2007 Sweet 16 Predictions – East and Midwest
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 USC
Almost everyone figured Texas would cakewalk into this matchup with the Tar Heels (I wasn’t among them, having seen the Trojans on several occasions this year). But Tim Floyd’s crew crashed the party, thanks to a superb defensive effort against D.J. Augustin in a second-round rout of the Longhorns. The Trojans must shut down a phenomenal, but undersized, playmaker (Ty Lawson) for the second straight time.
North Carolina, meanwhile, easily handled both of its first two opponents, and is still the favorite to advance in this game.
As much as I’ll be watching the Gabe Pruitt-Ty Lawson battle at both ends of the floor, the game is going to hinge on post play. Tyler Hansbrough will have his hands full with the more athletic, equally tenacious Taj Gibson, and I’m inclined to believe those two will largely neutralize each other. 6-5 Trojan frosh Daniel Hackett (a natural point guard on offense) did a pretty solid job at keeping Kevin Durant out of synch on his mid-range jumpers…will Floyd try the same strategy against the similarly built Brandan Wright, who is not the perimeter threat Durant is?
One Tarheel who may struggle in this one is UNC’s X-Factor, Reyshawn Terry, who will finally see a 3-man of similar ability on the other side of the ball in Lodrick Stewart or Nick Young.
Prediction: North Carolina 85, USC 80.
Both teams enjoy a fast pace, and the game should be a pleasure to watch, with far more assists than turnovers (and a ton of transition baskets). I think it’ll be closer than many believe, particularly if Carolina’s lazy defense of a month ago decides to rear its head again. But I’ll give the Tarheels the edge because of Roy Williams’ ability to wear down UNC’s opponents with his 10-man rotation.
No. 2 Georgetown vs. No. 6 Vanderbilt
Vandy is the only trendy pre-Tournament sleeper still alive in the Sweet 16, having out-slogged Washington State in a dramatic double-overtime win. I had expected Wazzu’s transition D to be a little tighter than it was, and Vandy’s ability to convert on the perimeter was the clear difference last time out. One wishes that Bill Raftery were calling the game, if only because Georgetown will have to play a tight “man-to-man” against the red-hot Commodores.
Georgetown is a heavy favorite in this one, having a much shorter trip than any of the other contestants in the East Regional. In my opinion, the Hoyas have looked just so-so in their first two rounds, despite the box scores. But maybe that’s more in relation to their incredible play leading up to the Tournament rather than an objective assessment.
Roy Hibbert vs. Ted Skuchas inside. Skuchas doesn’t need to score, and he doesn’t need to rebound. He just needs to make sure that Roy Hibbert doesn’t either. Ross Neltner will also have his hands full with Jeff Green, although Kevin Stallings may switch the more athletic (but shorter) Derrick Byars or Shan Foster to guard the Big East Player of the Year. The “Georgetown Offense,” as John Thompson III likes to call it, requires patience and ball movement, and the Hoya guards would do well to look for their larger teammates as often as possible.
For Vandy, as always, the key will be how well they knock down the triple. If Jonathan Wallace, Jessie Sapp, and DaJuan Summers can keep the Commodore sharpshooters under control, the Hoyas should win easily. JT III may also give Patrick Ewing, Jr. some extended minutes in this one to limit either Foster’s or Byars’ looks from the outside.
Prediction: Georgetown 72, Vanderbilt 65.
For those expecting a Hoya blowout because of their superior inside presence, remember that Vandy limited Al Horford to 1-7 shooting and Joakim Noah to just five rebounds in a win over the Gators earlier this year. Florida’s big men shot (and made) a ton of foul shots in that game, though, and if the Hoyas do the same they should advance to the Regional Final.
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 5 Butler
The last meeting between these two schools featured the oft-replayed Mike Miller buzzer beater in the first round of the 2000 Tournament. The Gators went all the way to the national title game that year, losing only to Michigan State.
