East’s bracketologists dissect the 2008 NCAA Tournament

Zack Rosenblatt ('09), Nate Mulberg ('10), Justin Henderson ('10) and Scott Gross ('09)/ Eastside Staff

ncaa2.jpgThe expert bracketologists of period 7 Journalism, Zack Rosenblatt (’09), Justin Henderson (’10) and Nate Mulberg (’10), take you through the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament region by region. Stuck on a match-up while making up your brackets? Look here for all the aid you could ever need.

Zack Rosenblatt will be covering the South Region, Justin Henderson will be handling the East Region and Nate Mulberg will be discussing the Midwest.  

A special writing appearance is also made by Scott Gross (’09) to discuss the West Region.

In addition to talking about his respective region, each expert will also be answering a few questions that pertain to the entire bracket that includes their favorites to make the Final Four, favorite to win it all and most likely number one seed to lose.

1. Most interesting first round match-up

(Midwest) Mulberg:  I like number10 seed Davidson vs. number 7 seed Gonzaga, but not for all the reasons that most like this matchup. Two mid-majors will meet in a game where many feel that the lower seed Davidson will come out on top. I have Gonzaga in this one, but nonetheless, this will be an interesting match-up thanks to Davidson’s superstar guard Stephen Curry who averages 25.1 ppg. Match him up against a Gonzaga squad that has seven guys that average over 7 ppg, and you have yourself a classic in the making.

(West) Gross: Purdue vs. Baylor. Both teams are coming in playing well. Even though Baylor got embarrassed in the Big 12 Tournament, they have turned it around. Purdue is playing surprisingly well and is ranked top 20 in the country. Purdue is the fourteenth best defense in the country while Baylor is the thirteenth best offense.

(East) Henderson: The most interesting match up in the first round East region would be Indiana vs. Arkansas because Indiana has the duo inside and outside the paint both combined average is 38.6 points per game which is more then half there team. Arkansas had a hot streak in their conference Tournament beating number 18 Vanderbilt and also beating number 4 Tennessee back-to-back.

(South) Rosenblatt: Number 8 Mississippi State vs. number 9 Oregon. The Ducks lucked out with a 9 seed despite 13 losses and a .500 record in Pac-10 play. The Bulldogs struggled with a tough schedule, but they lost to tournament teams Tennessee, Clemson and Vanderbilt by a total of 8 points. These two underachievers should turn out to be an exciting game, with Oregon’s run-and-gun offense versus a balanced team in Mississippi.

2. Most interesting “potential” match-up:

(Midwest) Mulberg: Clemson vs. Kansas in the Sweet 16. It’s essentially a match-up between a Clemson squad that lost two games to North Carolina by a combined seven points and a Kansas team that hasn’t met expectations the past few years. It would be a great game as Clemson has five players boasting double-digit scoring averages, while Kansas is known to have one of the best offenses in the country. 

(West) Gross: UCLA vs. UCONN. Both teams have played exceptionally well. Hasheem Thabeet and A.J. Price have made a dynamic duo, and the team has now gotten their sharpshooter Dyson back. UCLA has some great talent in Darren Collison, Jake Westbrook and Kevin Love. They also have Mbah-Moute who is questionable for the tournament. Either way, both teams have played extremely well and I’d love to watch this game.

(East) Henderson: The most potential match-up would be Saint Joseph’s vs. Oklahoma because their two high-powered, different style offenses going against each other. St. Joseph’s shoots the threes while Oklahoma likes to drive. However, they both are unusually weak at defense.

(South) Rosenblatt: Number 2 Texas vs. number 3 Stanford. If they meet, this could be one of the closer match-ups in the entire tournament. The extremely talented Longhorns are best at the guard positions, with flashy point guard D.J. Augustine and shooter, guard, A.J. Abrams. The Cardinals counter with the “Twin Towers” of Brook and Robin Lopez, who dominate the low-post defensively, averaging a combined 4.5 blocks per game.

