I was on tenterhooks watching the CBS Selection Show Sunday evening. Several questions ran through my head: will we even get a one seed? will West Virginia or Kansas State loom as our 2 seed? will we have to travel across the country?
When Duke was placed in the extremely weak South bracket, I kind of sat back in shock. Well, that was easy. Duke has a great opportunity to make a deep run this year—but will we take advantage and make Indianapolis for Coach K’s eleventh Final Four? Let’s find out, with Crazie-Talk’s preview of the “historically weak” South bracket.
Jacksonville, Fl. Pairing
#1 Duke v. #16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff: OK…Duke will win this one. Moving on.
#8 California v. #9 Louisville: This could be an interesting game. California won the Pac-10 regular season, but that doesn’t mean anything, as there were no elite teams playing anywhere on the West Coast, regardless of conference. But the Bears are no pushover, with several star players, including guard Jerome Randle and big man Patrick Christopher, plus former Duke forward Jamal Boykin contributing 12 points and 7 rebounds per game. Louisville has been an enigma this year, beating top seed Syracuse twice but losing by 20 to St. John’s and Marquette, as well as dropping early season games to Charlotte and Western Carolina. Louisville is a tough draw for the Bears, who just lost forward Omondi Amoke to suspension. Louisville forward Samardo Samuels will be able to take care of business down low, and the Cardinal guards will do enough to slow down Randle. I take Louisville in this game, although I desperately hope I’m wrong.
#1 Duke v. #9 Louisville: This is a really scary early round matchup for the Blue Devils. Rick Pitino, adultery aside, is a fantastic motivator, and will get his boys up for a face-off with us. But when it comes down to it, our guard play is better than the Ville’s. Scheyer and Singler will have to take care of business, as the Cards have several quick guards to throw at Nolan. I think our bigs can contain the 6’9” Samuels, who gets frustrated if he can’t get push people around for easy layups. PG Edgar Sosa is very inconsistent, and Duke’s hard on ball pressure should get under his skin. K will win this battle of Hall-of-Fame coaches and Duke will advance to Houston.
Spokane, Wash. Pairing
#5 Texas A&M v. #12 Utah State: This battle of two Aggie squads could be very interesting. Texas A&M got a difficult draw in the first round after a solid Big
12 season. Utah State play great defense, just like A&M, and score few points, just like A&M. They also won 27 games, including a victory over seventh seeded BYU. They probably would have had a 10 or 9 seed had they not lost to New Mexico St. in the WAC tournament. Moreover, Texas A&M has been riding the play of star guard Donald Sloan all year, and since Derrick Roland was injured in the fall, haven’t had too much offensive firepower. Still, Crazie-Talk favors playing in good major conferences, and the Big 12 is probably the second best conference in the country. Texas A&M wins a low-scoring game and advances out of this tough first round game.
#4 Purdue v. #13 Siena: Everyone has been railing on Purdue since Robbie Hummel went out with a season-ending ACL injury. But I’m not buying all the Siena hype here. The stars of the Saints’ near ’09 near Sweet 16 run, Kenny Hasbrouck, is gone. Edwin Ubiles and Clarence Jackson are a solid backcourt, but still don’t match up well with Purdue’s Keaton Grant, Chris Kramer, and E’Twaun Moore. Contrary to popular assumption, Purdue has just enough to win this game without Hummel.
#5 Texas A&M v. #4 Purdue: Like I said—Purdue will have just enough to beat Siena in the first round. The Boiler gas will run out against A&M, who will stifle Purdue defensively. The Boilers scored just 11 points in the first half of a pitiful Big 10 tournament loss to Minnesota. Look for the same kind of stunted offensive output, and a double digit A&M victory.
New Orleans, La. Pairing
#6 Notre Dame v. #11 Old Dominion: First of all, the Fighting Irish are grossly overseeded. Although they played well without big man Luke Harangody, Notre Dame doesn’t deserve this position, in the weakest region no less. The Irish have been peaking without star player Luke Harangody, playing better defense and getting more players involved, such as Ben Hansbrough the Younger and veteran PG Tory Jackson. However, the committee didn’t do them any favors by matching them up with Old Dominion. The Monarchs took out Georgetown earlier this year at McDonough, proving their ability to play with tough Big East squads. Old Dominion will beat another Big East team in this game, and Notre Dame (and former Duke assistant Coach Mike Brey) goes home early.
