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2009 NCAA Tournament Preview - Final Four


Instead of just listing my NCAA Tournament picks as I've done every year, I've decided to preview every team in the Big Dance. I'll tell you why to love them, why to hate them, and how far they can go.

While college basketball isn't my forte, I've gotten six of the past eight Final Four correct. I didn't have much luck in the early rounds last year, but I did very well in 2007.

Ryan West, who runs the Bracketology thread in the fourms, will also list his thoughts on each squad. His picks will be listed below mine, so you have two references to guide you as you're filling out your bracket.


2009 NCAA Tournament Preview - Final Four


Note: The following teams are those that Ryan and I have selected to reach the Final Four. Picks are below the team reviews.

1. Louisville (28-5)

WHY TO LOVE: It's pretty difficult to keep Louisville off the boards. The Cardinals are team laden with talented big men.

Louisville is also a very deep team; Rick Pitino has the capability of making five-man substitutions.

The Cardinals shoot tons of threes and make them. The team as a whole hits 36.2 percent of its long-distance attempts. Terrence Williams (37.7 percent), Jerry Smith (39.6), Preston Knowles (45.5) and Andre McGee (36.8) are all lethal from outside.

You'd also be hard pressed to find a better defensive team in the NCAA Tournament. Louisville limited opponents to 61.9 points per game.

WHY TO HATE: The Cardinals have a couple of strange losses this year. They went down to Western Kentucky, Minnesota, UNLV and Notre Dame - all vastly inferior opponents. The problem with Louisville is that it doesn't have a premier, go-to scorer. Everyone contributes, but no one can really take over in the clutch. This could be problematic once the Elite Eight arrives.

RYAN'S TAKE: The way Rick Pitno has this team playing is amazing. This team is probably one of the more underrated teams in the country even after winning the Big East outright. They show balance in scoring, they have two great leaders in Williams and Earl Clark, and they have depth at the guard position. They thrive on defense. They are the No. 1 overall defensive team in the country, and if they are hitting shots and able to set up their press, they are practically unbeatable. Their problem is that they get too complacent on offense and settle for jumpers. I think this team is rolling and will continue to do so.

Outlook: Final Four/National Title Contender

THE VERDICT: Louisville has a great shot to win the national title.

2. Memphis (31-3)

WHY TO LOVE: Memphis' top scorer is 6-6 freshman guard Tyreke Evans (16.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.7 apg), but that doesn't mean that the Tigers are an underclassman-laden squad. In fact, their other five leading scorers are upperclassmen, including Robert Dozier (12.9, 6.9 rpg), Antonio Anderson (10.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.2 apg) and Doneal Mack (8.9 ppg), all of whom played a vital role in the team's run last year.

The Tigers lost a few games early, but they went into Tennessee and Gonzaga, and came out with victories in the middle of the season. In fact, they haven't been defeated since Dec. 20.

WHY TO HATE: Since beating Gonzaga on Feb. 7, Memphis has played all conference games. The problem is their conference stinks. One would think their schedule wouldn't prepare them for a run in the NCAA Tournament, but this wasn't a factor last year.

RYAN'S TAKE: What a job John Calipari has done. He lost his top three players from his national runner-up team, and he has had his fourth consecutive 30-win season. He has another freshman point guard in Evans who hasn't lost as point guard. Memphis does well in offensive rebounding, taking care of the basketball, and competing with Louisville for best defense in the nation. If they play a team that turns the ball over a lot, they will win easily. Problems I have with them is that they rely too much on free throws, don't shoot well from the 3-point line, don't use a deep bench, and have a freshman point guard, even though that didn't matter last year. They could pose a problem for a young backcourt, but depending on their matchup, they could be bounced out.

Outlook: Upset Alert

THE VERDICT: I don't think Memphis is going to win the title, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if it makes it to the Final Four. An Elite Eight appearance is certainly very probable.

4. Washington (25-8)

WHY TO LOVE: Washington has three players who averaged more than 14.5 points per game, including guard Justin Dentmon (15.3 ppg) and 6-7 forward Jon Brockman (14.8 ppg, 11.5 rpg), both of whom are seniors. Dentmon is an excellent three-point shooter at 43.2 percent.

