Saturday, March 29, 2008
Not much to say about a night when all four games are blowouts, with the closest margin of victory being 15. Memphis and Kansas were just far too talented for Michigan State and Villanova, Stanford went cold right when Texas got hot, and Wisconsin had no answer for Stephen Curry and no clue once Trevon Hughes went down. The Spartans at least sort of had some good news, as both junior Goran Suton and freshman Chris Allen had career highs in points in the game, boding well for the future.
Rather than breaking down these blowouts, here's a look at today's games, keep in mind I picked 7-1 in the sweet 16, which should be a couple of great ones. I also figured out that even if every other game goes how I picked it, the best I can finish in the DWG bracket is fourth. But if it's a Memphis/UNC title game, Mrs. WWWWW wins.
Louisville +6 vs. North Carolina: Two teams that are just blowing out everybody they play. The Cardinals first priority will be to handle Hansbrough, easier said than done, although he has scored just 21, 17, and 18 in the three tournament games, below his average. Louisville has plenty of size to toss his way, with Caracter, Clark, Padgett, and Palacios all able to body him up. I expect Pitino to put Padgett on him, forcing Hansbrough to deal with a taller player, which worked for Washington State with Aron Baynes.
Of course, even if you contain Hansbrough, you have three other major Tar Heel weapons to worry about in Danny Green, Wayne Ellington, and Ty Lawson. The good news for Cardinals fans (like myself) is that Louisville is one of the best defensive teams in the country - better than Washington State even according to defensive efficiency (#2 in the country). Ellington is a shooter, but can struggle against good defensive teams (4-13 against Wash State and Duke). Louisville only allows 30% shooting from three. Expect Ellington to struggle. Green struggle in the first two games before breaking out with 15 against Washington State. Louisville will make it tough to get into the paint, and have a lot of size once you get there, so I expect him to struggle as well.
The biggest concern outside of Hansbrough for the Cardinals is Ty Lawson. Louisville likes to press, but they don't turn cause a lot of turnovers and the Heels don't commit many, particularly Lawson who only has 2 TOs in the entire tournament. If the press doesn't create turnovers, it will create easy opportunities for UNC, and make the game more uptempo. Although L'Ville showed against Tennessee they can handle an uptempo type opponent, they're still better off with a little more of a half court game - and they turned the Vols over 17 times in that one. The Cardinals Edgar Sosa is one of the few point guards quick enough to handle Lawson, but he's had a terrible season and almost fallen completely off Pitino's radar, playing just seven minutes against Tennessee.
On offense, the Cardinals key is David Padgett, the big man in the middle. He's the leading scorer on the team, but they are very balanced with three other guys within a point of Padgett's average. He is a very smart player, and if they get the ball into his hands he can key the offense from the high post, looking for L'Ville's array of shooters. Look for Jerry Smith to get shots, and he's shooting better than 50% from three for the tournament. I also expect the inside/outside game of Terrence Williams to give Carolina troubles, despite not having a great tournament so far. I haven't even mentioned the Cardinals leading scorer for the tournament thus far in Earl Clark. He's a 6-9 wing with guard/forward skills who also leads the team in rebounding, and I have no idea how UNC will handle him.
As long as the Cardinals can keep the Heels off the offensive boards (UNC is first in the country, but L'Ville is pretty good at not allowing them) and doesn't give up too many easy baskets when they press (I would seriously consider not even pressing, or maybe just trying it out in the first few minutes) they can hang with Carolina. Not only do they end up covering the six points, they're taking this one down and heading back to the final four. Pitino vs. Roy Williams? Please.
Xavier +6 vs. UCLA: You know Xavier and the guys from last year's team are still looking to redeem themselves after letting the game against Ohio State slip away last year, and this is their opportunity to knock off a top team. And I think they can do it. UCLA has looking shaky, and Xavier has the ability to take it to them.
The Bruins were on of the best teams all year, and my pick to win the whole thing, but have had a few games lately where they looked extremely beatable. Squeaked by Cal in the regular season finale, barely beat Texas A&M, and almost let Western Kentucky back after blowing them out in the first half. Of course, the rebuttal is that they won all those games, and haven't lost in their last thirteen games. I'm not saying they're going to lose, I'm saying they could lose.
The two teams matchup really well. UCLA has four or five scorers, both inside and outside guys, not including James Keefe who somehow blew up with 18 and 12 against Western Kentucky. Xavier counters with six scorers, and a nice mix of inside and outside scoring as well. Both teams play at a similar slow tempo, with UCLA ranking 212th and Xavier 218th, and both are offensively efficient with UCLA ranking 7th and Xavier 10th. UCLA biggest advantage is on offense, where they rank 3rd in efficiency while Xavier ranks 29th. Xavier's advantage is from behind the three point line, where they shoot 40% (19th in the country) compared to the Bruins 35% (194th).
Keep an eye on the center battle, with Kevin Love going against Josh Duncan. Both are big guys who are excellent in the paint but can also step out and play on the perimeter, and both are quality defenders. Love's advantage is two inches and about 40 pounds, so expect him to post up Duncan. If Duncan can handle Love on both ends, it will be a huge boost for the Musketeers.
Another interesting matchup will be between the four guards: Collison and Westbrook for UCLA, Burrell and Lavender for Xavier. All four are great defenders, and very quick. Similar to the center battle, whoever manages to win this one will get a huge leg up on the competition.
The biggest advantage I see for Xavier is CJ Anderson vs. Josh Shipp. Anderson is a very strong bull of a small forward, who will be able to drive on Shipp or post him up. Shipp has really struggled shooting the ball lately, but may have found his stroke and if he can knock down shots he can neutralize the advantage Anderson has.
In the end, I think Love and the two guards will be too much for Xavier, and although it goes down to the wire, UCLA once again finds a way to pull it out.
Also that picture up there has nothing to do with anything, I just like it.