Preview: NCAA Tournament
Hey everyone, back to sports this week with the Red Card NCAA Tournament Preview! Thanks to all the folks who read my Lupe Fiasco spotlight last week. I know it wasn’t sports themed, but he is one of my favorite artists, so I wanted to give him the spotlight for a week.
- I have 2 musical recommendations for you this week. 1) Endgame, Rise Against. Rise Against is back for the first time since 2008, and better than ever. They mix a little punk rock with some great anthems. This is a must have album. 2) Give The Drummer Some, Travis Barker. The Bink-182 drummer released his first “solo” album this week. I say “solo” because there are obviously vocal accompaniments to every slamming drum rhythm he puts out there. If you love hip-hop/rock fusion music, this is for you. It features Lil Wayne, Lupe Fiasco, Rick Ross, Kid Cudi, and more. Great pump-up music.
- Now that those items are out of the way, lets take a look at my preview of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. First, I will state my gripes with the selection committee’s choices. Then, Ill break down each region with teams and players to watch out for. Finally, Ill list my path to the championship. Ready? Go.
Grievances with the NCAA Selection Committee:
- SERIOUSLY?! How in the world did you pick UAB, Michigan State, USC, VCU, and Georgia over Colorado, Virginia Tech, St. Mary’s, Harvard, and Alabama. This is a travesty. At the very least, Colorado and Virginia Tech should have been locks to get in. They had better resumes that the 5 teams I listed above. What more qualification do they need? Colorado, Va. Tech, Harvard, St. Mary’s, and Alabama all were more deserving in the RPI, Strength of Schedule, and most importantly, the eye test. Taking those kids chance to play in the NCAA tournament is a crime. .
- The selection committee did get the order of the #1 seeds right. Ohio St., Kansas, Pitt, and Duke were spot on.
- The #2 seeds should look like this. Notre Dame, San Diego St., North Carolina, and UCONN.
- Here is my order of the #3 seeds: Florida, Syracuse, Texas, and Louisville.
- The #4 seeds should be: Purdue, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and BYU.
- Explain to me how Missouri is ranked most of the year and ends up with a #11 seed? Really? RED CARD
- How does George Mason deserve a #8 seed when they havent beaten a top 50 RPI team all year? RED CARD
- Georgia, Penn St., and Michigan St. were all bubble teams and ended up as #10 seeds? RED CARD
- Tennessee as a #9 seed with 14 losses…..right, makes sense. RED CARD
- Butler vs. Old Dominion may be an entertaining game, but I HATE when the NCAA pairs two powerful mid-majors in the tournament. Its like Boise St. and TCU playing in a bowl game, what does it prove? RED CARD
Here is my look at each region’s teams and players to watch:
- Xavier. They are a #6 seed, and a team that is flying under-the-radar. They almost always make a run to the Sweet 16. Great guard play is their signature. Few are better than the Muskateers guard Tu Holloway. The man is distributing machine. Dribble-drive penetration will help Xavier get back to the Sweet 16.
- Washington. Of course everyone saw their buzzer-beater by Isiah Thomas (aptly named) to beat Arizona for the Pac-10 tournament title. The Huskies quietly put together a very solid campaign. Thomas is their leader in points and assists, so watch for him to be “the man” as they try and take out Georgia.
- Syracuse. Their defense is improving, which is not good news for this regional. Forward Rick Jackson is a beast on the boards and defense inside. Freshman forward Fab Melo is an emerging star in the post as well. Guards Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche must play well for the ‘Cuse to advance.
- North Carolina. Forget their sluggish play in the ACC tournament, this team is for real. They are a match-up nightmare for every team in the tournament. Length, rebounding, and athleticism in every position makes them tough to beat. Forwards Tyler Zeller and John Henson rebound, block shots (Henson is a machine), and score with ease. Point guard Kendall Marshall is key to their success. When he is distributing the ball with ease, they are one of the best teams in the country.
- Ohio State. Dubbed the most complete team in the country, they feature an inside-out game that starts with freshman forward Jared Sullinger. Sullinger has range, but isnt afraid of contact down low. Once you key on Sullinger, then David Lighty and John Diebler hit 3′s to finish you off. They are also a tough match-up due to leadership and experience.
- San Diego State. Raise your hand if you heard of San Diego St. before this season? Nobody? Exactly. Rich Fisher has done a great job coaching this athletic squad. They feature Kawhi Leonard, who leads them in scoring, but this team is built on defense and transition offense. If they lock their opponents down at the start of a game, watch out for the Aztecs to make a run.
- UCONN. Easily the most impressive 5-game winning streak of any this season was UCONN’s run through the Big East tournament. National Player of the Year candidate Kemba Walker is not only their leading scorer, but also leads them in assists and is second on the team in rebounds per game. He is a complete player, and a strong leader. Also look out for freshman Jeremy Lamb and Shabaz Napier, who can score at will. This team will go as far as Walker leads them.
- Tennessee. Despite their 14 losses, Tennessee is still a very dangerous team in the regional. Guard Scotty Hopson can score every time he touches the ball, and point guard Nick Goings is a great on-ball defender as well as a cool passer. The key to this team will be the play of their forwards, Tobias Harris and Brian Williams. If they can rebound and score effectively, Duke could be in trouble in the 3 round.
- Duke. They are the class of this region. Although I dont put a lot of emphasis on the ACC tournament, they did play well. Guard Nolan Smith is very much like Kemba Walker from UCONN, a great passer, rebounder, and scorer. He drives to the basket with ease and involves his teammates in the game like a true leader should. If Duke has a chance of repeating as champions, Kyle Singler needs to have an outstanding tournament and they need to play great defense.
