By Dennis Berry
Of the five SEC teams that earned bids into the NCAA Tournament, only Florida and Kentucky will move on to the Sweet 16. They were the best teams in the SEC all year, and were the only two teams to win and move on to round 32.
Before we take a look at what Florida and Kentucky face in the Sweet 16. Let’s take a look at what happened to the other SEC teams.
The Georgia Bulldogs had a really tough match up in the first round as the faced the Pac-10 Tournament Champions, the Washington Huskies. The Bulldogs lost 68-65 in a game that was played in Charlotte, NC. This was a great back-and-forth game in the round of 64. The game was tied at 28-28 at halftime and the Bulldogs had a chance to send the game into overtime, but Travis Leslie's three point shot at the buzzer was off. Trey Thompkins lead all scorers with 26 and was also the top rebounder with 11. Georgia has been one and done in the NCAA in four of their last five trips.
It was another one and done for the Vanderbilt Commodores as they lost to the Richmond Spiders 69-66 in the Southwest region. Vanderbilt was up by as many as 11 points in the first half, but they could not hold on to the lead. This has been a problem for Vanderbilt throughout their season, as they were up on Florida in the SEC Tournament and could not hold on either. What really hurt the Commodores was that Jeffery Taylor, one of their best scorers, only scored 4 points in the game. Festus Ezeli tried to pick up the slack as he lead Vanderbilt with 21 points. With the loss, Vanderbilt became the first program to lose in the round of 64 three straight times with a seed of 5 or better.
The roller coaster season that was Tennessee Volunteers basketball came to an end after being blown out against the Michigan Wolverines 75-45 in Charlotte, NC. Tennessee was only down 33-29 at halftime, but the Wolverines dominated the Volunteers 42-16 in the second half. Tennessee did not look interested in the second half and Tobias Harris summed up Tennessee's second half effort saying, "We played with no heart." Now the question becomes what will happen in Knoxville. Will Bruce Pearl be the coach next year?
So now let's take a look at the two teams that are still alive in the NCAA Tournament and what they have ahead of them next week.
The Florida Gators have moved on to the Southeast Regional Semi-Finals after defeating UC-Santa Barbara in the opening round 79-51. Then they eliminated the UCLA Bruins 73-65.
So now the Gators will get to face the 3 seed BYU Cougars on Thursday night in New Orleans. The Cougars have the best scorer in the NCAA this year in Jimmer Fredette. Fredette averaged 28.8 points a games this year. Some SEC fans may not have had a chance to actually see Fredette play and only see highlights. Well he lives up to the hype as a one man scoring machine. He comes into the game averaging 33 points a game in the NCAA.
Fredette is their only main threat to score, though. Since BYU lost Brandon Davies to suspension, they are 5-2. Davies was the team's best rebounder and third leading scorer.
The Gators need to attack the post in this game. BYU's tallest player is 6'10". The Gators have three players the same size in Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin, and Erik Murphy. Alex Tyus is only 6'-8", but can be a force in the post.
19 March 2011: UCLA (22) Reeves Nelson grabs a rebound against Forward Alex Tyus (23) of the Florida Gators during the UCLA Bruins game versus Florida Gators at the St Pete Times Forum in Tampa, FL.
If the Gators can work their offense from the inside out and force BYU to double team the post, it should leave open shots for Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and at times Parsons from the outside. Florida does not want to just take outside shots all game, they need to attack the post.
The Gators should let Fredette do whatever he wants, but make sure no one else hurts them. Florida has more talent and is deeper than BYU.
If they move on they will face the winner of Butler-Wisconsin.
Butler knocked off the Southeast Region's 1 seed Pittsburgh and is playing its best basketball at the right time of the year. The Bulldogs are lead by Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. They are looking for another trip to the Final Four.
Wisconsin earned its trip to New Orleans after beating Kansas State 70-65. The Badgers are one of the best defensive teams in the country as they only allowed 58.5 points a game, which was the fifth best in the country. They are lead by Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor.
