Saturday, February 11, 2006

College Ball Above All
By Zach

So I've spent most of the last two days in bed, sick. Yesterday, I watched a total of five movies to pass the time (for the curious: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 12 Angry Men, Rebel Without a Cause, Gattaca, and Equilibrium). Today? Today was all about college basketball. I watched Duke-Maryland, UConn-Seton Hall, Washington-UCLA, and Stanford-Gonzaga. With the tournament just over a month away, here are my thoughts on the college game.

-Adam Morrison is the best player in college basketball. Sure, say it's a West Coast bias. But that doesn't change the fact that no other player in the college ranks can take over the game on the offensive end like the mustachioed one can. He can create his own shot better than Redick can, and at 6-8 he can get his shot up over defenders better than J.J. Ben always likes to talk about Rudy Gay, and while Gay has plenty of athletic talent, his offensive repetoire is non-existant compared to those guys.

-Speaking of Redick, his Blue Devils will be lucky to reach the Sweet Sixteen. They have two above-average offensive options (though Redick and Sheldon Williams are very good), shaky point-guard play, and limited defensive ability. If they have to go against an athletic 8/9 team which likes to press, they could be in huge trouble. I will say this: I've consistantly knocked Redick's ability to carry a team, but he sure manages to get his shot off despite being the focal point of the opponents' defensive gameplan.

-UConn is very good. Marcus Williams is a great point guard, and they've certainly got as much talent as anyone in the country. So why do I doubt them? I think it's because I fear that if they run into a team that executes their offense with great precision (like Villanova when the 'Cats are on their game), they'll struggle. So much of their scoring comes out of transition, and against the good teams those transition looks are few and far between. Plus, I can't root for a team that has no scruples. Williams should have been kicked off the team for stealing computers...but since he's a starter at a big-time school...he only misses part of the season. Maybe that shouldn't weigh into my decision-making...but I can hope that the basketball gods punish such unsavory behavior.

-My Huskies are caught in a transition year. Last season, they were fast, athletic, and explosive. They could put better athletes on the floor than just about everyone. They weren't always consistant, but they could put points on you in a hurry. Next season, they'll have a tremendous front-court 1-2 punch of current freshman Jon Brockman and incoming freshman Spencer Hawes, as well as some nice backcourt play from freshman Justin Dentmon and sophomore Ryan Appleby. This year, however, they don't seem to know what they want to do. Senior Brandon Roy is a tremendous player, and will probably have a nice NBA career, but the rest of their upperclassmen have been inconsistant. Jamaal Williams has provided a post presence at times, but too often gets into foul trouble. Bobby Jones has been the biggest disappointment for the team, as he's struggled on both ends of the court. I'm not sure if it's injury-related or not, but he's regressed from last year. Still, the Dawgs pulled off the big win over #12 UCLA today to sweep the season series and shore up a third-straight NCAA Tournament bid. Kudos to Lorenzo Romar, who has done a fantastic job in taking the program to new heights.

-Gonzaga always baffles me. The last few years, they've had the talent to play with just about any team in the country. They've certainly proved that this season, beating numerous big-name opponents (Michigan State, Maryland). But they've also dropped games to other big-time teams (UConn, UW, Memphis). Granted, those are some of the top teams in the country (well, UConn and Memphis at least), but the Zags have consistantly struggled against top-flight competition. And yet, as you'll see in a minute, I expect that to change this year. Why? Morrison, mainly. They've never had a guy who can take over a game offensively like #3 can, and that's part of what they'll need in March. They've also got an under-rated post player in JP Bautista and a good point guard in Derek Raivio. They're a more explosive team than past Bulldog squads, even if they can struggle on the defensive end at times.

-So with all that being said, who do I see making it to Indianapolis? Well, this could be wrecked by the brackets of course, but here are my picks:

University of Connecticut: As I said above, so much talent that it would be a stunner for them not to get to at least the Final Four. Ben is confident they'll win the whole thing, and I can't say that I argue much. Should be the top overall seed, assuming they finish strong.

Villanova University: I love senior-laden teams come tournament time, and the Wildcats have tons of experience. Randy Foye, Allan Ray, and Mike Nardi are all explosive scorers, plus they might get Curtis Sumpter back in time. If that happens, they're my pick to cut down the nets.

Gonzaga University: It's always hard for me to pick against the top player in the sport, especially when he's got a solid supporting cast. This will be the year the Bulldogs shrug off the belief that they can't win in March (unless they're the underdog).

University of Washington...oh, wait, I mean George Washington University: Just checking to see if you were paying attention. The Colonials have a deep roster, tournament experience from a year ago, and one of the top names in college basketball (Pops Mensah-Bonsu). Granted, this is a bit of a reach, as GW hasn't played the same kind of competition as the other three teams above, but they are 20-1.

On a side note, congrats to the NYU men's basketball team for a huge win at Carnegie Mellon University last night. Now tied atop the UAA, they've got a real shot to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Oh yeah, that's the DIII Tournament. Don't start penciling them into your brackets.

Some say February is a dead month, but I like it. With no quality NBA team to worry about (thank you Rick Sund, Wally Walker, and Howard Schultz), I can focus all my sports attention on the college ranks.


Anonymous Andrew from said...

Hail to the Buff and Blue! (GW's colors). Hope your Final Four predictions are right.

5:46 PM  

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