Thursday, March 25, 2010
NCAA Tourney: Friday Night Previews
A trio of guard -forward hybrids - Bobby Maze, J.P. Prince and Scotty Hopson - will be counted upon to do most of the scoring and rebounding, providing some balance, but no dominating inside presence. That's the Tennessee make-up, and they've done well with it thus far.
Ohio State features a similar squad of players between 6'3" and 6'8", led by budding superstar Evan Turner, who is a triple-double threat every time he steps onto a court. The NCAA Player of the Year, Turner average 20 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6 assists through the season and had a huge game (24, 9, 9) in the second round, 75-66, win over Georgia Tech after virtually walking through the opening win past UC Santa Barbara, 68-51, with 9 points.
The Buckeyes are dangerous on the perimeter with sharp-shooters Jon Diebler, David Lighty and William Buford, and led by upper-classmen. 12 of the 16 players on their roster are either seniors or juniors and there are no freshman. Rounding out the starting five - each of whom will play almost the entire game - is the potential game-changer, 260-pound Dallas Lauderdale, who provides heft inside. Tennessee does not have a player that can match up with him well, nor do they have anyone with Turner's all-around ability. The Vols tenacity and team play should keep this one interesting.
10 St. Mary's Gaels (28-5) vs. 3 Baylor Bears (27-7), 7:27 pm EDT - To many, it's no surprise that either of these teams have advanced this far as Baylor was near the top of the Big 12 standings and ranked all season long and the Gaels knocked off Gonzaga in the WCC tourney final to receive the automatic bid. One could make the case that, with the PAC-10 sending only two teams, St. Mary's was under-seeded and could have been as high as a 4 or 5. At least that the way they've been playing, with 6'11" Omar Samhan dominating the interior in both of St. Mary's blowout wins in the tourney.
Though the Gaels beat Richmond by 8 in the opening round and Villanova by 7, the games were really not that close. St. Mary's held the lead for most of both contests. Complementing Samhan's interior play are a couple of gunners in Matt Dellavedova and Mickey McConnell, both gritty guards with good range. Dellavedova will also drive the ball to the hoop and always seems to be on top of loose balls. Forward Ben Allen is a key on both ends of the floor and Clint Steindl operates well on the wings and is an excellent passer.
The Bears haven't impressed much with wins over Sam Houston St. and Old Dominion, but the guy who St. Mary's will find hardest to handle is guard LaceDarius Dunn, who can light it up from anywhere on the court and is one of the quickest players in the country. Additionally, the Bears bring plenty of inside heft with Ekpe Udoh (6'10"), Quincy Acy (6'7"), Josh Lomers (7'0") and Anthony Jones (6'10"). St. Mary's hasn't seen that kind of size thus far in the tournament, though they did handle Gonzaga just prior, who can put big bodies on the floor.
This one promises to be one of the most entertaining games of the entire tournament.
9 Northern Iowa Panthers (30-4) vs. 5 Michigan St. Spartans (26-8), 9:37 pm EDT - Besides Cornell, the Panthers are the real Cinderella story of the tournament. Prior to beating #1-ranked and top-seeded Kansas on Saturday, N. Iowa hadn't even played a Top 25 team, so beating the Jawhawks was a shock and busted many a hopeful bracket sheet in the process. The big star thus far has undoubtedly been Ali Farokhmanesh, who has hit timely 3-point bombs, enabling the Panthers to move forward through the field.
However, Ali is not even one of the team's top scorers. He's actually 4th, after center Jordan Eglseder, forward Adam Koch and point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe. Johnny Moran fills oout the starting five, who each play about 33-35 minutes per game. Northern Iowa is the classic "five iron men" who will go toe to toe with anyone in the nation. They are well-organized, solid in fundamentals and good defenders. They also have that extra X-factor that comes with winning 30 games in a season - they know what they are.
Michigan State comes into this game battered and bruised. Starting point guard Kalin Lucas will miss the remainder of the season with a ruptured left Achilles. He was replaced in the Spartans' second round win over Maryland by Korie Lucious who hit the game-winner at the buzzer for the 85-83 victory. Coach Tom Izzo's kids are trained to be tough and resilient, so it's no surprise they're here even without their point guard. They absorb adversity like a sponge and move forward, much of the load now shifting to forwards Durrell Summers and Raymar Morgan, both of whom have stepped it up in the first two rounds.
Inside, Draymond Green will provide an interesting match-up with Eglseder, though he's giving up 6 inches and about 50 pounds to the Northern Iowa center. A couple of inside bangers, Delvon Roe and Derrick Nix will see plenty of action, as Izzo will try to wear down the Panthers with fresh bodies. On the wing, Chris Allen is a real unknown, though he's capable of big games as well as being somewhat invisible for long stretches.
This one will go to the team that displays the best survival skills, especially if the refs let them go at it physically.
