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University of Maryland Basketball Season Preview

November 7, 2012 in Preview

By Staff Writer John Manuel:

Taking a change of pace from the Redskins, Orioles, Nationals, Cerrato and college football talk.  I am excited for Friday's college basketball opener for the Maryland Terrapins.  Not only is it just the opener but it’s against the defending champions and newly reloaded Kentucky Wildcats.  It will obviously be a great test for Mark Turgeon's crew when they take the floor against Kentucky, but looking long term across the season I expect good things from this Maryland team and here's my 2012-13 Season Preview.

Starting at the top with Coach Turgeon, Terps fans have to be excited about the future of Maryland basketball.  To go from a legendary coach like Gary Williams and hopefully not miss a beat with Turgeon should keep Comcast Center one of the best venues in college basketball.  Turgeon not only took a suspect team and made them competitive last season but he also did it in a likable way.  Turgeon doesn't BS the media or the fans and tells it like it is.  More importantly he has quickly upgraded the talent base in a span of months and the future looks bright as he works with a strong coaching staff.

Much talk about Maryland will start with the loss of ACC leading scorer Terrell Stoglin.  He is gone and so are his points but you have to think that many in College Park are not that disappointed not having Stoglin on the roster.  Sophomore Nick Faust will obviously be the first one to be looked at to fill Stoglin's void.  Many expect Faust to have a breakout season but the challenge of playing multiple positions is there.  Faust will have to become more of consistent scorer than fellow Baltimore high school star Sean Mosley was.  Terps need Faust to be more Vasquez than Mosley.

The Terps also get the return of Pe'Shon Howard back from multiple major injuries in his sophomore season.  Howard may not be flashy and a big time scorer but he gives Turgeon a reliable leader on floor.  Something you need when you are looking to put a lot of new pieces together.  Howard is a fan favorite that deserves a solid and healthy season.

The Terps also add two new freshman wing players who should get plenty of minutes right away in Jake Layman and Seth Allen.  I feel that Allen is going to have some Juan Dixon type magic in him.  I am not saying he is going to be Dixon, maybe more of a Drew Nicholas type but he was Turgeon's first recruit and I think he found something in Allen.

As for Layman, he will be someone to watch grow all season.  And now it’s breaking that Dez Wells is eligible to play this season is a difference maker.  Wells will possibly be the team’s leading scorer since the NCAA has now done the right thing.  Turgeon also snagged an Albany transfer in shooter Logan Aronhalt to add much needed shooting depth lost with departure of Stoglin.

Up front the Terps could be strong especially on the boards.  Alex Len returns after getting acclimated to the college game as a freshman.  Now in more ACC ready shape, Len's game should improve as unfortunately NBA scouts will be watching.  Add returning senior James Padgett up front with Len and you have your returning front court.  I was very impressed with Padgett last season on how he improved his offensive game from his first two seasons.  The Terps added much needed front court size also in solid recruits Shaq Cleare and Charles Mitchell.  Cleare is the more heralded, but Mitchell dominated the boards last week versus IUP.  Both of these guys should get plenty of run with the departure of Ashton Pankey.

As for the schedule and the outlook, after Kentucky, the Terps do not have a strong non-conference schedule heading up to ACC play.  The team should be able to build up some wins unlike past seasons before facing the ACC teams.

And to me the ACC doesn't look as strong as in the past, but many have said that in recent years and have been mistaken.  NC State sits in the preseason top 10 and Duke and UNC are Duke and UNC.  In the final year of the 12 team ACC I think the Terps can challenge for the top 4 spots and the ACC first round tournament bye.

I think this is a NCAA tournament team and if Dez Wells is deemed eligible I am willing to call it a lock barring major injuries.  Turgeon and his staff have this program heading the right way.  I got 20-11 and a return to the NCAA's after a strong showing in the ACC Tournament.



Looking Back, Ahead

April 3, 2012 in Rankings, Recaps, Recruiting

As expected, Kentucky completed a season atop (or near the top) of the polls after winning the national championship with a 67-59 win over Kansas that wasn't as close as the score might indicate. The question now for Kentucky is in two parts: how many players will leave for the NBA and who will replace them next season in Lexington?

As for the final poll, after Kentucky, the rest of the top-10 were Kansas, Ohio State, Louisville, Syracuse, North Carolina, Michigan State, Baylor, Florida, and Marquette.