The Huskies were 6-4 on the road this year, but won at 22-8 Arizona State by 13.

WHY TO HATE: Having a point guard named Isaiah Thomas is supposed to be a good thing. And it was for the Huskies during the season. Thomas averaged 15.4 ppg, 2.9 rpb and 2.6 apg. The problem? Thomas is a freshman, making the Huskies a violator of Rule No. 1 of the NCAA Tournament Credo. Thomas had more turnovers than assists this year.

RYAN'S TAKE: I think the Huskies are one of the most underrated teams in the country. They have balanced scoring, play great defense, rebound well, maintain a deep bench, are battle tested and have playmakers. Jon Brockman is very efficient in the post and I would love to see him go head to head against Pitt's DeJuan Blair. The things that bother me about this team are: they shoot a lot more free throws than their opponents, they only have one consistent 3-point shooter, and they have a freshman point guard (even though he won Freshman of the Year in the Pac 10). This team will do well as long as they can continue getting to the free throw line.

Outlook: Elite 8/Final Four

THE VERDICT: I'd like the Huskies if they didn't have a freshman point guard - especially one who had more turnovers than assists in the regular season. Still, they should be able to get out of the first weekend.

1. Pittsburgh (28-4)

WHY TO LOVE: The Panthers have it all. They have the dominant big man (DeJuan Blair - 15.6 ppg, 12.4 rpg). They have the dynamic swingman (Sam Young - 18.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg). They have the prolific point guard (Levance Fields - 10.9 ppg, 7.6 apg). They have the three-point shooting (35.9 percent).

Pittsburgh was 7-3 on the road this year. Only one of the losses was a strange one (Providence). They went down at Louisville and Villanova, but made up for it by going into Connecticut and coming out with an 8-point victory.

WHY TO HATE: Pittsburgh violates Rule No. 3 of my NCAA Tournament Credo. The team has a dubious history of getting upset early in the Big Dance. In 2005, the Panthers lost in the first round to Pacific. In 2006, they lost in the second round as a No. 5 seed to No. 13 Bradley. A year later, Pittsburgh struggled against Virginia Commonwealth before losing to UCLA in the Sweet 16. Last season, the team went down to Michigan State in the second round.

RYAN'S TAKE: Pitt is probably going to be the team that is most picked to win it all. Well, I'm not buying it. There is one thing I noticed about this Pittsburgh team. They don't have a consistent 3-point shooter. That is something you need when you are a tournament team. Everything else is good for them though. They don't rely heavily on free throws, they rebound well, and they take care of the basketball. They also have a very good senior point guard in Fields. This team is very physical, but no team has ever won the national championship losing their first game in their conference tournament.

Outlook: Elite 8/Final Four

THE VERDICT: While the Panthers are incredibly talented and can match up with anyone, they haven't been past the Sweet 16 since 1974. They have a history of choking, which would concern me if I were picking them to win it all. Good thing I'm not.

3. Villanova (26-7)

WHY TO LOVE: It seems like Villanova has the whole package to make a deep run in the tournament. Dante Cunningham (16.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is tough inside. Scottie Reynolds (15.7 ppg, 3.7 apg) is one of the better floor-generals in the tournament. And it seems like Corey Stokes (43.9 3PT) never misses from beyond the arc. Cunningham and Reynolds are upperclassmen.

The Wildcats were 8-3 on the road this year, losing only at Connecticut, West Virginia and Marquette - all 22-plus-win teams. Jay Wright is a great coach who has a history of going deep in the tournament every year. Last year as a No. 12 seed, the Wildcats advanced to the Sweet 16.

WHY TO HATE: The Wildcats don't have great size, but that didn't hurt them against Pittsburgh. Besides, guard play wins in March.

RYAN'S TAKE: This team has very good guard play. They are balanced and are very tested playing in the Big East. They are experienced, take care of the basketball, and do surprisingly well on the glass. The one thing that will hurt them is defending the three. They do not guard well on the perimeter, and if a team gets hot against them, they could be in serious trouble.

Outlook: Sweet 16/Elite 8

THE VERDICT: A sleeper team to make the Final Four. I don't think Villanova could knock off a North Carolina in a seven-game series, but this team can play with anyone.

