Wednesday, March 19, 2008

NCAA Tournament First Round Capsules: West Region

UCLA vs. Mississippi Valley State

Mississippi Valley State is one of four teams competing in the NCAA tournament that I have never seen play. As such, I don’t really have the ability to handicap this game.

However, I’m just gonna go with a hunch that UCLA might pull out a win here.

First guess: I have a hard time putting a number on this due to my lack of familiarity with this MVSU program, but I’ll guess UCLA 75 MVSU 45

BYU vs. Texas A&M

On paper, it looks like Texas A&M should win this game. But then again, on paper, it looks like A&M shouldn’t even be playing in this game, and instead should be matched up with Georgia or UMBC or Coppin State in this first round game. There is a lot of talent on this Aggie squad, but most of it has gone unfulfilled this season. The point guard position has certainly take a huge hit with the loss of Acie Law to graduation last year, and as promising as Sloan and Kirk have seemed, they have never really hit their stride, and the whole team has suffered as a result

Across the court, the Aggies will run into a team that makes the most of the talent it has. BYU fields a balanced offensive team, with a strong inside threat in Plaisted, several players who are threats to connect from deep and an excellent ball-control point guard to tie it all together in Murdock.

In the end, that disconnect between the players at each point guard position may well be the difference in this game.

First guess: BYU 75 Texas A&M 69

Drake vs. Western Kentucky

These may well be two of my favorite teams to watch in this year’s tournament, and unfortunately for one of them and the rest of us, one of them will be going home before the fun has even really begun.

Drake is, of course, one of the great stories of the season, surprising everyone to win a tough Missouri Valley Conference pretty handily, starring a former walk-on at point who was awarded the MVC player of the year despite average less than 10 points per game, Adam Emmenecker. Emmenecker is a consummate point-man, distributing the ball, playing excellent defense, hustle all over the floor and doing all of the little things to help his team succeed. The rest of the Drake squad is littered with your typical Valley players: excellent defenders, deadly perimeter shooters and interior grinders.

The Bulldogs will run into some stout competition in this first round game, however. Western Kentucky will have the best player on the floor in Courtney Lee, who has NBA talent in his length, strength and terrific midrange game. The Hilltoppers also feature an excellent combination of guard in their backcourt, with Tyrone Brazelton and A.J. Slaughter leading an aggressive, fast-paced offensive and a disruptive defense.

This game is really almost too close to call. There may be a little more athleticism on the Western Kentucky side, there may slightly better shooters on the Drake side. It is just a damn shame that the committee saw fit to match these teams up. Wouldn’t something like Drake/Villanova and Clemson/Western Kentucky have been more intriguing matchups?

Bah! I guess I have to pick one of ‘em. Let’s say Emmenecker makes an amazing diving save of a ball just about to go out of bounds, saves the ball in to Leonard Houston who hits a 3 in the corner for the win as time expires.

First guess: Drake 73 Western Kentucky 72

Connecticut vs. San Diego

Well, let’s get this out of the way real quick: San Diego has no one who can matchup up with Hasheem Thabeet. So what? They sink back into a zone and make UConn earn their points.

Speaking of points: whoo-wee have we got a matchup at the 1-spot? A.J. Price vs. Brandon Johnson? Now that is just going to be fun to watch. Price may be a bit better defender, and that could be the difference here. If Price, and Wiggins, his backup, can slow Brandon Johnson down, the entire Torrero offense could slow.

UConn is clearly the deeper team in this matchup, made all the more confident in their depth after midseason suspension to guards Dyson and Wiggins made Calhoun dig a little deeper into the bench, and with some good success, I might add.

USD will keep this closer than many suspect, but the Huskies will lean on them and wear them down as the game goes on.

First guess: UConn 70 San Diego 61

Purdue vs. Baylor

There will be times in this game, where there will be eight guards on the floor at once , but despite that, don’t think that these two teams play similar styles. Baylor is going to run up and down the floor, throw up three pointers by the barrel and try to outquick a Boilermaker squad. Purdue on the other hand is going to defend the perimeter, run a lot of motion and scrap and fight their way to the finish line.

Neither of these teams has a whole lot of experience, and while there is some size here and there, that is almost besides the point.

Baylor will definitely have a harder time getting clean looks from the outside against this Purdue defense, but they also have guys that can slash into the lane and create scoring opportunities through penetration. Purdue meanwhile is made up of guys at seemingly every position that can step outside and hit a 3, as well as some bigger bodies that can flash in the lane against the ever-present Baylor zone and create medium-range opportunities.

This will be another eminently exciting 1st round matchup and both teams have the ability to pull this one out. Perhaps the difference will be the excellent team FT shooting by the Baylor Bears?

First guess: Baylor 72 Purdue 71

Xavier vs. Georgia

Perhaps the key to this game is the health of Drew Lavender’s ankle. He injured it about a month ago, and he clearly has not been the same since, and as a result, the Musketeers have not been the same either. Throw in a tough match-up against a quick point guard and if Lavender’s ankle has not improved in the last week, Xavier could be in trouble.

Now, that being said, despite the fact that Georgia is a hot team, they have not shown themselves to be a very good team over the course of the season, and Xavier has been a consistent, balanced squad (albeit with a couple games worth of stinkers fit in there) from day one. Even if the Lavender injury is still causing problems, the Musketeers should have enough talent in that front line to advance here.

First guess: Xavier 75 Georgia 65

West Virginia vs. Arizona

Joe Alexander is one of the hottest players in the country, and will probably be checked by a serious underachiever on the defensive end in Chase Budinger. Budinger has the athletic ability and the body to be a very good defender, but he has been consistently taken advantage of on defense throughout the season. Assuming that doesn’t change this week, Alexander will get his and it will be up to the rest of the Wildcat team to contain the rest of the Mountaineers.

Jordan Hill is another key for Arizona. Hill has been foul-prone over his career, and this can be troublesome for Arizona, given that he is the only legitimate low-post threat on the team. If he is able to stay on the court, he should be able to get the Wildcats some easy baskets, as the best Wet Virginia big man, Jamie Smalligan, is no more than a big body to bang around in the low post.

Arizona’s young backcourt of Nic Wise and Jerryd Bayless is finally healthy at the same time, and that could be the difference in this game. With both of these guys on the floor at the same time, the Wildcats are a potent offensive squad, and may be a little too much for the Mountaineers.

First guess: Arizona 77 West Virginia 70

Duke vs. Belmont

Get ready for a three-point barrage. Belmont is a guard-oriented team that is going to put up a ton of threes. Unfortunately for them, they aren’t a particularly good defensive team, and Duke’s offensive juggernaut should really have no problem scoring a ton of points here.

First guess: Duke 88 Belmont 60

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