Here’s a list of the quality teams Butler has beaten in ’06-‘07: Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Purdue, Wright State, Old Dominion, Maryland. Not bad for a school picked to finish 6th in the Horizon League! A win against Florida would put the Bulldogs in great position for a quasi-repeat of George Mason’s Cinderella run last year, though A.J. Graves & Co. have been wearing sneakers rather than glass slippers ever since their run through the Preseason NIT. Butler’s coach, Todd Lickliter, deserves a ton of credit.
Butler’s Brian Ligon is the Bulldogs’ only player taller than 6-6 who also weighs over 200 lbs. That’s a problem, given that the team they’re playing has two NBA lottery post players in its starting five (Joakim Noah and Al Horford). And the Gators aren’t bad on the perimeter, either, with Lee Humphrey, Taurean Green, and another NBA lottery pick, Corey Brewer, at the 3-spot. Because of the Bulldogs’ lack of height across the board, don’t be surprised to see Billy Donovan switch the all-SEC defender Brewer over to wreak havoc for 6-1 A.J. Graves.
Brandon Crone is the one guy for Butler who presents a true matchup problem at the other end of the floor. At 6-6, 225 lbs., Crone can step out to hit the three as well as bang bodies down low. It will be interesting to see if Noah/Horford hang back in a matchup zone, or if they consistently venture outside the paint to guard him.
Prediction: Florida 70, Butler 60.
Florida’s defense has been underrated all season, and Purdue gave Donovan’s team enough of a scare to prevent the defending champs from taking anyone lightly the rest of the way. Butler will no doubt try to turn this into a halfcourt game, but the Gators run offensive sets with more precision than Maryland, and Al Horford and Joakim Noah are a bit more adept than Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist at finishing plays inside. Butler’s best chance is to force Taurean Green into another sub-par game, and of course they’ll need to bury a ton of threes to win.
No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 UNLV
UNLV is the lowest remaining seed in the Tournament; Oregon is one of three teams from the Pac-10 to reach the Sweet 16. Both teams were impressive in their most recent games, with Oregon pummeling the Tournament’s last remaining Cinderella, Winthrop, in Spokane, and UNLV holding off a second-half run by Wisconsin in Chicago.
This game features two players with identical-sounding names. While Oregon’s Joevan Catron goes by his given name, UNLV’s Jo’Van Adams goes by his nickname, “Wink.” Seeing them on the floor shouldn’t lead to any confusion, though—Catron is 6-7, 225 lbs., while Adams is 6-0, 190.
Both teams essentially start four guards and an oversized swingman. There’s a lot of experience on both sides, particularly at the point guard, where seniors Aaron Brooks and Kevin Kruger will face off. But the key perimeter matchup will be UNLV’s Michael Umeh against Oregon’s 5-6 freshman dynamo, Tajuan Porter. Porter’s shot selection is questionable at times, but when he’s hot, there’s no one in the country whom you’d rather watch. Despite his diminutive size, he’s got an uncanny ability to penetrate the lane and release a beautiful 10-foot floater. Given Vegas’ struggles to contain Kammron Taylor in the second half of the Wisconsin game, Porter could be gearing up for another huge performance.
Inside, UNLV’s Gaston Essengue has a big advantage over UO’s Maarty Leunen in terms of size and strength, but Leunen’s ability to hit the three could lure the big man out of the paint and allow his teammates to get to the basket with relative ease.
Prediction: Oregon 75, UNLV 74.
We should be in for an entertaining, relatively fast-paced perimeter contest. The Ducks have more offensive weapons than any team UNLV has faced all year, with any of their top players capable of scoring 20+ points. But the Rebels have been rock-solid in late game situations this year, while Oregon has struggled to hold a few leads late—most recently against Miami (OH), a game which they won, but also against Cal and Arizona at the end of the Pac-10 season. This one will probably be won by the team with the final possession—perhaps on an Aaron Brooks jumper.