Monday, March 17, 2008

USC Draws #6 seed in Midwest Region

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The Trojans (21-11) have made it to their 2nd consecutive NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 and 2002. They will play in Omaha, Nebraska on Thursday at about 4:10 (PST) as the #6 seed in the Midwest Region against the #11 seed Kansas State Wildcats (20-11). Let's take a first glance at the Wildcats, as well as the rest of the field in our Midwest Regional.

USC Outlook:
The Wildcats, led by the nation's most talented player in freshman Michael Beasley, give the Trojans one of the more difficult first round opponents in the field. The Trojans' road to the Final Four is also one of the most difficult, with potential games against Wisconsin (2nd Rd), Georgetown (Sweet 16), and Kansas (Elite 8), before meeting North Carolina in the Final Four. No question that this was a tough draw, but if you want to be the best, you have to play the best. This team is already battle tested after playing 15 games against Tournament teams, including 5 games against this year's #1 seeds (ucla 3 times, Kansas, Memphis), with a record of (7-8) in those games. USC is also playing its best basketball of the season right now after enduring a mid-season struggle that saw them start (0-3) in Pac-10 play lose sophomore guard Daniel Hackett to injury.

How Kansas State stacks up vs. USC:
Kansas State finished 3rd in the Big 12 at (10-6), while USC finished tied for 3rd in the Pac-10 at (11-7). However, Kansas State is only (3-8) against Tournament teams with marquee wins over Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M. They played two games against #1 seeded Kansas and one game against #2 seeded Texas, so they aren't quite as battle tested as USC. The Wildcats were blown away at #3 seed Xavier 103-77, whereas USC split two games with #3 seed Stanford. Kansas State has played 5 games against common opponents with a record of (3-2) in their games against Oregon (L 77-80), Cal (W 82-75), Oklahoma (W 84-82), Kansas (W 84-75), and again Kansas (L 74-88). USC was (4-2) against those same teams. Kansas State beat USC on a neutral court last season in Las Vegas by a score of 68-55. The Trojans led 28-23 at the half in that game and held Kansas State to a 36.7% field goal percentage, but they turned the ball over 27 times and sent the Wildcats to the free throw line 41 times. They return 2 senior guards in Clent Stewart and Blake Young and forward Bill Walker from that team, but add the super talented Beasley.

Kansas State Tidbits:
Individual Stats -- Beasley averages 26.5 points and 12.4 rebounds per game and can shoot the 3 (38.9%) very effectively. At 6-10, 235 lbs, he reminds me of Lamar Odom of the L.A. Lakers, except far better. Bill Walker (6-6, 220) averages 15.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and is a lot like our Davon Jefferson, both in their game and character issues. Walker is explosive on the offensive boards and can just jump out of the gym, but he is easily frustrated and can disappear from games.

Team Stats vs. USC Team Stats (courtesy of NCAA):
Category Rank ActualUSC Avg (Rank)
Scoring Offense (328 ranked) 22 78.7 69.1 (164)
Scoring Defense (328 ranked) 169 68.963.2 (55)
Scoring Margin (328 ranked) 31 9.8 5.9 (76)
Field-Goal Percentage (328 ranked) 153 44.3 48.1 (17)
Field-Goal Percentage Defense (328 ranked) 92 42.2 39.1 (14)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game (328 ranked) 174 6.5 5.6 (261)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage (328 ranked) 264 32.1 38.4 (43)
Free-Throw Percentage (328 ranked) 170 68.9 68.5 (179)
Rebound Margin (328 ranked) 4 8.0 0.5 (159)

Final Midwest Predictions:
This is the group of death, with the obvious favorite being Kansas, but there is a nice balance of teams and an excellent chance for some upsets.

Best Team -- Kansas
I think Kansas will win this bracket, but that's only because they have a much easier road to the regional final than the teams at the bottom of the bracket (Georgetown, Wisconsin, USC) who will have to beat up on each other in the first 3 rounds. They have a deep bench and should coast all they way meeting Georgetown in the Regional Final. Many "experts" have chosen Kansas as their champions, but I won't go that far. We've all seen Bill Self's teams choke on the big stage, and I don't see why this year will be any different.

Toughest Team -- Georgetown
If Kansas has another early exit, expect Georgetown to win this region. The Hoyas lead the nation in FG% defense and are in the top 10 in scoring defense. They are experienced, very well coached, balanced, disciplined, have a senior leader in center Roy Hibbert, and the probably the best sixth man in the nation in Patrick Ewing, Jr.

Most Underrated Team -- Vanderbilt
The Commodores, like the Trojans, ran into a mid-season struggle after jumping out to an amazing (16-0) start, but recovered well enough to finished (26-7) and 3rd in the SEC with a record of (10-6). This team has a senior leader in guard Shan Foster (SEC P.O.Y.) and was one of only 3 teams to beat Tennessee this season. Kansas better not overlook this team in the Sweet 16.

Darkhorse Final Four Team -- USC
To say that the Trojans have a difficult path would be an understatement, which is why many will not pick USC making a deep run in the Tournament. But if they can get past a dangerous Kansas State team, they won't be playing any offensive juggernauts until Kansas in the regional final. USC plays excellent defense and has one of the best coaches in the country in Tim Floyd, and if they can rebound against Wisconsin and Georgetown, then a rematch with Kansas in the regional final is not out of the question.

Bracket Buster -- Clemson
The Tigers are one of the most talented and athletic teams in this entire tournament. If they can build off of that impressive ACC Tournament and put it all together, this team can go a long way. This team reminds me a lot of that Final Four LSU team that had Tyrus Thomas and Glen Davis that upset Duke in the Sweet 16 two years ago. Most people have Kansas at least in the Final Four, but be wary of Clemson.

We'll have a more detailed preview of the game later this week.

Fight On! Beat the Wildcats!

Click on the image below to view the First Round matchups in Midwest Bracket along with the dates and times.

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