Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Who Wants to Be in Alaska in November???

Well, if you're a fan of Michigan Wolverines basketball or of college basketball in general, the answer is you. The Great Alaska Shootout is another one of these early-season tournaments for teams to claim some quality wins and build a legitimate NCAA Tournament profile. This year's edition (which starts tonight), hosted by the University of Alaska-Anchorage, has all the makings of a pretty good tournament.

Two current nationally ranked schools are in the eight-team field (#23 Butler and #14 Gonzaga), as well as traditional power Texas Tech and relative newcomer Virginia Tech. Eastern Washington, Division II Alaska-Anchorage, and Western Kentucky complete the bracket and as I said before, I think this is going to be an exciting tournament.

The first-round matchups are #23 Butler-Michigan, Eastern Washington-VA Tech, Texas Tech-Alaska-Anchorage, and Western Kentucky-#14 Gonzaga. The winners of each game advance to the semifinals (winner's bracket); the losers will play in the losers' bracket, which guarantees each of the eight teams present three games. I'll go on the record and predict Michigan, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech, and Gonzaga will move on.

The Michigan-Butler game (11:30 PM, ESPN2) should be a pretty good, up-and-down affair. Both teams can run, both teams can shoot, and both teams can get after you on defense. Two things stand out to me: Butler (3-0) are by far the more experienced team, led by standout senior guards A.J. Graves and Mike Green as well as senior forward Pete Campbell. Graves and Green are both 6'1" and Campbell is 6'7", and each of these guys can really shoot the ball and bring the leadership intangibles that new head coach Brad Stevens is looking for. Michigan (2-1), however, is a much bigger, more physical team and will try to wear down Butler tonight. If they can use their superior speed and size and harass Butler, the Wolverines have as good a chance as any to win the game and move on to face Virginia Tech.

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