The Marquette Golden Eagles’ 2009-2010 Big East opponents were announced yesterday and from the looks of it, they fared well in the schedule.
While the timing of these games will make a huge difference as well as factors that occur throughout the course of the year, it’s never too early to make predictions about how the Warriors will do in the Big East next year.
Just as it was last year, the Golden Eagles will play DePaul twice this year in a home-and-home series. The Blue Demons enter the year without last year’s two leading scorers in Will Walker and Dar Tucker but will return will-be seniojunior Mac Koshwal.
The Golden Eagles won both of these matchups last year, including a 79-70 victory at the Bradley Center. Look for them to come out on top at home again this year.
Much like Marquette (and a lot of teams in the Big East next season), the Pitt Panthers will have a completely different look to them. Losing sophomore DeJuan Blair and seniors Sam Young and LeVance Fields will have a major impact on them, but McDonald’s All-American Dante Taylor (ranked 16th overall) heads a top-20 recruiting class that should ease the pain.
This one will be close in a battle of young teams, but I like Marquette at home.
This game became much more difficult when freshman Greg Monroe declared he would not enter the NBA Draft and would come back and play another year for the Hoyas.
They lose their leading scorer in DaJuan Summers as well as guard Jessie Sapp, but a second consecutive solid recruiting class has the Hoyas looking in good shape next year.
Led by Monroe, Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman, the Hoyas should earn a tournament bid this March.
Just like Georgetown, the Fighting Irish’s squad got a huge boost when Luke Harangody announced he would come back for another year. He has a chance to become ND’s all-time points leader, and with transfers Ben Hansbrough and Scott Martin, the Fighting Irish have a good shot at getting to the NCAA Tournament as well.
Losing Kyle McAlarney and Ryan Ayers will hurt the Irish, but not enough for the Golden Eagles to take them down.
Rick Pitino loses Terrence Williams and Earl Clark next year but also brings in a top-25 recruiting class as well. Led by seniors Jerry Smith and Edgar Sosa, Louisville has a chance to be a top 25 team to start the year.
Marquette has had a tough time with Lousiville in the past and this season should yield the same results. It will be closer than most expect, but Louisville should pull it out in the end.
Other than Marquette, no team will have as big a makeover next season than the Friars. With five impact seniors leaving, the Friars will have a tough time against a Marquette team with better incoming players.
With a comeback victory at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center last year, this year should should provide less fireworks as the Warriors roll.
On paper, this game looks like an easy win for the Golden Eagles, but sophomore guard Mike Rosario should make things quite interesting. Just 17.1 points per game leave the team and Rosario will have another year of experience under his belt.
Still, the Scarlet Knights were 3-10 (0-9) on the road last year, with wins over lowly Princeton, Rider, and Deleware. Rutgers will be better next year, but not good enough.
Coming off a Final Four appearance, Jay Wright’s squad loses a few players but brings in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes that includes power forward Mouphtaou Yarou and All-Americans Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns.
The Golden Eagles got unlucky drawing a home-and-home against the Big East’s pre-season favorite as this looks to be a huge test for the young Golden Eagles team.
The Bulls will bring in four new faces next year to replace the loss of Jesus Verdejo among others, but one player who will return is guard Dominique Jones. South Florida upset Marquette last year and he was a big reason why, scoring 15 points and adding five rebounds and four assists.
If this game was in Florida this year they might have had the upper hand, but the Bradley Center will be rocking and Marquette will look for revenge in this one.
Should the Bearcats’ decision to roll the dice on troubled but talented Lance Stephenson work out, they might just be a bubble team this year. With returning veteran Deonta Vaughn and youngster Yancy Gates, the three will form a very solid trio for a team that historically has been tough to beat at home.
As was stated earlier, the Friars put up an excellent battle last year before falling to the Golden Eagles 91-82 at home last year. This year, the Friars will look to rebuild just like the Golden Eagles but will be swept in their home-and-home games.
The Red Storm will have four new players in uniform next year when the Golden Eagles travel to Madison Square Garden. Anthony Mason Jr. is a big loss for the Red Storm, as he averaged 14 points per game last year as St. John’s most complete player.
Always tough to beat in NYC, I expect Marquette to step up in what will probably be a very important game in the Big East standings.
Losing Johnny Flynn, Paul Harris, Eric Devendorf, and Kristof Ongeneat will hurt the Orange considerably next year and I believe this is a game the Golden Eagles can steal.
It will be tough with senior Andy Rautins leading the way, but the Orange can lose focus in games and Marquette’s quick unit should be able to slice through Cuse’s zone in an upset and big win for the Warriors.
One of my favorite teams to watch the second half of the year was the West Virginia Mountaineers and they could be looking at a very special season this year.
Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones, Darryl Bryant, and John Flowers will all have another year of experience with them and Da’Sean Butler will be leading the way in a big Mountaineers win.
Marquette’s toughest game of the year right now stands at Villanova on the road. Regardless of where the two teams play (The Pavilion or not), a repeat of last year might be in the cards for the young Golden Eagles team.
The Wildcats play their best ball at home and this game will be no different.
Last year’s game in Chicago resulted in a 76-61 win for the Golden Eagles and this year’s should be no different as the Golden Eagles pick up another road win. The All State Arena should be more than half gold as it was last year and the Marquette chants will silence the Blue Demons fans as well.
The Pirates will have one of the most experienced teams in the Big East next year, making it very hard for the Golden Eagles to pull out a victory. While the frontcourt play should improve for Marquette next year, Seton Hall will be too tough on the post in what looks to be a loss.
The Huskies also lose their Big Three in Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, and A.J. Price, but have a whole lot more coming back than the Golden Eagles do. Stanley Robinson will finally get his time to shine and sophomore Kemba Walker is only getting better as the days pass.
