Rock Chalk Part Two
Like Florida in the Midwest and Kansas in the West, North Carolina is a true favorite to win the East region. However, North Carolina faces the toughest challenger of the three in the form of the red hot Georgetown Hoyas. Let's start with the Tar Heels against USC, and Chicago's old friend Tim Floyd. The Tar Heels are the best offensive team in the country, with a handful of dangerous, efficient offensive threats. The two best are Tyler Hansbrough, who seems to have fully recovered from having his face smashed in, and Ty Lawson, who may just be the best "little" man in the college game right now. The offense will do its part. The key for Carolina is it's defense. Their defense is also elite, but it can be vulnerable when an opponent protects the ball and hits the offensive glass. You need to maximize your possessions against these guys. Unfortunately for USC, they're just average when it comes to protecting the basketball, and they're pretty dreadful on the offensive glass. Truth be told, this Sweet 16 match-up is a total mismatch.
Should Georgetown await Carolina in the Elite 8, however, the days of Carolina blowouts will end. Georgetown's big, talented front line could pose problems for the team in light blue. Georgetown is also a tremendously efficient offensive team, though you might not notice because of the Hoyas incredibly slow pace of play. Seven-two center Roy Hibbert is an absolute beast, and that slow pace maximizes his impact on both ends. Georgetown's key is staying away from turnovers. At their speed, every possession is precious. Vanderbilt shouldn't pose much of an obstacle to the anticipated UNC-Georgetown showdown.
The South region is the only one without a clear cut favorite at this point. Ohio State is probably the best bet, but only because Memphis and Texas A&M have to play each other in the Sweet 16. I actually am picking A&M to emerge from this pack. Ohio State's advantage is in a soft match-up with Tennessee in the Sweet 16, but THE Ohio State University is also a very good team. Mike Conley is an elite distributor of the basketball and Greg Oden is an outstanding shot blocker and offensive rebounder. Tennessee was overseeded at number five, and was fortunate to find itself in a pod with an overseeded Virginia squad. The Volunteers are good, but not great on offense, and only average on defense. They were among the luckiest teams in the land when you compare their actual record to their expected record based on statistics. Chris Lofton is a stud, but he'll need to have the game of his life to carry Tennessee past Ohio State.
Meanwhile, Memphis and Texas A&M meet in the best Sweet 16 match-up. Obviously, since I'm picking A&M to win the region, I'm picking them in this game. Most people notice A&M's defense, which is good. But their offense, obscured by a slow pace of play, is even better. They're outstanding on the perimeter, both shooting the three and defending against the three. Josh Carter is one of the least known, most effective outside weapons in college basketball. And wide body Joseph Jones provides balance. Memphis plays at a different speed entirely. That's why, conversely to A&M, people don't often notice that Memphis's greatest strength is its defense. The force turnovers, block shots, and don't give up easy baskets. Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier are a very effective pair at protecting the lane. The game may be won by whichever team forces the other into more mistakes on offense, and I trust A&M's offense to execute more than Memphis's.
So, I'm picking Kansas, Florida, UNC and A&M. More chalk, basically. Some people think that's not exciting. I, however, love when the best team's meet in the Final Four. Other than Syracuse's win, my favorite recent Final Four was UConn over Duke because the level of play was so high. This year could set a new bar for quality basketball at the end of March Madness.