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2007 SWEET SIXTEEN PREVIEW - EAST REGION
March 19, 2007

SCS.com The East region, taking place in East Rutherford, will feature a very exciting slate of action. The first two rounds featured some very exciting games, and the second round contests were all tight throughout. Some of the best players in the country will be featured in New Jersey next week, including Tyler Hansbrough, Jeff Green, Derrick Byars, and Nick Young. Not all the favorites advanced, but Vanderbilt was chosen in many office pools across America, and Southern Cal was extremely overshadowed by Kevin Durant and Texas. What will happen in East Rutherford next weekend? With so many quality teams, the secret will be whoever can get consistent outside shooting and half-court defense.

TEAM-BY-TEAM BREAKDOWN

(1) North Carolina (30-6)

How They Got Here: The Tar Heels, like they did in the regular season, were up-and-down in their first two rounds. They got off to a great start against Eastern Kentucky, but allowed the Colonels to get back in the game. UNC pulled away in the second half, though. Against Michigan State, the Tar Heels knew they would be in for a dog-fight. The Spartans hung tough with UNC for most of the game, but the depth of UNC was the difference.

The Coach: Roy Williams: One of the best coaches in the country, Williams had the stigma of being a coach that couldnít win the big one ó prior to his title with the Tar Heels in 2005. He has done a terrific job this season mixing the veterans with the star freshmen.

The Star: Tyler Hansbrough: One of the hardest-working players in the country, Hansbrough is relentless around the basket and is very difficult to stop once he gets the ball down low. He is also a terrific free-throw shooter, making him one of the most efficient scorers around.

The Supporting Cast: The Tar Heels are the deepest and one of the most talented teams in the country. Brandan Wright is a terrific player, while the freshmen backcourt of Tywon Lawson and Wayne Ellington is very good. Reyshawn Terry is the x-factor.

Why They Could Advance To Atlanta: North Carolina, despite their youth, is extremely talented and deep. They can play at multiple speeds, and they have several scorers that can fill it up at any given time. Their transition offense is second-to-none, and if they get into a running game with someone, the Tar Heels are unbeatable. Hansbrough and Wright might be the best post combo in the country, and the perimeter group is athletic and loaded. They have balance, depth, coaching ó all the ingredients for a deep run. This team is tough.

Why They Might Not: Heading into the ACC Tournament, the Tar Heels had lost two of three and four of their last nine. With all the talent they have, the Tar Heels are still very young and relatively inexperienced. They start three freshmen, and most of their ďveteransĒ are sophomores. Moreover, the Tar Heels struggle defensively at times. They gave up at least 81 points in each of their losses. If you can get North Carolina into a half-court game, forcing them to run their offensive sets, they are beatable.

Three Key Factors:

[1] Defense: The Tar Heels are not the best defensive team around, and struggle against teams that can match them in terms of points.
[2] Youth: North Carolina starts three freshmen, and the rest of their key players are sophomores, except for Reyshawn Terry. Will that make a difference?
[3] Depth: The Tar Heels can wear down everyone in the country, but that has been a negative sometimes. With so many options, itís tough to get into a rhythm.

(2) Georgetown (28-6)

How They Got Here: The Hoyas are one of the hottest teams in the country. They struggled early against Belmont, but dominated the last 30 or so minutes for a blow-out win. Boston College turned out to be a tough game. It was back-and-forth until Georgetown made plays down the stretch to get the W.

The Coach: John Thompson III: Following in the footsteps of his father, Thompson has brought the Hoyas back to prominence since he arrived on the scene. The Hoyas started slow this season, but Thompson III brought a few young players along, giving Georgetown the weapons they needed to make a run.

The Star: Jeff Green: The Big East Player of the Year is one of the best all-around players in the country. He can do it all ó from scoring to rebounding to passing to defending. He is very difficult to guard due to his versatile inside-outside game.

The Supporting Cast: The Hoyas arenít all about Jeff Green. Roy Hibbert is a terrific 7-2 center, and is tough to stop. Their backcourt has been underrated all year, led by point guard Jonathan Wallace and a very good two-way player in Jessie Sapp. Dajuan Summers might be the next Jeff Green for the Hoyas.

Why They Could Advance To Atlanta: Their frontcourt duo of Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert is one of the best in the country. Green is an extremely tough match-up, and Hibbert has had huge games this year inside. If Jessie Sapp and Jonathan Wallace are knocking down their perimeter shots, it makes the Hoyas much more difficult to stop. Georgetown has one of the best offenses around. Defensively, the Hoyas are physical and force you to take bad shots. The Hoyas are not an easy team to match-up with.

Why They Might Not: The offense tends to become too focused on Green at times. Hibbert is not the dominant center his size insists he should be, and Wallace and Sapp are inconsistent from beyond the three-point line. Explosive guards are able to exploit the Hoyas guards at both ends of the floor. Hibbert needs to assert himself down low in order for the Hoyas to beat teams that can match their size inside. Teams that are physical and wonít back down from Georgetown have a shot.

Three Key Factors:

[1] Guard play: The Hoyas are led by their frontcourt duo of Hibbert and Green, but the backcourt of Wallace and Sapp will be the key for Georgetown.
[2] Roy Hibbert: The 7-2 big man has the size and all-around ability to be a dominant center. However, he is soft and does not assert himself at times.
[3] Supporting cast: The Hoyas arenít deep nor are they overly talented. If Green or Hibbert are having an off-day, this team is very beatable.

