Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Alright, As Promised: The NCAA Tournament, Sportszilla-Style
By Zach

Well, here it is. Sportszilla's NCAA Preview. We'll look at every single first round match-up, give you at least a brief thought or two on the teams. We'll tell you who we like in each region, who we don't, and give you a storyline or two to keep an eye on. Today, you get all of our first-round picks. Tomorrow, the rest of the bracket. Now, without further ado:

Sportszilla's NCAA Preview, part 1(cue trumpets):

Chicago Region:

First Round Match-ups:

(1) University of Illinois v. (16)Fairleigh Dickinson University: This game is actually a very intriguing one personally for Sportszilla. One of our former co-workers at WNYU.org is a huge Illini fan, while another is now FDU's play-by-play guy. But, shockingly, we'll take the Illini.
(8) University of Texas v. (9) University of Nevada: A battle of two teams who made deep runs last year, though no one expected it out of the Wolfpack. This is just the first of many games which probably will reveal Sportzilla's horrible West-Coast bias. We think Nevada, even after losing Kirk Snyder, has the talent to handle Texas. We're inclined to take mid-major teams which played well all year over big-conference teams which struggled throughout the season. Hence, we'll take Nevada.
(5) University of Alabama v. (12) University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: One of the toughest 5-12 matchups for us to pick. We were tempted to take UW-Milwaukee and Ed McCants, cousin of UNC superstar Rashad McCants. But then we realized we liked all of the other 12s, and besides, Alabama is the strongest 5 seed, having won the SEC-West and posted several big wins this year. Plus, UW-Milwaukee doesn't have a great out-of-conference resume. Yes, they played Kansas and Wisconsin, but they got blown out by the Badgers. So, we're taking the Tide.
(4) Boston College v. (13) University of Pennsylvania: The Eagles limped into the tournament, moving from a likely 1 or 2 seed all the way down to a 4. And Penn is one of those teams that always seems to give a team fits in their first round match-up. Still, the front court tandem of Jared Dudley and Craig Smith is just going to be too much for the Quakers to contain. Boston College moves into the second round.
(6) Louisiana State University v. (11) University of Alabama-Birmingham: This is a game we flat-out don't like. LSU got seeded high because of a good showing in the SEC Tournament, while UAB doesn't belong in the tournament, despite their great play last year. Brandon Bass was the SEC player of the year, and the reason we'll take the Tigers.
(3) University of Arizona v. (14) Utah State University: The Wildcats are one of the most talented teams in the country. They have a legitimate 7' center in Channing Frye (also one of the nicest guys in college basketball), an athletic wing player in Hassan Adams, and the country's best shooter in Salim Stoudamire. Yes, better than J.J., better than Gerry. He's the best because he can come off screens and hit like Redick, pull up off the dribble like G-Mac, and get to the hole better than either of them. The Wildcats are perhaps the scariest team in the tournament, both because they could make a deep run, or because they could flame out early. You never know with a Lute Olsen-coached bunch. But Arizona will overwhelm a Utah State squad just glad to get in after last year's snub.
(7) Southern Illinois University v. (10) St. Mary's College: A surprising match-up of mid-major at-large teams, and another tough game to pick. The Salukis have been here before, but St. Mary's has plenty of tournament-like experience, battling with Gonzaga several times a year. SIU has silky-smooth senior guard Darren Brooks, while the Gaels counter with senior guard Paul Marigney and junior forward Daniel Kickert.
(2) Oklahoma State University v. Southeast Louisiana University: Eddie Sutton's Cowboys are as disciplined and tournament tested as you could possibly want. They've got two talented seniors in forward Joey Graham and John Lucas. It'll be a surprise if the undersized Lions even put up much of a fight. We're taking OK State.

Albuquerque Region:

