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Monday, March 12, 2012

Michigan State tops OSU for Big Ten title - 10 bold predictions about the tournament - BRACKET BREAKDOWN


Toughest Path for a No. 1 seed: Syracuse. I know this goes against all the South-is-Loaded chatter on Twitter, but I’m basing this on who the No. 1 seeds might actually have to play, not how top-to-bottom stacked their region is. The Orange get a pass in the third round with Kansas State, but in Boston, they could face a Vanderbilt team with more NBA talent and a lot of end-of-season momentum, and then either Ohio State or Florida State, who have two of the best defenses in the nation. That’s no easy road to New Orleans.

Weakest Path for a No. 1 seed: Kentucky. What?!? Hear me out: I have no belief in UConn as a third-round threat, even with its wealth of talent; Indiana just lost its senior point guard with an ACL tear; and while Wichita State is strong, would you rather play the Shockers or Vandy in the Sweet 16? The likely Elite Eight matchups for the Wildcats — Baylor or Duke — are not exactly threatening. I don’t see anyone stopping the Wildcats.

Best Second-Round Matchup: No. 5 Wichita State vs. No. 12 VCU in Portland. If you thought last year’s VCU team liked to apply pressure, this one takes it to another level. They’ll try to drive the Shockers’ backcourt nuts … and the Shockers should be willing to run the score up into the 80s.

Best Potential Third-Round Matchup: No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 6 UNLV in Albuquerque. The Rebels lost some of their shine when they dropped five games in the Mountain West, but they’ll be playing in a familiar arena (the Pit) against a Bears team that has not been as dominant as its talent level would suggest. Mike Moser and Chace Stanback against Perry Jones and Quincy Miller could be a serious battle of athletic forwards.

Best Potential Sweet 16 Matchup: No. 2 Missouri vs. No. 3 Marquette in Phoenix. This should be an epic running game in which the Golden Eagles’ size issues won’t be a problem against the similarly challenged Tigers. Buzz Williams’ team outperformed its seed last season, and I suspect they’ll do it again in 2012.

Best Potential Elite Eight Matchup: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kansas in St. Louis. The Tar Heels are on the top line of the bracket, but the Jayhawks will have the geographical (read: crowd) advantage, and their front line of Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey should engage in an epic battle with Tyler Zeller and John Henson.

10 bold predictions about the tournament
By Myron Medcalf
Well, it’s early, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait to make predictions. And in my opinion, you don’t waiver. You make statements and projections and you stand by them, regardless of what happens in the coming weeks. Hold me to the following bold predictions about the NCAA tournament:

1.No Big East team will reach the Final Four:

Another big haul for the Big East. Nine of its teams will participate in this season’s edition of the NCAA tournament. But I don’t think the conference will send any teams to New Orleans. I think Syracuse, a team that’s vulnerable due to its challenges on the glass, has a tough path in the East with Ohio State and a pair of hot squads (Florida State and Vandy) standing in its way. Georgetown, Cincy and UConn could lose in the first round. Marquette has to get through Missouri. I just don’t see it. No Big East in the Big Easy.

2.The Big 12 will send two squads to New Orleans:

Among the 2-seeds, Missouri has the easiest path to New Orleans. The Tigers’ speed and perimeter versatility will pose matchup problems for every team in the West Region, including No. 1 seed Michigan State. Kansas losing in the first round to Detroit? Nah. The Jayhawks will beat every team in the Midwest, including the Tar Heels if they face them in the Elite Eight.

3.Vanderbilt will reach the Final Four:

I know it’s the sexy pick following its win over Kentucky in the SEC tournament title game. But the Commodores shouldn’t be judged by that victory. And they shouldn’t be dismissed because of premature exits in past years. They have veterans. And they’ve built momentum down the stretch, a la Connecticut a year ago. They’ve hit nearly 40 percent of their 3s this season. The East Region is stronger than it looks with teams such as Syracuse, Ohio State, Florida State and Wisconsin in the mix. But the Commodores can emerge with their senior leadership and shooting. Plus, they have the confidence that comes from beating Kentucky, a team that they challenged in two previous meetings, too.

