Week One NCAA Tournament Recap

March 23, 2009

Here are some of the highlights of an exciting first week of March Madness:

Best Coaching Performance: Bobby Braswell

Entering this season, the Cal State Northridge Matadors were heavy favorites to win the Big West Conference. On paper, the Matadors appeared to have few flaws, as they returned an experienced backcourt, and had athleticism and size in their frontcourt. In fact, TheDailySportsHerald.com had profiled Northridge as a potential March Madness Cinderella, after the Matadors had opened league play by trouncing rival Cal State Fullerton.

Then the wheels came off.

Following the Matador victory over Fullerton, Northridge guards Deon Tresvant and Dallas Rutherford were arrested on criminal theft charges. At the time of the arrest, Tresvant, a senior, was the leading scorer on the team. Rutherford, a freshman backup point guard, also was part of the team’s rotation.

To further complicate things, Coach Braswell’s son, who was not a team member, was arrested in the case as well.

Faced with such trying circumstances, Braswell suspended the arrested players from the team, and focused his squad on the season at hand. The Matadors responded by defying the odds, hanging tough in league play, and achieving some sense of normalcy in an unstable year.

Unfortunately, lightning struck once more for Northridge, as starting point guard Josh Jenkins was lost for the year due to injuries from a car accident. Altogether, Northridge had lost three of its top guards.

Again Braswell responded by winning the Big West Tournament with a depleted roster. Many assumed that such a triumph would embody the high point of the Matador’s season, as they were projected as mere cannon fodder for number 2 seed Memphis in the NCAA Tournament.

On the surface, that matchup appeared to be horrible for Northridge, as Memphis’ athletic defense had caused problems for many teams, let alone a squad missing three of its ballhandlers. Furthermore, preparations for the Memphis defense became somewhat obstructed, as Braswell found himself spending valuable time in a courtroom due to his son’s criminal case.

However, when the Northridge-Memphis game finally began, one would have been hardpressed to find any signs of distraction among the Matadors. Northridge had come to win.

In the first half, the Matadors weathered a run by Memphis, and clawed to within three at the break, trailing only 34-31. Northridge then exploded in the second half, as Rodrigue Mels confidently stroked the ball from deep. Northridge led for much of the second half, and were ahead with less than seven minutes left in the game. However, Memphis asserted itself at the end, and eventually defeated the Matadors, 81-70.

But for an unusual performance from Memphis guard Roburt Sallie, Northridge very well might have prevailed. Sallie, who normally averages only about 4 points-per-game, ended up with 35 points on 10-15 shooting from three-point land.

Meanwhile, five Northridge players scored in double figures, as the Matadors successfully attacked Memphis’ D throughout the game. Surprisingly, Northridge nearly defeated the Tigers at their own game by aggressively pushing the ball in transition.

More importantly, the Matadors played with a confidence and attitude that can only come with proper preparation and focus. Given all the distractions and personnel losses this season, Coach Braswell’s ability to successfully prepare his team, demonstrated that he is an elite Division I coach. It was a truly outstanding job by the classy Braswell.

Stephen Curry, You Are Missed

Although this year’s Tourney already has produced some classic finishes and exciting battles, somehow it just doesn’t seem right without Stephen Curry’s heroics in the early round games.

Curry’s performances produced some of the best moments of the past two Tournaments, as he single-handedly carried Davidson to victories against several big-name schools. His giant-killer routine was something to behold – clutch treys from deep against the shot clock, the clever outwitting of double teams, and brilliant movement without the ball to free up his quick release j’s. With Curry, the games were never dull.

NBA Draft Watch

Each year the NCAA Tournament produces several star-making performances, elevating the stock of certain prospects for the NBA Draft. Although the Tourney is far from over, here are a few prospect evaluations, and how the Tournament has affected their standing:

James Harden, G, Arizona State

Despite being an average athlete, Harden has been projected by many as a lottery pick due to his high skill level and intelligent play. His Tourney performance however, may have lowered his stock significantly.

