2009 NCAA Tournament Preview
This regional plays out well for Louisville, who faces Morehead State in the first round, and the winner of Ohio State/Siena in the second round. The fact the games are in Dayton, could give some assistance to Ohio State who should be able to push past the Saints in the opener, but in the end the Cardinals will be too strong for the Buckeyes, as they advance to the Sweet 16. Also reaching the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis, will be Wake Forest was should have no problem beating Cleveland State, before facing Utah in the second round after the Utes bounce Arizona, the least deserving team in the tournament. In the bottom half of the draw, Michigan State should cruise to the Sweet 16 playing in Minneapolis, as they face Robert Morris and Boston College, who will knock off USC in the 7-10 match up. The Trojans who needed to win the Pac 10 Tournament to reach the Big Dance will symbolize the Pac 10 struggles as that conference makes a rapid exit from the tournament. Elsewhere West Virginia is the region’s spoiler as they will continue their solid play from the Big East Tourney, by reaching the Sweet 16, over North Dakota State who will deliver the first rounds biggest upset when they knock off defending champion Kansas, as their fans travel the short trip from Fargo to Minneapolis.
Regionals @ Indianapolis, IN
Louisville, Wake Forest, West Virginia, Michigan State
Wake Forest should provide the biggest road block to the Cardinals march to Detroit, as they have shown they are capable of beating the best teams in the country as shown by their upset wins over Duke and North Carolina during the season. While the Mountaineers of West Virginia will make it an all Big Regional Final, by ending the Spartans dreams of playing the Final Four in Motown. In the end it will be Louisville as the best team in the Big East all season continues their quiet efficiency by reaching the Final Four.
The focus here is on the potential match up of #1 seed UConn and #2 Memphis in the regional finals, as both teams feel they deserved top seeds, and feel they can potential win the entire tournament. You know so many times when a match up is assumed at the start of the tournament it just never happens as one or both lose on the road to the Elite Eight. That will be the case this time, as Maryland stuns Memphis is a second round match up in Kansas City, as Maryland should have no problem beating back Cal. Elsewhere look for form to hold out as Missouri and Marquette will waltz trough their first round games, before meeting in the second round in Boise, there it will be the Tigers who show their claws as they continue to roll off their Big XII Tournament Championship. While in the top half of the draw UConn will reach the Sweet 16, unlike Memphis, as they should easily beat Texas A&M, while Purdue beats Northern Iowa on the way to beating Washington in the second round, as all Pac 10 teams will be eliminated before the first weekend is over.
Regionals @ Glenndale, AZ
UConn, Purdue, Missouri, Maryland
In the Sweet 16 round, UConn will finally feel the loss of Jerome Dyson, as Prudue ends the Huskies dreams of repeating the Women’s/Men’s double, as the Lady Huskies are a virtual lock to win the Women’s Final Four. Meanwhile the Terrapins Cinderella dreams come to an end as the Missouri Tigers continue to roll, reaching the Elite Eight, as they only region where both the top seeds are eliminated bring us a great finals of Missouri against Purdue. This is where the Tigers will shine, as the Big XII is a better overall league then the Big 10, and Missouri by winning their Conference Tournament are already tested, as they reach the Final Four.
This is Pittsburgh’s region to lose as the Panthers who have long been a serious contender, enter the tournament with a top seed. Look for these Panthers to get hot fast as their smothering defense should crush East Tennessee State and Tennessee on the way to the Sweet 16. Meanwhile Florida State, who stunned North Carolina in the ACC Tournament, continues to play well reaching Boston by beating a tough Wisconsin team and Portland State, who will stun Xavier in the first round. UCLA should be able to save the Pac 10 from a complete embarrassment in the first round, but in the end they won’t be able to get past Villanova, who will be playing the first two rounds at home in Philadelphia. Speaking about playing at home look for the Dukies, to rule Greensboro as they waltz past Binghamton and Minnesota, after the Gophers led by Tubby Smith beats Texas in the 7-10 game.
