Wednesday, March 21, 2012

March Madness Second Weekend Preview

No explanation needed...
The Sweet Sixteen is now upon us, and unlike last year, we actually have some good teams left! Of course, I’m pretty sure there weren’t any good teams last year, but that’s beside the point. Other than the two shocking 15-2 upsets, most of the tourney’s higher seeds have advanced, and it’s now time to see how the best of the best stack up.

Before we get into my ridiculous preview, I wanted to take a moment to lament over a couple things the tournament has deprived us of.

1.) Florida State’s early loss to Cincinnati has deprived us of the opportunity to see Luke Loucks’ fiancée anymore. I don’t know how it happened to such a trashy player, but Loucks did well. Very well. Bravo, my friend.

2.) Vanderbilt’s not-so-shocking early loss to Wisconsin has deprived us of our one and only opportunity to see Fest(iv)us Ezeli vs. Rakeem Christmas. That’s right; Festivus vs. Christmas. The most amazing matchup in history. I, personally, am not a huge fan of Christmas, so I’d be pulling for Festivus.

Alright, that’s enough airing of grievances for me. Moving on to the feats of strength! Counting from 1-7, here it is...

1 Rivalry Game…

...Kentucky vs. Indiana. The NCAA tournament rarely provides us with these types of gifts. Not only are they bitter rivals, but they’ve already engaged in one instant classic earlier this year, with IU knocking off #1 Kentucky on a buzzer beater. You can bet that Calipari will be showing that clip to his players over and over and over in the days leading up to the game. You can also bet that IU won’t be intimidated by the still #1 overall Wildcats. You know, since they beat them and all. I’m not going to try to break this game down or anything, as I don’t want to risk sounding over-confident. I’m not. I’m terrified of this game. Not because I think Indiana is better than Kentucky (they aren’t), but because IU is one of the few teams that can match Kentucky’s strength and intensity. Also, they match up fairly well in comparison to most other teams. Kentucky should win this game, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t a war.

Prediction: Close game throughout, plenty of lead changes. Kentucky takes control late and wins 74-67.

2 Double Digit Seeds That Might Not Be Done…

...North Carolina St. Getting through Georgetown was fairly impressive, but taking down Kansas is a totally different beast. Then again, NC State seems to be hitting their stride at the right time, while Kansas is coming off a near-miss against Purdue. The key will be how well Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie handle the big front line of Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey. If they can neutralize them like they did Henry Sims and Georgetown, then we could be in for an upset.

Prediction: NC State gets off to a quick start, exploiting potential mismatches with Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie. Kansas’ size and talent eventually takes hold, however, and they win somewhat comfortably. Final Score: Kansas 78 NC State 67.

…Xavier. Though Xavier isn’t as talented as NC State, I think they stand a better chance of advancing. Baylor certainly has a lot of big, athletic players that will give the Musketeers problems, but I can’t say I’ve been too impressed with anyone on Baylor besides Brady Heslip. Even more of a problem is a Baylor zone that habitually gives up open 3’s. Against Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, that could spell disaster. Speaking of Holloway, he’s playing as well as anybody not named Draymond Green. Trust me, as a Kentucky fan, I want no part of him in the Elite Eight.

Prediction: Tu Holloway carves up Baylor’s crappy zone, and Scott Drew’s lack of game day prowess quickly becomes evident as he’s unable to come up with a solution for that and his team’s inability to get open looks from the outside. That’s right, folks, I’m calling the Xavier upset by a score of 65-60.

3 Teams That Are Locks to Advance...

...Michigan St. (over Louisville). Have I mentioned Draymond Green yet? Because if I haven’t (which I have), let me go ahead and reiterate how dominating he is right now. Thus far, this is his tournament, and I expect that to continue into the second weekend. Louisville doesn’t have a ton of depth inside, and Gorgui Dieng is really the only rim protector they have. For his part, he’s one of the best in the country at what he does, but he isn’t the hardest guy in the world to get a few fouls on. Considering how physical Michigan State games always are, I expect Dieng to play less than 30 minutes in this one. That leaves things wide open down low for Green, Adreian Payne, and Derrick Nix to dominate.

Oh, and also Louisville just isn’t all that good. Especially compared to Michigan State. They don’t have any real high end talent, and they certainly don’t have a go-to guy like Draymond Green. The effect of a player like Green simply can’t be understated, especially at this time of year. Where does Louisville go when they need a bucket? Who do they turn to? Connecticut certainly had that answer last year, and Michigan State has it this year.  

