We'll be marching through each of the Big Ten teams' potential first and second round opponents this week, but we won't be offering any predictions. We don't want you yelling at us when your bracket has been decimated by Sunday.
The Hilltoppers are somewhat of a trendy pick to pull the common 5/12 upset, but I wonder if that's on the strength of last year's Sweet Sixteen run. Western Kentucky's offense weathered the loss of Courtney Lee and Tyrone Brazelton well enough, but the defense has taken a significant step back, to the tune of almost 0.07 points per possession. On offense, WKU is a bit weird - a slight POT that's also one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country.
The Bulldogs broke out onto the national scene in 1999 when Matt Santangelo and Richie Frahm led the team all the way to the Elite 8. They followed that up with two consecutive years in the Sweet Sixteen. But since then, it's been tough sledding - for the last seven years, Gonzaga
hasn't has made it past the first weekend just once. And you've got to like their chances this season - this might be the best Gonzaga team, well, ever. Of course, the Bulldogs have been upset before, so I understand the tempered enthusiasm for this squad. Illini fans probably aren't thrilled to face this defense, given that Gonzaga is one of the tallest teams in the nation. That height definitely bothers shots inside the arc, where opponents shoot just 38.6%. That's not good news for the Illini, who don't like to shoot 3s all that often.
I'll admit, I'd prefer if the Zips played at a faster pace. In some ways, Akron plays a lot like Illinois does. Sometimes the offense stalls, but the defense is solid, especially perimeter defense. Opponents shoot just 29.3% from distance and turn it over on over a quarter of their possessions. But like the Illini (only moreso), the Zips are vulnerable on the defensive glass.
Is Trevor Booker an All American? Looking at the statsheet, it's not that far-fetched. Booker has a through-the-roof eFG of 61.0, is an elite rebounder, blocks shots, gets steals, and he doesn't turn it over. Oh, and he gets to the FT line regularly. Against Michigan's undersized front line, he could have a field day. The good news for the Wolverines is that Clemson's outside defense can be suspect, allowing opponents to shoot nearly 36% from 3 point range.
Blake Griffin is every bit as good as everyone says he is, but this is hardly a one-man team. This team just doesn't miss, especially from two point range, where they're shooting 56%. But where the Sooners really shine is their ability to make teams pay for fouling, and here again, Blake Griffin is not alone. Predictably, Griffin does excel at getting to the line - in fact, he leads the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Not only does that put points on the board, but it puts the other team's players on the bench.
The Bears do just a couple of things well, but they do them very well. They defend shots (12th in the nation in eFG), and they crash the offensive glass (25th in the country in OReb%). But this team has a very difficult time scoring - their best offensive player, Reggie Holmes, is shooting 38.4% from two point range.
Northwestern's season came to an end last night as the Wildcats were toppled by Tulsa 68-59 in a 57 possession game in the first round of the NIT. Northwestern had severe difficulty containing Tulsa's offense, especially Jerome Jordan, who finished with 16 points on just 4 shots. Kevin Coble and Craig Moore each had 17 for the Wildcats. Box score.
Although the season ended on a low note (three straight losses), that shouldn't detract from the fine season Carmody's crew had. To win 17 games just a year after winning all of 8 is a fantastic turnaround. Although Craig Moore will be difficult to replace, every other significant contributor should be back next season, when the Wildcats figure to have a good shot at finally making the Dance.