rely on the open 3 point shots and struggle when they are forced to score inside. The Blue Devils lack a true point guard to set up their shooters on perimeter and will struggle against teams with top guards. They lack the overall athleticism and physicality to play with a number of teams in the nation. While they have three good shooters they were a very poor shooting team overall averaging under 45% from the field. They are also not a very deep team and will struggle if any of their players get into foul trouble.

Player to watch: Gerald Henderson. Henderson is the one player on Duke's roster who presents a match-up problem for any team the Blue Devils play. He averaged 16.6 points per game this season and led the Blue Devils by shooting 47% from the field. He is a good defender and his quickness and streghth allow him to man up on just about anyone.

Prediction: The Blue Devils are vastly outgunned in this region and I believe will be upset in the second round by Texas. The Longhorns played below their talent level all year, but have the size and quickness that Duke can't compete with. If the Blue Devils manage to get by Texas they will have to face major obsectals in Villanova and Pittsburgh if they hope to make it to the Final Four.

Other teams to watch: The 3rd seed Villanova Wildcats are one of the best teams nobody is talking about. They got beat up some in Big East play this year but are a dangerous team. They won their only meeting against Pittsburgh and lost their regular season games to Louisville and Conneticut by a combined 7 points. Junior guard Scottie Reynolds and senior forward Dante Cunningham each averaged over 15 points per game this year. The 7th seed Texas Longhorns can be another dangerous team. They are led senior guard A.J. Abrams and junior forward Damion James. Each player has the ablity to take over a game and will present major match-up problems for any team they face. They have the talent they just need to harness it.

March Madness: East Region Part 1

No. 1 seed Pittsburgh Panthers:

Why they will win it all: The Panthers are a veteran team with three senior starters and one of the best big men in the country in sophomore center Dejuan Blair. Pittsburgh has three primary offensive weapons in Blair, senior guard Levance Fields and senior forward Sam Young. Fields is the floor general and one of the better passers in college basketball. He averages almost eight assists per game to go along with his 10.7 points per game. Blair averages a double double with 15.7 points per game and 12.2 rebounds. He was named Co-Big East Player of the year with Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet. The Panthers are among the top teams in shooting percentage in the nation and can score both inside and outside. Pittsburgh is a very athletic team and plays a solid defensive game that relies on them forcing bad shots.

Why they won't win it all: The Panthers are not without their flaws though and they struggle in a couple of areas. Though Pittsburgh has a number of players who can hit the 3-ball they lack a consistent presence on the perimeter. As evidenced by their quarter-final loss to West Virginia in the Big East tournament, when they went 0 for 8 behind the arc. Another area of concern for the Panthers is their inability to shoot free throws. The Panthers shot just 67% from the charity stripe this season well below average. The last major area of concern for Pittsburgh is foul trouble. If either Blair or Young get in foul trouble the Panthers lack the front court depth to make up for their absence.

Player to watch: Sam Young. Most people would put Blair here but Sam Young is the best player on this team. Young can score from anywhere on the court and plays great defense. He led the Panthers in scoring each of the past two years. He is a very cerebral player who often out plays bigger and stronger opponents due to his advanced understanding of the game. Young has the skill and athleticism to present match-up problems against just about any player in the nation.

Prediction: Pittsburgh should be the East region's representative in the Final Four. While its a strong bracket top to bottom the Panthers match up well against every team. The biggest scare may come from Villinova who beat the Panthers in their only match-up during the season.

1st round upset: 9th seed Tennessee over 8th seed Oklahoma St.:
While not that big of an upset prediction the Volunteers should be able to get by the Cowboys with strong play from their junior forwards Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism.

March Madness: West Region Part 2

No. 2 seed Memphis Tigers:

Why they will win it all: The Tigers are a much different team from the one that lost in the finals to Kansas a year ago. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. They are a more balanced team with four players averaging at least 10 points a game. Memphis also has a deep bench with a total of 9 players that average at least 12 minutes per game. The Tigers are led by freshman point guard Tyreke Evans and senior forward Robert Dozier. Evans led the team in scoring averaging over 16 points a game and is a quality defender. Dozier is their best inside scorer averaging 12.2 points per game. Memphis is a very athletic team that likes to force turnovers and get the fast break.

Why they won't win it all: Memphis is a hard to team to project because of the weakness of their conference. They ran away with the Conferance USA regular season and postseason title but didn't face any tough competition. Tennessee and Gonzaga were the only tournament teams they faced that they beat. Memphis can also be very inconsistent. Dozier is one of their best players but he disappears in far too many games. The Tigers lack a true perimeter threat and their overall shooting percentage is under 45%.

Player to watch: Tyreke Evans. Evans has quietly filled Derrick Rose's shoes as the teams star point guard. Evans isn't as complete a player as Rose but is still a dangerous scoring threat. He does a little bit of everything for the Tigers. In addition to leading the team in scoring, Evans led the team in steals, was second in assists and third in rebounds and blocked shots. Unfortunately Evans led the team in another category by a wide margin; turnovers. Evans is not a good passer and will try to do too much at times. If he stays focused Evans can be an elite scorer and a shutdown defender.

