What to expect in all four regions.
Yeah, we’re late on this one. After all, the first game of the 2010 NCAA Tournament starts in roughly 30 minutes. It’s too late to help with your brackets, but it’s the perfect time to talk about predictions. Below, you’ll see how SLAMonline’s experts think the Sweet 16 will go down. Agree?
by Adam Sweeney
Duke (1) vs. Texas A&M (5)
Beware the dreaded 5 vs. 12 seed match-up. You’ve been warned, Aggies. Texas A&M will be pushed to the edge of elimination against Utah State in the first round, but will survive and make their way to the Sweet 16. Their reward? A Duke Blue Devils team, who I refer to as the Whitey McLames, that is better than any squad they’ve had since 2004, when they lost the title to Connecticut. (Sorry for the jab, Dukies. I still have nightmares of Christian Laettner’s underarm hair trying to reach into my living room and choke me as a kid. Thank God I didn’t have HD then.)
Duke will have to win with the three, which they shoot a solid 40 percent, unless Brian Zoubek and the Plumlee Brothers can stake their claim in the post. Kyle Singler has been nails all season. Funny how good a team becomes once Greg Paulus leaves, huh? The Aggies will have the equivalent of a home game in Houston, which is good because they are 7-7 on the road. Look for Mike Kryskewski to work the refs, as he knows they could be swayed by the A&M friendly crowd, which serves well for the Aggies, as they make a living off of shooting free throws. Brian Davis will wreak havoc against Duke but it will be up to the A&M guards to play over their heads and match the backcourt depth of Duke.
Villanova (2) vs. Baylor (3)
Baylor has stunned nearly everyone this season. They were picked to finish 10th in the Big 12 but the quartet of LaceDarius Dunn, Tweety Carter, Quincy Acy and the super-transfer Ekpe Udoh have been the number one stunners, making the Bears the darlings of the Big Dance. Villanova’s momentum has been fading faster than almost any team in the tournament , save for Texas and Purdue, but can you count out a team that has Scottie Reynolds? In this case, I say yes. ‘Nova is known for their depth but the Bears are just too good. They’re ranked higher than Baylor but the Bears are more efficient on both ends of the court.
Duke (1) vs. Baylor (3)
This will be the dream match-up of the South Region. The Blue Devils look to return to their place among the elite while the underdog Bears will be looking to “shock the world.” Yeah, because we never tire of a team saying that they did that. If you look at stats, the edge goes to Duke. They bring intensity in all areas of the game. Baylor can match Duke offensively but they aren’t the defensive juggernaut that Coach K can put on the floor at times. Popular opinion says that Duke has an easy and likely road to the Final Four, but we’ve never been fans of following along with what everyone else does. People went to see Paul Blart: Mall Cop multiple times. Enough said.
Baylor will be energized by the Houston crowd and jump out to an early lead, stunning Duke. The Blue Devils, who weren’t truly tested in a down year for the ACC, will face their toughest test as they struggle to handle the physicality and talent before them. The question is whether Baylor will be able to hold on as Coach K inspires a furious comeback. Rasheed Wallace said the ball don’t lie. Well, I think the stats do. Duke is a paper lion about to be eaten up by a team of Bears.
FINAL FOUR PICK: Baylor (3)
If you love bracketology, you know not to choose four #1 seeds to make it to the Final Four. Kentucky and Kansas will get there but Syracuse and Duke will not. There seems to always be one team the media falls in love with and Baylor will be more than happy to play that part. Plus, if Baylor wears the glass slipper it means we get a chance at creating a dance in honor of Tweety Carter, which I will affectionately call “The Tweety Bird.” The Bears match up well against any team they face and will be a tough out. Will they win the title? Not likely, but it will be a magical story for a team that had to endure the pain of the Patrick Dennehy scandal and were tragically mistreated by former coach, David Bliss. It also will sound the bell for teams looking to take head coach Scott Drew away. Drew should tread softly. Remember how it worked out for Billy Gillespie after he left Texas A&M. Forget the stats. The tournament is about stories that stick with us. An appearance by Scott Drew and the hungry Bears in the Final Four sounds like a story that is too good to be true, but this year it is just right.
KEY PLAYERS: Donald Sloan (Texas A&M), LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor), Scottie Reynolds (Villanova), Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler (Duke)
by Quinn Peterson
Syracuse (1) vs. UTEP (12)
The Miners have Tony Barbee, a disciple of Coach Cal, at the helm of this dribble-drive oriented team. They won 16 straight in the conference before losing to Houston in the C-USA Championship. They have Randy Culpepper on the outside, Derrick Caracter on the inside, and plenty of guys in between. I like UTEP. But I love ‘Cuse, and the Miners’ 2010 Tourney run stops here. The Orange are just too balanced on offense and the 2-3 allows them to match up with just about anybody defensively — especially UTEP, who will be looking to drive the ball often. The Orange control tempo and keep rolling.
