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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Region Preview: South

     How sweet it is to make a big run in the big dance.  When college basketball is in the spotlight of America, any little known player or team can make them self known.  I wish my team (Cornell) had won the Ivy.  I would have been able to travel with the team like the broadcasters of the miraculous team of 2010 did.  Unfortunately for me, I just get to be a spectator of this years NCAA tournament.  Hopefully in my future years at Cornell I will be able to travel with the team to a NCAA tournament appearance.  My fan-hood now lies with Michigan in this tournament.  Hoping for a big run by the Blue out of the South Region.

And now for my South Region Preview:


Player to Watch- Nate Wolters, Senior, South Dakota State
     Nate Wolters is a guy who every college basketball aficionado should know.  I had a tough choice for player to watch in the South Region.  Should it be player of the year candidate Trey Burke, Freshman scoring phenom Ben Mclemore, all around forward Otto Porter, or the scoring guard from the South Dakota State, Nate Wolters.  Wolters is the scoring leader in the South Region at 22.7 PPG.  He has the power to take over any game as he has shown throughout the year with some of his scoring outbursts. If Wolters has a big tournament and is able to show that he can score with anyone in college basketball, watch this Seniors draft stock soar through the roof. Now, I would like to do a blind resume test.

Player A: 28.6 PPG, 5.6 APG, 4.4 RPG, .454 FG%, .387 3P%, 2.5 SPG

Player B: 24.5 PPG, 4.0 APG, 5.0 RPG, .467 FG%, .409 3P%, 1.5 SPG

Player C: 21.9 PPG, 3.5 APG, 6.5 RPG, .443 FG%, .341 3P%, 2.6 SPG

Player D: 22.7 PPG, 5.8 APG, 5.6 RPG, .493 FG%, .390 3P%, 1.8 SPG

     These stats are those of premier college combo guards coming from mid-majors.  Player D is Nate Wolters.  Although Wolters points are lower than the other combo guards, his field goal percent and assists are the highest among these combo guards showing that he takes smarts shots and knows when to pass.  Lets reveal the other players.  Player A, Golden State Warrior shooting guard Stephen Curry, who excelled in the NCAA tournament his   sophomore year to lead 10 seeded Davidson to the Elite Eight.  Curry was eventually drafter 7th overall after his junior year at Davidson. Player B is Rookie of the Year Candidate Damian Lillard, who is showing that combo guards can play point guard.  Lillard was drafted 6th overall after putting up those great numbers at Weber State.  Player C is fellow draft prospect and bracket buster C.J McCollum.  Those numbers are McCollum's numbers from last season when he and his Lehigh squad upset the favored Duke Blue Devils.  Due to McCollum's injuries this season and the emergence of the Bucknell Bison's, Lehigh was unable to make the tournament to be a cinderella team again.  In many mock drafts, McCollum is a projected lottery pick.  Wolters in every mock draft I have looked at is a top pick in the second round at best.  I think that Wolters will emerge with a big scoring outing against Trey Burke and the Michigan Wolverines.  This big outing will put Wolters, who has scored 53 points in a game this season, in the running to be a lottery pick


Best Matchup- #6 UCLA vs. #11 Minnesota

UCLA:  Ben Howland's UCLA squad is a star studded team that needed to work on its chemistry.  In week 1 of the regular season, UCLA was ranked 11th in the country due to their star power.  Bringing in the top recruiting class in the country led by #1 recruit Shabazz Muhammad, I even had higher expectations for this UCLA team than what they lived up to.  After losing to Georgetown in the first game of Shabazz Muhammads probably short-lived UCLA career, to then losing to a Cal Poly team that finished the season 18-13, this UCLA squad needed some work.  Through many changes in the starting lineup and the transfer of Joshua Smith to Georgetown, UCLA finally found some rhythm with Jordan Adams emerging as a star in a three headed freshman dragon including Adams, Muhammed and do it all forward Kyle Anderson.  These three freshman along with the three UNC transfers in the wear twins and Larry Drew III made UCLA a force to be reckoned with.  Sadly for this UCLA team, Jordan Adams will be out for the tournament with a broken foot.  Without Adams, Kyle Anderson will likely have to slide into the shooting guard/backup point guard role.  I am not worried about who will handle the ball for UCLA when Larry Drew III is out as I am concerned with who will pick up the scoring.  Everyone in the country knows that Shabazz Muhammed is one of the most prolific scorers in college basketball but will he be able to take on Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe when he gets into the painted area.

