Wednesday, March 17, 2010

HSL Big Dance Breakdown, Part Three: The Middle Seeds

The 7 vs. 10 Games: Only one 7-seed has advanced all the way to the Final Four; Rick Carlisle's Virginia Cavaliers in 1984.

(7) Oklahoma State vs. (10) Georgia Tech

Like all 7-10 matchups, not an easy one to call, but I like the Cowboys. They played in the rough-and-tumble Big 12, were the only team in conference play to knock off Kansas, and feature a high-flying 2-guard in James Anderson that can take over a game all by himself. Georgia Tech has come on strong late in the season, making it to the finals of the ACC Tournament, but starting two freshmen and a sophomore in the Big Dance can sometimes lead to disaster. Look for Glen Rice, Jr. suiting up for the Yellow Jackets. Somehow, despite being the son of one of the best shooters of all-time, Little Rice shoots just 52% from the free throw line. He might have to join the "Jeff Jordan-Jeremiah Rivers Support Group" pretty soon.

(7) BYU vs. (10) Florida

I like the Mormons in this spot. The last three seasons, they've been pegged as an 8-seed, and have come up empty each time. This year, they were rewarded with a 7, and I think they'll finally get it done. Little Jimmer Fredette is a phenomenal shooter (47% from 3, 88% FT) that poured in 75 points in BYU's two conference tournament games last weekend. Florida is a squad that just seems to have lacked much punch or energy since the Noah-Horford-Brewer group won their titles and moved on. This year's attack is spearheaded by 5'8" gunner Erving Walker, a player so anxious to hoist from deep that he has actually taken some threes this year without ever possessing the ball. Go with the Cougs in this one, and don't be surprised if they put a little scare into Kansas State in round two.

(7) Clemson vs. (10) Missouri

History is not exactly on the side of Clemson in this one. The Tigers have not won a game in the NCAA tournament since 1997. Worse, their coach, Oliver Purnell, has been coaching Division-I ball for 22 years and is still looking for his first tournament victory. But, I think the drought finally ends here. Trevor Booker is a beast inside and Missouri is a finesse team that is lacking in the bulk department. They try to speed their opponents up and make them play their style, but Clemson is also plenty athletic and won't succumb to the frenetic ball pressure. With both teams enduring their fair share of ups and downs throughout the year, I wouldn't expect a prolonged run from either group, but I think Purnell can finally breathe easy after this game and celebrate tourney victory #1.

(7) Richmond vs. (10) Saint Mary's

This game presents an interesting battle of team strengths. Richmond has two outstanding guards, led by A-10 Player of the Year Kevin Anderson. Saint Mary's boasts the services of mammoth senior center Omar Samhan, a 260-pound immovable object on the interior. He averaged 21 and 11 on the year, and also had six games where he collected five or more swats. In a game like this, when dominant seniors can be found on both sides, I tend to lean in the direction of the team with the guards. They are the ones controlling the game, and no defensive alignment can keep them from handling the rock on every possession. But with Samhan, Richmond can junk up their defense, surround him on the block, and make everyone else beat them. In the WCC title game, Samhan got just 9 shot attempts, converting only 3. Richmond scampers on.

The 8 vs. 9 Games: The winner of this matchup has taken down the #1 seed in the following round just 12 of 100 times.

(8) UNLV vs. (9) Northern Iowa

The Panthers from Northern Iowa are known for their suffocating defense, allowing just 44 PPG in their three cakewalk victories through the Missouri Valley Tournament. In the first round of last year's tourney, they gave Purdue all they could handle. UNLV on the other hand, is an inexperienced crew led by a coach (Lon Kruger) that has not had a hair out of place since 1997. Plus, Northern Iowa starts three guys with the last names Eglseder, Ahelegbe, and Farokhmanesh. That spells F-U-N to me. The Hooked on Phonics boys get it done.

(8) Gonzaga vs. (9) Florida State

Every March, I fall in love with the Zags and wind up penciling them in all the way to the Final Four and beyond. And it always backfires. Adam Morrison, Jeremy Pargo, Austin never works out. So I'm resisting the temptation this year. I'm backing the 'Noles, even if they are one of the most mediocre teams in the entire field. I guess what I'm hoping for is that neither of these teams advances, if there's any way that can be made possible.

(8) Texas vs. (9) Wake Forest

Wake Forest enters this game losers of 5 of their last 6, including a 21-point woodshed job in the ACC tournament at the hands of last-place Miami (FL). Texas also sputtered to the finish line, dropping 3 of 5 down the stretch, each loss by 15 points or more. I think the Longhorns' muscular front line will be the difference, but I wouldn't recommend sending this game tape to Springfield, Mass anytime soon.

(8) California vs. (9) Louisville

My buddy BK is a pretty hard-core fan of the Cal Bears. The main reason for this being that Adam Duritz, the front man of his favorite band (Counting Crows), attended Berkeley and has been their biggest celebrity groupie for years. So BK has jumped on board and become a Cal guy himself. More often than not, this obsession turns into disappointment right around mid-March as the Bears get whacked by a better team early in the bracket. I don't see this year being any different. Pitino tells Mike Montgomery, Goodnight L.A.

The #6 Seeds: I enjoy picking 6-seeds to knock off the #3 in the following round. It's a way of saying, "Hey, I'm willing to get a little crazy; but in a nice, polite way."

Tennessee (vs. San Diego State)

This hasn't been a typical Bruce Pearl year at Tennessee. The Vols were up and down all year long. They had off the court problems and had to dismiss their best player, Tyler Smith. They had nights where they looked unbeatable (knocking off Kansas and Kentucky at home), and then nights where they looked absolutely dreadful (getting blasted by Pac-10 also-ran USC). That being said, I've still seen Pearl do some incredible things come money time, especially during his years at UW-Milwaukee. Rocky Top in a squeaker.

Xavier (vs. Minnesota)

The Mr. Basketball award in Michigan was won by little Brad Redford in 2008. He decided to take his lethal three-point shot to Xavier. But after a decent freshman year and a solid start to this campaign, he has seen his playing time almost evaporate completely down the stretch. He's shot the long ball at well over 40% in both years, but somehow, he hasn't been able to get consistent time for the Musketeers. It makes you wonder how a guy like John Beilein that craves outside shooters couldn't convince Redford to stay in-state and jack up countless treys wearing the Maize and Blue for the next four years. You're telling me Redford wouldn't be infinitely more effective than a guy like Laval Lucas-Perry, or even Stu "I make shots once a month" Douglass? Oh well, might end up being a lose-lose for both parties.

Marquette (vs. Washington)

Not too high on the Golden Eagles this year, but that being said, I think the winner of this game knocks off 3rd-seeded New Mexico in round two. I just think Washington comes in as the hotter team here, and also, I'm not comfortable backing a head coach named "Buzz."

Notre Dame (vs. Old Dominion)

It's the Luke Harangody show!! Have you ever been more confused at a particular player's dominance? You watch this guy for 10 minutes; he's rumbling awkwardly down the court, he's flicking up mid-range Js that make Shawn Marion's delivery look smooth, and he appears to be carrying about an extra 20 or 25 in the tummy region. But somehow, the guy produces night in and night out, often pumping in more than 30 points. I'm just not sure how. I think March might turn into the "Month of 'Gody." Either that, or there is the distinct possibility that I've gone completely out of my mind. I'll take the former on that one.

See ya tomorrow for the Madness Preview finale, including Final Four and championship game predictions.

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