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National Championship Preview

63 games have been played in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, leaving just one game left to decide who will be crowned this year’s national champ as the Michigan State Spartans face up against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
The Michigan State Spartans come in to the game as a two seed, winning the Midwest region and defeating the Connecticut Huskies in the Final Four matchup on Saturday. The Spartans came into the tournament as the biggest second seed underdog, thanks to a terrible perception of the Big Ten and most people’s thinking that teams from the Big Ten simply do not score enough to make it far in the tournament.

What head coach Tom Izzo and the rest of the Spartans showed was that solid offense, combined with lockdown defense and unbelievable tenacity, can get a team like this anywhere. They were not supposed to beat Kansas in the Sweet 16 and surely were not given any love against the overall one seed Lousiville Cardinals.

In just his second year at Michigan State, point guard Kalin Lucas has the Spartans one win away from a title.

In just his second year at Michigan State, point guard Kalin Lucas has the Spartans one win away from a title.

Despite the Big Ten label, the Spartans were fought their way into the Final Four, but also brought the youngest team with young gun sophomores Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Chris Allen to Detroit. Raymar Morgan and Goran Suton are the older Spartans along with Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Travis Walton.

A big advantage for the Spartans going into this game is location. Ford Field in Michigan will have green and white everywhere as thousands of Michigan State fans are expected to make the trip for tonight’s game. As seen in the Connecticut game, the crowd really got behind the Spartans and, despite the 72,000 seat stadium they were playing in, it really felt like a home game for them.

Unfortunately for Michigan State, home court advantage does not automatically give them the trophy. They go up against an unbelievably talented North Carolina team that has been the favorite to win the championship since Day one, and was the one team that was talked about as a contender all year.

Offensively, Michigan State faces a much easier task than they did against Connecticut. The Tar Heels play average defense at best and leave a lot of open shots. While Villanova did not capitalize on them Saturday, a disciplined and highly efficient backcourt should hit these open shots. Not including the six-overtime game against Syracuse, Connecticut had given up 82 points (MSU’s total against them Saturday) three times all year to Marquette, Villanova, and Gonzaga.

Do not think for one second that Michigan State will not be able to keep up with North Carolina’s pace. Lucas has played the point guard position extremely well, averaging 14.4 points and 5.4 assists per game in the tournament. Suton has been a monster all year and will have his hands full with Tyler Hansbrough down low, but his ability to come out on the perimiter should make it a very tough game for the North Carolina senior.

Role players have been the story for the Spartans all year, and guys like Morgan, Summers, Roe, and Allen fit into their roles perfectly on offense, leading to good passes and open looks.
Despite their underrated offensive play, the place that Michigan State can win tonight’s game is going to be on the other end of the court. All year long, the Spartans have preached lockdown defense against every opponent, and it has worked outstandingly.

On the year, Michigan State sported a +9.6 rebounding margin, which led the nation. It sounds like a broken record player, but the Spartans are so discplined on the court that North Carolina’s up-tempo offense will not confuse and take them out of position on defense.

They are not as fast as the Tar Heels and are not pretending to be. What they are trying to be are solid defenders who do not allow second chance points and contest every shot that goes up. Michigan State will be able to slow down the pace of the game with their defense which could cause North Carolina to get out of their rhythm.

Once this occurs, it will come down to which team can play within the game and run a set offense, and that could very well be Michigan State.
In the tournament, the story for the Tar Heels has been absolute dominance. Even in games where they did not look their best, in my opinion the LSU and Villanova game, they still won those games by 14 points both times. What this tells me is that this team is athletic enough to stay in any game and outrun their opponents.

Their offense starts with Ty Lawson and Roy Williams has no problem if it ends with Lawson as well. The junior is averaging just under 21 points and seven assists per game in the four tournament games he has played in. Consider that he is doing this all with a sprained big toe, and it makes him that much more impressive.

He will face a very tough opponent in the aforementioned Travis Walton who, after seeing him against UConn, plays some of the best man-t0-man defense in the nation. Lawson has the speed advantage on Walton and will likely use that to penetrate the Michigan State defense, leading to a lot of open looks for perimter shooters in Danny Green and Wayne Ellington.

North Carolina must get the tempo going against Michigan State, something that Connecticut did not do in their loss to the Spartans. If they can, UNC is much faster on the court and deeper on the bench, and that will wear down the Michigan State defense.

