Nine Who Can Win It All In ’09

Posted: March 16, 2009 by Steve Steurer in Louisville Basketball

twillThe following is what Pat Forde of ESPN.com had to say about this year’s Big Dance.

Connecticut. The Huskies have the ultimate interior deterrent in Hasheem Thabeet, and the combination of Thabeet and Jeff Adrien on the glass means opponents will have to work incredibly hard to prevent second-chance points or get any offensive rebounds. Senior A.J. Price hits big shots and, when he’s making good decisions, is a stellar point guard. Freshman Kemba Walker can break down a defense. Stanley Robinson is the athletic X factor. The question is whether UConn can overcome the loss of wingman Jerome Dyson and end its recent string of inglorious tourney exits.

Duke. This is a tougher, more athletic and more experienced Blue Devils team than the past two, which were bounced rather rudely by VCU and West Virginia. Gerald Henderson has played at an elite level most of the season, and he has plenty of offensive support from Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler. Duke is better able to guard the perimeter this season, and if it can hold its own inside against elite opponents, could show up in Detroit.

Gonzaga. The Minutes isn’t convinced the Zags have the requisite toughness to grind out a close, low-scoring, defense-and-rebounding game against a physical opponent. But the talent Mark Few has assembled is impressive and Gonzaga is on a major roll at the right time. They won’t go into many (if any) games outmanned.

Kansas. Championship experience for Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich has helped catapult them to standout seasons in starring roles. The surrounding cast is young, but very talented. And Self can coach more freely this time around. It’s tough to love a team that lost two of its last three games to Texas Tech and Baylor, but there’s at least a lot to like about the Big 12 regular-season champions.

Louisville. Nobody plays better defense than the Cardinals, who disrupt dribblers with their quick hands and alter shots with their length. Nobody has a more versatile player than senior forward Terrence Williams. Nobody has the perfect player to match up with Clark. And nobody has a better tournament coach than Pitino.

Memphis. The hottest team in the country, and it’s not even close. And in classic John Calipari fashion, he’s ceaselessly playing the no-respect card over the reticence in some corners to award the Tigers a No. 1 seed. Memphis is athletic, long, relentless and has the same Final Four confidence experience as the Jayhawks going for it. This is a very dangerous team whose only worry is whether it can even remember what it’s like to play a high-level opponent.

North Carolina. The Tar Heels have the most talent — and the most experienced talent — which is a fine place to start. When in doubt — and everyone should have some doubt after this regular season — it’s never a bad thing to go with what your gut says is the best team. If Lawson is healthy, the only major concern is whether the Heels will guard with true zeal for six straight games. Oh, and the Uptight Roy Factor.

Pittsburgh. The Panthers looked like national championship material in dominating UConn twice and have three of the very best in the nation at their crucial positions: Blair inside, Sam Young on the wing and Levance Fields at the point. They will guard and board until the last dog dies. They can score better than any Pitt team of recent vintage. The one thing the Panthers have not done is get there before, and that’s a factor. Especially with the coach.

Villanova (65). Wild-card pick based on the inside-out production of Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds, the solid coaching of Jay Wright and the commitment to guard for the full 40 just about every game. But Reynolds needs to be hitting from the perimeter or this team can sometimes struggle for baskets.

The One Who Will Win It All

Louisville. Pitino becomes the first coach to win NCAA titles at two schools. And the intolerable cruelty only intensifies in Lexington.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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