Minnesota:  Tubby Smith's golden gophers rely very heavily on their starting lineup.  With a 6th man only getting 10.3 minutes of play, this golden gophers starting lineup must be ready to push the floor against a taller and longer UCLA team.  Minnesota does have the advantage in speed as I expect them to push the ball up the floor early and often.  Minnesota will likely go with a 2-3 zone against this UCLA team as Minnesota only starts two guys above 6'4".  Although Minnesota is at a height disadvantage, I expect a huge game out of Trevor Mbakwe on the glass as he is the most physical big for both teams at 6'8" 245lbs.  Although the Wear twins are both 6'10", they are both only at around 5 rebounds per game.  Another big factor for Minnesota will be their hustle play.  Playing a 3 guard lineup with Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman, UCLA will be looking to play very scrappy trying to grab every second chance opportunity they can.  Andre Hollins is one of those players that we have seen take over a game by himself.  Although he is a hot and cold player, if he gets hot he can become unstoppable as he showed when he scored 41 points against a very good Memphis team while going 5-5 from beyond the 3 point arc.  My x-factor for Minnesota is going to be the play of Rodney Williams.  Most of country knows him as just an outstanding wing defender, but I think that he will have a great game as a senior wanting his legacy to continue.  

Verdict:  I see an upset here as Minnesota and Tubby Smith come away with a very close win led by the two seniors, Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, who will have the games of their lives to continue on in this tournament.  UCLA runs into a tough Minnesota team without their second leading scorer and just can not recover as the Minnesota defense forces a lot of turnovers when Larry Drew III is not in the game.  


Notable Tidbit-  Of the top 11 seeds, 10 coaches have been to a final four.  The one exception is Michigan head coach Jon Beilein


Cinderella Candidate- #8 UNC
Sadly, I do not see #11 Minnesota taking out Florida because Florida has too many weapons that can match up very well with Minnesota's starters.  What I do see is a small UNC team that has started to click towards the end of the season making a huge run and knocking off #1 seed Kansas taking itself to the sweet 16.  North Carolina showed up to play in the ACC tournament losing in the finals to an outstanding Miami team.  Since Roy Williams has changed their lineup to going small, they have been very tough for premier teams to matchup with.  I expect them to cause matchup problems with Kansas as Kansas is a team thats defense is based around its big man in 7 footer Jeff Withey.  In the ACC title game, North Carolina's new smaller lineup eliminated the presence of Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson, the two best big men for Miami.  This smaller lineup will make Bill Self question how much of Jeff Withey he can play.  With all of UNC's speed and outside shooting ability, I expect Jeff Withey to be a non-factor in this game and that it will be a battle of the guards.  Watch for P.J Hairston to continue his tear as he is averaging 19.6 points over his last 5 games.  His hot hand led North Carolina to the ACC tournament final and I foresee him having a great NCAA tournament. 


Best Hypothetical Moment-  Andre Hollins nails a 3 at the buzzer over Shabazz Muhammed and jumps into Tubby Smith's arms.   Ben Howland's UCLA squad lacks emotion as they all prepare for the draft.


Committee Screw-Up- #6 UCLA
    I love some of the pieces UCLA has but I feel that they are over seeded.  In a "down year" for the Pac-12, UCLA finished first in the regular season but lost to Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament final.   Oregon is a 12 seed that beat UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament yet UCLA still gets a 6 seed.  C'mon Man.  I know they pass the eye test with flashing colors but you can not just give them a good seed because of the big names they have.  Their chemistry is lacking and they just lost their second leading scorer.  Ben Howland is going to have a lot of trouble in the future if they lose in round 1 this year.


Biggest Mismatch-  Otto Porter vs. Florida Gulf Coast Forwards
Florida Gulf Coast's best forward, a player named Chase Fieler who loves to camp out for an open three.  If he loves taking 3's, who is going to be down low with Otto Porter.  Florida Gulf Coast's leading rebounder is a 6'3 guard named Sherwood Brown who loves to handle the ball.  Otto Porter will be able to dominate whoever Florida Gulf Coast puts on him in the post with his lanky reach and his 6'10 height.  The tallest player for Florida Gulf Coast is 6'8.  Expect Otto Porter to have a field day in this matchup with Florida Gulf Coast


Tournament Matchups

#1 Kansas vs. #16 Western Kentucky

Kansas- The clear number one seed in the South Region after winning the Big 12 conference tournament with ease.  Is winning the Big 12 title enough to wipe away some of their bad losses.  Says many analysts yes.  However right before the Big 12 tournament started, they lost by 23 to a Baylor team that did not even make the big dance.  4 of their 5 losses came to unranked opponents and all 5 of their losses came against teams that liked to push the pace.  A commonn trend in many of their losses was the poor play of Elijah Johnson.  When Elijah Johnson is on, Kansas is nearly unstoppable.  But in Kansas' loss to Baylor and Oklahoma State, Johnson shot a combined 6-27.  Another huge factor in how far Kansas will ultimately go is the play of their 7-footer Jeff Withey.  If he can be enough of a defensive presence even in games of high pace, Kansas will be able to make it far in this tournament.