Tyler Hansbrough looks to end his North Carolina career on a good note and will use his strength inside to cause havoc on Suton. Hansbrough should get some very good looks tonight and could control the game inside if he wants to. I have been knocking them all year, but the rest of the North Carolina frontcourt needs to get a lot stronger inside.

Ed Davis and Deon Thompson are very quick for their size and seem to be in the right spot for offensive rebounds, but they do not battle as much as I would like them to (Villanova out-rebounded the Tar Heels Saturday) and against a very strong rebounding team in Michigan State, second chances will be few and far between. As most games have been for the Tar Heels this year, they will win it with offense.

They have some of the best scorers in the nation to go with the best point guard in the nation, and that is about as deadly as a combination as I can think of. Their speed and size allows them to run the break and go hard to the hoop and it will be very tough for Michigan State to slow them down.
Defensively, North Carolina needs to step up their game. They got very lucky against Villanova that the Wildcats were cold from downtown, but tonight they had better not count on getting lucky twice.

Do not let the numbers on North Carolina fool you, giving up 72 points per game. They are lazy at times and get out-physicaled more than they should. Just because they average over 90 points per game does not mean that it will happen tonight against a very good defensive Michigan State team.

Tyler Hansbrough has just one game left in his storied North Carolina career.

Tyler Hansbrough has just one game left in his storied North Carolina career.

Good defense in turn will lead to fast break opportunities off missed shots, and that will be the key to North Carolina taking this game. Lawson will need to slow down Lucas at the point of attack and not let them run the set plays that coach Izzo draws up.

The size advantages of Green and Ellington will be key in not letting the Spartans get into the lane to draw fouls and get high percentage shots. Fortunately, Michigan State does not shoot the three-point ball very well shooting 35 percent on the year, despite 38 percent from downtown in the tournament.

I have faith that North Carolina will step up their game defensively and lock down the open looks that Michigan State will try to get. Like it was said earlier, this UNC team is stacked full of athletes that get after the ball at all times and can make up a lot of ground just on the fact of them being very athletic.
Earlier in the year, North Carolina beat Michigan State 98-63 in the same Ford Field that they will play at tonight. Despite not having Goran Suton, the game was not even close and the up-tempo Tar Heels ran away with the game led by Tyler Hansbrough’s 25 point performance and Ty Lawson’s near-triple double.

This game is sure to be much closer this time around, and while bench play and rotations will be important, this one is going to come down for the stars that will go up against one another tonight. Hansbrough, one of the best college basketball players to ever put on Tar Heel blue, has one game left.

Michigan State is playing in front of a home crowd and has become the team of destiny that has upset two number one seeds in the process.

Both of these teams are red-hot, but in the end I think that North Carolina’s athleticism and strength on offense will be too much for Michigan State in the end, and Psycho-T will finally get that National Championship he has wanted for four years. North Carolina 84, Michigan State 80

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Final Four/National Championship | , , | 1 Comment

Final Four Debates With Kevin

The best part about sports is that they are completely debatable, and when you find two passionate people that love the game, the arguments that ensue are awesome and intense (and sometimes can get out of hand). I have found lately that these debates have occurred between me and my good friend Kevin Shanley. Kevin, a sophomore at Marquette University, is a Marquette Golden Eagles fan and would be the president of the Wesley Matthews Fan Club if there was one. But ranked right below the Golden Eagles on Kevin’s college basketball team depth chart are the North Carolina Tar Heels. So I have decided to debate him, 1-on-1, on the Final Four matchups. Kevin has taken the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Michigan State Spartans, while I will debate the soon-to-be national champion UConn Huskies and the Villanova Wildcats.

(Ironically enough, if Connecticut wins it all I win the bracket Kevin and I are in, and if North Carolina wins it all, Kevin wins)

We will debate each matchup based on four factors: guardplay/outside shooting, inside play/inside shooting, defense, and intangibles. There are no winners or losers in the debate, but rather good spirited arguments about which teams will play on Monday to determine the national champion.

Scottie Reynolds will be a major factor if Villanova is going to pull off the upset.

Scottie Reynolds will be a major factor if Villanova is going to pull off the upset.

