Kansas - The best all-around team as well as the deepest team in the country. On any given night they have five or six guys that can carry them, which is so important come tournament time. Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun form one of the biggest and strongest front lines in the country. Mario Chalmers is a good of a playmaker as there is. Russell Robinson can lock down any PG, Sherron Collins can put up points in a hurry, and when Brandon Rush wants to he can take over a game.
Memphis - So tough defensively, so many athletes, and two big time scorers (Derrick Rose and CDR). Calipari always gets his guys ready for tournament time, and this is the best team he's had at Memphis. What worries me is their poor shooting - both from the free throw line and from three - and their reliance on perimeter scorers. As good as Joey Dorsey is, all his buckets come from offensive rebounds, dump offs, and lobs.
Duke - Similar to Memphis in that they are a tough defensive team that plays an uptempo game without a post scorer. Not as athletic but a much better shooting team. The difference between this year's Duke squad and past year's is that they are a tough group, loaded with guys that rebound and defend bigger than they are. They play with a swagger Duke teams haven't had in a while. Demarcus Nelson and Gerald Henderson provide athleticism on the wing, and Kyle Singler's perimeter game creates huge matchup problems. Worried about a team with Greg Paulus as their starting point guard, but he has played much better of late. Jon Scheyer may be the most important player on this team. He's their smartest player, a solid scorer and shooter, and he is definently a Coach K guy.
UNC - I love Tyler Hansbrough - he's one of the best college players in the last twenty years and plays all out every second he is on the court. Wayne Ellington has emerged as a legitimate #2 scoring option. Marcus Guinyard and Danny Green are great role players, and the Heels have some good bigs coming off the bench. They have two major problems. They have a tendency to lose focus on the defensive end, which is why teams like Georgia Tech and Maryland could hang with them. The other problem is that Ty Lawson can't stay healthy (he hurt his ankle pretty bad on Sunday and will miss the first Duke game), and they are a completely different team without him pushing the ball in transition.
UCLA - If the Bruins ever get healthy they are as talented as any team. But they haven't been healthy all year, with Darren Collison, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Lorenzo Mate all missing game time. Their two consecutive Final Fours speak for themselves, but a team that can play lock down defense like UCLA will always be in any game.
Tennessee - The Volunteers can put up points with anyone. They play fast and shoot a lot of three's, and with Chris Lofton starting to play like Chris Lofton this team is looking dangerous. Ramar Smith is a spark plug and makes this team go offensively and defensively, and the addition of JP Prince midway through the year has paid huge dividends. But they rely too much on their perimeter game, and if they have an off night they could be in trouble. They also have trouble closing out games (see the Ohio State game in last year's tourney) because they don't really have anyone that can create their own shot.
Georgetown - This team just keeps on winning. They never blow anybody out, but they are able to grind out victories, which is more of an indication of their style of play (Princeton offense) than anything. The best part of this team is that they are so balanced - any one of their top eight can take and make a big shot - and that they are so versatile. 7'2" Roy Hibbert can step out and hit a three (see the UConn game), or throw a back door bounce pass. DaJuan Summers and Patrick Ewing Jr. are both 6'10" athletes with big bodies and can play and defend any position 2-5.
Michigan State - One rule of thumb when filling out your brackets - never bet against a Tom Izzo Spartan team in the tournament, especially when they are this good. Drew Neitzel was on everyone's preseason All-America team, and while his numbers have not been as good as last year, that been more a result of the emergence of Raymarr Morgan as a star, and freshman Kalin Lucas. Lucas, who Izzo has called the fastest kid he ever coached, has taken over point guard duties from Neitzel allowing him to focus on being a scorer and a leader.
Indiana - Eric Gordon is the bes scoring guard in the country and DJ White is a dominant big man offensively, defensively, and on the glass - and those aren't a dime a dozen. Other than DJ White, they are pretty thin up front, but have a lot of good wings. Jordan Crawford is a very good creator and can score in a variety of ways, JaMarcus Ellis is a versatile and long swing man, and there aren't many pure shooters are good as Armon Bassett. Regardless of the supporting cast, any team with an Eric Gordon AND a DJ White should be considered dangerous.
Washington State - A poor man's Georgetown, except they lack the playmakers They have some good shooters led by Derrick Low, a solid big man in Aron Baynes, and Kyle Weaver is a good all-around player. But point guard Taylor Rochestie has trouble getting into the paint and making plays. They will be a tough out in the tourney, but they don't have the horses to make a long tournament run.
Texas - The Longhorns have some very talented players - DJ Augustin, AJ Abrams, Connor Atchley, and Damion James. But that is it, Texas only goes six, maybe seven deep, but each of their starters play over 30 minutes, and that is bound to catch up to them. In the tourney they will be playing two games in three days, and a thin bench means tired legs.
Wisconsin - An impressive record playing in a weak Big Ten. They were blown out at Duke, and their best win (Texas) is a fellow pretender. They are an experienced group, and Brian Butch headlines a big front line, but they're only scorer from the perimeter is 6'1" PG Trevon Hughes, who despite being a much improved player, is not a great playmaker. As a result the Badgers struggle to score at times.
UConn - The Huskies have looked very good the last two weeks. AJ Price has turned into one of the best point guards in the country. Down the stretch in the last 5 games, the Huskies have put the ball in Price's hands and he has delivered with big bucket after big bucket. Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien form an athletic duo up front, and combined with Stanley Robinson's athleticism UConn once again leads the country in blocks per game and is way up there in fg% defense. If Craig Austrie, Doug Wiggins, and Jerome Dyson (upon his return) can provide perimeter defense, energy, and knock some jump shots, this UConn squad can be very scary.
Butler - At this point they shouldn't really be considered a sleeper. Mike Green is a very underated player, averaging 15ppg, 6rpg, and 5 apg, Pete Campbell is a sharpshooter, and although teams seem to have figured out AJ Graves this year (36.8% fg, 35.4% 3pt), the three still form one of the best backcourts in the country. Although he is a bit undersized for a 4 (6'7"), freshman Matt Howard is a beast. As a team, the Bulldogs shoot 39% from deep, but when you live by the three you die by the three - is their two losses they averaged 47ppg and shot a combined 13-44 from three.
Xavier - Again, with their past tournament success, they should not really be considered a sleeper pick. This is a very experienced team that is incredibly balanced. They have seven guys that have started at least 9 of the 22 games, and six of those players average between 10 and 12 ppg (the one that doesn't averages 6 boards and leads the team in blocks). And if that's not enough, they actually have a guy on their team named Charles Bronson.
Drake - One of the last five teams with one loss or less, they are steam rolling through a tough MVC at 12-0, four games ahead of second place Illinois State. A very similar squad to fellow sleeper Butler, they have very good guards in Leonard Houston and Josh Young that take (and make) alot of threes. 6'8" center Jonathon Cox can rebound and hit three's, and with a point guard like Adam Emmenecker that can get in the lane with ease, nothing is better than surrounding him with shooters.
Kansas State - Everyone knows about all-world freshmen Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, but the Wildcats also have a talented, but inconsistent, supporting cast. If Jacob Pullen and Clint Stewart can play the way they did in the upset of Kansas, by not turning the ball over and providing another scoring option to Beasley and Walker, then K-State can go a long way.
Monday, February 4, 2008