In this post, we go through the first round matchups on the way to our epic fantasy Final Four.
Once again, thanks so much for your comments, tweets, and e-mails that have helped us to completely fill out this tournament and not leave anyone out.
If you need a refresher of the rosters, click here.
A few quick comments before we get to the game-by-game analysis:
Marquette – In or Out?
A few of you noted that Marquette could field a pretty decent seven-man squad that would definitely compete with the bottom seeds. While this is true, and Dwyane Wade would definitely be an exciting entry into the tournament, they still only fielded seven players, four of which were pretty downright weak (Wake Forest only had seven as well…but they had two all-time greats.)
So, Marquette misses the tournament by a hair. Even if they had been a low seed, they would have easily lost to any of the higher seeds in the tournament, so I think we are ok.
Why are some rosters bigger than others?
When twelve players were available from one school, we fielded the best 12 players. When fewer were available, we took as many as we could – this is why the team sizes varied.
What about Enes Kanter?
Many of you have lobbied for Enes Kanter to make Kentucky’s squad. While he would definitely be a quality addition to the Wildcat squad, he never actually played a game for Coach Cal.
Did he practice all season with the team? Yes. Did he still go to Kentucky? Yes. Would it make sense to include him on the team since this entire post is about deciding which school ends up having the best PROS? Yes.
I don’t care. I have to draw the line somewhere, and it’s just too much fun to troll Kentucky fans.
Big Blue Nation is lucky I didn’t institute the suggested requirement of a friend: that players’ minutes should be limited to the percentage of degree progress they made at their respective schools, which would allow the majority of these Kentucky guys to play only one quarter. (Although that would have been fun, I didn’t want Duke to win…so, yeah.)
After all of the analysis and argumentation was finished, we were left with the following bracket:
Here’s the game-by-game breakdown of what ACTUALLY happened in these fictional games.
Three of the preliminary games were pretty straightforward, with Florida, Connecticut, and Duke marching through easily. Let’s pick up the game by game analysis in Allen Fieldhouse where the Kansas Jayhawks were hosting the North Carolina Tar-Heels.
8-9 Matchup: Kansas vs. UNC
It’s always a big matchup when two of the top five national programs get together. When the stage is this big, well it’s even bigger.
At first glance, UNC seemed to have a pretty big advantage in terms of name recognition and depth. Further, the backcourt matchup was about as one-sided as it gets with Ty Lawson and the young, always improving Harrison Barnes matching up against Mario Chalmers and an aging Kirk Hinrich. (And for those who only remember Harrison Barnes being a disappointment at UNC, he’s already becoming a much better pro than he was a college player – see George, Paul for more information.)
Kansas did, however, control one aspect of the game: they absolutely owned the interior.
Poor Tyler Zeller and Tyler Hansbrough stood no chance against Nick Collison, Thomas Robinson, Darrell Arthur, Drew Gooden, Cole Aldrich, and the Morris twins. The Tar Heels even sent out a last second telegram to Antawn Jamison, but were informed that he was at an all you can eat Chinese Buffet and wouldn’t be available by game time.
Kansas jumped out to an early 8-point lead as Zeller and Hansbrough went to the bench with early foul trouble. With ten minutes left in the first half, UNC’s luck appeared to be changing, as Paul Pierce was back-boarded off the court with what seemed to be a terrifying, life-threatening injury. Only fifteen seconds later though, he skipped back onto the court and hit a huge three to bump the lead up to eleven.
UNC entered halftime down 10, with little hopes of advancing.
But then, Roy Williams did something very uncharacteristic of him … he made a half-time adjustment. UNC came out small in the second half, playing Lawson, Felton, Barnes, Green, and the under-appreciated Marvin Williams.
After Carolina hit five threes in the first three minutes of the second half, Kansas responded by taking away their only advantage and trying to match UNC’s quickness. They were unable to stop the bleeding.
In one of the most exciting halves of the entire tournament, the Tar Heels outscored Kansas 61-41 in the second half and walked out of Allen Fieldhouse with a 101-91 victory.
1-9 Matchup: Kentucky vs. UNC
UNC marched into Rupp Arena feeling very confident about their recent victory over a fellow top five program. There was no reason to think that their matchup with the uber-athletic but severely flawed Kentucky Wildcats would be any different.
They were wrong.
Kentucky had watched the previous game and responded with something that few teams are able to do – they changed nothing.
UNC was smart to start this game how they had played the entire second half against Kansas. Although Zeller and Hansbrough fit the mold for normal basketball lineups, Williams wisely chose to instead play his five best players.
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, Kentucky’s starting five wasn’t worried at all about UNC’s speed and quickness. DeMarcus Cousins was able to close out on Marvin Williams’ corner threes, while Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t even let their men touch the ball.
On offense, Cousins and Davis took turns abusing their defenders inside and out. John Wall and Rajon Rondo were simply too long and athletic for the smaller Felton and Lawson, and Coach Cal could even rest his guards by subbing in Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight with little to no fall-off.
This time, there were no adjustments to be made, and despite only shooting 1-14 from long range, Kentucky literally ran the older, smaller, slower Tar Heels off the floor, 113-84.
4-5 Matchup: Wake Forest vs. Florida
This matchup was about as competitive as it got.
Wake Forest came in with two all-time greats: one in his prime, the other still playing at an extremely high level. Tim Duncan and Chris Paul provided one of the greatest inside-outside combos in basketball history, right up there with Magic and Kareem, Stockton and Malone, and Cousy and Russell.
