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March 27, 2009

SCS.comThe Indianapolis regional features the lowest seed to advance to this point in 12th seeded Arizona. The Wildcats, who already knocked off both Utah and Cleveland State, will take on national number one Louisville on Friday night, with the winner moving on to battle the winner of second-seeded Michigan State and third-seeded Kansas. Will the Wildcats, perhaps the final team to earn their way into the field of 65, continue their run, or will the Big East dominance in the NCAA Tournament thus far continue?


(1) Louisville - The Cards rolled past Morehead State before withstanding a valiant effort by Siena, who made Louisville sweat by opening a five point lead in the middle of the second half. The first and second round victories now run Louisville’s winning streak to 12, and the Cardinals have not lost since an embarrassing 33 point defeat to Notre Dame.
(2) Michigan State - After eliminating Robert Morris with ease, Michigan State had a little more trouble with USC. The tenth seeded Trojans battled the Spartans for 40 minutes, but in the end Tom Izzo had cemented his team’s place in the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
(3) Kansas - KU met America’s favorite Cinderella in the first round but handled North Dakota State. Thanks to an upset win by Dayton, Kansas then played the 11th seed Flyers and used suffocating defense to win in a grinder. Despite playing two double-digit seeds, the Jayhawks avoided the upset and did its part to move on to the Sweet 16.
(12) Arizona - I hate to rag on a team that quieted critics by winning its first two NCAA tourney games, but Arizona did receive a favorable situation. Most analysts agreed that the ‘Cats would beat an over-seeded Utah team, who may have been the weakest of the five seeds. Arizona then did not play the four seed in the second round, but rather 13th seeded Cleveland State, who finished in third place in the Horizon League. Russ Pennell has the Wildcats playing well, however, and this team did not struggle much in either of its first two games.


(1) Louisville - At times, Louisville’s offense has stumbled this year because of poor shot selection from three-point range. That’s not a problem anymore, and the Cards aren’t only getting good looks from three—they’re knocking them down as well. The ball movement and passing has improved markedly to this point for Louisville.
(2) Michigan State - Like any Tom Izzo team, Michigan State is a dominant defensive team that limits its opponents second half points. The Spartans’ offense has also been efficient so far this tournament. Since we know this team will defend, an offensive hot streak from any player will make MSU that much harder to beat.
(3) Kansas - Cole Aldrich. He’s getting it done, that’s for sure. This guy could have played Dayton one on five and beaten the Flyers on Sunday. He did, after all, record a triple double in that game, and the only downside for Kansas is that Aldrich’s NBA stock just took a huge boost. The big man was a big part of the Jayhawks dominant defensive effort against Dayton, which is an underrated aspect of this team.
(12) Arizona - Nobody has ever questioned Arizona’s scoring ability. Some people even refer to the Nic Wise, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill as “The Big Three.” That’s because all of those players have bright futures in the NBA. The Wildcats didn’t make it out of the first weekend of the tournament with the “Big Three,” however. It was their defense that led them to a surprising Sweet 16.


(1) Louisville - Siena hung around in that second round match-up because it did not turn the ball over against Louisville’s press. The Cardinals are one of the best defensive teams around, but that’s when they can speed up their opponent’s offenses and force them into turnovers. When a team like Siena can take care of the basketball, Louisville suddenly looks beatable.
(2) Michigan State - What’s to complain about? MSU hasn’t shown too many glaring weaknesses in either of its first two NCAA tournament games. Before the Big Dance started, Michigan State did seem to struggle scoring in certain games. Kalin Lucas has led this team all year with his consistent offense, but after that, someone needs to help him out. Luckily, the Spartans do have several players that can step up on a given night, evidenced by Travis Walton’s 18 points against USC.
(3) Kansas - It’s nice to have Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich to build a team around. This Kansas team has succeeded all year because of those two, and now it’s time for the supporting cast to make its mark, which is mostly made of inexperienced players. Tyshawn Taylor has looked like a budding star at times, and he also played his best basketball at the end of the year. Perhaps he’ll be the man that compliments Collins and Aldrich to send KU to another Final Four.
(12) Arizona - The biggest problem for Arizona is its lack of depth. That can’t really be fixed, so it’s almost unfair to put this issue in the “needs some work” category. Still, this small bench has held the Wildcats back all year and will continue to do so during the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Against a Louisville team that prides itself on wearing down opponents, it could be the deciding factor.


(1) Louisville vs (12) Arizona
Head to Head: Samardo Samuels (Louisville) vs Jordan Hill (Arizona) - Cleveland State was able to get Jordan Hill into foul trouble, which helped the Vikings stay competitive. That’s exactly what Samuels has to do by attacking the rim all day long. It’s unbelievable how underrated Hill has been all year, considering he’s a potential top five draft pick with some eye-popping statistics. He’s the focus of Arizona’s entire offense, so Samuels needs to send him to the bench.
For the Cardinals to win.... Louisville has to force Arizona into silly passes, stupid decisions and, of course, turnovers. The Cardinals are a relentless defensive team with their press, and they have to make fatigue a factor against an undermanned Arizona squad.
For the Wildcats to win.... Make it into a half court game. If Arizona does that, it can mask its lack of depth and let the “Big Three” go to work.
The deciding factor: Louisville has the obvious advantage in this game, due to superior personnel, an outstanding defense and an experienced head coach. With so much turmoil and an interim head coach, Arizona is a nice story, but the fun will come to an end if the Cardinals are able to dictate the game’s tempo.
(2) Michigan State vs (3) Kansas
Head to Head: Kalin Lucas (Michigan State) vs Sherron Collins (Kansas) - As the leading scorers for their respective teams, both Lucas and Collins are counted on as main offensive threats. A bad night by either one would be a huge detriment to his team.
For the Spartans to win.... Michigan State must draw Cole Aldrich away from the basket when possible, and attack him in other situations. Aldrich is not a quick player, so any time the Spartans have an advantageous match-up with a fast big man, they will be able to beat him off the dribble. If he’s sitting in the paint, in a zone or on help defense, MSU has to drive to the rim and hope he picks up a couple of fouls.
For the Jayhawks to win.... Bill Self has a team that will defend, but he does not have the type of offensive squad he enjoyed last year. Collins and Aldrich will find ways to score, but Taylor will need to contribute, as will Tyrel Reed with his three-point shooting and the Morris twins for their added post depth.
The deciding factor: Tonight’s game will turn into a defensive bloodbath, despite all of the athletic ability on the court. Whichever team receives contributions from secondary scorers and shoots the ball well from the perimeter will head to the Elite Eight.
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