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Inside the College Game

Wed, 03/18/2009 - 4:27pm

Pitino Looking for Another Title

The Louisville Cardinals have accomplished more than anyone this season. They won the regular season Big East title and the conference title in a year that was considered the toughest ever for the Big East. Currently they are ranked #1 in the nation and have a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But is it possible that they are flying under the radar? During the season, the Big East was headlined by Uconn and Pittsburgh. Both were ranked #1 in the country at some point in the season. During the tournament, the thunder was stolen from the Cardinals again, when Syracuse and Uconn went 6 overtimes in a legendary quarterfinal game. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were busy winning games.

Finishing 16-2 in conference play and then running through the tournament (win over Providence by 18, win over #14 Villanova by 14, win over Syracuse by 10) is impressive. Pitino has his boys playing their best ball at the perfect time. It’s a balanced attack for Louisville. Earl Clark averaged 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists in the Big East tournament, and most likely would have been the MVP if it weren’t for Syracuse’s Johnny Flynn playing 67 minutes in the epic 6-overtime win over. Senior Terrence Williams does a little bit of everything. In the three tournament games, he had 24 rebounds, 16 assists, and 14 steals.

Coach Pitino certainly knows how to win games in March, and this team now has the look of his old Kentucky teams. The defensive pressure that the Cardinals put on their opponent is as difficult a defense as any team can put on the court. Pitino’s boys have a legit shot to cut down the nets in Detroit. Maybe then the Cardinals won’t be overlooked.

With everyone filling out their brackets this week, you may want to consider this before submitting your sheet…

Team most likely to upset a higher seed: Arizona (12) over Utah (5)

Just because everyone is saying it, doesn’t mean that it is wrong. Arizona, the 12 seed, should be able to dispatch the Utah Utes (5 seed) in this first round match-up. The Wildcats have been up and down this year and got into the tourney by the skin of their teeth. But, when they play to their potential, they are a really good team. Wins over #10 Gonzaga, #13 Kansas, #14 Washington, and #17 UCLA prove that this team can beat some good teams when they come to play. On the flip side, the Wildcats did lose 13 games this year, which is as many or more than anyone in the tourney outside of 16 seeds Chattanooga & Morehead State.

Utah will be the bigger team with 7-2 Australian Luke Nevill in the middle averaging 17 points and 9 rebounds a game while shooting a very efficient 60.7% from the field. They have had some quality wins as well, beating #10 Gonzaga, #20 LSU (SEC regular season champs) by 30 points, and tourney-bound BYU. They are also an experienced team, starting two seniors and two juniors.

The bottom line in this game should be the 3-headed monster in Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Nic Wise. These guys are probably three future pros, two of them may be lottery picks (Budinger & Hill). If these three come to play, which they tend to do in big games, the Wildcats should advance as a 12 seed.

Best first round match-up:
UCLA (6) vs VCU (11)

UCLA is trying to get back to the final four for the 4th straight season, so you would think that getting out of the 1st round would be nothing more than a formality. Not so fast. VCU has some history itself. Two years ago, VCU upended Duke in the first round behind sophomore point guard Eric Maynor. In the 2nd round he nearly led his team to a win over 3-seed Pittsburgh, losing in overtime. Now, Maynor (22.4 ppg) is a senior, a two-time CAA player of the year, and VCU’s all-time leading scorer. Along with Maynor, sophomore Larry Sanders is a menace on the defensive end. In the CAA Championship game, Sanders had 18 points, 20 rebounds, and 7 blocks.

But, UCLA is the higher seed and has a great point guard themselves in senior Darren Collison (14.5 ppg, 4.9 apg). Josh Shipp (14.4 ppg) is also looking for his fourth trip to the final four. No team has more experience in the tournament than the Bruins.

The Maynor vs Collison is between two 1st round draft picks in this years draft and as good as a match-up as we will see all tourney. It should be interesting to see if Maynor can do it again or if the Bruins’ success in March continues.

Best (possible) 2nd round match-up:
Kansas (3) vs West Virginia (6)

Assuming that Kansas gets by North Dakota State, and West Virginia disposes of Dayton, this is the most difficult 2nd round match-up to predict. The defending champion Jayhawks were playing great this season. They had won 13 of 14 games en route to the regular season Big-12 title. But, lately they have lost 2 of 3, with both losses to non-tourney teams: Baylor & Texas Tech.

West Virginia may be going in a different direction than Kansas. The Mountaineers, 23-11, have won 7 of their last 10 in the tough Big East, including a loss in overtime to Syracuse during the Big East semi-final. The night before, West Virginia sent home current #1 seed Pittsburgh, 74-60.

It should be interesting to see if West Virginia can keep playing well or if the defending champion Jayhawks can gather themselves for another run in the tourney.

#1 seed with most difficult road to the Final Four:
UConn (1)

The biggest problem here for the Huskies is that Memphis is the 2 seed in their bracket, which poses a difficult obstacle. But, even before that the Huskies are faced with a difficult road. Assuming they get by 16 seed Chattanooga, they then will face the winner of BYU (8) who had a record of 25-7 on the year, and Texas A&M (9), who just beat the 9th ranked Missouri Tigers last week. In the sweet 16 round, UConn would be most likely facing either Purdue (5) the Big Ten champion, or Washington (4) the Pac-10 regular season champion. If the Huskies were to get through to the elite 8 round, then would be the inevitable match-up with Memphis. Calipari’s crew, last year’s national runner-up, is disappointed that they didn’t receive a #1 seed, and they will be looking to prove the committee wrong if they face off against the Huskies.

Middle seed most likely to make a deep run into the tourney:
Boston College (7)

BC could be the most erratic team in the nation. They are one of two teams in the country to beat both Duke and North Carolina (the other being Wake Forest). But, they also lost to Harvard three days after beating UNC, which was the beginning of a four game losing streak for the Eagles. However, when BC does show up to play, they are a very good team. They were one play away from beating Duke for the second time during the semi-finals of the ACC tournament, losing 66-65. Senior Tyrece Rice has had some huge games this year and will be looking to prove himself in his final college games. In the win at UNC, which gave the Tar Heels their first loss of the year, Rice had 25 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds. It is all going to depend on which BC team shows up. If they play to their potential, they should be able to make a deep run into the tournament.

Boston College starts off the tournament with the Pac-10 tourney champs, USC (10), who is playing its best ball, but comes from a conference that is inferior to the ACC. Boston College is battle tested and should oust the Trojans in the first round. After that, the Eagles would face the 2nd seeded Michigan State Spartans. The Eagles will be underdogs in this game, but should match-up well with the Spartans because of their athleticism on the wing.
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