Tuesday, March 17, 2009

2009 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: East Region

At first glance, it looks like Pitt is going to have a cake walk to the Elite 8, where DeJuan Blair will go for 25 and 2o against the Duke/Villanova winner.

If you think that is true, then please read the rest of this post.

For your brackets sake.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the East Region:

Final Four Favorite: Villanova

I really like the Wildcats team this year, especially at home where they are 15-2 (and the two losses were by a combined three points). And in case you haven't noticed, the Wildcats play their first two games in Philly. What I like about Villanova this year is that they are balanced and versatile. It seems like every guy on their roster can and does play multiple positions during a game. Reggie Redding, Shane Clark, and Dwayne Anderson can play and defend anyone from 1-4. Corey Fisher and Scottie Reynolds can both play the point or the off-guard very effectively. Corey Stokes and Dante Cunningham are really the only guys locked into a position, but Stokes as good of a shooter as you will find (when he gets hot, watch out). If you aren't a fan of the Big East, then you probably never hear about Cunningham as he is kind of lost in the power forward shuffle in the league (Harangody, Adrien, Clark, Blair). But he averaged 16 and 7 this year, and provides Nova with their lone front court scoring threat.

And If They Lose: Duke

I truly believe that the winner of Duke-Villanova in the Sweet 16 will be the Final Four team from this region. Duke is a different team with Elliot Williams running the show, and has gotten a big lift with Nolan Smith coming back from the concussion (he played really well in the Dukies ACC tourney run). I have no idea how long I have been saying it, but when Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer are playing like go-to scorers, this Duke team is very tough to beat. And over the last month or so, since Williams was moved into the starting line-up, Scheyer has joined Henderson as a guy that can get 20 on anyone. The biggest difference for Scheyer has been that he is now being guarded by point guards, which allows him to use his size and strength advantage (he was struggling when being guarded by bigger, more athletic two's). Duke has not had a lot of tournament success recently, but I think that this team has as good of a chance as any because they caught a break with good match-ups along the way.

Where's Pitt? You'll see. Keep reading.

Sweet 16 Sleeper (10 or lower): Wisconsin

A lot of people would pick VCU - not a bad pick as Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders aka Stretch Armstrong (7'7" wingspan) form a great inside-outside combo (how awesome would it be to see VCU get a rematch with Duke in the Sweet 16). But I like Wisconsin. For three reasons. To start, the two higher seeded teams in their pod are Florida State and Xavier - and they are playing in Boise, Idaho. Boise is a bit of a hike from Wisconsin, but I can almost guarantee that there will be few Xavier and Florida State fans in attendance. The Badgers were also playing very well down the stretch, winning seven of ten with their losses at Michigan State and Minnesota, and to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tourney. The biggest reason? I just like the match-ups. Florida State is a very good team, but they are essentially the Toney Douglas Seminoles. I think Bo Ryan is a good enough defensive coach to find a way to slow him down. And Xavier is a bit over hyped, in my opinion. Point guard play is so important during this tournament, and I don't know if freshman Terrell Holloway or converted-two-guard Dante Jackson really have what it takes.

Final Four Sleeper (5 or lower): Tennessee

Don't get me wrong. I don't expect Tennessee to make a run. But you cannot deny the amount of talent on this team. The problem is that they shoot a ton of three's (and they aren't three point shooters) and don't play defense like they should (with 84 guys on the team that are 6'6", athletic wings, their press should be downright vicious). If this team ever puts it together, their is enough raw talent that they can make a run. That is a big if, however. What isn't a big if? Bruce Pearl will be wearing something ridiculous.

Seeded Too High: Xavier

The Musketeers are overrated. They have an impressive resume, but look a bit past the numbers. Their two best wins - Missouri and Memphis - came before those two teams really figured themselves out. Their only impressive road win came at LSU, which isn't exactly winning in Chapel Hill, and they lost at Richmond and Charlotte. They lost five of their last ten games, and they get so-so point guard play from Holloway and Jackson.

Seeded Too Low: UCLA

It isn't as much that they are seeded too low (although KenPom has them as 9th) as much as that they got one of the worst draws in the whole tournament. The Bruins have to travel to Philly for their first round games, and UCLA always seem to struggle when they have to fly east (they lost to Michigan this year and West Virginia two years ago). What is worse is that they will be playing VCU in the first round (who is all of about a five hour drive from Philly) and probably Villanova if they advance (which is all of five minutes from Philly). Tough break for seniors Josh Shipp and Darren Collison.