Final Record In Conference: 9-9
Well I went three out of four last night, not knowing that Missouri was going to absolutely embarass what I called a “great” Memphis defense. The Big East won the last three games of the night and will look to put two more of their own into the Elite Eight tonight. Here are Friday’s games.
1. Louisville vs. 12. Arizona
I have liked Arizona all year and they are truly the only cinderalla left in the Big Dance, but their run comes to an end tonight when they face the overall number one seed Lousville Cardinals. Terrance Williams has been outstanding and the Wildcats will have trouble guarding Earl Clark. This should equal easy buckets for ‘Ville, especially in transition against a much slower Arizona team. Louisville 81, Arizona 66
2. Oklahoma vs. 3. Syracuse
It will be interesting to see how Blake Griffin matches up against the 2-3 zone that Syracuse so often likes to go to. I do not think it will be an issue for him and look for him to have a big game, as well as Austin Johnson. I have liked him all year but he has not really busted out in a game yet. While it may be even tougher to do against Johnny Flynn, I smell a big one from him. In the end, Oklahoma will be too much with the tandem of the Griffins, Warren, and my boy Johnson. Oklahoma 78, Syracuse 77
2. Michigan State vs. 3. Kansas
It’s never a safe bet to go against Tom Izzo in the tournament, but I really like the Jayhawks. Sherron Collins always comes to play and Cole Aldrich is playing the best basketball of any big man in the tournament right now, notching a triple double in his last game. Michigan State won in East Lansing in theis matchup earlier in the year, but I like Kansas to get their revenge and move into the Elite Eight. Kansas 74, Michigan State 70
1. North Carolina vs. 4. Gonzaga
I was watching ESPN today and for some reason Gonzaga is getting a lot of love. Now whether it is based on their inability to stop crying over mid-majors or whether it is Ty Lawsons big toe, ESPN has no basis for this. Tyler Hansbrough is a man on a mission to get to the championship game and win it in his senior year, and a team that beat Western Kentucky on a last second shot will not get in his way. I have liked the Zags all year, but the run ends tonight. North Carolina 88, Gonzaga 80
For the first six categories, 17 of the last 19 national champs have fallen under ALL SIX prerequisites.
1. Play in a power conference
Obviously the Huskies fall under this category, and not only do they play in the Big East, but it’s the same league that brought a record three teams as one seeds to the tournament and has a record five teams in the Sweet 16.
If Notre Dame and Georgetown had met expectations, this league could have been in the argument for best conference of all time.
Still, UConn has faced the best of the best this year and despite two losses to Pittsburgh, the Huskies beat Louisville on the road by 17 and have wins over Syracuse and Marquette and Villanova.
Playing in the Big East has prepped them for any challenges they may face against other teams. This category also takes Gonzaga, Memphis, and Xavier out of the running for winning it all.
2. Make the tournament the prior year
Once again, UConn meets the requirement as they made the tournament as a five seed last year. Yes, they lost to San Diego State in the first round, but they were a much younger and much less mature team then.
I remember watching them at an ESPN Zone last year and they just didn’t seem to have the swagger that they sport this year. It is obvious they are much more comfortable this year, having more experience and all.
3. Have a coach with at least five visits to the NCAA Tournament
Hmm, will 20 visits do? Jim Calhoun, who picked up his 800th win this year, has been to the big dance 20 times and has won the whole thing twice. He has been in just about every big game situation that you can think of.
His record of 801-339 is unbelievable and, heck, he took Northeastern to five dances! Aside from maybe the NFL, I can’t think of another sport where a head coach is as valuable, and Calhoun does such a great job at it.
Not only does he bring in talent, but he uses it to the best of his ability and it turn creates national champions. Definitely book UConn in on this category.
4. Average 77 or more points per game in the regular season
“Defense wins championships” might be the cliche, but when you get down to the Elite Eight and Final Four, everyone can play defense. What wins you the championship is your ability to score and the Huskies can do that.
Known for their tight defense, UConn has scored 103 and 92 points in each of their games and shot 52 percent and 58 percent from the field in their victories.
While the competition was not very deep, they have easily fared the best out of all the 1 seeds and unlike the other top seeds, they haven’t had a close game. They average 78.5 points on the season and while this is barely over the clip, that’s all you need to be.
5. Win your games by a +10 margin in the regular season
This is the part where defense comes into play and the Huskies pass the test again, outscoring their opponents by 13.5 points.
Defensively, the Huskies have arguably the best defender in Hasheem Thabeet and great on the ball defenders in A.J. Price and the unheralded Jeff Adrien.
UConn played a great regular season, only being within ten points 14 times, with four of those being losses. While still having the scoring margin, UConn is great at closing out games when they are close (save the Big East Tournament).
6. Be seeded 1-4 in the NCAA Tournament
Clearly UConn has it here and, unlike last year, the one seed has given them some confidence that all one seeds should have.
Sure, having it is like having a bulls-eye on the front of your team’s uniform as everyone wants to take you down, but it is definitely an intimidation factor and gives the Huskies a little extra swagger in their step.
The next three categories are based off of my own research that I wrote on a few weeks ago. I’ll leave the link after the intro, but basically I went back and looked at the last 10 tournament winners (opposed to the last 19 in categories 1-6) and found individual stats that make winners. Here they are.
7. A point guard that, when his points and assists are combined, total at least 17, and a free throw percentage better than 70 percent. If free throw percentage is under 70 percent, points + assists must equal at least 20.
A.J. Price fits the bill in this category as his points and assists add up to 17.9 and he just gets over the free throw mark. But more importantly than stats, Price is “that point guard” that you want to have in the tournament.
Being a senior is huge (just ask Marquette) for team spirit and having a sense of direction on the court.
