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Analyzing the Madness - NCAA Tournament Breakdown

Wed, 03/14/2007 - 4:18pm

By Adi Joseph
3/14/07

[img_assist|nid=3999|title=Acie Law|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=271]Everybody does it differently.

By now, many people have filled out their brackets. They’ve paid their way into the office pool and posted their picks on ESPN’s Bracket Challenge. The goal is a perfect bracket, the hope is something good enough to rake in a little money and have some fun in the process.

Everyone wants the bragging rights of getting it right. Everyone wants to be the guy with seven of the Elite Eight correct.

Personally, I’m slow. I’ll sit and analyze each matchup. Each possibly matchup. I’d be lying if I told you I knew my Final Four right now. I probably won’t until Wednesday night, maybe even Thursday morning.

We’ve all got our methodology to bracketology. Some people go with the safe picks and hope that they picked a few Final Four teams correct. Others would rather be the one that got the first round upset than the champion. Still others are going off the gut, testing themselves, their instincts and their basketball knowledge.

Personally, I’m always shooting for the perfect bracket. I deliberate, eliminate, and exasperate the bracket. I analyze everything. Last year, that got me one correct Final Four team - which honestly didn’t look bad at all in the year of the underdog.

This year, I’m getting the perfect bracket. As if I’ve never said that before.

In any case, I’ve looked at this stupid bracket for long enough. I’ve thought long enough. It’s time to man up and make some picks.

But let’’s just analyze it all one more time for kicks.

THE MIDWEST

The more I look at this bracket, the more I believe this is the weakest of the bunch. Florida should not have been the top overall seed. I’ll stand by that statement. Still, does any team have an easier path to the Final Four? The answer is absolutely no. The Gators are a team that you simply hate to love. Noah, for all his obnoxious post-SEC Tournament dancing, is the type of player you want when it all matters. There was a reason I chose Florida as my preseason champion - they’ve got the talent and the defense and the intensity and (obviously) the proven players. Still, with the way they ended the regular season, I’m a little iffy on them. I feel as though they are upset prone. I question their offense at times. Oh, and I am picking them to win this bracket. Wisconsin has fallen. Something is wrong with Bo Ryan’s squad. Kammron Taylor is not really a point guard, and he’s shown an inability to create for his teammates. I’ve never liked him, but since Brian Butch’s injury the Badgers have struggled to create any offense. They miss Butch’s jump shot and slowly developing post game. Alando Tucker has a heavy load to carry. The three-seeded Oregon Ducks have all the intrigue that Wisconsin lacks. As much as I love their guards, specifically Bryce Taylor. Aaron Brooks is a legitimate star, but Taylor seems to have the ability to take over a game. The Ducks looked outstanding in the Pac-10 Tournament, too. However, as much as I like the Ducks, I can’t imagine