This should be a good match up with both teams heavy on upper classmen in their main rotations. I would lean more towards the Badgers pulling out the win, based on the fact that they have proven that they can stop teams when they need to.
In an Elite 8 match up of Florida and Wisconsin, they main question will be how will Florida handle the Badgers defense. The last time Florida faced a quality defense was Kentucky in the SEC Tournament, which Florida lost. The Gators cannot simply stand around and take outside jumpers. They will have to be aggressive and attack Wisconsin's defense.
If they do that, Florida should return to the Final Four for the first time since 2007.
The Kentucky Wildcats are back in the Sweet 16 for the second straight season. They got there by defeating the Princeton Tigers 59-57 their opening round game. Then they beat the West Virginia Mountaineers 71-63, getting revenge after last year's Wildcats loss to the Mountaineers in the Elite 8.
The Wildcats will face the 1 seed in the East Region on Friday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes come in after defeating George Mason 98-66 on Sunday night. The Buckeyes are the most complete team in the NCAA. They have a dominate low post presence in Jared Sullinger. Plus they have outstanding shooters on the outside with Jon Diebler, William Burford, David Lighty, and Aaron Craft. Their three point shooting was on full display against George Mason as they hit 16 of 21three point shots for 61%.
March 19, 2011: Guard (12) Brandon Knight of the Kentucky Wildcats during the second half of the Kentucky Wildcats game versus West Virginia Mountaineers at the St Pete Times Forum in Tampa, FL.
One positive for the Wildcats is that Kentucky has time to prepare for Ohio State. If this was a 24 hour turnaround, then you would probably have a replay of what the Buckeyes did to the Patroits. Kentucky has four days to review Ohio State and see how they can attack.
The one area that Kentucky has a clear disadvantage is in the post. Josh Harrellson has had an outstanding NCAA tournament averaging 15 points and 9 rebounds so far. But he will have his problems against Sullinger, who is just too much for Harrellson. With the way that Ohio State shoots, you would have to believe that Kentucky's best chance to win is to not double team Sullinger in the post. Let Harrellson play him straight up and not let the Buckeyes shooters kill you.
Kentucky actually matches up well with Ohio State on the outstide with Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, DeAndre Liggins, and Darius Miller. Kentucky plays six to seven players and the Buckeyes only have a seven man rotation.
Kentucky will have to play its best game of the year if they want to win.
If Kentucky finds a way to defeat Ohio State, they would face the winner of North Carolina and Marquette.
North Carolina defeated Washington 85-83 to make it to New Jersey. The Tar Heels have been playing their best basketball of the year as they are 13-2 since the beginning of February. Their only losses have been to Duke.
The Tar Heels have great low presence with Tyler Zeller and John Henson. But the key to the rise of the Tar Heels have been freshmen Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes. It was a struggle for Barnes to start the year, but when Marshall took over as point guard both Barnes and the Tar Heels offense has taken off.
Marquette was able to beat Syracuse 66-62. The Golden Eagles were made an 11 seed, but have taken out the 6 seed Xavier and then the 3 seed Syracuse. Some may have looked at them as a team that maybe got in only because they were in the Big East. They have made the most of it with their first trip to the Sweet 16 since Dwyane Wade played there. Marquette is lead by Darius Johnson-Odom, who averaged 16 points a game in the regular season and 18 in two NCAA games. The other main scoring threats are Jimmy Butler and Joe Crowder.
The favorite to come out of this region would have to be Ohio State. They have been one of the best teams all season long. They will have to go through Kentucky and possibly North Carolina, two of the greatest basketball programs, to get to the Final Four. You have to believe the NCAA would love to have a Kentucky-North Carolina match up to decide a Final Four spot.
The one great thing about getting to this time of the year is that all the remaining teams are playing their best basketball. That makes watching that much better for fans of all teams.
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