Price is putting up Dwyane Wade-like numbers in the tournament thus far, posting 23.5 points, 5.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals. Once again, the competition has been weak but Price has dominated.
He will be the key on offense and has done an excellent job up to this point. Once again, UConn puts in another category.
8. A forward/center that, when his points and rebounds are combined, total at least 17, and has a field goal percentage better than 52 percent.
An easy one here for the Huskies as they actually have two players that fall under this range in Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien. Thabeet quietly puts up 14 points a game while shooting 65 percent from the field.
Not so quiet are his 13 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game that absolutely anchor the UConn defense and make it what it is. The non-stat that everyone talks about is his ability to alter shots and make the paint a place no one wants to come into when playing the Huskies.
His counterpart in the front court is Jeff Adrien who, if he played on most other teams in the nation, would be appreciated so much more. He averages 14 points and ten rebounds per game and shoots 60 percent from the field and works harder in the paint than anybody I have seen play this year.
The front court will be so important for UConn the rest of the way in the tournament, both on offense drawing defenders, and on defense in not allowing points in the paint.
9. Have a starting lineup with an average of at least a junior, OR have two of the best three players on the team be underclassmen.
The last qualification for a tournament champion is also the last one that UConn falls under. They are tied with North Carolina, Villanova, and Pittsburgh for the oldest starting lineup and this experience is something that will carry them.
They are not relying on young, skilled players (other than Kemba Walker), but rather experience and chemistry that they built up from time playing with each other. Also, the determination that seniors Jeff Adrien and A.J. Price will have with the “win or go home” mentality will push this team to greatness.
Breaking It All Down
When I look at this Connecticut team and how they have progressed all year, even when they lost Dyson, I see a team that can go all the way on skill, hustle, smarts, and coaching. Sure, the top dogs are still out there and this is one of the best Sweet 16’s that the tournament has ever seen.
However, with Price leading the way along with excellent contributions from Craig Austrie and Kemba Walker in Dyson’s absence, this team is starting to click. Adrien and Thabeet will clearly be key in their success, and when it’s all said and done, all these things will equate to a national championship in Connecticut.
The Midwest region has officially been deemed the “Upset Region”. The first round saw seeds 4,5,6,7, and 8 get knocked out and we will see at least a 12 seed in the Sweet 16 from this region. Louisville and Kansas got out to slow starts but pulled away in the end, while Cleveland State, Arizona, USC, and Michigan State rolled in their games. Siena and Dayton played games that pretty much went down to the wire. Round Two features excellent matchups and we will break them down right now.
1. Louisville vs. 9. Siena
Louisville played a dominating second half to crush Morehead St. while Siena played a tough, double overtime, fight til’ the end. I believe Louisville to continue to come out and run the court against the Bulldogs and Terrance Williams will continue to pace the Cardinals. In order for Siena to have a shot, they will have to continue their balanced style of play and try to shut down Williams and Earl Clark.
12. Arizona vs. 13. Cleveland State
It would be easy to say that Arizona should run away with this game, but after what Cleveland State did to Wake Forest, no one is safe against this team. Yes, Arizona played great in their first round game but Cleveland State dismantled the 4 seeded Demon Deacons, and don’t forget the game before that, they knocked off Butler. I think Arizona takes this one due to their better star potential, but it will definitely come down to the wire.
3. Kansas vs. 11. Dayton
If Dayton plays like they did in Round 1, an upset could be brewing here. Still, I like the Kansas backcourt to take over this game and don’t think Dayton will be able to keep up. Dayton’s keys to the game will be to continue to get Chris Wright touches and try to outrun the Jayhawks. If Kansas gets off to another slow start, it could spell doom this time around.
2. Michigan State vs. 10. USC
USC played very well in their first round game, but don’t expect that same kind of defense to be there when Michigan State rolls around. MSU played very solid defense and I believe they match up very well against the Trojans. While they are one of the hottest teams in the nation, I can’t see Michigan State having a letdown in round 2.
1. UConn vs. 9. Texas A&M
UConn looked like the best number one seed in Round 1, and despite A&M’s 58% shooting from the field, the Huskies should be able to shutdown the Aggies and move to Round 2. I expect big things out of UConn’s starting lineup in Round 2. It will be a test for them as forward Bryan Davis leads a tough A&M squad, but UConn is destined for greatness (check my bracket) and it won’t end here.
4. Washington vs. 5. Purdue
This game will be based entirely on how each team comes out and play. Neither team has a complete talent advantage so whoever establishes themselves will most likely come out on top. I believe the hotter team right now is Purdue, stemming from their Big Ten championship and steady defeat of Northern Iowa. JuJuan Johnson will be important in this one, going up against John Brockman in what should be a solid matchup. Purdue takes it in the end.
3. Missouri vs. 6. Marquette
Once again, expect a big write-up on this one tomorrow but to break it down right now, Marquette just isn’t playing very good basketball. Lazar Hayward showed what he is made of with 26 points but Jerel McNeal looked tired and Wesley Matthews couldn’t hit anything. That may have worked against a slow Utah State team, but Missouri loves to press and will run you to death. If things don’t change quickly for Marquette this one won’t even be close.
2. Memphis vs. 10. Maryland
I am still not very high on Maryland despite their impressive win over a very good Cal team, but did Memphis look bad or what? They sure didn’t get rid of the overrated label on Thursday and will need to play much better against their first power conference opponent in a long time. I think they have the talent to beat a team like Maryland, but will need to step it up later in the tournament.
1. Pittsburgh vs. 8. Oklahoma State
Pitt got a big scare in round one from East Tennessee State, but I’ll consider that their wake-up call. They better be on their game offensively as they face a red-hot Oklahoma State team that loves to run and score. OSU’s defense is a little porous so look for Sam Young and Levance Fields to have big games as Pittsburgh moves on to the Sweet 16.
