Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NCAA Tournament First Round Previews Friday

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East Region
Raleigh, NC 7:00
1. North Carolina (32-2) vs 16. Mt St Marys (18-14)
The Mount Saint Marys Mountaineers survived the opening round game in Dayton beating Coppin State on Tuesday night. The "Mount" as it is called finished 4th in the Northeast conference and plays good defense but struggles rebounding the ball. Tyler Hansbrough should have a feast inside.
Prediction: North Carolina

Raleigh, NC 9:30
8. Indiana (25-7) vs 9. Arkansas (22-11)
The Hoosiers received a lower seed than expected at 8, but I think the committee was looking at the Indiana team now as opposed to the team with Kelvin Sampson. Since Verizon's best customer got canned, Indiana is just 3-3 with losses to Big 10 bottom feeders Penn State and Minnesota. Indiana is led by probably the 3rd best freshman in the nation, Eric Gordon, on the outside and senior DJ White on the inside.

Arkansas made the SEC Tournament finals cementing their bid after finishing second in the SEC West regular season. The Hogs are led by the inside play of Sonny Weems and defensive stopper Stephen Hill. The Razorbacks were just 2-5 coming into the conference tournament down the stretch. G Patrick Beverly who oddly enough leads Arkansas in rebounding will likely match up against Gordon on defense.

I don't really like either of these teams, but I like Indiana less. They have not played the same since Sampson left and I wonder where this team's focus is right now.
Prediction: Arkansas

Birmingham, AL 12:15
2. Tennessee (29-4) vs 15. American (21-11)
This is American's first NCAA Tournament appearance and it will be a short one. A familiar face to ACC fans leads American - former Virginia coach Jeff Jones. Bruce Pearl was mad when Tennessee got ousted from the SEC Tournament and he was made when they got a #2 seed in North Carolina's bracket while Memphis got a 1. I would not want to play Tennessee when their coach is mad.
Prediction: Tennessee

Midwest Region
Tampa, FL 9:40
5. Clemson (24-9) vs 12. Villanova (20-12)
If you look at seeds, you could discern Villanova as the last team in. The Wildcats finished 9-9 in the Big East good enough for 8th place. 'Nova is led by PG Scottie Reynolds who leads a mostly freshman cast. Jay Wright rotates a good group of 8 players who like to shoot from outside primarily. Villanova played to about their current level down the stretch after losing 5 in a row in late January.

Clemson drew a lot of praise for making it to the ACC Tournament final and playing UNC tough for a third straight time. Now it is on to the first NCAA Tournament any member of this team. This team is very balanced with five guys averaging double figures. Their strength is inside on the boards with James Mays and Trevor Booker. When they look outside, G Cliff Hammonds and Terrance Ogelsby provide legitimate 3 point threats. Defensively, Clemson likes to press and force turnovers. Like any pressing team, they are prone to breakaways and good PG play on defense.
This is another chic upset pick, but I am not all that impressed with Villanova. You are matching the #8 team in the Big East vs #3 in the ACC. I like Clemson to advance.

Prediction: Clemson

Tampa, FL 7:20
4. Vanderbilt (26-7) vs 13. Siena (22-10)
The Saints were the winners of the MAAC regular season and conference tourney. Siena is led by their two forwards Alex Franklin (15.2 ppg) and F Edwin Ubiles (17.3 ppg). They have an impressive win over Stanford back in November and also beat Boise St. The lost to Cornell, St Joes, and Memphis where they were blown out by the Tigers by 40. Siena went 8-2 down the stretch of the season.

Vanderbilt was bounced in the 2nd round of the SEC Tournament after finishing up a 26-6 regular season where they did not lose in the non-conference. Their non-conference schedule included wins over Georgia Tech, South Alabama, Wake Forest and MAAC member Iona. Vandy did struggle away from Nashville this season though. Kevin Stallings has had success recently in the NCAA Tournament and the Commodores have one of the best inside/outside combos in the tourney with Shon Foster, Alex Gordon, and AJ Ogilvy.

This has been a popular 13 over 4 pick, but I don't see it. Vandy is tournament tested and can play half court offense well. Siena doesn't have the 3 point shot to equalize the talent difference.

Prediction: Vanderbilt

South Region
Little Rock, AR 7:25
8. Miss State (22-10) vs 9. Oregon (18-13)
The Oregon Ducks as a 9 seed was another surprise considering they were thought to be a bubble team on Sunday with 13 losses. The Ducks made it to the Elite 8 last year and love to play a wide open offense with guards Malik Hairston and TaJuan Porter as catalysts. Oregon finished 5th in the deep Pac 10, but didn't really have any signature wins on the year outside of beating Stanford at home in January.

Miss State admits now that they did not take their SEC semifinal game seriously knowing Georgia had already played once that day. They better take it seriously from now on or else an SEC West title is all for naught. The Bulldogs are superb on interior defense with Jarvis Varnado blocking shots and Charles Rhodes on the boards. On the perimeter, Jamont Gordon and Ben Hansbrough (Psycho T's little bro) give Rick Stansbury's team a solid outside threat.

Miss State has much less to travel for this game than Oregon and will likely have many more fans. If Oregon is hot from the outside, then I like their chances. I find it troubling of how Miss State took Georgia lightly just 2 wins away from a possible SEC Tournament title knowing Tennessee was out. I will take Oregon in this one.
Prediction: Miss State

Little Rock, AR 12:30
7. Miami (22-10) vs 10. St Marys (25-6)
St Mary's finished 2nd in the three bid West Coast conference challenging Gonzaga for the crown nearly all year. The Gaels beat #5 seed Drake way back in November and also beat Oregon while losing to Texas and Kent State. St Mary's wants to grind it out in the half court and let F Diamon Simpson work inside.

Miami is back in the NCAA's after a 6 year drought and will be looking for just its 4th NCAA win all time. The Canes like to play inside out meaning they like to get the post game working and then kick it out for 3's. Miami is one of the best at shooting FT and they make it a point to get to the line.

I have heard many pick St Mary's in this game. I can see the Gaels being a fashionable pick because they are from the West Coast Conference with Gonzaga who is the godfather of mid majors, but I like Miami because they have multiple options on offense and are very good from the FT line.
Prediction: Miami

Season: 82-31 (73%)

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