Tuesday, March 22, 2011

BDT Sweet Sixteen Preview Part I (Mar 22)

Believe it or not, I had an Ohio State-Kentucky dream last night. Keep in mind that I'm actually nine years old, so it's not quite as crazy as it sounds. I still get really excited before big events and have trouble sleeping the night before, so it's not as if this dream was totally out of left field. Still, it's pretty unusual (and weird) to dream about a basketball game four nights before it tips off. And, now that I'm thinking about it, I guess I'd characterize it as more of a nightmare than a dream. You see, in my "dream," Coach Calipari refused to bring any help on Jared Sullinger or adjust his defense and Sullinger scored over and over and over and over.......it was even more repetitive and painful than watching the Napa Know How commercial on a continuous loop for three hours.

Normally I would just shake this type of thing off. The problem is, I think it might happen...
Undeterred, I will hold out some small hope for my Wildcats and push on with my Sweet Sixteen preview.

Let me be honest with you here. So far, I'm slightly underwhelmed with this years tournament. There, I said it. I mentioned the quality of play yesterday, and that's what really sticks with me. Even the top seeds looked really sloppy (except OSU)! Maybe it's just me prematurely turning into my dad, but I really am sad at where college basketball is compared to what it was when I was younger. I remember watching the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats win the National Championship over John Wallace and Syracuse. I remember seeing Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson, Walter McCarty, and Tony Delk on the same team. I remember how amazing they were, how efficient they were. I own DVD's of the '96 National Championship game, the '98 Regional Final against Duke, and the '98 National Championship game. Maybe I was too young to really appreciate where the game was at then, but it sure seems like those teams would crush all comers from this year.

Regardless, I still love the game and I'm still excited for the rest of the tournament. Maybe the play somewhat resembles the WNBA. So what? Maybe the top teams aren't truly 'great' teams. So what? It doesn't mean their won't be great games this weekend! And I'm banking on a great upset! Let's break these down!

Southeast Region

2 Florida vs. 3 BYU

My gut reaction is to continue hating on BYU because of their utter lack of talent beyond Jimmer. Of course, I picked Gonzaga over them because of that type of hatred and look where that got me!

Here's the thing; there's a huge difference between Gonzaga and Florida. I've watched a lot of Gators games this year and belive me, they're legit. Like the 'Zags, they have incredible frontcourt depth in Alex Tyus, Vernon Macklin, and Patric Young and those three are huge matchup problems for an honor code depleted BYU frontcourt. Unlike the 'Zags, they have solid, consistent guard play. Instead of guarding the offensively challenged Gonzaga point guards, Jimmer is going to have to matchup against either Erving Walker or Kenny Boynton...good luck Jimmer.

Key for Florida: Kenny Boynton's health
Boynton suffered a nasty looking ankle injury in their second round game, but Florida has said he should play against BYU. I've seen enough of Boynton the last two years to say he's a pretty good defender. He's not going to shut down The Jimmer, but he can definitely make him work for his shots and keep his percentages down.

Key for BYU: Help Defense (Defensive Rotations)
Yes, I picked this over Jimmer! Look, we've seen BYU get beat even when Jimmer blows up. At some point, no matter how good Jimmer is shooting, you have to get some stops. Florida's guards are much better at penetrating into the paint than Gonzaga's were and Jimmer's man is probably going to crush him. The Stormin' Mormons have to communicate on defense and consistently get their defensive rotations down or their going to give up way too many easy buckets to win this game.

Final Thoughts and My Pick:
Is it just me or does Billy Donovan look more and more like Eddie Munster every year?

My pick: Florida...by double digits!

4 Wisconsin vs. 8 Butler

Let's go ahead and build on my hatred theme. I HATE WISCONSIN! There are many complex reasons why I hate this team, most of them actually being very shallow such as "I hate most of their last names," but that's irrelevant. All you need to know is I hate them. Also, THEY SCORED 33 POINTS IN A 40 MINUTE GAME! Seriously, I can't figure out how this team wins games, but they do. On the other hand, I really love Butler. I love Shelvin Mack, I love Matt Howard, and I love Brad Stevens. Despite my overwhelming hatred for Wisconsin, I'm excited for this game because of how these two teams play. They play tough, physical defense, they run precise offensive sets, they look for good shots, they set good screens, they block out. In short, they play great white boy ball! Which is ironic because most of the players on the floor will be white! Not shocking considering the teams are from Wisconsin and Indiana...I better stop before I get myself in trouble.

