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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Let the Games Begin!

Regional Breakdown
I took it upon myself to break down all four regions in the NCAA tournament, updating and adjusting after every round. So, these aren't really my picks, as much as they are how things shape up right off the bat and right before the start of each round. With the completion of each round I will give a summary of what each game meant, where more possible upsets could lie, or maybe which team is really clicking. My goal is to provide you with information that will help you when filling out your bracket, not fill it out for you (unless of course we have a prior monetary agreement). So keep checking here after every round for more stats, updates and predictions on the March Madness that is the NCAA Tournament...

Atlanta

Favorites
(1) Duke - The Blue Devils have been on on near the top all season, and despite some talk of tiring, they again took the ACC Tournament title. So Duke remains the regional favorite barring them losing or some major injury to either JJ Redick or Shelden Williams.

(2) Texas - Texas has a tendency to lose big when they do, but also has shown a tenacity that could land them in the Final Four. With beasts like Aldridge and Tucker, and solid, tough guard play from Daniel Gibson, the Longhorns could be looking at a double dip in National Championships if they catch a couple breaks.

1st Rd
Sleeper Watch
(11)Southern Illinois/(6)West Virginia - These two squads matchup in the first round in a dangerous game. Whichever team comes out on top has a good chance of making a nice run in the tourney. Both teams rely heavily on creating turnovers, but don't make many, so something has to give. If West Virginia can start making 3's like in last years tourney, they could be a very tough out yet again.

Major Upset Watch
(10)NC State over (7) California - A classic 7/10 battle of two lower level major conference teams. While a 10 beating a 7 is never an upset, I didn't really see many other higher seeds getting a first round win out of this region. NC State has tourney experience, while California has Leon Powe, one of the most dangerous players a lot of people in the country haven't seen.

Washington DC

Favorites
(1) UCONN - Still the most talented all-around team in the country. Whether its Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams, Josh Boone, Rashad Anderson, Denham Brown or Hilton Armstrong, at least one of the Huskies is gonna get ya. The only team that can beat them is themselves. If they come into the tourney with the right mindset its theirs for the taking.

(3) UNC - Might be just a little young to make a strong push this year, but nonetheless their tough defense and enthusiasm will keep them in every game and give them an opportunity to win it at the end.

1st Rd
Sleeper Watch
(5) Washington - 3-point shooting teams with at least one star guard always have a good shot in the Big Dance. Brandon Roy is a dangerous scorer, but their role players will need to consistent to get by both Utah St. and a possible matchup with Illinois.

(6) Michigan St. - There is no reason this team shouldn't make a run. But there wasn't much reason for them to have such a poor regular season either.

Major Upset Watch
(14) Murray St. over (3) UNC - File this one under "stranger things have happened". A red hot conference team usually takes a dive in the first round, and who better than the young guns from Chapel Hill?

(13) Air Force over (4) Illinois - Again, no real reasoning here. But a team that people usually think should be in the NIT (Air Force), often comes out with at least one big tourney win, so beware.

(12) Utah St. over (5) Washington - Team shoots 41% from 3 and is relentless on defense. Narrowly lost to Nevada on the road in the WAC tourney, and has two very capable scorers in Nate Harris and Jaycee Carroll who average more than 15 per game each.

Oakland

Favorites
(1) Memphis - I almost didn't put the Tigers here, but seeing as they are a 1 seed I'll give them a little credit. Memphis fell out of favor when they played a few months in a weak Conference USA. If they can prove they are the same team from the beginning of the year, when they went toe-to-toe with Duke, then they could bust a lot of brackets.

(2) UCLA - The Bruins have played well of late, and have the right backcourt to produce some March magic. Throw tournament savvy couch Ben Howland into the mix, and a possible date in Oakland, and things may be shaping up well for UCLA.

(4) Kansas - Ever since Bill Self made a change in his backcourt, these young Jayhawks have been not only the class of the Big 12, but one of the fastest maturing teams in the nation. These kids don't know their not supposed to win, and that attitude could carry them all the way to the Final Four.

1st Rd
Sleeper Watch
(7) Marquette - One of the best freshmen in the country in Dominic James, and one of the best pure shooters in Steve Novak. Looks like they may have hit the wall at the end of the Big East season, but maybe some new competition will spark the Golden Eagles to a run.