#3 Baylor v. #14 Sam Houston State: Each of these teams would love to play in the Houston regional, but Baylor has too much talent. Baylor guards Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn complement forwards Quincy Acy and Ekpe Udoh. The Bears play high-octane offense, averaging nearly 80 points per game. Baylor advances here.
#3 Baylor v. #11 Old Dominion: The Monarchs do not have the offensive potency to match up with the Bears. Forwards Gerald Lee and Frank Hassell meet the towering, athletic Udoh and Acy and are dominated on the blocks. Look for this to be a blowout, with Baylor advancing past ODU to the Sweet 16.
Providence, R.I. Pairing
#7 Richmond v. #10 St. Mary’s: Oh, we love the Richmond Spiders! St. Mary’s has to travel all the way across the country for this one, and no Patty Mills means no containing Spider guard Kevin Anderson, the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Omar Samhan is a good player for the Gaels, but again, no respect for West Coast teams (as if beating Gonzaga is an accomplishment!). Richmond wins by 10 and moves on.
#2 Villanova v. #15 Robert Morris: The Wildcats haven’t been at their best of late, but Scottie Reynolds and Co. take care of business against Robert Morris and advance to face Richmond. ‘Nova by double digits.
#2 Villanova v. #7 Richmond: Here’s the first big upset! Anderson and David Gonzalvez are good enough to match up with the ‘Nova guards Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher, and the aforementioned Reynolds. Villanova has tanked of late, and Richmond barely lost to fifth seeded Temple in the A-10 championship game. Richmond may be the Cinderella of the Tournament, and their first big victim will be Villanova. So long, Taylor King! Have fun chain-smoking all the way back to Philly. Richmond heads to Houston.
#1 Duke v. #5 Texas A&M: The Aggies are close to home for this game, and their fans (and thousands of Duke haters) will be out in force rooting for an A&M victory. Donald Sloan is a star, and the strength of the Aggies lie on the defensive end. We have struggled against powerful and athletic teams like Georgia Tech and Georgetown this season, and the less-than-stellar run through the ACC Tournament does not inspire too much confidence for this type of opponent. I think Zoubek, LT, and the Plumtrees come up big. A&M doesn’t have too many bigs other than Bryan Davis, and if they can’t shoot the ball, they won’t be getting too many offensive boards over Zoubs. Duke takes this one by 5-10 points.
#3 Baylor v. #7 Richmond: It’s tantalizing to send Richmond to the Elite 8, but that’d be overdoing it. The Cinderella run ends here. Dunn and Carter are too quick and explosive for Richmond’s guards, and Udoh will take all comers on the glass. Anderson has a Steph Curry-like performance, but the Spiders fall short against Baylor in the Bears’ home state, setting up…
The Regional Final: #1 Duke v. #3 Baylor
OK. Here we are, on the brink of our first Final Four (in six years). Baylor—a team with tremendous speed and athleticism—stands in our way. The Bears have all the elements of team we have sucked against: athletic guards in Dunn and Carter, a powerful 6’10” big man in Udoh, and an upstart young coach in Scott Drew. Sounds like Villanova circa last year? Just replace Dunn and Carter with Reynolds/Fisher/Stokes, and Udoh with Dante Cunningham.
This game will take every last ounce of Duke’s energy, but I believe we can win. And it will have to come on the defensive end. Baylor scores a lot of points, but their guards do not have tremendous size: Carter is 5’11” and Dunn 6’4”. If Nolan Smith can slow down Carter and Scheyer can neutralize Dunn’s scoring, we can win the battle on the perimeter. Duke will have to go deep in its bench—expect the quickness of Baylor to force a lot of early fouls. Dawkins must play and contribute positive minutes. Zoubek will have to play without fouling, as the Plumlees can’t control their hands of late and keep picking up silly touch fouls. Lance Thomas has to keep the ball in his hands and be able to finish on offensive putbacks.
Truth be told, Duke will have to play its best game of the season to get past Baylor. But I’m confident because of the man in the dark suit on the sideline. Coach K is 10-1 in Elite 8 games. Scott Drew coaches at a program that has never won an NCAA Tournament game, period. Advantage, Duke. We will squeak out a win, probably in the high 70s or low 80s.
See you in Indy.