Key for Wisconsin: Score some freaking points!

And the winner for most obvious analysis! Seriously though, 33 points in a 40 minute game is bad. Really bad. I know they intentionally try to milk the shot clock and shorten the game, but they don't always get good shots because they don't have many 'creators.'

Key for Butler: Matt Howard's Fouls

Personally, I think Butler is a superior team to Wisconsin. I really don't know how they lost to Youngstown State, but I'm very impressed with them overall. The key to the whole team is Matt Howard. He's developed so much from his freshman year and he's become a guy you can run your entire offense through. He does all the big things you'd expect from a star while still doing all the little things you'd expect from a role player. The one thing he can struggle with sometimes is staying on the floor and Butler is a very different team when he's on the bench. Wisconsin has a strong, versatile frontcourt and keeping Howard on the floor for 30+ minutes will be key.

Final Thoughts and My Pick:

Doesn't it seem weird that Matt Howard doesn't have a whispy Larry Bird-like mustache? Can somebody please do some Photoshop magic and get me a picture?

My pick: Butler 26 Wisconsin 21...
No I'm only joking, sort of. I've got Butler in a close, low scoring game.

Southwest Region

10 Florida State vs. 11 VCU

This game, not so excited. Honestly, I don't even want to write about it so I'll keep this brief. I didn't watch a lot of either team this year, apart from the tourney, so I don't have a lot of insight. FSU is infinitely more athletic, but I'm very impressed with Joey Rodriguez from VCU. I love point guards who seem to have the ball on a string!

Key for Florida State: Perimeter Defense

VCU has shot a blazing 20-46 (43.4%) from downtown in their first two tournament games. They move the ball well around the perimeter and find the open shooter in transition. FSU has long, athletic defenders. If they can stay at home and close out well on shooters, they can really disrupt VCU's rhythm.

Key for VCU: Turnover Battle

They've only turned the ball over 10 times in their first two games and that's a huge part of their success. Florida State will pressure hard and capitalize on open court opportunities. Joey Rodriguez has been arguably the most impressive PG in the tournament so far and he has to continue to take care of the ball for VCU to have a chance to hang.

Final Thoughts and My Pick:

I'm amazed at how little I care about this game. Actually, I'm not even sure I'll watch it...though you have to love a guy named Shaka!

My pick: I have no idea what to think about FSU. They turn all that talent into a crappy 10 seed and then turn around and crush Notre Dame. Anybody have an idea of what's going on? I wouldn't be surprised if they turned around and sucked against an inferior VCU team. However, I'll take Florida State in a high scoring affair.

1 Kansas vs. 12 Richmond

I talked about how much I liked Richmond on the podcast. It was really one of the few things I got right! The Vandy win is impressive, but they definitely lucked out by playing Morehead State. Kansas, on the other hand, well...they're really good. They have the deepest frontcourt in the country by far and their hi-lo offense perfectly compliments their skill sets. Richmond literally has to play the perfect game for them to even have a chance at the upset. They have the shooters to pull this off, but can their frontcourt compete?

Key for Richmond: Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson

I'm not going to try to get cute with this. Richmond doesn't have the talent up front to compete with Kansas so there's no point in even considering it. Harper and Anderson are Richmond basketball right now and they have to play the games of their lives to win this thing. They can't have an off night and they can't turn the ball over. Period.

Key for Kansas: Focus

This really shouldn't be a competition considering the disparity between the two teams. Kansas is arguably the best team in the nation right now and if they play anywhere near their usual level, they will crush Richmond. Am I stretching a bit to think Kansas will overlook an opponent after what happened to Northern Iowa last year? Definitely. Is there any other plausible reason why Kansas would lose? None at all.

Final Thoughts and My Pick:

So, if Kansas wins, they'll play no better than a 10 seed in the Elite Eight? Wow, nice set up...