(1) University of Washington v. (16) University of Montana: We know you. You think that Washington didn't deserve a number one seed, that they're ripe for an upset in the second round. Well, we know something you don't know. Washington is one of the best teams in the country, and certainly the fastest. We know you don't want to stay up until 1 am to watch Pac-10 basketball. We know it's tempting to go to sleep. But if you had watched, you know what we know. This team is really, really good. The Grizzlies are a nice story, and it's nice to see that coach Larry Krystkowiak has been able to turn this team around. But the Huskies are the slam dunk pick.
(8) University of the Pacific v. (9) University of Pittsburgh: The quintisential example of a mid-major champ facing a mediocre major. Pacific dominated the Big West, going 18-0 in conference play. Pitt went 10-6 in the Big East. Pacific beat fellow NCAA tournament team Nevada on the road. Pitt has managed to beat Connecticut on the road and lose to St. John's. So they're an enigma. Both teams play a slow, grind-it-out style. Pacific has a balanced team, while Pitt relies on guard Carl Krauser and forward Chevon Troutman. Who to take, the team which played great all year, but against lesser competition, or the team which was up-and-down but has more big wins. Call it the West Coast bias, but we'll take consistancy and the Tigers.
(5) Georgia Tech v. (12) George Washington University: Georgia Tech is clearly this year's Maryland, a team that moves from off the bubble to an astoundingly high seed just because of a deep run in the ACC tournament. For those of you who forgot, Maryland won the ACC tournament last year, got a 4 seed, and lost in the second round. The Yellow Jackets didn't even win the tournament, losing to Duke in the final, but they went from bubble trouble to a 5. Sure, they went to the championship game last year, but they're horridly inconsistant, dropping home games to Virginia Tech and a North Carolina State team without their best player, Julius Hodge. The Colonials, on the other hand, won an under-rated Atlantic-10 conference, and beat Maryland and Michigan State earlier this year. They know how to win, and thus George Washington is the pick over the enigmatic Yellow Jackets.
(4)University of Louisville v. University of Louisiana-Lafayette: The Cardinals are the team that has been griping the loudest about their seeding. And certainly, it seems that a 29-4 team ranked #4 in the polls probably deserves better than a four seed. But we don't buy into the Rick Pitino hype. Louisville won a Conference-USA which was weaker than usual, with only three good teams. And they still managed to struggle to beat teams like Memphis and UAB. Francisco Garcia is as soft as a guy from the Bronx can be, and Larry O'Bannon is a vastly undersized forward. Still, the Ragin' Cajuns will need an astounding game from junior guard Tiras Wade. Wade could present a serious match-up problem for the Cardinals at 6'6", and an upset here wouldn't be beyond the realm of possibilty. Still, we'll take Louisville, at least in the first round.
(6) Texas Tech v. (11) University of California-Los Angeles: This is a clash between a senior-laden team which wins more on execution than on talent and a young squad probably a year or two from their true potential. Still, Bruins senior Dijon Thompson is a dangerous scorer, and freshmen guards Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo are getting better with more experience. The Red Raiders have former walk-on Ronald Ross as their star, and of course Bobby Knight as their coach. But Knight's teams have had a tendancy to bow out early, and this year looks like no exception. Take the talent and UCLA.
(3) Gonzaga University v. (14)Winthrop University: Gonzaga is the other Washington State school you probably haven't seen play. But at least after seven consecutive years in the tournament, you've heard of them. They feature one of the country's better big men in Ronny Turiaf, a great perimeter scorer in Adam Morrison, and yet another solid point guard in Derek Raivio. The Eagles, meanwhile, feature a solid backcourt of sophomore Torrell Martin and junior James Shuler. They dominated the Big South conference, but Gonzaga won a much better West Coast Conference, and the Bulldogs will roll into the second round.
(7) West Virginia University v. (10) Creighton University: The former school of Jerry West has been one of the hottest teams in the country of late, reaching the finals of the Big East Tournament before bowing out to Syracuse. Led by center Kevin Pittsnogle and guard Mike Gansey, the Mountaineers are a solid squad. They face the Bluejays, winners of the Missouri Valley Conference's automatic bid, joing Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa in the tournament. They're led by junior guard Nate Funk, a streaky shooter who hung 35 points on Wichita State in February but scored just 8 points in the MVC championship game. But the Bluejays are too guard-oriented to beat West Virginia, especially with the Mountaineers playing close to home in Cleveland.
(2) Wake Forest v. (15) University of Tennessee-Chattanooga: The Demon Deacons are the best of the number 2 seeds, according to the selection committee, and seemed to be in good shape for a 1 until losing to NC State in the ACC quarterfinals. Granted, they were without star guard Chris Paul and his one-game groin-punching suspension, but it was still a tough loss. Still, Wake Forest has two good perimeter players in Paul and Justin Gray, and an under-rated big in Eric Williams. The Mocs will attempt to counter with Lithuanian forward Mindaugas Katelynas, but I can't see them getting it done: Wake Forest is too good.