them matching up against the Gators. Maardy Leunen is Ernie Kent’s answer for the entire Gators’ frontcourt. How can they possibly compete inside? I just don’t see it. Maryland is another intriguing team, as they were on a roll before falling dead against Miami in the first round of the ACC Tournament. The Terps are athletic and experienced, but cannot match the talent level of the Gators or Ducks. It seems like everyone I talk to has Butler losing in the first round. I’m not buying it. Just because the Bulldogs were over-seeded doesn’t make them a bad team. These guys have experience beating better teams and while I can’t fathom them beating Florida they could potentially upset Maryland and make the Sweet Sixteen. Notre Dame seems to be another popular pick to lose in the first round. It’s time for me to go out on a limb here. I like the Irish enough that I’m putting them in the Elite Eight. They’ve got two great shooters, Russell Carter (one of the most underrated players in the country) and Colin Falls. They’ve got a ton of size with Luke Harangody, Rob Kurz, and Luke Zeller. And they’ve got Tory Jackson, an outstanding all-around point with the ability to create for himself and others and great quickness. I really like this team. The seven-ten matchup is always fun, and UNLV-Georgia Tech is no exception. I have become a huge Thaddeus Young fan. The Running Rebels are a very good team with an outstanding coach, but I like what Georgia Tech has to offer. Their athleticism could bury UNLV and then Wisconsin in the second round. Arizona is the second most talented team in the regional, maybe even the most talented. However, until the Wildcats play defense they won’t be able to compete with Florida in the second round. I still envision them getting past Purdue, a team lacking postseason experience who should be run off the court by Arizona. Winthrop, Old Dominion and Davidson are all in the same scenario. These are teams that people don’t really seem to know much about but are picking for first round upsets because they’ve heard good things. Winthrop has only beaten one tournament team all season. The Eagles were destroyed by Maryland and Texas A&M and ended up losing big to UNC as well, after holding close for most of the game. They’ve got shooters and some size, but there is no reason to expect Notre Dame to just roll over and die. That one win over a tournament team was against Old Dominion. The Monarchs are a fundamental bunch. My issue with that is that Butler happens to not make many mistakes, and ODU has capitalized on sloppy play by opponents all season. Davidson is a slow paced team with a star in Stephon Curry. However, they will not be able to run with the Terps come game day, so unless they can set the tempo early and continue to make shots they could simply be steamrolled. Miami-Ohio should not be a 14 seed and is the only team in the tournament without 20 wins. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is a nice story in that they are the only team in the tournament making their first ever appearance. Jackson State could be fun to watch against Florida if only to see whether Trey Johnson validates any opinions that he is an NBA caliber scorer.

