Sunday, March 30, 2003
CSI Bristol: Final Four breakdowns
By Andy Katz
FINAL FOUR: New Orleans (Saturday, April 5)
Marquette vs. Kansas, 6:05 p.m
Midwest | Marquette Golden Eagles (27-5)
Round 1: Marquette 72, No. 14 Holy Cross 68
Round 2: Marquette 101, No. 6 Missouri 92 (OT)
Sweet 16: Marquette 77, No. 2 Pittsburgh 74
Elite Eight: Marquette 83, No. 1 Kentucky 69
Why Marquette Can Lose: The Eagles haven't been here before and no one would blame them if they get rattled. This is a huge stage for a team, not to mention a coaching staff, and there will be some jitters. Giving up a significant lead to Kansas could be hard to overcome. The Jayhawks also have two big boys in the middle -- Nick Collison and Jeff Graves -- who could become a matchup problem if Robert Jackson and Scott Merritt don't play up to their potential. Dwyane Wade could tire if he's forced to chase Kirk Hinrich on the defensive end. Travis Diener will likely have to deal with Aaron Miles. If that occurs, the Jayhawks still could hold an edge on the wing with Keith Langford. He could be a tough matchup for the Eagles at the big guard/small forward if Wade is forced to cover Hinrich.
Why Marquette Will Win: Wade. Even if everything above happens, he's special enough to overcome it all and guide Marquette into the title game and beyond. He produced a triple-double in the win over Kentucky. If he can duplicate that, or come close, the Jayhawks will be in serious trouble. He's playing at another level and is drawing fouls, too. Kansas can ill afford for someone like Hinrich or Collison or Graves to come up and help on a slashing Wade and get into foul trouble. This team has momentum and is playing with as much energy as any team left in the field. Tom Crean is driven to win a championship. Crean hasn't made a poor decision this season and his game plan to beat Kentucky by being the aggressor was perfect. If he takes the game right at Kansas then the Jayhawks could get knocked back a bit.
Title Chances: For the purposes of this prediction, the answer would have to be not good. That's because we're going with Kansas in this game. But that probably means squat. If Marquette can collapse on Collison the way Arizona did, and Hinrich's shot is off, the Eagles will have an excellent chance of winning.
Player To Watch: Wade. He can score anywhere on the court whenever he wants in the game. Few players ever enter a Final Four with as much confidence as he has in his game. He might as well be a senior. He's a fourth-year junior and is mature on the court. Large stages don't scare him, nor do unforced errors. If Wade is on his game then the Eagles can win.
X Factor: Steve Novak. The freshman hit five 3s against Kentucky. If Marquette gets someone like Novak, a third or fourth option at times in the offense, then the Eagles can win. Novak was a difference maker against Kentucky. He could be the same against Kansas.
West | Kansas Jayhawks (29-7)
Round 1: Kansas 64, No. 15 Utah State 61
Round 2: Kansas 108, No. 10 Arizona State 92
Sweet 16: Kansas 69, No. 3 Duke 65
Elite Eight: Kansas 78, No. 1 Arizona 75
Why Kansas Can Lose: The Jayhawks could have matchup problems in trying to defend Dwyane Wade. He plays within that vulnerable small forward/big guard spot for the Jayhawks. Kansas did a great job defending Ricky Anderson at a similar position, but Wade is a much better athlete and can score with authority going baseline or down the middle. The Jayhawks got a tremendous lift from their role players Saturday against Arizona, but can that be duplicated? Kansas can't win with just Kirk Hinrich and/or Nick Collison playing well. They've got to get something out of Jeff Graves or Keith Langford or Aaron Miles or Michael Lee. Langford has been the most consistent of the four, but the Jayhawks are still inconsistent at those spots. Marquette's defense should be tighter than Arizona's was in the West Region final, and Hinrich might not get the same open looks he had against Arizona. Collison could find himself facing some double teams again, considering he didn't handle the 2-on-1 situations too well against the Wildcats.
Why Kansas Will Win: The Jayhawks have the senior leadership that has been necessary to win recent national titles (see: Michigan State, Duke, Maryland) Collison willed the Jayhawks to the win over Duke. Hinrich nearly did the same in the win over Arizona. These two players are two of the toughest to keep down in recent memory. Kansas causes matchup problems for Marquette because Collison is so skilled and can find ways to score inside. Marquette did a nice job on Kentucky's interior, but Collison is better than Marquis Estill and Jules Camara around the basket. If Hinrich is on, that means he can make shots from well beyond the 3-point arc, forcing Marquette to spread its defense even further from the basket. The Jayhawks also have Roy Williams, who has been in this position before and has to be more ready to win the title than at any other time in his career. Kansas has been opportunistic and will seize on any slippage by the Eagles. Don't be surprised to see Marquette struggle to stay with the Jayhawks if their break is clicking.
Title Chances: Very good. Marquette has been the surprise so far of the four teams mainly because of the margin of victory against Kentucky. But Kansas seems to be on one of those roles champinoship teams get on at this time of March ... into April. And that would include beating Marquette. Just look at who Kansas had to beat to get here: Duke and Arizona. That's two of the best programs in the sport. Beating Duke and Arizona should almost give a team a pass to the title game.
Player To Watch:Collison. He could go for 33 points or eight. His range of scoring was that wide over the weekend. If he's on his game like he was against Duke then the Eagles will likely lose. He is so driven around the basket and has such a variety of moves that he could pose the toughest challenge to Marquette's inside defense. Collison is as seasoned a senior as any lately because of all his USA basketball commitments. Nothing seems to rattle him.