Austin Region:

(1) Duke University v. (16) Delaware State Univesity: Duke features one of the country's best shooters, and most hated players, J.J. Redick. Certainly he can kill a team with his ability to make three-pointers. But the Blue Devils live and die by the play of center Sheldon Williams. If he's on, and out of foul trouble, they're very hard to stop. Williams has some of the best post moves, and hands, of any big in the country. Still, the Dukies are vulnerable to teams with good perimeter athletes who can stick on Redick and force Daniel Ewing, really a combo guard, to handle the ball against pressure. Still, we're not about to say that Josh Bluntt and the Hornets can be the team to do that. Duke gets the nod.
(8) Stanford University v. (9) Mississippi State University: A game between a pair of major conference mid-pack teams. The Cardinal rebounded from the loss of leading scorer Dan Grunfeld to earn another trip to the Dance, while the Bulldogs rode Baylor transfer Lawrence Roberts. Even without Grunfeld, the Cardinals remain dangerous, with senior guard Chris Hernandez and talented forward Matt Haryasz. Look for Haryasz to contain Roberts, and the Cardinal to earn a date with fellow pretentious academic institution Duke.
(5) Michigan State University v. (12) Old Dominion University: Yet another 5-12 upset possibilty, ODU features one of several talented Australian big men in the tournament, 6'9" junior Alex Loughton. The Spartans will struggle to contain him with foul-prone center Paul Davis. If Davis gets into foul trouble, the biggest weakness on Michigan State will be exposed, their utter lack of size. Look for the Monarchs to pull the upset.
(4) Syracuse University v. (13) University of Vermont: A pair of tournament-tested teams playing close to home, this game has all the makings of a great game. The matchup at forward features all-world athlete Hakim Warrick of the Orange against scoring machine Taylor Coppenrath of the Catamounts. But the game will really be determined by the guard play. Gerry McNamara of 'Cuse is a phenomenal shooter, but he lacks the quickness to stay in front of T.J. Sorrentine. Vermont is the exact type of team that can give Syracuse trouble, since they can go inside with Coppenrath as well as possibly shoot the Orange out of Jim Boehiem's beloved 2-3 zone. In less of an upset than you'd think, the Catamounts move on.
(6) University of Utah v. (11) University of Texas-El Paso: Utah features the country's best player, 7' Aussie center Andrew Bogut. The last two teams to say that cut down the nets at the end of the year. We're not sure Utah has the supporting cast to do that, but Bogut and his mates are enough to get past Omar Thomas and the Miners. Plus, we're big fans of Utes coach Ray Giacoletti. Utah advances.
(3) Oklahoma University v. (14) Niagra University: Oklahoma features a pair of talented big men in Kevin Bookout and Taj Gray, but too often they struggle to get the ball inside to those guys. Niagra may not be able to, but if you get the ball out of guard Drew Lavender's hands, the Sooners are prone to turnovers and bad shots. Still, Oklahoma has enough to get by the Purple Eagles.
(7) Cincinnati University v. (10) Iowa University: Cincinnati has been underwhelming all year, while Iowa has rebounded after star guard Pierre Pierce was kicked off the squad. Still, the loss of Pierce deprives the Hawkeyes of their best athletes, and we don't think they'll be able to slow the game down enough to contain Jason Maxiell and the rest of the Bearcats. Bob Huggins' teams seem to go out early, but we've got Cincinnati safely into the round of 32.
(2) University of Kentucky v. (15) Eastern Kentucky University: Kentucky seems to us as more a product of mediocrity of the SEC than actual talent. Unlike previous years, this Kentucky team is weak in the middle, and undersized. Kelenna Azubuike is a nice player, but Patrick Sparks is a one-dimensional shooter, a destitute man's J.J. Redick, and Chuck Hayes is 6'6", generously. It'll be enough to get by the Colonels, but look for the Wildcats to make a fairly early exit from this year's tournament.