Regionals @ Boston, MA
Pittsburgh, Florida State, Villanova, Duke
Unlike the Western Regional where a potential 1 vs. 2 match up has fans salivating only to be disappointed the Blue Devils and Panthers should have no problem reaching their final, as both Florida State, and Villanova do not match up well with either of the top two teams. This is where the all eyes will be in the Elite Eight, as Duke and Pittsburgh should be a great game. In the end its Pitt’s turn as they final reach the Final Four by beating Duke in a close defensive battle in Boston.
At the start of the season, people seriously were asking seriously if North Carolina could go undefeated. While the Tar Heels, did suffer four losses they are still the overwhelming favorite of this tournament, as Tyler Hansbrough in his senior season has Detroit or Bust written across his forehead. Look for Carolina Blue to reach the Sweet 16 easily as neither Radford or LSU should provide any serious challenge in the first two rounds in Greensboro. Gonzaga, who was once the Cinderelle draling in the tournament, themselves will taste the bitter sting of defeat was Western Kentucky gets back to back upset wins over Illinois and the Zags to reach the Sweet 16. Arizona State will be another Pac-10 bust as they get tripped up by Temple in the first round, as Syracuse continues their strong play by reaching the Sweet 16. Elsewhere Clemson, will make Michigan’s first visit to the Tournament in a decade as the Wolverinees go home after the first round, while Oklahoma reaches the Sweet 16 by beating Clemson and Morgan State.
Regionals @ Memphis, TN
North Carolina, Western Kentucky, Syracuse, Oklahoma
Ty Lawson’s toe may limit him in the first two rounds, but by the Sweet 16 he should be back in the Tar Heels lineup as Midnight strikes for the Cinderella Hill Toppers, elsewhere Syracuse, and the Oklahoma battle in what could be the best game of the Sweet 16. Look for the Orange to find a way to win another overtime game, as Syracuse who beat UConn in a classic six overtime game, continues their manic March by reaching the Elite Eight. However, in the end it’s North Carolina, as the team who entered the season as the prohibitive favorite reaches the Final Four.
Final Four-Detroit, Ml
Louisville, Missouri, Pittsburgh, North Carolina
With three number one seeds in the Final Four, Missouri will seem like the odd team out and will be the first team out, as they will see their run come to an end against Louisville, as Rick Pitino leading his third different team to the Final Four reaches the Final game with a solid win over the Tigers. In the other semifinal, look for the Tar Heels to continue their mission to cut down the nets as they survive a tight battle against the Panthers stifling defense. In the Final it will be Tyler Hansborugh and Roy Williams cutting down the nets as Carolina’s big man in the middle give the Tar Heels the long anticipated one shining moment in Detroit.
#1 Villanova, #4 Wichita State, #10 Butler, #11 St. Bonaventure
East Regional Semifinals—Boston, MA
#1 Villanova over #4 Wichita State
If there is, any team that can hang with Villanova on a right night it is the Shockers of Wichita State. They have good scoring depth and could put up big scores. However, their defense is sorely lacking. The Wildcats depth is just as good, but their talent has a much higher ceiling. The game will be close, but Villanova will find that extra gear and win in the final ten minutes with Mikali Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo taking over when the game is on the line.
#10 Butler over #11 St. Bonaventure
Two programs looking to make the next step meet with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line. St. Bonaventure who had not won a tournament game since 1970 put the nation on notice as they frustrated UCLA in the First Four. Butler meanwhile is still trying to find its way in the Big East while winning close games and showing the ability to come back. The Bonnies will try to turn on the pressure, but unlike UCLA, Butler will have the answer and win a close battle.
East Region Final--Boston, MA
#1 Villanova over #10 Butler
It will be a Big East showdown in Boston as Villanova takes on Butler with a trip to the Final Four in San Antonio on the line. When the Wildcats were ranked #1 and unbeaten at the start of the year, Butler was the team that served them their first loss. However, the Wildcats won the next two meetings, including a 19-point win the in the Semifinals of the Big East Tournament. Look for Villanova to continue that momentum and advance.
First Round—Wichita, KS
#16 Penn over #1 Kansas!
