2011 NCAA Tournament Preview
Ohio State enters the Tournament as the number one overall seed, but to call them a clear favorite is to ignore a great many other teams that have a good shot to cut down the nets on April 4th in Houston. The Buckeyes should have no problem with the early rounds as they will be played in Cleveland. Look for them to pounce all over UTSA and George Mason on the way to Newark.
In the first round Clemson is one of the last four at large teams in, they will face UAB in Dayton. UAB has no business being in the tournament, while Clemson may have deserved a better seed after a strong showing in the ACC Tournament. Despite their extra game, look for the Tigers to stun West Virginia in the second round. Meanwhile the young Wildcats of Kentucky will carry the momentum from the SEC Tournament to beat Princeton and Clemson on their way to Newark.
Xavier is always a tough out in the tournament after a first round test against Marquette they will find their match in Syracuse who has an easy second round game against Indiana State. The Orange when they are on top of their game are one of the best teams in the country, and while Xavier is a solid team, Syracuse just has too much talent and will be able to move on to the Sweet 16.
North Carolina will get its legs moving with Long Island in the second round, the Blackbirds are the perfect sparring partner for a Tar Heels team that looks shaky despite reaching the ACC Tournament Championship Game. Their next game however will be much tougher as Washington who should beat Georgia is quite capable of springing the upset. The one thing that could hurt the Huskies is North Carolina getting a home crowd in Charlotte. It will be close, but UNC will survive and reach the Regionals.
Regionals @ Newark, NJ
Ohio State, North Carolina, Syracuse, Kentucky
The top four seeds will reach the Prudential Center, and provide one of the most star studded regionals seen in years. These four teams are all capable of winning the entire tournament and the Regionals should be quite entertaining. The Sweet 16 will see the experience of Ohio State taking on the youth of Kentucky. The Wildcats have loads of talent, but in big showdown games they have often come up short in situations just like this. When the game is close the leadership of David Lighty will be the difference for the Buckeyes.
Meanwhile Syracuse will face North Carolina in the other Regional Semifinal. This one should also be good, but the Orange have a clear edge in talent led by Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche. The Tar Heels like Kentucky are fairly young and should be a threat for next year’s Final Four, but in 2011 it is Syracuse who will reach the Elite Eight.
Ohio State will be the favorite against Syracuse as they will be in every game they will play in this year’s tournament, but the Orange provide the biggest obstacle to them reaching Houston. Syracuse at one time was ranked #1 this season, and are battle tested having played in the Big East Conference. They have the weapons and they have the depth needed to pull off the upset, and don’t underestimate the ability for Syracuse to have the crowd edge, with many Syracuse graduates living in and around Newark. It will be close, but Syracuse will be the team that moves on to Houston, cutting down the net at the Rock.
Defending Champion Duke is looking to cut down the nets again, but this year the road to Houston will be much tougher as they are in a highly competitve region. The test will not come early as they will easily beat Hampton and Tennessee to reach the Sweet 16 in Anaheim.
Texas is the best number four seed in the Tournament; they could easily reach Reliant Stadium and turn Houston into a sea of burnt Orange. Look for them to fend off a tough Oakland team and waltz past Memphis, who will record an upset over Arizona in the second round.
The Big East will be the focus in Washington, as familiar foes UConn and Cincinnati will meet in the third round. For the Huskies the second round could be an early test as they will have to show they could get over the grueling five games in five nights they needed to win the Big East Tournament. However, Bucknell should not be that big of obstacle. Cincinnati could be another story; however as they will also find a tough match up in Missouri. In the end UConn with Kemba Walker will continue to win close games to reach the Sweet 16.
Shhh there is a secret great team out there located in the Southwest corner of the California. They are called San Diego State. They are 32-2 and almost nobody thinks of them as a championship contender. Of course playing in the Mountain West Conference hurts, and playing late at night when Dickie V and the rest of the ESPN talking heads are having Duke and North Carolina dancing in their heads as they take a long winter’s nap. The Aztecs will dominate their first two games beating North Colorado and Temple who will win the battle of Pennsylvania in the second round.
