|SCS.COM NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: MEMPHIS
March 17, 2009
Larry, SCS.com Staff Writer
The Memphis region features one of the most anticipated individual match-ups in the tournament should Oklahoma and North Carolina meet up. Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough and Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin could provide a clash that the other eight players on the court may want to steer clear. The Tar Heels also have a difficult road to the Final Four; each round presents a potential tough game for Roy Williams’ squad, especially the potential Gonzaga game.
(1) North Carolina - Along with Connecticut, the Tar Heels could be the most talented team in the country. Hansbrough is one of the most accomplished players in college basketball history and provides the inside punch to Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson’s outside. The Tar Heels are one of the few teams in the country with the depth to survive foul trouble.
(2) Oklahoma - Anytime a team has the best player on the court, they have a chance to win. Fortunately for Jeff Capel’s squad, he has the best player in the country in Blake Griffin. Griffin will get plenty of help from freshman Willie Warren, who has improved throughout the season.
(3) Syracuse - Syracuse made one of the most memorable conference tournament runs in recent memory before falling in the championship to Louisville. The big question is how much gas is left in the tank. The key to their success could be Jonny Flynn controlling the tempo in order to save the team’s legs.
(6) Arizona State - Arizona State has a ton of talent, but has just been inconsistent this season. Sophomore James Harden is a potential top five pick and tends to have to burden a large load at times. However if their inside game comes to play, they can make a lengthy run.
(11) Temple - The Owls won their second straight Atlantic Ten championship to gain entrance into the tournament, but have a tough match-up. However, if Dionte Christmas is hot, they can certainly make a Sweet Sixteen run. Whoever wins the Temple and Arizona State contest will have a good chance of beating the Syracuse/Stephen F. Austin game.
(4) Gonzaga - The Zags are a sleeper team to advance to the Final Four. They are as long as any team in the country and can get hot from the perimeter. Potential tough match-ups are teams with quick guard and rugged inside play.
Most Over-Seeded Team - Syracuse: Entering the Big East Tournament, Syracuse looked to have a chance to earn a four seed if they won the whole thing. However, climbing their way to a three seems a big gaudy and they appear to be the weakest of the threes.
Runner-Up: Illinois: The Illini have been less than stellar down the stretch and recently lost their point guard. Watching them play over the last month, they looked closer to a six or seven seed.
Most Under-Seeded Team - Clemson: The Tigers were a top 20 team all season and coming out of the ACC, so obviously they played a tough schedule. Oklahoma certainly will not be happy to see them as a seven seed.
Runner-Up: Temple: For whatever reason, Temple did not generate the bubble talk that teams with lesser profiles did. Their RPI suggested they were closer to a 8 seed.
Team On a Roll - Syracuse: No team captured the nation last week more than the ‘Cuse. Any team that beats Big East big boys Connecticut and West Virginia in overtime on consecutive nights have to be considered on a roll.
Runner-Up: Western Kentucky: Western Kentucky won seven in a row and eleven out of twelve prior to entering the NCAA Tournament, including the Sun Belt Championship. They also only lost back-to-back games once this season.
Team In a Slump - Clemson: The Tigers have lost four out of five with their only win coming against lowly Virginia. Not to mention, they lost to Georgia Tech in the ACC opener.
Runner-Up: Louisiana State: Losers in three of their previous four is a cause for concern for the SEC’s most consistent team this season. This seems to be a team that peaked too early in the season.
Best First Round Matchup - Arizona State vs Temple: If Dionte Christmas and James Harden are on top of their game, this could turn into a game of one versus one. However, it could be Jeff Pendergraph and Lavoy Allen who decide the outcome in the paint.
Runner-Up: Clemson vs Michigan: Clemson is struggling, but they have a lot of talent and are extremely athletic. Michigan runs a unique style of offense and a tough zone defense. Style of play could determine this one.
Best Potential Second Round Matchup - Oklahoma vs Clemson: If Clemson figures out Michigan’s zone and advances past the Wolverines, they have the athletes to compete with Oklahoma. The Sooners will be a tough out, but If Booker and Sykes can frustrate Blake Griffin, Clemson can win the game.
Runner-Up: Syracuse vs Arizona State: Both of these teams are going to have tough first round games, but if they both win, it will be fun to see James Harden take on the Orange’s zone. Once again, Pendergraph’s impact on the inside could give Syracuse trouble in the paint.
Best First Round Coaching Matchup - Oliver Purnell (Clemson) vs Jim Beilein (Michigan): Both coaches have led multiple teams into the NCAA Tournament, so clearly both are winners. Whichever coach gameplans better and puts their players in position to dictate style will advance.
Runner-Up: Jeff Capel (Oklahoma) vs Todd Bozeman (Morgan State): Capel has turned Oklahoma into a national power and has won at the lower levels of division one. Bozeman once had California emerging as a Pac 10 power before being let go due to violations. He now has Morgan State in the tournament and beat Maryland earlier this season.
Best Bet for a First Round Upset - Western Kentucky over Illinois: Illinois is without its point guard and Western Kentucky has a very good backcourt, which spells trouble for the Illini. Illinois doesn’t exactly have the frontcourt either to make up for the injury.
Runner-Up: Stephen F. Austin over Syracuse: Will it happen? Probably not, but Stephen F. Austin has two conference players of the year on its roster. They also can compete with Syracuse on the boards where most smaller schools get dominated.
Best Player You Know All About - Blake Griffin (Oklahoma): The national player of the year and potential number one draft pick in the NBA has to be considered the best player in the region. Griffin has the size and athleticism to dominate opponents.
Runner-Up: Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina): One of the most accomplished players in Carolina history gives more effort than any player in the country. You can believe he will do everything is his power to hoist that gold trophy.
Best Player You've Never Heard Of - Dionte Christmas (Temple): Playing in the Atlantic Ten, he might not get the notoriety he deserves. If temple makes a run in the tournament, it will be Christmas leading the way.
Runner-Up: A.J. Slaughter (Western Kentucky): After the Illinois game, the country will surely know Slaughter’s name. He is a very good guard who can score and run an offense.
Best Name - A.J. Slaughter (Western Kentucky): With a name like Slaughter, he will surely draw the attention of the casual fan. If they win a game or two he could become a star.
Runner-Up: Dionte Christmas (Temple): The same applies for Christmas, however he may appeal to the soccer Mom a little more. But he can score with any player in the country.
Best Reason to Watch this Region - No region may have more star power than the Memphis region. Most notably, the Tyler Hansbrough and Blake Griffin battle could be the best of the tournament. The matchup with lesser names but no shortage of talent is the first round game with James Harden and Dionte Christmas.
Runner-Up: This could be the region of upsets. Illinois seems primed for the taking and Syracuse might be the weakest of the three seeds, while Clemson is struggling. After the first round, Temple, Arizona State, Gonzaga could cause trouble after the first round games.
G: James Harden, Arizona State
G: Ty Lawson, North Carolina
F: Josh Heytvelt, Gonzaga
F: Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
C: Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
As mentioned earlier, no region has the star power of the Memphis region. James Harden is the most underappreciated player from a major conference. He is potentially a top five NBA pick. Heytvelt and Griffin both have solid inside/outside games, as does Hansbrough. All three will be major factors in this tournament. Lastly, Lawson’s ankle could determine Carolina’s Final Four chances.
Probably the most open region with the exception of top seeded North Carolina. Gonzaga will give North Carolina a lot of trouble thanks to their length and ability to shoot the basketball. Oklahoma has struggled as of late since Blake Griffin was injured, but if he is healthy they too have the talent to beat North Carolina. When it is all said and done, look for North Carolina to advance to Detroit.