Other than Kentucky's dominance, three other story lines emerged out of this past season:

1. The Big East is still dominant, getting nine teams into the tournament, one to the Final Four (Louisville) for the third straight season and another to the Elite Eight (Syracuse).

2. Kentucky's one-and-done model worked, but its sustainability will still be questioned. John Calipari likes to defend his philosophy but eventually his team is going to tank — and considering this was his first national title, he's still not in the same league as others with multiple championships.

3. The top seeds still dominate. If you look at the past 28 national champs, 16 were captured by No. 1 seeds and, of the remaining 12 teams, only three defeated No. 1 seeds to win the title (not including when No. 1 seeds faced each other). Only two were not a top-four seed and no team outside a BCS conference has won a title since the 1990 UNLV Runnin' Rebels.

Moving forward, every team is affected by players leaving, and that's especially true of the Elite Eight. The main recruiting season is done but there are a few top players who haven't committed yet: ESPN's No. 1 recruit Nerlens Noel, who has narrowed his choices down to Syracuse, Kentucky and Georgetown; ESPN's No. 2 recruit Shabazz Muhammad, who has a longer list of UCLA, USC, Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and UNLV; and ESPN's No. 7 recruit Anthony Bennett, whose choices are Florida, Kentucky, Washington, Oregon and UNLV.

So far, ESPN's top-15 recruiting classes are Arizona, Texas, Baylor, North Carolina, Michigan State, N.C. State, Providence, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Xavier, and Syracuse — but that certainly can be changed by any of the players listed above.

With all of that, here's the really early top-25 by ESPN's Andy Katz:

1. Indiana
2. Louisville
3. Kansas
4. Kentucky
5. Ohio State
6. N.C. State
7. Michigan State
8. Michigan
9. Florida
10. Baylor
11. North Carolina
12. Arizona
13. Memphis
14. Syracuse
15. Duke
16. Texas
17. Notre Dame
18. Creighton
19. Gonzaga
20. Kansas State
21. Wisconsin
22. VCU
23. San Diego State
24. Tennessee
25. Missouri

As you can see, teams ranked 2-5 comprised this year's Final Four and four more in the top-15 made it to the Elite Eight. Other changes for next season include Missouri's move to the SEC as well as West Virginia's and TCU's exit to the Big 12. Bigger changes are in store for 2013-14, but we're not even close to discussing that yet.

Enjoy your summer and check back here for occasional updates.

National Championship Preview: Kentucky vs. Kansas

April 1, 2012 in Final Four, Preview, Recaps

The University of Kentucky has been able to defend its No. 1 overall seed against different styles, different sizes, and different opponents. Last night against Louisville, they were a bit flustered by the Cardinals' match-up zone, but prevailed because of superior size and skill — despite being out-rebounded, 37-32. Kansas, meanwhile, seemingly came out of nowhere early in the season, gained momentum throughout the campaign and has put an exclamation point on its tournament performance by defeating the University of North Carolina and the Ohio State University in the Midwest Regional Final and national semifinal, respectively, to reach the opportunity to square off with Kentucky for the national title tomorrow night just after 9 p.m.

The Wildcats and Jayhawks, the two winningest programs in the history of college basketball, have only met twice in the tournament since 1985– an 88-76 Kansas win in the 2007 second round and a 92-88 Kentucky win, also in the 1999 second round. Kentucky leads the all-time series, 20-6, including a 75-65 win on Nov. 15. Their season-long averages are quite similar: Kansas averaged 73.9 points per game and allowed 61.6, while Kentucky scored 77.6 points per game and allowed 60.6.

Kansas has the offensive pedigree and defensive ability to match Kentucky like no other opponent has this tournament — or this season, for that matter. Louisville may has provided a blueprint for Kansas to beat the Wildcats, especially if the Jayhawks' triangle-and-two zone can reek havoc and if Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ends up in foul trouble, which he did against the Cardinals.

Self, who today was named the Naismith Men's College Basketball Coach of the Year, can unleash a big man (Thomas Robinson) that can give the Wildcats' all-world freshman Anthony Davis the most difficult night of his career. Robinson, after all, scored 19 points in his battle with Ohio State's Jared Sullinger last night. It's very possible that Davis, Robinson and Sullinger will be in the NBA next season along with a several others playing in the title tilt.

