Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Xavier +1 vs. West Virginia: What the heck is West Virginia doing here? I had pretty much dismissed them from the start, expecting Arizona to knock them off, and even if they didn't they certainly wouldn't beat Duke. That all came from not seeing them play this year, and remembering the gimmicky Beilein teams of the past, with their not rebounding and three point chucking. A team like that would have been ripe for Arizona or Duke to destroy. Turns out, Huggins has remade this team, building around the very solid Joe Alexander and developing a more inside/outside game plan, rather than having everyone chuck threes all day. If you need proof, 34% of the Mountaineers attempts this year were from three, 165th in the country. Last year, they shot 49% of their shots from three, fifth in the country - and ranked 3rd and 7th in the two years prior to that. They are a much better team this way.
Xavier, on the other hand, is pretty much the same team that almost knocked off Ohio State last year, and would have without a miraculous run in the last few minutes by the Buckeyes. The Musketeers have been tough in the tournament, having trailed in the second half against both Georgia and Purdue only to end up winning, and covering, in both games. They come at you with a lot of options, with six guys averaging between 9.8 and 12.1 points per game. They have size (Derrick Brown at 6-8, Josh Duncan at 6-9), athleticism (CJ Anderson, Drew Lavender), defense (Lavender, Stanley Burrell - A10 Def. POY), coaching (Sean Miller), efficiency (Duncan, Brown, Anderson, Jason Love - all better than 50% from the floor), perimeter shooting (Duncan, Lavender, BJ Raymond - all over 40% from three), and they make their free throws (Duncan, Raymond, Lavender, and Burrell - all better than 83%). In case it's not obvious, I'm very big on Xavier. WVU has looked good, but these are still players recruited for Beilien's system, and the run stops here as Xavier wins and covers, then puts a scare into UCLA.
Western Kentucky +12.5 vs. UCLA: It's awesome that WKU got this far. I've been a fan of the program since the first time I saw Courtney Lee play, and was hoping they'd make a run. I picked them over Drake, and almost picked them over UCONN before thinking UCONN's size would present a major problem. Of course, San Diego took care of that, and here are the Hilltoppers in the sweet 16, with a horrible matchup against UCLA.
Of course, the Hilltoppers could pull it off. As good as Sun Belt Player of the Year Courtney Lee is, and he's very, very good, the first two rounds proved there's more to this team than just him. Tyrone Brazelton dropped 33 on Drake in round one and 15 more in the second round. Although they get most of their scoring from four guards, they do have a group of guys 6-7 and above who they can trot out to the post, and they'll need them against UCLA. Obviously the Bruins are going to look to Kevin Love and Darren Collison to key them against the Hilltoppers. It should be fun to watch the matchup between Collison and Westbrook on one side, and the four WKU guards on the other. I think WKU can hold their own here, but don't know how they are going to deal with Love, not to mention Mbah a Moute. The good news for Hilltopper fans is that Mbah a Moute is having injury troubles, and Josh Shipp is battling illness, which would likely help Lee on the offensive end.
Even with the injury concerns of UCLA, I don't think WKU quite has the juice to get this one done, but I expect it to be close. The pick is WKU +12.5, expecting UCLA to get the win. No George Mason this year.