1. North Carolina (28-4)

WHY TO LOVE: The Tar Heels are the most dynamic team in the nation. Everyone knows about Tyler Hansbrough, but how do you keep Ty Lawson from penetrating? And if you stop both of them, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green are just going to drain threes.

North Carolina went into Michigan State and clobbered the Spartans. They beat Duke twice. They were 13-2 on the road.

Experience. The top five scorers are all upperclassmen.

WHY TO HATE: Sometimes this team just doesn't focus on defense; the Tar Heels surrendered 72.7 points per game during the regular season - which ranks them dead last in defense in the ACC.

Ty Lawson's nagging toe injury also worries me a bit.

RYAN'S TAKE: The flashiest team in the NCAA. The only problem with this team is that they are very inconsistent on the defensive side of the ball. You know the names: Lawson, Ellington, Hansborough, Danny Green, and they can outscore any team in the nation. Problem is, if they can't play defense, they will not win the national championship. I have faith Roy Williams knows this too, as long as he doesn't cry every time he talks about the team.

Outlook: National Title Contender THE VERDICT: North Carolina has proven that it can get the job done if it focuses. Given that the team lost three games this season, the players know that they're vulnerable. The Tar Heels are my favorite to win the Big Dance, and I'll be shocked if they don't at least make it to the title game.




2009 NCAA Tournament Picks - Final Four




Walt's 2009 NCAA Tournament Picks:


#1M Louisville over #2W Memphis
If these teams meet in the Final Four, I feel as though Louisville's defense will give it a huge advantage. The Cardinals' press will cause major problems for the Tigers. Louisville is playing on top of its game right now.

#1S North Carolina over #3E Villanova
Villanova is a very good team and I think it has a great shot to reach the Final Four. However, I don't think the Wildcats have the firepower to keep up with a team like North Carolina, provided Ty Lawson is healthy. Tyler Hansborough will prove to be too much.

#1S North Carolina over #1M Louisville
I thought North Carolina would win the national championship back in October. Ty Lawson's injury scared me a bit, but I think he'll be fine. The Tar Heels battled the Cardinals in an Elite Eight matchup last year, and I think they'll beat them once again. As we saw in the recent UCLA-Florida matchups, it's tough for a team to claim revenge in the NCAA Tournament because matchups mean so much.

North Carolina wins, 83-74



Ryan's 2009 NCAA Tournament Picks:


#1M Louisville over #4W Washington
Louisville thrives on defense. Washington likes to get out and run. I think a great matchup between Earl Clark and Jon Brockman would be epic. I just think Louisville's press and effective defense would be too much for the Huskies. Louisville 79, Washington 71

#1S North Carolina over #1E Pittsburgh
This game would be fun to watch. Blair v. Hansbrough. Lawson v. Fields. Green v. Young. I think the main difference is 3-point shooting. UNC shoots a good amount of threes. Pittsburgh doesn't. This will be the difference in my outlook. North Carolina 78, Pittsburgh 67

#1M Louisville over #1S North Carolina
This game would be fun to watch. The big key is if Louisville is hitting its shots. Since North Carolina takes plays off defensively, I think Louisville would hit them. The Cardinals do not take plays off and I think pressing Ty Lawson would be hard to do, but they could do it and disrupt him.

Louisville wins, 75-68


2009 NCAA Tournament - Other Brackets


2009 NCAA Tournament Picks and Preview - Midwest Bracket


2009 NCAA Tournament Picks and Preview - West Bracket


2009 NCAA Tournament Picks and Preview - East Bracket


2009 NCAA Tournament Picks and Preview - South Bracket


2009 NCAA Tournament Picks and Preview - Final Four





2009 NCAA Tournament References


2009 NCAA Tournament - Stats, Facts, Trends and Tips


2009 NCAA Tournament Credo








College Basketball Picks


2009 NFL Mock Draft


2010 NFL Mock Draft


NBA Picks


2009 Fantasy Football Rankings Coming Soon








NCAA Tournament Picks and Previews


2009 NCAA Tournament Picks
Brackets:
Midwest / West / East / South / Final Four



2008 NCAA Tournament Picks
Brackets:
Midwest / West / East / South / Final Four


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