Player To Watch (8 and up): Toney Douglas, Florida State

As I mentioned earlier, FSU is basically the Toney Douglas Seminoles this year. He is the only player to averages double figures, posting 21.5 ppg (next highest is 8.5). He is good enough to carry this team, and proved it during the ACC Tournament, averaging 26.7 ppg as the 'Noles knocked off UNC en route to the title game. When he is shooting well, he can go reel off five or six straight jumpers. The scariest part about playing against Douglas is that he can hit jumpers with an unreal degree of difficulty (personally, I think his most dangerous move is his step-back, which is so quick and creates so much space). The rest of the 'Noles are long, athletic, and will really run the floor and out work you on both ends, but if Douglas isn't scoring, this team's offense grinds to a halt.

Player To Watch (9 and down): Eric Maynor, VCU

The little guys in this bracket really have some stars that can put up points. Portland State's Jeremiah Dominguez put 25 in their upset over Gonzaga. Binghamton's DJ Rivera was screwed out of conference player of the year by the America East coaches. He averaged 20.5 ppg, and will have something to prove during this tournament. American has a dynamic, albeit tiny, back court of Garrison Carr and Derrick Mercer. But you have to give this to Maynor. He averaged 22.4 ppg and 6.2 apg during the season, is a likely first round draft pick, and has already proved he can handle the pressures of March (ask Greg Paulus).

Best Match-up, First Round: #8 Oklahoma State vs. #9 Tennessee

Both teams are loaded with athletes, both teams like to get up and down the floor, and both teams put up a ton of points. I would expect this game to get up into the 80's, and while it will probably be quite a sloppy affair, it will be full of action. If you have never seen James Anderson from Oklahoma State play, do anything you can to get in front of a TV for this one. Anderson is one of the most explosive scorers in the country. He averaged 18.6 ppg for the season, but he went for 30+ four times.

Best Match-up, Potential: #2 Duke vs. #3 Villanova

I would love to see these two teams do battle. Both teams are perimeter-oriented and love to get out and defend. I think Villanova has a great match-up with Henderson, as Redding and Anderson are bigger and stronger than Henderson, and could give him problems defensively. Duke will have an advantage as Reynolds and/or Fisher are going to be matched up with Scheyer and Williams. Not so Interesting sub-plot - Taylor King, the lefty gunner who transferred from Duke because Coach K didn't want him smoking, ended up at Villanova.

Upset Alert!!!: Pitt

There could be a number of upsets in this bracket, as FSU, Xavier, Nova, and UCLA all have potentially challenging first round match-ups. But the biggest upset I see occurring in this bracket involves the Panthers. Logic says the Panthers are the best team in this region. They are the #1 seed. They have the most unstoppable force in college hoops this side of Blake Griffin in DeJuan Blair. They are led by two seniors that have been through some wars in Sam Young and Levance Fields. But there are some flaws to this team. For starters, Blair is foul prone, and the Panthers are simply not the same team with him on the bench (he was in foul trouble in each of their four losses). Pitt is also one of the most inconsistent teams in the tournament offensively. Yes, they have been much better this season, especially getting out and running the floor, but the Panthers are still just as likely to throw up a clunker. My biggest concern, however, is who they drew in their region. Look at who Pitt has lost too - Louisville, Villanova, Providence, and West Virginia. The common thread for all of those teams is that they are teams that rely on perimeter play to win games (WVU to a lesser degree than the other three, but name me a low-block scorer on the Mountaineers). When Pitt plays team that spread the floor and force Blair to have to defend outside of the paint, the Panthers are not as good (partially because it makes Blair more susceptible to picking up fouls). The Panthers will get a second round match-up with OK State or Tennessee, both of whom love to spread the floor, and will more than likely get an Elite 8 match-up with Villanova (who already owns a win over Pitt) or Duke. Sorry Pitt fans, but I think the Panthers are a serious threat to not reach the Final Four.

Anything Else?:

  • If only they could play 1-on-1: Darren Collison and Eric Maynor. Two of the best point guards in the country.
  • UCLA caught one break - their game against VCU will tip at 9:50 PM.
  • Will Ralph Sampson, the father of Minnesota center Ralph Sampson III, become the Dell Curry of this year's tournament?
  • There really are a ridiculous number of scoring guards in this region: Rivera, Carr, Maynor, Douglas, Reynolds, Dominguez, and AJ Abrams.

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