Coach’s Notebook: Potential NCAA Upsets
During March Madness HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on players, matchups and strategies from the NCAA Tournament. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA and collegiate players on their skills and game understanding. During tournament time the Coach’s Notebook will appear on HOOPSWORLD once or twice per week.
First Round Fun
Three potential upsets to consider when watching the round of 64 this Thursday and Friday:
(5) West Virginia vs. (12) Clemson: Brad Brownlee’s Tigers have senior experience in guard Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant and they play smothering defense, holding teams below 40% shooting from the floor. They come in having played well in the ACC Tournament despite their meltdown against North Carolina and their win in the "First Four" could give them some momentum heading into their matchup with West Virginia. Bob Huggins has experience as well, but they did not finish the season on the upswing, and facing a hungry Clemson team is not what the doctor ordered.
(6) Cincinnati vs. (11) Missouri: The Missouri Tigers are the kind of team that gives opponents headaches. Relentless pressure means Cincinnati will not be able to get into a rhythm, and while they played a very tough Big East schedule the Bearcats may have a tough time with Mike Anderson’s group. One of the toughest things to handle is a team that knows its identity and plays to its strengths, and that is at the core for Mizzou.
(7) UCLA vs. (10) Michigan State: A pre-season top 5 team, the Michigan State season reached full out roller coaster status early and never really got on track. However, Tom Izzo is one of the nation’s best at turning a basketball contest into a football game, and while the Bruins are not your average Pac-10 softie it will be hard for them to match the Spartans intensity throughout. Expect the veterans from Michigan State to pull through here.
Channeling the Spirit of Glenn Robinson
The player most likely to improve his draft stock and ride an excellent tournament to a top 3 selection and NBA riches looks to be North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes. Folks already know he is a mature, savvy, and versatile player. However, he showed through the semifinals of the ACC Tournament he is also capable of turning on an assassin switch.
While Barnes struggled early this season, few doubted his talent. However, some questioned his toughness and heart, and Barnes dropped to the mid-to-late teens on some draft analysis websites. This drop-off may have been a bit premature.
It is not a coincidence Barnes’ overall level of play improved when Tar Heel freshman point guard Kendall Marshall began to play a more stable and significant role. Marshall has always done an excellent job at playing within the rhythm of his teammates and that has helped Barnes’ confidence (and shooting percentage).
Should North Carolina make a big run in this year’s tournament, it would not surprise me to see Harrison Barnes have a monster postseason, similar to the kind of dominance combo forward Glenn Robinson displayed on his way to the first overall selection in the 1994 NBA Draft.
Re-integrating Kyrie Irving
When news broke about the potential for Kyrie Irving to rejoin Duke’s active roster, pundits immediately began speculating about the best way to re-introduce him on the floor, with a few saying to not even consider playing him this weekend and save him for next.
While this line of thought has merit in the sense you give his presence no chance to mess with the team’s mojo, it also prevents him from having a shot at finding a niche with no pressure. Provided Irving has a chance to practice with the team at full speed at least once, there is no reason to hold him back from action during this weekend’s games.
Irving can fit back into a slot as the first or second guard off the bench pretty easily, and he could even remain there throughout Duke’s tournament run (however long that is). Playing him in short bursts, giving him a chance to put his toe in the pool, makes sense, particularly if he has been around learning what changes Mike Krzyzewski has implemented as the season continued. This approach will do the most to help him be prepared to help the Blue Devils win.
In the end, it is easier and more fruitful to give him a chance to come back during Duke’s first two matchups, as they are likely to be the "softest" competition they will face in this tournament.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Mondays at 2PM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @CoachMacri.