Sweet 16 Team Preview-East Region (Thursday)

unc.gif #1 North Carolina Tar Heels

How they got here

The Tar Heels dominated their first two opponents, scoring a combined 221 points. In the first game against Mount Saint Mary’s, Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson combined for 42 points, as the Heels shot over 60% from the field en route to 113 points. The second game was supposed to be closer, but the game was non-competitive from the start. Wayne Ellington led UNC in this one with 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting from the field. The Tar Heels are deep and talented, especially on the offensive side of the ball and it really showed in the first two games.

Chances of Winning it all

55%. They have the best shot to win the title because of their depth and experience. They would be severely tested in the Elite 8 with either Louisville or Tennessee, but the next two games are in Charlotte. If you looked at the games in Raleigh, you saw that at every single game, even if UNC wasn’t playing, about 90% of the crowd was wearing a baby blue shirt. This home court advantage gives North Carolina a great shot at winning the region. If they get into the Final Four, then you still gotta like their chances. Tyler Hansbrough and company know how to win games.

Player to Watch

ellington.jpgWayne Ellington. To me, Ellington is the best pro prospect on this team. We know they have Hansbrough on the inside, but a big question is how they shoot on the perimeter. If UNC hits their shots from the outside, then it will be a long day for any opponent. A lot of the burden of hitting outside shots falls on Ellington. He averages nearly 17 points a game on the season and shoots over 42% from beyond the arc. If he hits, the Heels chances of winning the title go way up.

wash-state-u.gif#4 Washington State Cougars

How they got here

The defense. Washington State held its first two opponents to a combined 81 points. Holding Winthrop to 40 points was one thing, but holding down the high-powered Notre Dame offense was even more impressive. They suffocated the Fighting Irish into 24.5% shooting from the field and only 17.6% from beyond the arc. As good as their defense is, I don’t see them keeping up those defensive numbers against North Carolina.

Chances of Winning it all

0.2%. Even if this team somehow manages to get by UNC in Charlotte, they have virtually no shot at beating Louisville/Tennesee, Kansas, UCLA all in a row. I leave them a slight chances if they somehow reach the Final Four and play Davidson and Western Kentucky in the semis and finals, respectively. The Cougars defense is good, but there is no way to beat the Tar Heels in a defensive game. Their offense is way too good.

Player to Watch

baynes.jpgAron Baynes. Who? The 6-10 Center out of Australia led Wazzu in scoring against Winthrop going a perfect 9-9 from the field. However, he won’t be going up against any more mid-major big men in Charlotte. He’s been beat up in the Pac-10 playing against Kevin Love and Brook Lopez, as both players have completely outplayed Baynes in each matchup. There’s a reason the Cougars are 0-5 against those two teams and they need an interior presence to compete in this region.

louisville.gif#3 Louisville Cardinals

How they got here

The Cardinals had more trouble against Boise State than they did against Oklahoma. But Louisville was extremely dominant against the Sooners, eliminating Oklahoma’s biggest strength; the inside game. Earl Clark was the most impressive player on the Cardinals in the first weekend with 31 points and 12 rebounds in two games.

Chances of Winning it all

12%. The Cardinals, along with their opponent Tennessee, have the toughest road to the championship out of the legitimate title contenders. The Cardinals must go through a Tennessee team that shouldn’t have been in this region, UNC in North Carolina, likely Kansas in the Final Four and then Memphis, Texas, UCLA in the Finals. I really like this Louisville team, but the task may be too tough to handle.

Player to Watch

williams.jpgTerrence Williams. What a talent this guy is. He really struggles with his shot sometimes, but if he can hit some jump shots, he is easily the best player on the court. Williams is an extremely versatile player that can get to the basket, play defense, rebound, block shots. You name it and he can do it. It shows in his season statistics as he averages 11.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.7 bpg. The only thing keeping this guy from being unstoppable is his inconsistent jump shot (shoots 40% from the field), but again, if he can knock down shots, the Cardinals could be the champs come April 8.

tennessee.gif #2 Tennessee Volunteers

How they got here

Tennessee survived both their games in the opening weekend. They played a close 35 minutes with a mediocre American team and they then squeezed out a win against a very underrated Butler team. Tennessee really struggled because they failed to shoot the long ball well (29% in first two games). The good news is that the Volunteers can overcome poor shooting days, whereas they could not last year.

Chances of Winning it all

9%. As I mentioned under Louisville, this Tennessee team has one of the toughest roads to the championship. Even though the Volunteers beat Memphis this year, they have also struggled against lesser teams like Kentucky and Florida. This team is extremely beatable and their luck will run out sooner or later. They are still very capable of winning the championship, but at this point, it seems highly unlikely.

Player to Watch

lofton.jpgChris Lofton. We’ve heard of Mr. Lofton, but he has played like anything but a star so far in the tournament. He averages over 15 points per game and is usually a three point assassin, shooting over 39% from beyond the arc. But he has been anything but an shooting assassin in the first two games, scoring just 18 point and shooting 3 of 12 from the three-point line. He needs to step up his play if Tennessee wants to live to play another game. Mediocre play doesn’t cut it in late March.

My Region Winner – North Carolina

Aneesh

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