Prediction: With Dieng in foul trouble, the Spartans pile up points in the paint like nothing you’ve ever seen, cruising to an easy 75-59 win.

...North Carolina (over Ohio). Even without Kendall Marshall, the Tar Heels should have no problem getting past the Bobcats. Look, I know Ohio has been playing really well, but let’s not go overboard because they took down an overrated Michigan team and a crappy South Florida team. They might be able to keep it interesting for awhile as UNC adapts to life without Marshall, but the overwhelming talent and size disparity are eventually going to win out. Henson and Zeller are monsters inside, and Ohio just isn’t going to be able to contain them well enough to stay competitive.

Prediction: Reggie Bullock was a big time recruit a couple years ago, and I have a feeling he’s about to show the world why that was. I expect him to match up with D.J. Cooper a bit, and I expect him to more than hold his own. North Carolina controls this one throughout, winning 77-58.

...Syracuse (over Wisconsin). I feel a bit uneasy about this one, especially after the way Syracuse played against UNC-Asheville. However, they were much sharper against a Kansas State team that somewhat replicates what Wisconsin does, though obviously to a lesser degree. In the end, I went with this one because there’s just too big a talent disparity for me to take the Badgers seriously. Jordan Taylor is the only thing Wisconsin has going for them, but he’s historically struggled with bigger, more athletic defenders…kinda like the ones Syracuse will throw at him.

Prediction: It will be ugly, it will be somewhat hard to watch, and I will want to blow my brains out by the end. Syracuse 67 Wisconsin 55.

4 Games I Can’t Wait to Watch…

...Kentucky vs. Indiana. Obviously.

...NC State vs. Kansas. There’s a lot of interesting players in this game, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching NC State play.

...Ohio State vs. Cincinnati. Beyond the obvious geographical comparisons, these two teams are remarkably similar. Both feature a beefy, not-overly-athletic low post presence. Both feature odd looking coaches that practically stroke out during each and every game. Both hang their hats on tough man-to-man defense. And both are really, really streaky on the offensive end. And I do mean REALLY streaky. Here’s a couple questions I have:

Question 1: Who does Aaron Craft guard? If he guards Kilpatrick, then Cashmere Wright will be free to kill Ohio State with penetration. But if he guards Wright, then Kilpatrick will be free to roam around the perimeter and hit open 3’s.

Question 2: Who guards DeShaun Thomas? Cincinnati plays what is essentially a four guard lineup, and that’s going to make it nearly impossible to contain Thomas.

Question 3: On the flip side, who does Thomas guard? He sucks at defense as it is! Imagine how bad it’s going to be if he has to check Dixon or Parker!

Point is, this is going to be a very interesting game. There are matchup problems all over the place! In the end, it’s probably just going to come down to who can catch fire from the outside.

Prediction: It’ll be a low scoring, back-and-forth affair throughout. Without any real shot blockers though, Cincinnati is going to struggle to contain Sullinger, and it eventually is their undoing. Ohio State 64 Cincinnati 59.

...Marquette vs. Florida. We were supposed to be seeing Marquette vs. Missouri, but Florida isn’t a bad substitute. Other than UK-IU, this is the game I’m most looking forward to. Like the Ohio State-Cincinnati game, there are matchup questions all over the place:

Who guards Patric Young? Marquette doesn’t have a ton of size, and Young has proven a tough cover as of late. If he can have some success against Anthony Davis, imagine what he can do to Marquette!

Who guards Jae Crowder? Florida plays three guards, which means they’re either going to have to stick an undersized guy like Bradley Beal on him, or a mismatched PF like Erik Murphy. Either way, Crowder is going to have a field day.

In the end, I like Marquette simply because they’re a better team. After all, if we’re picking between two similar items, wouldn’t you always take the better of the two? That having been said, don’t rule out the Gators. They have all kinds of talent, and goodness knows they can catch fire from downtown.

Prediction: Marquette’s perimeter defense keeps Florida’s shooters at bay, and Jae Crowder goes to work early and often. The Gators stay in the game thanks to a decided edge in the Patric Young vs. nobody matchup, but simply can’t get enough defensive stops to win the game. Marquette 82 Florida 74.

