Thursday, March 31, 2011

Road To Houston: Butler

They were supposed to be a one year wonder. Maybe if Gordon Heyward had returned they would have a shot at a somewhat close repeat performance. But, Heyward left. Butler, last years darling, was forgotten. Until now. Brad Stevens has coached The Bulldogs back to the Final Four to finish the job from last year. No Heyward, no problem. Offense wins games, and Butler's defense can easily win a championship this year. With Butler, nothing was every pretty. The regular season was rough, the wins in the tournament. Nonetheless, here they are.
Butler started off 1-1, with a loss to Louisville. Three games later they lost to Evansville in OT. They grabbed 1 more win, and then dropped 2 more games to Duke and Xavier. The Bulldogs did eventually start winning. But, more trouble followed. At one point they dropped 3 straight games in horizon League play. This is when Brad Stevens had his Butler team look in the mirror, and the guys did not like what they saw. The Bulldogs have not lost a game since Feb, 3rd. They rapped off 9 straight conference wins. Won the Horizon League Tournament, and earned a #8 seed. They then started their run back to the Final Four. They beat ODU by 2 on a buzzer beater put back. They took down #1 seed Pittsburgh by 1. Topped Wisconsin by 7, and defeated #2 seed Florida by 3 in Overtime.
The 2 most significant roll players for Butler last year, have emerged as big stars this year in the tournament. Shelvin Mack lit up Pittsburgh for 30 points, and had 27 against Florida. Matt Howard has been playing the best defense of anyone on the team, and had 20, 12 game for The Bulldogs against Wisconsin. Another guy who has been noteworthy is Ronald Norad. He is the lockdown defender for Butler, and has been doing a superb job of locking down on opposing teams best players.
The question is, can Butler's defense contain a team that has been shooting the lights out from 3 in VCU? The key matchup in this game is inside, as Matt Howard will be going up against Jamie Skeen, who was fantastic last week. He dumped 26 points on the Morris twins. The coaching matchup in this one is great as well. Two young coaches, who have taken the national spotlight by storm.-Josh Neighbors

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Road To Houston: Kentucky

The 2009-2010 Kentucky Wildcats were one of the most talented team college basketball has ever seen. John Wall was the point guard, Eric Bledsoe, Demarcus Cousins, and Pattrick Patterson. But, they lacked some chemistry. They were ousted in the Elite Eight by West Virginia. This year's Kentucky team is similar to last year's team. A fantastic point guard, a quality big man in Terrence Jones, and a solid lineup in the 2, 3, and 4 spots. But, this Wildcats team has an opportunity to do what last year's team did not. Win a National Championship.
Coach Callapari has been to three Final Fours.(2 of which were vacated) and has never won a title. The Wildcats 2011 campaign got a off to a rough start. But, that was to be expected due to the fact this is a bunch of freshmen who had never played with each other. In Mauii, they took out #11 Washington, but lost to UConn in the final. The Wildcats then posted 7 straight wins, including wins against Notre Dame and Louisville.  The Cats struggled in SEC play. They lost 6 games, but still earned the #2 seed as they finished 10-6 in conference. They did end the season on a 6 game winning streak, which included 3 games in the SEC tournament. UK beat Florida in the championship game, 70-54. The winning streak is now up to 10.  The Cats narrowly escaped Princeton, thanks to a big time shot from Brandon Knight. The beat West Virginia by 8. They then defeated the #1 overall seed, Ohio State, thanks to another big shot from Brandon Knight in the closing seconds. And finally, Kentucky beat UNC by 7 to reach the Final Four.

Kentucky has relied on the play of its 3 terrific Freshmen; Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb, who has been battling injuries. But, another key player has arisen. Big man John Harellson. Who, earlier in the season, tweeted in frustration about his lack of playing time. Coach Cal was close to kicking him off the team, but gave him a 2nd chance. Harellson has taken full advantage of his opportunity. He has had double-digit scoring in every game of The NCAA Tournament, and has had two 10+ rebound games. This 2nd meeting between UConn and Kentucky will be much more competitive then the 17 point shellacking UConn handed them last time.(The game was not as close as the score indicated). The matchup to watch will be Brandon Knight going up against Kemba Walker. The matchup that will ultimately determine the outcome of the game will be John Harrelson and Alex Oriakhi. The game will be close, and which ever roll player has a better game will determine the outcome.-Josh Neighbors

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Road to Houston: UConn

4 teams remain. All have spectacular stories, and deserve to be where they are....... at least I think so. 4 Teams represented from 4 different conferences. Big East, CAA, Horizon, and SEC. We start our story with the team from Storrs, Connecticut.
The UConn Huskies have the face of college basketball on their team. Kemba Walker, Mr. Dynamite. He may not score as much as Jimmer, but he contributes just as much to his team, if not more. It all started early this season in Mauii, when the world met Kemba. He dropped 31 on Witchita State, 30 on #2 Michigan State, and capped it off with 29 points against #9 Kentucky. He laid down expectations for himself and The Huskies for the rest of the season. But, Coach Calhoun and the Huskies hit some rough areas during their season, at one point UConn lost 4 of 5 games in conference. They finished in 9th in the Big East regular season standings. Then the rest, well that is history. The spectacular run through the Big East Tournament. The crushing of Depaul. The romp of Georgetown. Kemba's crossover pull-up jumper, that broke Gary McGhee's ankles and sunk Pittsburgh. The overtime thriller against Syracuse, and the close call against Louisville. Kemba Walker dominated every game. The Huskies won 5 games in 5 days and took home The Big East Title.
The Hukies earned a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament. They ran through Bucknell, and beats Cincinati. The knocked off #2 seed San Diego State in Anaheim. Kemba Walker dropped 36 against the defensive minded Aztecs, and then they held on against Arizona in a thrilling finish. Arizona looked like the hottest team in the tournament, and had the hottest player in Derrick Williams. The Huskies were able to get Williams into foul trouble, which was the downfall of the Wildcats.
As much as it seems like Kemba is doing all the work, he has help. Jeremy Lamb has become a rising star. He gave 19 points in the win against Arizona. Alex Oriahki has been fantastic, making big plays inside whenever called upon. These Huskies will have to face #4 seed Kentucky. The preview of the Wildcats will be coming soon.-Josh Neighbors

