You might hear more from me - or Pay - otherwise; however, I'm going to ride my tournament momentum and address a few issues on the upcoming weekend of regional semi-finals and finals.
Midwest = Mid-day Monday
West = Late Monday
East = Early Tuesday (aka BELOW)
South = Mid-to-late Tuesday
Denis Clemente, Frank Martin, and the Wildcats got their shot last night.
Up next, the East region.
Up next, the East region.
#1 Kentucky vs. #12 Cornell
Kentucky QUESTION: Simply put, question is: who stabilizes Kentucky when they start to struggle? If the Wildcats start out slow, hit a rough patch from the field mid-way through a tighter than expected second half, or suffer foul trouble from Cousins or Wall, who is the stabilizing presence on the court? Perhaps the answer can be found below.
Kentucky X-FACTOR: Speed. I talked about tempo, at length, when dissecting the Xavier/Kansas State matchup in the Midwest region. The same must be said about this affair between the Wildcats and the Big Red. Cornell has shown before - particularly against Rock, Chalk - that they can score with the big boys. Problem is: can they score for 40 minutes with Kentucky? Probably not, considering the pace John Wall and company are known to play with.
Wildcat I'm Watching: Perhaps I'm more guilty than most for underrating Patrick Patterson's versatility. While I think's it's completely moronic for him to chuck up any 3s - no less more than 1 - in a game, Cousins affords him extra spacing in the paint and his mid-range game has steadily improved this season. While he's not their top option, he's as close as the Wildcats have to a veteran on the court. Might come in hand against a team (Cornell) oozing with senior leadership.
Cornell QUESTION: Question is, does Cornell have the bodies and the legs to withstand the runs Kentucky is capable of putting together? Cornell simply can't afford to be down by double-digits early on. This doesn't mean chucking up 3s and hoping to build an early 12-5(ish) lead. Instead, it's valuing possessions, limiting second chance opportunities for the Wildcats, and getting to the charity stripe. Hitting open 3s wouldn't hurt though. Unfortunately, much of that is quite a tall order against most people's prohibitive tournament favorite, Kentucky.
Cornell X-FACTOR: Veteran leadership. Cornell has a slew of seniors who know each other, their system, and exactly what their coach asks of them. Sounds a little like Northern Iowa, doesn't it? Cornell won't be rattled by Kentucky; however, let's not pretend Temple and Wisconsin run an offense anywhere near as talented and free-wheelin' as the Wildcats do. I don't buy any sort of hometown discount playing in Syracuse, either. Kentucky travels as well as any program in the nation. Bank on that.
Big Red I'm Watching: Ryan Wittman may be the star of Cornell, but beating Kentucky will take a star-making performance from senior point guard Louis Dale. Clark Kellog noted, quite wisely, that Dale plays at a speed that's "as fast as the situation calls for." Dale doesn't need to blow by opponents on every possession, just the ones where the lane is clear. His ability to make Wall work on defense - and effectively attack the paint - will go a long way in Cornell pulling off the upset.
#2 West Virginia vs. #11 Washington
Washington QUESTION: Star power is the name of the game. Question is, can Quincy Pondexter go toe to toe with De'Sean Butler?
Washington X-FACTOR: Washington needs to get to the free throw line 20+ times and make 80% of them. That's not gonna be easy. 9-14 (64%) and 10-20 (50%) in their two opening victories are HIGHLY unimpressive numbers. West Virginia has 4 players on the court who can hit a 3 - covered or uncovered - deeper than you'd expect. To nullify that, make your free throws and force the Mountaineers into working for their shots, wherever they come from.
Husky I'm Watching: Quincy Pondexter is the star of this team. He may need to score 30+ and effectively bang for 35+ minutes against a team of forwards. Nevertheless, Isaiah Thomas Jr. needs to isolate West Virginia's glaring weakness, the point guard position. If Thomas can protect the ball and establish himself with a confident penetrating dribble, Mazzulla is foul prone and Bryant can turn into a walking disaster in little to no time. Win the point guard battle and Washington's improbable run can more easily continue.
West Virginia QUESTION: I hate to be redundant, but if the point needs to be made...in fact, I'll make it two or three times if I have to. For the Mountaineers, question is: how do they limit Quincy Pondexter's touches and if they can't, how do they avoid fouling him as he attacks the hoop off the dribble?
West Virginia X-FACTOR: It's obviously the point guard position. Bob Huggins would be foolish to expect the duo of Mazzulla/Bryant to go for 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists (with less than 5 turnovers). Problem is: he's gonna need that. Isaiah Thomas Jr. is a young, dynamic point guard in the making who can cause trouble for the WVU backcourt. Unless they can find one of the two to be a steadying force, West Virginia may be forced late in possessions to take tough, contested shots. Or to rely to heavily on Mr. Butler (if that's possible).
Mountaineer I'm Watching: Devin Ebanks seemed like a safe pick as preseason All-America. On a team full of forwards, he was the most willing to give up his body and make a play in the lane. Or so we thought. While his stats are far from dissapointing (12 points and 8 rebounds), I keep expecting Ebanks to show his lottery potential and take over games mid-way through the second half. Perhaps Bob Huggins and De'Sean Butler have something to do with that. Nevertheless, if Butler struggles - which isn't out of the question - can Ebanks control the glass or get to the free throw line (two things he can excel at) often enough to stem the tide before Mr. Clutch (eventually) arrives?
The final region, the South, gets its due later tonight.