5 Key Matchups...

...Anthony Davis vs. Cody Zeller. Zeller is one of the few guys who can actually say he got the better of Davis, and his performance in the first matchup was the key reason Indiana pulled the upset. Of course, it didn’t help that Davis spent most of the game on the bench due to foul trouble. I’ve watched every single minute of Davis’ season, and I can tell you that he is not even close to the same player he was then. Back then, he was nothing more than an athletic dunker that blocked shots from the weakside. Now, he’s a legit superstar that can control a game both offensively and defensively. Of course, Zeller is pretty darn good too. This is not only the best individual matchup of the Sweet Sixteen, it might be the best one of the entire season.

...Keith Appling vs. Peyton Siva. Siva is the only guy on Louisville who can be considered a “star” and he’s certainly the only guy capable of putting the team on his back and generating consistent offense. If Appling can keep him out of the lane and get a draw out the matchup, then Louisville really doesn’t stand a chance. Appling has stepped up his game as of late, especially in the Second Round against St. Louis, so it should be interesting to see just how far he’s really come.  

...Jared Sullinger vs. Yancy Gates. This might win the award for most combined weight in an individual matchup. I can tell you this, neither guy will be pushing around the other. Sully and Gates are known as two of the toughest guys in the game, and their battle is going to be just that, a battle. To the death. With Gates ending it with a right cross to the face.

...C.J. Leslie vs. Thomas Robinson. I’m kinda making assumptions here, since I’m not actually sure these two will be matching up. It seems like they’d have to, however, since NC State is definitely not putting Scott Wood on Robinson. If they do face off, it will be very interesting to see A.) how Leslie deals with a stronger, more physical player, and B.) how capable Robinson is of stepping out and guarding a more perimeter oriented forward.

...Darius Johnson-Odom vs. Bradley Beal. I’m guessing this will be the matchup, since Kenny Boynton would just get murdered by DJO in approximately four seconds. Beal and DJO are remarkably similar players in that they are both big, extremely physical perimeter guys. Both players actively seek contact, and both hit the boards with a ferocity. That’s either going to result in an epic matchup, or both of them getting ejected in the first half. Either way, I’m excited.

6 Players Who Need to Step Up…

...Perry Jones III. All the talent in the world, no idea how to use it. Baylor obviously can’t count on nine 3’s a night from Heslip, so they need Jones to step up and be the type of superstar he’s capable of being.

...Terrence Jones. Jones was beyond awful in the first game against IU, putting up just 4 points and 1 rebound in 28 minutes, while turning the ball over 6 times. A minor injury reportedly had something to do with the no-show, but it seems to me that a more likely cause was an unfortunate shrinkage of his testicles. Well, they’ve grown back in since then, as he’s transformed into one of the toughest, no-nonsense players in the game. He should have a significant low post advantage on Christian Watford, and I imagine he’ll do a much better job of defending this time around.

...Rakeem Christmas. Christmas hauled in 11 rebounds against Kansas State, and also blocked 3 shots. That’s pretty solid production against a good inside team like K-State, and it has to fill Syracuse with optimism. No, he’s not going to fully replace Fab Melo’s defensive prowess, but Christmas is no slouch either. He was a huge recruit this year, and it should come as no surprise that he can play. Consistency was elusive for him this year, but that simply isn’t an option anymore if the Orange want to keep playing in this thing.

...Reggie Bullock. Bullock has responded very well since being forced into the starting lineup for the injured Dexter Strickland. He’s been one of North Carolina’s most consistent shooters, given them a big boost on the boards (nearly 5 a game), and been their best on-ball defender. Now, he’s going to have to do even more. I’m not suggesting they’ll move him to PG or anything, but somebody has to pick up the slack for Marshall. With Strickland out for the year, and Barnes already carrying a heavy load, that leaves only Bullock. It’s quite a lot to ask a scorer like Bullock to worry about both his offense and everyone else’s offense, but he’s going to have to succeed if North Carolina is to continue their run.

...William Buford. And all of Ohio lets out a collective groan as I bring his name up. Honestly, I just don’t get Buford. He played amazing last year, finally living up to his potential as a true go-to scorer. Now, he’s just as likely to dribble the ball off his foot or miss ten straight shots as he is anything else!  Makes no sense. Still, the ability is there. Somewhere, deep down inside him. Ohio State can definitely win this tournament, but only if Buford figures this thing out. And quick.