(8) Arkansas/(9) Bucknell - Another star player you might not have heard of in Ronnie Brewer of Arkansas, and a mid-major in Bucknell that beat Syracuse at the Carrier Dome this year, won their conference tourney and regular season, and has a NCAA win just one year ago against Kansas. Winner of this game should make for a handful in the 2nd round for Memphis.

Major Upset Watch
(14) Xavier over (3) Gonzaga - Worried that the Zags haven't played anyone decent in a few months? Well its not like the Musketeers won a strong conference or played well this year, but they have some tourney vets on their team. Plus, the last two years the favored Zags haven't made it out of the second round (Nevada, Texas Tech).

(10) Alabama over (7) Marquette - Again, if Marquette can't find a spark, they could have a really short tourney run. But if you want to believe the SEC is having a down year, then don't sweat the Tide in this one.

Minneapolis

Favorites
(1) Villanova - Of course everyone wants to know how Allen Ray will play after his eye injury. If he can bounce back, the Cats could roll into the Final Four. If he comes back at a fraction of what he was, Foye and the boys may only have enough juice for a Sweet 16 run.

(3) Florida - Impressive play by youngsters like Noah, Greene and Horford brought this team the SEC tourney title. If they can avoid the classic Florida flop, they are poised to make a deep run that could take them all the way to Indy.

(4) Boston College - Strong run to the ACC title game makes a case for the Eagles. Two superstars in Craig Smith and Jared Dudley, as well as a tough defensive mindset and a good supporting cast make them a tough out for anyone in this region.

1st Rd
Sleeper Watch
(11) UW Milwaukee - I don't even get how they can be a sleeper with the success they had last year making the Sweet 16. Beast Jonah Tucker, to go with senior wingmen Adrian Tigert and Boo Davis, make for an impressive collection of versatile players with tourney experience. Only worry is their recent struggle, with losses to both Missouri St. and Illinois-Chicago.

(7) Georgetown - Fresh off a Big East semifinal loss to the 'Cuse, John Thompson III has a big, experienced team that has played at a top level all season long. After being ranked in the top 25 all year, they somehow ended up a 7 seed, so look for them to play above their heads. Look out Ohio St. in round 2.

Major Upset Watch
(11) UW Milwaukee over (6) Oklahoma - See above. I love Kelvin Sampson and his Sooners, but this is as tough as first round games get.

(10) Northern Iowa over (7) Georgetown - A lot of talk about Northern Iowa and the Missouri Valley in general. If they could pull off this upset it would make a good case for the MVC to make the move to Major Conference status.

(15) Winthrop over (2) Tennessee - It's been 5 years since (15) Hampton beat (2) Iowa St., and while this Tennessee team has had its moments this year, they are one of the weakest 2 seeds in tournament history.

Major Snubs?
Cincinnati Bearcats - So you're tryin' to tell me if Gerry McNamara's shot doesn't go in, this team makes the field of 65? You're gonna need to do better than that. But its that simple. The Cats win that game and they are in. And don't tell me the selection committee doesn't look at how many bids a conference is getting. They knew the Cats would make 9 for the Big East, so they got left out. Pretty pathetic if u ask me. Especially for a team that went .500 in the nations toughest, got 18 wins, was 40 in the RPI and played the nations 7th toughest schedule. Doesn't add up.

Missouri St. Bears - Highest RPI team to not be invited as an at-large candidate in the history of the NCAA tourney at 20. Finished with 20 wins in a top 10 conference, had a strength of schedule of 35 and boasted an adequate 4-8 record against RPI top 50 teams, and a perfect 13-0 vs RPI 50+. Again, did the committee fear taking too many teams from the MVC? Maybe, and if they did they are helping to kill the one way smaller conferences have to compete with the big boys come selection Sunday, smart scheduling. They played in a tough league, scheduled well, and still got the shaft. Maybe next year they will just go out and win their conference tourney, might be the only way they could get in.

Who Shouldn't Have Made the Field?
(13) Air Force Falcons - Lost in the quarterfinals of MWC tourney, RPI of 51 and an SOS of 173. I don't even see their argument to get in, let alone trying to figure out how they ended up as a 13 seed. 17-3 against RPI 100+ this year, and major wins are Georgia Tech and Miami way back in December. Didn't even finish as MWC regular season champ. But San Diego St, who won both the tourney and the regular season crown, is only an 11 seed. Something doesn't add up here, and the Falcons should be in the NIT.