Midwest Picks

Regional Championship: Florida over Notre Dame

Players to Watch: Tory Jackson, Notre Dame; Bryce Taylor, Oregon; James Gist, Maryland

Upset Pick: Georgia Tech over Wisconsin in Round 2

THE WEST

We go from what is the weakest bracket to what I believe is the strongest bracket of the tournament. Kansas is as interesting a team as you could possibly have. History says that the Jayhawks will continue their streak and lose to Niagara in the first round. On a serious note, though, Kansas is as talented a team as there is in college basketball. They’ve got depth, size, defense, offense, shooting, slashing, ball-handling, etc. Yet I can’t help but shake the fact that Bill Self manages to screw things up too often. I can’t help but feel like this could just be another in a long line of underachieving Kansas teams. I worry that the NBA will be on the minds of players like Julian Wright and Darrell Arthur. This team is tough to pick against with their talent levels. It feels like maybe Kansas is simply due for a great tournament. However, I’m going to pick against them anyway, UCLA being the reason. I truly love the makeup of this year’s UCLA team. They can grind it out, they can shoot, and they can run. Darren Collison brings so many dimensions to the team that Jordan Farmar didn’t. There is also always the fact that I feel confident with the Bruins performing well against their potential opponents. Pittsburgh, specifically, just does not feel right to me this year. I have no issues putting the Panthers into the Sweet Sixteen. However, who is Pitt’s go-to clutch scorer? Who will they run the offense through to keep a late lead? The Panthers have defined themselves as a group of role players playing as a unit. March is the time for the greats to define themselves. Jamie Dixon will have to search long and hard to figure out a way to take out a team like UCLA. Southern Illinois has a fun road ahead. I love the makeup of the team, with athletic, scrappy defenders who can shoot well enough to keep the Salukis in games. However, I’m seriously questioning Chris Lowery’s offense. I have a hard time believing that this is a team that could hang with the nation’s elite on the scoreboard. In fact, I have a hard time believing that the Salukis will be able to keep up with Virginia Tech. The Hokies have great athleticism and are a strong defensive team, with guards Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon teaming up as one of the toughest guard combinations in the country. Don’t underrate the Hokies, they swept UNC for a reason and if they play well can match up with any team in the country. As a six seed, Duke seems primed for an upset. Virginia Commonwealth plays the type of game the Blue Devils have struggled with all season. VCU has a guard heavy rotation capable of running, and Duke is one of the least athletic teams to get an at large this season. Greg Paulus will struggle to defend an athletic and versatile point guard like Eric Maynor, who should be the difference in the game. Duke will only win with a big game out of McRoberts on the post, convincing him to do something he seems to hate: score. The worst 7-10 game of the tournament has to be Indiana-Gonzaga. Neither of these teams seem worthy of their seeding. Indiana plays tough defense and D.J. White is a relentless post presence, but Indiana has turned to the three far too often this season. Against Gonzaga, it’’s tough to imagine the guard combination of Roderick Wilmont, A.J. Ratliff and Armon Bassett outplaying Derek Raivio, Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin. The big question in this game is how the pacing will be. My feeling is that Kelvin Sampson, a truly great coach, will realize the mismatch he has with White against Sean Mallon, and attack the inside. If the Hoosier guards can drain some three pointers while the offense focuses on White, Indiana should have the favorable matchup. If White gets into foul trouble or the pace turns fast, Gonzaga will walk away victorious. I’’m holding to the Hoosiers in this one. I might make the argument that both Kentucky and Villanova are better teams than Indiana. Though they’’ve been in a slump lately, Kentucky has a ton of talent. Randolph Morris is one of the toughest players to match up against in the post, as he has more length and athleticism than all but the elite post defenders. Joe Crawford goes down as one of the most underrated players in the country. He can do a bit of everything and his versatility should prove key for Tubby Smith’s Wildcats. Jay Wright’s Wildcats have relied heavily on scintillatingly sensational diaper dandy Scott Reynolds. A scoring point, Reynolds has hit some huge shots and scored in droves lately. Curtis Sumpter is still ‘Nova’s rock but Reynolds may be their star. The battle of Wildcats favors Villanova, largely because of Will Sheridan’s post defense. He could push Morris off the post and keep him as a non-factor. Reynolds has a little Gilbert Arenas-mentality, too. I’’m not willing to bet against that. Illinois hasn’t played great basketball by any stretch of the imagination at really any point this year. I’’m shocked they made the tournament. Considering the matchup, the Illini’’s only chance to beat the Hokies is a big game from Shawn Pruitt. I just don’t see them being able to score at all. I was impressed by Holy Cross in the Patriot League final. I had seen the team play a few times before, but I never really appreciated how good they were. Keith Simmons is a star, and they could certainly give the Salukis a tough matchup. Wright State is a really good 14, but I’d be very surprised if Pitt ended up losing to them. That said, Dashaun Wood is a really good player. Weber State looked good in their conference tournament, but beating UCLA is a stretch. The same can be said for Niagara’s chances against Kansas, although congrats for winning a tournament game.

West Picks

Regional Championship: UCLA over Kansas

Players to Watch: Zabian Dowdell, Virginia Tech; Mario Chalmers, Kansas; Eric Maynor, VCU