Prediction: I think Memphis will come out of the West region for a Final Four berth. Their depth and defense should help them overcome challenges from Missouri and Connecticut.

Other teams to watch: The 3rd seed Missouri Tigers could be a strong team in this bracket. They won the Big 12 tournament and could make a run in this tournament as well. Led by senior forwards DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons the Tigers can run with just about anyone. They are an athletic team that plays good defense and matches up well against Memphis and Connecticut. The 4th seed Washington Huskies are a deep team that has four scorers averaging at least 10 points. The Huskies are led by senior forward Jon Brockman who averaged over 14 points and 11 rebounds a game.

March Madness: West Region Part 1

No. 1 seed Connecticut Huskies:

Why they will win it all: The Huskies have a strong starting five led by senior guard A.J. Price and junior center Hasheem Thabeet. Price, Thabeet and senior forward Jeff Adrien all averaged at least 13 points a game. Also Thabeet and Adrien each averaged 10 rebounds a game. The big three are supplemented by freshman guard Kemba Walker and junior forward Stanley Robinson. Senior guard Craig Austrie gets significant time off the bench and can start against smaller opponents. Connecticut is a well rounded team that plays offense and defense with equal tenacity. Thabeet was among the nation's leaders in blocked shots averaging 4.6 per game. Two of their four losses came against fellow number 1 seed Pitt and another came in a dramatic six overtime loss to Syracuse in the Big East quarterfinals.

Why they won't win it all: Connecticut lost starting guard Jerome Dyson in mid-Feburary to an injury and haven't been the same team since. The Huskies are just 4-3 in Dyson's absence and are in the midst of a two game losing streak. Though they have a talented starting five, Connecticut lacks a quality bench. There is not much talent there behind Austrie and no real front court help. Thabeet can be one of the best big men in the country but he has some serious flaws in his game. He doesn't run the floor well and can be beat to the basket by quick athletic teams. Also, while Thabeet is an inside force above the rim, if backed away from the basket and forced into a jump shot Thabeet becomes a very ordinary big man.

Player to watch: A.J. Price. Thabeet may grab all the headlines but Price is the player that Connecticut needs the most out of. Without Dyson in the line-up Price stepped up to lead the team in scoring. Price is the team's best 3-point shooter and is a threat to score anytime he has the ball in his hands. He is a quick guard that can shut down an opposing team's best player. While not a great passer he still manages to set the offense up for the big men in the middle.

Prediction: Connecticut shouldn't have too much trouble advancing to the Elite Eight but will likely find their tournament over if they meet up with Memphis. Missouri is another team that that could give Connecticut trouble if they meet up with them in round of eight.

1st round upset: 10th seed Maryland over 7th seed California:
The Terps sneaked into the tournament with a late season win over UNC and a ACC semi-finals win over Wake Forest. Junior guard Greivis Vasquez is the key, if he's on he can take over a game. If the Golden Bears can't slow him down they will be looking at a first round exit.

March Madness: South Region Part 2

No. 2 seed Oklahoma Sooners:

Why they will win it all: The Sooners have the best player in the nation in sophomore power forward Blake Griffin. Griffin averaged 21.9 points per game and led the nation by averaging over 14 rebounds a game. Freshman guard Willie Warren is a fine compliment to Griffin, averaging 14.7 points per game, and is the team's best perimeter shooter.

Why they won't win it all: For as good as Warren can be Oklahoma lives and dies on the talent of Blake Griffin. They lack a true second option in the front court that allows teams to routinely double and triple team Griffin. As we've seen in recent years (Kansas 2008, Florida 2006-7, and UNC 2005) well rounded teams are the teams that win national championships. Also similar teams who are based around one star player such as Texas in 2007 (Kevin Durant) and Kansas State in 2008 (Michael Beasley) both lost in the 2nd round of the tournament.

Player to watch: Blake Griffin. Griffin can dominate the game as much as any other player in this tournament. If he can get in a rhythm early he will be tough to stop. There is no real weakness in his game. The one area of concern is sometimes Griffin gets turnover happy. He can sometimes press too much and make bad decisions when the Sooners are struggling. Overall though Griffin is a great player who can't be guarded one on one.

Prediction: I think Oklahoma will come out of the South and make it to the Final Four. They have a tough potential Sweet 16 match-up with Syracuse but they should be able to pull it out. I don't think UNC will have an answer for Griffin in the Elite Eight game.

Other teams to watch: The 3rd seed Syracuse Orange showed in the Big East Tournament that they can play with anyone. The Orange have a talented offense led by sophomore point guard Jonny Flynn and junior forward Paul Harris. Syracuse is a deadly 3-point shooting team and are a dangerous team in the South. The 4th seed Gonzaga Bulldogs are another team that could make a run in the South. They dominated their conference tournament winning both games by at least 25 points. They are a strong shooting team led by senior forward Josh Heytvelt.