(12) Texas A&M Aggies - A&M basically got in based on their win against Texas 2 weeks ago. A down year in the Big 12, combined with their 200+ non conference strength of schedule and 1-5 record against top 50 RPI teams should have been enough to keep them on the outside looking in

What Were They Thinking??
(2) Tennessee - Huh? Did the committee make their brackets a month or so ago or what? I like Bruce Pearl as much as the next guy, but no team in the midst of a 6-4 stretch in the 4th or 5th best conference in the country deserves to be a 2 seed unless they somehow took their conference tourney title, which the Vols didn't come close to doing.

(4) Boston College - Little respect for the ACC new kid on the block. Took Duke to the wire twice on their way to 20+ wins and what do they get? A likely matchup with Nevada in Salt Lake City in round 2.

(5) Syracuse - From the outhouse to the penthouse. I commend the run by the Orange, but I don't see one week of play, no matter the competition, taking a team from the bubble to the top 20.

(8) George Washington - 26-2 record, even in a down year for the A-10. Granted Pops may be hurting a little bit, but show a little respect for a top 10 team with only 2 losses and a top 40 RPI. I could see a 5/6 seed, but 8 is really absurd.

(11) Southern Illinois - All this talk about the Missouri Valley, and one of their powers gets shafted like this? Wichita St. took the regular season crown, but Southern Illinois finished in a tie for 2nd, while winning the conference tourney. All this while virtually having the same RPI and SOS as the Shockers. So Wichita St. is a 7 but the Salukis are an 11? Hmmmmm.....

My 05-06 NCAA Awards
All American Team
*JJ Redick Duke (27.8 ppg 2.0 reb 2.7 asst 42% 3-pt)
Adam Morrison Gonzaga (28.4 ppg 5.5 reb 1.7 asst 44% 3-pt)
Brandon Roy Washington (19.6 ppg 5.8 reb 4.1 asst 39% 3-pt)
Shelden Williams Duke (18.8 ppg 10.4 reb 3.7 blk 1.2 asst)
Randy Foye Villanova (20.2 ppg 5.4 reb 3.2 asst 38% 3-pt)

*player of the year

2nd Team
Rodney Carney Memphis (17.8 ppg 4.3 reb 1.3 asst 40% 3-pt)
Tyler Hansbrough UNC (19.0 ppg 7.6 reb 1.2 asst 58% FG)
Leon Powe Cailfornia (20.0 ppg 9.9 reb 1.5 asst 72% FT)
Mardy Collins Temple (17.1 ppg 4.6 reb 3.8 asst 2.7 stls)
PJ Tucker Texas (16.2 ppg 9.2 reb 2.7 asst 1.8 stl)

3rd Team
Rudy Gay UCONN (15.3 ppg 6.7 reb 2.2 asst 1.9 blk)
Aaron Afflalo UCLA (16.6 ppg 4.3 reb 2.0 asst 37% 3-pt)
Craig Smith BC ( (17.3 ppg 8.9 reb 2.8 asst 61% FG)
Nick Fazekas Nevada (21.8 ppg 10.3 reb 2.1 asst 1.4 blk)
Glen Davis LSU (18.7 ppg 10.0 reb 1.5 asst 52% FG)

Honorable Mention: Kevin Pittsnogle WVU, Maurice Ager Michigan St., Terence Dials Ohio St., Marco Killingsworth Indiana, LaMarcus Aldridge Texas, Jared Dudley BC

All Freshmen Team
Tyler Hansbrough UNC (19.0 ppg 7.6 reb 1.2 asst 58% FG)
Tyrus Thomas LSU (12.7 ppg 9.3 reb 1.4 asst 60% FG)
Marcus Williams Arizona (12.4 ppg 4.4 reb 1.9 asst 44% 3-pt)
Brandon Rush Kansas (13.6 ppg 5.9 reb 2.0 asst 50% 3-pt)
Dominic James Marquette (15.3 ppg 4.6 reb 5.4 asst 1.6 stls)

Honorable Mention: Shawne Williams Memphis, Greg Paulus Duke, Trent Plaisted BYU, Jon Brockman Washington, Rodney Stuckey Eastern Washington

Coach of the Year
Roy Williams UNC - Let's see. Roy lost his top 7 scorers from last year's national championship team, and has still managed to put a top 25 team on the floor night in and night out. Granted UNC gets a lot of talented recruits on name alone, but to mix talented freshmen with veteran role players and get results in a major conference is still impressive. Looks like Roy's career is only getting better with age.

Honorable Mention: Bruce Pearl Tennessee, Al Skinner BC, Thad Motta Ohio St.

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