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Big East Championship

1 name breaks down this matchup. And it is pretty obvious what that name is. It is Kemba Walker. Since Tuesday, Kemba Walker has dominated every team they have faced. He had 26 against Depaul. 28 against Georgetown. 24 against Pitt, including a game winner as time expired. And last night he had 33 against Syracuse in an overtime win. UConn's roll players have come up big, but Kemba Walker is the key. Tonight against Louisville, he will need to have another big game. Does he have enough left in the tank to finish off the tournament? Can he finish off an amazing 5 day run? I think the answer is no. Walker will be tired and will leave it to his teammates to pick up his slack, which I do not think they can. Louisville plays solid offensive team, and have many players who can provide big sparks for their offense. I think offensively Kyle Kuric will step up for the Cardinals and deliver Rick Pitino has 2nd Big East Championship in 3 years.-Josh Neighbors

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Big East Tournament Day 3

Tournament time has arrived, as thing are getting crazy in New York for The Big East Tournament. A controversial day 2 is one of the main headlines for day 3. Lets go game by game through day 3 in MSG.
#1 Pittsburgh vs #9 UConn: This game asks the question, is it better to be rested or on a roll? UConn is on a game roll of double-digit wins. Their best player is player the best he has all year(with the exception of the Mauii Invitational). All the other players are stepping up, Jeremy Lamb had a solid game yesterday, and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel had a solid game. But, Pittsburgh has the best all-around player in the country in Ashton Gibbs. The reason he does not spot 30 points every game is because the depth Pittsburgh has. They have so many different scoring outlets, and they are the most complete team in the country. I like them by double-digits because of their depth. The winner of this game plays the winner of Syracuse vs St. John's.
#4 Syracuse vs #5 St, John's: St. John's "stole" one from Rutgers among much controversy. Rutgers should have gotten a shot to win, but they did not and St. John's got lucky, like really lucky. So now they are playing the only team that has beaten them in The Garden. The Syracuse Orange. So the question is can St. Johns shoot well enough to beat Syracuse's zone. Dwight Hardy and DJ Kennedy need to find the range from deep. They are the keys to the game. I love St. John's. I love them even more at The Garden, but I have a feeling they will have a tough time figuring out Syracuse's zone, as they have in the past. I like The Orange.
The preview of the next 2 games is coming later.-Josh Neighbors

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Big East Tournament Day 2

There are 3 major headlines coming into round 2 of The Big East tournament. 1: Kemba Walker looked really good yesterday, scoring 26 points as UConn cruised against Depaul. It did take a little while for UConn to kick it into gear, but they eventually did and won by 26. So the #9 seed Huskies will face #8 Georgetown. The Hoyas have been up and down, and are without Chris Wright. This means Austin Freeman will have to step up. But, I like Kemba Walker and UConn. The winner of this game faces # 1 seed Pittsburgh.
2: St, John's starts their Big East Tournament run. The odds are in their favor due to the fact that The Tournament is in MSG. The #5 seed Red Storm take on #13 seed Rutgers, who won an overtime thriller yesterday against Seton Hall. I like the Red Storm in this game and I do not think a tired Rutgers team can keep up. The winner platys #4 seed Syracuse.
3: The last big storyline is Villanova being knocked off by USF. This puts The Wildcats right on the bubble. #15 seed USF plays #7 Cincinati. Cincinati will have no problem with USF. The Bulls got lucky yesterday, and Villanova had no Corey Stokes. Bearcats will roll. The winner faces #2 seed Notre Dame.
The last game has #11 seed Marquette vs #6 West Virginia. I think this will be a good game. Marquette punched their ticket last night with a win over Providence. A win tonight would be nice to thought, but I like Bob Huggins and West Virginia. The winner of this game plays #3 Louisville.-Josh Neighbors

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ready to Run: Day 1 of the Big East Tournament

The Big East Tournament starts today. This is when we weed out the teams who come to New York with slight hope on Monday, and lose it on Tuesday. So on this Tuesday there are very few big story lines. The first matchup consists of #9 seed UConn vs #16 seed Depaul. I see the UConn having no problem what so ever with Depaul. The winner of that game gets Georgetown.
Next is the 12 13 matchup, which is Seton Hall vs Rutgers. This will be a tight game that nobody cares about. The winner of this game plays St. John's. Remember that, I will talk about The Johnie's later.
The Next matchup has #10 Villanove vs #15 USF. No problems here. The Cats will roll. Cincinati faces the winner.
The last matchup is by far the most intruiging. #11 Marquette  vs  #14 Providence. Marquette is playing for their tournament lives. They are the bubble team in The Big East. If the Big East sends 11 teams, Marquette will be the 11th.(Provided they do not win The Big East Tournament.) On the other side you have Marshon Brooks, who in my opinion is the 2nd most fun player to watch in the country. He and The Friars have a tendency to knock off teams. Even though they are 15-16, they go out and play hard in the toughest conference in the country. They usually do not get the W. But, they have knocked off Lousiville, Villanova, and came very close to beating Georgetown in DC. I think Marquette will prevail, but it will be a close game. Expect to see 30+ in the stat sheet next to Marshon Brooks name. The winner will face West Virginia.-Josh Neighbors