...Tyshawn Taylor. Look, everyone’s taken their shots at Tyshawn Taylor, so it’s no surprise I’d list him here. He’s super talented in every way, but his “I gotta get mine” attitude and frequent mental lapses stand in the way of Kansas reaching their ultimate goal. A team with as many threats as the Jayhawks, especially as many low post threats as they have, should not be so easily taken out of their offensive rhythm. That’s on the PG, which means it’s on Taylor. He’s got to suppress his dumb ways for just four more games. I’m not betting on it.

7 Guys Who Can Help Their Draft Stock ...

...Cody Zeller. Another good showing against Davis would likely put him ahead of Drummond on many draft boards, meaning he’d be in the top five.

...Darius Miller. Miller is pretty under the radar, but he’s worked his way up to #44 on He put UK on his back against Iowa State, and another performance like that against IU could get him some looks in the back end of the first.

...Perry Jones III. Chad Ford and other draftniks are always talking about how far Jones has fallen, but you know NBA GM’s are just looking for a reason to jump back on board. A couple good showings this weekend could put him squarely back in the top five.

...Jae Crowder. Still a borderline first rounder, but obviously rising since his recent explosion. If he keeps up his current play, why couldn’t Crowder find his way to the back end of the lottery?

...Patric Young. All we ever hear about Young is how he has an NBA body already, but now the production is starting to come around. A strong outing against Marquette and Young should be in the lottery discussion.

...C.J. Leslie. I mentioned him in my first preview and I’ll do it again. Leslie did indeed garner some significant buzz for his play in the tournament’s opening weekend, and he garner even more if he can keep it rolling against a much tougher Kansas frontline.

...Harrison Barnes. Yes, I know he’s a likely top five pick already…just follow me, OK? Barnes, at one point, was in the discussion for #1 overall. That’s obviously not happening, thanks to Anthony Davis. Then, he was in the discussion for #2 overall. While he still technically is in that discussion, it’s much more likely that Barnes falls closer to #5. Heck, he’s already fallen below Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal in Chad Ford’s first mock draft! With Kendall Marshall out, this is Barnes big opportunity to finally step up and be “the man.” Scouts have been disappointed that he hasn’t done so already, but you know they’d quickly jump back on board if he carries UNC to the Final Four.  

Sweet Sixteen Power Ranking

1. Kentucky

Kentucky was already the best team in the land, but it sure doesn’t hurt that other top teams are dropping like flies around them. First it was Fab Melo being ineligible, now it’s Kendall Marshall breaking his wrist. I swear, if UK doesn’t win this year…

2. Michigan State

I can’t believe I’m ranking them this high, but they have two things going for them. 1.) Syracuse and UNC aren’t at full strength. 2.) Draymond Green is an ice cold killer.

3. Syracuse

Maybe I’m putting too much into Christmas’ one game. Or maybe they’re not as dead as we all thought.

4. Ohio State

Consistency from the perimeter and a lack of depth hurt them, but if Aaron Craft and DeShaun Thomas are going to play like this, then there’s no reason to count them out.

5. Kansas

Robinson and Withey are a formidable low post duo, and Elijah Johnson’s emergence is coming at just the right time. Kinda tough to take “choker” Kansas too seriously in the tournament though, right?

6.  North Carolina

They’d easily be #2 if not for Marshall’s injury. I just remember back to the Larry Drew days, and think of how hard it was for UNC to score before Marshall took over. Then I quietly rule out North Carolina as a serious contender.

7. Marquette

Tough to imagine them winning it all with that front court, but stranger things have happened with less talented teams.

8. Indiana

Gotta admire their toughness, but the IU revival hasn’t quite reached championship level yet.

9. Florida

Plenty of talent at the guard spot, but not much behind Patric Young.

10. Wisconsin

Always a tough out thanks to their defense and efficiency, but you’re just not winning with 60 PPG.

11. Baylor

As much length and athleticism as anyone in the tournament, but they kinda play like an AAU team, don’t they?

12. Cincinnati

One of those weird teams that could absolutely beat anybody, and absolutely lose to anybody. Eventually, Kilpatarick won’t shoot 80% from three.

13. North Carolina St.

Don’t ask me how they lost so much during the year, because this team is really good. Of course, not anywhere near good enough to make the Final Four, but still.

14. Louisville

I guess I probably should have rated them higher, but I hate them so much. Good thing I’m unbiased! (No, no I’m not.)

15. Xavier

You always have a chance with Tu Holloway on  your side, either on the court or on the street (I’m a gangsta!).

16. Ohio

The Bobcats are a nice story, and they’re far better than people assumed. But seriously, you had to know I was ranking them last, right?

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