Xavier (6) vs. Kansas St. (2)
Kansas St. snuck up on a lot of people this year. They’ve got two outstanding guards in Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente and are solid inside with Jamar Samuels and Curtis Kelly. They were toughened up in the Big 12 as well, so they’re definitely legit. But Xavier was hardened by the A-10, the nation’s most slept-on conference this year, in addition to playing a heck of a non-conference schedule. In fact, they faced this same Kansas St. team in early December, losing by 15 in a grind-it-out battle. Expect this to be the same kind of game, but I think Xavier gets revenge for their loss three months ago. They’ve become one of the most consistent tournament teams, advancing to two Elite 8′s and a Sweet Sixteen in the past five years. Granted, those were with different coaches, but Xavier’s developed a mojo for the tourney and always comes to play. Plus Jordan Crawford is a stud. A higher seed is gonna advance somewhere in the bracket, why not here? Musketeers move on.
Syracuse (1) vs. Xavier (6)
The Musketeers pull it off in the Sweet 16, but like UTEP, their dreams are dashed by the Orange. Another extremely physical game for Xavier, they simply don’t have the talent to matchup. With Wes Johnson, Kris Joseph, and Rick Jackson, the Orange have too much for the Musketeers to handle inside. Plus Arinze Onuaku will be a couple games back from injury by this point.
On the other end of the floor, the Musketeer’s are presented with a whole ‘nother set of issues — scoring the ball. Although Xavier shoots the three fairly well (37 percent), the Cuse defend it as well as anyone out of the 2-3, which will also help them neutralize Crawford’s slashing. Syracuse gets it done at both ends, and heads to the Final Four for the first time since Melo B. Easy led the them to a National Championship in 2003.
FINAL FOUR PICK: Syracuse (1)
Upon first glance at the bracket, I immediately thought Syracuse had one of the easiest routes, at least in terms of how they matchup with the other teams. They’re second round game against Gonzaga could very well be their most as they attempt to make it to St. Louis. What makes them so good is that the question is not only how to score against them, but how to stop them, as well. As we’ve learned this season, the beauty of the 2-3 is that it greatly simplifies the preparation process for Syracuse, in addition to presenting opposing teams with a defense they seldom see. That, plus the Orange’s slew of scoring options should lead them to St. Louis, though they may finally meet their match, Kansas, in the Final Four.
KEY PLAYERS: Wes Johnson, Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Andy Rautins (Syracuse); Matt Bouldin, Elias Harris, Steven Gray (Gonzaga); Chris Singleton, Solomon Alabi (Florida St.); Derrick Caracter Randy Culpepper (UTEP); Jordan Crawford (Xavier); Jimmer Fredette (BYU); Jacob Pullen, Denis Clemente (Kansas State)
by Nick Peruffo
Kentucky (1) vs. Temple (5)
While the silky-smooth Juan Fernandez’s floor vision at times evokes fellow Argentine and former Owl Pepe Sanchez, Temple simply has no answer for Coach Calipari’s NBA-ready tandem of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. If Temple hopes to compete with the Wildcats, its relatively slight frontcourt of Lavoy Allen and Micheal Eric will need to hold their own against Cousins and Billy Gillespie-holdover Patrick Patterson on the boards. Guard Ryan Brooks has been a consistent scoring threat for the Owls, but his effectiveness may be limited against Kentucky’s other freshman, the overshadowed but extremely athletic Eric Bledsoe. Expect Temple’s run to end in Syracuse.
Marquette (6) vs. West Virginia (2)
Despite several bad losses to the likes of DePaul and NC State, Marquette should benefit from its tough Big East schedule. Lazar Haywood may be one of the most underrated players in the country, and Darius Johnson-Odom has the ability to stretch defenses with his three-point shooting ability. Unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, West Virginia has the length and athleticism to shut down the Marquette attack like they did against Georgetown in the Big East Tournament Final. Bob Huggins also has an answer for Haywood in the person of Da’Sean Butler, who leads the Mountaineers in scoring at over 17 points per game, Look for swingman Devin Ebanks to be a major factor on the defensive end in a victory for the Mountaineers.
