Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NCAA Tournament First Round Capsules: Midwest Region

Kansas vs. Portland State

Portland State’s best player is 5’6” water-bug Jeremiah Dominguez. He is quick, a nice 3pt shooter, a good ballhandler, and in for an absolutely horrifying day against some of the nation’s best perimeter defenders in Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers, and (for a break) someone more his own size (and quickness), Sherron Collins.

Who knows? Maybe Dominguez will keep it interesting for 10 minutes or so. But, more likely, he and his teammates will be nervous out of their minds, playing a number one seed in the first time slot of the tournament and the game gets ugly before the first TV timeout.

Early guess: Kansas 88 Portland St 63

UNLV vs. Kent State

This should be a fun match-up. Neither team is particularly big, both are athletic and quick, can knock down the threes. I think UNLV has a pretty strong advantage here however as they are excellent at defending the 3. Wink Adams and Curtis Terry against Al Fisher and Chris Singletary is a fantastic backcourt match-up that is too close to call.

It will be interesting to see if guys like Darger, Bailey and Shaw can effectively defense Golden Flash front court weapons like Quaintance and Scott, who are both good scoring threats and effective all around players.

While UNLV is definitely playing their best basketball of the season right now, Kent State just has more offensive weapons than the Rebels and they should come out on top.

First guess: Kent State 61 UNLV 57

Clemson vs. Villanova

This Villanova team still has plenty of good things waiting for it in the future, but they are going to have to wait a little longer. They are running into a hot team in this first round game, and a team that they don’t necessarily match up well with.

Clemson is much more athletic and aggressive in the paint, on both ends of the floor, and while Villanova does have some very impressive guards, they really don’t have anything on this Clemson backcourt with senior Cliff Hammonds leading a fun team to watch.

Of course, Clemson’s Achilles heel is their free-throw shooting, and it will likely come back to bite them at some point in this tournament, but in order for that to matter, their opponent has to be within shouting distance at the end, and it will take a heroic performance by Scottie Reynolds to get the Wildcats that close.

While the Wildcat guards should have the ability to handle the Clemson press fairly well, they may have trouble finishing against the Clemson front court.

First guess: Clemson 78 Villanova 65

Vanderbilt vs. Siena

Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, there are no home games in the NCAA Tournament. While the Commodores are an excellent team at home, they are a different beast all together away from the home crowd. And here they run into a very capable team.

Siena is a fast, athletic and skilled team that is going to push the tempo, attack the basket and fire up threes. If they have their way, this game will be played in the 70s, or higher. Ronald Moore leads a high-powered offensive team with capable scorers Ubiles, Hansbrouck, Franklin and Fisher.

Not that Vanderbilt is incapable of scoring. Shan Foster is a veritable microwave who is a big streaky shooter with excellent range. Vandy will need to get some production out of Aussie Andrew Ogilvy, who will have a big size advantage over the biggest players the Saints can throw at him. Ogilvy, however, can be inconsistent and a little soft, and even foul prone.

In the end, Siena will be too fast and too much offensively for the brilliance of Foster to overcome.

First guess: Siena 76 Vanderbilt 69

USC vs. Kansas State

This is, without a doubt, the sexiest first round matchup: not only Mayo vs. Beasley, but Mayo against longtime teammate and good friend, Bill Walker.

The matchups here seem simple. Beasley and the Kansas State front court are without a doubt the strength of the Wildcats. On the other bench, Mayo leads and excellent group of perimeter players against a somewhat undermanned KSU backcourt. The difference, however, is that USC also features some excellent front court players as well.

Taj Gibson is a fantasic defensive forward for the Trojans, however, he has a tendency to get in foul trouble, and given the lack off depth in the USC frontcourt, that is absolutely no an option for him on Thursday.

The Davon Jefferson/Billy Walker battle could be fantastic. Both are athletic, skilled big men and each will get their fair share of highlight-reel plays.

The place where the Trojans will separate themselves from the Wildcats, however, is in the backcourt. Daniel Hackett is a terrific defender and should be able to take on Wildcat PG Clent Stewart and cause KSU trouble getting their offense started.

And, of course, OJ Mayo will be a big factor. I don’t see a KSU defender who can handle him 1on1, but KSU doesn’t want to drop into a zone against this team either, as both Mayo and Dwight Lewis could give the Wildcats fits if that happens.

