UNC vs Kansas

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Imagine how awkward this matchup must be for Roy Williams. The time that he spent at Kansas launched him into the upper echelon of college coaches. For all of the great seasons that he had there, he couldn’t get KU into the Final Four. He then takes over at North Carolina and immediately wins a title. The irony that his former team is now standing between him and an opportunity to win another ‘ship. High drama in San Antonio!

Overview: UNC has arguably the nations best player in the country in Tyler Hansbrough. He’s a high energy guy that gives you everything he has for 40 minutes. Containing him is going to be a tough task for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. The other task at hand is how is KU going to deal with Carolina’s guards? Ty Lawson loves to push the ball up the floor while Wayne Ellington and Danny Green love to spot up outside. Marcus Ginyard is the teams defensive stopper and will probably have the task of guarding Brandon Rush. On the other side of the floor, Kansas’ guards aren’t slouches. Rush, Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins (Chi-Town Baby!!) are also pretty good. Down low Darrell “Slim Shady” Arthur, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun provide a pretty solid front court to contend with. This will be another game decided by which team is able to control the pace.

The X-Factor: Can Kansas get it’s outside shots to fall over the outstretched arms of Carolina’s taller guards? With the exception of Brandon Rush, Chalmers, Westbrook and Collins are all very small and the length of Ellington, Green and Ginyard may make it tough for them to get good looks at the basket.

Prediction: UNC

North Carolina has been here before, Kansas hasn’t. The stage may prove to be too big and the lights too bright for the Jayhawks to handle.

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UCLA vs Memphis

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This is one of the more interesting matchups in the Final Four. I’m also very conflicted about it too. One the one hand, I have UCLA winning the National Championship in my office pool. On the other hand, being from Chicago I’m rooting for Derrick Rose. But as usual, I’m going to try and be objective and focus “only” on the basketball part.

Overview: Guard play will be the key to victory because when it’s all said and done, this game is going to be won on or lost on which team is able to control the tempo. UCLA’s Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Russell Westbrook should be a good head to head matchup with Memphis’ Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts (Naismith Award finalist) and Antonio Anderson. Both teams guards are long and athletic (with the exception of Collison who at 6′ is just athletic) and they both love to get out and run. But UCLA is also very effective in the half court game and they don’t want to get into a track meet with Memphis. The key matchup is going to be the one between Kevin Love and Joey Dorsey. Dorsey is an excellent post defender and shot blocker while Love is very smart offensively and can stretch the defensive with his shooting range. Overall this should be a very fun game to watch.

The X-Factor: For Memphis, it’s definitely going to be keeping Dorsey and Robert Dozier out of foul trouble. It’s also going to come down to the effectiveness of their dribble penetration with Love and Mbah a Moute roaming the paint and how well they shoot free throws. They shot them pretty well against Texas and they are going to need to continue that trend in order to pull out a victory. For UCLA it’s going to boil down to how well Shipp and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute play. Mbah a Moute has been slowed by an ankle injury recently and it remains to be seen if he’s bounced back enough to help lead his team to victory. For Shipp, he’s been in a serious slump. It’s going to be hard for him to get going with CDR guarding him but if he does, watch out.

Prediction: UCLA

It pains me to go against another Chi-Town guy and I’m not picking the Bruins to win because I put $5 in an office pool either. I just think that UCLA going to be able to slow the pace down which is going to neutralize the Memphis guards and make them play a half court game. If they can do it, they have a chance to win. If they can’t this game is going to get out of hand…real quick. It’s now 3 straight Final Fours for the Bruins; this time should be the charm.

The Final Four

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OK…I know that I said I was only going to blog on professional basketball, but after watching the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8 matchups this weekend, I figured what the heck…lets talk about the Final Four. I mean it is the end of the college basketball season, two of the players that I profiled (and predicted to go pro) are playing in it and it’s the first time in the history of the tournament that all four #1 seeds have made it. That’s worth talking about right? Oh yeah, I almost forgot! LeBron James was at the Davidson/Wisconsin game. So there, I’ve honored my professional basketball blogging commitment. Whew…that was a close one!

Jerryd Bayless – Arizona

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Point Guard/Shooting Guard

Of all the freshman that I’ve talked about so far, Jerryd Bayless is probably the one you know the least about. That being said, he might just be the best kept secret in college basketball. Part of the reason why you don’t know much about him is because he played on a sub-par University of Arizona team that played very few nationally televised games this year. But take it from me if you haven’t seen this kid play, he’s the real deal. He’s one of the greatest players in the history of Arizona HS basketball.