3. Best head-to-head match-up (players):

(Midwest) Mulberg: This one is easy. It has to be the two fantastic freshmen, and potential 1-2 picks in this year’s upcoming NBA draft, Kansas State’s Michael Beasley vs. USC’s O.J. Mayo. Unfortunately, the two won’t be covering each other as each play different positions; however, both will be expected to play huge roles in this epic game.

(West) Gross: Joe Alexander (WVU) vs. Chase Budinger (Arizona). Both players have helped their teams out tremendously. Alexander blew through the Big East tournament and Budinger has contributed a lot to Arizona.

(East) Henderson:  The best head-to-head match-up would be Notre Dames’ Luke Harangody vs. George Mason’s Will Thomas.  They both average about 10 rebounds a game and it’s going to be a battle between those two also because they both are the leading scores at their positions for their respective teams.

(South) Rosenblatt: Maarty Leunen (Oregon) vs. Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State). It should be Oregon vs. Varnado because he hardly ever lets any shots reach the rim: Varnado averages a colossal 4.6 blocks per game. Leunen is going to have a tough time getting any shots off, but his athleticism should help him a bit. Leunen is a solid offensive rebounder who is going to need every second-chance opportunity he can get.

4. “Dangerous” double digit seed:

(Midwest) Mulberg:  Davidson. As much as I am not on the Davidson bandwagon, they have plenty of senior leadership, along with a 22-game win streak heading into the tourney. As seen in previous tournaments, teams with a big superstar can indeed make a run. With Stephen Curry, Davidson has that needed superstar.

(West) Gross: Baylor. Baylor has played very well lately and is number 13 in the country in offensive efficiency. If they can get by Purdue they have a chance of beating Xavier or Georgia and then Duke, Arizona or West Virginia.

(East) Henderson: “Dangerous double digit seed” definitely Saint Joseph’s.  They can shoot the ball very well behind the arc and they can get the ball inside the paint with their leading scorer, Pat Calathes.

(South) Rosenblatt: Number 10 Saint Mary’s. The Gaels have one of the most efficient defenses in the nation, and unlike other mid-major teams, they challenged themselves with some tough non-conference games. Early in the season they upset then number 12 Oregon and tested themselves later on with Texas and Gonzaga. The Gaels have a solid inside-outside game with underrated point guard Patrick Mills and big men Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan. The Gaels could cause some trouble for Texas if they go that far.

5. Sleeper/Cinderella team:

(Midwest) Mulberg: May be a bit of a stretch, but possibly Kent St. They beat St. Mary’s during the regular season, showing they can compete. They also have four players who average double-digit points.

(West) Gross: West Virginia. They have a nice road record. They have the inconsistent Arizona, a team that has drummed up controversy, as many don’t think they should even be in the tournament. After that, the Mountaineers will probably play Duke, which is very prone to an upset after having losses to the likes of Maryland and Wake Forest. They kind of fell apart toward the end of the season after losing to Clemson. Then, West Virginia will have a tougher time against UCLA, UCONN, Drake or someone else from the top half. Look for a run by this number 7 seed.(East) Henderson: The sleeper team would be Winthrop.  They made the brackets last year and pulled off a win against Notre Dame which was considered one of the year’s biggest upsets.

(South) Rosenblatt: Number 14 Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles have tournament experience, having been there each of the last four years. They breezed their way through their Summit League schedule with a 16-2 conference record. Robert Jarvis and Moses Ehambe both made more then 80 three-pointers, and Ehambe has 15-three pointers in his last two outings. Pittsburgh had better come prepared, or they could be sent home quickly.

6. Player to watch:

(Midwest) Mulberg: Roy Hibbert. We all know who he is, the 7’2 center from Georgetown. He was the leader in last year’s tournament run, and for his team to make it far this year, he will need to be big. Bigger than 7’2 big.

(West) Gross: A.J. Price. He is a senior on UCONN who has tournament experience. He was on a number 1 seed UCONN squad a few years back and knows what it takes to win. Look for him to step up for a sleeper in UCONN.

(East) Henderson: The player to watch for in the East Region would be Luke Harangody. If he can’t score, then Notre Dame is in trouble. When teams figure how to stop him in the paint he takes shots behind the paint and makes them rain.

