St. Louis: Regional Preview

By Jerry Palm - March 22, 2007

I'm sitting in a mostly empty Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis awaiting the start of open practice for the Florida, er, Midwest Regional. Sorry for the Freudian slip, but there is good reason to expect the Gators to come out of here...

Florida got a bit of a scare from Purdue in the second round in New Orleans, but I'll be surprised if anyone here gives them as much of fight. That's because, while the other three teams here are not only accomplished, but pretty good, none of them have an inside presence as good as Purdue's Carl Landry. Landry, to remind you, is the Boilermakers' 6'7" center, who had 18 points and 10 boards against the Gators. However, as strong as he is, he could not defend Al Horford down the stretch of that game, and that ended up being the reason why Florida was able to escape.

Oregon, UNLV and especially Butler, have nobody as strong or productive in the post as Landry, and that's going to make it very difficult to defend the Gators inside duo of Horford and Joakim Noah.

Oh, one more minor point. Florida leads the nation in three point defense. Teams only shoot 28.7% from beyond the arc against the Gators. That's not good news for the other teams here.

Butler, Florida's first opponent, is a total perimeter team. They are led by guards AJ Graves' 17.1 ppg and Mike Green's 13.9. The 6' Green is also the team's leading rebounder at 6 per game, which is definitely not a good sign. One thing working for Butler is that it is the best in the nation at taking care of the ball, averaging only 9.5 turnovers per game. The Bulldogs are also one of the nation's best free throw shooting teams, led by Graves' 95.3%. Graves has missed only seven freebies all year, but I've witnessed three of them in the three Butler games I covered this season, so I'm going to try to make sure he doesn't know I'm here.

For Butler to spring this upset, they are going to have to have a special night shooting the ball, generate some turnovers on defense and do whatever it takes to keep the ball from getting inside.

Oregon came here after two wins at the Spokane pod against Miami-Ohio and Winthrop. The Ducks really struggled against Miami, but handled the Eagles pretty easily. They are also a guard-oriented team, led by the Pac 10's leading scorer Aaron Brooks. In fact, "guard-oriented" might be understating things. Oregon starts 4 guards and 6'9" Maarty Leunen, who coach Ernie Kent refers to as his fifth guard. Even though Brooks averages almost 18 ppg, the scoring is relatively balanced with all five starters in double figures. The Ducks live and die with the three point shot. They set team and conference records with 329 made and 852 attempts.

UNLV is the lowest seeded team remaining in the tournament. The seventh-seeded Rebels knocked off Georgia Tech and Wisconsin to get here. They are - stop me if you've heard this one before - a perimeter team that essentially starts four guards. Wink Adams, Michael Umeh and Kevin Kruger are true guards, while Wendell White is more of a small forward, but has good ball handling skills. Like the other challengers to the Gators, UNLV doesn't have a whole lot of size. Vegas is a pretty good defensive team, as they showed against both Tech and UW in Chicago. They led the Mountain West in turnover margin.

I like Oregon to beat UNLV because they are basically the same, but the Ducks have better athletes. However, the game will probably come down to whichever team hits their shots.

Posted by Jerry Palm at 01:55 PM on March 22, 2007

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