In ASU’s opening game against Temple, Harden hit only one field goal, finishing with 9 points. Harden followed up that game with another sleepwalking performance in a loss to Syracuse. Harden was held scoreless in the first half of the Syracuse game, and totalled 19 points on 3 for 18 shooting in the two games.

One strength in Harden’s game is that he is smart, unselfish, and lets the game come to him. However, in the Tourney, Harden may have been unselfish to a fault, as he was overly passive. When his team needed him, Harden did not ratchet up his effort and impose his will on the game. At times he was a non-factor, virtually disappearing on the floor.

For a lottery team looking to add a dynamic, high-scoring 2 to their roster, Harden may now get passed over because he played more like a complementary role player in the Tourney.

Jordan Hill, C-F, Arizona

The energetic Hill has had an outstanding year thus far, and his first two games of the Tournament were no exception. Hill again displayed the athleticism, activity, and ability to run the floor that will make him a prized big in the upcoming draft.

Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas

Aldrich has had two excellent performances including a 10-block, 23-board, 13-point triple double against Dayton. Aldrich has shown solid offensive low post skills and good mobility, both of which should cause him to get selected in the first round should he enter the draft.

Toney Douglas, G, Florida State

Douglas was a virtual one-man band against Wisconsin, pouring in 26 of the Seminoles’ 59 points. He again exhibited the explosive athleticism and scoring ability that made him such a lethal force in the ACC. Douglas is an aggressive scoring point guard capable of hitting the trey or exploding to the rim.

Tyler Hansbrough, F, North Carolina

Against an athletic LSU frontline, Hansbrough had an average performance. His so-so offensive skills make him a sub-par offensive low post player who too often depends on hustle plays to get his numbers. Moreover, he continues to show mediocre physical strength, as he struggles to seal defenders, and is often rooted off his low post position. Thus far, the two Tournament games have not enhanced his stock.

Darren Collison, G, UCLA

Collison graded out just as advertised. He showed all the traits that will make him a draft selection – solid ballhawking defense on Eric Maynor, an excellent first step which allows him to penetrate without making any complicated moves, a pass-first mentality, and a reliable outside stroke.

However, he also showed all the flaws that will make him get passed over in the lottery – shaky ballhandling, indecision, and an inability to impose his will and take over the game.

To reach his true potential in the NBA, Collison will need a Nellie or D’Antoni-type coach who will give him the green light to create, so that he may one day realize just how good he can be. Unfortunately, both of those coaches will be drafting in this year’s lottery.

Marcus Thornton, G, LSU

Thornton put his name on the NBA radar with two high-scoring performances in which he displayed good range from deep.

Sweet 16 Predictions

In the Midwest, Kansas will prevail over an overrated Michigan State team, while Louisville wins a close one over Arizona. In the Lousville-Arizona game, expect Louisville’s Earl Clark to get the best of his matchup with Chase Budinger, but expect Arizona’s Jordan Hill to wreak havoc on yardie Samardo Samuels and the rest of the Louisville bigs.

In the East, Pitt prevails in a close one over a mediocre Xavier team, while Villanova defeats Duke in an exciting clash of two evenly-matched squads.

In the South, expect a classic battle between Gonzaga and Carolina, with Carolina prevailing in a close one. Gonzaga's Josh Heytvelt will surprise by outplaying Hansbrough, but a rested Ty Lawson will prove to be the difference for Carolina.

As for the Syracuse-Oklahoma matchup, expect Syracuse to emerge victorious despite another excellent game from Blake Griffin. Credit a great game from Jonny Flynn and a week's worth of Jim Boeheim preparation for providing the Orange with a victory.

In the West, Connecticut romps over Purdue in the one sure-thing lock game of the Sweet 16. Meanwhile, overhyped Memphis wins a close one over Missouri, but not without some struggle, as Memphis will be forced to run more offense in their half court sets.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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