Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sweet 16 Preview: (2) Duke vs. (3) Villanova

(2) Duke Blue Devils:

Their Tournament so far: The Blue Devils won their first game over (15) Binghamton by 24 points. Duke had a balanced attack in which six players managed to get into double figures. Their second round game against (7) Texas was a bit closer, with Duke winning 74-69. Texas battled Duke all game and was within one point in the games final minute but couldn't come away with the upset. Junior guard Gerald Henderson led the Blue Devils with 24 points.

Hot Hand: Henderson has 37 points in two games and has been the catalyst for Duke. Sophomore forward Kyle Singler has added 27 points and led the Blue Devils in rebounding each game.

How they match-up with Villanova: The Blue Devils match-up well against the Wildcats of Villanova. They both play very similar style of offenses based around perimeter shooting and one big man in the middle. Villanova is a bit more physical and athletic than Duke which could give the Blue Devils some problems. Duke on the other hand play solid defense and have good shot selection.

X-Factor: Getting Gerald Henderson involved early. Henderson is the one player on Duke's roster who is as quick and strong as Villanova's starters. His inside-outside scoring ability makes him the Blue Devils top threat. Henderson presents a big match-up problem for the Wildcats. If he can get going early should be enough to send the Blue Devils to the next round.

(3) Villanova Wildcats:

Their Tournament so far: The Wildcats struggled out of the gate in their first game, going into halftime with a 10 point deficit to (15) American. They came out in the second half with a vengence and outscored American by 23. Villanova had two 25 point performances that night by senior forwards Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson. In their second game against (6) UCLA the Wildcats exploded for a 89-69 win. Villanova had six players in double figures and out rebounded the Bruins by 13.

Hot Hand: Cunningham has had 43 points so far in the tourney and is a big match-up problem for opposing teams. Anderson has been a good second option for the Wildcats with a combined 35 points. He has scored double figures in both of the games despite averaging only about 8.5 points per game during the season.

How they match-up against Duke: Villanova is actually the better shooting team, despite the fact that the Blue Devils were a higher scoring team this year. The Wildcats have a better inside presence than the Blue Devils and showed that this season with their tough Big East schedule. While not the most physical team, the Wildcats front court should have the advantage against the Blue Devils. Villanova is also a more athletic team which should help them on defense and to create room for open shots.

X-Factor: Working Dante Cunningham inside against Duke's Kyle Singler. Cunningham should have the advantage against Singler and the Wildcats need to exploit that. Let Cunningham go to the basket early and put Singler in a position where he has to foul. Duke doesn't have much depth with their big men and will be in big trouble if Singler sits a portion of the game with foul trouble.

Sweet 16 Preview: (2) Memphis vs. (3) Missouri

(2) Memphis Tigers:

Their Tournament so far: The Tigers survived a potential first round upset by 15th seed Cal State Northridge. Though they won the game 81-70, Memphis was down by three with nine minutes remaining. Sophomore guard Roburt Sallie came up big off the bench for the Tigers by hitting 10 3-pointers. In the second round game against (10) Maryland, Memphis showed why they were a number 2 seed by blowing out the Terps with a 89-70 win. The Tigers had 5 players in double figures and were too quick and athletic for the Terps to handle.

Hot Hand: Roburt Sallie scored just 150 points in the 33 games leading up to the NCAA tournament but has 48 in the Tigers first two rounds. Sallie has been a good 3-point shooter all year has caught fire in the tournament with a combined 13-19 from behind the arc. Freshman guard Tyreke Evans has added 34 points for Memphis and has been disruptive on defense.

How they match-up with Missouri: Memphis match-ups well with Missouri. They are very similar teams, both like to get out in front of their opponents and score in transition. Both teams are very adept at creating turnovers and forcing bad shots. Memphis doesn't have the 3-point shooting ability to match with Missouri but does have more overall talent in their back court. Memphis also has a depth advantage over Missouri, with a more balanced offense.

X-Factor: Win the battle of the big men. Missouri's two best players are forwards and if they get hot, Missouri will advance to the Elite Eight. Memphis needs their own forwards, senior Robert Dozier and junior Shawn Taggart, to match-up and shut down the Missouri threat. Dozier and Taggart will need to control the boards as well and give their team some second shot looks.

(3) Missouri Tigers:

Their Tournament so far: Missouri had a 19 point victory over (14) Cornell in the first round. The Tigers were led by senior forward Leo Lyons who had 23 points and 10 rebounds. In the second round the Tigers had a tough match-up against (6) Marquette. The Tigers pulled out a four point victory behind clutch free throw shooting down the stretch.