4. Xavier vs. 12. Wisconsin
Bo Ryan finally beat a higher seeded team in the tournament, but don’t look for him to go 2-2 in this bracket. Xavier played much better than I thought they would and they used their size to their advantage very well. Wisconsin looked pretty good in their victory over FSU, but Florida State really lost it for themselves not capitalizing on some easy buckets. Look for Xavier to use their size and speed as they take down an average Wisconsin team.
3. Villanova vs. 6. UCLA
Just as Pitt did, I think Villanova got their wakeup call against a senior-laced American team. They now face off against a UCLA team that looked less than stellar in their win over VCU that ended up coming down to a last second shot. I look for ‘Nova to shoot early and often and really establish the 3 point line. UCLA will need to run their offense well and work the ball inside to have a shot.
2. Duke vs. 7. Texas
Texas has the potential for an upset in this one based on talent alone, but Duke has played well all year and too many people don’t give them credit because of their past failures in the tournament. This is a very solid team that is playing as disciplined as any other team in the tournament. This game could go either way but I think Duke will take care of the basketball better and is better equipped to play shutdown defense than Texas is.
1. UNC vs. 8. LSU
Here’s to hoping Ty Lawson ends up playing in this one because LSU looked very good in their opening round game. He is expected to play and North Carolina will look to continue their fast paced game like they did in round 1, leading to 101 points. LSU is a very athletic team but I just don’t think they can keep up with a team like North Carolina for 40 minutes.
4. Gonzaga vs. 12. Western Kentucky
This is a very interesting matchup because of Western Kentucky’s play in round 1 against Gonzaga’s early struggles. Unlike Akron, W. Kentucky will put a team away if they jump on them early and Gonzaga will need to be careful not to let that happen. I think Gonzaga will take this game on talent alone, but don’t be surprised to see the Hilltoppers in their second straight Sweet 16.
3. Syracuse vs. 6. Arizona State
Well Temple isn’t playing in this game, and I think Syracuse looked like one of the best teams in the tournament in round one. They got any shot they wanted and played excellent defense against a far less superior team in Stephen F. Austin. This will carry over against Arizona State, a team that didn’t look like world beaters against Temple. Syracuse is starting to play some excellent basketball at just the right time and I look for the Orange to roll in this one.
2. Oklahoma vs. 10. Michigan
Oklahoma won their first round game very quietly while Michigan really struggled to put away the Tigers of Clemson. While Michigan is much better than Morgan State, I think Oklahoma is good enough to ride Blake Griffin to at least the Sweet 16, and should have no problem defeating the Wolverines.
The NCAA tournament tips off Thursday with 16 games and another 16 on Friday. Yesterday we looked at the East and Midwest Regionals and today will be the West and South regionals.
1. Connecticut vs. 16. Chattanooga
My pick to win it all, the Connecticut Huskies, start the tournament off versus the tourney underdogs and will have no trouble. Expect the Huskies to run out in this one and get a big lead early. The Mocs were not supposed to be here and their tournament run will be short lived. Connecticut 82, Chattanooga 59
8. BYU vs. 9. Texas A&M
Due to the restrictions of BYU playing on Sunday, the selection committee had no choice but to put them in the 8 spot against the same team they played last year. Texas A&M got the best of the Cougars in round 1 last year as the 8 seed, but I see a veteran group of players in BYU getting their revenge this year, in a tight game no less. BYU 68, Texas A&M 64
5. Purdue vs. 12. Northern Iowa
Despite this matchup being the 5/12 matchup that always seems to provide upsets, Purdue will not falter here in this one. They are starting to hit their jump shots which could they make them dangerous in the tournament, and while their young age might catch up to them later on in the tourney, it won’t here. Purdue 74, Northern Iowa 62
4. Washington vs. 13. Mississippi St.
A very interesting matchup here, as the improbably SEC champions go up against a very little known team in Washington. It’d be nice to see the Bulldogs continue their streak, but I think Washington is very underrated. They play on the West Coast late at night so no one watches them play, but watch out for John Brockman. He could take this regional by storm accompanied by a very talented back court. I think Washington wins big in this one. Washington 78, MSU 66
6. Marquette vs. 11. Utah State
There will be a big write-up on this tomorrow, but biases aside, Marquette wins this game. Utah State is just way too slow of a team to keep up with a proven team of Marquette. Utah State won 30 games this year and defeated Utah at home on a last second shot, but Marquette’s talent level and speed will be better than any team they have faced this year, and they will get outrun from the get-go. Marquette 71, Utah State 64
3. Missouri vs. 14. Cornell
I had the (dis)pleasure of watching Cornell go up against the Lopez twins last year vs. Stanford in Anaheim, and this year will be the same result as they face Demarre Carroll and Leo Lyons. Missouri is a tough team to figure out, as they play outstanding at home but really struggle on the road. But just speaking on this game, it wouldn’t matter if this game was played at Cornell, Mizzou takes it easy. Missouri 68, Cornell 53
7. California vs. 10. Maryland
This was the hardest game of any first round match-up for me to figure out, so pardon me if I don’t have a lot to say on it. Both teams are semi-backing into the tournament and not playing their best basketball, and while Greives Vasquez is outstanding, I think Cal’s best is better than Maryland’s best, and teams tend to bring their best to the tourney. Give me Cal in a close one. California 72, Maryland 70
2. Memphis vs. 15. Cal St. Northridge
I laugh at a lot of analysts and my friends that say how overrated they believe Memphis is…and then have them beating UConn in the West final. I like to believe that this is the same “C-USA” that Memphis played in last year and dominated, only to lose in overtime to Kansas. Different team? Sure. But what it shows is that the talent is there and I expect a big run out of Memphis in the tournament…and in this game. Memphis 67, CSN 54
