Silver Chips Online

Let the '07 Madness begin!

What to watch for during college basketball's Big Dance

By Abe Schwadron, Online Managing Editor, Josh Zipin, Online Managing Sports Editor and Phillip Allen, Online Managing Sports Editor
March 14, 2007
Whether picking your winners by RPI, quality wins, the "hot-ness" factor (either interpretation) or by which schools have the coolest mascot, everybody becomes an oracle when it comes to the NCAA tournament. Here at Silver Chips Online, our experts will try to shed some light on what is really going to happen during the big dance. With upset specials, the little teams that can and the juggernauts, almost every team has a chance to grab the trophy this year, as we do our best to prepare you for the madness that is March.

Sleepers

Abe's Pick: George Washington, #11 East Region

Led by coach Karl Hobbs, George Washington is an athletic team that can come out of nowhere to beat you. The team's "40 Hard" motto (referring to the length in minutes of a regulation basketball game) has inspired his squad to beat opponents by out-hustling them. Although junior guard Maureece Rice paces the Colonials with 16.2 points per game, senior guard Carl Elliott is GW's leader and floor general who knows keeps his teammates in sync. The Colonials hit a rough patches in early February, but the team turned things around in time to make an astonishing run to the Atlantic 10 title, assuring themselves an NCAA tournament bid that was otherwise unlikely. The squad has won its last eight contests and can light it up from beyond the arc. With experience at the guard spots and a master motivator as coach, GW has a chance to do what another "George" school did in last year's tournament.

Michael Jenkins and the Winthrop Eagles are Josh's sleeper pick. <i>Photo Courtesy of Winthrop Athletics</i>
Michael Jenkins and the Winthrop Eagles are Josh's sleeper pick. Photo Courtesy of Winthrop Athletics
Josh's Pick: Winthrop, #11 Midwest Region

This team is downright deadly. Even though they play in the Big South conference, Winthrop would have been a near lock for an at large bid had they lost their conference tournament. Of course they didn't lose because they are my sleeper team. Underrated as an eleven seed, they will face seventh seeded Notre Dame. Although they were hot at the beginning of the season with quality wins over Maryland, Louisville and Alabama, Notre Dame has shown signs of inconsistency, losing to San Francisco and Depaul. The Golden Eagles on the other hand, were nothing but a model of consistency, winning their last 187 games and losing only to Maryland, Texas A&M, Wisconsin and North Carolina. With junior guard Michael Jenkins spearheading the Winthrop offense, the Golden Eagles should get past Notre Dame and possibly Oregon. Look for a deep run by the team from the deep south.

Phil's Pick: Old Dominion, #12 Midwest Region

In the 2005-2006 season, a little known, senior-laden team from the Colonial Athletic Association slid into the madness with an at large bid before, despite losing in their own conference semi-finals, going on the most improbable final four run in the history of the tournament. Old Dominion might not reach the final four, but they do fit the mold of George Mason's magical run last year. The Monarchs, led by four seniors, most notably leading scorer Valdas Vasylius(15.6 ppg), displayed their potential in their fifth game of the season, handing then-#8 Georgetown their first loss. Not only did they win, they put the Hoyas away by 13 points at Georgetown. If that doesn't show poise then what does? With a meeting against over-hyped Butler in the first round and most likely inconsistent Maryland in the second, a trip to the sweet sixteen is completely feasible.

Can Acie Law come through in the clutch for Texas A & M and lead the Aggies deep into the Tournament?
<i>Photo Courtesy of The Daily Texan Online</i>
Can Acie Law come through in the clutch for Texas A & M and lead the Aggies deep into the Tournament? Photo Courtesy of The Daily Texan Online
Keepers

Abe's Pick: Texas A&M, #3 South. Region

Last year, I picked A&M to topple Syracuse in the classic 12-seed upset, and ever since they proved me right last March, I've been a fan of Acie Law IV and the gang. Law leads the Aggies with 17.9 points, 5.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game, and while he gets most of the national attention, the senior point guard has plenty of talent around him. Fellow starters Joseph Jones, Josh Carter and Antanas Kavaliauskas average at least ten points each, and in A&M's Feb. 5 win over Texas, Law dished out 15 assists. Despite losing their underdog status, the Aggies will still be hungry to get through the tourney's opening rounds. And after that, a possible showdown with Greg Oden and Ohio State could have the Aggies looking at a Final Four appearance, assuming they lay down the "Law," that is.

Josh's Pick: Florida, #1 South Region

Last years winners, and the first school ever to hold titles in college football and basketball, the Florida Gators are looking to make history with a second championship in a row. Even though they could face a tough test in the Wisconsin Badgers down the road, the Gators could dance their way to the Final Four. Third and fourth seeded Oregon and Maryland both face early tests in Winthrop and Davidson. Joakim Noah, Al Horford and the rest of Florida's firepower rounded into form in their conference tournament, and Billy the Kid has got the Gators firing on all cylinders. Expect to see the Gator chomp in Atlanta for the last hurrah.

