Pheiffer Reveals Picks
Stanford, Duke Will Roll into Final FourBy Rory Pheiffer
Well, one day down, and many of you are probably saying to yourselves that after one day you are still in good contention to win your pool this year. Then again, maybe you are already out of it, but unless you picked Valpo as your sleeper, my guess is you are not too bad off after day one. The fun is only beginning though. Although this analysis is a day late for most of you who had to turn in your brackets by Thursday, let’s take some time to check out the other half of the field.
The East Region
The East region is headlined with my personal favorite the Duke Blue Devils, but there are some tough teams lurking in the draw for the young Blue Devils, teams like Oklahoma State, Illinois, Florida, and every team’s worst nightmare, the Temple Owls. There are also some very good first round match-ups in this region. Duke, Temple, and Oklahoma State should all cruise in their first games. The same goes for the Fighting Illini. Penn may have Michael Jordan, but unfortunately for them he is not even related to his Airness.
I am especially high on Illinois now that last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year Corey Bradford has caught fire. As long as he keeps up his level of play there is no telling what Illinois is capable of. They will likely clash with Florida in the second round, seeing as Florida should not have any trouble with Butler. Florida was hovering close to the top ten all year so Butler should not provide too difficult a challenge. Remember that Butler has not played a quality opponent in fifteen games either.
The six versus eleven seed match-up in this bracket has upset written all over it. The Pepperdine Waves have a tenacious defense that have the potential to give the inconsistent Hoosiers a tough time. As for Indiana, Bobby Knight is a great coach, and A.J. Guyton is an All-American. If Guyton plays up to his potential, Indiana should survive this first round scare, but if he gets erratic, it could be fun watching the ensuing chair-throwing competition that Bobby Knight reigns supreme in. I’m going with Indiana, but this game has the potential to become a real thriller.
Speaking of thrillers, Oregon and Seton Hall should provide some nice up-and-down the court action. Both teams like to run, but Seton Hall has not beaten a high-caliber team since February 7th. They will make an early exit, facing the West Coast’s best-kept secret in Oregon. Oregon finished third in the surprisingly tough PAC-10, and they should put on a good show with their explosive offense.
Once again, the eight-nine match-up should be a good one. Perennial power Kansas had a sub-par season by Jayhawk standards, but that is to be expected with a starting line-up featuring three freshmen. DePaul’s starting five features four freshmen, including one of the nation’s premier players in Quentin Richardson. In a close game, teams look to their stars to pull them through, and that is exactly what Richardson will do for his Blue Demons. Big-time players bring it all to the table come March, and Richardson is definitely a big-time player.
Things get even more interesting in the East in the second round, with match-ups like the Blue Devils vs. the Blue Demons and Florida, Lon Kruger’s old team, facing Illinois, Lon Kruger’s current team. Should Duke face DePaul in the second round, this will be the second time they meet this year. DePaul played the Dukies to a thrilling one point overtime loss in Cameron back in December. That was before Williams and Boozer came on for Duke though. In their second meeting, look for Duke to readily handle the Blue Demons.
I really like our next match-up, pitting Illinois against Florida. Florida deserves a higher seed than they received, but regardless, Illinois is peaking right now and I look for the Fighting Illini to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Whether Oklahoma State plays Indiana or Pepperdine, the Cowboys have too much depth and experience for either opponent. Indiana would keep it close for a while, but look for Oklahoma State to pull away and march onto the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. There they should face Temple. Temple is always a concern for teams come tournament time due to Jon Chaney’s great match-up zone defense, but now Temple is just downright lethal. They have a strong offense to compliment impenetrable their defense. Pepe Sanchez is a superstar at the point, and his team was 25-2 with him on the floor. Oregon likes to run, but trying to run against Chaney’s Owls is almost unheard of, so look for Temple to control this game and the berth to the Sweet Sixteen.
The regional final should be a dandy, featuring Duke and Temple. Give Mike Krzyzewski four days to prepare for Illinois, and Duke should not have too much trouble beating the Fighting Illini. Illinois has been hot as of late, but their two losses in the past fifteen games were to two high caliber teams in Michigan State and Ohio State. Duke is right on par with these teams, so look for Illinois’ run to stop here. Temple will control the tempo and the game.
The experts are split on the Duke Temple match-up, and I am not totally sure myself. Coach K’s blend of young upstart freshmen combined with the experience of Battier and Carrawell, or the more experienced Temple Owls who combine a torrid defense (teams shot 36 percent against them this year) along with a pretty strong offense led by Pepe Sanchez. This game could go either way, but I’m sticking with my heart and the Duke Blue Devils.
The south region
Stanford is clearly the favorite in this region. Match-up wise, their most difficult game may be in the Sweet Sixteen where they are likely to either face Tennessee or the defending national champion Connecticut Huskies. The top five seeds in this region all should get through the first round basically unharmed.
The South region provides for another interesting six-eleven match-up. Miami has played well all season, finishing 13-3 in the tough Big East. Arkansas has been hot late, as Nolan Richardson led the Razorbacks and their “40 minutes of hell” attack to four straight victories in the SEC tournament. I see Arkansas having a great opportunity to pull the upset, but Miami has been playing too tough all season to let a surging Arkansas team get the best of them.
Anybody who watched ESPN’s tournament special knows what Dick Vitale thinks of UNLV’s bid to the NCAA tournament: he ripped into the NCAA tournament selection chairman Craig Thompson for allowing UNLV into the tournament. This commentary will drive UNLV to prove they belong; and prove themselves they will.
Many analysts see Tulsa as the surprise team in this part of the bracket, but Tulsa had one nemesis all year, Fresno State. UNLV is very similar to Fresno State in style and should give Tulsa the same trouble. I see an early exit for the Golden Hurricanes. Until they can learn how to stop the high-octane, run-and-gun offense, they will not advance in this year’s tournament.
Lastly we see North Carolina facing the upstart Missouri Tigers. Neither team had very stellar years. Mizzou is just happy to be invited with their 2-7 record against ranked opponents. Thankfully for Missouri, the Tar Heels are not ranked. They have a lot of talent on this young squad, and they also have a key component in the NCAA tournament: an experienced Ed Cota. Look for him to lead the youthful Tar Heels past Mizzou in the first round.
South - second round
North Carolina will be bounced by the powerful Cardinal team. The Connecticut-Tennessee match will feature lots of great ball. Of the two teams though, Connecticut is the better-prepared team for this match-up. I look for Jim Calhoun to regroup his team and prepare them for a strong March run.
It is the bottom half of the bracket where I see a melee of upsets occurring. Yes, both Ohio State and Cincinnati are more talented than their opponents are, but in March anything can happen. Both UNLV and Miami have shown they have the ability to win and win big, and I think both teams have the capability of pulling the upset. While UNLV is out to prove that they belong, Miami was strong in the Big East.
Stanford and Connecticut is a colossal match-up. Stanford is the only number one seed in the draw Connecticut has not played. They have too much going for them in this match, certainly too much for Connecticut. James Voskuhl cannot stop Mark Madsen, he can only hope to contain him, and I don’t even think he can do that without fouling out quickly. Look for Stanford to win by somewhere between ten and twenty.
The other side of the bracket features a six and ten seed. If this match-up does indeed pan-out, I have to believe that UNLV’s run ends here. Miami has proven that they can play with the big boys, and has the type of defense that can slowdown the Runnin’ Rebels. This then leaves the Hurricanes the daunting task of trying to stop the Stanford. It can be done, but a team needs size to do it, something that Miami does not have much of. Look for Stanford to enter the Final Four without having been challenged much at all.