Villanova’s Back Court

The first thing I will say is that Villanova’s back court is a lot stronger than North Carolina’s for one simple reason: everyone can play there! When you look at Villanova this season, the leader in the back court is undoubtedly Scottie Reynolds. Despite having a so-so tournament (sans the game-winner against Pitt), he has averaged 33 minutes per game and is crucial to the Wildcats’ success on offense. This kid can hit from anywhere on the court, and I know that you have seen it Kevin, because I watched him torch Marquette with you. As is the case for every player in the back court, this team can and will catch fire at any time and the runs this team gets on because of it are hard to keep up with. But don’t think that the Wildcats stop with Reynolds. Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher are the next two reasons why North Carolina’s back court is going to be sucking air for 40 minutes on Saturday. Both of these players bring everything to the table with great outside shots (33% and 42% from three point range), shutdown defense, and great speed on both ends of the floor.

Next up is personally my favorite player on this Villanova squad and the reason this back court is so multi-dimensional, and that is the play of Dwayne Anderson. Anderson is listed at 6’6”, but the senior can play any position on the court. He is an above average ball handler, great spot shooter, and can also go inside (which is why I am going to cheat and use him for my inside game as well). He has averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds in the tournament, but is also 6 for 11 from downtown. He is able to guard a shooting guard and both forward positions and is just unbelievably versatile. Reggie Redding rounds out the back court, but do not sleep on this guy either, as he averages seven points and five rebounds per game and is one of Villanova’s best defenders.

Look, the name of the game for Villanova is speed and that is exactly what their back court brings. The depth, talent, and speed is why I believe Villanova has the better back court.

North Carolina’s Back Court

Now I understand the strength of Villanova’s backcourt is their personal strength, but in comparison to North Carolina’s, there is no question which team has the better players… the Tar Heels. This is mainly due to ACC player of the year Ty Lawson. Lawson was plagued by a right toe injury towards the end of the season, and was unable to play in the ACC tournament, as well as the UNC routing of Radford in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The loss of Lawson proved to hurt the Tar Heels tremendously as shown in the loss to Florida State in the ACC Tournament, but with a “healthy” Lawson, the Tar Heels are the best team in the nation. Lawson spearheads the North Carolina offense with his speed, passing ability, and as of late- his three-point shot. Averaging just over 16 points a game, as well as six and a half assists, Lawson proves to be too much for opposing defenders. Defensively, Lawson is stellar as well pulling in two steals a game, making Lawson a complete point guard, something necessary to win in the tournament.

The Tar Heels do not stop with Lawson in their guard play. They receive help from Wayne Ellington and Danny Green as well to round out the back court. Ellington averages 15.6 points per game, as well as 4.8 rebounds. He has been a force whenever Lawson is unable to put the ball in the hoop, as seen in his 24, 25, and 23 point games against Florida State, Radford and LSU when Lawson either did not play, or was limited action. Ellington’s ability to be reliable for the Tar Heels when Lawson or Hansbrough are slumping makes him vital to the Tar Heels success.

The final piece to this lethal back court is my favorite Tar Heel, Danny Green. Previously famous for his dancing antics and ability to fire up his team, the senior Green will continue to be overlooked in the potent UNC offense. Green coming in at 6’6”, 210lbs presents a matchup problem for anyone. With his ability to handle the ball, hit the outside shot, and be a presence in the post, I would compare him to a better Lazar Hayward (for a quick MU reference). Green seems to be there day in and day out for the Tar Heels, creating a steady balance of points (at 13.3), and rebounds (4.8), Green is a production machine for UNC.

In the end, the experience factor with two juniors in Lawson and Ellington and a senior leader in Green assist the Tar Heels in possessing the better backcourt. The ability to shoot the ball extremely well from long range, as well as the driving abilities of Lawson will be too much for the Wildcats on Saturday. This trio is one of the best in the nation, and will expose Villanova, proving to everyone that they are the better backcourt.

