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Sunday, March 17, 2013

NCAA Tournament Preview - East Region

Round of 64 Games to Watch

Butler vs Bucknell

This game doesn't have the most NBA talent in it, but it may be your only shot to see the Bison's Mike Muscala, who will get drafted this June. Muscala will face a legit 7 footer in Andrew Smith, something he rarely sees in the Patriot League. It will be an excellent opportunity for him to show he can play against anybody and isn't just putting up big numbers because of his size advantage. Andrew Smith can give him problems too - Smith did a great job bothering Cody Zeller earlier this year and is very mobile for a big man. Neither Muscala or Smith are strong in the low post, so Muscala will have his work cut out for him trying to drive past/shoot over Smith. Muscala works best in the high post where he is an adept shooter, great passer, and can also put the ball on the floor.

Illinois vs Colorado

I could pick a couple of other games to feature here - UNLV/California or NC State/Temple - but I like the idea of seeing how Spencer Dinwiddie defends Brandon Paul. Paul is one of the best scorers in the nation when he is hot, possessing both very good athleticism and a strong jumper, while Dinwiddie is capable of being a lock down defender. Dinwiddie is also a viable threat on offense, although he has been in a drought in March. Paul is a senior and should be an early second round pick while I'm hearing Dinwiddie could test the waters in April. This game also features Andre Roberson, who is a great athlete and rebounder. Roberson is could go anywhere from 20th to early second round on draft night.

Round of 32

Indiana vs NC State

I think this North Carolina State team is far too talented to lose to Temple in a tournament setting, which means we will get to see their stable of athletes against Indiana in the round of 32. Cody Zeller will be tested big time against Richard Howell, who could bully around Zeller in a similar way Trevor Mbakwe did when Minnesota upset the Hoosiers. Zeller was afraid to take it inside against the physical Mbakwe after being knocked down hard early in the game and Howell is another tough as nails undersized big. Howell is a very solid second round pick choice at the moment.

To make matters worse for Zeller is he will have to be wary of the athletic CJ Leslie on the weakside. This is a nightmare matchup overall for Zeller, but he does have a chance to silence some critics. Lorenzo Brown, TJ Warren, and Victor Oladipo are other guys to watch in this one.

UNLV/Cal vs Syracuse

Whoevers comes out of the Cal/UNLV game will have a very dangerous Syracuse squad waiting for them. If it is UNLV, I look forward to seeing how they attack the zone. They love to launch threes, but their offense lacks cohesiveness which will pose a problem against the 2-3 zone. They will need someone to step up in the mid-range area with the obvious choice being Anthony Bennett. If Bennett does step up and act as a facilitator/playmaker in the middle of the zone, this could send a big message to lottery teams. If he chooses to stay on the outisde though, like he has done much of this year, UNLV probably won't be in this game for very long. Beating the Cuse zone is all about having aggressive guards, wings that can move along the baseline, and a big man in the middle to facilitate things.

California may actually have a better chance at beating them, especially if sharpshooter Allen Crabbe gets hot. Crabbe is capable of carrying the offense and is one of my sleepers heading into the tournament. A good tournament run should get him into the first round for sure. He doesn't have a lot of help, but he does have one guy who can fill the role of the aggressive attacking guard - Justin Cobbs. Cal also has David Kravish at forward who is a smart decision maker and capable of facilitating at the middle of the zone. More importantly in terms of NBA prospects, Crabbe is an extremely saavy player which will help, whereas UNLV's Bennett relies purely on his talent level.

SWEET SIXTEEN/ELITE EIGHT

With Indiana, Miami, and Syracuse among the top 4 seeds, there is likely to be a lot of NBA talent playing at the Verizon Center - perhaps more than the Wizards themselves have. Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, and Michael Carter-Williams are all potential lottery picks. The list of fringe NBA talents and/or future first round picks is a long one. Again, it will be Syracuse that could pose the most interesting matchups - who would face Indiana in the Elite 8. In terms of teams that are good fits to be the zone, Indiana is near the top of the list. They have tough guards - Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell - to go along with a hyper-athletic wing (Victor Oladipo, and two multi-dimensional big men (Zeller and Christian Watford). Seeing Zeller operate at the top of the key against the zone will be a sight to see and give him a chance to show off his passing and shooting ability. His IQ is always on display, especially on the defensive end, but it will be obvious to casual fans how smart he is if he gets a chance to break apart the Orange's zone.

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