In this post, we take a look at the regionals coming up in the East & South brackets, the winners of which will meet in the Final Four. The East Regional is in Boston and goes on Thursday & Saturday. The South goes down in Memphis and is on Friday & Sunday.
Pitt vs. Xavier
Duke vs. Villanova
The opening game has a good storyline, in that Xavier coach Sean Miller played at Pitt. But a good storyline is about it. This game is a mismatch. Pitt has muscle inside with DeJuan Blair and Sam Young, and sound help in the perimeter from Levance Fields. The only dark note is that Pitt hasn't played well yet in this tournament. As long as it turns out to be opening-week jitters they'll be fine.
Duke-Villanova is the best game of this entire round. Both teams are perimter-oriented and will rely on three-point shooting. The key matchup is inside, where Duke has Kyle Singler, while 'Nova counters with Dante Cunningham. The latter is a more pure post player, whereas Singler bounces inside and out. Whether Singler can get Cunningham to chase him outside will play a big part in determining whether the Dookies can keep the Wildcats off the glass. Overall, I think Villanova is the stronger team. Duke had a nice run to win the ACC Tournament, but they didn't have to play UNC or Wake. Of course the one thing the Blue Devils always have is Coach K in their corner in a tight game. But a lot of factors can tip a tight game, and on the flip side it's much easier to see Villanova blowing out Duke than vice-versa.
Whomever advances will be able to match up with Pitt only if the Panthers are sluggish. Xavier might not be able to take advantage even if Pitt is not in top form. 'Nova or Duke can. But if Pitt plays well, neither team has the inside strength to stay with them.
The Zags are completely overmatched by North Carolina. Remember the last time Gonzaga got a crack at a national power? They hosted Memphis back in February and were blistered on their home court. Against a balanced and well-coached Tar Heel attack featuring a healthy Ty Lawson outside, Tyler Hansborough inside and Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and Deon Thompson surrounding them, Gonzaga just does not have the firepower.
Syracuse-Oklahoma is a much more compelling game. Blake Griffin is the stud inside for the Sooners, but the Orangeman have weapons of their own. Jonny Flynn captivated a Madison Square Garden crowd in the Big East tournament with his endurance in their six-overtime epic against UConn. He also averages 17 a game. Arinze Onaku and Paul Harris aren't anywhere near Griffin's class, but they are strong complementary parts at forward. In short, the 'Cuse has more balance while OU has the one big star.
In the event Oklahoma does win, it would set up a Griffin-Hansborough showdown, the nation's consensus two best players going at it for the Final Four. But I don't think Griffin will get the shot, and regardless of who does, Carolina is going back to the biggest stage.