Monday, March 19, 2007

Rock Chalk

No, I have not decided to become a Kansas fan. But higher seeds, chalk, are dominating this year's tournament. I had a fine, but hardly spectacular first weekend in my pools. I'm in 6th in Foul Ball's pool. Not great, but close enough that if my remaining picks are right, I win, no matter what else happens. In other words, I don't have to root for UNLV to upset Oregon just because I have Wisconsin in that game. So, that's nice. Anyway, other than Wisconsin, my Elite 8 picks remain in the tourney, so Thursday and Friday will be fun. By the way, I'm sure Camp Lambeau will have an appropriately angsty Badgers rant up soon enough. So, enjoy that as well.

Anyway, I'm going to go through the four brackets this week and share my apparently good, but not great, analysis. I'll do two today and two on Wednesday. Tomorrow, I'll take a break from my regularly scheduled programming to discuss the results of tonight's draft in the first ever Sox Bloggers Fantasy Baseball Showdown.

Let's start in the Midwest region, where Florida has the easiest road to the Final Four of any top seed. The Gators meet Butler in the Sweet 16, and they should handle the small conference "Cinderella" fairly easily. Florida may be the best offensive teams in the country, led by Lee Humphrey and Al Horford, who are two of the more efficient scorers in the NCAA at their positions. That's a theme for Florida, who leads the nation in effective field goal percentage. When Florida wins the rebounding and turnover battles, and they usually do, they're almost unbeatable. To pull an upset, Butler needs to control the pace. Butler is pretty efficient on offense too, but they play at one of the slowest tempos in the country. When they lose that battle, they can get in trouble.

Florida's Elite 8 opponent is likely to be Oregon, although the Ducks match-up with UNLV is much closer than the Florida v. Butler game. Oregon is another efficient offensive team, but they win when they force turnovers on defense. That allows them to cover for a half court defense that otherwise allows too many easy shots. Ken Pomeroy's favorite player, Maarty Leunen, sparks that defensive effort. What makes this match-up so interesting is that UNLV's key is protecting the ball. When they don't turn the ball over, they win games. So, the whole game may very well come down to one question, can Oregon force UNLV to cough the ball up?

The West is the second easiest bracket now. Truthfully, other than Florida, none of the top seeds have a cakewalk to the Final Four, which is one of the upsides of favorites dominating the tournament so far. Kansas though is a pretty good bet, thanks largely to the easiest Sweet 16 match-up. Kansas is in even better shape against Southern Illinois than Florida is against Butler. Kansas plays pretty fast, so their final scores can obscure the fact that they're the best defensive team in the country. They're third in effective field goal percentage against, and second in shot blocking. The defense is a given, so if Kansas doesn't turn the ball over, they win games. The danger is that they are fairly turnover prone. Russell Robinson, the team's best distributor, will be the key player, as he can't succumb to SIU's defensive pressure. And, SIU does apply a lot of defensive pressure to ball handlers -- they're 25th in the country in forcing opponents to turn it over. But if Kansas avoids that one pitfall, they'll move on.

The reason Kansas is not a Final Four lock though is UCLA, who figures to await the Jayhawks in the Elite 8. UCLA versus Pitt should be a fun game, but UCLA has some distinct advantages. UCLA is one of the better defensive teams in the country. Darren Collison is one of the better ball hawks in the game, and he gets help from Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, one of the better all-around defenders in college basketball. Ironically, Pittsburgh, who has more of a defensive reputation, has actually been a better offensive team this year. This is another case of slow tempo obscuring a team's real strength. Aaron Gray gets the most possessions and shot attempts on offense, which works out well, because he's the team's most efficient player. One x-factor who could key the mild upset: Ronald Ramon. Ramon has the all-around offensive game best suited to give Gray some support against UCLA. Two other keys to watch for with Pitt: control the glass on the defensive end and stay away from too many fouls.


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