Wunderdog 2004 NCAA Tournament Preivew
March 16, 2004
Well, arguably the world’s greatest sports show gets ready to roll this Thursday with one of the most competitive fields in recent history. As many as eight teams have a legitimate shot to win the tournament this season. I’ll follow up this preview release with a sweet sixteen preview next week.
Wunderdog’s Top Four Headed Into Tournament
1) Maryland – No one comes into this tournament as hot as the Terrapins who pulled off on the best three game stretches of all time in last weekend's ACC tournament. In case you missed it, and if you're reading this you did not, The Terps upset Wake, NC State and Duke in three days to win the title. Confidence matters so much in this tournament. If UM gets by UTEP in the opening round, there may be no stopping Maryland.
2) Kentucky – They also enter this tournament on fire having won nine in a row, while also covering in each of those ballgames. They are lead by Fitch and Daniels, and are known for their tenacious defense which is certainly an attribute in tournament play. The only knock on UK is there inconsistency shooting the basketball. They have been known to put together terrible shooting performances this season. If that should happen in this tournament, they could exit earlier than they should.
3) Oklahoma St. – The Cowboys have a very legitimate shot to win this tournament, and they are well coached by Eddie Sutton, and are loaded with talent, led by Tony Allen, Josh Graham, and PG Lucas. They have steamrolled through the Big 12 conference this season, leaving everyone in their dust. Defense will be the key for this team. If they are able to defend well throughout the tournament, they will win the National Championship.
4) Gonzaga – No longer in the underdog roll they relished for so many years. Gonzaga enters with one of the best inside / outside offenses in the country led by Ronnie Turiaf and Blake Stepp. Gonzaga's weakness lies in their half court perimeter defense. If they are unable to stop quicker guards from penetrating, and creating mismatches and foul trouble for their big men, they could also exit the tournament earlier than expected. They'll have a tough time as the tourney goes on and the guards get quicker and quicker.
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Wunderdog’s Top Four teams you've never seen play this season
1) Western Michigan – Could the 26-4 Broncos be my Cinderella pick this year? See below.
2) East Tennessee St. – a very good team, who got unlucky in drawing Cincy in Columbus. A bit more of a neutral court and I think they beat Cincinnati outright.
3) Manhattan – Lead by Luis Flores, the Jaspers have had a terrific season and get the chance for the exclamation point against the Gators. The Jaspers beat Richmond outright earlier this season and nearly upset Syracuse on the road.
4) Illinois-Chicago – UIC gets terrific guard play from Cedric Banks and Aaron Carr, and won two tough games away from home against Butler, and Detroit to get here. They'll put a real scare into the Jayhawks in this spot. Boast wins over Eastern Washington and Northwestern this season and their conference is no pushover.
Wunderdog’s Top Five Players
1) Emeka Okafor – Connecticut. When healthy, the best player in the country hands down. Even with back problems, will still be tough for opponents in this tournament
2) Jamir Nelson – St. Joseph's. A great point guard, who combined with Dalonte West, forms the best backcourt in college basketball. SJU's downfall will occur in their frontcourt. Jamir has a great NBA career ahead of him despite his small stature.3) Josh Childress – Stanford. A high riser with serious game. Very similar to a young Julius Erving. I am still waiting for him to come down after his dunk against UW last Saturday. As Bill Rafferty would say, 'come down big fella'. Childress has to be mentioned among the best all around players in college basketball over the last five seasons.
4) Tony Allen – Oklahoma State, not as well known as he should be. A slashing-type player who can flat out score against anyone.
5) Lawrence Roberts – Mississippi State, at the center of the Bulldogs monster season. One of the best big men in the country. This will be his true coming out party.
Wunderdog’s Top Five Players You've Probably Never Heard of
1) Luis Flores – Manhattan. A great scorer for the Jaspers. He gives them a shot against anyone in the tournament.
2) Rafael Araujo – BYU. A huge man with NBA in his future. Has the ability to take over a game by himself. It will be fun to watch he and Warrick go at it down low in the first round.
3) Nick Jacobsen – Utah. One of the best pure shooters in years. He hit the shot that sent the Utes to the tourney on Saturday night.
4) Tim Smith – East Tennessee State. A speedy point guard has ability to take over games by himself. Will be a handful for the lax defense of the Bearcats.
5) Taylor Coppenrath – Vermont. He scored 43 in his first game in over a month last Saturday. If you get the chance, watch him play on Thursday against UCONN. You will not be disappointed.
Wunderdog’s Best First Round Match-ups
Florida vs. Manhattan – This one will go down to the wire. Flores and company have a real good shot at the upset here. UF has been winning some recently, but they have beaten some pretty average basketball teams over that stretch.
Washington vs. UAB – Two teams chalked full of phenom athletes. This will be the most entertaining first round game based on that alone. If you have no had the chance to watch these two point guards, take advantage of it.
Alabama vs. Southern Illinois – The Salukis are good and ‘Bama has had a pretty good season considering their schedule. This is another game where an upset is a very real possibility.
North Carolina vs. Air Force – Two completely different teams. Can UNC maintain its focus against AFA's slow it down style? Can AFA match up with the athletic Heels? This is essentially a home game for AFA in Denver. They'll have the sentiment of 22,000 at the Pepsi Center. This should be quite a game.
Western Michigan vs. Vanderbilt – WMU may be flat out better than the Commodores. This will be a dog fight between tow very good basketball teams. MAC teams have fared very well in the NCAA's in recent years.
Wunderdog’s Best Potential Second Round Match-ups
Texas vs. North Carolina – The match-up everyone in Denver is pulling for. In a market starved for big time basketball, this would be a dream match-up, and a closely contested shootout to boot.
Duke vs. Arizona – When Arizona is motivated, they are one of the best offensive teams in the country. They would be ready to play Duke, who has shown some chinks in their armor recently. If Reddick continues to struggle from outside, the Cats could win this game outright.
Memphis vs. Oklahoma State – Memphis would match up well with the Cowboys in this situation. The only thing we see is that it will be played in KC, which favors the Cowboys.
Kentucky vs. Washington – Should UW get by UAB, this will be a shootout. UW is the quickest team West of the Mississippi and would pose a serious threat to the Cats here.
Nevada vs. Gonzaga – Nevada is a great team out of the WAC. They would give Gonzaga all they can handle here.
Wunderdog’s Cinderella Pick of 2004Western Michigan – the 26-4 MAC champions are led by 6-8 forward Mike Williams. They boast wins over USC on their home court, and road wins against UAB and Arizona State. The Broncos are the real deal and could easily wind up in the sweet sixteen.
Wunderdog’s 2004 Champion Pick is…Oklahoma State – The Cowboys are loaded and have played very good basketball all year long. Lucas can beat you in so many different ways, and they are disciplined on offense and defense. They'll be celebrating in Stillwater, Oklahoma in early April.
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