Who Wins the West Regional and Why? Marquette. Alright fine, just kidding. But this is a very interesting bracket that could go a bunch of ways. On one hand, you have my favorite team the UConn Huskies who struggled after Dyson went down but have that look and feel of a championship squad. Then you have Memphis who are waiting to show the world what they are made of. Missouri fits the bill of a lot of requirements for a national champ in terms of scoring differential and so on. Washington flies under the radar better than any team in the nation and Purdue has a ton of young potential. Marquette has three excellent scorers in Matthews, McNeal, and Hayward and may make a push with a nice draw (Mizzou, Memphis). In the end, I’m taking the Huskies. They are my national champions so I hope that they win the regional and make it to the Final Four. After round one I will do a write-up on why they will cut down the nets in Detroit, but to give you the short version, they have everything. Thabeet is a guy that will carry a team on his shoulders with his inside D. They have A.J. Price, the senior guard that has been through everything and is capable of going nuts on any given night. Stanley Robinson has been excellent as of late and there might not be a better third option in the nation than Jeff Adrien. Add Jim Calhoun to the mix and you have a team that can’t lose. Yes, Thabeet has the occasional off game, but I think he will buckle down and hold his own for 6 games. Just wait for it…
Who is the Biggest Sleeper? They might not be sleepers to win the regional, but Marquette got a fantastic draw in the brackets with potential 2nd round and Sweet 16 matchups against Missouri and Memphis. They lost 5 of thier last 6 games, but let’s not forget those 5 losses were against 3 #1 seeds and 2 #3 seeds. They led in the second half in 4 of those 5 losses, so it will be a matter of closing for the Golden Eagles. If they can keep McNeal and Matthews rested and not sucking air with 6 minutes left in the game, the Elite 8 isn’t out of the question for the Warriors.
1. North Carolina vs. 16. Radford
I’m sure that Radford is thankful that Ty Lawson is doubtful for Thursday’s matchup, but that’s about all they are thankful for getting matched up with the Tar Heels. Psycho T’s last chance for a national championship starts here, and North Carolina always steamrolls their Round 1 opponent, Lawson or not. North Carolina 92, Radford 61
8. LSU vs. 9. Butler
The Butler Bulldogs were probably looking at a 6/7 seed before they got upset by Cleveland State in their conference championship game, so here they are in the 9 spot playing a very quiet LSU team led by Marcus Thornton. This is a tough matchup to guage because Butler can play as well as most teams in the nation but don’t always show it, and LSU relies a lot on athleticism. I’ll take a more proven Butler team in this one. Butler 63, LSU 60
5. Illinois vs. 12. Western Kentucky
This is the best 5/12 matchup that I can find having a chance for an upset due to the injury to Illinois guard Chester Frazier. I haven’t been high on Illinois all year and Western Kentucky loves to spread the court, getting everyone involved and match up very well with Illinois. Western Kentucky 65, Illinois 62
4. Gonzaga vs. 13. Akron
Gonzaga is one of my sleepers in this bracket, especially if Ty Lawson’s big toe keeps acting up and he has to miss any time. I’ve seen Akron a few times on tape and they don’t look like world beaters and I think is Gonzaga is poised for something big this year. Don’t forget they led the nation in scoring margin this year, an important stat come tournament time. Gonzaga 74, Akron 60
6. Arizona St. vs. 11. Temple
Shhh…my official sleeper of 2009 that could very well bust on me in the first round. The Temple Owls are one of my favorite teams in the draft, and when I watched Joe Lunardi pick them to make the Sweet 16, I knew it was meant to be. I love what Dionte Christmas is about and think he is this year’s Stephen Curry. Believe me, he’s got the tools and Arizona St. is very overrated. Take the 5.5 points Temple is getting with ease also. Temple 72, Arizona St. 71
3. Syracuse vs. 14. Stephen F. Austin
It’s time for everyone to stop saying that Johnny Flynn or any of the other Orange are going to get tired because of the 6OT game followed by the OT win vs. West Virginia. All that epic game did was boost their confidence through the roof and make them feel like they could play with anyone (except Dionte Christmas). This team could fall as short as the second round or as far as the Final Four. Flynn has it within himself to do so, but either way they roll in round one. Syracuse 84, Stephen F. Austin 72
7. Clemson vs. 10. Michigan
As much as I hate the Big11Ten, and as good as I think Clemson can be, I have to make Michigan in this game. Big Blue has big wins over Duke and UCLA this year and Clemson has been way too inconsistent for my liking. The Tigers’ best is better than the Wolverines’ best showing, but I think Michigan and John Beilein’s squad come out firing in this one, led by Manny Harris. Michigan 73, Clemson 69
2. Oklahoma vs. 15. Morgan St.
Oklahoma is a very interesting team in this year’s tournament. I love what Blake Griffin is about and do not think the Kansas State comparison are fair at all. Willie Warren is an outstanding freshman and when he wants to be, Austin Johnson is tough to stop. The Griffin brothers will lead the troops into battle over Morgan St., but after that they will need to prove that they are more than just a product of the double-double machine. Oklahoma 78, Morgan St. 60
Who Wins the South Regional and Why? In my opinion, the South has the teams with a) the best talent (UNC), b) the best player (Blake Griffin), c) the hottest team (Syracuse), d) the biggest upset special (W Kentucky) and e) the biggest sleeper (Gonzaga) of the tournament. That being said, it will come down to whether or not Ty Lawson is healthy for the Tar Heels. As the Florida State game showed, they are not outstanding without their star point guard and they need him if they want to advance far. Hansbrough and the rest of the senior-laced squad can carry them to the Sweet 16, but they will need a healthy Lawson from there on out or it could be game over. I don’t think Oklahoma has what it takes to win the regional and Syracuse is bound to fade on their crazy hot streak playing the best basketball in the nation, which leaves one other team: the Gonzaga Bulldogs. They have quietly dominated this year and could come out of nowhere and take this regional by surprise.