(5) USC (25-11)

How They Got Here: The Trojans were vastly overlooked heading into the NCAA Tournament, overshadowed in their pod by Kevin Durant of Texas, as well as their first round opponent Arkansas, the last at-large team placed into the field. They dominated most of the game against UA, neutralizing the Razorbacksí edge inside. Against Texas, they overcame Kevin Durant and the young Texas Longhorns to get the victory in the second half.

The Coach: Tim Floyd: One of the most underrated coaches in the country, Floyd is a terrific college coach. He didnít do well in the NBA, but the college game is a different story. He had the Trojans competitive in nearly every game, and led them to victories despite a lack of inside talent. Moreover, without a true point guard, Floyd has the Trojans in the Sweet Sixteen.

The Star: Nick Young: One of the least-known stars, Young is a terrific talent. He doesnít get a lot of publicity on a national level, but people who follow the Pac-10 know how good Young is. He can score in a variety of ways, and is extremely athletic when finishing around the basket. He has asserted himself on a national stage.

The Supporting Cast: The Trojans are perimeter-oriented, and are tough to beat when they are knocking down their shots. Gabe Pruitt became eligible midway through the year, and he can shoot. Lodrick Stewart is another terrific long-range shooter, while Daniel Hackett stepped up against Texas. Taj Gibson is the main man down low ó he can rebound and block shots.

Why They Could Advance To Atlanta: The Trojans are very tough to blow out because of their terrific defense. They donít allow teams to get open shots, and have a stable of long, athletic wings that can disrupt opponents. Offensively, the Trojans have several shooters that can get hot at any time. They donít rely on one player too much, and can beat you in a variety of ways. Gibson is underrated down low.

Why They Might Not: The Trojans lost 11 games for a reason. They are somewhat small, and only use one post player consistently in Gibson. Therefore, they are vulnerable to teams with two quality big men that can create their own shots (i.e. North Carolina). Moreover, the Trojans donít have a true point guard, and tend to turn the ball over at times. They are susceptible to ball pressure. Lastly, if USC isnít hitting their outside shots, they are in trouble.

Three Key Factors:

[1] Shooting: USC is very good from long-range, and they have plenty of guys that knock down perimeter shots. If they get cold, though, they are in trouble.
[2] Size: The Trojans have several big guys they use, but only one provides anything but fouls. Teams with good big guys make them vulnerable.
[3] Defense: The Trojans have one of the most underrated defenses in the country, and they really hold teams to low field-goal percentages.

(6) Vanderbilt (21-11)

How They Got Here: Vanderbilt was very impressive in their first two rounds. They absolutely destroyed George Washington in the first round, hitting them with a barrage of three-pointers early and often. A hard-fought battle with Washington State followed, but the 'Dores prevailed in overtime.

The Coach: Kevin Stallings: Stallings is probably the least-known of the coaches in East Rutherford, and his highlight this year may have been his incident with Joakim Noah. However, Stallings is a good coach that always has the Commodores in contention, no matter what talent level they have. He has turned Vanderbilt into a terrific team this year.

The Star: Derrick Byars: The SEC Player of the Year has developed into a star this year. He is a terrific all-around player who can beat you in a variety of ways. He can knock down the three with consistency, and can also drive to the basket. Defensively, he may have saved the game against Washington State with his block on Taylor Rochestie in the closing seconds of overtime.

The Supporting Cast: The Commodores are filled with three-point shooters that stretch the defense. Shan Foster is a terrific offensive player that has expanded his game this year, while Dan Cage is a very good outside gunner. Alex Gordon takes care of the ball at the point, while Ross Neltner, a former LSU transfer, is tough inside.

Why They Could Advance To Atlanta: If Vanderbilt is knocking down their outside shots, they can beat anyone. With four shooters who can hit three-pointers consistently, they are tough to match-up with defensively. Byars can make a difference at both ends of the floor, and can make clutch shots in the closing seconds of games. The Commodores donít make mistakes very often at either end, and seemed to have rid themselves of the late-season slump they were in.

Why They Might Not: Likewise, if the Commodores arenít hitting their three-pointers, they are very beatable. They arenít one-dimensional offensively, but their three-point ability stretches the defense and allows Byars and Foster to drive to the basket. Moreover, Vanderbilt doesnít have dominant inside players or dynamite athletes. Teams that can control the boards and the paint have a great shot against Vandy.

Three Key Factors:

[1] Three-point shooting: Vanderbilt is a great three-point shooting team, and has rode that to a couple of wins in March. Will their hot streak continue?
[2] Size: Vanderbilt starts four perimeter players, meaning they are somewhat small on the court. Against a big team with quality post players, that could hurt them.
[3] Derrick Byars: Byars can do-it-all on the court, and gives Vandy a chance to win whenever he steps on the court. He needs to put the ĎDores on his back.

WHY TO WATCH

The East Region is going to be one of the most exciting in the Tournament. There are talented players up and down the region, and there are some interesting personnel matchups to watch, none moreso than the Big East Player of the Year Jeff Green against the SEC Player of the Year in Derrick Byars. On the other side, Iím interested to see how North Carolina defends Nick Young, and how the Trojans go about guarding the post tandem for the Tar Heels. It should be an entertaining three games in East Rutherford.

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