NCAA Tournament: First Weekend Analysis
A quick look at the first six days of the NCAA Tournament . . .
*The consensus of thought during the regular season was that the Big Ten and Big East – or vice versa, if you prefer – were the two strongest college hoops conferences.
The first three rounds (Round One, of course, being the “First Four” games of last March 13-14) certainly do anything to dispel that notion.
The Big Ten (Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin) and Big East (Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette and Syracuse) advanced four teams each to the Regional semifinals (Sweet 16), with the ACC (North Carolina and North Carolina State), Big 12 (Baylor and Kansas) and SEC (Florida and Kentucky) represented by two apiece.
The Atlantic 10 (Xavier) and MAC (Ohio) had one each for the final two spots.
And the Big Ten came oh-so-close to seeing another of its team advance to the second week of the greatest sporting event in the world but Purdue – despite leading and outplaying the Jayhawks most of the way – fell to Kansas Sunday, 63-60, in a Midwest Regional contest in Omaha.
Of course, the conference could have gone six for six had Michigan – one of the conference’s five teams that had seeds of 4 or better – not been clipped by Ohio in the Round of 64.
The Big East batted .500, with Connecticut and Notre Dame bidding adieu in the Round of 64, while South Florida – which knocked off Cal in a First Four contest and then surprised 4 seed Temple – and Georgetown losing on Sunday.
*The best games of Tuesday-Sunday?
One has to admire the stunning comebacks mounted by Western Kentucky and Brigham Young University on Tuesday night.
And, for drama, it’s tough to top 15 seeds stunning 2 seeds – especially when one of those games involved Duke falling to Lehigh (the other was Missouri by way of Norfolk State).
The games I most enjoyed watching were Michigan State-Saint Louis (the Spartans were the No. 1 seed that faced by far the most formidable Round of 32 confrontation), Marquette-Murray State and Indiana-VCU.
*The teams I’m most surprised to see in the Sweet 16 field (in order): Ohio and Xavier – and that’s that.
*The teams that most impressed me (in order): Kentucky (overwhelming; simply overwhelming), Syracuse (dominated a pretty good Kansas State club Saturday), Michigan State (holding up very well despite the loss of freshman Brenden Dawson), Marquette (ran roughshod over BYU and pulled away from a Murray State team that was much better than anyone could have imagined in early February), Wisconsin (outplayed the Vanderbilt team that knocked off Kentucky six days earlier) and Indiana (its half-court defense kept the Hoosiers close enough to allow them to ultimately overtake VCU in Portland).
*My “First Week All-Tournament team”: Anthony Davis (Kentucky), Draymond Green (Michigan State), Jae Crowder (Marquette), C.J. Leslie (North Carolina State), Cody Zeller (Indiana), Kendall Marshall (North Carolina), Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin). D.J. Cooper (Ohio), Elijah Johnson (Kansas), Aaron Craft (Ohio State), Brady Heslip (Baylor) and James Southerland (Syracuse).
I was really impressed with Draymond Green. He pulled off a triple double against Brooklyn and then had another good game against a dangerous St. Louis team. Green hit two big 3's in that game and his cross court pass to Appling for that 3 pointer was HUGE. Plus, he gobbled up the rebounds and led his team to a gutty win.
Rick Majerus really impressed me. He gave the Memphis Tigers fits in the first round. I was at the game and the U of M never got in rhythm. We had one good run to go up 6 but we couldn't keep the momentum. I was cheering on my Tigers but the St. Louis fans were rowdier. I came in expecting a war, but maybe the team wasn't. St. Louis' point guard hit two BOMBS from 3. One with the first half ticking down and another late in the 2nd half. Their big men were solid and underrated. We really couldn't get anything going. I was impressed with DJ Stephens in the layup line. He was throwing down some good dunks with his head nearly in the rim. Unfortunately, he didn't play much after getting a dunk of an offensive rebound. He has asthma and he had knee problems earlier in the year so maybe that had something to do with it. Wesley Witherspoon played great in his final game as a Tiger. He got a busted nose right when we were playing well and we weren't the same when he was on the bench. Him and DJ being out hurt us and could have been the difference. Ferhakon Hall played very well. Will Barton hit an early 3 and a late 3 but his mid-range game wasn't there. I think the Billikens played great defense on him, turned him into a jump shooter and took away his rebounding. Our guards couldn't blow by their defenders and St. Louis was bigger inside. WB still had 16 points so he played ok but maybe we needed a brilliant game from him to win. Supposedly, Will Barton is pretty much going to declare for the draft but I think he needs to put on more muscle and could really use another year in school.
The Michigan State-St. Louis game was nearly a replay of the first game but St. Louis's point guard couldn't find his range and the Spartans had more weapons up front. Green is a great all-around player who can lead his team plus they have Payne who is a beast inside along with Nix off the bench. Those three controlled the inside and ended up winning the game.
I missed the two big upset games, so I can't comment on those. Other than that I think that teams with ball-dominant volume chuckers such as Memphis (Joe Jackson, Will Barton), U Conn (Lamb and Napier) and Duke (Curry and Rivers) faired poorly. Missouri lost too so perhaps big men are needed and the Mizzou team is dominated by little men (Pressey, English). Oh, and Haith isn't as good of a coach as Mike Anderson.
