Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Predictions--Final Four


Considering these are the teams I picked to advance, it should be no surprise that I expect to see a couple of classics on the first Saturday in April.

Louisville and Arizona are roughly even when it comes to rebounding and ball-handling with Louisville being slightly more effective shooting and forcing opponents into difficult shots. Louisville gets to the free throw line more often than does Arizona while also shooting more threes.

The Cardinals will have options when it comes to guarding Salim Stoudamire, essentially the Wildcats' lone perimeter threat. (Both Shakur and McClellan shoot a good percentage but average less than one made three per game). Arizona will need Hassan Adams to shut down Francisco Garcia to have a chance to win. That, in and of itself, won't guarantee an Arizona victory, but it's difficult to imagine Louisville losing if Garcia plays well.

Michigan State will go small and strong. UConn will counter with a big, athletic lineup. Michigan State wants to slow the game down. UConn struggles to score at times in their half-court offense. The excellent Marcus Williams sometimes turns the ball over too much and the Spartans are good at forcing turnovers. UConn's front line should neutralize the rebounding advantage Michigan State possesses against most teams. I'll take talent over experience every time, but when talent (and coaching) cancels itself out, I place a slender importance on veteran-ness.


I think Louisville will win the national championship because they can both score and defend. Only Illinois, Arizona, and Florida have demonstrated similar ability on both sides of the ball against all competition. Obviously at most one of Arizona and Illinois can make the Final Four and Florida faces a difficult road. Louisville's region is filled with teams who can win one way: by outscoring the opposition. Pitino has assembled his usual flexible collection of talent which should only magnify the coaching advantage he has over Romar, Prosser, Few, and Hewitt. Not to belittle those coaches (though I do have reservations about the likelihood of long-term success for Romar and Prosser), but Pitino's the best coach in college basketball.

Louisville has had some poor rebounding games (the loss to Iowa in Maui, wins at home against Charlotte and Cincinnati), and that appears to be the most likely way they'll lose. But though both Washington and Wake Forest are good rebounding teams, they allow points with almost as much ease as does Charlotte who outrebounded the Cardinals and still lost.

Nobody's much a favorite to win the tournament. Anybody betting on Illinois at 13:5 or North Carolina at 7:2 to win is just a sucker. I wouldn't take any one region at 7:2 much less a team. Louisville seems to me to have the fewest weaknesses but a lot can change over the next three weeks.

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