ONE AND DONE
No. 16 EAST TENNESSEE STATE – A game against Pittsburgh means the Bucs will be going home early.
No. 15 BINGHAMTON – The Binghamton Bearcats faceoff with Duke in the first round in Greensboro, N.C. The game won’t be played at Cameron Indoor Stadium but it might as well be given that Greensboro is less than an hour from Durham. The Bearcats have a chance to make the game interesting if guard DJ Rivera can go off. He led the America East conference in scoring with 20 points a game. He is an explosive athlete that can shoot the ball from deep. Rivera should be able to score 20 points, but will not get help from anyone else.
No. 14 AMERICAN – For the second straight year the American Eagles have earned a berth to the Big Dance by virtue of being the Patriot League champions. The Eagles return the core of last year’s team and are led by guard Garrison Carr. The 5-foot-11-inch guard paced the Eagles with 17.8 points per game. American will hang in there for most of the first half before Villanova’s talent begins to overwhelm the Eagles.
No. 13 PORTLAND STATE – The Portland State Vikings are dancing for their second consecutive year. The Big Sky champs showed they are capable of taking down the big dogs by defeating Gonzaga in the regular season. They will be in the game until the very end but Xavier will narrowly avoid being upset by a potential Cinderella.
No. 12 WISCONSIN – Traditional bracket folklore states that at least one No. 12 seed will knock off a No. 5 seed, but Wisconsin won’t be the team. The Badgers were one of the last at-large teams in by recovering from a mid-season slump to finish tied for fourth in the Big Ten. Wisconsin is a defense-oriented team led by post defender Marcus Landry who will have a tall task in managing Florida State big man Solomon Alabi. This will be a low-scoring affair where the first team to score 50 points will win, and that will be Florida State.
No. 6 UCLA – Upset special. How could the Bruins, a team returning three players who have been to three-straight Final Fours, fall to a mid-major? The answer is Virginia Commonwealth’s Eric Maynor. The 6-foot-3-inch guard is the same star who sent Duke packing in the first round in 2007. Now a senior, Maynor has the potential to be this tournament’s Stephen Curry. UCLA guard Darren Collison will match up against Maynor in what promises to be an exciting up and down contest. Both teams like to get out and run the floor but it will be VCU who pulls off the biggest upset of the East region.
No. 10 MINNESOTA – The Kentucky Wildcats are really kicking themselves where it hurts. A year after they fired head coach Tubby Smith, Kentucky will be watching from the sidelines as their ex-head coach leads the young Golden Gophers in their first tourney appearance in four years. Smith’s team knocked off Big East champ Louisville earlier in the year and are very good defensively. But once again, the stocks of Big Ten teams are down this year. Texas’s experience overpowers the Gophers and the Longhorns move onto the second round.
No. 9 TENNESSEE – Inconsistency, especially on the defensive end, has plagued the Volunteers all season. Although they won the Southeastern Conference East title, they struggled in non-conference play. Big man Wayne Chism is a dynamic forward capable of controlling any game. However, he has a tendency to put on an invisibility cloak and completely disappear at times. Oklahoma State defeats Tennessee in a close one scoring in the mid seventies.
No. 8 OKLAHOMA STATE – After a four-year hiatus from the Big Dance, the Oklahoma State Cowboys move on to play the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Cowboys starting lineup features a four guard set, with their lone starting forward Marshall Moses measuring 6-6. DeJuan Blair and the rest of the Pittsburgh frontcourt will go to work on the inside exploiting OK State’s lack of size. The Cowboys’ guards are tough and scrappy but are no match for Pittsburgh.
No. 4 XAVIER – After getting by Portland State, the Xavier Musketeers draw a matchup against the Seminoles. The Musketeers struggled down the stretch, finishing just 5-5 in their last ten and are about to collide with a team that is playing its best basketball of the season. The Musketeers feature two great options inside and out in guard BJ Raymond and forward Derrick Brown. However, the team has been skidding and will have difficulty in shutting down FSU’s Toney Douglas who has been hot. Xavier is sent home early and does not make it to the second weekend.
No. 11 VCU – Unfortunately, the clock strikes 12 early for this potential Cinderella as they face off against Villanova in the second round. Eric Maynor showed why he was the two time Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year against UCLA but struggles against Villanova’s lock down defense led by Reggie Redding. VCU’s tournament run ends in a Wachovia Center packed with Villanova fans.
No. 7 TEXAS – The once top-10 ranked Longhorns have found themselves a No. 7 seed after an up-and-down season. Texas has elite talent in sniper AJ Abrams and explosive forward Damien James but has struggled to get their act completely together and play to their potential. Head Coach Rick Barnes has a very shallow bench and tired legs slow down the Longhorns against Duke. Coach K turns the game into a track meet and the Blue Devils pull away by double digits in the second half.
No. 5 FLORIDA STATE – Coach Leonard Hamilton has his Seminoles playing their best basketball of the season. Fifth-year point guard Toney Douglas is one of the most dynamic scorers in the nation and the FSU frontline is as big and strong as any. However, it may run into an absolute force in the Sweet Sixteen against a hungry Pittsburgh squad. The Seminoles compete and give the Panthers their toughest game of the tourney but come up short.
No. 2 DUKE – A Duke versus Villanova matchup is being built as the most exciting game of the region. Coach K is eager to return to the Elite Eight after being shut out the previous four seasons. Both coaches have their teams playing their best ball this time of year. Kyle Singler, Gerald Henderson, and Jon Scheyer are all threats but are all capable of being shut down by Villanova’s defense that has improved all season long. Duke’s high ball pressure doesn’t bother the experienced Villanova guards like it does to most teams. Villanova wins in a memorable thriller.
No. 1 PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Panthers have never made it to a Final Four and it will not happen this year either. In fact, going into the tournament the Panthers have never made it past the Sweet Sixteen as they have had a tendency to flame out in the past seven tournaments. Levance Fields’ nagging groin injury forces him into limited minutes. DeJuan Blair manages to stay out of foul trouble but the Panthers aren’t the same team without their floor general, who is perhaps as valuable to the team as Blair. Villanova defeats Pittsburgh in a classic physical Big East game.
GOING TO THE FINAL FOUR
No. 3 VILLANOVA – They say that great guard play can carry a team through March. With Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Reggie Redding, there might not be another team in the nation with a better backcourt. This season the Wildcats have proven they are more than “Guard U” by getting significant contributions from their senior forwards. Dante Cunningham is as tough to guard and play defense against as any in the nation. Villanova has every trait that successful teams have.They are tough, have outstanding senior leadership, unmatched chemistry and a ton of heart. Playing the nation’s top teams in the rugged Big East has prepared the Wildcats to handle any and all adversity. This Villanova is very special and has many asking: