Thursday, February 12, 2009

Taking a look ahead

It's a slow Thursday. Sure there are two things we could be writing about: the UNC-Duke game and UConn's new dominance. Well the Battle of Tobacco Road will be covered, dissected, analyzed and broken down a billion times on ESPN today. And UConn's dominance is really boiled down to two things: Hasheem Thabeet and the players reaching their collective potential.
So instead of that, why not a March Preview. I'm not talking about all 65 teams, but I am talking about the Sweet Sixteen and beyond. What follows will be an early prediction of the Sweet 16 teams and then breaking down how far each advances.

The Sweet 16
UConn, UNC, Duke, Wake Forest, Oklahoma, UCLA, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Michigan State, Clemson, Villanova, Tennessee, Marquette, Dayton, Kansas

A few surprises here, namely Dayton and Tennessee.
First Dayton. There are a two good reasons why the Flyers are a sweet 16 team.
1. Defense. Dayton gives up just 59 ppg and has allowed 50 points or less eight times this season.
2. Out of conference wins. The Flyers only have two of them over BCS conference teams but a 14 point victory over Marquette on a neutral court is one of the most impressive wins of the year and shows that the Flyers are more than capable of beating top-flight opponents.
Now to Tennessee. The Vols are struggling right now but have a good enough resume to get in the tourney. Once they get in, expect some trouble from them. They have a good coach in Bruce Pearl who knows how to win in March, and in college basketball having the coaching advantage is equal to a five point gain. The Vols also have a boatload of athletes. This gives them the ability to press and play 110% for 40 minutes, unlike other teams that might have to save something for the next round. Finally, there is the experience factor. Pearl knows what he's doing, so does Tyler Smith. That alone should carry them to the second weekend.

The Elite 8
UConn, UNC, UCLA, Oklahoma, Michigan St, Louisville, Pitt, Clemson.
So why Clemson over Duke and Wake Forest. The latter two are two of the top 8 teams in the country but Duke has this silly problem scoring. Unless Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson, they struggle to put points on the board. Wake Forest has no outside shooting and that has been exposed. A 2-3 zone or an emphasis on crowding the paint could create an infallible gameplan. Clemson, on the other hand, is solid all around and the 27 point win over Duke was extremely impressive and gives them momentum the rest of the year.

Final Four
UConn, UNC, Oklahoma, Michigan St.
Oklahoma may not be one of the best four teams in the country but they will have the easiest road. The Sooners will get the second best No. 1 seed most likely because of its regular season resume and should have an easy road to Detroit.
Michigan State is a bit of Cindarella. They were creamed by UNC by 35 in December but since then have undergone a complete makeover. Kalin Lucas, Raymar Morgan and Goran Suton have the Spartans rolling. The x-factor is Tom Izzo. Izzo knows how to get a team to the final weekend. Getting this team there wouldn't be his biggest accomplishment and he has taken worse squads this far.

Championship Game
UConn vs. UNC
You're going to have to wait a little longer for this pick

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