Monday, March 12, 2007

Bracket Breakdown: The Midwest

Yes, they return five starters from last year's title team. Yes, they can shoot lights out when they feel like it. Yes, Noah is really good. So are the other four starters. So, how do they manage to screw this up?

Firstly, the Gators turn the ball over. A lot. Everything flows through their guard play, and when Green and Humphrey have an off night, the team falls apart. That means teams, in order to pull the upset, need to pressure those guards nonstop. That means athletic guards who like to clog up those passing lanes. Gee, I wonder if any teams fit the bill... oh, look! There's Maryland! And Arizona! Both of those teams also have fairly credible frontcourts, a rarity in this bracket, dominated by backcourts. In fact, most of the teams in this bracket have downright lousy frontcourts. So ball pressure becomes even more important.

Secondly, everything went right last year. I don't see that happening again. winning the tournament requires a little luck, and getting lucky twice in a row is a tall order. Florida's due for some bad karma. And it's not like they have been dominant this season. Which leads us into the final point...

Focus. Florida has taken entire games off. Will they just turn it on for tourney? they seemed to do so for the SEC tourney, but then again, the SEC is not exactly Murderer's Row this year. There are a lot of senior-dominated teams in this region, and if Florida decides it deosn't feel like playing for ten minutes, that could be the opening teams need to beat them.

Could there be two more different teams than Oregon and Wisconsin? Wisconsin plays a frustratingly slow game. They play off those screens, use the whole shot clock, and then let Alando Tucker beat you, especially now that Brian Butch, their best post player, is out with an injury. Laying in wait is UNLV, a team with five seniors getting huge minutes. Exactly the kind of team that won't be frustrated by the most frustrating team on the planet.

Oregon, on the other hand, plays at a supersonic pace. They only have two players over 6'7" in the eight-man rotation, so they abhor halfcourt sets. And they shoot lights out. Which has to piss Notre Dame off. Notre Dame loves to push the ball and take lots of shots to make up for their undersized team. They are, fundamentally, a less talented version of Oregon. Besides, everyone and their best friend's sister is picking the Irish to lose to Winthrop, a team that might have the best frontcourt of this bracket outside of Florida.

Butler is freakishly small. They don't have a single player on the roster over 6'7". Which means they get absolutely killed on the boards. They lack speed and athleticism. AJ Graves is their best player and he doesn't even shoot 40% from the floor. Which may explain why the team ranks 192nd nationally in FG%. So what can they do? Play defense. Butler slows the game down to a painful crawl, making you earn every shot. They force you to make mistakes, while Butler makes none. They take care of the basketball and hit seemingly every free throw. They are the anti-Florida. ODU is also a tough defensive team, though they like to use their defense to set up the transition game, since their halfcourt offense isn't that stellar, and most teams just dare the Monarchs to shoot. Which means that ODU is well-built to pull upsets, just not Butler in particular. Butler won't make the careless mistakes to set up ODU's attack. This game could be the cure for insomnia.

Actually, the top teams in this bracket seem ripe for upset. Florida is talented by maddeningly unfocused, Wisconsin is lacking their post game, Oregon never had a post game to start with, Maryland relies heavily on its freshmen guards, Butler has little athleticism, and Notre Dame relies too much on shooters who cannot have a bad game. You get the point.

Arizona has a puncher's chance of beating Florida, as they are one of the most talented teams in the country, even though they have not shown it since November. Georgia Tech has Thaddeus Young, who will either take the Jackets to the Elite Eight or disappear in the first round. Davidson will usually have the best player on the court in Stephen Curry, and he can take over a game. While Miami(OH) isn't that great, they do have a great inside game, which may key an upset against Oregon though I doubt it. They'll trade threes with Miami's layups. And then there's Winthrop. A senior-dominated team which can flat out score. And, unlike Notre Dame (their first round opponent), they have a powerful inside game to go with all of those shooters. I'm wary of teams that get annointed as the upset team before they do anything, but it's easy to understand what the hype is about.

Florida is clearly the best team in this bracket, but there are some teams here that would give them fits if they manage to survive their first round landmines: Arizona has just as much talent, Maryland plays the perfect pressure to beat the Gators, and Butler and Wisconsin both would control the tempo. Hell, even UNLV would have shot given their penchant for forcing turnovers and senior lineup. I'm going to pick Wisconsin on my theory that defense doesn't go cold. And the way to beat Wisconsin is to exploit that huge hole they now have on the inside, but the only team in their half of the bracket that has a dangerous inside game is Winthrop. The Badgers should bludgeon their way to the final game against a Florida team that has survived matchup problem after matchup problem. However, given the relative strength of the 6-13 seeds, this region is one of the most likely to absolutely screw your bracket.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dude, you and I picked the same Final Four except I picked Florida over Wisconsin. But, you make a good point in your argument about Florida not making it.