Who is the Biggest Sleeper? Obviously I am going with Dionte Christmas and the Temple Owls. I can’t tell you enough how good this guy is. I watched him vs. Tennessee earlier this year when he dropped 35 on the Vols and fell in love with him. Bill Raftery was having way too much fun with the “Christmas” puns during the game, but all I saw was a fierce competitor and a solid supporting cast, especially Ryan Brooks and Lavoy Allen. I think they beat the Sun Devils and after that, Syracuse really does not have an answer for Christmas (Devendorf and Rautins don’t play great defense) and you could see an 11 seed jump into the Sweet 16. From there, we all know it’s about staying hot. I’m just saying…
Who Wins the Final Four and Why? All four of these teams know how to turn it on at the right time which is why I chose them to get to Detroit. If Wake Forest wins it, it will be because all that talent has found their groove at the right time, as well as Jeff Teague lighting it up every game. For UConn, it will start with Hasheem Thabeet and what he is able to do in the tournament. We saw that a big man like Greg Oden can get a team to the National Championship, and that Ohio State team was not as good as this UConn team, despite their record being better. A.J. Price will need to run this team and UConn’s big role players will need to step up, and I believe they will. For UNC, it will be Ty Lawson’s health status and whether or not his big toe his healthy. The talent is there but the offense starts and ends with Lawson. For Villanova, much like Wake Forest, they will need to stay hot and keep shooting well from outside as well as Dante Cunningham pacing them from the inside.
In the end, UConn will take the cake due to their outstanding balance and senior point guard leadership. Yes, they lost to Pittsburgh twice this year, but they crushed Louisville and Marquette on the road and beat Syracuse, Villanova, and Gonzaga this year. The ability to beat anyone is there and I believe Jim Calhoun will have these guys ready. It hasn’t been the pick everyone is talking about (everyone is taking Louisville and North Carolina, it seems) but I just get that gut feeling that they will do it this year. Price and Thabeet get it done, Dyson or not.
It’s the greatest time of the year and I believe the second best day in the sports world (behind only the NFC and AFC Championship games), it’s the NCAA First Round that starts in a couple hours. Good luck on your brackets and enjoy the games!
Every year, painstaking hours go in to countless amounts of brackets, trying to figure out which team will come out on top in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Do you go with the consistent team of seniors, the fast paced, high scoring team, or the shutdown defensive squad that will be in every game? It’s a tough question to answer year in and year out, because if it was easy Las Vegas would be out of business. But to make the process a little easier (luck still being very much involved), I think I have narrowed down the four most important factors in determining who will win the NCAA Tournament. Now remember, multiple teams may have these four factors, but it is who can act on them the best that will hoist the trophy at the end of each year in April. I have looked at the last 10 NCAA winners, dating back to the 1999 Connecticut Huskies and looked at what made these teams so well round and put together. From there, I found the four factors that are ranked in order of importance.
1. A point guard that, when his points and assists are combined, total at least 17, and a free throw percentage better than 70%. If free throw percentage is under 70%, points + assists must equal at least 20.
2. A forward/center that, when his points and rebounds are combined, total at least 17, and has a field goal percentage better than 52%.
3. Have a starting lineup with an average of at least a junior, OR have 2 of the best three players on the team be underclassmen.
1. A point guard that, when his points and assists are combined, total at least 17, and a free throw percentage better than 70%. If free throw percentage is under 70%, points + assists must equal at least 20.
To me, this is the single most important factor when looking at teams that I believe have a chance at winning the NCAA Tournament each year. It’s the reason that Marquette is struggling so much without Dominic James and the reasons Connecticut and Pittsburgh have enjoyed the success they have had this year. Don’t forget about Davidson last year, either. Yes, Stephen Curry was fantastic but his point guard, Jason Richards, led the nation in assists and was a key component to the Wildcats doing so well in March. It’s true that the point guard position goes a lot deeper than points, assists, and free throw percentage, and that stats like A/TO ratio, field goal percentage, and even intangibles need to be taken into account. However, there is a pretty sharp correlation based on the three stats I chose, and if you think about the point guards on the list below, they had just about everything a national championship was looking for. Going to that chart, the last ten national champions have point guards that have fallen underneath this category. The reason I put the last part into the equation was because Jay Williams and Raymond Felton would not have had the credentials to fall underneath this factor, and they were arguably two of the best three point guards on that list. If you shoot under 75% from the charity stripe (which I consider to be a solid free throw percentage), you had better make up for it in any other way that you can, and clearly Williams and Felton did so, with Williams averaging over 21 points per game and Felton averaging 7 assists per game. Taliek Brown from the 2004 UConn Huskies did not make the cut, but you have to take into consideration who was around him. Ben Gordon dished out 4.5 assists per game and he had Emeka Okafor in the post, who was the best player in basketball that year. If you do not have a point guard that falls under this category, it would be important for that team to have a big man equivalent to Okafor (see Oklahoma later). Looking at this year’s tournament teams ranked 1-5, there were six teams that do not have a player on their roster that would fall underneath this category. They are Xavier, Louisville, Utah, Oklahoma, Gonzaga, Missouri, Washington, and Purdue. If you want to include Terrance Williams in the debate, then Louisville would be off of this list, but still the fact that 8 of the top 20 teams in the tournament lack a point guard worthy of taking his team to national championship is surprising. As I said earlier, there will be multiple teams that have a certain factor accomplished, and of those 12 teams in the top 20 of the tournament, this is how each player ranks: The last thing to remember here is that it really isn’t a huge deal where you rank on this list, but rather just that you are on it. For example, Levance Fields and A.J. Price are ranked 9th and 10th on that list, but when push comes to shove I am taking either of them over the majority of the guys ahead of them on that list. Also, if you refer back to the top, Mateen Cleaves is lower on that list than Kalin Lucas is, and if you were to ask most Michigan State fans, the comparison right now is really not that close. Also on the above table, Mario Chalmers has one of the lowest combined score, yet we all know how important he was in the tournament for the Jayhawks.
