Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sweet 16 Picks and a Pitt-Xavier breakdown

We're back to the Madness tonight, with 12 huge games over the next 4 days that will decide this year's Final Four field. Currently at TRS, I am sitting at 37-11 in my picks so far for the NCAA Tournament. That's a decent but not spectacular record. I'd like to finish with 50+ wins and think I have at least a half-decent shot at it. So here are the Sweet 16 picks for me for the next two days, as well as a little bit of a breakdown of my thoughts on tonight's Pitt-Xavier game.

UConn over Purdue
Pitt over Xavier
Missouri over Memphis
Villanova over Duke
Louisville over Arizona
Oklahoma over Syracuse
Michigan State over Kansas
North Carolina over Gonzaga

And now for the breakdown:

As with most teams I think Xavier's biggest problem against Pitt will be handling Pitt's big fella, DeJuan Blair. Not that the X-Men don't have a few potential candidates for the job, but none of them are on Blair's elite level, nor can they match his toughness and physicality. Jason Love figures to get first crack at the job. He is a pretty big guy at 6'9 and 255 pounds and is a gritty type of player. He is solid on the glass and it will be interesting to watch him and Blair fight for boards, as both are good on both the offensive and defensive boards, though Love is nowhere near the talent that Blair is. Blair has faced much more talented centers than Love, and I don't anticipate him being near good enough to shut down Blair himself. Because of that I think we can expect to see double and triple teams when the ball is dumped inside. Monster center Kenny Frease (7'0 255) figures to get minutes, especially if DeJuan gets going early. Frease doesn't play a ton of minutes (averages only about 14.5), so if he does have to play extended minutes it will be interesting to see if he wears down. For a man his size, though, he isn't really aggressive enough to be a huge factor in any game. Think of him like a much better Gary McGhee. He's not coming in for the offensive side of the game. He's coming into bump some guys around and piss off the opposing big men with his size.

As with most teams, Xavier will focus heavily on stopping Blair. And as Oklahoma State showed last game, when you focus too much on Blair, Sam Young will absolutely murder you. Young had the best game of his career in that game and because he has the hot hand I expect to see him try to get going early on. I will be interested to see how Xavier handles him. They have three different candidates for the job, all of which play big minutes. B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson are both swingmen types and Derrick Brown plays at the 4 for them. If Sam goes to the 4 and plays inside then Brown figures to be on him, but Raymond and Anderson are similar types and I wouldn't be surprised to see them switch on and off early on to see if either one has any success guarding Sam.

An intriguing matchup will be Levance Fields against the combo of Dante Jackson and Terrell Holloway. Jackson is a massive point guard at 6'5 which will probably force a big adjustment for Levance Fields when Pitt has the ball. Thankfully, Jackson is nothing too special offensively or I would be more worried about this matchup hurting us at both ends of the court. Jackson is good defensively, though, and uses that size to his advantage pretty well when playing against a smaller guard like Fieldsy. Holloway is a freshman who gets plenty of minutes at the 1, and is a much more traditional point guard than Jackson, who probably should be only a 2 guard. However, Holloway is young and has a pretty pedestrian 1.1 Assists/ Turnover ratio and is not a very good shooter. He doesn't concern me much.

Offensively, the Musketeers have a few guys who do concern me a bit. They are a pretty balanced squad, reminding me of some of the Pitt teams from early this decade who could have any guy come out of the woodwork to beat you on any given night. B.J. Raymond is X's best weapon. As I mentioned, he is a swingman type. Because he likes to step outside more than his complement C.J. Anderson, I think our lockdown perimeter defender Jermaine Dixon will start on Raymond. B.J. can definitely use his size superiority to take advantage of Dixon if he plays more inside, but JD should be able to shut down his long-range game at least. If Raymond starts feeling it early, the bigger and more athletic Sam Young is a virtual lock to take on Raymond. I also think the 2 bench guys, Brad Wanamaker and Gil Brown, will see time on Raymond. They are both big and athletic guards and could be more physical with Raymond than Dixon.

It will also be interesting to see how Tyrell Biggs fares against Derrick Brown. Biggs is a very underrated defender in my mind, and is excellent fundamentally. Meanwhile Brown is Xavier's best interior threat and is a very sure shooter. I would say that DeJuan Blair could see minutes on him, but the fact that Brown can step outside to around and even beyond the 3-point line and shoot it pretty well makes me doubt that happens much. DeJuan is very effective around the basket, but Tyrell is a much better option when the offensive players are threatening to step away from the basket. Besides, we want DeJuan doing the Windex Man thing and cleaning the glass all night. Let Tyrell chase this guy around, it's not like he gives us much offensively anyway.

The Bottom Line: I like this Xavier team and think they were underappreciated by many (including yours truly). I like that they have a number of different options who can step up and also that they are a strangely tall team, especially in the backcourt. However, I just can't picture them having an answer for both Sam and DeJuan. It seems to me that they aren't going to be able to consistently stop either one without double teams, so unless they are just going to ignore our shooting guard and power forward spots, I think something has to give eventually. I think Xavier hangs with Pitt for much of the game but my personal thought is that DeJuan is the guy who ends up taking the game over for Pitt in the end.

Final Score Guess: Pitt 77-71

Go Panthers!

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