Upset Pick: Virginia Commonwealth over Duke in Round 1

THE EAST

From the toughest bracket to the toughest choice. I went into writing this summary without any certainty of who I would pick coming out of the East. Even after I make my choice here, I may change it before Thursday. For now, I’m not going with North Carolina. The Tar Heels are quite possibly the most talented team in the country. They’ve got depth, athleticism, shooting, post play, size and on and on. However, I have begun to question UNC’s…umm……mojo. I don’t see any player or entity on this team that rises beyond just the incredible talent. They’ll run, but an efficient team can slow them down. I am just thoroughly unconvinced that the Tar Heels are a Final Four team. Georgetown seems to be the popular choice out of the region. They’’ve got so much size on their roster it’s absurd. You’ve got Hibbert, Green, Summers, Macklin, Ewing, and more. However, their guard play is not anything special and I’ve never been a big fan of John Thompson III. In general, I don’t like picking teams that are as hot as this Georgetown team is, either. I have always felt like a team coming into the tournament with so much momentum is bound to fall, although perhaps that is what the loss to Syracuse late in the regular season was about. Still, they’ve got a nice little path to the Elite Eight carved out. Causing that is my belief that Washington State may be the worst three-seed talent wise that I can remember. I’ll come out and say it now, I generally avoid ridiculous upsets but I am taking Oral Roberts over Washington State in the first round. I just believe that Oral Roberts has the type of team that will be able to handle Washington State thoroughly. They are more athletic and talented, and Caleb Green will be the best player on the court at all times. If Green has any issues with foul trouble, forget it - ORU has no shot. But as long as he can stay in the game for a good 38+ minutes, I am going with the big time upset. I still haven’t given my Final Four team. By now, the choices are dwindling. Texas is the pick. Why? It’s simple - Kevin Durant is the best player in the country and Texas has one of the most underrated rotations of role players in the tournament. D.J. Augustin comes across as a Final Four point guard if I have ever seen one, with his quick instincts, premier shooting and court savvy. But more than anything, Durant should be able to take over against any opponent the Longhorns see. It’s a risky pick to rely on so many freshmen, but I’m taking it. Southern Cal is the type of team I don’t really have the balls to pick. If Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young are at the tops of their respective games, they make for an extremely tough matchup for anyone. They should get through to the second round, they don’t come across as a 5-12 upset type team. I like Shan Foster and Derrick Byars of Vanderbilt. They may be the best set of swingmen in the country, and each provides a unique talent for the Commodores as they make a Sweet Sixteen push. I really can’t imagine Oral Roberts beating them, although Washington State has a nice matchup with the Commodores if they can prove me wrong in the first round. Boston College has played terrible basketball lately. You couldn’t ask for a better matchup if you are Bob Knight. Texas Tech should be able to dominate BC based on guard play alone. Jared Dudley will be the best player on the court, but Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno will be second and third, respectively. Marquette-Michigan State is such an interesting matchup. The first thing to consider is that Jerel McNeal will be out for the game. That leaves us looking at a battle between Dominic James and Drew Neitzel. I will take the warrior Neitzel and his superior supporting cast any day, but know that if McNeal is playing, I would probably view these teams as dead equal. That qualifies as the biggest injury issue of the first round. George Washington is one of the most over-seeded teams in the tournament. However, I really like Carl Elliot, and while I didn’t pick them, I can imagine the Colonials getting a first round upset over Vandy. Arkansas maybe shouldn’t be in the tournament, but they are an underrated danger. If you don’t think they could knock a team like USC off, just remember how well they played going into the SEC Championship. I’m not a fan at all of what New Mexico State brings to the table, and if they knocked off Texas it would be the most shocking 4-13 upset I have ever seen. Belmont and East Carolina are what they are, low seeds with no real chance.

East Picks

Regional Championship: Texas over Georgetown

Players to Watch: Justin Mason, Texas; Shan Foster, Vanderbilt; Wayne Ellington, UNC

