Wednesday, March 16, 2005

As Promised: Sportszilla's NCAA Tournament Preview-Part Two
By Zach

//Edit 3-17: sorry about the delays, Blogger has been a bit touchy//

Sportszilla's NCAA Preview, part 2(cue trumpets):

Chicago Region:

Second Round

(1) University of Illinois v. (9) University of Nevada: Nevada made it all they way to the Sweet Sixteen last year, but we don't see them being able to take down Illinois quite the same way they dropped Gonzaga last year. Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Deron Williams will be far too much for the Wolfpack guards to handle. Nick Fazekas, Nevada's 6'10" sophomore forward, will give Roger Powell and James Augustine plenty of trouble, but in the end, the Illini will move on to Chicago.
(4) Boston College v. (5) University of Alabama: The only 4/5 game in our bracket, this one features a pair of major conference regular season champions. BC won the Big East, while Alabama won the SEC West. Normally, we'd fear taking an SEC team, but BC has been playing poorly for the last month. But Kennedy Winston and Chuck Davis have enough size to battle with Jared Dudley and Craig Smith, and Alabama's Earnest Shelton is a tough match-up for the Eagles. Roll Tide! into the Sweet Sixteen.
(3) University of Arizona v. (6) Louisiana State University: This game will hinge on whether LSU's Glen Davis can use his wide frame to push Channing Frye off the block. If he can, the Tigers will have a chance to pull the upset. If not, Frye can dominate the paint, freeing up Salim Stoudamire for looks from the outside. When LSU has the ball, look for Arizona's Hassan Adams to lock down Brandon Bass, the SEC Player of the Year. If that happens, the Wildcats advance with ease.
(2) Oklahoma State University v. (10) St. Mary's College: The Gaels' Daniel Kickert is getting plenty of publicity as a player to watch in this tournament, but Eddie Sutton's Cowboys have way too much talent for St. Mary's to handle. Even though they beat Gonzaga, who beat Oklahoma State, we really like the way the Cowboys have finished the year, winning the Big 12 Tournament in fine fashion. In what promises to be an ugly, low-scoring affair (like every OSU game), Oklahoma State will win.

Third Round:

(1) University of Illinois v. (5) University of Alabama: Illinois' speed on offense and defense will be too much for Alabama to handle. Remember, the Tide lost to a similar Washington team in the Great Alaska Shootout earlier this year. Winston and Davis could make this game interesting, but Powell and Augustine seem up to the challenge. The Fighting Illini should enter the Elite Eight.
(2) Oklahoma State University v. (3) University of Arizona: The winner of this game will be the one who dicatates the tempo. If the Cowboys can slow the Wildcats down and force them to execute in the half-court, they'll have a shot at the win. If Arizona can get out and run, with Mustafa Shakur pushing the tempo, they can space the floor for Adams and Stoudamire, while allowing Frye to work against an undersized OSU frontline. The reason we like Arizona is because the Wildcats have enough offensive options to grind it out in the half-court, while the Cowboys just don't have the players to win a shootout.

Fourth Round:

(1) University of Illinois v. (3) University of Arizona: This is as bad a match-up as the Illini could have feared. Arizona has the offensive firepower to outscore Illinois, and we're not quite sure who's going to guard Stoudamire. If he and Frye/Adams both get rolling, the Wildcats could easily be heading to St. Louis. Still, we have to take Illinois and their experience. Plus, they'll be playing in front of their home crowd in Chicago. But we wouldn't be surprised if this one went the other way.

Albuquerque Region:

Second Round:

(1) University of Washington v. (8) University of the Pacific: If Pitt were to advance, they might pose the Huskies a tougher matchup. While Pacific has had a great year, their loss to Utah State in their conference tournament final showed that they can struggle some with fast, athletic teams. Well, they've never faced one as fast and athletic as the Huskies. We're taking Washington in a flash.
(4) University of Louisville v. (12) George Washington University: We may think that Louisville is underrated, and we may think that the A-10 is underrated, but we don't see the Cardinals going out quite yet. Too much offensive firepower, and GW just doesn't have the match-up advantages for us to think they can pull of another upset. Louisville gets it done.
(3) Gonzaga University v. (11) University of California-Los Angeles: UCLA's talent may have been enough to get them past a fairly unathletic Texas Tech team, but it's not enough for them to beat the rugged and experienced Bulldogs. Look for Ronny Turiaf to batter the Bruins inside, while an agressive Adam Morrison is a match-up nightmare for Ben Howland's boys. Gonzaga overpowers UCLA.
(2) Wake Forest University v. (7) West Virginia University: A very tempting upset pick, the play of West Virginia has seduced Ben (the resident Big East lover) into picking them. We, on the other hand, can't quite get behind a team that was nearly out of the tournament a week ago. Wake Forest may not be the juggernaut people are making them out to be, but they have too much talent for the Mountaineers to handle. Even Kevin Pittsnogle can't save them. We have a Demon Deacon sighting in the Sweet Sixteen.