- Texas. Once considered the favorite to win it all, Texas has cooled off lately. They do have all the tools to win the championship though. Guard play is what makes the ‘Horns go. Dogus Balbay and Curtis Joseph need to play well for Texas to thrive. When they do, the game opens up for guard Jordan Hamilton to score at will. They are the best defensive team in the region for my money.
- Kansas. KU is most balanced team in the country. They have a great post presence with Marcus and Markieff Morris commanding the low block. They also have great guard play with Tyrel Ried and Brady Morningstar, both of whom can be lethal from the 3 point line. Most of all, Kansas plays as a team.
- Louisville. If you have watched the Cardinals this year then you know how dangerous this team is. Their guard play is outstanding. Both Payton Siva and Preston Knowles can score, distribute, and defend. Louisville’s team speed is what sets them apart from everyone else. If they can get their transition game going, they are impossible to stop.
- Notre Dame. The Irish had an outstanding season in the Big East. They feature great guard play with seniors Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis leading the charge into the field of 68. Both are absolute sharp shooters, especially from 3. The thing that makes the Irish tough to defend is their ability to not turn the ball over and keep possession. You must defend them without fouling too, because they are a great free throw shooting team.
- Purdue. The Boilermakers started out this season playing inconsistent basketball at both ends of the floor, but they figured out that playing great defense would help set up their offense. Their offense does feature 2 great players; Center JuJaun Johnson and Guard E’Twaun Moore. Both average almost a combined 40 points a game and a are absolutely crucial for Purdue if they are to end their first round curse in the NCAA tournament. Losing guard Kelsey Barlow due to suspension hurts their National Championship chances, but they should make it to the Sweet 16 pretty easy.
- Florida State. Nobody is talking about the Seminoles, and that is probably the way they like it. They are the stingiest defensive team in the tournament, hands down, and when offenses struggle early in games, they can be smothering. The best part about the Seminoles is that they are getting their best player back from injury, Chris Singleton. He is their only pure scorer, and their best shot at beating Texas A&M.
- Pitt. Gritty. Tough. Pitt. The Panthers could play outdoors during a blizzard and still be dangerous. They get their toughness from coach Jamie Dixon and are not afraid to use it to embarrass opponents. They are a great defensive sqaud, but struggle to score the ball from 3. They do feature Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker, who can both drive to the basket and create for their teammates as well as score. The key for the Panthers will be the play of center Gary McGhee. If he can rebound and score in the post, Pitt should make it to the Final 4.
- St. Johns. The “Johnies” are the surprise team of the year. Coach Steve Lavin did an outstanding job coaching this team to their strengths, which is playing street-ball. They dont always look organized on offense, and throw up some crazy shots, but that also makes them that much tougher to defend. Guard Dwight Hardy is the engine that makes this team go. He is a sharp shooter that can drive the lane and open up passes for his teammates. Losing D.J. Kennedy hurts their chances for an Elite 8 bid, but they way St. John’s has played the second half of the year, it wouldnt surprise me if they made it.
- BYU. One word: Jimmer. Jimmer Fredette is the reason that BYU is in the NCAA Tournament, not to mention a #3 seed. Jimmer has absolutely shot the lights out of every gym he has played in this year. He averages 28.6 points a game and leads the team in assists. He is a one man team essentially. If you “stop” him, then you will probably beat the Cougars. Losing their starting center 2 weeks ago has really hurt BYU with interior defense and rebounding. Just like UCONN, BYU will go as far as Jimmer takes them.
- Kansas St. The Wildcats have been schizophrenic this season. After a bad start, they caught fire in the second half of the Big XII regular season, beating Texas and Kansas among others. Jacob Pullen really revived their season with his outstanding work on the offensive end of the floor. He has been on fire, and has the drive to win now because he is a senior. Post play will be crucial for KSU in the tournament. If they can rebound and get a few easy buckets down low, Pullen will be able to get 1-on-1 match-ups and score. Free throw shooting has been poor as well, so they must improve, especially late in games to have a chance to advance.
- Florida. The Gators are a bad match-up for a lot of teams due to their size. Their guards are small and shifty, and their forwards are lengthy and quick. It makes for an interesting defensive strategy for opposing coaches. Do you defend guards Irving Walker and Kenny Boynton, and leave forwards Chandler Parsons and Co. alone? Or do you defend the post and let their guards roam free. Look for Parsons to have a big tournament. If he does, they can challenge Pitt for the regional title.
Here is who I see advancing to the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4, and who I think will win the championship:
Sweet 16: Ohio St., Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, Duke, Texas, UCONN, San Diego St., Kansas, Notre Dame, Louisville, Purdue, Pitt, Kansas St., St. John’s, and Florida.
Elite 8: Ohio State, North Carolina, Duke, UCONN, Kansas, Notre Dame, Pitt, and Florida.
Final 4: North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, and Pitt.
Championship Game: Duke vs. Kansas.
Rationale: Kansas is playing well at the right time. Their size inside with the Morris twins separates them from every other team in the county. Not only do Marcus and Markieff dominate the boards, but they can also score from outside. This team has the experience and leadership to make it through to the end. Duke will give them a tough game with Kyrie Irving back in the fold, but I dont see them matching up well inside with the Morris twins.
That is all for this preview! I hope that you get to enjoy the NCAA tournament!