For those of you that think the previous sentence was hyperbolic, you clearly haven’t been following Chris Paul closely enough the last three seasons.
On the other side, you have a Florida team that could dominate you with size, size, and more size.
The question was two-fold: could Wake get enough from its role players to survive, and could their two all-time greats make up for their lack of depth?
In a seven game series, the answer would undoubtedly be NO. But in this one-game, winner-take-all format, CP3 and The Big Fundamental brought their best.
Florida started in a box-and-one, with Noah, Horford, Lee, and Chandler Parsons shutting down the interior and Corey Brewer hounding Chris Paul everywhere he went. Interestingly enough, Wake Forest also played zone, crowding the paint, and daring David Lee, Corey Brewer, and Parsons to make threes.
Let’s just say, this wasn’t a scoring fest.
Billy Donovan countered midway through the first half, and subbed in Bradley Beal and Matt Bonner for Brewer and Parsons. Beal and Bonner began to stretch the zone as Duncan became unable to keep Noah, Horford, and David Lee off the boards at the same time. In the meantime, Al-Farouq Aminu and Josh Howard were simply laughable from 15-20 feet, and Florida entered halftime with a 7-point cushion.
In the second half though, Wake had a new gameplan. In a startling turn of events, Duncan and Paul did something that will never be seen again: they literally played 2-on-5.
Jeff Teague and Josh Howard planted themselves in each corner. Aminu stood at half-court, guarding against transition baskets. And CP3 and Duncan ran the pick-and-roll…over and over and over again.
Florida tried everything. When they showed hard at the top of the key, Duncan slipped the screen and got a layup. When they tried to hedge at the elbow, Duncan popped and buried his patented bank shot. When they tried to slide under the screen, Chris Paul buried the 20-footer. When they tried to switch or double team, Teague was able to knock down the open three.
Still, Florida could not be stopped on offense, and while Wake Forest began to score at will, they weren’t able completely cut into the lead.
With 18 seconds left, Wake finally got a stop and trailed 79-78. Paul looked at his hapless coach, shook off the time out, and set up the pick-and-roll one more time. Brewer, Beal, and Lee all rushed him at the top of the key. Horford fronted Duncan, while Noah protected the rim. Aminu, Howard, and Teague were all wide open.
But Paul did what the great point guards always do. He had involved them enough, now was his time. He knifed through the triple team, jump-stopped into the lane, and threw up a floater over Noah’s outstretched arms as time expired.
Wake Forest 80, Florida 79.
2-7 Matchup: Texas vs. Connecticut
The more I look at this UConn team, the more I think that they should have been ranked higher than 7th. They possess everything a team could ask for: legitimate size, legitimate speed and athleticism, and legitimate depth.
Unfortunately, they lack a true alpha dog.
Andre Drummond and Ray Allen are both a few years away from their prime in one direction or the other. I would love to say that Kemba Walker would be fantastic with better teammates, but we simply can’t say that for sure yet.
That leaves us with Rudy Gay, a guy that’s always been very good but has never been great – and who constantly leaves you thinking that he’s simply not good enough to be option A on a great team.
Texas, on the other hand, is nearly perfectly built.
Not only do they have the second best player on earth in Kevin Durant, but LaMarcus Aldridge is a multiple All-Star whose inside-outside combination of skills meshes with Durant’s skill set perfectly. Tristan Thompson will do all of the dirty stuff inside and on the boards, Avery Bradley is one of the league’s top five perimeter defenders, and while DJ Augustin leaves us all lukewarm, he is a pass-first point guard that is also a serviceable outside shooter and floor spacer.
Connecticut probably has 9 of the top 13 players in this matchup, but Texas has the top two. UConn has a great collection of talent, but Texas has a wonderfully put together team.
Finally, Rick Barnes has a team that makes sense, and no matter how hard he tries, even he can’t mess it up…yet.
In a game that was closer and more entertaining than a lot of people expected, Durant scored 45 in a 101-93 victory over the Huskies.
3-6 Matchup: UCLA vs. Duke
I’m not sure which mismatch is more one-sided: UCLA’s players vs. Duke’s players or Ben Howland vs. Mike Kzrysewski.
Actually, that’s easy. The coaching matchup is much more lopsided.
Duke has better players than most people realize, beginning with Kyrie Irving, the league’s third best PG and one of its best crunch time scorers. Carlos Boozer, Elton Brand, and Luol Deng have all made All-Star teams recently, and J.J. Redick, Shane Battier, and Grant Hill all fill specific needs.
Unfortunately for Duke, they still don’t dominate a single individual matchup.
Russell Westbrook is simply better than Irving, and JJ Redick can’t even approach defending Jrue Holiday. Down low, as good as Boozer and Brand are offensively, Kevin Love will have his way with both of them both down low and stretching the floor for his slashing guards.
Duke does have a deeper bench, but their bench players don’t bring as much to the table as Darren Collison (a blur in the open court) and Luc Mbah a Moute (one of the premier defensive players in the league).
Kyrie and company kept the game close enough for a while. Coach K threw some complicated defenses at the Bruins, and he tried to exploit the Boozer/Barnes matchup on offense. But at the end of the day, it was too much Westbrook for Duke to handle.
On the few occasions Duke did manage to force Westbrook into bad decisions, Love was there to clean up the mess. Holiday also chipped in a surprising (only to people who haven’t watched the All Star this year) 22 points in the Bruins 105-98 victory.
Final Four Matchups:
Kentucky vs. Wake Forest
Texas vs. UCLA
To be concluded on Monday…