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March 24, 2008

SCS.comThe 2008 NCAA Tournament's first weekend is behind us, and the East region's top four seeds have survived. Number one overall seed North Carolina will take on Washington State in one Sweet Sixteen battle, while Louisville and Tennessee will go head-to-head in another. The winners of those two games will meet with a Final Four bid and a trip to San Antonio on the line. So who has the edge in these Sweet Sixteen battles, and can anyone take down the Tar Heels? Here's a look inside the upcoming week's action in the East.


(1) North Carolina Since when did Raleigh, N.C. become such a hot vacation spot? That’s the purpose it served the Tar Heels during the first and second rounds- a weekend get-away, that is- as they rolled to consecutive 30 point victories over Mount St. Mary’s and Arkansas. Nobody figured North Carolina would have much trouble with the Mount, but how about this amazing stat: North Carolina led Mount St. Mary’s by 19 at the half, but actually led the Razorbacks by 25 points after 20 minutes. That’s right, Mount St. Mary’s out of the Northeast Conference put up a better first half fight than a mighty SEC team.
(2) Tennessee It sure wasn’t easy for Tennessee this past weekend. First, 15th seeded American battled the Volunteers for basically the entire game, and then Butler took them to overtime in round two. Bruce Pearl must feel very fortunate to get out of that Butler game alive, as the under seeded Bulldogs could easily be heading to the Sweet 16 instead of Tennessee.
(3) Louisville Rick Pitino probably didn’t anticipate such an easy second round win, but the Cardinals ended up pounding Oklahoma 78-48. The Sooners could not handle Louisville’s vicious pressure defense, as they turned the ball over continuously during the course of the game. Louisville will obviously face more resistance when it arrives in Charlotte to play Tennessee, but for now the Cardinals can enjoy two easy victories in the first two rounds.
(4) Washington State Washington State began the NCAA tournament with a sluggish first half, and the Cougars were tied with Winthrop 29-29 at the beginning of the second half. That’s when Washington State began to completely dominate its competition. The Cougars held a Kent State-like 11 points in the second half, scoring 42 themselves, and then roughed up Notre Dame in every aspect of the game in the next round. The Irish’s usually explosive offense was limited to 41 points, but that’s what playing Washington State will do to you.


(1) North Carolina Everything is working for North Carolina. There’s no other way to put it, really. The Tar Heels are on fire from the perimeter. They are making free throws. Rebounding isn’t a problem, and neither are turnovers. The walk-ons got in on the action this weekend and even drained some shots in their limited court time.
(2) Tennessee Bruce Pearl’s pressing defense is doing its job in the NCAA tournament. The Volunteers forced American into 21 turnovers on Friday and rattled Butler on Sunday, a team that normally never turns the ball over.
(3) Louisville One of the main keys to Louisville’s success is its three point shooting. Luckily for the Cardinals, the threes have been falling lately. Louisville shot 50 percent from behind the arc on Friday and 53 percent on Sunday. That will need to happen again in order to take down Tennessee, which shoots well itself.
(4) Washington The Cougars defense was stifling in the first two games. They limited Winthrop to 11 points in the second half in the first round, and shut down Notre Dame’s high-scoring offense on Saturday, allowing just 41 points in that game. Defense is Washington State’s specialty, and the Cougars will hope to contain another prolific offensive team in North Carolina in the next round.


(1) North Carolina So I guess I have to list something here? All right, I’ll find something… (meanwhile, I log online to look for any type of obscure stat to write about). Looks like I came up with nothing. Wait a second, I found something! North Carolina allowed 51 second-half points to Arkansas on Sunday. Of course, the game was over at that point. But just because I have to say something negative about the Tar Heels, I’ll say this: they do need to defend well in order to advance in this tournament.
(2) Tennessee I said that Tennessee’s defense was causing turnovers earlier in this column, but the Volunteers are also committing turnovers of their own. They turned the ball over 20 times against American and 14 times against Butler. J.P. Prince, who saw time at point guard for the first time on Sunday, turned the ball over 6 times against the Bulldogs. This is an issue that could lose the Volunteers the game against Louisville.
(3) Louisville Free throw shooting must improve for Louisville, because the Cardinals have been terrible from the line so far in the NCAA tournament. They went 9-18 from the line against Boise State, and just 5-15 from the line against Oklahoma. None of these free throws came under pressure, but shooting 42 percent from the free throw line in two NCAA tournament games is unacceptable.
(4) Washington State Derrick Low was just 2-9 from three point land against Notre Dame and still finished with 18 points, but he and the rest of the Cougars have not shot well from behind the arc. In the first two rounds, they are shooting 23 percent on three point attempts. When Washington State faces North Carolina in Charlotte, it may be able to limit the Tar Heels’ offense a bit, but the Cougars will not have a chance to win if they do not knock down perimeter shots.


(1) North Carolina vs (4) Washington State
Head to Head: Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina) vs Aron Baynes (Washington State) - When college basketball fans think of Washington State, they probably think of defense. Depending on their knowledge of hoops, they might even know about Derrick Low or Kyle Weaver. Aron Baynes, however, is an integral part of this Cougars’ team as the force in the middle. At 6-10, 270 pounds, Baynes could be a player that frustrates Tyler Hansbrough in the post. The battle between the two will be interesting, and the key for Baynes is matching Psycho T’s intensity.
For the Tar Heels to win....North Carolina needs to push the pace in this game. The Tar Heels must get out in transition, speed up Washington State and use their superior athleticism to their advantage. North Carolina also needs to execute its half court offense efficiently, and that will be a tough task against the Cougars.
For the Cougars to win....Washington State wants the exact opposite of what North Carolina wants. The Cougars want to slow the game down and they want the game to finish with a final score in the 60s. If Washington State wants to keep the game close with the nation’s best team, it must hit threes, make it a halfcourt game, and play its patented nasty defense.
The deciding factor: Everything comes down to the pace of the game. These two teams want to play completely opposite styles of basketball. It makes for a compelling match-up: will ugly and physical basketball win out, or will fast-paced and exciting basketball come out on top?
(2) Tennessee vs (3) Louisville
Head to Head: Louisville’s backcourt vs Tennessee’s backcourt Since both teams have such versatile starting lineups and undefined roles for their players, it was hard for me to pick a single head-to-head match-up. I do think the guard play for each team will be intriguing. Bruce Pearl has been searching for the right point guard to lead his team, and he settled on J.P. Prince against Butler. Prince had five assists but also turned the ball over six times. Louisville needs production out of its guards as well, and Jerry Smith especially could really help the Cardinals if he provided more scoring in the backcourt.
For the Volunteers to win....Tennessee has to limit turnovers, take good shots and make free throws. The Volunteers shot selection can be iffy at times, and a lot of their offense relies on the three point shot. In general, Tennessee just needs to play more focused on offense.
For the Cardinals to win....Louisville’s offense also relies a lot on the three, just like Tennessee. The Cardinals must knock down perimeter shots and use its pressing defense to disrupt the Volunteers. Louisville’s strength in the frontcourt can also cause match-up problems for Tennessee, and it would be wise for the Cardinals to feed the big men inside.
The deciding factor: Can Tennessee handle Louisville’s pressure? This may be the main factor that determines the outcome of this game. The Cardinals got a lot of easy baskets against Oklahoma, and that helped them route the Sooners by 30 points. Tennessee won’t lose by 30, but the Volunteers might not make it to the Elite Eight if they don’t take care of the ball.
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