Regionals @ Anaheim, CA
Duke, San Diego State, Connecticut, Texas
On their best night Texas is capable of beating just about any team anywhere, but Duke provides too many matchup problems, especially with the shooting of Nolan Smith. This will be a big test for the Blue Devils, but in the end it will be too much outside shooting that will doom Texas.
Kemba Walker can win this game all by himself, but how much can UConn rely on him after the Big East Tournament and two early round games. Eventually the Huskies will need someone else to fill the shoes, as San Diego State knows how to play against teams with a big scoring threat. Of course both losses the Aztecs suffered were against the afore mentioned Jimmer Fredette and BYU. In the Mountain West Championship Game they finally solved BYU and that will help them beat UConn.
In the Regional Finals San Diego State will have a huge homecourt edge, as Duke will be far from their fan base and playing a team from Southern California who will have a short trip to see their Aztecs play. However, Duke has won in tougher places before and with their experience I expect them to again reach the Final Four.
Last season Kansas entered the tournament as the overwhelming favorite and ended up going belly up in the second round against Northern Iowa. Again a number one seed they will face another test in the second round as Coach Bill Self faces Illinois, who he left in 2003 to lead the Jayhawks. Talent wise the Jayhawks may be the best team in the country and with last year’s disappointment they should come out strong and easily make their way to San Antonio.
The Spiders of Richmond are deadly from the outside with the shooting of Kevin Anderson and Darien Brothers and have the look of the perfect sleeper team to reach the Sweet 16 as they provide matchup problems for both Vanderbilt and Louisville. The Cardinals should win their second round match against mismatched Morehead State, but Richmond will pull off the upset.
Purdue will have no problem beating St. Peter’s in the second round, as they are well experienced at winning in March, they will also find things easy in the third round as they will beat USC who will easily beat a Virginia Commonwealth team who has no business in the field of 68 before beating the banged up Georgetown team, that has not won Chris Wright and his injured left hand.
Notre Dame is capable of winning the tournament, and capable of falling in the first week of the tournament. While Akron should provide little resistance in the second round, Texas A&M will be a different story. The Aggies of course will have a tough test against Florida State, but with their front line defense and rebounding they will put the Irish to the test. In the end, however the Irish who won 10 of their last 12 games will get a boost from a homecourt edge in Chicago to reach the Sweet 16.
Regionals @ San Antonio, TX
Kansas, Notre Dame, Purdue, Richmond
Last year’s loss to Northern Iowa still stews in the minds of the Jayhawks and upon reaching the Sweet 16 they will face a double digit team in Richmond who is very similar to the Panthers with the ability to shoot from behind the arch. However, if Kansas faced that team again they would have won nine of ten times. The same is true with Richmond, and with the memories of last year so fresh expect Kansas to come out and win the game easily to reach the Elite Eight.
Notre Dame and Purdue are historic rivals in football both located in Indiana, but often they don’t schedule each other in basketball. This is a game that could go either way, but the battle tested Irish have played better against the top 25 than Purdue and that will be the difference as they reach the Elite Eight.
By now Kansas will be able to taste it and though a solid team Notre Dame does not match up well with the Jayhawks. Last year just one game did in the Jayhawks who began the season as number one spent most of the season ranked number one and lost in the second round. This year they have been just as good if not better having tasted that bitter pill, but they don’t have the target of being the number one overall and that suits them just fine as they earn their way to the Final Four in Houston.
Last season Butler was the ultimate Cinderella story as they came within a basket of winning the entire tournament in their hometown Indianapolis. They will be hard pressed to repeat their run, though they did finish their season strong to make it back to the Tournament. They have a test in the first round with Old Dominion, but that winning muscle memory will help them here as they win a tough 8-vs-9 matchup. However, against Pittsburgh their season will come to a crashing end, as the Panthers have too much talent for them to handle.
