Elite Eight Expectations

Posted on March 28, 2009. Filed under: Basketball, NCAA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

BACK IN DA ‘BURGH . . . After a victorious Sweet Sixteen performance by the Pittsburgh Panthers, an equally as victorious appearance speaking at The Harvard Club in Boston, and a bumpy flight home, I am ready to watch the hopefully more competitive Elite Eight action with just one thing to say . . .

Told you Missouri would beat Memphis

During my March Madness Preview radio show www.blogtalkradio.com/stacyonsports that was the one pick that raised the eyebrows of bracketeers.  Now Mizzou’s match up with Connecticut will be one of the more intriguing games to watch on my list.  With the Huskies rolling through the first three rounds, the Tigers’ full court press and high flying offense will be a pace that Calhoun’s players aren’t used to playing.  Memphis spent much of the second half doubled over in exhaustion, and they ARE comfortable running for 40 minutes.  Missourui Coach Mike Anderson rotates players in and out with none averaging more than 28 minutes per game, so his guys are always fresh and looking to wear out the opponent.  Huskies’ point guard, AJ Price has been efficient and will need to continue to play mistake free to keep Missouri out of their transition game to survive.  Hasheem Thabeet is a force, but not if he has to be on the run. 

PLAYER TO WATCH:  Connecticut’s Stanley Robinson, who has been averaging  15 points 7 rebounds during his three tournament games, and CAN run the floor and finish strong. 

Of course, the other three Elite Eight games aren’t so shabby themselves:

PAYBACK GAME?  Villanova is a small team, but plays big with their guards turning the drive and dish into an artform as they pummeled Duke into their worst lost since UNLV beat them by 30 in the 1990 national title game.  Duke lived and ultimately died at the arc this year because they have no interior presence.  The same can not be said about the Wildcats’ next opponent, the familiar Pittsburgh Panthers, who has the top offensive rebounder in the country, DeJuan Blair patrolling the paint.  Villanova beat the Panthers as they closed down the Spectrum in Philadelphia back on Jan 28th, forcing Blair to the bench in foul trouble, limiting him to only 20 minutes on the floor.  These two only met once this year and with the sour taste of that loss in their mouths, and the pressure of not being able to break the Sweet Sixteen ceiling finally off their minds, Jamie Dixon’s squad can finally get back to playing good basketball, because they haven’t yet in this tournament.  Uncharacteristically turning the ball over and missing shots in the paint will NOT lead to an opportunity for late game heroics from Levance Fields against Jay Wright’s squad who IS playing good basketball. 

KEY TO THE GAME:  Panthers have to improve on their paltry 34% shooting against Xavier.  Watch for Villanova’s guards to get Pitt’s bigs in foul trouble early.     

IZZO vs. PITINO:  Louisville looks unstoppable with their uptempo full court press that induced a  39 point thrashing of Arizona, propelling Pitino’s crew to the round of eight.  Michigan State grinded out a win against defending Champions, Kansas, and will need to slow down the Cardinals and take care of the basketball against a swarming Louisville defense.  Similar to the challenge facing the Huskies, State needs to be sure not to let their opponents get out in transition.  Louisville’s Terrence Williams has gotten better and more confident as the season wore on and can do a lot of damage from ANYWHERE on the court.  After being snubbed for Big East Player of the Year, he seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder and that does not bode well for the Spartans.  This is going to be a game of depth and athleticsim versus contolled tempo and ball security.

KEY TO THE GAME:  With two tournament tested head coaches pulling the strings, execution and taking advantage of mistakes will determine who wins.  

THE SELECTION COMMITTEE WINS:  This is the game everyone was hoping to see in the South Region.  Last year’s Player of the Year, Tyler Hansbrough, versus this year’s imminent Naismith award winner, Blake Griffin.  Against Syracuse, Griffin put in his usual day at the office with 30 points and 14 boards, while the Orange couldn’t get their dangerous outside shooting game started, only going 7-for-24 from behind the arc.  North Carolina fared much better against Gonzaga, sinking 11 of their 19 attempts from downtown, and with Ty Lawson in mid-season form the Tar Heels should give Oklahoma’s defense, that played well forcing 18 Syracuse turnovers with 11 steals, a much tougher challenge.  The Tyler Hansbrough – Blake Griffin match up will be one to watch as both teams can score and run the court.  Expect this to be a high scoring game.

PLAYER TO WATCH:  Oklahoma’s sharp shooting Tony Crocker, who had 28 points against the Orange, but only 8 in his previous two tournament games combined.  If he stays hot and North Carolina pays too much attention to Blake Griffin, the Tar Heels could get burned.


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