North Carolina’s Front Court

North Carolina’s Frontcourt is better than Villanova’s for one reason, Tyler Hansbrough. Psycho-T is coming off of an terrible game against Oklahoma and I think that this spells trouble for Villanova. Hansbrough is the type of player who does not have two bad games in a row. His frustration was apparent towards the end of the Oklahoma game where he tried to dunk over a better Blake Griffin. Psycho-T will be a force over Cunningham and expose Villanova’s lack of height. He is coming in averaging almost 21 points a game, matched with 8 boards per game. No one on this Villanova roster will be able to contain him and due to his lack of success in his previous game, I look for Hansbrough to have a huge game and lift UNC to the NCAA Championship game. The second piece to the UNC frontcourt is Deon Thompson, the only starter on this amazing UNC team that does not receive constant national attention. Thompson and his 6’8″ frame will present a size problem for Villanova as well. He’s also averaging a quiet 10.7 points per game along with grabbing down almost six boards per contest. Although I do not think Thompson will have as big as an effect as the other players on this UNC roster, look for him to continue to quietly score against the Wildcats. In the end, it all starts and ends with Tyler Hansbrough for the Tar Heels. The All-American will take out all his frustration from his last game against the Villanova frontcourt, and in the end, ruin the magical run that Villanova has had so far in the tournament.

Villanova’s Front Court

While Villanova’s front court does not have the star power that North Carolina’s does, the Tar Heels will be in for a rude awakening if they forget about power forward Dante Cunningham. Cunningham, the Big East’s Most Improved Player, has been playing outstanding all year and even better in the tournament. His ability to play down-low is great, but even better is his 17-foot jump shot that seems to go in every time. His 18 points and eight rebounds per game in the tournament have Villanova in Detroit and you will not see a letdown from him against North Carolina. Yes, he is going up against your boy Hansbrough but we have already seen that Psycho-T has trouble with forwards that can come out on the perimeter. Dwayne Anderson (here he is again) is another guy that will play bigger than he really is on the inside and use his athleticism to cause havoc down low. Shane Clark is another player like Anderson that can play multiple positions and does a lot of the dirty work inside for the Wildcats. Putting the two of them down low, combined with Cunningham, makes for a very athletic and hard-working front court that will out hustle the Tar Heels. An “x-factor”, if you will, for the Wildcats might be Antonio Pena. He has not played a lot in the tournament but is very physical and if the bigger Tar Heels start to dominate down low, he could play crucial minutes to stop that run.

Alright, I admit that I will probably have to concede this one to you as Villanova is up against last year’s Player of the Year and first team All-American in Hansbrough. But I still think the key to Villanova keeping this game close will be how Cunningham is able to use his jump shot as well his power inside to keep North Carolina on their toes, regardless of where he is on the court. If Anderson and Clark are able to use their speed to beat their defenders off the dribble, it could spell trouble for a defense that, at times, is very shaky.

Villanova’s Defense

I guess to fairly debate Villanova’s defense I have to talk about it in regards to North Carolina’s offense. The first thing I will say is I like the matchups that Villanova is going to bring to the table against the Tar Heels. First is Dante Cunningham, who will match up against Tyler Hansbrough. Cunningham has been outstanding on defense all year and being from the Big East, you know he loves a challenge. What was interesting in watching the Oklahoma-UNC game was how Blake Griffin played outstanding defense on Psycho-T, and as I watched more and more I saw a lot of similarities in how Cunningham plays defense. Offensively, Griffin is very different and much better than him, but on the other side of the ball not so much. Griffin played faster than Hansbrough and did not let him get into any rhythm as he only had eight points and six rebounds in the contest. Cunningham also likes to play fast at times, while also having the weapon of being physical in his back pocket.

Scottie Reynolds will have his hands full against Ty Lawson and must shut him down if Villanova wants to have a chance. Danny Green and Wayne Ellington are going to be shut down in every aspect of this game by Dwayne Anderson and Reggie Redding. The best part of the Villanova defense is that North Carolina’s great size is not as much of a factor because, despite being big on defense, they are also quick enough to hang with the Tar Heels. Corey Fisher might have a tough time with Ellington’s size, but Stokes will play a key role in the rotation of keeping fresh defenders on the very talented North Carolina shooters. Down low, Deon Thompson and Ed Davis look a little timid at times, and that is the last thing you want to do when going up against Shane Clark and Antonio Pena. Both of them play extremely physical down low and the North Carolina big men (other than Hansbrough) should not get more than their point averages in this one.

OK, North Carolina is probably the best offensive team in the nation, it’s hard for me to debate that and even harder to admit it. But if there is one team out there that matches the size and the speed of a North Carolina team, I’ll take Villanova over most other teams in the nation.

Standing in the way of any shot will be the energetic and athletic Danny Green.

Standing in the way of any shot will be the energetic and athletic Danny Green.