Third Round:

(1) University of Washington v. (4) University of Louisville: In our minds, there's no way that the Cardinals can match the Huskies athleticism and speed. They struggled with Memphis several times this year, and UW is lightyears beyond that. Perhaps if Louisville had some sort of inside presence, we could see them winning, but they don't. They're soft, and the winners of a down C-USA. Washington moves on.
(3) Wake Forest University v. (3) Gonzaga University: In the end, this pick comes down to who's proven what this year. Gonzaga has wins over Washington and at Oklahoma State, and played Illinois much closer than Wake Forest, who did beat Arizona at home, but had no impressive road wins all year. It'll be quite a game, but in the end, the Bulldogs have the talent and experience to pull this one out.

Fourth Round:

(1) University of Washington v. (3) Gonzaga University: In what will be the biggest college basketball game ever for the state of Washington, the Seattle-area Huskies will battle the Spokane-area Bulldogs. Besides being a battle of the western and eastern parts of the state, it will also be a showdown between the upstart Washington and the battle-tested Gonzaga. The teams met earlier this year, in a game won by Gonzaga. But that game was played at the Kennel, and the Huskies were without Brandon Roy. In the rematch, we like the Huskies. They should be able to control the tempo and earn the team's first trip to the Final Four in more than 50 years.

Austin Region:

Second Round:

(1) Duke University v. (8) Stanford University: Something tells us that the Dukies will be the first 1 seed to lose. Their lack of depth is disturbing, as is their dependance on J.J. Redick. Stanford has faced Salim Stoudamire twice this year, so they should know how to deal with J.J. Plus, look for underrated center Matt Haryasz to draw a lot of fouls on Sheldon Williams and Shavlik Randolph. Plus, factor in that Trent Johnson is one of the best young coaches in the game, and something tells us he'll do a better job of exploiting Duke's ball-handling weakness than some other teams have this year. We like the Tree to pull the upset.
(12) Old Dominion University v. (13) University of Vermont: The biggest bracket-buster game of the second round, with one of these low seeds sure to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. While we liked Old Dominion's match-up with Michigan State, we're not sold on them against the Catamounts. Something tells us Mr. Coppenrath is playing for a spot in the first round of the NBA draft, and that makes Vermont the easy pick.
(6) University of Utah v. (3) University of Oklahoma: As we said yesterday, we love teams that feature the best player in the nation. And while the Sooners have two good big men in Kevin Bookout and Taj Gray, neither of them has the combination of athleticism and speed to guard Andrew Bogut in the post. Factor in how he can flat out shoot over them, and we see the Utes through.
(2) University of Kentucky v. (7) Cincinnati University: We know that a Bob Huggins-coached team has never made the Sweet Sixteen. And we know that this isn't the year either. We're not particularly high on Kentucky, but they've got more than enough talent to get by a fairly unimpressive Bearcat squad. We have our second Wildcat sighting in the third round.

Third Round:

(8) Stanford University v. (13) University of Vermont: Here's where Vermont's run finally ends, not so much because we don't think they can beat Stanford, who's gotten as good a draw as anyone down in Palo Alto could have hoped for, but because we can only take a 13 to go so far. So say goodbye to the Catamounts, while the Cardinal say hello to the Elite Eight.
(2) University of Kentucky v. (6) University of Utah: Kentucky's speed advantage can and will be negated by the intelligence of Utah and their coach, Ray Giacoletti. We figure he'll hammer away at the weak Kentucky front line with Bogut, wearing the Wildcats down and sending Utah into their first Elite Eight since Keith Van Horn.

Fourth Round:

(6) University of Utah v. (8) Stanford University: At long last, the Cardinal face a team that they just can't match up with. Haryasz is a nice player, but no one this year has been able to guard Bogut one-on-one, and we see know reason for that to change. Unless senior guard Chris Hernandez can get hot, and we mean really hot, we see the Utes making their way to St. Louis.