X Factor: Graves. If Graves can duplicate his 13-point, 15-rebound game against Arizona then the Eagles could be toast. Graves was a load inside against Arizona, gobbling up plenty of second-shot chances and preventing the Wildcats from getting out on their break off a missed shot. Graves would be the difference if he's able to score consistently in the post.
Syracuse vs. Texas, 8:35 p.m
East | Syracuse Orangemen (28-5)
Round 1: Syracuse 76, No. 14 Manhattan 65
Round 2: Syracuse 68, No. 6 Oklahoma State 56
Sweet 16: Syracuse 79, No. 10 Auburn 78
Elite Eight: Syracuse 63, No. 1 Oklahoma 47
Why Syracuse Can Lose: A good as it looked Sunday against Oklahoma, if the 2-3 zone isn't played as well against Texas, the Longhorns will slice through Syracuse and prevent Jim Boeheim from another crack at a national title. Syracuse can't afford to have its zone get spread too thin against T.J. Ford. If he gets in the middle of it, or along the baseline, the Orangemen might have to help off on him too often. That could free up too many shooters like Brandon Mouton and Brian Boddicker. Syracuse got a tremendous effort out of Carmelo Anthony with 20 points and 10 rebounds in the win over Oklahoma, but he was roughed up in the second half. Texas will likely try to do the same thing, and if Anthony isn't tougher, he can get pushed out of the action. Syracuse also can't afford to lose another lead. Ford is talented enough to carry the Longhorns back from a double-digit deficit and Syracuse's psyche could be fragile if it gives up a big lead in the Final Four.
Why Syracuse Will Win: Again, it comes down to the zone. Syracuse's zone has the potential to be so mystifying that it can make a team like Oklahoma look like it didn't have a close how to run an offense. Texas relies so much on Ford to solve problems that if he gets lost in the zone, so will the rest of the Longhorns. Anthony is also having one of those seasons where he could carry this team to the title game. He's that special as a freshman. But the Orangemen continue to get tremendous role play out of Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Billy Edelin, Craig Forth and Jeremy McNeil. If that continues and they make the spot 3-pointers, the mid-range jumpers, or the crucial free throws down the stretch, the Orangemen have a great shot to win not only this game, but the title on Monday night.
Elite Chances: About even, and that's not a cop out. If Syracuse's defense is as effective against Texas as it was against Oklahoma then the Orangemen will win. Their defense is like nothing else Texas will have seen during the season. And Boeheim has the Orangemen believing they can win the title. This team is dominated by freshmen, but Boeheim has always been a trendsetter. Who needs seniors? Why not with a national title with a bunch of teenagers?
Player To Watch: Anthony. All eyes will be on him Saturday as he plays on the sport's largest stage. He had a subpar first three games of the NCAA Tournament, but boy did he stand out in the fourth to get the Orange to the Final Four If he has another one of those games like Sunday on Saturday then he could start making an argument to be a top two pick in the June draft.
X Factor: Warrick. The Orangemen need him to work the offensive glass, especially the put backs. If Warrick can find a way around players like James Thomas and Jason Klotz then he's got a shot of being a difference maker. Rebounding will be key in this game and Warrick is one of the game's best finishers, especially when it comes to shots that don't look like they have a chance to be put back.
South | Texas Longhorns (26-6)
Round 1: Texas 82, No. 16 UNC Asheville 61
Round 2: Texas 77, No. 9 Purdue 67
Sweet 16: Texas 82, No. 5 UConn 78
Elite Eight: Texas 85, No. 7 Michigan State 76
Why Texas Can Lose: Syracuse's zone. Oklahoma looked like it had somehow wandered into the Bermuda Triangle against Syracuse's defense. If Texas gets lulled to sleep in the same fashion, it will be early lights out for the Longhorns. The Longhorns have to shoot well to beat Syracuse and that puts pressure on Brian Boddicker, Sydmill Harris, Brandon Mouton and Royel Ivey. Ford can only do so much to set these guys up to make shots. James Thomas must finish or else the Longhorns will be in trouble. Texas' rebounding has to sharp to keep Hakim Warrick off the offensive backboard. Texas will feel the heat of being the lone No. 1 seed. Syracuse has no pressure on it at all. Texas could wilt a bit if it starts to feel some of that heat.
Why Texas Will Win: The Longhorns have Ford. He was ESPN.com's national player of the year and so far has swept every other major award save the three to still be given out -- the Wooden Award, the AP, and the Oscar Robertson Award by the U.S. Basketball Writers' Association. Ford can carry the Longhorns to the national title because he dictates the game better than any other player remaining in the field. Ford's impact Friday and Sunday was clear again. He was the reason the Longhorns were able to beat Connecticut and Michigan State. Whenever the Longhorns needed something to happen, Ford was there to execute. If the Orangemen can't contain him then they'll lose.
Elite Chances: Even. The Longhorns and the Orangemen are almost even teams with both having a superstar in Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse) and Ford (Texas). The key will be the role players. Boeheim has been in this spot before and won in 1987 to get to the title game, while Barnes is making his first trip to the Final Four.
Player To Watch: Ford. If you can watch any one player during the Final Four then focus on Ford. He's one of those special players who won't come around too often. He changes the game so much that he could be the most dominant player, even though he's usually the shortest on the court.
X Factor: Mouton. He has the ability to score 20-plus points and he'll be critical to Texas advancing to the national title game. Someone must make shots over the Syracuse zone. If Mouton can get the looks courtesy of Ford's drive-and-dish then he's got to knock down 3s. If he does then Texas could be 40 minutes from a title.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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