East Region (Charlotte, NC):
Summary of first two rounds:
North Carolina steam rolled their first two opponents (Mount St. Mary’s and Arkansas) 113-74 and 108-77. Roy Williams was able to get all fifteen players on the court for both games and they collectively shot over 60% from the field. Although the East has a couple very strong teams, nobody was as dominant or made things look as easy as UNC. UNC stands as the lone ACC team left in the tournament and will be facing off against Washington State. In the first round, WSU was even at the half against Winthrop but outscored them by 31 points in the second half and kept it going in the second round by defeating Notre Dame 61-41.
Louisville has also looked very strong as many Rick Pitino teams have in the past. Louisville made easy work by defeating Boise State in the first round and dominated Oklahoma by 30 points in the second round. However, their next round opponent didn’t have it so easy. Tennessee got a scare yesterday when Butler’s Willie Veasley tipped in a two-point shot with 35 seconds left in the game to send it to overtime. In the OT session, Tennessee’s JaJuan Smith went four for four from the charity stripe to seal the victory 76-71. In the first round, Tennessee defeated American University 72-57.
Overall, the East region has gone as planned with no major upsets. The only game where a lower seed lost to a higher seed was (9) Arkansas’ win over (8) Indiana in the first round. Besides Tennessee, the teams left in this region haven’t been tested yet, but who does this favor? Tennessee has felt the pressure that this tournament is all about in their OT game against Butler and they were able to come out victorious. This could be very valuable in their next game and the regional final game if they are able to advance. Don’t look at that Butler game as a sign of weakness for Tennessee. Butler was a very strong team and was ranked almost all season long.
Let’s look at the Sweet 16 match ups:
(1) North Carolina vs. (4) Washington State:
This game is going to be tough for Washington State to win. They are many miles from home and have to face the best team in the country in their own backyard. Moreover, Ty Lawson is healthy and playing extremely well right now. Tyler Hansbrough is the All-American on this team, but UNC is at its best when Lawson is running the show. He controls this offense and brings them the stability they need. Washington State is going to have their hands full. They are going to have to play the perfect game or hope UNC comes out cold. Center Aron Baynes has to play huge in the middle and senior guard Derrick Lowe needs to shoot lights out for the Cougars to have any shot at winning this game. Perry’s Edge UNC.
(2) Tennessee vs. (3) Louisville:
This is going to be a very good game. Even though Georgetown won the Big East this year, many people thought Louisville was the best team in that Conference and they find themselves playing against the only team that beat Memphis this year. These are two very strong teams. Louisville has a very balanced attack with a solid eight man rotation, but look for guard Jerry Smith and forward Earl Clark (coming off the bench) to try to take control of this game for Louisville. Tennessee is led by sophomore Tyler Smith who has been very clutch all year long. Senior guards Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith could ultimately give Tennessee the edge in this game. There is nothing like having senior guard leadership on your team in the NCAA Tournament. Perry’s Edge Tennessee.
Final Four Pick: UNC
Midwest Region (Detroit, MI):
Summary of the first two rounds:
The Midwest region was filled with upsets and probably was the most exciting region of the four. In the first round, 12th seed Villanova found themselves down by 18 points in the second half to Clemson. However, they didn’t pack it in. Sophomore guard Scottie Reynolds led his team back and upset the fifth seed 75-69. That set up a second round match up against the 13th seed Sienna who defeated the fourth seed Vanderbilt with ease 83-62. Villanova did advance past Sienna and will now face off against the number one seed Kansas who easily got by Portland State 85-61 and UNLV 75-56. Kansas guard Mario Chalmers might finally have his hands full with Villanova’s Reynolds.
Another Cinderella story surfaced in the bottom half of the bracket when 10th seed Davidson defeated Gonzaga in the first round and shocked Georgetown 74-70 in the second round. The win against Georgetown was Davidson’s 24th in a row. They last lost to NC State by one point on December 21st. A very impressive streak. They are led by former NBA star Dell Curry’s son, Stephen Curry who scored 40 points in his first game and 30 points against G’town.
In the battle between future NBA stars O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley, Beasley’s Kansas State team was victorious and defeated USC 80-67, but eventually lost to a very impressive Wisconsin team 72-55. In the first round, the Badgers made quick work of Cal State-Fullerton which helped set the match up against Davidson in the round of 16.
Let’s look at the Sweet 16 match ups:
(1) Kansas vs. (12) Villanova:
Villanova seems to have that edge ever since that controversial loss against G’town in the regular season. And Scottie Reynolds is playing out of his mind, but can a three guard offense keep it going and defeat one of the best teams in the country? They might have a lot of heart, but I’m not sure they are big enough to take down Kansas. Junior forward Dante Cunnigham is their tallest player at 6-8. Similar to Nova, Kansas runs a three guard offense with 6-8 and 6-9 forwards sophomore Darrell Arthur and Senior Darnell Jackson. Therefore, size might not matter this round. If Scottie Reynolds can continue his magic and outplay the guards of Kansas, maybe Nova does have a chance. However, Kansas’ Brandon Rush will be the X-factor in this game. Look for the team to lean on him in the crucial possessions. Perry’s Edge Kansas.
(10) Davidson vs. (3) Wisconsin:
Wisconsin was very impressive in containing Michael Beasley in the second round and got a huge game out of sophomore guard Trevon Hughes who dropped in 25 points. They have two big guys that can plug the lane in 6-11 centers Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma (off the bench). Stiemsma hasn’t done much all season, but I mention his name because he scored 14 points in 14 minutes against Kansas State. Maybe they’ll go to him again? But no other player will have a bigger impact on this game than Stephen Curry. He could single handedly win this game for Davidson, but saying this is making me lean towards Wisconsin. I’m not saying Curry is the only person on Davidson, because senior point guard Jason Richards is a heck of a player, but when a team relies too much on one player at this point of the season, it never ends well. The better teams know how to contain those players. Perry’s Edge Wisconsin.
Final Four pick: Kansas