SI.com asked two Division I coaches to anonymously give their take on a two of Friday's best first-round NCAA tournament matchups. Here's what they had to say:
No. 8 Pacific vs. No. 9 Pittsburgh, Albuquerque Region
Pacific is a deep team that's not going to be in awe of Pitt. This season, the Tigers went to Allen Fieldhouse and lost to Kansas by nine, they won at Nevada and at home against UTEP. They won a game in the dance last year. Pacific does lack discipline from time to time, though -- it went 17-0 in the Big West but allowed some opponents to hang around by shooting quick 3s or lobs when they had a double-digit lead.
Point guard David Doubley (12.2 ppg, 4.0 apg), the conference's player of the year, does a great job of involving everyone -- but I don't think he's a great guard. He takes good care of the ball, but I think if somebody were to get after him and guard him full-court or 75-feet, he may not handle it well.
Forward Christian Maraker (13.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg) is versatile -- he can shoot the 3, pass well in the post and rebound. He has a terrific right hand and a left-shoulder jump hook. He's a little soft, though: If Pitt gets aggressive with him, he won't be nearly as effective. A good defender can force Maraker to speed up and get nervous.
Forward Guillaume Yango (13.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg) is playing as well as anybody on the team. He's active around the basket and on the offensive glass. He's a guy who can run the floor and throw down a dunk. Six-foot-10 center Tyler Newton (7.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg) isn't a great talent, but frustrates opponents. He'll take a flop on defense, pump fakes on offense and make the extra pass when necessary. Guards Marko Mihailovic (5.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg), Mike Webb and Johnny Gray (48.7 percent 3s) are role players who can come in and hit 3s.
The Tigers aren't afraid to push the ball, and in the halfcourt they run a lot of 1-4 high sets, dribble handoffs and blind picks. They're much less predictable than they were last season. On defense, Pacific plays almost all man-to-man and doesn't gamble much. Because of their size and depth, they can clog up the lane and do a great job with help-side defense -- and they'll need it against Pitt's Chevy Troutman and Chris Taft.
Troutman (15.1 ppg, 8 rpg) is one of the best forwards in the nation from 10-feet and in -- he's a senior, a great leader and he does all the little things to help his team win. He'll be the toughest matchup for Pacific, because he can post you up, or take you off the block, so you always have to know where he is. The Tigers better have someone pretty darn tough guarding Troutman. At 6-foot-11, Taft (13.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg) is a talented athlete with a killer jump hook over his left shoulder that's hard to stop.
Guard Carl Krauser (15.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg) can be a leader, as long as he doesn't pound the ball and disrupt the offense. He's a physical guard who's always in attack mode, and if you give him an angle to the basket, he's good at driving, shooting floaters or dishing off in the interior. I'd rather force him to take outside jump shots.
Krauser is shooting the 3-ball better than he did last season, but guys like Ronald Ramon (7.1 ppg, 1.9 apg) and Antonio Graves (45.9 percent 3-pointers) are the ones who can fill it up out from outside. Levon Kendall (3.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg) isn't a traditional outside player, and he's a hard matchup because he's 6-9 and very skilled.
Expect Pitt to stick with its strengths on offense and play inside-out basketball. The Panthers' post players need to be conscious of stepping out against Maraker, who can hit 3s -- Pitt struggled to play perimeter defense on West Virginia's big men and lost twice to the Mountaineers.
Pitt has some big wins this season, but Pacific is going to be hungry after losing in its conference title game to Utah State. If the Tigers can keep their wits about them, get transition buckets and hit 3s, they'll have a good chance of winning.
No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 13 Vermont, Austin Regional
Vermont is a terrific mid-major team, but this is a very tough draw. I'm concerned that forward Taylor Coppenrath (25.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg) will not be able to showcase his skills, because the majority of the Catamounts' offensive possessions are likely to be against Syracuse's 2-3 zone. I worry that people aren't going to realize how great of a player Coppenrath is if he can't get involved in the game. The size and length of the Orange's back line -- Hakim Warrick, Craig Forth and Terrence Roberts -- is going to make things extremely difficult. This is about the toughest pairing Vermont could have drawn.
Guard T.J. Sorrentine (18.6 ppg, 4.4 apg) is will take quite a few shots, because Coppenrath won't dominate on the blocks right off the bat. If the Catamounts can hit 3s, the Orange's zone will open up. Coppenrath is highly skilled at sealing defenders, putting them on his hip as the ball gets reversed around the perimeter. The Vermont players are always seeking to pass the ball inside, but post feeds won't be available on a consistent basis.
On defense, Tom Brennan's team plays 90 percent man-to-man. They should try to double Warrick (21.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg) -- take away the baseline and crowd his top shoulder. It would be great if they get Warrick to settle for mid-range jumpers, but I doubt that will happen: The guy is coming off of three consecutive double-doubles in the Big East tournament.
Vermont guard David Hehn, will undoubtedly draw the defensive assignment of Gerry McNamara (16.0 ppg, 5.0 apg) and is one of the best perimeter defenders in the America East conference. He's 6-foot-5, tough-minded, and he'll be shadowing G-Mac everywhere. McNamara is a great player, but you have to make him take tough shots, and hope he'll miss a few.
Syracuse is going to go right at Coppenrath and try to get him in foul trouble -- that could force the Catamounts to switch to a zone. But he'll likely be matched up with Forth, while forward Martin Klimes draws Warrick on defense. Vermont is a good rebounding team for its conference, and it'll have to keep the Orange off the glass.
If the Catamounts are going to stay in this game, they'll have to make perimeter shots -- by guys like Sorrentine and Josh Duell -- and take care of the ball if 'Cuse opts to use some full-court trapping schemes. Vermont is a good ball-handling team, but not a great one, and a press could be unsettling.
No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 11 Northern Iowa, Syracuse Region
Northern Iowa's strength is on the perimeter. Guard Ben Jacobsen (17.8 ppg, 45.3 percent 3-pointers) has proven to be a consistent shooter and scorer. He's a very solid player. But the key to the team is its three-man, Erik Crawford (13.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg), who is its unsung hero and best overall player. He's a particularly good defender, a capable scorer, a real rock-solid guy.
The Panthers aren't overly dependent on the 3-ball, though: They do have two good inside guys in forwards Grant Stout (11.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Eric Coleman (10.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg), who has been a pleasant surprise. This team already has NCAA tournament experience (falling to Georgia Tech in 2004), and it's probably better than it was last year because of the added inside presence.
Coach Greg McDermott's squad runs a lot of set plays, with some really good counters built in, so it happens to be very efficient on the offensive end.
That said, Wisconsin is the better basketball team. The Panthers need to limit the Badgers' easy scoring opportunities if they want to win. UW is so talented on the inside that it's going to have a big advantage in the post. Mike Wilkinson (14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is one of the best forwards in the Big Ten, and Alando Tucker (14.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg) is so explosive he can hurt you in a lot of ways -- plus, both of those guys are good enough 3-point shooters that you need to play them honest on the outside. Forward Zach Morley (7.5 ppg, 49.0 percent 3s) gives them another big man who can hit from long distance.
UNI will play man-to-man. McDermott isn't going to change his philosophy away from what got his team back to the dance.
The fact that Wisconsin is once again at the top of the Big Ten, without a stellar backcourt, is evidence that this may be Bo Ryan's best coaching effort. The Badgers have so many advantages over UNI that I think the upset is going to be difficult to pull off.