1 Duke (31-5) vs. 4 Purdue (29-5), 9:57 pm - Here is a game in which a #1 seed could easily been seen waving good-bye to its tournament hopes at the final buzzer. Purdue has regrouped after injury sidelined their #2 scorer and rebounder, replacing Robbie Hummel with gutsy, tough-as-nails senior guard Chris Kramer, a defensive specialist who will likely have the assignment of taking Duke's sharp-shooting Jon Scheyer off his game.
Should Kramer be successful, the rest of the Boilermaker squad looks like a solid match for the Blue Devils. Purdue can get plenty of scoring from center JaJuan Johnson and guard E'Twaun Moore, who is plays with emotion and quickness. Duke will be going to their best player, Kyle Singler, along with guard Nolan Smith for their scoring punch, while using Brian Zoubek and twins Miles and Mason Plumlee to clog up Johnson inside.
There isn't much separating these two teams, especially considering that, with Hummel, the Boilermakers might have even been the favorite. Coach K gives Duke an edge, though Purdue is by no means an easy out.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
So Long KU: Northern Iowa Shocks #1 Kansas
9 Northern Iowa 69
1 Kansas 67
Ali Farokhmanesh did it again. Just two days after his decisive three-pointed ended UNLV's dreams, the dead-eye senior guard knocked down a bomb that exploded the #1 overall seed Kansas. Wide open off the Kansas pressure, Farokhmanesh had a perfect look with 30 seconds left and a one-point lead burying his shot from the wing with less than 30 seconds left in the game. He finished with a game-high 16 points as the Panthers eliminated Kansas, widely believed to be the best team in the tournament and ranked #1 in the last polls.
Northern Iowa led nearly the entire game, but felt the pressure late, turning the ball over repeatedly on inbounds plays as Kansas turned up the heat. In the end, it was Kansas' inability to hit three-pointers, defend and rebound that cost them a chance at a second national championship in the last three years. The only time Kansas led in the game was at the start, when they opened with a 2-0 edge.
The Panthers improved to 30-4, advancing to the Sweet 16 to face the winner of the Michigan State-Maryland match-up.
11 Old Dominion 68
3 Baylor 76
LaceDarius Dunn scored a game-high 26 points to lead four Baylor players in double figures past Old Dominion. Dunn, a high-energy scorer, hit 9 of 16 shots, including 4 of 11 from beyond the arc. The Bears advance into the Sweet 16 and will face the region's #10 seed, St. Mary's, next Friday night in Houston.
11 Washington 82
3 New Mexico 64
It appears that offering just two invitations to PAC-10 teams might have been a huge mistake by the selection committee, as the Washington Huskies, the conference champs, easily dispatched the #3 seed in the East, New Mexico, after handling Marquette in the opening round. The huskies opened up a double-digit lead early and, after leading 44-32 at the half, coasted to the win, as Dairese Gary poured in a game-high 25 points.
With Cal beating Louisville on Friday, the PAC-10 is now 3-0 in the tourney. Washington, winners of nine straight, advances to the regional semi-final to face the winner of Sunday's West Virginia-Missouri game.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Kentucky, Northern Iowa, Washington Move on; Georgetown Stunned by Ohio
9 Northern Iowa 69
8 UNLV 66
Ali Farokhmanesh scored a game-high 17 points and gave Northern Iowa the lead on a long three-pointer with 4.9 seconds left as the Panthers moved into the second round. Farokhmanesh hit 5 of 9 from beyond the arc.
14 Ohio 97
3 Georgetown 83
If you're looking for the Cinderella of the 2010 tourney, look no further than the Ohio Bobcats, out of the Mid-Aerican conference. The Bobcats were the #9 seed in their conference tourney, winning four straight to earn the automatic bid. On the opening night of the tournament, Ohio took Georgetown out behind the woodshed for a good, old fashioned whipping. Ohio grabbed an early lead and never looked back, using deft passing and torrid outside shooting to establish, at one juncture, a 19-point lead.
The Bobcats were led by guards Armon Bassett and D.J. Cooper. Basset scored a game-high 32 points, while point man Cooper tallied 23, with 3 steals, 3 rebounds and 8 assists.
1 Kentucky 100
16 East Tenn. St. 71
No surprises as the Kentucky Wildcats, the nation's tallest team, dominated the interior and hammered East Tennessee State into submission and a quick exit. Freshman Eric Bledsoe and senior Patrick Patterson had 29 and 22 points, respectively.
11 Washington 80
6 Marquette 78
Quincy Pondexter scored on a drive to the hoop with 1.7 seconds left to supply the winning margin for underrated Washington, winners of the PAC-10 tourney. The game was another close call, evening Marquette's record in games decided by four points or less at 8-8, the most in the nation. Pondexter finished with 18 points; teammate Isaiah Thomas led the Huskies with 19.