Meanwhile this year’s Butler could be Utah State. The second round could be tough for the Aggies who face Kansas State who came on strong after a rough start. However, Utah State has the experience and will be able to pull off the upset as they deserved much better than the #12 seed they got. Next up for them will not be Wisconsin, as the Badgers coming off a 33 point embarrassment in the Big Ten Tournament go down in the second round to Belmont. However, the Bears won’t see the Sweet 16 as Utah State heads to New Orleans.
With the suspension of Brandon Davies some are questioning if BYU still deserves a three seed. That may be a valid point, but in the Southeast Regional which no doubt is the weakest they may be able to go a long way, as Jimmer Fredette will be the best player on the court in every game they play. Wofford will provide little resistance in the second round for the Cougars. Next will be a meeting with Gonzaga who will stun St. John’s who will feel the loss of D.J. Kennedy who tore his ACL in the Big East Tournament. Any time Gonzaga is involved an upset can happen, but Fredette will be too much for the Zags to handle.
Michigan State is a ten seed after two straight trips to the Final Four. As long as they have Coach Tom Izzo they are a live dog, and against UCLA they should be able to win their way to a showdown with Florida. The Spartans have disappointed all season, but come March Coach Tom Izzo seems to have a Midas touch, look for them stun the Gators who will chomp through UCSB to reach the Sweet 16.
Regionals @ New Orleans, LA
Pittsburgh, Brigham Young, Michigan State, Utah State
The Southeast Region is made to order for Pittsburgh who despite all their success in recent years has failed to reach the Final Four. Unfortunately disappointment will sting the Panthers again as they are stunned by Utah State in Sweet 16 round. Look for Brockeith Pane to break apart the Panthers on offense, while Tai Wesley frustrates Pitt in the middle as the Aggies who are good on the defensive boards make the Elite Eight with a stunning upset of #1 Pittsburgh.
Jimmer Fredette will be the star of New Orleans as the Cougars end Michigan State’s hopes of a third straight trip to the Final Four setting up an unlikely all Beehive State Regional Final in New Orleans. Michigan State has yet to win three games in a row since starting the season 3-0. While they play better in March I don’t see them having an answer for Fredette who is capable of winning games on his own as he cements his claim for National Player of the Year.
The Southeast Region is one of the worst regions I have ever personally seen, as they have the worst 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 seeds. Some of course have been hit by injuries, some by a Moral Code, and others by a legacy of choking like a dog in Regionals I am looking at you Pitt. So we are left with BYU versus Utah State. In the second game of the season the Cougars edged the Aggie 78-72. I see much of the same this time around as the Cougars complete the Final Four.
Final Four-Houston, TX
Syracuse, Duke, Kansas, Brigham Young
Back in the Final Four the Blue Devils will face another test in Syracuse, who is battle tested having survived a tough Big East season, and a quality Eastern Regional. Any team alive at this point would be proud of their accomplishments, but the Blue Devils know what it takes to get to the final Monday, and for the second year in a row they beat a team from the Big East to reach the title game.
BYU is the mismatched team in this Final Four pairing, and they will be the softest opponent for Kansas who with Morris twins should be able to provide too many matchup problems for the Cougars. BYU who escaped a soft region will now feel the loss of Brandon Davies as they get blown out by the Jayhawks in the semifinals.
Duke and Kansas have been here before, meeting in the 1991 final after Duke upset UNLV. The Blue Devils won that game to claim their first National Championship, this year they will be looking for number five and their second in a row. The Jayhawks meanwhile will be trying to win their second championship in four years. While Duke won the title last year, Kansas was the best team in the country, but the randomness of the tournament saw them upended in the second round. They are just as good this year if not wiser, and with a team that for the last two seasons has been the best in the Nation it would be a disappointment if they ultimately don’t cut down the nets. Rock Chalk Jayhawk will be the theme in Houston as they edge Duke 74-70 to win the Championship.