Like many other opponents of Kentucky this season, Kansas must execute perfectly and convert on a large number of their shots. They made 44.6 percent of their shots against Ohio State, but were down 34-25 at halftime. Overcoming a similar halftime deficit against Kentucky might not be as feasible. They out-rebounded Ohio State, 41-30, something they must repeat against Kentucky.

Kentucky, meanwhile, just needs to keep doing what it's been doing all season. They simply have overcome every challenge and swatted away every opponent. Yes, they lost to Indiana in December and Vanderbilt two weeks ago (in the SEC tournament final played across the street from the Superdome), but it seems that the magic has never left the Wildcats' paws. Kansas may provide the most valiant challenge to Kentucky's ascension to basketball immortality, but in the end, it appears the Wildcats will capture its first championship since 1998 and John Calipari his first title.

Final predicted score: Kentucky 75, Kansas 71.

Final Four Preview: Ohio State vs. Kansas

March 29, 2012 in Final Four, Preview

Who/When: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Kansas, Saturday, 8:49 p.m. (CBS)

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

Announcers: Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg

How They Got Here: Ohio State defeated No. 15 Loyola (Md.), 78-59, No. 7 Gonzaga, 73-66, No. 6 Cincinnati, 81-66, and No. 1 Syracuse, 77-70; Kansas defeated No. 15 Detroit, 65-50, No. 10 Purdue, 63-60, No. 11 N.C. State, 60-57, and No. 1 North Carolina, 80-67.

Coaches: Thad Matta (323–95 overall, 221–64 in eight seasons at OSU); Bill Self (475–157 overall, 268–52 in nine seasons at Kansas)

Ohio State in the Final Four:
Overall: 11th appearance (including 1999, when it was vacated)
Last Appearance: 2007, lost to Florida, 84-75, in national title game
Last Championship: 1960, defeated California, 75-55
Number of Titles: 1 (1960)

Kansas in the Final Four:
Overall: 14th appearance
Last Appearance: 2008, defeated Memphis, 75-68, to win national championship
Last Title: 2008, defeated Memphis, 75-68
Number of Titles: 3 (1952, 1988, 2008)

Ohio State’s View: Everything revolves around Jared Sullinger, who missed the Buckeyes' 78-67 loss at Kansas on Dec. 10. In the East Regional Final against Syracuse, Sullinger only played six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble but played the entire second half, finishing with 19 points and seven rebounds. Syracuse didn't have an answer for Sullinger and that ultimately led to their demise. The other big factor in that game, and one that has aided the Buckeyes through the tournament, is defense. They allowed just 59.7 points per game this season, and that tenacity in defending their basketball stretches throughout the entire roster. Guard Aaron Craft only had one steal against Syracuse, but made life miserable for Scoop Jardine all game, which took Syracuse out of its entire offensive rhythm. The other starters — Lenzelle Smith, Jr., William Buford, and Deshaun Thomas — are really good on both ends of the floor. But the team operates much better when Sullinger is playing — and he needs to play more than 26 minutes against Kansas if they're going to return to the national title game.

Kansas’ View: The Jayhawks can play their share of defense too, and they've also got a big man — Thomas Robinson — who makes everything better. Robinson had 18 points and nine rebounds against North Carolina in the regional final, while guard Tyshawn Taylor had 22 points, six rebounds and five assists. But the main reason they defeated the Tar Heels was defense, specifically Self's triangle-and-two scheme that held UNC to seven of 31 shooting after halftime and no baskets over the last 5:46 of regulation. That's the key for the Jayhawks against the Buckeyes too. Ohio State does not boast the same offensive gifts as the Tar Heels, but their defense is much better than North Carolina's system.

Quotable: "Past teams, we just had so many weapons that could score from so many different spots. If we weren't all the way in tune defensively, we could cover that up by making some shots. And we knew at the beginning of the year that it wouldn't be the same." – Tyshawn Taylor

What I Expect: This game could get ugly quickly, but not in the traditional sense of the phrase. It'll be a defensive struggle and a big-time battle between Sullinger and Robinson in the paint. Craft could frustrate Taylor quickly, which will give a pretty big advantage to the Buckeyes. OSU's balance and depth, as well as Sullinger's amazing gifts, will prevail — possibly in overtime.

Prediction: OSU advances to face Kentucky in the national championship game.

