Wednesday, March 19, 2008

NCAA East Region Preview

North Carolina (1) -vs.- Mount St. Mary's (16)
Upset Potential: 0 %.
Besides the fact that a 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed, this matchup would still be a blowout even if you took seed lines away. UNC is the #1 overall seed for a reason. I would like to say that the Mounts got hosed by having to play in the so-called "opening-round game". They had a way better profile than the Mississippi Valley State squad and could probably have contended for a 15 spot. That said, this one won't be close.
Player to Watch: This one isn't close. All eyes will be on Public Enemy #1 Tyler Hansbrough. As much as everyone loves to hate him and say he's going to be a mediocre NBA player, the kid can flat out dominate the college basketball landscape. He comes out hard every night and the player of the year candidate is the main reason the Tar Heels are on top of the world right now.
Prediction: UNC 88-60

Indiana (8) -vs.- Arkansas (9)
Upset Potential: 45 %.
If this were the IU team from January, this number would be 5 %, but the Hoosiers are a completely different team under interim coach Dan Dakich. While Indiana is clearly the better team on paper, that doesn't always show up on the court (take Penn State and Minnesota for example). If the Hoosiers are ready and motivated this could be a big win for the 8 seed, but if they play like they have the past 3 weeks and Arkansas plays more like they did against Tennessee than how they did against UGA, then the Hogs will advance easily.
Player to Watch: Eric Gordon. While Sonny Weems and DJ White are the two constants for their respective teams, young EG has been a bit of a mixed bag this year. His shooting woes have killed IU in recent games and it shows how much they need him to win. There will be plenty of scouts at this game, so for his sake and the Hoosiers, he better come out firing on all cylinders.
Prediction: IU 55-50

Notre Dame (5) -vs.- George Mason (12)
Upset Potential: 25 %.
The dreaded 12/5 matchup will probably be a trendy upset pick for many in the East bracket, however, I'm not seeing it here. Mason has been in this position before, when they went on the most incredible run in NCAA Tournament history 2 years ago, but this team is different. They don't have the size or depth of that team and they won't be blind-siding anyone, especially the Fighting Irish, who were upset in the 1st round of last year's NCAA Tourney by Winthrop.
Player to Watch: Luke Harangody. The Big Man will be the best player on the floor for at least the first 2 rounds (as long as they get past the Patriots). The Irish work horse has destroyed opponents inside this season to the tune of over 20 and 10 a game with almost a block and a steal as well. ND has shooters who will take pressure off Hair and Shoulders, but to be at their best, they need to work the game through Luke.
Prediction: ND 72-61.

Washington State (4) -vs.- Winthrop (13)
Upset Potential: 30 %.
I actually like this Winthrop team better than George Mason, but they will still be big underdogs. The Eagles are no strangers to Cinderella shoes. They've been to 4 straight NCAA Tourney's and beat ND last year and will be looking to meet up with the Irish again this year, but they'll have to pull an upset over the Cougars first. Wazzu was a bit shaky down the stretch, beating the teams they were supposed to, but losing to the Pac 10 elite multiple times. That said, Winthrop is undermanned in this matchup having only beat one Tourney team in the regular season (Miami) and will need to shoot the lights out to stay with WSU.
Player to Watch: Derrick Low. Sweet and Low leads a Cougars team that boasts 4 players averaging double digit points this year. He shoots nearly 40 percent from 3 land and is averaging almost 1 1/2 steals per game. Wazzu's balanced attack has allowed them not to have to rely fully on Low this year, but when he needs to, he can take over a game (and he might have to here).
Prediction: WSU 66-62

Oklahoma (6) -vs.- St. Joseph's (11)
Upset Potential 40 %.
A week ago, St. Joe's was no lock to make the tourney, but after a big win over Xavier in the A-10 Tournament, and getting edged in the Conference Finals, the Hawks are ready to make some March Madness Noise. Oklahoma ate up the bottom feeders in the Big 12 this year and was exposed when they took on legit contenders. Granted, they've had to deal with their fair share of injuries, but who doesn't? Since early February, the Sooners have been slaughtered 4 times: Twice to Texas, and at Colorado and Nebraska. The latter two show that Oklahoma can be beat by weaker competition. St. Joe's has had an up and down season but recently they've looked very strong.
Player to Watch: Pat Calathes. OU's Blake Griffin may be the best player in the gym, but it's Calathes who has exceeded expectations this year. The Senior G-F is averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds with well over a block and a steal a game. He's also a 3 point sniper and if the Sooners aren't careful, he could explode in this one.
Prediction: St. Joe's 72-65.

Louisville (3) -vs.- Boise State (14)
Upset Potential: 15 %.
This sounds like a possible football bowl game. Boise State barely got in the field after a thrilling Triple OT Victory in the WAC tourney Final against New Mexico State. They were the top WAC team in the regular season too so it's not like this team is weak sauce. Reggie Larry (two first names is always a crowd pleaser) is averaging nearly 20 and 10, including 31 and 16 in their last game. Still, they don't have the depth that the Cardinals do and play no defense so if Louisville jumps out to an early lead, it's going to be tough for the Broncs to catch up.
Player to Watch:
David Padgett. L-ville was a top 10 team at the beginning of the year, before a major injury to their big man really put them in a hole, but since his return a couple months ago, they've returned to being one of the 10 best teams in college basketball. He isn't a stat stuffer, but for a big man he brings great intangibles to the floor, including his excellent passing skills and quick hands. Lately, he's been a beast scoring in double figures in four of five games and he has yet to foul out this year.
Prediction: Louisville 85-76.

Butler (7) -vs.- South Alabama (10)
Upset Potential: 45 %.
First of all, Butler got the shaft as a 7 seed. They've only lost 3 games all year, and despite the fact that they've played in a weak conference, it's apparent that this team has more talent than basically any other mid-major. Not only did they get a 7 seed, but they got a very dangerous matchup in South Alabama. The Jaguars played a very difficult non-conference schedule that saw them beat Tourney team San Diego and lose by 3 to Ole Miss, and 3 in OT to Vandy. They also dumped fellow NCAA Tourney team and Sun Belt foe Western Kentucky twice. This should be one of the more entertaining games of the first round and features two teams that could give Tennessee nightmares in the second round.
Player to Watch: AJ Graves. The Bulldog leader has really helped lead a balanced attack this season. He's a thief on defense, strokes it from downtown, and has an excellent assists/turnover ratio. He and the rest of Butler will need to be on their A-Game to avoid this upset.
Prediction: Butler 69-68

Tennessee (2) -vs.- American (15)
Upset Potential: 1 %.
The Vols are going to take their frustration at not getting a 1 seed out on American. The Eagles are in the Tourney for the first time and won the Patriot League in a down year for the conference. Tennessee is way too deep and talented to be lose here and I'd be shocked if this game is close in the second half.
Player to Watch: Chris Lofton. The Vols floor general has scored 20 points or more in 4 of the last 6 games. When on, he can shoot better than almost anyone in the nation. He could be in for a huge game here and will probably be on the bench resting for round two late in the 2nd half here.
Prediction: Tennessee 92-65

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