Sweet 16 Betting: West Regional Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/25/2009
March is a time for the guards. If you don't have good guard play you can't win this time of year. But as I look around the West Region all I can think is, "Damn, those guys are big."
Powerful frontcourts are dominating out West and the winner of this region will be determined by which team can physically impose their will on their opponent. Tough, solid physical specimens like Jeff Adrien, Hasheem Thabeet, DeMarre Carroll, Chris Kramer, Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier are running roughshod in The Desert. They have turned their regional into an arm wrestling match; and if you want to make it out alive it's going to be by raw force and brute strength alone.
Let the little guys beware.
Here is a breakdown of the West (Glendale) Regional:
Purdue (+7) vs. Connecticut (7 p.m., Thursday, March 24)
I know that Jerome Dyson was good, but he wasn't THAT good.
Connecticut's best perimeter defender and top three-point shooter went down with a season-ending injury over a month ago and you would have thought that the Miami Heat had just lost Dwyane Wade. It seems like just about every bobblehead in the country had written off the Huskies - mainly because of the Dyson injury - even though this may have been the most consistently dominating team in the country this season. The result: an incredibly underrated No. 1 seed that won its two opening weekend games by 56 and 26 points, respectively.
The Huskies boast the best frontcourt in the country with power forward Jeff Adrien and center Hasheem Thabeet and swingman Stanley Robinson. Mix in incredibly clutch point guard A.J. Price and the Huskies clearly are a force to be reckoned with over the next two weekends. This team doesn't shoot the ball particularly well, but they rebound, defend, take care of the ball, and they impose their will.
Also, a player to keep an eye on in this game is freshman Kemba Walker. The kid has tried to pick up the scoring slack in Dyson's absence with mixed results. I think the kid has big-time potential but he is also the least experienced big-game player on the floor. I think he's definitely an X-Factor.
Purdue was exceptional last weekend. They let up on Northern Iowa a little bit after a dominating 32 minutes and then scored a serious win over Pac-10 champion Washington in front of a very pro-Huskies squad. Purdue has now won five straight postseason games, going 3-2 against the spread in the process, after taking the Big Ten Tournament title and winning their opening NCAA games.
The Boilermakers were a preseason Final Four sleeper. But an injury to leading scorer and go-to guy Robbie Hummel got their conference season off-track. However, with Hummel back and playing at 100 percent this team is clicking on all cylinders. They have some strength up front to make it interesting on the boards and they defend as well as any team in the country. Also, Purdue has better shooters than the Huskies and should be able to score some points without taking it at Thabeet.
Purdue can beat Connecticut. But I don't think that they will. The Huskies have only lost to three teams this year: Pittsburgh, Syracuse in six overtimes, and in a stunner at home to Georgetown. Clearly, they are a tough out. But they have also been feast or famine. Over the last two months they have faced 11 teams ranked in the Top 55. They have lost three of those games by an average of 9.3 points and won their eight games by an average of 12.1 points.
Missouri (+4.5) vs. Memphis (9:30 p.m., Thursday, March 24)
Memphis is still the most overrated team left in the tournament field. However, it takes a certain type of team to beat the Tigers and I think that for the first time in months they may be up against a capable foe.
Memphis is huge. Their frontcourt is 6-8 across the board and all four of their top guards are 6-5 or taller. Guys like Robert Dozier, Antonio Anderson, and Shawn Taggart just kill teams on the offensive glass and 6-6, 215 freshman Tyreke Evans is simply too strong for most opponents' guards to stop. This team plays smothering half court defense and they are athletic enough to get up and down the court to generate points.
Athleticism. That is the key to Memphis' game. And that is why smaller, less physically gifted teams that execute and shoot and take care of the ball and do all of the other wonderful things that winning teams should do still have trouble competing against the Tigers. And that is what allows Memphis to dominate teams, on defense, on the glass and on the scoreboard.
Well, here's the rub: this week Memphis might be running into one of the only teams in the NCAA Tournament field that is actually MORE athletic than they are.
Missouri's top three scorers are all 6-7 or taller. The Tigers go, legitimately, 10 deep and they play a pressing, trapping, up-and-down game that threatens to leave fans and spectators out of breath, much less opponents. Missouri is one of the most up-tempo teams in the country and they have outmuscled physical - and extraordinarily talented - teams like Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and USC.
The Tigers have played 16 games this season against teams ranked in the Top 50 and they are a hearty 11-5 straight up against that top competition. Memphis has played just seven teams in the Top 50 and are simply 4-3 in those games. I don't care about Memphis' 27-game winning streak; only five of their opponents were rated in the Top 60 while 12 of the teams the beat were rated 135 or higher and five of the teams were 197 or higher.
One of the keys to this game is actually not on the court, but on the bench. John Calipari is a proven commodity in March and had his team just two minutes away from a national championship just 12 months ago. Mike Anderson, on the other hand, is a subpar game manager who has coached exactly one Sweet 16 game in his career. Oh, and that was a 26-point loss. So score a big one for Memphis.
Memphis will be ready for the Missouri press. Missouri will be ready for Memphis' half court defense. This one is going to be an up-and-down affair. But in the end it's going to be the team that can do enough of the little things - hit three-pointers, make free throws, take care of the ball - that should come out alive.