Final Four Preview: Kentucky vs. Louisville

March 28, 2012 in Final Four, Preview

Who/When: No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 4 Louisville Cardinals, Saturday, 6:09 p.m. (CBS)

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

Announcers: Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg

How They Got Here: Kentucky beat No. 16 Western Kentucky, 81-66, No. 8 Iowa State, 87-71, No. 4 Indiana, 102-90, and No. 3 Baylor, 82-70; Louisville defeated No. 13 Davidson, 69-62, No. 5 New Mexico, 59-56, No. 1 Michigan State, 57-44, and No. 7 Florida, 72-68.

Coaches: John Calipari (503–152 overall, 100-14 in three seasons at Kentucky); Rick Pitino (616–227 overall, 262–99 in 11 seasons at Louisville)

Kentucky in the Final Four:
Overall: 15th appearance
Last Appearance: 2011, lost to UConn., 56-55, in national semifinals
Last Championship: 1998, defeated Utah, 78–69
Number of Titles: 7 (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998)

Louisville in the Final Four:
Overall: 9th appearance
Last Appearance: 2005, lost to Illinois, 72-57, in national semifinals
Last Title: 1986, defeated Duke, 72-69
Number of Titles: 2 (1980, 1986)

Kentucky's View: The Wildcats cruised pretty easily through the first four games of the tournament, paced by their killer combination of Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — who could match many NBA rosters in terms of talent. They've got a great offense and defense, are playing with poise and composure (considering there are only four juniors and seniors on the entire roster and none in the starting line-up). The team simply has been better than every opponent this season. But it has lost two games — and that's the rub on a single-elimination tournament. They might be the best team every time they play, but a Final Four is so much more than just what happens on the court. It's the battle of the coaches, the friends and family in the stands and, in this case, the animosity between two schools they occupy the same state and have two crazy-mad fan bases. There's no doubting that UK has everything it takes to win the title, but there are many other factors it must battle — including the fact that it lost the last time it entered New Orleans as the overwhelming favorite: that came in the SEC tournament title game to Vanderbilt, 71-64.

Louisville's View: If the Cardinals are going to beat the Wildcats, a few things need to happen. One, their defense must play the best game it has played all season. Louisville held Michigan State to 28.6 percent shooting and just 18 first-half points while Draymond Green scored just 13 points. Kentucky's Anthony Davis is better than Green and the Wildcats have a more potent and balanced scoring attack than the Spartans. But the Cardinals have a mix of tricks that can totally confuse the Wildcats and Pitino is doing his best Bill Belichick impression when it comes to defensive wizardry. The biggest test, believe it or not, for Louisville is going to come on offense, as the Cardinals are not a scoring machine and the Wildcats have a very good defense.

Quotable: "There will be people at Kentucky that will have a nervous breakdown if they lose to us. You've got to watch. They've got to put the fences up on bridges. There will be people consumed by Louisville." – Rick Pitino after capturing the West Regional Final

What I Expect: This game will come down to the battle when Kentucky has the ball. If the Cardinals can slow down the Wildcats, which I think is feasible, then it'll be lower scoring and slower in tempo. But Louisville just doesn't have enough weapons to completely shut down Kentucky the way it did to Michigan State. They were fortunate to vanquish Florida — and Kentucky is much better than the Gators.

Prediction: Kentucky returns to the national championship game.

South Regional Final Preview

March 25, 2012 in Preview

Who/When: No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 3 Baylor Bears, 2:20 p.m. (CBS)

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Announcers: Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg

How They Got Here: Kentucky beat No. 16 Western Kentucky, 81-66, No. 8 Iowa State, 87-71, and No. 4 Indiana, 102-90; Baylor beat No. 14 South Dakota State, 68-60, No. 11 Colorado, 80-63, and No. 10 Xavier, 75-70.

Coaches: John Calipari (Kentucky) and Scott Drew (Baylor)

History: UK is 5-7 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached 14 Final Fours overall (1942, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1966, 1975, 1978, 1984, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2011); Baylor is 0-1 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached two Final Fours overall (1948 and 1950).

Why Kentucky Will Win: It takes a special team to beat Kentucky and it seems that Baylor isn't it. The Wildcats have a very good — if not great — offense and defense and are on a roll right now, putting up an NBA-esque 102 points against Indiana Friday night. That being said, they still need to execute well and stay on their game plan. Baylor did not win the Big 12 tournament title on a fluke and will overcome the Wildcats if UK doesn't stick to what got them here: a talented roster centering around Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Davis can dominate the center and is hard to contain one-on-one.