Upset Pick: Oral Roberts over Washington State in Round 1

THE SOUTH

The South is a strange bracket. No one is picking the two-seed. A lot of people are picking the three-seed. And seemingly everyone’s got the four-seed losing to the five-seed. Ohio State deserved to be the top overall seed. In the end, I feel like the Buckeyes still found themselves in good position for a nice run. Greg Oden is great. Get over yourselves draft fans, and look at what this guy does as a college player. He alters every shot, has incredible quickness in the post, even though he hasn’t developed his moves yet, and shows great fundamentals on both ends of the court. Mike Conley is one of the top point guards in college basketball - not just freshmen point guards, all point guards. The Buckeyes know how to play at various paces and are simply not a match anyone looks great against. The least popular two-seed seems to be Memphis. Everyone has a problem with the fact that the Tigers haven’t played a decent team in ages. I don’’t really buy into the hype that Memphis was over-seeded or will suffer from a weak conference schedule, though. The Tigers have proven they are not upset prone, but they also proved in their non-conference season that they don’t have the elite level talent needed to take out great teams. For this reason, I don’’t believe they stand much of a chance against Texas A&M. I told you last week that the Aggies are my championship pick, and I am sticking with them. Acie Law is the best point guard in college basketball and Billy Gillespie’s role players understand and can play within those roles. Gillespie is a great coach, but I will admit that I am nervous picking a coach who has one tournament win in his career to go all the way. However, A&M plays the most efficient game in the nation and has the athleticism to prevent teams from simply running all over them. They are the only team in the country in the top 10 in both points per possession and points allowed per possession, a great indicator of an efficient team. Joseph Jones and Josh Carter will have to step up their games on the offensive end as the competition improves, but with the ball in Law’s hands in the fourth quarter, I’m taking A&M in any close game. I don’t like Virginia’s chances at all. It’s been proven that a team that relies on a backcourt as much as the Cavaliers is likely to see poor results come March. J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singletary are both great players who can completely light up a score sheet. However, their front court is a liability. This season, I’ve taken a liking to Tennessee. Last year, I didn’t really believe that the team had the spark to go anywhere. However, the Vol’s have a ton of talented players who know what they have to do to win. Dane Bradshaw is one of the best glue guys in the country, Chris Lofton is the best shooter. Lofton should help Tennessee rise to the Sweet Sixteen, and it gets interesting from there. The Vol’s almost upset the Buckeyes in Columbus earlier this season, and I truly believe on a neutral court that Tennessee could beat Ohio State, provided Lofton is hot. Tennessee has a spark and a ton of experience in close games that could push them over the edge. Or maybe Ohio State could just blow them out. I’m still picking the Vol’s to the Elite Eight. Louisville finds ways to win. Rick Pitino finds ways to win in the tournament. Still, I’’m not excited about a team with its top scorer, Terrence Williams, shooting 37% from the field. The team as a whole shoots only 43% and runs one of the least efficient offenses of any team I’ve seen projected to the Elite Eight by anyone. That’s not a good sign for a team that even if it can get through the first round will find themselves playing the most efficient team in the country. I can’t say it enough, Nevada has a really nice team make up. Fazekas, Kemp and Sessions are great leaders. I believe the boys from Reno will make it through to the Sweet Sixteen and possibly even give A&M a solid push. BYU-Xavier is probably the least interesting 8-9 matchup of the tournament to average fans, but I really want to see whether Xavier can hang with a team as talented as it. The Musketeers are a good team with a lot of great role players, but they lack any go-to force and don’t seem to have the type of team that BYU comes across as the type of eight seed that will beat Xavier only to get destroyed by Ohio State in the next round. The Cougars rely on the interior play of Keena Young and Trent Plaisted, and while they could dominate Xavier they won’t match up well with the Buckeyes at all. Creighton is a dangerous team because they’ve got great leadership. Nate Funk can really score and Anthony Toliver is an outstanding post player. If they didn’t have such a strong first round draw, I’d look into taking them to the Sweet Sixteen in my bracket. Stanford is a dangerous team being overlooked. They‘ve got a ton of talent but don’t seem to get any recognition for it. I think Stanford over Louisville will be the most exciting game of the first round, with Cardinal point guard Anthony Goods draining a key bucket to put the Cardinal into the next round - where they get embarrassed by Texas A&M. I would be lying if I said I had seen Long Beach State more than twice, but in those two times I’ve thought they really weren’t anything special at all. I’m shocked they got a 12 seed. Albany, for instance, is probably better. Jamar Wilson is a hell of a player and the Albany-Virginia upset is something to watch for, although I didn’t have the balls to pick it. Penn has almost no shot of beating Texas A&M. They couldn’t have asked for a worse draw, because they match up so poorly. Still, Ibrahim Jaaber and Mark Zoller are nice players who you should know. North Texas and Central Connecticut State are the types of teams I just don’t have much to talk about with.

South Picks

Regional Championship: Texas A&M over Tennessee

Players to Watch: Josh Carter, Texas A&M; Ramar Smith, Tennessee; Ramon Sessions, Nevada

Upset Pick: Nevada over Memphis in Round 2

THE FINAL FOUR

I’ve written enough, now it’s time for my final four picks. Let’s keep it simple.

Semifinals

Texas A&M over Texas

UCLA over Florida

Championship

Texas A&M over UCLA

It’s been fun.

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