My pick: Kansas 128 Richmond 36

West Region

2 San Diego State vs. 3 Connecticut

KEMBA TIME! At this point, I think it's safe to say Kemba Walker is must watch TV. I mean, can this guy seriously drag his team to the Final Four all by himself? I keep thinking he's going to die at some point, but it just never seems to happen! Of course, there's also the other angle on this game. This should finally be the game where we learn if San Diego State is for real. Honestly, I don't know anything about this team! Yeah, they rolled through the Mountain West...great. Sure, they took out Temple in OT...fantastic. Now, let's see what they can do against a top notch Big East team. I wasn't terribly impressed with them against Temple, but one showing isn't a large enough sample size.

Key for Both Teams: Kemba Walker

I've watched tons of UConn games this year and it always comes down to this one key. If Kemba is rolling then UConn wins. If he's off then they lose. It's really as simple as that! I have no idea who San Diego State is going to match up against Kemba, but he better be ready for the ride of his life because San Diego State will live and die by how that matchup goes.

Final Thoughts and My Pick:

How the frick is San Diego State a 2 seed?! GOOD WORK GENE SMITH! YOU CLOWN!

My pick: Connecticut by double digits

1 Duke vs. 5 Arizona

I said this before and I'll say it again. I would give a body part for Arizona to beat Duke. No joke! I hate Duke that much!

Apart from my hatred, I get the feeling Arizona is going to be a trendy upset pick. After all, Duke was nearly toppled by a mediocre Michigan team. Would I love to go along with this? Absolutely I would! It would be like Thanksgiving in March (I don't like Christmas, remember?)! Unfortunately, I don't see it happening...

Key for Duke: Shot Selection

This, more than anything, is what went wrong for Duke against Michigan. Duke had a clear athletic advantage and, instead of attacking, they settled for deep jumpers. Arizona is much more athletic than the Wolverines, but Duke should still be able to get the ball to the rim. Sure, they're still going to take their fair share of 3's, but those need to come off of drive and kick opportunities instead of the stand still contested shots they took on Sunday.

Key for Arizona: Defensive Rebounding

You can't always control the types of shots Duke is going to get. It's easy to say you need to stop penetration, but it's much harder to actually do that. Plain and simple, they're going to get their shots and they're going to score some points. What you can control, however, is how many opportunities they have to get those shots. Duke is at their best when their getting second shot opportunities and getting a body on the Plumlee's is crucial. Securing those rebounds prevents them from 5-8 extra possessions and, because Duke crashes so hard, allows you to outlet into some open court opportunities.

Final Thoughts and My Pick:

Is there some sort of manufacturing plant where tall, goofy white guys are built and shipped to Duke? Are we finally done with the Plumlee model after Marshall comes in next year?

My pick: As long as Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith can co-exist in the same backcourt, this team is on a different level from everybody else. Also, Arizona isn't really all that good...and the PAC-10 sucks!
Duke wins this one big.

East Region

2 North Carolina vs. 11 Marquette

Despite this being a 2/11 matchup, I'm extremely intrigued. Marquette has an interesting team that probably just wasn't well suited to Big East play. They rely heavily on their perimeter players and can definitely shoot. Contrast that to North Carolina, who has a big front line and little perimeter shooting and you can see why this could be an interesting game. I was down on UNC going into the tournament, but I have to give them major props for taking down a tough Washington team. Of course, they did literally everything in their power to lose that game, but still...

Key for North Carolina: Turnovers/Getting the ball into the post

I guess both of those would fall under the ball handling theme, but I thought it would be more fun to type them both out and then not edit it.

Marquette plays tough, pressure defense on the perimeter and they're going to try to force UNC's young guards into mistakes. For his part, Kendall Marshall has been bettter than advertised since taking over for the legendary Larry Drew. It's not just about taking care of the ball though, it's about where the ball ends up. They can't satisfy themselves with working it around the perimeter all day. Tyler Zeller is going to be the best big man on the floor by far and they have to find ways to work it down in the low post on nearly every possession.

Key for Marquette: Pace

Marquette simply can't get into a slow it down slugfest with UNC. They don't have the talent up front to string together stops and keep them off the offensive glass. If Marquette can push the pace and sucker UNC into playing their type of game, then they definitely can win this game. We know this for sure; Harrison Barnes and Dexter Strickland are prone to taking bad jump shots and that's exactly what Marquette needs to see.

