Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sunday's Round of 32 Preview

We wrap up the early rounds of the men's NCAA tournament on Sunday and punch the tickets of eight more teams to the Sweet 16. Here's a glance at each of the games on the second day of the Round of 32.*

East Region: No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 7 Washington, 12:15 p.m., CBS

The Tar Heels were content to just play along with Long Island in North Carolina's 102-87 win on Friday night. While Long Island is not an offensive slouch -- the Blackbirds averaged 82.6 points per game this season, fourth best in the nation -- the Tar Heels will need to find some semblance of defense in order to get past a very talented Washington club.

The Huskies were ranked early on this season before trailing off in late January. Isaiah Thomas (16.9 points, six assists per game) is one of the nation's most explosive players and senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning (15.3 points, eight rebounds per game) provides the muscle down low for Washington.

The most interesting matchup in this one will be Bryan-Amaning against UNC's Jon Henson down low. Amaning (240 pounds) is a wide body and Henson's body has a stick-figure look to it. Still, the North Carolina sophomore is a top defensive player and is averaging 10.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game.

West Region: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 8 Michigan, 2:45 p.m., CBS

The West is the bracket of fate, isn't it? First we get Duke-Michigan on the immediate heels of last weekend's Fab Five documentary which featured these two teams' matchup in the 1991 national championship. Then, possibly down the road, we could get either one of these teams going against ex-Michigan coach Steve Fisher's San Diego State club in the Elite Eight.

Just pointing out that if you believe the selection committee does not consider storyline when making up the bracket, you are painfully naive.

(That, or the selection committee is the luckiest group of people in the world. Your pick.)

Anyway, this game features two of the teams with more impressive tournament debuts. Duke walked past Hampton State, but was able to get Kyrie Irving into the action for a bit, and Michigan trounced a seemingly distracted Tennessee team by 30 points.

Should be an interesting contrast of styles -- Michigan can break out its 1-3-1 zone against Duke, something that I do not think the Blue Devils have faced this season. Should make for an interesting subplot to see how Duke's 3-point shooters react to those wing-to-corner 3-pointers being covered.

East Region: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 8 George Mason, 5:15 p.m., CBS

I don't think anyone will be too surprised if George Mason pulls off this upset. Coach Jim Larranaga's club cannot sneak up on anyone like it did several years ago in mounting a Final Four run, but this year's Patriots are good enough that they do not need to take anyone by surprise.

Ohio State has more pure talent and will have the best player (Jared Sullinger, the potential No. 1 pick in this year's NBA draft), but George Mason's biggest strength comes against Ohio State's greatest weakness: Guard play. Luke Hancock and Cam Long average a combined 25.9 points per game and take excellent care of the ball, only coughing it up 4.1 times per game between them.

West Region: No. 4 Texas vs. No. 5 Arizona, 6:10 p.m., TNT

This one might be our best game in the entire tournament in terms of potential pro prospects.

Arizona's Derrick Williams is a fantastic prospect and a likely top-5 pick in this upcoming draft. The 6-foot-8 power forward averaged 19.2 points per game this season ... on 61-percent shooting from the floor. He also has a nice touch, connecting on 36-of-59 3-pointers this season (61 percent). Williams went for 22 points and 10 rebounds in his team's opening victory over Memphis.

Texas has a couple pro prospects, its best being Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson. Hamilton, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, averaged 18.7 points per game this season, while Thompson is more of a stat-sheet stuffer. The freshman averaged 13.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, and compiled 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks in his team's second-round victory against Oakland.

Southwest Region: No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 11 VCU, 7:10 p.m., TBS

VCU has already won two games in this tournament and might be able to pull off the upset here, too. Purdue's losing of Kelsey Barlow didn't hurt the Boilermakers in their blowout of St. Peters, but VCU may be the tournament's hottest team right now. The Rams have won four of their last five games, with wins over George Mason, USC and Georgetown -- that's a pretty impressive list.

East Region: No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Marquette, 7:45 p.m., truTV

Just another Big East battle.

Syracuse has a chance to avenge one of its regular-season losses in this one. The Orange lost to Marquette at the tail-end of Syracuse's four-game losing streak at the end of January that temporarily derailed the team after its fantastic start.

Back when they met in January, Syracuse's vaunted zone defense was no match for Jae Crowder, who sliced and diced his way to 25 points. The Golden Eagles also connected on 6-of-13 3-pointers and managed to get to the line for 33 free-throw attempts.

Jim Boeheim's club will need to tighten up its defense in order to reverse January's game-result. A better game from guard Brandon Triche

Southwest Region: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 9 Illinois, 8:40 p.m., TNT

This seems like a game we should just be able to (rock) chalk up a win for the Jayhawks, but Illinois was so impressive in its victory against UNLV. Up 22 points at the half, Illinois coasted a bit in the second half, but still managed an 11-point win.

In order to pull off the upset, Illinois needs to play a full game and get better ball protection from point guard Demetri McCamey (seven assists, six turnovers).

Southwest Region: No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 10 Florida State, 9:40 p.m., TBS

Let's not waste our time -- Notre Dame is probably playing the best basketball in the NCAA, winning 13 of their last 15 games. Mike Brey and his club are moving on to the Sweet 16.  

*Consider my mailing in of that final game to be retribution for the NCAA allowing this batch of games to be dubbed the "Round of 32." Seriously, NCAA? Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four ... and Round of 32?

--Michael Kelly

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