Phil's Pick: Kansas, # 1 West Region

Last year this team, led by three outstanding freshman, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Julian Wright, grabbed a fourth seed in the tournament before being booted in the first round by a more experienced Bradley team. With a year to improve and to let that upset loss marinate, these three have returned to the big dance with a one-seed, both a Big 12 regular season and tournament championship under their belt, more experience and, maybe most importantly, a chip on their shoulder. With all of the starting five averaging in double figures and one of the NCAA's deepest and most capable benches, it's hard to find a fault with this team. Kansas, led by coach Bill Self and his fearless underclassmen, will cruise to the Final Four and is my pick for the title.

First-Round Upset Specials

Abe's Pick: #11 Stanford over #6 Louisville, South Region

We see it every year: every ESPN analyst and TV pundit dismisses a team, calling it unworthy of an NCAA bid, and when that team finally plays its first game, proves every annoying wannabe-sports genius wrong. Ahh, the sweet smell of revenge, with a hint of upset. Along with Arkansas and Xavier, Stanford is the "hey, how'd they make it" favorite of most wise guys out there. And thus, my pick to accomplish this feat is the Cardinal, the always-boring yet never nervous squad that no one has any confidence in. During the regular season, Stanford went 6-8 against tournament teams, while the Cardinals (wow, that's confusing) from Louisville went just 3-7. Plus, freshman twins and seven-footers Brook and Robin Lopez will give Rick Pitino's team trouble on the block.

Josh's Pick: #10 Texas Tech over #7 Boston College, East Region

Bob Knight's Red Raiders enter the tournament as underdogs, but could do some damage. Against an inconsistent BC team, Texas Tech needs to put together a disciplined team effort to advance to the second round. Knight will game plan for Boston College's offense, also known as Jared Dudley. The ACC player of the year will have his hands full with a Texas Tech defense that gave up over 80 points only four times this season. Expect a nail biter, a Bobby Knight tantrum and a Red Raiders win.

Phil's Pick: #12 Illinois over #5 Virginia Tech, West Region

The 12-seed facing an oft undeserving five-seed is an infamous place for an upset. This year Illinois, who some argued may not have deserved a tournament spot at all, sneaks into the dance facing an ACC-tested first-round opponent in Virginia Tech. A trio of upperclassmen, including leading scorer Warren Carter, center Shaun Pruitt and three-point specialist Rich McBride, lead the fighting Illini. All three are veterans of at least two NCAA tournaments and were part of the team's 2005 final four run. To back them up is one of the Big Ten's deepest benches with 7 more players averaging over 5 points and 10 minutes a game. Virginia Tech is young and will crumble under the stringent defense and potentially prolific offense of this veteran squad.

High-Seed Stumblers

Abe's Pick: Memphis, #2 South Region

John Calipari's Memphis Tigers went 30-3 this season, their last loss coming on Dec. 20 against Arizona. I know. But I am not a believer in the Tigers. The team's supposed go-to guy, Chris Douglas-Roberts, scored just 7 points in a 79-71 loss to Arizona, one of just four teams on Memphis' schedule to make the NCAA tournament. The Tigers have been bounced from the Big Dance prematurely in recent years, and having played the softest schedule of any top-5 seed in anywhere in the bracket, I can't see the Tigers getting past possible matchups with Nevada (meet Nick Fazekas, baler extraordinaire) and Texas A&M (see above).

Could the #1-seeded Tar Heels be bounced in the opening rounds?
Could the #1-seeded Tar Heels be bounced in the opening rounds?
Josh's Pick: North Carolina, #1 East Region

After breezing past sixteenth seeded Eastern Kentucky, the Tar Heels will face either Marquette or Michigan State, two quality teams, each capable of knocking of the giant that is Roy Williams' run n' gun team. Assuming they make it past that game, the Texas Longhorns and Kevin Durant will likely stand in their path, another true test of character. The likely player of the year, Durant will be a tough cover for any team, but if he gets the UNC big men in foul trouble, the Heels could fold. And lastly, if Carolina makes it past both those formidable hurdles, a matchup with second seeded Georgetown would be next. Georgetown, possibly the hottest team going into the tournament plays a deliberate, slowed down style, the opposite of how the Heels play. This clash of styles could come down to defense where the Hoyas undoubtedly have the upper hand, holding teams to less than 70 every game this season but one. If North Carolina makes it to Atlanta and the Final Four, they will deserve to be there.

Phil's Pick: Texas A&M, #3 South Region

Texas A&M was strong all season long, losing only six games to five teams (and all but one is tournament bound). But they may have peaked too early, as the Aggies finished the season losing 2 out of the last 3. 13-3 in the big 12 and 25-6 overall is nothing to be ashamed of, but especially with a weak finish, a three-seed may be a little generous. Their first-round match up with Penn isn't a lock, especially with the Quakers' inside-outside combination of Mark Zoller and Ibrahim Jabber being so potent in the 10-game winning streak the squad is coming off. Assuming the Aggies do get past the blazing hot Quakers they will most likely face another hot team in the Louisville Cardinals. Rick Pitino knows how to prepare a team for the tournament and I'm just not a believer in Joseph Jones and Acie Law. If by some chance they make it to the sweet sixteen I have no doubt Memphis will send them packing.

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