Silver Chips Online

Let the Madness begin!

What to watch for in the opening rounds of the 2006 NCAA Tournament

By Ethan Kuhnhenn, Online Managing Editor, Abe Schwadron, Online Managing Editor and Josh Zipin, Online Managing Sports Editor
March 15, 2006
College basketball enthusiasts, your time is now. The brackets are out, the analysis has begun and only hours separate you from first round upsets and stunners. The 2006 NCAA Tournament has arrived, and Silver Chips Online wants to provide you with the most in-depth coverage possible. So read on and get set for what should be a wild month in college hoops.

Sleepers

Abe's Pick: Georgetown, #7 Minneapolis Region

Brandon Bowman and the Georgetown Hoyas are a hometown favorite and Abe's sleeper pick. Photo courtesy of The Hoya.
Brandon Bowman and the Georgetown Hoyas are a hometown favorite and Abe's sleeper pick. Photo courtesy of The Hoya.
Georgetown has come on strong in the second half of the season, winning 11 of their last 16 games heading into a first-round matchup with #10 seed Northern Iowa. Though the Hoyas are not a top-seed, their regional bracket breaks down in such a way that G-Town could face a series of smaller and less disciplined teams. Head coach John Thompson III has Georgetown running his Princeton-style offense to perfection, and with center Roy Hibbert (11.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game) emerging as a force in the middle, the Hoyas could spell trouble for impatient and inexperienced opponents. Seniors Brandon Bowman and Ashanti Cook will provide leadership for the Hoyas, just as they did in the Big East Tournament, during which the court generals scored 51 and 37 points, respectively, in three games. Georgetown's patient style of offense can vex even the most tournament-tested teams, and with X-factor Jeff Green dropping dimes from the high post, the Hoyas are ready to shock the world, perhaps starting with a second-round upset of #2 seed Ohio State.

Josh's Pick: Syracuse, #5 Atlanta Region

An up and down season put the Orange on the bubble going into the conference tournament, but an improbable run through the Big East field has landed Syracuse a number five seed in the Big Dance. Now with Gerry McNamara as hot as ever, it seems like Syracuse will have a hard time losing. I'm not saying they will, but if Syracuse plays well and gets a couple of breaks, a win over Duke could be in the offing.

Ethan's Pick: Wisconsin-Milwaukee, #11 Minneapolis Region

Even after making a surprise appearance in the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament last year, critics still wrote off the UWM Panthers as easy prey to sixth seed Oklahoma. However, the Panthers are coming off a first-place finish in the Horizon League tournament, while the Sooners are losers of two of their last three games, including an embarrassing 72-48 loss to Texas. If Wisconsin can take advantage of their momentum, and last year's NCAA experience, they might be able to scratch out a victory against their next opponent, which will likely be third-seeded Florida. Florida looks great on paper, a talented and athletic starting five that plays great team ball and shoots well, but has little experience. Florida has only one senior and starts four sophomores, while all of Wisconsin's starters, including star tandem Joah Tucker and Boo Davis - who combine for over 32 ppg - were key performers in last year's run to the round of 16.

Keepers

Abe's Pick: North Carolina, #3 Washington, D.C. Region

When the Tar Heels took home the championship hardware in 2005 as NCAA Tournament winners, the excitement in Chapel Hill soon turned to panic, as the school realized it would be losing nearly its entire squad. Indeed, coach Roy Williams' North Carolina team saw its top six leading scorers from the 2005 championship team leave due to graduation or NBA considerations. What was left was a shell of a great team. But with Williams' teachings and a fresh class of recruits, the Tar Heels gradually built their way back to a scary tournament team. North Carolina will have tough company in their region, with regular tournament studs Michigan State, Illinois, Kentucky and Connecticut looming in the distance for possible matchups, but barring a mental collapse by an inexperienced and young group, the Tar Heels are sure to make a solid run to the Elite Eight and perhaps beyond. Big man Tyler Hansbrough is averaging 19.1 points and 7.8 boards per game as a freshman, while upperclassmen Reyshawn Terry and David Noel chip in more than 12 points and six rebounds a night as well.

Josh says Texas' talent makes them a Final Four-caliber squad.
Josh says Texas' talent makes them a Final Four-caliber squad.
Josh's Pick: Texas, #2 Atlanta Region

Lamarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson and P.J. Tucker. With that kind of star power, it's hard to pick against Texas. Anyone who tells you the Longhorns aren't prepared for the big stage and expectations set before them doesn't know Rick Barnes and the integrity of his team. With Aldridge in the middle and Tucker and Gibson on the outside, Texas has some of the best balance of any team in the country. Their biggest obstacle to the Final Four in Indianapolis will be the Dukies of course. If Texas does play Duke they will be eager to avenge their blowout loss from early on in the season.

Ethan's Pick: Pittsburgh, #5 Oakland Region

Pittsburgh has appeared in the last four NCAA tournaments and has reached the national semifinals in three of those performances. This year should be no different as the team's seven-man rotation, led by center Aaron Gray and guard Carl Krauser, propels the Panthers deep into the Big Dance. Pittsburgh's toughest opponent on the road to the Final Four will be Kansas, which it should play in the second round, after a battle against 12th-seeded Kent State. Pittsburgh went 10-6 in the Big East, arguably the best conference in the nation and made mincemeat out of 1st-seeded Villanova in the conference tournament's semifinals after pounding Kevin Pittsnoggle and West Virginia in the quarterfinals. If Pitt can pull off a win against Kansas, then a victory over Memphis, a team that would be destroyed if it played in the Big East as opposed to "Conference USA," is not out of the question.