2. A forward/center that, when his points and rebounds are combined, total at least 17, and has a field goal percentage better than 54%.
Coming in at a close second place to the most important factor in the tournament is a presence of a big man. Not only does he give you high percentage shots, but can also lure in defenders that leave jump shooters open and can shut down teams in the paint on defense. If a team has a solid big man, it can change the way that the game is played and how the other team prepares for him. You look at this year and Tyler Hansbrough has been a nightmare for defenses, DeJuan Blair comes out of nowhere in his first game vs. UConn to truly show how important a big man can be, and also Hasheem Thabeet, affecting just about every offensive possession teams have against the Huskies. Just as it was for the point guard spot, this factor misses a few elements that some would argue are more important such as blocks, fouls and the always important intangibles. But once again, a player that can do well on the offensive end usually has talent overall, and as you will see every guy on this list has a passion for the game that will take his team deep into the tourney if everything clicks. Going back to the past 10 tournament winners, it amazed me how every team (except the Michigan State Spartans) had an absolute force inside. There wasn’t one player on the list that I didn’t think about and say, “Wow, he really did make the difference for that team in the tournament”. All the way from Emeka Okafor’s dominating performance, down to Darrell Arthur shutting down Joey Dorsey in the championship game before getting him to foul out. It’s debatable that this is even more important than having a stud point guard. The big boys in the front court are more consistent on a game-to-game basis, permitting they do not get into foul trouble and at times can change more parts to a game than a smaller guy could. Another thing to note for teams that do not have a big man but have solid guard play, the Michgan State Spartans did not have much of a force inside but used their guard play of Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, and Charlie Bell to will their way to a title, so don’t be upset if your team did not make the cut for this year’s tournament. Also, the 52% field goal mark was chosen based on this year’s big men and how they have shot from the field. Clearly from the last 10-year mark, the players that cut down the nets were higher than that for the most part. Moving forward to this year’s top 20 ranked tournament teams, the only teams that do not have a player to fall under this category are Duke, Memphis, Washington, Florida State, and Louisville. Just as it was for the guards, ranking is not that big of a deal, but rather being on that list means that you have the minimum credentials for what we have seen to be national champions come April. Also, one quick note is that there were a few teams that had two player fall under this category and they were Oklahoma (Tyler Griffin), UConn (Jeff Adrien), Gonzaga (Austin Daye), and Syracuse (Paul Harris).
3. Have a starting lineup with an average of at least a junior, OR have 2 of the best three players on the team be underclassmen.
Everyone knows that it is vital to have a team that has been to the tournament or has some big game experience. Young teams that have not been together as long do not have the same chemistry as a Pittsburgh or a Marquette or a North Carolina. They also most likely have not played in as big of games as the NCAA Tournament and definitely not on the same national stage. What I did for this factor was consider the last 10 national champions and how young or old they were when they won it. Simple math says that Freshman = 1, Sophomore = 2, Junior = 3, and Senior = 4. For all but three teams, the starting lineup average was over three. For the three teams that did not fall under the same category, they all had sophomores or freshman that led the team in scoring or could be considered the team’s best players. Those were Duke in 2001, who had four sophomores including Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy to go with senior leader Shane Battier, then came Syracuse in 2003 that was clearly led by freshman Carmelo Anthony and underclassmen Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara. The third team to fall under an average of a junior were the Florida Gators, who had four sophomores. Those sophomores were also the reason the team won the national championship in Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah and point guard Taurean Green. The other seven national champions had an average that was greater than a junior, so what I decided was that, despite the disadvantage a younger team has, if their young players are really that good then they should be taken in as having the experience factor because clearly they are being thrown into the line of fire right away and succeeding at it. Out of this year’s tournament teams, the teams that did not fall under this category were Duke, Florida State, Kansas, Wake Forest, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Washington, Illinois, and Purdue. Out of those teams, the ones that still make the cut (2 of the 3 best players are underclassmen) are Duke, Kansas, Wake Forest, Oklahoma, Syracuse, and Purdue. That leaves the only teams that are inexperienced in the wrong places being Florida State, Washington, and Illinois. The graph below shows each team above a “3 average” and who is the oldest.
If I had to make a fourth factor in who does well in the tournament, it would probably come down to either head coaching, perimeter jump shooting, or free throw shooting. Anyways, these are my big three factors and I will break this down and tell you what it means for this year’s tournament and who is going to succeed, but to end the blog let’s take a look at each team and see how many check marks each team received in the factor department. In regards to the experience factor, if a team fell underneath the sophomore rule but passed the test, I counted it in the tally and there is an asterisk next to their number. And the last thing I want to preach to anyone out there reading is that these are simply numbers based on the last ten years. The numbers may be different from the last 20 and there is a chance that Louisville can win the national title. All this shows is that Lousiville does not the same make-up of a team that won the title 10 years ago. I think that Lousiville could potentially be a Final Four Team, but what these stats show, based on my factors, is that the Cardinals will not be hoisting the trophy come April. Enjoy and leave me comments!
My communications class being canceled this morning has allowed me to do a quick write-up on what will be Marquette’s biggest home game of the year. The Golden Eagles (23-4, 12-2) enter tonight’s contest 1/2 game behind the Connecticut Huskies (25-2, 13-2) in the Big East standings and will look to deny Jim Calhoun his 800th win in his storied career. Marquette is perfect at home at 16-0 while UConn is 9-0 on the road. Something has to give tonight between these two teams and it will be interesting to see whose tempo takes over this contest.