It is bound to happen one of these days. A #16 team will beat a number one seed. It has happened in the Women’s tournament, where the top three seeds are 263-1. It almost happened in 1989 with Princeton and Georgetown. In 1998 in the women’s tournament, an Ivy League team did it when Harvard beat Stanford. Never sleep on the Ivy League. Kansas won a weak Big XII Conference and are #1 on reputation alone like Stanford was; they have injury concerns like Stanford as Udoka Azubuike missed the conference tournament. The Quakers are excellent at defending the three-point shot and will take away one of Kansas big weapons. In a crazy wide-open year it just feels right this is now, this is Penn’s game as they carry on the dog magic from the Eagles Super Bowl run.
#8 Seton Hall over #9 NC State
When the Pirates are at their best they can be one of the teams in the country as they appeared on the verge of cracking the Top 10 early in the season. However, at times Seton Hall just goes into a funk that led them to a disappointing season in conference play. However, with players like Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado, Seton Hall could be a team that could get hot and makes a long run. NC State managed to piece together enough wins to get into the tournament, but they do not have anyone on their team that you need to take notice of. This is a make or break game for Seton Hall who needs a tournament win more than any program. The Pirates have just too much talent for another first-round letdown.
#8 Seton Hall over #16 Penn
When the season began for Seton Hall, there had to be a feeling they could become one of the elite teams in the county. However, in the toughest conference in the nation, the Pirates too often walked the plank losing many close games due to their struggles from the free throwline. Every year there is at least one team from the 8-9 game that goes to the Sweet 16, and Seton Hall is the team best equipped for that type of run.
First Round—San Diego, CA
#12 New Mexico State over #5 Clemson
Clemson was optimistic this season, but an injury to Donte Grantham derailed their season. The Tigers struggled down the stretch, posting a record of 2-4 down the stretch. New Mexico State is a strong talented team that could pose problems to even the best teams in the country. The Aggies can provide strong defense and have one of the best three-pointer shooters in the country with Zach Lofton making 39% of shots from downtown. This game has upset written all over it.
#4 Auburn over #13 College of Charleston
The College of Charleston comes into the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation, with just one loss in the last two months. Meanwhile Auburn limps into the tournament following an ankle injury to Anfernee McLemore. The Tigers were just 2-4 down the stretch. A key for Auburn will be Horace Spencer, who too often finds himself in foul trouble. If Spencer spends too much time on the bench avoiding the whistle, the Cougars cans score a massive upset.
#12 New Mexico State over #4 Auburn
This game almost reads as a repeat of New Mexico’s match up against Clemson. Auburn also had the look of a Final Four team before the loss of McLemore. The Aggies have that strong defense to put pressure on Auburn and the shooter to win the game in Zach Lofton. Look for the Aggies to be the big Cinderella story as they take down a pair of Tigers and reach the Sweet 16.
First Round—Detroit, MI
#11 Syracuse over #6 TCU
The at-large team that got the most heat was Syracuse as they stole a spot that should have gone to Notre Dame who beat them in the regular season. However, no team has traditionally rallied from a position like this more than Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange. TCU had a fine season but struggled after losing Jaylen Fisher. Without Fisher, the Horned Frogs are vulnerable for sure and likely to get picked off.
#3 Michigan State over #14 Bucknell
Michigan State looked like they could be one of the teams to beat before the storm clouds gathered around East Lansing. The Spartans have one of the most talented teams in the country and could win the NCAA Tournament is things roll the right the way. Like their Big Ten brethren, Michigan State is coming off a long layoff, but they have the right coach in Tom Izzo to get over that hurdle. In addition, Bucknell does not have the manpower necessary to put forth a major challenge, look for Sparty to waltz in this game.
#3 Michigan State over #11 Syracuse
With players like Mile Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State is arguably the most talented team in the country, while outside distractions have tarnished the entire school and athletic program the Spartans in their own bubble will be hard to beat. Syracuse proved it belonged in the tournament just getting past the First Four, and their extra win over an injured TCU team was gravy, they don’t have a prayer against the Sparty in Motown.
First Round—Pittsburgh, PA
#10 Oklahoma over #7 Rhode Island
The biggest mystery to me is how Oklahoma got in the tournament after playing terrible basketball down the stretch, with a 4-11 record since January 16th. It appears that selection committee chose the Sooners due to having a star player in Trae Young. Young has been nearly as cold as the rest of his team with his draft stock likely falling. Rhode Island had a solid season but does not have nearly the talent of Oklahoma. If Young is able to find his game they can be dangerous and despite the scoffs, at their inclusion, they should find a way to beat the Rams.