Why Baylor Will Win: Coach Scott Drew's got magic, having led the Bears to the Elite Eight in two of the last three years. They've got Perry Jones III, Pierre Jackson, Quincy Acy, and Quincy Miller playing extremely well and certainly can take advantage should Kentucky make mistakes. And that's the key to beating the Wildcats: get their stars in foul trouble and out of their comfort zone. Baylor also can take a page from Syracuse, who got two quick fouls on Jared Sullinger and got him on the bench before the game was even seven minutes old. If the Bears can got at Davis and get to the paint, then they've got a chance to win. If they settle for jumpers, they'll fall into Kentucky's hands and it could be another long day for a Wildcats opponent.

What I Expect: Kentucky is the better team here and Baylor doesn't have the defensive prowess to slow down the best team in the country. The two teams to beat Kentucky this year, Indiana and Vanderbilt, held Kentucky to 72 and 64 points, respectively, and I don't see Baylor doing that.

Prediction: The Wildcats move onto the Final Four, where the real fun will begin.

Midwest Regional Final Preview

March 25, 2012 in Preview

Who/When: No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks, 5:05 p.m. (CBS)

Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis

Announcers: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr

How They Got Here: UNC defeated No. 16 Vermont, 77-58, No. 8 Creighton, 87-73, and No. 13 Ohio 73-65 (OT); Kansas defeated No. 15 Detroit, 65-50, No. 10 Purdue, 63-60, and No. 11 N.C. State, 60-57.

Coaches: Bill Self (Kansas) and Roy Williams (UNC)

History: UNC is 9-5 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached 18 Final Fours overall (1946, 1957, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1972, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2008, 2009); Kansas is 7-4 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached 13 Final Fours overall (1940, 1952, 1953, 1957, 1971, 1974, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1993, 2002, 2003, 2008).

Why North Carolina Will Win: The Tar Heels, probably for the first time this tournament, will be meeting a team that can match its talent. Without Kendall Marshall on Friday, UNC went to overtime with a game Ohio Bobcats squad, but ultimately hit shots when it mattered to gut out a victory. If Marshall can play today, they'll have the player that can keep them in an offensive flow and make everything more efficient. Without Marshall, they looked out-of-sorts and inconsistent. With Marshall, even not at 100 percent, they can make things move more smoothly. With that being said, they also will face more defensive resistance and size from the Jayhawks than they did from the Bobcats. The plan for the Tar Heels, though, remains the same: play solid defense and score, score, score. The other fact they have to overcome is emotion: Roy Williams hates facing Kansas, where he coached for 15 seasons and won 418 games (but no titles). With UNC, he's won 257 games in nine seasons, with one NCAA title (in 2009), but he'll always have a huge place in his heart for the Jayhawks — whom he has faced only once before in the NCAA tournament: the 2008 Final Four (an 84-66 win by Kansas).

Why Kansas Will Win: Without Marshall, the Jayhawks can take advantage of a team that isn't as good as it was during the season. That being said, the Jayhawks must shoot better than the 37.5 percent they shot against N.C. State on Friday night. On average, Kansas doesn't score as well as UNC (74 points per game compared to the Heels' 81.7), but they defend much better (61.4 points allowed compared to 66.7). Those 5.3 points might not seem like much, but it's the difference between a defense ranked 37th in the country and one ranked 145th. Kansas needs to play one of its best games of the year to beat UNC. The gap isn't huge, and it's one they can overcome, but the Jayhawks can't beat itself in a game of this magnitude. Guard play is key, especially with Marshall not as his best. If they can slow down the offense Carolina still has, and generate some of their own, then they'll have a great shot to get back to the Final Four.

What I Expect: Kansas and UNC will go toe-to-toe, but in the end, the Heels have too much talent, and too much balance — even with Marshall hobbled — to lose this game. Williams remembers that loss to Kansas and doesn't want to repeat it. In overtime on Friday, the Heels looked much better, led by Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller. Those guys should be huge again today and give their coach a huge victory.

Prediction: UNC edges the Jayhawks to return to New Orleans, site of its last title.