Western Kentucky- The Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky certainly will put on a good fight against Kansas.  Overcoming all odds by winning the Sun Belt as the 4th seed in the East.  Winning four games in a row after losing to the top seed Middle Tennessee State, they were determined and able to come through in the clutch with a 2 point victory against Florida Atlantic.  Western Kentucky is led by T.J Price who averages 15.3 PPG on 2.5 3-point field goals per game. Kansas better be ready to guard the perimeter as the Hilltoppers live and die from downtown.  

Verdict-  Kansas is too strong for the Hilltoppers and has a big victory. Jeff Withey is dominant down low forcing the Hilltoppers to shoot too many 3-pointers

#8 North Carolina vs. #9 Villanova

North Carolina-  Roy Williams' North Carolina squad is poised for a big NCAA tournament after finally finding themselves in the ACC tournament.  Although they did not win the ACC tournament, I liked what I saw out of P.J Hairston and James Michael McAdoo.  Hairston showed off his range, hitting over 5 3-point shots twice in the ACC tournament.  James Michael McAdoo is showing that he can play as a small forward as well as playing as the biggest man in a small lineup for this North Carolina team.  I like what I have seen from this small lineup that can cause matchup problems with virtually anyone.  It caused problems for Miami all through out the first half in the ACC title game.  Watch out top seeds, North Carolina is on a comeback trail.

Villanova- Said by coach Jay Wright to be a rebuilding year, Villanova makes the NCAA tournament with a huge win against Georgetown at the end of their season.  With big wins over Syracuse, Louisville, Marquette, and Georgetown, Villanova can compete with anyone and can play at any pace.  Led by Sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston, this Villanova team loves to use their bigs as Pinkston averages 13.1 PPG and 5.0 RPG.  Along with Senior Mouphtao Yarou, Pinkston forms a dynamic duo down low working the high-low post action. Jay Wright will certainly be an emotional figure as he always is when he plays in NCAA tournament games.

Verdict-  North Carolina runs away with this one as their run and gone offense is too much for the bigger Villanova squad.  I do think that this game will come down to the wire and I expect some late game heroics from P.J Hairston to make for an emotional Roy Williams after the game. 

#5 VCU vs. #12 Akron

VCU-  Shaka Smart is a coaching genius.  His "Havoc" system of defense has created a revolution in the press system in college basketball.  In the past, VCU has come in as an underdog and shocked the nation with its tenacious defense and transition offense.  How will they do as a favored seed, no longer as the cinderella that shocks the nation.  Their tenacious defense is still there, forcing nearly 20 turnovers per game.  With the A-10 becoming a more prevalent conference, the Rams have had a tougher schedule than usual and pose a great threat to make it to the final four.  They are very successful against teams that do not have one established point guard and teams that do not pass the ball well.  They run a 4-guard lineup to look to get big time steals and fast break points as well as playing a very heavy run and gun style of basketball. The Rams have 7 players that average over .8 steals per game which is created by their "Havoc" system

Akron-  Akron looked like a mid-major that could make a great push at being this years cinderella team until their starting point guard, Alex Abreu, was suspended.  Abreu averaged 6 assists per game and clearly was leader on the floor for the Zips.  Without their true point guard, how are they going to get the ball up the floor against the intense defense of VCU.  The Zips are led by 7-foot center Zeke Marshall who will look to have a huge day against a smaller VCU lineup. Marshall averages 13 PPG along with 7.1 RPG.  If he can assert himself down low and the Zips can get the ball past the "Havoc" system, VCU will have a tough road to get to the third round.

Verdict- VCU's defense is too much for an Akron team without its starting point guard.  The quicker, smaller VCU team forces too many turnovers and gets out in transition early and often.

#4 Michigan vs. #13 South Dakota State

Michigan- Led by Naismith award finalist Trey Burke, the Michigan offense is potent when all of its pieces are running smoothly.  Along with Burke, Michigan has all the right pieces including 3 outstanding 3-point shooters in Nik Stauksas, Glen Robinson III, and Tim Hardaway Jr.  Stauksas, who I had predicted to be the Big 10 sixth man of the year, ended up entering the starting lineup due to his huge contribution and efficiency from beyond the 3-point line.  Along with the emergence of their young wings, Michigan has been establishing its presence down low through the likes of Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford and Mitch McGary.  McGary, just a freshman, has started to establish himself as one of the better big men in the country and has inserted himself into the Wolverines starting lineup.  With all these pieces and a great coach in Jon Beilein, I expect a huge run from this Michigan team before its star point guard chooses to enter the draft.

South Dakota State- South Dakota State looks to become the second straight 13 seed to take out Michigan as they had an early exit last year against the Ohio Bobcats.  Led by Senior combo guard Nate Wolters, the Jackrabbits are poised for a cinderella run.  Wolters, one of the best all around players in the country, looks to follow in the footsteps of Stephen Curry and C.J McCollum.  Unlike Stephen Curry's Davidson team, this South Dakota State equad also has a good big man in Jordan Dykstra that plays as a great complement along side Wolters.  With a big win against New Mexico, the Jackrabbits have shown they can compete with any team in the country.