Hot Hand: Lyons has paced the Tigers with 41 points between the two games. He's been strong from the free throw line hitting 11 of his 13 attempts. Senior forward DeMarre Carroll has scored in double digits in both rounds and has been the team's leader all season. Freshman guard Kim English has come off the bench to score 30 points and has gone 6-10 from beyond the 3-point line.

How they match-up with Memphis: They can't match the star quality or depth of Memphis but they can play defense and force Memphis to play their game. While both teams rely on transition basketball, Missouri plays a tighter defense and is a better shooting team. They need to not give up so many second chance points and capitalize on Memphis turnovers.

X-Factor: Shutting down the Memphis back court. Missouri has the advantage on the inside but Memphis has a big advantage with their guards. While Missouri is a better shooting team, the Memphis guards are quicker and more athletic. For Missouri to win they have to slow down Evans, Sallie and senior guard Antonio Anderson. If Missouri can neutralize the threat on the outside their inside advantage should give them the victory.

Sweet 16 Preview: (1) Pittsburgh vs. (4) Xavier

(1) Pittsburgh Panthers:

Their Tournament so far: Pittsburgh has had their fair share of struggles so far in the tournament. Though they won their first game over 16th seed East Tennessee State by 10 points, they were up by only two with under five minutes to go. The Panthers played a sloppy game committing 18 turnovers. In the second round game Pittsburgh ran into the 3-point shooting (8) Oklahoma St. Cowboys. The Cowboys scored 49 points and shot over 60% from behind the arc in the first half. The Panthers battled back and turned the game into a 3-point shootout with both team combining for 18 trey's in the first half alone. Junior forward Sam Young led Pittsburgh with 32 points and played every minute of that game.

Hot Hand: The Panthers haven't had one player dominate so far but have had good performances from their stars. Sophomore center DaJuan Blair led the Panthers in the first round game with 27 points and 16 rebounds and followed it up with a double double in the second round game. Young had a solid first round game but exploded in the second round game against the Cowboys. Young was all over the floor and Oklahoma State just didn't have an answer for him.

How they match-up with Xavier: The Panthers can't match-up with Xavier's size or depth on paper, but they should be able to on the court. Blair and Young may not be the tallest front court players in the tournament but they play like they are. All year Blair has battled and won against taller big men in the Big East. On the perimeter Xaiver has a couple 3-point shooters and the Panthers will need big games by their guards to contain them. Both teams crash the boards but the Panthers should have a slight advantage here.

X-Factor: Control the game in the paint. The Panthers should go inside early and often to Blair and Young. Both players are so athletic and strong that they will be tough for Xavier to stop without fouling. While the Musketeers have a deep bench they lose a lot of leadership and experience when their starters are in foul trouble. Pittsburgh also has to have a rebounding advantage to eliminate second chance points.

(4) Xavier Musketeers:

Their Tournament so far: The Musketeers have two double digit wins in the first two rounds. They cruised past 13th seed Portland State 77-59 in the first round. Xavier had four players in double digits led by senior guard C.J. Anderson with 14. In the second round game (12) Wisconsin led at half but the Musketeers pulled away with a 35 point second half to a 60-49 victory.

Hot hand: Senior guard B.J. Raymond leads Xavier with 28 points between the two games. Raymond is the team's most consistent shooter and can score from anywhere on the court. Junior forward Derrick Brown also has a pair of double digit point efforts and is the team's best rebounder.

How they match-up with Pittsburgh: Xavier has the size to match-up with Pittsburgh and the athleticism but the question remains if they have the strength. The Musketeers big men will have to contain Blair and Young inside and fight for rebounds. One big advantage is their depth especially on the front court. If they can get some early fouls on Young or Blair they should be able to get a rebounding advantage. Both Anderson and Raymond can play a little forward and have the quickness to guard Young.

X-Factor: Dominate the boards. Xavier is a good rebounding team but will need to be a great one to beat Pittsburgh at their own game. The Panthers are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, especially on offense. They give their team multiple second chance shots throughout the game. The Musketeers will need to eliminate the Panthers advantage underneath and get their own second chance opportunities if they hope to win.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sweet 16 Preview: (1) Conneiticut vs. (5) Purdue

(1) Connecticut Huskies:

Their Tournament so far: The Huskies dominated the first two rounds of the tournament winning by a combined 82 points. In their first game against the 16th seed Chattanooga Mocs, Connecticut had five players in double figures, including three with 20 or more points. The Huskies grabbed 24 more rebounds than the Mocs and committed 10 less turnovers. In the 2nd round game against the 9th seed Texas A&M Aggies the Huskies were just as dominate. Led by senior point guard A.J. Price, who had 27 points, Connecticut had four players manage double digit point totals against the Aggies. The Huskies shot 58% from the field and out rebounded A&M by 14.