Andre Drummond dissappeared. Again. He looks like and reminds me of Greg Oden. But, he is closer to 6'10 than 7'0 so the comparison to DeAndre Jordan might be accurate. It seems though like Jordan is quick off his feet. I don't get that feeling from Drummond. He is a good jumper but not a QUICK jumper. To me, he seems less fluid and less athletic than Fab Melo.
Adonis Thomas hit one nice shot in the Memphis/St. Louis game but he needs to come back to school. He is thinking of going pro but he doesn't seem like a first round pick to me.
I stayed up late to watch the Florida State-Cincy game on TV and thought that it was very good. It was a really entertaining game even though it was low scoring. Cincy has some explosive little men/wing men and Yancy Gates is a real handful inside. He's a big, strong player who looks like a legit power forward who can also play some center in the pros. He reminds me of an old school enforcer like Rick Mahorn. They look very dangerous. Cincy over FSU in the 2nd round was one of the few games I got right in my bracket. ... Ohio State better watch out. A possible Cincy-Xavier rematch down the line might be one of the better, underrated storylines of the rest of this tournament. Oh yeah, I really liked Cincy's uniforms in that game. Lots of character. Reminded me of the Nasty Boys combined with those great, tough Bobby Huggins' Bearcat teams from the early nineties.
Baylor impressed me. I actually like their Digger Phelps-inspired tie-lighter uniforms. Some great athletes on that team that can push the ball. PJIII has been quiet and he is due for a big game. Brady Heslip went nuts and is a real X factor for that team. If he stays hot and if Perry Jones can get going then they can run all the way to New Orleans.
I watched a little bit of Kentucky's second game and they look solid. They really get after it and play hard. Anthony Davis is a true game changer. One of the commentators compared him to Bill Russell. Terrence Jones is a good one too and the kind of scoring/rebounding big man that will help Anthony Davis thrive in the NBA. I think that the Wizards traded McGhee to not only get Nene but also to make room for Anthony Davis should the Wizards get the first pick. Nene can score and rebound while Anthony Davis could help out on the boards, block shots, and run the floor with John Wall and the rest of the new new look Wizards. The Wizards could then combine big, sturdy big men in Nene and Booker with long, athletic freaks up front (Davis and Jan Vesely).
Kentucky also has MKG who is a Gerald Wallace-type player but younger. Could be why the Blazers traded Wallace to the Nets for their top 3 protected pick. Lamb and Miller are the kinds of role players that Coach Cal has won with (like Antonio Anderson in Memphis). Teague has potential and has looked good in spots. If he can be a solid fourth or fifth option for the Wildcats and hit some 3's then Kentucky will be a favorite to cut down the nets in New Orleans.
If Kendall Marshall can play the rest of the way then I like UNC to go to the Final Four. If he doesn't then UNC could lose this weekend. Fab Melo being out hurt Syracuse. With him they were a championship contender. Without him they could still go to the Final Four but it will be harder. Before Fab Melo was ruled ineligible I had them beating UNC in the Final Four game before losing in championship game. I still think Syracuse can get their though if they continue to defend and play as a team.
It's a shame that Michigan State and Kentucky couldn't meet in the Final, since those two teams have been playing the best basketball and also feature two of the best players in the game (Davis and Green). Both guys should make the all-tournament game if each team makes the Final Four with AD the likely top pick and Draymond Green deserving a top 20 or even a lottery selection.
My top 2 contenders are Kentucky and MSU. My next three are Ohio State (solid, big team with Sullinger anchoring the inside and Aaron Craft running the show), UNC (especially if Marshall can play), and Syracuse. Indiana looks solid and it wouldn't shock me if they make the Final Four if they can get by Kentucky. My two sleeper teams are Cincy (size, swagger, and toughness, plus they are really hot since that Queen City Rumble) and Baylor (talent, athleticism, speed, and Brady Heslip).
Kentucky vs. Baylor would be a very entertaining, up and down Elite 8 matchup with the winner likely facing MSU in a Final Four game. Not sure what the best championship game would be (I think Kentucky vs. MSU would be great but they would meet earlier than that). UNC with Barnes, Henson, the underrated Tyler Zeller (the best all-around center in college?), and the emerging McAdoo up front with a down but not out for the count Kendall Marshall at point guard vs. a diverse an explosive Kentucky team meeting in the Final would be the next best thing. A Xavier-Cincy rematch would be unlikely, but cannot be ruled out. It would also be the Mother of All Cinderalla Stories. Well, Cinderalla meets Don King.
Come on! I am sorry, but there was more to Greg Oden being better than DeAndre Jordan. Just like the fact I think Andre Drummond will be much better than Jordan as well. Jordan actually had a longer wingspan than Greg (7'6/7'4.25) and a higher standing reach (9'5.5/9'4). The difference, not only in Greg's far superior skill set, was in strength and athleticism.
Say what you will about Drummond "being a good jumper, but not a quick jumper", I think that is just not true. Drummond is a great jumper and his biggest fault right now is positioning. With this being said, his physical capabilities should be in between Oden and Jordan, but his athleticism will be closer to Oden's. To say Fab Melo is more fluid, well, to each their own, but I do not even think that it is a contest of Drummond being the far superior athlete between the two.