For Connecticut, it starts and ends with 7’3″ center Hasheem Thabeet. He averages 13.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game to go along with a 64% field goal percentage. Defensively, he is second in the nation in blocks at 4.4 per game. To put that in perspective, Marquette as a team averages 3.3 blocks per game. Thabeet’s presence inside will be key on both ends of the court in an attempt to take advantage of Marquette’s height problems inside. In addition, Thabeet will keep Marquette out of the lane on drives and force them to alter shots, leading to poor percentage takes. But don’t think the Huskies stop with Thabeet. A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien round out UConn’s version of the “Big 3”. Adrien is about as physical of a 6’7″ player as you will find and will provide a very tough matchup for Lazar Hayward on the offensive end. A.J. Price provides excellent senior leadership at the point guard position but will face a tough matchup against Dominic James tonight. 6’9″ Stanley Robinson rounds out UConn’s front court and freshman Kemba Walker has stepped in nicely for the injured Jerome Dyson. UConn’s keys to the game tonight are to play the 2-3 zone better than they have all year. It would absolutely shock me to see them come out in a man-to-man look against a Marquette team that is quicker than them and clearly undersized. Thabeet will have to anchor the middle and stop drives inside, forcing Marquette to beat them with jumpshots. Offensively, Jeff Adrien could fly under the radar and have an excellent game for the Huskies. As has been the case all year when guarding them, Thabeet will be doubled on most possessions, leaving Adrien open on the weakside or Price and Walker open for outside jumpers. Marquette’s guards have the advantage over a slower UConn back court so look for a slowed down half-court offense that starts in the post for UConn. If UConn can find Thabeet and Adrien early, it will force Marquette to double down and change up their defense.
For the Golden Eagles, the key to tonight’s game is Jerel McNeal. No, he won’t guard Thabeet or Adrien but the tempo of the game relies solely on what he does with the ball offensively. McNeal, Marquette’s leader throughout the year, will finally get the national spotlight that he has deserved all year and I look for him to succeed. Hayward, James, and Matthews are all excellent players and should be applauded for how they have each contributed to MU’s success this year, but tonight is McNeal’s time to shine. It is obvious that, unless we traded for DeJuan Blair this morning, guard play will be the key to winning this game. Marquette can beat the UConn guards off the dribble and get into the paint about as much as they want, especially in a 2-3 zone. Unfortunately, that’s the easy part. Waiting for the seniors will be a front court whose average height is 6’10” as well as one of the best shot blockers in the nation. I want Marquette to be as physical as they can with the front court, Thabeet especially. His gift is his curse and he will, at times, be too aggressive going for blocks and pick up fouls. He is at his best when guards shy away and try to float shots over him (ask Johnny Flynn) and Marquette will have no success doing this. I believe McNeal and Matthews are best suited to do this with their size, and it will be important to get to the lane. Another key to the game will be passing. Out of every game I have seen Marquette play this year, they pass better than their opponent each night. This doesn’t necessarily mean an assist, but the extra pass is always a crisp, line drive to the chest. Tonight, against the zone defense, this could be huge in looking for open jumpers. Sam Young was able to do this against the Huskies last week and even though we didn’t have a Blair to account for like Pitt did, McNeal and Matthews could be the equivalent to this when they drive. Because of this, I look for Lazar Hayward and Dominic James to be open on the perimeter. Lazar is free to shoot but what this will also do for James is make the zone out of position, and no one changes direction better than James. Marquette MUST use their speed tonight because they are faster than UConn. Transition offense will be key as well in keeping UConn out of their zone defense. Defensively, Dwight Burke needs to man up like he did last year against Roy Hibbert. He’s giving up size, strength, and athleticism, but he will need to find that extra boost of energy somewhere because he will be playing more than his average amount of minutes tonight. Using the Luke Harangody or Dante Cunningham approach tonight will not work. Thabeet is 7’3″ and a pure center. He isn’t going out farther than the free throw line and the only possible defenders are Burke, Hayward, maybe Matthews and potentially Hazel tonight. Help-side defense will obviously be important tonight, so look for Jimmy Butler and Lazar Hayward to step up on defense. Their guards do not scare me as long as we close out nicely. Against Pitt, A.J. had way too many open looks against a sluggish Pitt back court. There will not be a letdown from the senior guards tonight in that category, and if Marquette can force early turnovers it could change the whole pace of the game, and definitely the momentum.
I once viewed Connecticut as the most talented team this year, pre-Dyson injury. Thabeet and Adrien have stepped their game up in his absence, but I believe it has left their guards vulnerable on defense. What a perfect set-up for the Golden Eagles. The Bradley Center will be absolutely rocking tonight with an estimated 19,000+ in attendance. I will be waiting in line at 2:00 and already have chills just thinking about the statement the Golden Eagles could make tonight. Marquette must use their speed tonight but will have to work for every bucket against an excellent UConn defense. This game won’t get past the 70’s for either team so every bucket will be important. For weeks on end, I have been saying how Marquette can’t stay with UConn in any phase, but I am starting to lean the other way now. Look for McNeal to go crazy tonight and, on the other end, Adrien is going to put up monster numbers. All in all, UConn is an excellent squad with a lot of talent and as I play out scenarios in my head I can see this game going either way. I’m actually just typing more so I don’t have to think of a prediction for the outcome tonight.
In the end, better inside play beats better outside play and I just think UConn’s front court is too much for the Golden Eagles to handle. It will come down to the wire no question, but UConn slips by in the end to stay on top in the Big East.
Connecticut 80, Marquette 77