North Carolina’s Defense

Defensively, I think both these teams match up well. Both offenses like to play the run-and-gun offense, and defense is the X factor for this game. Villanova has great defense from players like Stokes, Anderson, Redding, and obviously Reynolds, but UNC has great defenders as well, and this comes from stars Hansbrough, Green, and Lawson. Yes, the Villanova guards are quick and can score from virtually every place on the court, but the UNC defense is ready to run and contest any shot. The matchup of Lawson and Reynolds will be an interesting one, but in the end I’d take Lawson to have a better game offensively and defensively. Another great UNC defender is Green. He is averaging just fewer than two steals a game and over a block a game, showing that he can stop you in more than just one way. Finally, the defensive presence of Hansbrough will be too much for Cunningham. Although Tyler doesn’t have the stats to prove his defensive abilities, he’s a very physical player that will not be pushed around by anyone. If you get in this kid’s face, you’re in for quite the physical game. This will eliminate the threat of Cunningham, who is key to the Villanova offensive and once again prove why North Carolina is the better team.

North Carolina’s Intangibles

I respect Villanova for the run they have had, and hey, I’m all for the Big East making it far in the tournament. However, I think UNC is playing for something bigger. Coming into the season, this team was thought to go undefeated through the entire season and win the NCAA tournament. But this was proved incorrect with horrid losses against teams like Boston College and Maryland. Coming into the tournament there were questions about Lawson’s health and he has proved to everyone that he can play through the pain, and lead his team like he did all season long. Although Villanova might seem like a team of “destiny”, talent overrules this and UNC’s got plenty of it. Players like Lawson and Hansbrough came back for one reason: to win a championship and settle for nothing less. Villanova, I congratulate you on a great run, but North Carolina is a better team than you. Sorry Mark, but you’re looking at the future NCAA champions in the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Villanova’s Intangibles

If you want to even call them one, Villanova is this year’s cinderalla. As a three seed, they are going up against the best teams from the Big East, ACC, and Big Ten. They definitely deserve to be here, but more than any other team remaining, they have gotten here on heart, determination, and getting hot at the right time. I fully believe they will be able to keep this streak going against North Carolina. As we talked about earlier in the week and on the radio show, it will take a great game from Villanova and a below average game for UNC for the Wildcats to come out on top. However, I don’t see that being too far out of the question. Villanova style of play has worked for them all year, and that is to hang with teams until they find their stroke from outside, and then pull away like the game was never close. Two games that remind me of this are the Marquette game and the Providence game. In both, the game looked as though it could go either way before the back court just started scoring at will and Cunningham knocked down everything from 17 feet on in. Do I think North Carolina is going to win this game? Yes. But this Villanova team is not getting a lot of respect that it has tried to gain all year, and Saturday might mark the end of them putting up with it. I look for Hansbrough and Lawson to play outstanding as they always do, but I also think Ellington and especially Green are going to struggle against a solid Villanova team. Good luck, Kevin.


Michigan State’s Backcourt

Looking at the teams on the other end of the bracket, I look for a much better matchup than the UNC-Villanova game. Yes Connecticut is the more talented team, but if you are looking for an upset, look no further than the Michigan State Spartans. The Michigan State backcourt lives and dies with their leader Kalin Lucas. This guy can straight up play and provides matchup issues for whoever is guarding him. Averaging 14.6 points per game and 4.6 assists a game, Lucas is one of the league’s premier young players being only a sophomore. Lucas is vital if Michigan State wants any chance of upsetting Connecticut. Lucas runs the Spartan offense very well and is able to run in transition. He passes and scores with relative ease, making him a very dangerous player. His ability to drive as well as make the outside jumper makes him a handful for defenders and is the reason he is the focus of this offense. Joining Lucas in the Michigan State backcourt are Chris Allen and Durrell Summers. Neither of these players have the star mentality that Lucas does, but both players know their role and can score when needed. Allen and Summers are both averaging above 8 points a game, making them important to the Michigan State offense. Yes, Connecticut is very talented all around, but if they want to win this game, they’re going to have to find a way to contain Lucas, otherwise the Huskies could be in for a long game.