Syracuse Region:

Second Round:

(1) University of North Carolina v. (9) Iowa State University: Too much Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, and Sean May. Iowa State doesn't really belong in the tournament, they're not that good, and they'll have to settle for a 1-1 record in the Dance. Hey, that's better than half the teams in the field. Tarheels keep on keeping on.
(4) University of Florida v. (12) New Mexico University: This is right about the time that the fact that Billy Donovan is coaching the Gators kicks in. Since losing to Michigan State in the championship game, Florida hasn't even sniffed the Sweet Sixteen, despite routinely being highly seeded. They've got no one to guard Danny Granger, and unless Matt Walsh has the game of his life, the Lobos are denying the Gators once again.
(3) University of Kansas v. (6) University of Wisconsin: In what promises to be a slow, ugly affair, we'll take the team playing well to end the year, the team more accustomed to that style of play, and the team that always seems to go deep into the tournament, regardless of seeding or opponent. Yes, we're taking the Badgers.
(2) University of Connecticut v. (10) North Carolina State University: The Wolfpack just don't have the size to battle win the Huskies for rebounds. They'd better hit a lot of three-pointers if they want this game to stay close. But we don't think they will. A disappointing year for NC State ends in the second round, while UConn moves on.

Third Round:

(1) University of North Carolina v. (12) New Mexico University: Finally, we see a team that can guard Danny Granger. Without him leading the charge, the Lobos will have no one who can score, and since they're facing the top scoring team in the country, something tells us they'll be in some serious trouble. UNC advances, easily.
(2) University of Connecticut v. (6) University of Wisconsin: This is a brutal test for the Badgers, who have to face a team loaded with size and talent. Sure, the Huskies don't always show up, but something tells us that they'll be up for a trip to the Elite Eight. Josh Boone and Charlie Villanueva should clean up the boards, while Rashad Anderson and Marcus Williams can carve up the Wisconsin defense with drives to the baskets. Connecticut advances for a monster Elite Eight game.

Fourth Round:

(1) University of North Carolina v. (2) University of Connecticut: Perhaps the best game of the Elite Eight features a rematch of this year's action, a win for UNC in Storrs, Connecticut. Yes, the Huskies were without Rashad Anderson, but they were unable to contain Rashad McCants, who is a tough matchup for them. Plus, the Tarheels have the size to neutralize Boone and Villanueva. We see this one being tight most of the way, but a late run by UNC is the difference.

Final Four:

Semi-final Round:

(1) University of Illinois v. (1) University of Washington: In a match-up of two teams featuring a trio of talented starting guards, Deron Williams, Dee Brown, and Luther Head will face the best guards they've played all year in Will Conroy, Tre Simmons, and Nate Robinson. Neither team has much in the way of post scoring, but the Huskies, despite being slightly undersized, are the better rebounding team. In the end, we think two bench players for the Huskies, guard/forward Brandon Roy and forward Jamaal Williams will prove to be the difference. Roy will be a tough match-up for Head, Brown, or Williams, while Williams is a dynamic post scorer. We like the Huskies to continue to turn heads.
(1) University of North Carolina v. (6) University of Utah: We're still not sure anyone can guard Andrew Bogut, but we know that the Tarheels have the talent to lock down the rest of the Utah squad, and they'll put up too many points for Bogut to overcome. If Utah had a bit more talent, we'd love to take them as national champs, but we're not sure that they can turn away the Tarheels

National Championship Game:

(1) University of North Carolina v. (1) University of Washington: Another high-scoring game for the Huskies, while the Tarheels finally face a team with the offensive balance to give them trouble. We think both teams will score a lot, but the Huskies have more options. Plus, they'll be able to send numerous players at both Felton and McCants, to try and slow them down. May will dominate inside, but the Huskies can win if that's the case as long as they contain UNC's perimeter play. We think they will, and that's why we have the University of Washington Huskies as Sportszilla's 2005 NCAA Champions.

Now, of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that Sportszilla's favorite team is the Huskies. We love the way they play, we think they've been underestimated all year, and we think the way the bracket sets up, they've got a great shot at the Final Four. Once there, almost anything can happen, and neither Illinois nor Carolina have the kinds of players that the Huskies can't beat. But that's why the tournament is so great, we'll find out just how accurate we are in a day.


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