(South) Rosenblatt: Brook Lopez, Stanford’s center. The extremely talented big man is the main reason why the Cardinals lost just seven games this season. The seven-footer has dominated on both ends of the floor game in, game out. The lack of an outside threat makes it a necessity for Brook to keep doing what he has all year. In a loss to UCLA earlier this year he had just 12 points, so the Cardinals need more games like the 30 and 12 he dropped on Washington State if they want to go to the Final Four.

7. Player “you haven’t heard of” to keep an eye on:

(Midwest) Mulberg:  Edwin Ubiles of Siena. The sophomore averages 17.3 points per game and will be a key player in the Saints’ attempt to upset Vanderbilt in the first round. If he has a big game, look for Siena to have a good chance at winning their opening round game despite being a 13 seed.

(West) Gross: Jake Westbrook. I don’t think many people have heard of him but he is a guard on UCLA who has played hard ball year. He played injured and helped lead UCLA past Stanford just days ago in the PAC-10 Tournament.

(East) Henderson: The single player “you haven’t heard of” to keep an eye on is Jeremy Goode of Mount Saint Mary’s.  In their game to qualify for the tournament, he scored 21 points and had 5 assists in winning 69-60. You never know: Jeremy Goode might throw up some prayer shots.

(South) Rosenblatt: Patrick Mills, point guard on Saint Mary’s. The Aussie floor general may be relatively unknown outside St. Mary’s circles, but his opponents have surely taken note. In the early season upset over Oregon, he had one of the better single game performances of anybody: 37 points, 5 assists and 4 threes and shot an amazing 13 of 14 from the free throw line. It’s not a stretch to call Mills the third best point guard in this region (after D.J Augustine and Derrick Rose).

8. Most overrated team and/or player:

(Midwest) Mulberg:  Wisconsin. This is a team that is solid, but not “freakish.” Solid teams don’t always get it done in the NCAA tournament. Teams that win it all are ones that have high-powered, athletic performers. Wisconsin has a great record, but has beaten teams they should have killed by only a small margin (Michigan by three, Iowa by six). Look for them to go down against a high-powered USC team in a possible match-up in round 2.

(West) Gross: Duke. They have had some pretty bad losses. They lost to Maryland and Wake Forest, both of whom are unranked and not in the tournament. They also don’t have as much talent as in years past and aren’t that improved from last year when they lost as a 6 seed in the first round to VCU.

(East) Henderson: The most overrated is Tennessee only for one reason: they are inconsistent. They beat the number 1 team in the nation but lose to a mediocre Arkansas.  Their shooting is on and off every game; it’s basically flipping a coin: heads they make the shot, tails they miss it.

(South) Rosenblatt: Number 6 Marquette. The Golden Eagles got a 6 seed mainly due to their participation in the premier conference in America (the Big East). I understand the win over Wisconsin was a good one, but I find the Badgers overrated anyway. The Golden Eagles lost to Louisville by 20, Connecticut by 16 and Syracuse by 15. Dominic James has been in complete freefall since his solid freshman year, and his point per game totals have dropped each year since (15.3 in 2006, 14.9 in 2007, and 13.0 this year).

9. Most underrated team and/or player:

(Midwest) Mulberg: Gonzaga. This team epitomizes what a “team” really is. They do not have one over-the-top player, but instead, five very solid starters along with a solid bench. If the Zags play like they are capable of, along with great coaching from head coach Mark Few, look for the Bulldogs to make a run.

(West) Gross: Baylor. Everyone is writing them off already but they have had some big wins this year, most notably, the win vs. TAMU in triple overtime. They have a great offense and have turned themselves around

(East) Henderson: The most underrated team is George Mason.  A lot of people can not see them making the same run they did two years ago.  The coach feels confident with this team and also this has been their best season yet.