Strengths: At 6’3″ and 190 lbs this kid is a big time scorer…period. He knows how to put the ball in the basket. He’s very aggressive, has a lightning quick first step and gets to the rim with ease (think Monta Ellis). Because he is so quick and aggressive he gets to the line a lot and shoots a terrific percentage. His strongest attribute would have to be his jumper which is in one word…sweet. He can get it off and knock it down in just about any situation with no problem. He’s an assassin that has no problem taking over a game. He was the one shining light on an Arizona team that didn’t live up to the hype considering the talent they had on the roster. He put up: 19.7 ppg, 4.0 ast, 2.7 reb, 1.0 spg to go with shooting 46% from the field, 84% from the line and 41% from deep. He was voted second team All Pac-10 and first team All-Freshman.

Weakness: Unfortunately he has acquired the dreaded “tweener” label which is the virtual kiss of death in the NBA. He has the size to play the point, but because he’s such an explosive scorer he’s not quite big enough to play the 2 either. He can also get out of control at times and really needs to cut down on his turnovers (3.0 per). But the way he plays the game there is a spot for him in the NBA (think Monta Ellis).

Grade: B+

Suggestion: Back to Class

Summary: Jerryd Bayless is a lottery pick this year for sure; but because Arizona didn’t have a very good season I think he should come back to showcase his game a little more. He could also use the extra year to work on his playmaking abilities.

Eric Gordon – Indiana

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Shooting Guard

Being an Illini fan, it’s very hard for me to talk about Eric Gordon without getting a little upset. If you don’t know the back story I’ll just give you the short version. He gave a verbal commitment to play for the University of Illinois, stuck by that commitment up until the end, and then backed out at the last minute and signed with the University of Indiana instead. Now as a guy that bleeds orange and blue, I’m actually not that upset about it anymore, especially after all the stuff that IU went through this year (what goes around  comes around). Sure, it hurts to see your team struggle especially after the run that we had a few years ago and knowing that Gordon would’ve been a tremendous boost to the program…but I look at this situation objectively.

First off, he orally committed his junior year of high school. That right there wasn’t a reason to celebrate in my opinion. So many times I’ve seen kids orally commit to one program and then choose another. Picking a college is a very big decision and a kid has a right to change his mind. Having said that, he should’ve at least let Bruce Weber know that he was having second thoughts instead of insisting that he was still coming. There’s plenty of blame to go around in this situation – most of which should go to Kelvin Sampson who I personally feel influenced Gordon to keep his intentions quiet – and if you dig deep into the story and see the moves that were made on IU’s part behind the scenes you’ll find that at the end of the day, Coach Weber and the Illini-nation never really had a shot. 

Strengths: He is very athletic and very explosive and if you haven’t seen him play this year, he’s pretty much in range as soon as he hits the gym. He has a scorers mentality and decent size (6’3″ and 215 lbs). He’s kind of like Ben Gordon but better because of his explosiveness. He can take it to the rack and dunk on you or knock the NBA three down in your face…both with ease. He led the Big Ten in scoring and was named Freshman of the Year. He put up pretty good numbers too: 20.9 ppg, 2.4 apg, 3.3 rpg, 1.3 spg along with shooting 43% from the field, 83% from the line and 34% from deep.

Weaknesses: His shot selection this year has been questionable and he all but disappeared down the stretch run of the season; especially against Arkansas in the tournament. When the lights came on and the ball went up on college basketball’s biggest stage, Eric Gordon was nowhere to be found. He went 3-15 from the field and 0-6 from beyond the arc to finish with just 8 points. His size is also an issue at the next level because he isn’t a true PG and his ball handling is just average. He also doesn’t seem to be very tough mentally either which is a pre-requisite for playing in the NBA.

Grade: B+

Suggestion: Back to Class

Summary: Had Eric Gordon finished the season the way that he started, I would’ve given him a better grade and suggested he go ahead and make the jump. But since he fizzled the way that he did and had a miserable performance in the tournament I feel like he has no choice but to come back for his sophomore year just to redeem himself. If he comes out now, he might be a Lottery pick but he could very well end up a mid to late first rounder.

Kevin Love – UCLA

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Power Forward/Center

Along with O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love is the reason why the Pac-10 was one of the toughest college basketball conferences this year. And like Derrick Rose, he has UCLA in the hunt for a national title this year as well. If not for his late game heroics against Texas A&M last week, the Bruins would’ve been knocked out of the tournament after many people (including myself) had them going to the Final Four. Me being from the midwest and not being a fan of the Pac-10, UCLA or west coast basketball in general (never have been) I still have to give credit where credit is due; without him UCLA would’ve still been a good team this year, but certainly not Final Four or National Championship caliber good.