First-Round Upset Specials

Abe's Pick: #12 Texas A&M over #5 Syracuse, Atlanta Region

Yes. Syracuse will lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (Again.) Though some may tag the Orange as their creative Final Four team, there is a simple rationale as to why the Orange won't even make it past the Aggies. First, A&M is no Monmouth. As the nation watched more heralded teams stumble into the tournament, Texas A&M rattled off eight straight wins in February and March, including a win over now-#2-seeded Texas, before falling to the Longhorns by four points in the Big 12 Tournament. Second, Syracuse is coming off a huge run in the Big East Tournament, culminating in their second straight Big East title. And the Orange made their miraculous run right when they needed to, as they likely would have missed the NCAA Tournament altogether had they not won the Big East. But Syracuse's unbelievable run through their conference tournament has exhausted their team both physically and emotionally. The Orange have already overachieved. And if this evidence is not enough, Conference USA underachiever DePaul clobbered the Orange by a score of 108-69 in early March. Oh, and if all that weren't enough, Syracuse waltzed into the NCAA Tournament in 2005 fresh off a similar Big East title run, and ("oops!") lost to #13-seeded Vermont in round one. Sorry, Gerry McNamara, no miracle shot here.

Josh's Pick: #11 Southern Illinois over #6 West Virginia, Atlanta Region

The reasoning behind this pick is simple: West Virginia is inconsistent. They've lost six of their last nine games coming into the tournament, while the Salukis have won six of their last nine. The Salukis have proven themselves in the tournament before, most notably in 2002 when they advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Mixed in with quality wins at Villanova, at Georgetown and over Pittsburgh are losses to Kentucky, Seton Hall and Marshall. You never know what you're going to get out of the Mountaineers because they rely on their shooting. If Kevin Pittsnogle and Mike Gansey shoot well, the Mountaineers have a shot against anyone, but if they don't, then they can be beaten by anyone. The Salukis are a good team defensively and are coached by 2005 MVC Coach of the Year Chris Lowery. The Salukis could bug West Virginia, and if WVU has a poor shooting day, it could be the Salukis ticket to the next round.

Ethan's Pick: #11 Wisconsin-Milwaukee over #6 Oklahoma, Minneapolis Region

Momentum will dictate how this upset unfolds. Wisconsin-Milwaukee is coming off a hot three-game win streak, while Oklahoma has lost two of their last three games. There's not much else going for Milwaukee, except experience (UWM starts four seniors), and the fact that history loves repeating itself (the Panthers made a run to the Sweet Sixteen in last year's NCAA Tournament as a #12 seed, beating #5 Alabama and #4 Boston College before losing to Tournament finalist Illinois) .

High-Seed Stumbler

Abe's Pick: Gonzaga, #3 Oakland Region


Could NCAA scoring leader Adam Morrison and #3 seed Gonzaga make a quick exit in the Tournament?
Could NCAA scoring leader Adam Morrison and #3 seed Gonzaga make a quick exit in the Tournament?
For years now the Gonzaga Bulldogs have entered the NCAA Tournament with an intense following of experts, analysts and fans, but the Zags have never quite lived up to the hype. The 2005 Zags, also a #3 seed, were predicted by many to reach the Final Four, but failed to get to the Sweet Sixteen. Gonzaga's 2006 team is built on the play of superstar forward Adam Morrison (28.4 ppg), but the squad is weak around Morrison, and when desperate teams like Xavier or Indiana devote a double-team to him, the Zags will have to look elsewhere for scoring. It would be insulting to call this team "overrated," but if the Bulldogs rely too heavily on Morrison and cannot establish an inside game, Gonzaga will be heading home early.

Josh's Pick: Ohio State, #2 Minneapolis Region

Led by their energetic coach, Thad Matta, and with the best recruiting class in the country coming in next year, the Buckeyes have a promising future in front of them. Facing the Davidson Wildcats in the first round, some people are predicting an early exit for Ohio State. But assuming they make it past their first hurdle, their second game should be a challenge. If Georgetown beats Northern Iowa, they could present a real challenge for the number-two seed. Roy Hibbert has turned into a legitimate big man in the middle and should make his presence felt. Matta doesn't have much tournament experience, and his inexperience could be exposed. The Hoyas' solid Princeton offense lends itself to a tournament run. They don't live and die with the jump shot, but rather rely on movement off the ball and easy layups for points. Lookout, Buckeye lovers!

Ethan's Pick: #1 Villanova, Minneapolis Region

Memphis and Villanova are the two top-seeds most likely to fall. Villanova has a harder conference and may fall to #4 seed Boston College in the round of 16 while Memphis could fall to Kansas or Pittsburgh in the round of 16 as well. The top-seed stumbler is a toss-up, but I like Villanova going out early due to a combo of not having second-leading scorer Allen Ray and their recent double-digit loss to Pitt.

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