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March 25, 2008

SCS.comUnlike the East where all four top seeds made the round of sixteen, only #1 seed Kansas and #3 seed Wisconsin were as fortunate in the Midwest. Tenth-seeded Davidson and twelfth-seeded Villanova each pulled a pair of upsets and have crashed the party. Can the Wildcats continue to roll when they take on KU in a Big East-Big XII brawl? And can Stephen Curry continue his hot shooting and get his pack of Wildcats past the stingy defense of Wisconsin? Here's a complete preview of the weekend ahead, as these four battle it out to see who represents the Midwest in San Antonio.


(1) Kansas - As expected, the top-seeded Jayhawks arrive in the Sweet 16 as the favorite in the midwest region. After taking apart Portland State, Kansas had a bit of a hiccup against UNLV before taking over in the second half. Through the first two games, Kansas has been very balanced getting scoring from a slew of players.
(3) Wisconsin - Bo Ryan and Wisconsin are starting to become very similar to John Chaney¡¯s Temple teams in that they play a great system on the defensive end that teams have trouble dealing with, especially for teams who have not yet played them. Holding a high-octane squad like Cal State Fullerton to 56 points and Kansas State to 55 is a true testament to Wisconsin¡¯s defense. The pesky Titans hung around for a good while before Wisconsin closed them out, while Kansas State seemed lost for most of the second half against the Badgers.
(10) Davidson - There has not been a bigger star through the first weekend of the tournament than Stephen Curry. The Davidson guard is averaging 35 points after wins over Gonzaga and Georgetown. Curry¡¯s heroics were most evident in the second half against the Zags as the 185 pound guard posted 30 points and essentially carried his team to victory. Georgetown looked almost confused in stopping him during the second round as they tried several combinations, all of which failed miserably.
(12) Villanova - It is hard to consider a Big East team a sleeper, but along with Western Kentucky, they are the highest seeded team remaining. The Wildcats certainly did not look like a tournament team after finding themselves down 18 to Clemson, but then seemingly broke Clemson¡¯s will each time it broke the Tiger¡¯s vaunted press. Corey Fisher came through for the Cats against Clemson with 17 points off of the bench and was essential in handling Clemson¡¯s pressure. Fortunately for Nova, they ran into Siena in round two and basically controlled the game from the opening tip.


(1) Kansas - The Jayhawks defense has been stellar early in the tournament thus far. They have allowed only 17 assists while forcing 26 turnovers, if they stay at that clip, they will be a major factor in the Final Four. Kansas has also been solid on the boards to a tune of a 67-49 edge. Lastly, their balanced attack may be the key to further success, although in close situations, expect Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, or Darrell Arthur to have the ball in their hands.
(3) Wisconsin - The Badgers rely on defense to put themselves in position to win games, and they have not strayed from this strategy thus far in the postseason. Their first two opponents averaged only 55.5 points and the Davidson match up more than likely will keep that average in the same neighborhood. Fullerton and Kansas State were also a combined 7-34 from three point land, a testament to what the Badgers do defensively. Offensively, Bo Ryan¡¯s squad has had balance similar to Kansas and are willing to give the ball to any player in key situations.
(10) Davidson - It all starts and ends with Stephen Curry. The shooting guard has put Davidson on his back and has made basket after basket. Heading into the Hoya game, if you were told that Georgetown would shoot 63% from the field and hit 10 threes, while Davidson is a meager 39% from the field, you would figure an easy Georgetown win. But Davidson forced 20 turnovers and made 24 free throws, numbers that will keep any team in a game. Curry has been phenomenal, but Jason Richards and Aaron Lovedale have also been very good.
(12) Villanova - As was the case for most of the season, Villanova has relied heavily on their guard play through its first two games. But more importantly, especially against Clemson, Nova simply made their shots. They clawed back from turnover after turnover and found their way to the foul line, as well as created very good looks once they broke the press. Scottie Reynolds has been the star in both games, but a key bright spot against the Tigers was Antonio Pena¡¯s presence in the paint. Both of the Freshman Coreys have also made key contributions in each contest.