Strengths: At 6’10” and 250 lbs, he has the physical size and strength to compete in the NBA right now. He’s solid on the boards because he always has good position down low and he hustles for every offensive and defensive rebound. He’s also a very good low post defender who is good at challenging shots and gets a fair amount of blocks. He is also a very good perimeter shooter whose range extends out to the 3 point line. His greatest strength however is his passing ability, especially his outlet pass. I’ll go on record as saying he might be the best outlet passer I’ve ever seen. On a team like the Bruins that likes to get out and run he’s a perfect fit. His numbers this year were pretty solid: 17.3 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.3 bpg to go along with shooting 56% from the field, 77% from the line and 37% from deep. You can’t ask much more from a guy who this year is a Naismith Award finalist, first team All Pac-10, first team All Freshman Pac-10 and was named both the Freshman and Player of the Year in the conference.

Weaknesses: His lack of speed and overall athleticism will be the difference between him being a star at the next level or a solid role player. Body wise, he puts me in the mind of Bryant “Big Country” Reeves. But he is a much more skilled player and he certainly won’t be a bust like Reeves was. The fact that he’s such a smart player with a lot of intangibles may make up for his lack of overall athleticism, but that remains to be seen in a league where guys his same size are much quicker and faster.

Grade: A

Suggestion: Take the Cash

Summary: Physically, Kevin Love is ready for the league and a definite Lottery pick if he comes out this year. In terms of skills, I don’t see him getting much better than what he already is but if he improves his conditioning which in turn should help his athleticism he could end up being a very solid pro.

O.J. Mayo – USC

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Point Guard/Shooting Guard

O.J. Mayo can be compared to a fresh new pair of “Mikes” (that’s Air Jordans for those of you outside of “The Chi”). When you first take them out the box and they’re all shiny and new, you love them so much that you want to wear them everywhere you go. But then as they start to get a little older, start collecting a little dirt and get that ugly crease in the toe; you start to like them less and less. It seems like no matter how hard you try and clean them up and no matter how many pairs of socks you stuff in them to get rid of the crease, they just never look as good as they did when you first took them out of the box. Eventually you stop wearing them and you find yourself back in the shoe store looking for the next fresh new pair. Quality wise, the old shoes are still just as good (they’re still “Mikes” for crying out loud) but because they’re old and lost the luster they once had, they’re cast to the side in favor of something new. 

Such is the case of Ovinton J’Anthony Mayo. When he was in the 6th grade, an article was written about him in a local newspaper entitled “Phenom”. In 7th grade he averged 22 ppg playing varsity basketball in Kentucky. That got him mentioned in Sports Illustrated, and caused national newspapers like USA Today to write about him. By the time he got to high school in Ohio, some people were saying he was the best player in the country – regardless of age – and had him down as the next LeBron James. That was the fresh new pair of “Mikes” love. But after a couple of incidents off the court and the one on the court with the flopping referee (YouTube that one), combined with the way he’d handled his own recruitment to USC (a little older, a little dirt, with a crease in the toe); by the time the end of his senior year rolled around (he’d transferred back to his hometown of Huntington, W.V. at that point) most people didn’t even have him ranked #1 in his class anymore. That honor went to Kevin Love (the next fresh new pair) even though O.J. had won 3 state championships in a row with 2 different schools in 2 different states (still “Mikes”). Go figure! 

Strengths: O.J. is a combo guard in the truest sense of the word. He already has an NBA body (6’5″ and 200 lbs) and an NBA game to go along with it. He can score and get his own shot pretty much whenever he gets ready. He’s a terrific ball handler, he can shoot it from NBA range consistently, and he can beat his man off the dribble with ease. He’s a very smart player that understands situations and knows how to find the open man and make the extra pass; he doesn’t force things like most young players tend to either. On top of all that…he plays defense! He was voted to the first team on both the All Pac-10 and All Freshman Pac-10 lists and his numbers this year were respectable: 20.7 ppg (#2 in the Pac-10), 3.3 apg, 4.5 rpg; he shot 44% from the field, 80% from the line and 41% from deep. Not bad for a freshman playing in arguably the toughest conference in the nation on one of the slowest and most inefficient teams offensively in the country.

Weaknesses: The knock on him coming in was that he was selfish. I guess he wanted to change that perception so at times this season he played too unselfish. Especially against Kansas State in the tournament. There have been many times this year – especially that game – where I’ve waited for him to take the game over and he never did. He’s also extremely turnover prone (3.5 pg) as a PG, but I don’t feel like that’s his “natural” position anyway. He’s best suited on the wing because his scoring ability is second to none.

Grade: A-

Suggestion: Back to Class (wishful thinking)

Summary: I saw O.J. Mayo play in the Roundball Classic in Chicago last year and I didn’t see the next LeBron James (that’s not even a fair comparison really). What I saw was a very good player who could score at will and was extremely explosive and aggressive. I didn’t see that this year which is why I think he should come back for another year and showcase his “real” game. If he does decide to come out, he’ll still be a lottery pick; but if he goes back to school and dominates the way that I know that he can, he could go #1 in ’09. But make no mistake about it, he is definitely ready for the NBA.