East Regional Final Preview

March 23, 2012 in Preview

Who/When: No. 1 Syracuse Orange vs. No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes, Saturday, 7 p.m. (CBS)

Where: TD Garden, Boston

Announcers: Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery

How They Got Here: SU defeated No. 16 UNC-Asheville, 72-65, No. 8 Kansas State, 75-59, and No. 4 Wisconsin, 64-63; OSU defeated No. 15 Loyola (Md.), 78-59, No. 7 Gonzaga, 73-66, and No. 6 Cincinnati, 81-66.

Coaches: Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) and Thad Matta (OSU)

History: Syracuse is 3-1 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached the Final Four four times overall (1975, 1987, 1996, 2003); Ohio State is 2-1 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached the Final Four 10 times overall (1939, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1968, 1999, 2007) — the 1999 berth was vacated, however.

Why Syracuse Will Win: Last night, Syracuse shot 55.1 percent from the field and scored 64 points against the top defense in the country (in terms of points allowed per game) and seemed to be able to score at will throughout the game, especially in the paint. The Orange, meanwhile, shut down the Badgers' inside game but gave up 14 three-point shots (51.9 percent), which is abnormally high number for any team. In other words, Wisconsin was pretty much perfect on offense. The Buckeyes, however, do not have as good an defense as the Badgers (allowing about seven points more per game), but a much better offense that is similar in average to the Orange's (74.8 points per game for OSU and 74.5 for Syracuse). The Orange is playing some of their best basketball of the season and is deep, and they also have perhaps the deadliest fast break in the country. They can solve the Buckeyes and force them to shoot three pointers, which is not their specialty. Their zone adjusts not only between games, but during games — and teams that are not used to playing against it can be confused easily and/or start taking bad shots.

Why Ohio State Will Win: The Buckeyes have the two elements that typically beat Syracuse: a great inside game that can find gaps in the zone (usually around the free-throw line) and a good enough outside game that can stretch the zone to cover more space. But, with that being said, the Buckeyes will need to replicate their shooting performance from last night (48.2 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from three-point range). Even with that, though, they were 8-17 from three-point range and must resist the urge to shoot too many from beyond the arc. Syracuse does not have a match for Jared Sullinger and he can easily take over the game and force the Orange to play out of its comfort zone on both ends of the court. The Buckeyes are a disciplined team that can avoid getting into foul trouble, which is essential when playing Syracuse — and something Wisconsin didn't do.

What I Expect: Syracuse has a belief in itself, and a way to win any game, that hasn't been present since the 2003 season when they won the NCAA title. They're deep (six players topped 19 minutes against Wisconsin and four hit double-digit points). In other words, defenses can't focus on one person because somebody else is liable to beat you. Their offense has come alive in the last two games and, against the Badgers, were scoring on nearly every possession. The game tomorrow night will be played at a much quicker pace than the game against Wisconsin, and that will help Syracuse's offensive rhythm even more. Sullinger should be able to have a monster game against the Orange, but the Buckeyes don't have the long-distance shooting pedigree of Wisconsin and that ultimately will be their downfall.

Prediction: Syracuse will advance in another nail-biter.

West Regional Final Preview

March 23, 2012 in Preview

Who/When: No. 4 Louisville Cardinals vs. No. 7 Florida Gators, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. (CBS)

Where: USAirways Center, Phoenix

Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller

How They Got Here: Louisville defeated No. 13 Davidson, 69-62, No. 5 New Mexico, 59-56, and No. 1 Michigan State, 57-44; Florida defeated No. 10 Virginia, 71-45, No. 15 Norfolk State, 84-50, and No. 3 Marquette, 68-58.

Coaches: Rick Pitino (Louisville) and Billy Donovan (Florida)

History: Louisville is 2-3 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached the Final Four eight times overall (1959, 1972, 1975, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1986, 2005); Florida is 4-1 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached the Final Four four times (1994, 2000, 2006, 2007)

Why Louisville Will Win: Their defense totally shut down Michigan State and held Draymond Green to 13 points and Brandon Wood to 14. Overall, the Spartans shot just 28.6 percent from the field and looked uncomfortable the entire night. The Cardinals shot 38.2 percent from the field but managed to turn on their offense in the second half to put away the Big 10 tournament champions. They have the kind of defense that can shut down any team any night and Florida is no exception. The Cardinals' huge bonus against Michigan State was center Gorgui Dieng, who played the entire 40 minutes, blocked seven shots, grabbed nine rebounds and made the first three-pointer of his career. Meanwhile, Chane Behanan had 15 points and Russ Smith had 11. The Cardinals' defense has been relentless all season and can befuddle the Gators easily.