While USC can get beat up on the boards at times, and while Beasley will certainly be capable of exploiting that weakness, USC head coach will have a gameplan ready to contain Beasley and make the rest of the Wildcats beat them, and that just isn’t going to happen.

USC gave Kevin Durant something to think about in his last collegiate game last year, and they’ll do the same to Michael Beasley this year.

First guess: USC 66 Kansas St 58

Wisconsin vs. Cal State Fullerton

This is a fun and entertaining CS Fullerton team, with plenty of talented players on the squad. And, while Wisconsin’s style of play may keep this game relatively close, this is about the worst possible matchup for the Titans.

There just isn’t a lot of size on the Titans roster (the closest player they have to a “center” is 6’5” Big West POTY Scott Cutley), and there is a long list of big bodies ready to pound the paint on the Badger roster.

Further, while there are some excellent guards on the Fullerton team, they are going to run into perhaps the pre-eminent perimeter defender in the country in Michael Flowers. Wisconsin decides that they want to completely eliminate the scoring punch that Jr G Josh Akognon brings the Titans? Sick Flowers on him. Ray Reed’s ballhandling and penetration allowing the Titans to get some open perimeter shots? Throw #22 on him and he’ll quiet right down.

This is just not a game that Fullerton can reasonably expect to win.

First guess: Wisconsin 59 CS Fullerton 43

Gonzaga vs. Davidson

Okay, if USC/Kansas St is the sexiest first round matchup, this is the really cute first round matchup with a great personality. And, it is almost a shame that this has to happen. Wouldn’t you rather see, for instance, Gonzaga playing Arizona in one 7/10 game and West Virginia against Davidson in another. Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, the committee has found a way to put several of the most intriguing “Mid-Major” (man, I got through almost 3 whole regions before I threw that phrase out there) teams in 1st round games against each other. Think Butler/South Alabama and Drake/Western Kentucky this year and Butler/Old Dominion, Nevada/Creighton and Southern Illinois/Holy Cross last year.

Anyway, what you have here is the tried-and-true bracket-buster program against the up-and-coming team. Davidson will probably have the best player on the floor on Friday morning (oh yeah, Gonzaga has to fly across the country and play a 9:30 am PDT game) in Stephen Curry, but Gonzaga has far more depth and bulk.

There will also be a phenomenal match-up at point, with prototypical Davidson point-man Jason Richards going up against Gonzaga’s more explosive Jeremy Pargo.

However, where Gonzaga is going to separate itself from the new kid on the block, is in the paint. Seven-footer Robert Sacre has been starting at the center. Soon thereafter, they bring in talented 6’11” Josh Heytvelt. That ain’t big enough for you? They’ve got 7’4” Will Foster waiting in the wings. Throw in 6’9” PF Abdullah Kuso, 6’10” “small” forward Austin Daye, and 6’8’ guard Micah Downs and the Davidson Wildcats will be looking up at their opponent all day long.

However, don’t think for a second that they’ll be intimidated. After playing teams like North Carolina, UCLA, and Duke tough in their non-conference schedule, the Wildcats now they can hang tough with anybody. But Gonzaga knows as much about themselves, and as good as those three teams are, none of them have the type of size that the David-no-more Gonzaga team will throw at Davidson.

First guess: Gonzaga 69 Davidson 63

Georgetown vs. MarylandBaltimore County

This UMBC team is a far cry from your normal American East entrant into the NCAA tournament, more talented, more athletic and deeper than usual. However, being rewarded with a 1st round match-up with a team that beats them handily in all three areas, plus is significantly bigger is not a good omen.

Jay Greene is a fine point guard, excellent distributor, nice shooter, but at 5’8”, even Jonathan Wallace towers over him. Barbosa is a nice player, but a matchup with Austin Freeman is seemingly one-sided. Cavell Johnson actually has some size, but DaJuan Summers and Patrick Ewing Jr are just athletes at a different level. All of this without even getting into the question of how they guard Roy Hibbert.

Georgetown has been playing well lately, and are a veteran team with plenty of experience. As nice of a year as UMBC has had, this is the end of the line.

First guess: Georgetown 70 UMBC 52

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