March Madness: South Region Part 1

As games begin today we are going to take a look at each region. We will take a look at the top 2 seeds in each region and show why they can win it all. We will also look at other teams to watch and what first round upsets to expect. First up is the South region:

No. 1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels:

Why they will win it all: The Tar Heels are a talented veteran team. All five of their starters are juniors or seniors with previous tournament experience. UNC was also the 2nd best scoring team in the nation, with all five of their starters averaging double figures. Senior power forward Tyler Hansbrough and junior point guard Ty Lawson are among the best players at their position in the nation.

Why they won't win it all: Though the Tar Heels are one of the best offensive teams in the tournament they struggle defensively. They lack size and strength in the middle and are vulnerable to premier post players. Another big factor that could diminish their tournament hopes is the health of their point guard. Lawson, nursing a toe injury, sat out the ACC tournament and the team wasn't the same without him. They barely made it past Virginia Tech before losing to Florida State in the semi-finals. If Lawson misses time in the tournament or isn't 100 percent it will be an uphill climb for the Tar Heels to cut down the nets in Detroit.

Player to watch: Ty Lawson. When healthy Lawson is one of the top point guards in college. He is an all-around guard who averaged 15.9 points per game to go along with 6.5 assists. He is the Tar Heels best 3-point shooter and hit over 80% of his free throws. Lawson helps to open up Hansbourgh as well as fellow wing-men senior Danny Green and Junior Wayne Ellington. Carolina sorely missed their field general during the ACC tournament and will need Lawson to come back healthy for them to make a run at the national title.

Prediction: UNC is a talented team but they have a tough road ahead of them that will make it difficult to make it past the Elite Eight. Potential 2nd and 3rd round match-ups against LSU and Gonzaga could give Carolina a scare. If they do make it to the Elite Eight, I don't know if the Tar Heels possess the size inside to match up against Oklahoma or Syracuse.

1st Round upset: 12th seed Western Kentucky over 5th seed Illinois: The Hilltoppers look to play Cinderella for the 2nd year in a row after advancing to the Sweet 16 last season. They are a small team, but are excellent shooters. If they are on Western Kentucky is deadly beyond the arc.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Peppers trade?

I wanted to take a moment to comment on the recent rumor that Franchise player Julius Peppers was on the verge of being traded to the New England Patriots for a 2nd round pick. This would be a huge steal for the Patriots but I can't begin to imagine this rumor has much truth behind it. If the Panthers would accept only an early 2nd round pick they'd be grossly underselling on Peppers who is one of the best pass rushers in the league. The Patriots would at least have to include their first round pick, 23rd overall, in addition to the early 2nd round pick, 34th overall, that is rumored.

Another reason that this deal doesn't make sense is money. New England has a lot of money tied up in their top players already and have to resign nose tackle Vince Wilfork who is eligible for free agency next off season. The Patriots did get a big boost in money when they traded Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs for the 34th pick in the draft, but have already used some of that to resign their own players and bring in some free agents like Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs. While they still have some money to play with they have to save some money to sign their draft picks and to potentially extend Wilfork. Peppers would need to come at an extremely cap friendly deal for him to work for the Patriots.

While I believe that some trade talks probably have occurred, I can't see the Panthers or Peppers accepting less than what they deserve.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Trade Center: NFL

The Deal: The Detroit Lions send defensive tackle Cory Redding and a 5th round pick in April's draft to the Seattle Seahawks for LB Julian Peterson

Lions: Two years ago Cory Redding was Detroit's franchise player now he will be playing his football in Seattle. Redding has the ability to be a dominating force in the middle but has been inconsistent the past two years. Though the Lions defensive tackle play was one of their weak points last season, Redding was deemed expendable with the signing of DT Grady Jackson earlier this month. By moving Redding the Lions were able to fix another area of concern, outside linebacker. Julian Peterson, who will be 31 next season, should be able to help the Lions with both his experience and his overall talent. Peterson will pair up with Ernie Sims to give the Lions one of the best outside linebacker combos in the league. Peterson can be an effective blitzer off the end and will be a big boost to the Lions pass rush.

Seahawks: As good as Peterson is he was a bit redundant on the Seahawks. They already have two star linebackers in Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill and a quality back-up in D.D. Lewis. Also on passing downs the Seattle can use Darryl Tapp to attack the quarterback. One area of concern for Seattle's defense was defensive tackle, their top tackle was allowed to leave in free agency leaving a big hole in the middle. Redding, along with free agent tackle Collin Cole should be able to fill that hole. The two newcomers will pair with hold over Brandon Mebane to form a solid tackle rotation with a lot of potential. Redding has the athleticism to play some defensive end as well and will likely play some on the outside on rushing downs. Redding could have a big year this year playing alongside Mebane and All-pro defensive end Patrick Kerney. The Seahawks also will receive a 5th round pick, where they can hopefully find a solid role player.

Winner: This one could go either way but I'll say the Lions are the winner even though they are giving up the younger player plus the draft pick. The Lions were the 32nd ranked defense with Cory Redding, so they can't really be any worse without him. Peterson's leadership and consistency should benefit everyone on the Lions defense.