Syracuse Region:

(1) University of North Carolina v. (16) Winner of play-in game: Well, it's hard to analyze a match-up when one of the teams is an unknown. Still, UNC features three of the nation's best players, juniors Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, and Sean May. McCants gets the publicity, but Felton and May are far more important to any potential title run by the Tarheels. Felton is a tremendous ballhandler, with the ability to get into the lane and either score or create shots for his teammates. May is a great college forward/center, with good hands, good ability to finish at the basket, and a tenacious will to rebound. If the two of them play well, UNC may finally get Roy Williams his championship.
(8) University of Minnesota v. (9) Iowa State University: Minnesota's talented Vincent Grier, a 6'5" swingman, may be one of the best players you've never heard of. Iowa State used a late season surge to get into the tournament field, featuring New York native Curtis Stinson at the point. These teams are epitomes of middle seeds. Big conference teams with at most one or two big wins, and a couple of bad losses. We flipped a coin on this one, and Iowa State gets to lose to North Carolina in the next round.
(5) Villanova v. (12) New Mexico University: Some people look at Villanova and see a sleeper team. We see a team which drew a tough hand to start the tournament. New Mexico features one of the nation's best forwards, Danny Granger. Look for him to have his way with the Wildcat "big" men, who are all too skinny to keep Granger and his chisled frame out of the paint, and especially off the offensive glass. Defensive rebounding has been Nova's biggest weakness all year, and it'll take a huge game from Allan Ray for them to hang on against the Lobos.
(4) University of Florida v. (13) University of Ohio: A trendy upset pick, we're always loathe to take a Billy Donovan-coached squad. Ever since they reached the title game in 2000, the Gators have been a first or second-round exit waiting to happen. However, we think this team, with Matt Walsh, Anthony Roberson, and the improving David Lee will be too much for the Bobcats to handle. Florida gets it done...at least for now.
(6) University of Wisconsin v. (11) Northern Iowa University: Northern Iowa was one of the last teams into the field, and a bit of a suspect selection, in our view. The Badgers, meanwhile, were perhaps the second best team in the Big-10 by the end of the year. They're a well-coached, disciplined squad with plenty of experience. They don't necessarily have the talent to beat a great team, but the Panthers certainly aren't that. Look for the Badgers to zone up and force a lot of misses.
(3) University of Kansas v. (14) Bucknell University: Kansas went from perhaps the second best team in the country to a 3 seed with a disatrous stretch in which they lost 5 of 8 games. Still, they've got Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, and Aaron Miles. Bucknell is a great story, making the tournament for the first time in quite a while, but they won't be able to touch the Jayhawks.
(7) University of North Carolina-Charlotte v. (10) North Carolina State: The Wolfpack rallied frantically at the end of the year to earn a berth in the tournament, and remain a dangerous team because of their ability to shoot the ball. Ilian Etimov and Engin Atsur are a pair of foreign talents who have never turned into true stars, but can shoot the ball. Julius Hodge is a great talent, but after returning from an ankle injury seems more hesitant to shoot the ball. If NC State wants to make a run, he'll need to step his game up. Charlotte's Curtis Withers could present a big match-up problem for Herb Sendik's squad, as he's a big, athletic forward. Still, we'll give the nod to the ACC-tested Wolfpack.
(2) University of Connecticut v. (15) University of Central Florida: Connecticut is one of the hardest teams to gauge in the field. They've got perhaps the country's best front court, with Josh Boone, Charlie Villanueva, and Rudy Gay. Boone and Villanueva are bangers who can finish inside and dominate the boards. They're also two of the ugliest guys you'll ever see. Gay's more of a leaper, but can still get it done in the middle. Plus, Marcus Williams has turned into a very solid point guard. But none of that can explain a loss at Massachusetts. UCF has a nice forward in sophomore Joshua Peppers, but they're dead meat against the Huskies.

So there you are. Every single first round match-up. Check back tomorrow for the rest of the games, as well as some general thoughts on the tournament.

//Edited 3-16: A few factual tweaks//


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple corections. It's actually Bucknell University, not "Bucknell College." And this is their first trip to the tourney in 16 years, not 34. Don't overlook them: they beat then-undefeated and #10 Pitt this year, becoming the first non-Big East team to win at Pitt's Peterson Events Center and also had quality wins at Saint Joe's and against MAAC champ Niagara.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

like a lot of your picks but, come on . . . "Charlotte University"? please. It's UNC Charlotte. Go Heels

2:21 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Corrections made: Sorry, when you're trying to write about 32 games, you sometimes have brain cramps. With Bucknell, I got them confused with Niagara about the length of time since their last tourney appearance. With Charlotte...well, that was just dumb.

Anyhow, I'm 3-1 so far, but I lost a Sweet 16 team, so that's no good. But so far all of my next set of picks are winning, so that's good.

4:14 PM  

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