Final Thoughts and My Pick:

Somebody needs to tell me what the heck happened at the end of the Washington-UNC game! Did everybody just go stupid all at once? Why was Washington shooting from halfcourt with 3 seconds left to play? What the heck was John Henson thinking when he tried to catch the shot? What were the refs doing during the timeout that was more important than making sure they put the full second back on the clock that was supposed to be there?! What the heck was John Henson thinking when he goaltended the last second shot?! Is John Henson stupid?! Have I said John Henson enough?

My pick: John Henson reigns supreme! North Carolina wins...

1 Ohio State vs. 4 Kentucky

Here we go! I was just asked by our good friend Nick Laney where my trepidation level was at on a scale of 1-10. 1 is me lounging on the couch watching Kentucky tear into East Tennessee State. 10 is me having to eat a jar of mayonnaise. (For those of you who are unaware, I am actually scared of mayonnaise. Not just dislike...actual fear.) At this point, I'm probably already at an 8 or an 8.5.

If it weren't for me being surrounded by Ohio State fans, including my wife and in-laws, I would be extremely excited about this game. It should be an excellent matchup and I fully expect a great game. I definitely think Ohio State is the better team, but Kentucky can definitely win this. Let's look at some key matchups...

Jared Sullinger vs. Josh Harrellson
I don't think Sullinger has faced anyone this year who has been equally as strong as he is. There's definitely a huge talent disparity between the two, but Harrellson isn't getting pushed around and he will hold his own on the boards.

Jon Diebler, William Buford, David Lighty, Aaron Craft vs.
Darius Miller, Brandon Knight, DeAndre Liggins, Doron Lamb
I can guarantee you this, Ohio State has not faced a longer, more athletic backcourt all season. At the very least, Kentucky length should affect Ohio State's shooting and perhaps throw them out of the terrific rhythm they've been in. On the other hand, Ohio State's guys are steady as can be. They perform night in and night out and you can always depend on getting good production from them. For Kentucky, you never really know what you're going to get. Knight scored only 2 points against Princeton but then scored 30 against West Virginia! Sometimes Miller shows up, sometimes he doesn't! Believe me, as a Kentucky fan, it's extremely frustrating.

Key for Both Teams: Foul Trouble

Neither of these teams are very deep. Kentucky goes only six deep while Ohio State goes seven, sort of. The playing field will be completely level in terms of fatigue, so fouls could be the x-factor. Ohio State's big advantage is having Dallas Lauderdale to plug the dam in case Sullinger gets two quick ones. Behind Harrellson lies Eloy Vargas, perhaps my most hated Kentucky player of all time. Belive me, he sucks. On the flip side, foul trouble to either Lighty or Buford would be devastating because they don't have too many guys capable of getting their own shot.

Final Thoughts and My Pick:

If I were John Calipari, I would single cover Jared Sullinger. Not kidding. I've watched a lot of Ohio State this year and I can safely say there is nobody better at finding the open man out of a double team than Jared Sullinger. They have too many shooters to continually give them open looks. Kentucky has the advantage in the backcourt and you have to give those guys the opportunity to win you the game. If Sullinger crushes Harrellson and gets 30 then so be it. I'd much rather overcome one guy getting 30 then overcome back breaking 3 pointer after back breaking 3 pointer.

One other thing; Kentucky has to attack the basket all game. Ohio State has a major weakness when it comes to defending the rim and Kentucky has the personnel to exploit that. Terrence Jones in particular, has to be more aggressive and take advantage of his matchup. If Lauderdale is on him, then he has a major speed advantage and can beat him off the dribble all day. If Lighty gets thrown on him then he has a huge size advantage and can work him in the low post.

Look, I'm not saying Kentucky is going to win. Honestly, I think Ohio State wins this game for a variety of reasons. All I'm saying is I think Kentucky can do this. I think we're a pretty good team and we have the right matchups to knock off Ohio State. Can you see the false hope seeping through? I need this guys...

Email me at: borisdiawtime@gmail.com
Follow me on Twitter at: @borisdiawtime

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