Connecticut’s Backcourt

The Huskies are led by senior point guard A.J. Price, and have been for the last four years. While the loss of Jerome Dyson has turned them into a different team, the backcourt has managed to keep things steady and will look to do so against a very good defensive team in Michigan State. Price is averaging 14.7 points per game on the year and 4.8 assists and runs the show for a very efficient offense. Even more importantly might be the play of Kemba Walker and Craig Austrie that have taken over for Dyson after the injury. Walker was one of the main reasons that Connecticut is playing in this game, going off for 23 points, five assists, and five rebounds against Missouri. Austrie had 17 points against Purdue and has created senior leadership in any already experienced lineup, as well as good offense. The backcourt is extremely balanced and has done a great job this year running the offense. While the defense is ruled by the frontcourt in Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, Price and Walker have a tight grasp on how the offense runs every game. Against Michigan State, they will need to get good looks at the basket and make sure they do not turn the ball over because the Spartans will capitalize.

Jeff Adrien does not get a lot of recognition, but do not underrate his significance to this UConn team.

Jeff Adrien does not get a lot of recognition, but do not underrate his significance to this UConn team.

Connecticut’s Frontcourt

This is where the debate basically ends in the debate of who wins what. I actually really like Goran Suton and think he is unbelievably talented and perfect for Tom Izzo’s system. Unfortunately, Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien stand in the way of Suton accomplishing whatever it is he wants. Thabeet, the co-Big East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, will control this game completely on offense. He does not get a lot of touches on offense, averaging less than six shots per game, but he makes the most of them shooting 65% from the field. Also, Jeff Adrien has been the unheralded senior that no one talks about because of Thabeet. He averages a double double and is the heart and soul of Connecticut’s team and has the ability to run with the guards as well, making him the perfect kind of player for this offense. The one guy seemingly flying under the radar, more than Adrien (if that’s possible), is Stanley Robinson. Ever since he came back from his injury, he has been a dominating force with a decent mid-range game and thunderous dunks all over the court. Michigan State, despite being a very good team defensively everywhere, will have no answer for these three and whoever isn’t scoring, you can bet the other two will be. Advantage Huskies all night long.

Michigan State’s Frontcourt

The Michigan State frontcourt is where Connecticut has the clear advantage, but if Goran Suton can continue playing like he has in the NCAA tournament, an upset could be in sight. On the season, Suton is averaging around ten points a game, but he has really turned it on in the tournament. Against Kansas, Suton put up 20 points and against a very good Louisville team, he put up 19 points. He has been the key to Michigan State’s success as of late and needs to continue this success if Sparty wants to advance any farther. Joining Suton down low will be Raymar Morgan who has been limited as of late. Morgan has had a successful season, averaging 10.2 points per game and 5.3 boards a game. The Spartans need Morgan to find his shot and be able to play more minutes than the ten he did against Lousiville. Off the bench, Michigan State will be expecting some production from forward Delvon Roe, a freshman who has played a good role off the bench averaging 5.8 points per game and five rebounds per game. The freshman Roe has seen an increase in playing time and will be important off the bench to give Suton or Morgan a breather. In the end, Connecticut has a much better frontcourt, but if MSU is able to get Thabeet and Adrian in foul trouble, Michigan State could utilize their depth at this position to make a run at the Huskies.

Michigan State’s Defense

Playing in the Big Ten, Michigan State is used to playing plenty of defense and running down opponents. The only problem here is the fact they will be playing one of the best offensive teams in the nation. Michigan State must try to contain Thabeet, a problem many teams have had this year. If Thabeet is able to establish an offensive game, this adds another weapon to an already Connecticut team. Coach Izzo will be asking a lot out of the frontcourt in Suton and Morgan in hopes to contain Thabeet and Adrien. If the Spartans can limit the offensive firepower in the paint, they have a shot to win this game. Guard-wise Lucas is quite the defender. Lucas will try to stop A.J. Price, who is on fire lately. Michigan State has had a great run defensively, but never had to encounter a team like Connecticut. I feel like there’s no way to completely stop this Connecticut team, but if Michigan State can alter the shots of Price and Adrian, and limit Thabeet to only being a defensive stopper, then the Spartans could pull off the upset.

Connecticut’s Defense

Everyone talking about this game mentions Michigan State’s defense and how they did such a nice job shutting down Big Ten teams, but let’s not forget about the fantastic defense of Connecticut. Led by Hasheem Thabeet in the middle, Connecticut is the toughest team in the nation to go against in the paint, which means if teams are going to beat the Huskies, they better have DaJuan Blair or fantastic outside shooters. Since they do not have the former, Michigan State better be on their A-game shooting the ball outside. That’s where the great defense of A.J. Price and Kemba Walker come in, as they have the task of shutting down DaJuan Summers and Kalin Lucas. I believe they will do so and keep Michigan State well under their season average of 71.9 points per game.