Hot hand: Price and senior forward Jeff Adrien have been the stars for Connecticut so far. Price has 47 points and 11 assists through two games and is shooting 50% behind the 3-point line. Adrien has been in double figures in both games and has 24 total rebounds.

How they match-up with Purdue: The Huskies will need junior center Hasheem Thabeet to get hot after he disappeared in the A&M game. Thabeet along with Adrien and junior forward Stanley Robinson on the inside Connecticut should be able to contain Purdue's big men. Price along with fellow guards Craig Austrie and Kemba Walker give Connecticut a big advantage on the perimeter. Connecticut's quickness should give the Boilermakers back-court fits all game.

X-Factor: Connecticut's presence inside. Thabeet needs to step up and control the boards like he has all season. Purdue is a balanced team but they rely on the 3-pointer, for the Huskies to win the need to they need to eliminate second chances by their opponent. Going inside on offense to Thabeet and Adrien could get Purdue in foul trouble and force them to go to their bench.

(5) Purdue Boilermakers:

Their Tournament so far: The Boilermakers squeaked by in their first two rounds with a five point victory over the 12th seed Northern Iowa Panthers and a two point upset over the 4th seed Washington Huskies. Despite leading both games the whole way the Boilermakers had to rely on clutch free throw shooting at the end of the game to advance to the next round.

Hot Hand: Sophomore forward JaJuan Johnson is leading the Boilermakers with 36 points between two games. Eleven of his 36 points and three block shots came in the second half of the Washington game that sent the Boilermakers to the Sweet 16. Sophomore guard E'Twaun Moore has added 31 points for Purdue and has gone 13-15 from the free throw line.

How they match-up against Connecticut: Purdue is a balanced team that has both inside and outside scoring options. Also they have a solid eight man rotation that gives them solid minutes. Unfortunately they can't match Connecticut's experience and star player advantage. Purdue's top three scorers are all sophomore's and will all be matched up against juniors and seniors. While they have some size they don't rebound well and will have to improve if they hope to knock off the Huskies.

X-Factor: Robbie Hummel breaking out of his slump. Sophomore forward Robbie Hummel was 3rd on the team in scoring during the season, averaging over 12 points a game but has yet to get into double figures in the tournament. In the second game against Washington Hummel ended up as the team's 6th best scorer. He was the Purdue's best 3-point option during the season but has only hit one three over the last two games. For the Boilermakers to make it to the Elite Eight Hummel will have to get hot. He has the athleticism to give Connecticut forwards Adrien and Robinson problems chasing him out on the perimeter.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Weekend Wrap-up: NCAA Tournament

Well the Sweet 16 is all set and 2009 is not the year for the underdogs. Only one team (5th seed Purdue) beat a higher seed in the second round to advance to the Sweet 16. Also for the first time in the Tournament's history the top three seeds from each region made the 3rd round. Joining those 12 teams are two number 4 seed's, Gonzaga and Xavier, number 5 seed Purdue and number 12 seed Arizona.

Arizona went from being one of the bubble teams when this tournament started, one of the quarter of teams that still remain. The Wildcats lucked out a bit in their in their seeding. They faced an overrated Utah team in the first round, which could not match up with Arizona's shooting ability. Then lucked out when 13th seed Cleveland State upset 4th seed Wake Forrest in the first round, making the Wildcats the favorite to advance to the Sweet 16.

Purdue was the only 5th seed to survive the dreaded 5-12 upset by outlasting Northern Iowa 61-56. Purdue managed to hang-on in the second round and upset 4th seed Washington with a two point victory. Memphis and Pittsburgh survived close calls in the first round when they both came out of the locker room cold. Louisville, UNC and Pittsburgh all had tight 2nd round games but still showed that they were top quality teams. Michigan State and Duke each squeaked by their 2nd round games with 5 point victories. Of the number 1 and 2 seeds only Connecticut and Oklahoma put up back-to-back dominate games. Gonzaga had the play of the tournament to win their second game against Western Kentucky, by going to coast to coast for a lay-up with only 7 seconds on the clock.

While some people may be down on this tournament because it doesn't have the traditional underdog story that we've come to love during March Madness, it may turn out to be one of the better tournaments down the stretch. With so many top teams still in this tournament no one has an easy road to Detroit. There are no gimme match-ups here and we will likely see some 1's and 2's start to fall. These final 15 games to decide a national champion will prove who is the toughest, deepest and most talented team in the country.

Check back through-out the week as I preview each Sweet 16 match-up.