(South) Rosenblatt: Number 5 Michigan State. Normally a bonafide favorite to reach the Final Four each year, the Spartans went under the radar for the first time in a while. It seems like Drew Neitzel has been playing forever, but he is still the same consistent point guard he was when the Spartans went on their Final Four run a few years ago. He is the team leader and the one you can count on in the clutch. Supporting Neitzel is a group of highly touted underclassmen in leading scorer Raymar Morgan (14.5 points per game, sophomore) along with freshman Kalin Lucas (10.0 points per game).

10. No. 1 seed most likely to be eliminated first:

Mulberg:  It has to be Memphis. Not only does the school have the least talented team of all of the number one seeds, but they also are playing in a difficult region that has them potentially playing Pittsburgh, Stanford, and/or Texas en route to getting to the Final Four, all of whom are capable of upsetting the Tigers of Memphis.

Gross: Memphis. Out of the four number one seeds, they have had the easiest schedule and have been the least battle-tested this season. They lost a crucial game to Tennessee and have a lot to prove. They will have to face teams like Michigan State, Pittsburgh or Stanford.

Rosenblatt: Memphis: a 30-1 record notwithstanding, the Tigers did play in the mediocre Conference USA. Don’t get me wrong, they are without question the most athletic team in the nation, and they have some major talent, but playing against bad competition did not prepare them well enough for the likes of Stanford or Texas. This year’s batch of number one teams are all very talented, but I have to choose one and that’s why I am going with the Tigers. On a side note – if I were a GM of an NBA franchise with a high draft pick (ahem, Miami) I would suggest taking Rose. Yes, even over the great Michael Beasley.

11. Predicted Final Four:

Mulberg: Tennessee, Kansas, UCLA (if healthy), and in the South bracket – good luck with that one; I am tossing a coin up to decide this one. It is between the top four seeds: Memphis, Texas, Stanford and Pittsburgh, respectively.

Gross: Kansas, North Carolina, UCONN and Texas. Kansas – most athletic in their bracket and the most underrated of the number 1 seeds. Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush are going to bring it every night. Texas – DJ Augustin and AJ Abrams are ready to fight. They have a pretty decent road after the first round playing against Miami or St. Mary’s and then either Marquette, Stanford, Cornell or Kentucky before having to face the top half. Augustin wants a Final Four appearance before he says sayonara to Longhorn Country. UCONN is a sleeper team that has a lot of underrated talent. AJ Price is playing as well as any point guard in the country, averaging the most assists per game in the Big East with close to 7.0 a game. Thabeet is a 7’2” monster and the team will soon get Dyson back.

Rosenblatt:

East- number one North Carolina

Midwest – number one Kansas

West – number one UCLA

South – number three Stanford

I keep trying to find reasons for there not to be three number one seeds in the final four, but UNC, Kansas and UCLA are just way too talented. The Jayhawks have the deepest roster in the tournament, but I hate choosing them because every year I do, they end up losing to a team like Bucknell. UCLA essentially has home court advantage, but having Kevin Love at their services helps a bit as well. I chose Stanford because I don’t see any team capable of containing Brook Lopez, in addition to his twin brother Robin and another solid frontcourt player in Lawrence Hill.

12. National Champ:

Mulberg: If Luc Richard Mbah a Moute plays for the UCLA Bruins, I expect them to win it all with their experienced coaching staff and players. They have two great guards in Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook who should lead the way.

Gross: UNC. They are very talented and well-coached. Roy Williams has won a National Championship before. Ty Lawson is a great all-around player. Wayne Ellington has a lot of talent. Tyler Hansbrough is an absolute warrior. They are good all-around and play tough every night. They are destined to win the tournament.

Rosenblatt: North Carolina over UCLA. The Tar Heels are just so far ahead of every team in the nation talent-wise that, barring injury, I don’t find a team that could stop them. Their toughest test may be against the offensively challenged Washington State (early on). While UCLA has the defense necessary to hang tough, Tyler Hansbrough will just simply be too much for Kevin Love (and every other big man he faces). Even at his short size for his position, he still finds ways to get every rebound and make the toughest shots down low. The spectacular outside shooting of Wayne Ellington, and Ty Lawson’s ability to get up and down the floor make the Tar Heels the team to beat in this year’s tournament.