Verdict- The Wolverines come out on top proving that they are deep enough and versatile enough to shake off the early woes from last season.  Burke's defense is too much for Wolters to handle as the Michigan team just has too many pieces for South Dakota State to keep up with.  

#6 UCLA vs. #11 Minnesota

   See Best Matchup

#3 Florida vs. #14 Northwestern State

Florida- Billy Donovan comes into this tournament with one of the most versatile and athletic teams in the country.  With a heartbreaking loss against Marshall Henderson and the Ole Miss Rebels, Florida looks to rebound nicely and fix its perimeter defense after allowing three open 3-pointers to Marshall Henderson.  Florida comes into this game as one of the top shooting teams in the country as they hit 48.4% of their shots.  Led by Senior Forward Erik Murphy, Florida is a dynamic inside out team with a great array of shooters as well as two great passing forwards.  Patric Young and Erik Murphy are great at passing out of the post to get the ball out to one of Florida's many shooters.  Scotty Wilbekin and Kenny Boyton are two of the nations premier ball handlers and are able to create off the dribble at will.  Florida will be a force to reckon with as one of the most efficient teams in the country. 

Northwestern State-  After winning the Southland Conference Tournament, the Demons of Northwestern State enter this contest with Florida as the nations top scoring team.  Along with being the top scoring team, they are also in the top 50 in rebounding, assists and FG%.  Their top scorer, do it all forward DeQuan Hicks, shoots 58.6% from the field and picks up 1.6 steals per game.  Look for Northwestern State to jump on any loose ball they can as they love to push the floor to get easy baskets.  

Verdict-  Florida wins in a tight one, almost loosing to an unknown Northwestern State team. Florida toughens up after a close one and makes a big run at the title.  

#7 San Diego State vs. #10 Oklahoma

San Diego State- The Aztecs are led by one of the top shooting guards in the nation in Jamaal Franklin.  Franklin does it all for this team as he leads them in points (16.7), rebounds (9.5), and assists (3.2).  Franklin has a knack for scoring and does it in bunches.  He also has a very strong ability of grabbing the ball off his own miss.  Unfortunately for the Aztec squad, college basketball is not a one man game. Along with Franklin, the Aztecs have a big time 3-point shooter in Chase Tapley. Tapley usually stands in the corning waiting for Franklin to pass out of the double team for a wide open 3.  Tapley certainly is not the big man that the Aztecs would hope to have as their complement for Franklin but his shooting ability is an incredible piece that will help them on their journey in this tournament.

Oklahoma- Oklahoma flew under the radar as the 5th place team in the Big 12.  Although they had some bad losses to teams like Stephen F. Austin and TCU, they have big victories over Kansas and Oklahoma State.  Oklahoma is led by 6'8" senior power forward Romero Osby who averages 15.8 PPG and 7 RPG.  If he can establish himself down low against a lacking San Diego State front court, his presence can lead to a Boomer Sooner victory.

Verdict- Romero Osby establishes himself down low leading to a victory for the Sooners over a saddened Aztec squad.  

#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast

Georgetown-  Otto Porter.  The forward that brought Georgetown back into title contention. Shooting .489% from the field and .427% from beyond the arc, it is no wonder why he is considered one of the best forwards in the country.  Porter is a big presence down low and is a big part of why Georgetown is able to shoot the ball so well from 3-point land.  Shooting 36% from 3, Georgetown loves the ability of Otto Porter to pass out of the post and get the ball to Markel Starks who is a knock down shooter.  There have been games in which Porter has gone cold.  In those games, Starks took on most of the work load as a scoring guard able to create his own offense even without Porter.  Look for Georgetown to be as dangerous as the tandem of Porter and Starks allows them.

Florida Gulf Coast-  Anyone remember who Miami's only bad loss of the first half the season was to? A little known Florida Gulf Coast squad that pounded Miami in a 12 point victory.  To think that they are in the tournament as a 15 seed is scary because they pose a threat to any one they play.  Having beat one of the top teams in the country, this Florida Gulf Coast team is not afraid of anyone. Led by senior guard Sherwood Brown's 15.3 points per game, Florida Gulf Coast loves to push the floor and score a lot of easy baskets.  Watch out for guard Bernard Thompson who loves to pick peoples pockets (2.8 Steals per game) to help out Florida Gulf Coast in its transition offense.  

Verdict-  Georgetown is too much for the small Florida Gulf Coast team to handle.  Otto Porter goes off in a matchup where there is no big man to guard him.





-Chad


* all stats are from espn.com and yahoo.com


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