(1) Kansas - It happens every year; one of the favorites struggles from the foul line and shoots itself right out of the tournament. Through the first weekend, Kansas is shooting just under 56% from the charity stripe, a stat that must improve as the competition gets stiffer. The Jayhawks also struggled keeping UNLV¡¯s Wink Adams out of the paint, as he found his way to the foul line for 17 shots.
(3) Wisconsin - For roughly 30 minutes, Cal State Fullerton gave Wisconsin fits and this seemed like it could be the major first round upset. Another concern is how they were dominated on the glass against Kansas State, they kept the Wildcats in check for most of the game, but they certainly did not have their way on the boards. They could also do themselves a favor and improve the assist to turnover ratio which is less than 1 to 1 through the first two games.
(10) Davidson - All is well and good that Davidson survived Georgetown, but the Big East power did manage to shoot 60% and Gonzaga even managed to crack the 50% mark. And these baskets are not just in the paint, both teams shot extremely well from long distance. Some of this is credited to Davidson taking chances, but against a team like Wisconsin, they can not allow such high shooting percentages. Davidson has also struggled a bit when Gonzaga and Georgetown pushed the tempo and did not allow the Wildcats to run their offense for Curry. Lastly, Davidson¡¯s bench was invisible against Georgetown, combining for one point.
(12) Villanova - Despite the great comeback, obviously there are things to work on when a team is down by 18 in the first half. Villanova at first had trouble with Clemson¡¯s pressure, then once they figured out the press, they had trouble getting the ball into the playmakers hands. Turnovers were not only a problem against Clemson; Siena also managed to force 14 turnovers. Big man Dante Cunningham also looked overwhelmed against Clemson.


(1) Kansas vs (12) Villanova
Head to Head: Darrell Arthur (Kansas) vs Dante Cunningham (Villanova) - Villanova¡¯s guards are more than capable of matching up with Kansas, but Cunningham could very well be the key to Nova¡¯s success. Arthur has been one of the best big men all season, while Cunningham has been inconsistent, but has showed many flashes of being a very good post-player. Cunningham, who looked great against Siena needs to raise his game against the big boys now if Nova wants to continue its run.
For the Jayhawks to win.... The Jayhawks simply have to avoid beating themselves. They have more talent than Villanova by a good margin, and especially in the paint. As long as Kansas takes care of the basketball and runs their offense, there is no reason they should not move on.
For the Wildcats to win.... Villanova must shoot the lights out and limit their turnovers. Kansas plays great team defense and good chances will be few and far between for the Cats, so every opportunity will be important. Nova can¡¯t afford to be dominated in the paint by Kansas¡¯ big men. If they can hang with the top-seed down low, their guards have the ability to carry them to a major upset.
The deciding factor: Turnovers will be the key to this Sweet 16 duel. As stated earlier, if Kansas takes care of the basketball, they should cruise to victory, but if they get careless that is where Nova¡¯s door may open. Should Villanova force turnovers and take advantage of them, this game will come down to the wire.
(3) Wisconsin vs (10) Davidson
Head to Head: Michael Flowers (Wisconsin) vs Stephen Curry (Davidson) - The All-Big Ten defender Flowers will more than likely carry the majority of the Curry burden. Flowers is a solid offensive player, but what he does on Curry will dictate the game. Curry scores in a variety of ways including getting into the lane, which is his most deadly weapon in a giant arsenal. Wisconsin plays great defense as a team, so Flowers will get a lot of help including the bigger Joe Krabbenhoft, also a very good defender.
For the Badgers to win.... Wisconsin must play their typical game, efficient on offense and great on defense. Wisconsin is the better team and they can¡¯t allow Stephen Curry to go off on them, but the Badgers certainly play the team defense to neutralize him. Both teams like to play in the half-court, so style should not be an issue and the score should remain low.
For the Wildcats to win.... Davidson must get good looks for Curry and it will not be easy. He has to have an outstanding game for the Wildcats to win. Curry likes to penetrate and draw fouls, but is also very good from long range; for Davidson to win, he must be successful at both. Their bench also must play better than it did against Georgetown.
The deciding factor: Basketball is a team game, but let¡¯s face it, this game is coming down to Curry¡¯s performance. If he gets going, this could be an interesting game. Wisconsin plays better team defense than any team in the country, which will make Curry¡¯s life difficult. Should Curry duplicate his showing from this past weekend, Davidson will have a chance. Wisconsin does not have the talent that Georgetown has and perhaps they do not even have Gonzaga¡¯s talent, but play almost flawlessly as a team. In order for Davidson to win, Curry is going to have to work harder than any game he has played before and shoot a high percentage from the field, while Wisconsin needs to stay within their system and not overcompensate for Curry.
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