Wednesday, December 10, 2008

BIAH Season Update: Final Four Picks Pt. III

Believe it or not, we are now about a quarter of the way through the regular season. With the pre-season tournaments in the past and conference season on the horizon, things are starting to slow down a bit as most schools are getting bogged down with finals. We at BIAH have had a chance to see all of the top teams and players in the country take the court, so here are each of our writers early, but educated, opinions on the Final Four, postseason awards, and the top 25.


North Carolina: Surprised? Doubt it. Explanation? None needed.

Connecticut: A little bit of a homer on this pick, but I think UConn is the most talented team in the country without a color named after them. The Huskies looked so impressive in wins over Miami FL and Wisconsin in the Paradise Jam. And they still haven't played a game with Stanley Robinson, who will be back on the court for the second semester. By now you should know what the Huskies are going to throw at you. Terrific man-to-man defense in the half court, a Calhoun-patented 2-2-1 press that is working as good as it ever as. Muscle and shot-blocking inside. Quick guards that love to penetrate and to get out and run the floor. Tenacious work on the offensive glass. But the x-factor for this team will be freshman Kemba Walker. He is one of the quickest guys in the country and a terror on the defense end, creating turnovers and turning them into easy points. But he still makes some freshman mistakes - gambling too much for steals, forcing it on the offensive end, turning the ball over. If he learns to harness his athletic ability, he already has the mindset and the toughness needed to be an excellent player at this level.

There are two huge red flags with the Huskies, and both are legitimate concerns. For one, they have a tendency to play down to their opponents (a la against Buffalo and La Salle), which is more an issue of focus and intensity. That shouldn't be a problem once the tournament rolls around. The other is that no one on this team besides Jeff Adrien (who was a freshman role player on the team that lost to George Mason in the Elite 8) has ever won a post season game. No Big East wins, no NIT wins, and thanks to San Diego and AJ Price's ACL, no NCAA wins. Can you really put your faith in a group of guys with zero post-season success to all-of-a-sudden figure it out and make a Final Four run?

Gonzaga: I really like the 'Zags this year. They remind me of the Jayhawks from last season in that they have six guys that can go for 20 on any given night and can get you a bucket when you need it. There are two main reasons that I think the 'Zags put it all together this year - Jeremy Pargo and Josh Heytvelt. Both are seniors that have had a bit up an up-and-down career. The knock on Pargo is that he has always been able to score and create, but that he turned the ball over too much and that he couldn't run a team. Well, he has changed that perception this year. Pargo has been fantastic. He has averaged 7.0 apg through the first five, while only turning the ball over eight times (a 4.5-1 ratio). He also has picked his spots to be a scorer, as seen in the Tennessee game. He distributes the ball to his talented teammates, but when the 'Zags really need a bucket, he is still able to break down a defender and score. Heytvelt was a victim of immaturity and injuries while at Gonzaga. He is immensely talented, but just could not stay on the court. This year, he has taken over the role of leader. He is the guy that will pull a teammate out of a scrap and calm him down (as seen at halftime of the Tennessee game) where he used to be the one getting into the tussles. Oh, and he is averaging 15 and 7. With those two, shooters like Micah Downs and Steven Gray, playmakers like Austin Daye and Matt Bouldin, and some toughness off the bench in Ira Brown and Demetri Goodson, I see the 'Zags finally making it to the Final Four.

Syracuse: There is just something about this team that I really like. Jonny Flynn might be the best point guard in the country not named Ty Lawson. Paul Harris is still the old do-it-all-Paul, but he now has a 15 footer that you have to defend. Arinze Onuaku is a horse inside. Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins have been knocking down three's on the perimeter, which has spread the defense and opened up space in the paint, and Devendorf has provided another player that can create off the bounce for himself and teammates. And guys like Kristoff Ongenaet, Rick Jackson, and Kris Joseph provide enough size, athleticism, hustle, and versatility that they can match-up with just about anyone. But the biggest change for the Orange is that they are no longer playing strictly a zone. They will get out and defend you man-to-man, and Flynn has created a lot of turnovers and easy baskets that way. The 'Cuse have been a bit inconsistent defensively, which seems to be an issue of focus more than anything (again, doubt that will be a problem in the tournament), but the biggest issue is that they do not utilize Onuaku inside. I have faith that Boeheim will get those problems fixed by the end of the year.

Outside of UNC, I think that more than any year I can remember, this season is wide open. I legitimately think that there are 20-25 teams that can realistically hope to reach the Final Four. Here are the others I considered:

Pitt, Louisville, Oklahoma - Big inside, not enough perimeter shooting.
Texas - Really like this team and tough to leave off, but they just don't have that look yet.
Purdue, Duke, Notre Dame - Not enough inside.
Michigan State, UCLA - Will be in the conversation by the end of the year.

Wake Forest - I'm officially on the Jeff Teague bandwagon.
Arizona State - James Harden is really, really good. Too bad he's plays on the west coast.
Baylor - Big result that no one noticed: the uptempo Bears went into Wazzu and knocked off the Cougars 58-52, playing at the WSU pace and shooting 40%.
Tennessee - Not really a sleeper, but if this team gets rolling, watch out.


Andy McKenzie said...

Interesting. I respect you making these predictions so early.

joe said...

what?>? are you really picking SU for the final 4? i respect that you are getting over your disdain for the mighty Orange(men), but i think its kind of a silly pick. with questions about
-devo's pimp hand
-arinze not being as consistent as someone that talented should be
-playing a tough conference schedule that will leave them with about 7-8 losses and thus might not get a great seed definitely not going to have an easy road in the tourney (assuming they make the NCAA this year as opposed to being fucked over again as in years past)
-finally, i dont think their defense is that good, besides harris and flynn, they dont really get after and hound people like championship teams do...maybe it will come with time

needless to say, i was shocked that a uconn bastard child like yourself would ever put them in your prospective final four

Rob Dauster said...

@ Joe - I told you I really like this Syracuse team. They are more balanced and have fewer weaknesses than any of the other teams that I considered. When they play hard they are as good as anyone in the country. And the one thing I forgot to mention is that this team is going to have a bit of a chip on their shoulder after having their bubble burst so often the last few years. If they aren't ready to play in the tourney, then Boeheim needs to retire.

@ Andy - This year is so difficult to predict because it is so wide open. Last year, it really was UNC, Kansas, Memphis, UCLA, and then everyone else. This year, it's UNC and everyone else. But hey, its early right? 1 out of 4 at this point ain't that bad...

Ross Weingarten said...

Notre Dame with not enough inside?? good call. I believe a little stud named Luke I-Will-Harangody-All-Over-You has something to say about that. Irish don't have great point guard play. Pay attention

Rob Dauster said...

The Irish don't have great point guard play? His name is Tory Jackson.

Yea, Harangody is good, but he is all of 6'7" and they have no one else on the block. Can Harangody block shots? Is he going to be handle UConn or Oklahoma's front line by himself?

And I hear you saying "they beat Texas, their front line is big". Texas outrebounded ND 44-35 and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds. Notre Dame's guards, specifically Tory Jackson (16, 5, 7 dimes, 3 steal), won that game by outplaying the Texas guards - AJ Abrams was 8-27 and hit three shots in the final minute.