Kentucky (1) vs. West Virginia (2)
West Virginia has shown the ability slow down NBA-level talent (see Monroe, Greg: Georgetown) but Kentucky presents a unique challenge. Darryl Bryant will need to keep Wall out of the paint and force the Kentucky point guard to beat the Mountaineers from the perimeter. Butler will also need to outplay Patterson on both ends of the court. The key for Kentucky will be the mentality of Cousins, who, despite his unparalleled size and skill set, has a tendency (like Monroe) to disappear for prolonged stretches. If Cousins plays like he did against Tennessee in the SEC final — racking up 19 points and 15 rebounds — the Wildcats will roll to there first Final Four since 1998.
FINAL FOUR PICK: Kentucky (1)
Kentucky is clearly the most talented team in the region, but give Coach Cal credit for blending his annual McDonald’s All-American team with a veteran group that easily could have become disillusioned after the Gillespie fallout. Even when the precocious Wall and Cousins show their age, the ‘Cats have enough veteran experience to win big games. Patterson and the rest of the upperclassmen remember the sour taste the Gillespie era left behind, and will be trying to make the most of what could be their last opportunity. Baring a Derrick Rose-level SAT scandal, Indianapolis will become little Lexington April 3.
KEY PLAYERS: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson (Kentucky); Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks (West Virginia); Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler (Marquette); Ryan Brooks, Lavoy Allen (Temple)
by Adam Fleischer
Kansas (1) vs. Maryland (4)
Many people have been saying the Midwest region, also known by some as Kansas’ part of the bracket, is going to be the toughest one for any of the No. 1 seeds to come out of, based on depth of other teams. This may be true, but it’s certainly not going to stop the Jayhawks from making it out of the first weekend without much of a hiccup. Their Sweet Sixteen match up against Maryland should be a bit more interesting, though. Greivis Vasquez has led the Terps to a successful season and some stellar wins to go along with a share of the regular season ACC Title. If Maryland wants to compete with the experience and depth of Kansas, Vasquez is going to have to put on quite a show. In the end, expect Kansas to prevail.
Ohio State (2) vs. Georgetown (3)
These are two unique teams that make for an intriguing match up. One revolves much around one player; the other runs the Princeton offense. Georgetown has had some tough stretches and not so good losses, but their recent run to within two points of a Big East Championship victory shows they may be peaking at the right time. Ohio State boats arguably the tournament’s best player in Evan Turner, but doesn’t have the depth you’d expect to see from a team making a deep run. If Greg Monroe can be an inside presence for the Hoyas, there will be some unhappy fans in Columbus because OSU doesn’t have the size to counteract the sophomore big if he hits the block. He doesn’t always perform like he’s capable of, though. You know Tuner will get his, so it becomes a question of what the supporting cast is going to be able to do. Georgetown has been far more battle tested this season than OSU thanks to their play in the tough Big East, and their big game experience will help them advance to take on Kansas.
Kansas (1) vs. Georgetown (3)
A match up of Cole Aldrich and Monroe is sure to be entertaining, and who gets the better of that may be a key determining factor in the game’s final score. That won’t be the only thing, of course. Both of these squads have superb backcourts that have led them all year, starting with Sherron Collins for Kansas and Austin Freeman at Georgetown. If Freeman is knocking down his deadly outside shot with consistency, it could spell trouble for Kansas. Something that should play in the Jayhawks favor, however, are the early rounds. Much of what drew everyone’s eyes to this part of the bracket actually lays in the lower half, from which the Hoyas will emerge, so seeing if their having a tougher first three games than Kansas (not that Kansas’ will be easy) plays a part could also be something worth noting.
FINAL FOUR PICK: Kansas (1)
There’s a reason Kansas was No. 1—or close to it—for much of the year. They’re good. Really good. During a time in college ball when teams often lack experience, they have it. Not only do they have guys who have spent more than a semester or two in school, but they also actually have some dudes who were on the National Championship squad from ’08 including Aldrich, Collins, Reed, and Morningstar. Add that to the play of phenomenal freshman and former SLAM diarist Xavier Henry, who is poised for a big month, and you see why it’s hard to argue with Kansas making it to Indianapolis.
KEY PLAYERS: Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry (Kansas); Evan Turner (Ohio State); Greg Monroe, Austin Freeman (Georgetown); Greivis Vasquez (Maryland); Kalin Lucas (Michigan State); James Anderson (Oklahoma State); Gani Lawal, Derrick Favors (Georgia Tech); Aubrey Coleman (Houston)
Here’s how SLAMonline’s experts called it. There isn’t enough time in the week for us to agree upon a consensus winner, so let your imagination run wild after that Final Four.