Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NCAA Tournament First Round Thursday Preview

South Region
Anaheim, CA 2:30 PM
6. Marquette (24-9) vs 11. Kentucky (18-12)
By now we know all about Kentucky and how they were revived from the dead after a terrible non-conference season and then going 12-4 in the SEC. The Wildcats will be led by a senior backcourt in Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford. Kentucky will want to slow it down and play half court basketball and allow their guards to go one on one.

Marquette finished 6th in the Big East and made it to the Big East Tournament semifinals. Marquette burst onto the national scene in 2003 with a guard named Dwayne Wade against, oddly enough, Kentucky in the Elite 8. The Golden Eagles are very similar to Kentucky in that they heavily depend on their guards for offense. Jerel McNeil averages just under 15 points while his backcourt mate Dominic James hands out close to 5 assists a game. Marquette faired pretty well down the stretch losing to Georgetown by just 2 and making it to the Big East semis. Every team they lost to this year is in the NCAA Tournament except Syracuse. Their best win of the year was back in December at Wisconsin but they also have wins over Notre Dame at home and Villanova on the road.

This game will be won by who can control the tempo. Marquette wants to push the ball and create turnovers; Kentucky wants to play half court and get into one-on-one mismatches. I like the way Marquette is playing down the stretch better than Kentucky.
Prediction: Marquette

West Region
Washington DC 12:20 PM
3. Xavier (27-6) vs 14. Georgia (17-16)
How bout them Dawgs? Georgia is fresh off winning 4 games in 4 days after winning just 4 games all season in the SEC. To put even more perspective on this streak, Georgia went 37 days at one stretch this season winning just 1 game. The Bulldogs want to play half court basketball much like Kentucky, but they like to use their size inside as well. Georgia is led by senior PG Sundiata Gaines who is Dennis Felton's floor general. SG Billy Humphrey is your classic slasher while inside Albert Jackon and Dave Bliss provide a good post presence on offense and defense.

Xavier won the A-10 regular season but faltered in the conference tourney. They are led by PG Drew Lavender who almost led the Musketeers to a second round win over Ohio State last year. Xavier relies on a balanced offense where 6 guys after double figures in points. Before the loss to St Joe's last weekend, Xavier had not lost since Jan 16 at eventual A-10 tourney champ Temple. They played Tennessee tough earlier this year losing by 7 at home and beat Indiana, Virginia and Auburn convincingly. This is tournament tested team itching for a deep run after coming up short last year.

If these two had played on Monday, then I would have given Georgia a very good shot in this game. They had all the momentum and were playing great. Now they have let their tired legs set in and have to rekindle that fire from a weekend ago. I think you are more likely to see the Georgia team of old instead of last weekend's because of the layoff. I like Xavier to hold seed and move on.
Prediction: Xavier

Washington DC 7:10 PM
2. Duke (27-5) vs 15. Belmont (25-8)
The Belmont Bruins won the Atlantic Sun regular season and tournament to earn their third straight NCAA Tournament bid. Belmont played played some teams from big conferences this year and won at Cincinnati and Alabama. The Bruins lost by 41 at Xavier who is the closest team to Duke they played.

This should be an entertaining game as Belmont made more 3 pointers than any team in the country and you know Duke loves to shoot the 3. Duke has too much talent and coaching and should cruise relatively easily but not a typical 2-15 blowout though.
Prediction: Duke

Season: 82-31 (73%)

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