NCAA Tournament Preview: Cleveland

By Chris Fedor

George Mason vs. Villanova

The 8-9 matchup in this region should be extremely intriguing with the winner more than likely moving on to play Ohio State. On one hand there is George Mason, who is back in the NCAA Tournament after a 26 win season where they boasted a the nation’s longest winning streak at one time after ripping off 16 in a row.

Of course the Patriots are best known for their Final Four run in 2006 where they pulled off a number of impressive upsets along the way. According to Jim Larranaga, this year’s squad has some similarities to the team that shattered brackets in 2006, but at the same time is also different. They are very efficient on offense, tenacious on defense, they defend the three point line extremely well, and they can shoot the lights out from behind the arch themselves.

The name to watch with Mason is Cam Long. By now I’m sure you’ve heard the experts mention him numerous times. Long is an ultra-quick point guard that fills up the stat sheet, can go for double figures on any given night, and is as dangerous as any point guard around. But it doesn’t stop there. The Patriots have three players that average in double figures besides Long , including Ryan Pearson. Pearson admitted today that the Final Four run played a huge part in his decision to go to Mason and Larranaga is sure glad he did. Pearson brings an inside-outside presence to George Mason at the forward position and it quite a difficult matchup for any team.

On the other side of things is Villanova. The Jekyll and Hyde Wildcats come into the tournament looking to regain the form they showed at the beginning of the season when they were 15-1 and one of the top teams in the country. Whether or not that’s even possible at this point is anyone’s guess. The key for the Wildcats is point guard Corey Fisher. In the first 16 games of the season, Fisher was brilliant and they will need his star to shine bright if they want to pull off the “upset” because as he goes, so go the Wildcats. If Fisher finds the form he showed at the beginning of the season, the ‘Cats could be as dangerous a nine seed as any team in the tournament. The question is what team shows up? At this point not even Jay Wright has the answer to that question.

Xavier vs. Marquette

Marquette is an interesting team in the sense that they have shown the ability to play with and beat anyone in the country. They showed that against Connecticut, Syracuse, and Notre Dame. However, they have also had some head-scratching losses this season as well. No matter what way you look at things, the Golden Eagles are probably lucky to be in the big dance and they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t win two games in the Big East Tournament. Marquette is led by Jimmy Butler, who is Mr. Everything for their team. Butler is a stat-sheet stuffer that can play and guard four different positions and his versatility can be a nightmare for an opposing team. The Golden Eagles are battle tested and they will be ready for a fight against Xavier.

When it comes to Xavier it’s all about Tu Holloway. Holloway stepped out of Jordan Crawford’s shadow this season after Crawford bolted for the NBA and he emerged as one of the best point guards in America. After not even being named All-Conference last season, Holloway made a huge jump this year and is the only player in America that averages over 20 points per game, five assists per game, and over five rebounds per game. The Atlantic 10 Player of the Year is the kind of player that can step on the big stage and take over a tournament all by himself.

While Holloway is the engine that drives the team, Xavier is more than just a one-man show. The Musketeers have three other players that score in double figures on a nightly basis.

Syracuse vs. Indiana State

Syracuse is the clear favorite in this matchup and even though the Sycamores may be able to knock down some open threes against the ‘Cuse 2-3 zone, Indiana State has not played against competition like Syracuse this season and will have a hard time with the quicker and more athletic team. Jim Boeheim’s squad has been a little up and down this season, but is loaded with offensive firepower and has two players inside that will give the Sycamores fits with Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph. Not to mention a backcourt of Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche is something that Indiana State won’t have an answer for. The Orange will need to continue to focus on the interior offensively if they want to make a deep run and get of Cleveland.

Ohio State vs. Texas San Antonio

Ohio State comes into the tournament with the bullseye on their back and right fully so. The Bucks are the number one overall seed in the tourney and they showed throughout the regular season that they are the most complete team in the country. Besides having the best big man in the country with Jared Sullinger, they also have a number of dynamic offensive weapons as well. Both William Buford and David Lighty can slash to the bucket and threaten a defense with their ability to put it on the deck, go to the rack, hit the midrange jumper, and they can also extend their game to beyond the three point line. Along with those two slashers, the Bucks also have the most prolific three point shooter in Big Ten history with Jon Diebler and if the Roadrunners are forced to double Sullinger inside, Diebler will start lighting it up from the land of threes. On top of that the Buckeyes have one of the best coaches in America in Thad Matta and they are also one of the most feisty and tenacious defensive teams led by Aaron Craft, who has the ability to shut down opposing point guards continuously.

Not to mention it seems like Ohio State’s senior leadership is something that can help them. In the locker room today not one player would talk about anything other than Texas San Antonio. This is a confident group, but they know that when March comes around the regular season records get thrown out the window and whether you are the number one seed or the number 16 seed, your dreams of cutting the nets down can end quickly.

 

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