4.Iona will win two games:

I don’t agree with the Gaels’ inclusion. Washington and Drexel had stronger arguments. But just because many don’t believe they belong doesn’t mean that they won’t prove critics wrong. I think the Gaels, who own the No. 1 scoring offense in the country (83.3 ppg), are dangerous. To reach the third round in the West Region, the Gaels will have to get through BYU in Dayton and Marquette in Louisville. Mark it down. The Gaels are playing a pair of shaky defensive teams. They have three NBA-level talents in Scott Machado, Michael Glover and Lamont “Momo” Jones. As much I thought Iona didn’t have a case for a slot in the field of 68, I think the Gaels can show doubters that they’re worthy.

5.The Badgers will go home early:

I’m picking Montana over Wisconsin in the 13/4 matchup in the East Region. Wisconsin’s offense has stalled multiple times in recent weeks. Even though the Badgers are capable of neutralizing any offense, they’ve had problems capitalizing due to their own inconsistent offense. Montana will be ready. The Grizzlies beat their Big Sky rivals Weber state by 19 points in the conference’s tournament title game, their 14th consecutive victory. Plus, Will Cherry (16.0 ppg) can match Jordan Taylor. Grizzlies will advance.

6.Long Beach State is a Sweet 16 team:

Numerous NCAA tournament teams have hungry veterans. But few upperclassmen have gone through the things that T.J. Robinson, Larry Anderson and Casper Ware have throughout their careers. The seniors missed the past two NCAA tournaments after losing in the conference tournament title game to UC Santa Barbara twice. But this season they earned the Big West’s automatic bid. If Anderson’s not ready (knee injury), then that will change Long Beach State’s March Madness potential. But even without Anderson, the league’s defensive player of the year, this is a talented team that’s played the top nonconference schedule in the country. The 49ers will not be intimidated. They’ll beat New Mexico and Louisville on their way to the Sweet 16.

7. Michigan State will be the first No. 1 seed to fall:

Call me crazy. But I think Memphis’ athleticism will create problems for the Spartans in the third round. I understand the “How will the Tigers guard Draymond Green?” question. But what about Will Barton and Joe Jackson? In the Big Ten, the Spartans didn’t play teams that possessed the raw athleticism that’s anchored Memphis’ roster. The Spartans will be tougher than the Tigers in this East Region matchup, but the latter has an element that Michigan State hasn’t faced since its season-opening to loss to North Carolina.
8.Doug McDermott will outplay Harrison Barnes on Sunday: I expect North Carolina and Creighton to advance and set up a Sunday matchup in the Midwest Region between former high school teammates Doug McDermott and Harrison Barnes, who earned two state titles together at Ames High School in Ames, Iowa. The Tar Heels will win the game, but McDermott will be the star. Both guys have talked about this potential matchup in the past. The McDermott vs. Barnes buildup will be immense. But McDermott will outperform his prep teammate in their first collegiate meeting, albeit in a loss.

9.The VCU/Wichita State winner is headed to the Sweet 16:

It’s unfortunate that this game will eliminate a potent mid-major. Wichita State and VCU, a Final Four team last year, are two of the best in the country. I predict that the winner of this game will end up facing Kentucky in the Sweet 16. They’re both tough, physical defensive teams that will pressure Indiana in the round of 32. The Hoosiers have struggled outside of Bloomington. And whether they face the Shockers or the Rams, they’ll be in for a battle, one that I expect them to lose.
10.The West Coast Conference won’t win one game: BYU will lose to Iona. Saint Mary’s will go down against Purdue. West Virginia will beat Gonzaga. I thought the WCC would turn the corner this year with the way BYU, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga fought for the WCC title. But all three have looked vulnerable in recent weeks. I just don’t think they’re going to advance. Plus, tough matchups for all three teams in their first games. Iona is very talented. The Boilermakers are tough, too. Kevin Jones will lead the Mountaineers to a win over the Bulldogs.