#2 Duke over #15 Iona
Iona has become regulars in the NCAA Tournament, winning the MAAC for the third straight season. The Gales though have not won in the big dance, holding an all-time record of 1-12. The Gales have the ability to put up points, but their defense is lacking and that is not the recipe to beat Duke. Once again, the Blue Devils have the talent for a long run led by Gary Trent Jr, Marvin Bagley III, and Grayson Allen. Unless the Blue Devils bus breaks down Iona does not have a prayer.
#2 Duke over #10 Oklahoma
If Oklahoma is to redeem their poor finish, it will be in this game. The Sooners do not have to beat Duke, but they cannot allow themselves to be run off the floor. Trae Young can take over and carry the Sooners. Young knows he should have done better, and so do the Sooners. In the end, Duke is just too deep and provided they do not make a crucial mistake should be able to put the game out of reach by the final five minutes of regulation.
#2 Duke, #3 Michigan State, #8 Seton Hall, #12 New Mexico State
Midwest Regional Semifinals—Omaha, NE
#8 Seton Hall over #12 New Mexico State
When the season began, Seton Hall was picked to be one of the dark horses to make a long tournament run. Those predictions were tempered a bit when the Pirates scuffled late in the season. However, with a favorable road, the Pirates can make that run thanks to Angel Delgado and Desi Rodriguez. New Mexico State can provide some resistance, but it is hard to imagine them stopping Hall’s dynamic duo.
#2 Duke over #3 Michigan State
In what could be one of the great games of the entire tournament, two elite blue-chip programs meet with each team having a legitimate chance to go on and win a National Championship. When a game is this close you have to sometimes look at external factors and experience, and that edge goes to the Blue Devils. The player who will end up making the difference will be Grayson Allen, who will hit a late three-point shot to launch Duke into the Elite Eight.
Midwest Regional Final—Omaha, NE
#2 Duke over #8 Seton Hall
After beating Michigan State, the Pirates will be a cakewalk for the Blue Devils. Seton Hall has a load of talent, but going against a team like Duke just seems like Mission Impossible for the Hall. Look for Duke to get big games across the board as they run the Pirates out of the gym rather quickly.
San Antonio, TX
#4 Arizona, #1 Xavier, #1 Villanova, #2 Duke
Arizona over Xavier
After ESPN released a story that coach Sean Miller was caught on an FBI wiretap, Arizona must have felt like those at the battle of the Alamo as the vultures appeared to be coming from every direction for Miller and the Wildcats start player Deandre Ayton. However, after the smoke clears, the story unraveled and Miller, Ayton and the Wildcats emerged stronger and more determined. Quietly winning the Pac-12 Tournament, Arizona has the look of a team on a mission. Xavier has the ability to play with the Wildcats as Trevon Bluiett is able to put up big numbers. In the end, Deandre Ayton will make the big play and carry Arizona into the championship game.
Duke over Villanova
Two years ago, Villanova captured a championship in the most dramatic fashion possible as Kris Jenkins won the game at the buzzer. The Wildcats hope to feel the euphoria once again as they spent most of the season as the top-ranked team in the country. While Villanova has a roster loaded with future professionals, the type of team that can give them fits is a team that is well coached steady and can hit clutch three-point shots, like Duke. The game should be another heavyweight title brawl, with the down and dirty Grayson Allen making the big play in the end to life Duke on to another championship game.
Arizona 86 Duke 77
There have been players that have carried teams to a National Championship in the past to become tournament legends, like Danny Manning at Kansas, Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse and Kemba Walker at UConn. When this tournament is over Deandre Ayton will be added to that list. Ayton is the type of franchise player that will make winning the draft lottery extra important this year, and after Arizona cut down the nets he will be remembered as a tournament legend. Look for him to save his best for last and put up big numbers in the title game against Duke, to lead the Wildcats to a championship that will last forever, or until enough evidence comes out for it to be vacated oh that investigation, what a different world this tournament could be when that is all said and done