Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Final Four Preview and Predictions

I'm sure everyone and their mother knows this by now, but Saturday's 6:07 tip will mark the first time since the NCAA started seeding the Tournament that all four #1 seeds made it through their regions to the Final Four. Throughout the season, these four teams were widely considered the four best teams in the country, with the four accounting for all but one week as the #1 team in the country and spending the entire season ranked no lower than 8th. This weekend in San Antonio should be one of the best Final Fours in recent memory.

UCLA vs. Memphis

Game Preview:
This is a match-up of two very tough defensive teams, although the style of defense that each team plays is very different. Where Memphis uses their superior athleticism to apply terrific ball pressure, forcing turnovers and baiting opponents to drive where they have shot-blocking machine Joey Dorsey lying in wait, UCLA plays disciplined and fundamental half-court defense that takes a team out of offensive rhythm.

Both of these teams have made long runs in the tourney in recent years (Memphis finally reached the Final Four in their third straight Elite 8 run, while UCLA has been in the Final Four the last two years) and came away empty. With a number of players from both teams most likely gone to the NBA draft after the season, this is probably the last chance for these two teams to get a championship with this group of guys.

Why UCLA can win:
While UCLA does not match-up athletically with Memphis, they are sound enough defensively that they can handle Memphis. UCLA is going pack in their defense and let Memphis shoot over the top, much the way that Tennessee did. If the Tigers don't shoot well, they won't win.

Why Memphis can win:
The Tigers back court is much bigger than the Bruins. While Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Josh Shipp can all match-up athletically with Memphis, the likes of Derrick Rose, Antonio Anderson, and Chris Douglas-Roberts are all big enough that they can get their shot off over the Bruins guards whenever they want. Collison, whose penetration has been vital to the UCLA success of late, will also not be able to out-quick Rose and get into the lane at will.

Best Match-up:
Kevin Love and Joey Dorsey. Even in the league, there aren't many guys that are as strong and as athletic as Dorsey, and with everything that Love can do, athleticism is not one of his strong suits. But he is excellent at establishing position, a great positional rebounder, and has a vast array of post moves. Dorsey is so important to Memphis defensively with his shot-blocking ability. If he can stay on the floor (read not pick up fouls against Love), then Memphis will be that much better.

Keys to the game:
- Who wins the rebounding battle? As both team tend to struggle offensively, second chance points will be very important.
- Can UCLA prevent penetration by Memphis? When the Memphis guards get into the lane, they are tremendous finishers but also are very good at finding Dorsey, Robert Dozier, and Shawn Taggert for lobs at the rim.
- Will the Bruins half-court offense be effective? This UCLA team has never been known for their offensive prowess, and as they do not look to break all that much, they need to be able to run their sets.
- Fouls. Can Dorsey stay out of foul trouble? Memphis was the second worst foul shooting team in the country during the regular season, but has been knocking them down in the tourney. Which trend continues?
- Can Memphis hit their three's? UCLA will most likely pack in their defense, whether its man or zone, and Memphis needs to knock down perimeter jumpers to open up driving lanes.

My Pick:
Memphis. After the Tigers beat Texas to win the South Region, they didn't celebrate by cutting down the nets. Dorsey got up on the ladder and cut down the whole net. CDR didn't even stay on the court to see it happen. It's clear that this team is on a mission to win a title. I wouldn't bet against them.

UNC vs. Kansas

Game Preview:
All season, I've thought that UNC and Kansas were the best two teams in the country. If Memphis and UCLA is a match-up of two of the best defenses in the country, UNC and Kansas is a battle of high powered offenses. UNC gets their points off of their incredible fast break and the rugged work inside by Tyler Hansbrough an Deon Thompson. Kansas is about as balanced as a team can be, with their top 7 (maybe the best to 7 in the country) all averaging between 7-13 ppg and 18-29 mpg.

The most interesting part of this game, however, isn't the players. It is the coaches. After leading the Jayhawks to the NCAA final in 2003, Williams left Kansas to coach at UNC, his alma mater, to replace Matt Doherty and promptly led UNC to the 2005 national title. This is the first time Williams has faced Kansas since he left. Bill Self, on the other hand, has finally reached the Final Four with the Jayhawks. Rumors had been swirling that he would have been ousted as the Kansas head coach had they lost to Davidson in the Elite 8, and taken over at Oklahoma State, his alma mater.

Why UNC can win:
Simply put, this is the best offensive team in the country. They rolled through the East region, winning all four games by double digits and with the exception of a second half surge by Louisville in the regional final, have been in control throughout every game. The key to this team has been the emergence of Wayne Ellington as a star and Quenton Thomas as a more-than-reliable backup to Lawson.

Why Kansas can win:
There is no drop off between their starters and the first guys off their bench - Sherron Collins and Sasha Kaun. As we saw with Stephen Curry, Kansas has the ability to wear out perimeter shooters by throwing four quality defenders at them and has enough good post players to give Hansbrough fits.

Best Matchup:
The frontlines. There are only a handful of players in the country that are as effective in all aspects of the game as Hansbrough. He can score with his back to the basket and off the offensive glass, and has proven he has range to the three-point line and can face a defender up. Deon Thompson would be a star almost any other team in the country. But Kansas has three guys that are just as good in Kaun, Darrell Arthur, and Darnell Jackson. Whoever wins the battle in the paint will win the game.

Keys to the game
- Can Kansas slow down UNC? Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson combine to average 4.5 spg, and they will need to be able to slow down Ty Lawson. Noone has done it in the tourney yet.
- Will Kansas hit their 3's? Kansas has a lot of great shooters, and if they are hitting they are a tough team to beat.
- Which Brandon Rush shows up? The knock on Kansas all year has been they don't have a go-to guy in crunch time. Rush is talented enough and has been that guy at times, but he has a tendency to fade down the stretch.
- Marcus Guinyard and Danny Green. These guys do a lot of the dirty work for the Heels - o-boards, defense, hustle plays. Other than Rush (and even he is a bit soft), Kansas doesn't really have anyone with their size on the perimeter.

My Pick:
UNC. Kansas has been one of those teams that could never get to the Final Four, and I can see them having a let down after finally reaching it.

1 comment:

joe said...

really thorough post big guy, great matchup analysis. the only thing i had a question about is when you said that ucla doesnt break that much, love's outlet passes to dudes leaking out could def hurt a memphis team that overplays on defense and doesnt come off as the most disciplined team in the world (read not great defensive balance). i can def see ucla getting a fair amount of points by shipp and westbrook streaking to the other end