Wednesday, March 15, 2006

NCAA thoughts

I think this could possibly be one of the more entertaining tournaments in years because there are so many teams with major flaws that upsets may abound. On the other hand I also think in terms of the quality of the basketball this may be one of the worst tournaments in recent memory. Even the four number one seeds are deeply flawed teams. Duke is even more dependent on JJ Redick's scoring than they were at the beginning of the year and Krzyzewski's failure to develop Duke's bench will likely doom them. Connecticut is continually called the most talented team in college basketball yet rarely ever plays like it. They often played down to their competition and that was evident in games against South Florida, Louisville, Notre Dame, and in the Big East tournament towards the end of the regular season. No team has ever won a national title after losing its first game in the conference tournament. I doubt UConn will break that trend. Villanova is a fun team to watch and backcourt play usually determines a team's fate in the postseason. The uncertainty of Allan Ray's eye injury makes Villanova a hard team to handicap but I think they have the best shot at winning it all out of the number one seeds. Memphis is a very talented team with an excellent point guard but they lack post season experience and have not been battle tested as the other big conference teams have been.

Watch out for Ohio State as a sleeper pick for the Final Four. They have the depth and balance to make a run to the title game after winning the strongest conference in the nation. Iowa is also peaking at the right time but is prone to some putrid shooting stretches.

As for tourney duds I think that Indiana, West Virginia, Syracuse, UCLA, Oklahoma and Tennessee are all vulnerable to early exits.

Maryland in the NIT

Manhattan won their matchup with Fairleigh Dickinson for the right to play Maryland on Saturday morning at 11am. They won the regular season in the MAAC by going 14-4 but lost in their conference tournament to a mediocre St. Peter's squad. Like Maryland the Jaspers also lost one of their best players when leading scorer C.J. Anderson was suspended for academics in January. Anderson was the freshman of the year for the MAAC in 2005 and they have gone 6-8 since he went out of the lineup. The Jaspers are a young team with two sophomores, Jeff Xavier and Arturo Dubois, logging over 30 minutes a game. They are lead by senior point guard Jason Wingate who is their best outside shooter, though Xavier shoots almost twice as often.

Maryland will be more athletic than any team Manhattan has faced all year and with the kind of pressure defense that may cause lots of problems for their young players. Manhattan isn't terribly deep either and the tallest frontcourt player is Dubois at 6'8". If Nik Caner-Medley doesn't play and the experience of Wingate can steady the Jaspers on the road they may have a shot to keep it close against a Maryland team that clearly doesn't want to play in the NIT. The Comcast center will likely have only a few thousand in attendance so that may also help the Jaspers. I just love writing that name, Jaspers. Still it is more likely that Maryland will put forth only a token effort and still win by a large margin. In college sport you can never overlook the issue of motivation since it has a large effect on the outcomes. Maryland doesn't have much and could, though it is unlikely, find itself out with a surprise early exit just like Temple losing to Akron last night. Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez is one of the better coaches in college basketball so he will put something special into this gameplan to try and exploit Maryland's weakness. Unfortunately for Gonzalez Manhattan's defense is atrocious and gives up 3-point baskets at an even higher rate than Maryland. Manhattan will have to pressure the ball and get turnovers to compete which will be hard for them to do with a mediocre defense.

Coaches vs. Cancer

Maryland will host a regional of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic next season. Other regional hosts include Texas, St. Johns and Michigan State. The 2nd tier teams that will play the hosts include: Alcorn State, Brown, Central Michigan, Chicago State, Hampton, Loyola (Md.), Navy, New Orleans, North Florida, St. Bonaventure, Vermont and Youngstown State. Interesting that the list includes two former Maryland assistant's who are now head coaches at their own program: Jimmy Patsos (Loyola) and Mike Lonergan (Vermont). I would be surprised if Maryland plays either, however, as Gary Williams doesn't like to play his former assistants.

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