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Defense Comes Up Big Time in Tourneys
You will notice many of the strong defensive teams advanced in this past weekend's blitz of NCAA tournament games. Texas A&M was a good example of a sound, disciplined, though undersized, defensive team that exceeded expectations. The Aggies knocked off Syracuse in the first game, 66-58, playing their style, a slow, defensive game. Then in the next round, they should have upset LSU, until a back-breaking three-pointer in the final seconds beat them 58-57.

Still, Texas A&M went 2-0 against the spread as defense kept them close. UCLA was impressive on the defensive end, as Ben Howland had the troops playing some terrific D. Great defense from upstarts Bradley and George Mason led the way in their Sunday upsets over Pitt and North Carolina.

After 9 of the first 16 games went over the total on Thursday, an almost even 9-7 split on totals, notice that the next three days the unders ruled 11-5, 6-3 and 5-3. Like in all sports, defense is most important when the games mean more. We all watched the Steelers romp through the NFL playoffs on their way to winning the Super Bowl. They pulled upsets over the Colts and Broncos with a ferocious defense leading the way.

Think back to the NBA Finals almost a year ago. Who faced each other? The Pistons and Spurs, certainly not teams where offense comes to mind as the strengths of each. Defense, and lower scoring games, are not uncommon with postseason games in all sports.

That's what's going to make this week's games so interesting. On Thursday there will be a contrast in styles, as run-oriented Duke takes on a more defensive-oriented LSU team. The Blue Devils have been susceptible to teams that can crash the boards with big bodies, and LSU is certainly a terrific rebounding team behind Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas. Shelden Williams was a force for Duke over the weekend, but he gets a tough test here. Also, it will be worth watching the foul situation as the Blue Devils don't want to get Williams or JJ Redick in foul trouble, as they are a very different team without those leaders.

Another fascinating battle is run-oriented Gonzaga, which is not a strong defensive team, against UCLA. Like Duke/LSU, the Boston College/Villanova match-up will be a battle of a low-post oriented Eagles offense and an attacking, guard-oriented Wildcat offense. It's also an interesting rematch, as BC used to be in the Big East last season and faced Villanova twice. For the record, each team won at home, but both games were super-close: BC won 67-66 at home, Villanova won 76-70 at home. This Friday's meeting will be on a neutral court in Minneapolis.

Note that Texas plays West Virginia, and the two have already met. The Longhorns beat West Virginia 76-75 just before Thanksgiving in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic in Kansas City. And if you like underdogs, there is still Bradley, Wichita and George Mason, though unfortunately two are playing each other. Make sure you examine strengths and weaknesses of each teams, and don't forget to examine defense, because it's more important this time of the season!


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