Michigan State tops OSU for Big Ten title
INDIANAPOLIS -- Draymond Green now has the winning chapter in Michigan State history he has longed for.
Green had 12 points and nine rebounds to help the eighth-ranked Spartans beat No. 7 Ohio State 68-64 on Sunday in the Big Ten tournament championship game.
Green and the Spartans claimed both the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Big Ten player of the year and the tournament's most outstanding player felt he needed to win something for coach Tom Izzo to include him in the conversation with Michigan State greats.
"Coach always talked to us about leaving a footprint in the sand. He always said Mateen Cleaves, he left a footprint, Magic Johnson -- they left a footprint. And me and Austin [Thornton] always say, when we leave here, we want him to talk about the Green-Thornton era. We've been talking about our footprint."
Brandon Wood scored a season-high 21 points. Wood transferred to Michigan State after graduating from Valparaiso last year with eligibility remaining. He received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately because he entered graduate school. He only started because starter Branden Dawson tore a left knee ligament in the regular-season finale against Ohio State.
"He was on it today, making shots, and that's what he's known for," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "Happy for him that he has an opportunity to play in this game. And he was feeling it from behind the line there and hit some difficult shots. We didn't get matched up quite as quickly as we needed to."
Green shot just 4 for 15 from the field, struggling in his matchup with Deshaun Thomas.
"It was a tough game for me, but my guys picked me up," Green said. "Everybody gives me the credit, but these guys came through huge two days in a row."
Derrick Nix added 10 points for the Spartans (27-7), who claimed their first tournament title since 2000 in a dramatic game that featured 16 lead changes.
Jared Sullinger scored 18 points for Ohio State, and Thomas and William Buford added 11 each as the Buckeyes (27-7) were denied a third straight league title.
The Spartans will play Long Island University-Brooklyn on Friday in the West Region. Ohio State was named the No. 2 seed in the East region and will play Loyola (Md.) on Thursday.
The buildup for Sunday's game was immense. Buford hit a game-winner with 1 second left to help the Buckeyes defeat the Spartans 72-70 on Michigan State's home court in the regular-season finale to claim a share of the title and prevent the Spartans from winning it outright.
Sullinger committed his second foul with 8:22 left in the first half. At that point, the Buckeyes led 18-17. Michigan State appeared to gain momentum late in the half. A putback by Green and a layup by Keith Appling late in the half gave the Spartans a 34-29 lead.
Aaron Craft scored on a putback then Buford made a free throw after Izzo was issued a technical foul for disagreeing with a call, and the Spartans led 34-32 at halftime.
Sullinger immediately changed things for the Buckeyes, scoring nine points in the first 7 minutes of the second half. He made a jumper, Appling missed a layup on the other end and Thomas made a 3-pointer to put Ohio State ahead 52-45.
Wood answered with two 3-pointers to put the Spartans back in front, highlighting a 10-0 run.
Late in the shot clock, Green found Wood under the basket. He caught the ball in midair while under the hoop, and his reverse layup gave the Spartans a 62-57 lead with 7:27 to play.
Green's 3-pointer with 1:30 remaining put the Spartans up 67-62.
As good as Sullinger was throughout the tournament, his final minute was one to forget. He missed in close twice against Green then missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 25 seconds remaining.
Sullinger was still named to the all-tournament team after averaging 24 points and nine rebounds in the tournament.
"I think that leading into this, Jared probably had his three best practices of the year," Matta said. "I knew he was going to play well."
Thornton's free throw with 12.7 seconds left put the Spartans up 68-64 and started the celebration for Michigan State's fans.
"It was a fight," Izzo said. "That was one of those physical, tough games."

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