Why Florida Will Win: Their offense. Against Marquette, hardly a defensive pushover, the Gators shot 40 percent from the field and held the Golden Eagles to 30 percent shooting. Marquette has a better offense than Louisville, so Florida can duplicate the effort against Louisville. Bradley Beal had 21 points last night, and can produce the kind of guard play that Michigan State didn't produce last night. The Gators can make Louisville's defense look out of sorts and not make the same mistakes that the Spartans continued to produce.

What I Expect: This is the classic battle of two hot teams who specialize in opposite sides of the ball. The Gators' offense will not do as well against Louisville's defense as they did against Marquette's, but then again, the Cardinals will not be as effective against the Gators as they were against the Spartans. The game should come down to the end, and the Cardinals are not always in position to win these kind of games against superior opponents. Florida is, and that'll be the difference.

Prediction: Gators return to the Final Four.

Midwest Region Sweet 16 Preview

March 22, 2012 in Preview

Who/When: No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. No. 13 Ohio Bobcats, 7:47 p.m. (TBS); No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks No. 11 N.C. State Wolfpack, 10:17 p.m. (TBS)

Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis

Announcers: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr

How They Got Here: UNC defeated Vermont, 77-58, and Creighton, 87-73; Ohio defeated Michigan, 65-60, and University of South Florida, 62-56; Kansas defeated Detroit, 65-50, and Purdue, 63-60; N.C. State defeated San Deigo State, 79-65, and Georgetown, 66-63.

Coaches: Bill Self (Kansas), Mark Gottfried (N.C. State), Roy Williams (UNC), John Groce (Ohio U.)

Team Leaders:

Category UNC Ohio N.C. State Kansas
Points Harrison Barnes (17.3) D.J. Cooper (14.9) C.J. Leslie (14.6) Thomas Robinson (17.7)
Rebounds John Henson (10.1) Ivo Baltic (5.0) Richard Howell (9.1) Thomas Robinson (11.8)
Assists Kendall Marshall (9.8) D.J. Cooper (5.7) Lorenzo Brown (6.4) Tyshawn Taylor (4.7)

What To Expect: The big factor for UNC is the status of Kendall Marshall’s fractured right wrist. If he can play against Ohio, which as of this second doesn’t look likely, then the team might be able to keep up their dominance. Quite frankly, the team shouldn’t have a problem beating Ohio but Marshall’s availability for the regional final is another matter. Heading into the tournament, the Tar Heels were viewed as one of the biggest threats to Kentucky’s so-called dominance, and they nearly beat the Wildcats during an epic game on Dec. 3 in Lexington. The Heels ranked second in the nation, averaging 82 points per game, but allowed 66.8 points per game – an unimpressive 144th. (Ohio averaged 70.3 points per game, but did better on the defensive end by allowing 62.2 PPG.)

The other game is a far different story. Many have argued that N.C. State is under-seeded and they certainly impressed by beating two high-seeded teams in their first two games. Their stats are similar to that of the Tar Heels: pretty good offense (73.3 points per game) and pedestrian defense (67.8 PPG). Kansas, meanwhile, averages slightly more points than the Wolfpack (74.4), but their defense is far superior (61.5). Kansas is balanced and playing really well right now, but they sometimes can shoot themselves in the foot. For example, in the Big 12 title game against Baylor, the Jayhawks shot 42.6 percent from the field, but just 15.4 percent (2-13) from three-point range. Kansas shot 48.5 percent from the field on the season. Kansas teams typically lose in the tournament because they get frustrated and go out of their comfort zone. (You can say that about any team, really.) N.C. State needs to play some of their best defense of the season in order to advance.

Home Court Advantage: Kansas gets the nod on this one, despite being the No. 2 seed. Their campus is about 300 miles from St. Louis and Athens, Ohio, where the Bobcats are based, is about 500. The two teams from North Carolina will be traveling about 800 miles. That being said, the Tar Heels usually travel well, so a potential regional final between Kansas and UNC will have plenty of blue – albeit in two very different shades.

Predictions: It appears North Carolina and Kansas will meet in the regional final. Both teams are too good and should outclass their opponents. Of the lower seeds, N.C. State has the better chance to win, unless UNC is a total mess if Marshall can’t play. But, when it’s all said and done, it should be the Tar Heels and the Jayhawks playing for the right to advance to the Final Four.