Monday, March 16, 2009

An intriguing possibility out of the Midwest bracket

Louisville is by far the favorite as the easiest team to pencil into the Final Four. And considering the way they've played lately, especially the defensive tour de-force they put on in the Big East Tournament. But don't be surprised if they run into a problem in the Sweet Sixteen.
That problem, if it arises, will be Wake Forest. The reason why Wake is so problematic is because the Demon Deacons are almost a mirror image of the Cardinals.
A large part of Louisville's success is its unmatched length and athleticism in the frontcourt. Terrence Williams is a 6'6" point guard of sorts, a slasher and gasher who plays a vital role in running the offense from the wing. Samardo Samuels is the burly 6'9" center who provides the yin to Samuels yang, muscling to get buckets while Williams uses his superior athleticism. And Earl Clark provides a little bit of both. At 6'9" he can score from the perimeter with ease, as he did against Villanova in the BET semis, or finish inside using his length. And having the 6'10 Terrence Jennings coming off the bench to provide rebounding and shot-blockings is certainly not a hinderance to success.
That frontcourt makes the Cards lethal in man-to-man defense or in the 2-3 zone. And the full court press is the biggest nuisance in all of college basketball. Their size gives them an advantage that most teams in the country can't match. Except Wake Forest.
James Johnson is 6'9" and while not as athletic as Williams, will present many problems for him when the two match-up. Johnson sometimes gets happy with the three-pointer but when he puts it on the floor can create trouble for a defense.
Al-Farouq Aminu is lesser developed version of Clark. The 6'9" forward with the wide wingspan can run the floor, finish inside and sporadically hit from the outside. Aminu is a better rebounder though. Seeing these two match up will be tantalizing. One reporter at the BET called Clark Louisville's "plastic man." Aminu is almost his equal.
The big x-factor is Chas McFarland. And by big I mean seven feet tall big. McFarland will most likely match up with Samuels on defense and Samuels has shown troubles scoring against bigger guys. It will be just as hard rebounding defensively for the freshman and trying to keep McFarland from giving WF second chances. Even if the Cards go to the zone, that means finding bodies in order to box out a bigger and just as athletic team.
The reason why this match-up gets extremely troublesome for UL, if it happens, is because of their disadvantage in the backcourt. Jeff Teague is a transcendent player and can take over a game. He averaged 19 ppg and 1.9 spg while shooting 48% and 44% from beyond the arc. That will be tough to guard for any of the Cards' guards.
But while Louisville's zone may be troubled by the WF frontcourt, it can also be the great equalizer. Wake Forest is an atrocious outside shooting team. They're horrible. As a team they are shooting 31% from three-pt land. But that is misleading. Teague is the only one shooting over 33 percent and he has taken more than a quarter of their threes.
If it happens, this should be an epic match-up and one of the best possible ones in the entire tournament.

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