Connecticut’s Intangibles

Three teams left in the Final Four have a starting lineup that averages more than a junior. The one team that does not is Michigan State and that will be their downfall in the end. Two years from now, I could see Michigan State winning it all, but they are just way too inexperienced going up against a Connecticut team that features three seniors and two juniors. Also, I do not think that Michigan State can score enough with Connecticut to keep up with them in the long run. 77 points per game is usually the minimum for teams that win the tournament. Michigan State does not have that and unfortunately, solid defense will not get it done every game. This isn’t the Big Ten anymore Sparty…

Goran Suton will be key is Michigan State wants to pull of the upset of UConn.

Goran Suton will be key is Michigan State wants to pull of the upset of UConn.

Michigan State’s Intangibles

Michigan State has one big advantage in this game, and that is the fact that it is being played in Detroit, meaning Ford Field will be packed with Spartan fans. This should give Michigan State an added boost and give them the confidence to take down the best that is Connecticut. Home field advantage is huge in college basketball and although this is not a declared home game, there will obviously be more Michigan State fans in Detroit than Connecticut fans. Tom Izzo and his tournament success is something that has played a role in Michigan State’s success. In the past 14 years, any Michigan State player who has stayed four years at Michigan State has seen a final four. This proves that Izzo is an unbelievable coach in the NCAA Tournament. Izzo is not afraid of any team, and will have his team prepared for the Huskies come Saturday night. In the end, I believe this game will be closer than most people think. Michigan State has something to prove playing in the weak Big Ten conference. I do think that Connecticut will end up taking this game, but the Spartans will put up a good fight and give the Huskies a run for their money.

April 4, 2009 Posted by | College Basketball, Final Four/National Championship, North Carolina Tar Heels | , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking Down the Brackets: Elite Eight Saturday Games

Despite going 16 for 16 on the Second Round games, I went just six for eight on the Sweet 16 games and will look to rebound in the Elite Eight matchups today.  The Elite Eight features four Big East teams, all the #1 seeds, as well as a pair of two and three seeds.

1. Connecticut vs. 3. Missouri

This game features two teams that are very different in style as the Missouri Tigers look to out-run the Huskies from UConn.  I think Connecticut will be able to run with the fast-paced Tigers and also establish a presence inside on Leo Lyons and Demarre Carroll.  As good as Missouri looked in their victory over Memphis, facing Hasheem Thabeet is going to be tougher than anything they have faced all year.  J.T. Tiller must have a big game again against A.J. Price, as well as on the defensive end guarding the senior point guard who is averaging 21 points per game in the tournament.  In the end, UConn will be too much for a Missouri team that got hot at the right time.  UConn 78, Missouri 74

1. Pittsburgh vs. 3. Villanova

A battle of Big East foes awaits the East Regional Final and will put two teams together that are all too familiar with each other.  Earlier in the year, Villanova defeated Pittsburgh at home and will look to do the same today.  Villanova has used their depth extremely well while Pittsburgh has struggled.  If they can not play better defense and slow things down on offense, Villanova will take this game.  Villanova 82, Pitt 80

March 28, 2009 Posted by | College Basketball, Final Four/National Championship, North Carolina Tar Heels | , , | Leave a comment

Factors Involved in Winning the NCAA Title

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.

Statistics of the starting point guards from the last ten national champions

Statistics of the starting point guards from the last ten national champions

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.

Statistics of the starting point guards of this year's tournament teams seeed 1-5.

Statistics of the starting point guards of this year's tournament teams seeed 1-5.

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%.

Statistics of the best forwards/centers from the last 10 national champions

Statistics of the best forwards/centers from the last 10 national champions

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).

Statistics of the best forwards/centers on this year's tournament teams seeded 1-5

Statistics of the best forwards/centers on this year's tournament teams seeded 1-5

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.

The average age of this year's tournament teams, over 3, ranked 1-5.

The average age of this year's tournament teams, over 3, ranked 1-5.

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!


March 17, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Connecticut Huskies, Final Four/National Championship, North Carolina Tar Heels | , , , | Leave a comment