Winston-Salem: Clash Of The Coaching Titans

By Matt Meyers - March 14, 2007

When examining the teams scheduled to play in the Winston-Salem regional, the biggest thing that jumps out is the coaching fire power on display. North Carolina's Roy Williams, Texas Tech's Bobby Knight and Michigan State's Tom Izzo have a comined 14 Final Four appearances and five national titles.

Though Knight has three of those titles, his NCAA tournament winning percentage (.640) is a step behind Williams and Izzo, who have a .724 and .742 NCAA tourney winning percentages respecitvely. Should they both win their opening games, it would be a rematch of the 2005 Final Four when the Heels took down the Spartans 87-71.

While Carolina beating Eastern Kentucky is essentially a foregone conclusion (sorry), Michigan State is in for a fight against Marquette in the 8-9 game. That fight got a little easier when it was announced on Tuesday that Marquette guard Jerel McNeal will miss the opening round. McNeal is second on the team in points (14.7 per game) and assists (3.8 per game) and was named Big East defensive player of the year. The Golden Eagles have been without his services for their last three games and are not helpless in his absence. They beat Pittsburgh and St. John's without him before losing to Pitt in the Big East tourney. With McNeal out, the burden falls on backourt mate Dominic James to proverbially step up. He will be matched up with Michigan State’s Drew Neitzel.

The other prominent subplot in this contest is Izzo coaching against Tom Crean, one of his former assistants. Its been written about ad nauseam elsewhere, so we’ll move on.

The regional kicks off a little after noon on Thursday with seventh-seeded Boston College taking on Knight's Texas Tech squad. Tech is heavily guard-oriented, getting 37 points per game from the backcourt of Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno. The old adage says that guards win in the NCAAs. If this is the case, then Tech should win. They are more likely to win because Boston College has lost five of their last seven games, and ACC player of the year Jared Dudley seems to be wearing down. Playing 39 minutes a game will do that to you. The Eagles need guards Tyrese Rice and Sean Marshall to minimize the impact of Zeno and Jackson.

Though we have established the Carolina is going to beat EKU, we should at least envision a scenario where an upset is pulled. This is the first time since 1990 that the Ohio Valley Conference champion has gotten a No. 16 seed. That year Murrary State took Michigan State to overtime before losing 75-71.

Guards Mike Rose and Adam Leonard are the Colonels leading scorers and both attempt about 10 three-pointers per game. Should they combine to hit 60 percent of those, they could keep it close. Their tallest player is 6-foot-7, so it is hard to imagine them not being dominated inside.

Belmont is in a similar boat to Eastern Kentucky as they take on Georgetown, who like Carolina is coming off a conference tournament title. The Bruins led the Atlantic Sun in scoring defense as well as field-goal and three-point percentage defense and if they can maintain those sort of numbers, they will make life difficult for the Hoyas. Senior center Boomer Herndon is 6-foot-10, 255 pounds so he will not be completely overmatched physically by Georgetown behemoth Roy Hibbert.

No matter what happens on Thursday, I'm just hoping to see a One Shining Moment moment. It's my first time covering the opening round of the NCAA tournament, is that too much to ask? The ball is tipped . . .

Posted by Matt Meyers at 06:39 PM on March 14, 2007

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