The NCAA Tournament always brings a lot of unknown teams, players and matchups into its 68 (now 66) team field. It’s a heavy chore to follow and be aware of each team’s style and personnel beyond the surface statistical numbers. Here are five matchups that I feel are very important in Round One:
1. Belmont vs. Georgetown – Belmont has a strength that is almost non-existent in this tournament field. They often play a pair of excellent point guards at the same time. Senior Drew Hanlen (team leading 2.2 assist-turnover ratio) and junior Kerron Johnson (team leading 5.2 assists per game) are different in their styles but very effective at directing the offense. Each is proficient at running the fast break but in the half court, Hanlen is a perimeter based point who leads the team in three point shooting percentage while Johnson is a lightning quick penetrator who excels in the drive and dish game. Johnson won the Alabama high school Mr. Basketball award three years ago, defeating Kentucky one and done stars C DeMarcus Cousins and G Eric Bledsoe. The Bruins ability to go with a pair of experienced and talented PG’s could be problematic for Georgetown which is weak and depth shy in that area. Senior PG Jason Clark has a 0.8 assist-to-turnover ratio and the team’s leading assist men are C Henry Sims and PF Julian Vaughan.
2. Montana vs. Wisconsin – It has been correctly analyzed and stated by many over the past four weeks that as Wisky PG Jordan Taylor goes, so go the Badgers. Taylor’s season has been filled with peaks and valleys and Wisconsin needs his best in order to advance. Peaking in their tournament opener could be made extremely difficult by Montana’s floor general and best player, Will Cherry. While totally unrecognized outside the Big Sky Conference and college basketball aficionados, Cherry was named the conferences “Defensive Player of the Year”. His quickness and devotion to shut down defense could be troublesome for Taylor here. Taylor will also have to guard Cherry who is Montana’s leading scorer at 16.0 ppg. If this matchup neutralizes itself, the game becomes like a tie-breaker scenario and moves on to the next best players. As unlikely as it seems, that honor falls to a pair of 7 footers who specialize in shooting threes. Wisconsin junior Jared Berggren is better known but Grizzlies senior Derek Selvig could be the better player. It’s rare to see a pair of centers challenge their opponent to defend at the arc but Berggren (41-of-111, 36.9%) and Selvig (37-of-85, 43.5%) will do that at times during this game. Overall, Selvig may just have the better overall inside-outside offensive skills making this another tough matchup for Wisconsin.
3. Ohio State vs. East Bracket – This one is more for everyone filling out a bracket sheet for a contest beginning tomorrow. You can look below in this Sportsmemo blog and see who each of the handicappers selected to go to the Final Four. I personally chose Ohio State to win the East Regional and reach the Final Four for one reason, Buckeyes PG Aaron Craft. OSU’s path to the Sweet 16 is made easy because Craft can effectively quiet any of the point guards they may face. The defensive wiz will overwhelm Gonzaga’s underclass duo of Kevin Pangos and David Stockton and he should negate West Virginia’s Darrell “Truck” Bryant or the freshman duo of Jabarie Hinds/Gary Browne should HC Bob Huggins take Bryant off the ball. The most worrisome matchup prior to a potential regional finals date with Syracuse would be Cincinnati and PG Cashmere Wright. In that matchup, Craft would likely take to being more disruptive on Wright’s perimeter shot than stealing the ball. Florida State’s Luke Loucks at 6’5” with more glide than quickness would have a nightmare against Craft who can get low and pick his pocket. If the Buckeyes surrounding pieces do their jobs, Craft’s PG defense will get them to New Orleans.
4. New Mexico vs. Long Beach State – With it looking more and more like Big West Defensive Player of the Year Larry Anderson will either not play at all or play hindered (sprained knee), LBSU faces a pair of dreadful matchups. 6’7” swingman Tony Snell of New Mexico (team’s 3rd leading scorer 11.0 ppg) would’ve been Anderson’s to check and healthy, he would have taken that prong out of the Lobos attack. Now, Snell could play a major offensive role in this contest. Additionally, 49ers seniors either T.J. Robinson at 6’8 205 lbs. or Eugene Phelps 6’7” 225 lbs. will draw one of the nations most unheralded post players Drew Gordon. The UCLA transfer goes 6’9” 245 lbs. and is the type of inside bully that Long Beach does not see in conference play and has not seen since Kansas PF Thomas Robinson lit them up for 26 points on 10-of-14 71% shooting. The good news for the “Beach” is that PG Casper Ware may be able to pick on Lobos sophomore counterpart Kendall Williams a bit but can he do enough?