Rice joins Miller staff

Former Eisenhower High School football coach John Rice, who resigned in December after three years coaching the Eagles, has found a home on Jeff Steinberg’s staff at Miller, joining the staff as a defensive assistant.

“Jeff and I have talked in the past about being on the same staff together if the opportunity presented itself and it was something we were both interested in,” Rice said. “He’s done a great job of building that program and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Rice, who has served as a defensive coordinator in previous coaching stops, has worked with Steinberg before, albeit briefly. Rice assisted the Miller defensive staff when Steinberg coached the San Bernardino All-Stars in the 2008 Inland Empire All-Star football classic.

South Region Breakdown

The best is saved for last – at least when I let bias leak into my opinion. Let’s go down South.

Overall theme:
Is Ty Lawson healthy? All year North Carolina has been regarded as the odds-on favorite to win the national championship, with Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and Deon Thompson expected to grab a title before (presumably) going to the NBA. Even when the the top-seeded Tar Heels stubbed their toe, it was generally theorized that they’d be the team to beat.

However, Lawson sprained the big toe on his right foot, keeping him out of the ACC tournament and almost assuredly making him less than full strength for the NCAA Tournament. Who wins this region, and perhaps the national title, might be decided on how Lawson’s toe holds up.

Watch out for: Syracuse
Typically I’d see a team like the Orange – a team that played a combined seven overtimes in the Big East Tournament before losing in the final – and declare that they shot their wad emotionally and physically. I definitely would have said that if Syracuse had won the Big East tourney. But their loss to Louisville leaves some unfinished business.

And No. 3 Syracuse has the personnel and scheme to take care of business. Sophomore point guard Jonny Flynn is extremely explosive, Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf can fill it up from outside while Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku can score in the paint. Add in their always tough matchup zone and the recent flakiness of No. 2 Oklahoma and the Orange could cruise to the elite 8.

Stay away from: Illinois
The No. 5 Illini were a pretty good story in the Big Ten this year, as they emerged from a rare losing season to finish in a second-place tie in the conference. Illinois plays a tough, matchup defense that yields very few points and a lot of confusion. But Illinois comes into the tournament hurting, as senior point guard and floor leader Chester Frazier is out with a wrist injury.

Frazier’s defense will be missed, but his ability to find the open man in Illinois’ sometimes stagnant offense might be missed more. With No. 12 Western Kentucky, which made it to the Sweet 16 with the exact same seed last year, appearing in the first round, odds are that the Illini’s return to the tournament will be a short one.

High risk, high reward: Michigan
You knew I was going to throw these guys in here somewhere, as the No. 10 Wolverines are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. But personal loyalties aside, the Wolverines have a style that could get them on a roll of upsets – or send them to a quick, painful defeat by No. 7 Clemson in the first round.

Michigan coach John Beilein has spun magic in the tourney before, taking a No. 7-seeded West Virginia team to the Elite 8 in 2005 and a No. 6-seed Mountaineer team to the Sweet 16 a year later. The Wolverines are predicated on a funky 1-3-1 zone and a propensity for the 3-point shot. When the 3 is falling, Michigan can assert its pace and beat anyone – as evidence by wins over Duke, UCLA, Purdue and Illinois. When its not, the Wolverines – even with star guard Manny Harris – can look ugly.

Upset special: No. 11 Temple over No. 6 Arizona State, first round
Both of these teams have players that can carry a team just through scoring in Dionte Christmas (Temple) and James Hardin (Arizona State). They both have master strategists as coaches in Fran Dunphy (Temple) and Herb Sendek (Arizona State). It should be an interesting chess match and one of the better first-round games to watch.

I’m picking Temple here because, quite frankly, Temple is playing better right now. The Owls surged at the end of the year to pick up their second straight Atlantic 10 title while the Sun Devils have been prone to lapses in concentration. If another one of those happens, ASU won’t be in the tourney long.

Lead-pipe lock: Mid-major powers will have fun…till Carolina takes them out.
Two of the premier “mid-major” programs of the past decade are present in this region. No. 9 Butler plays a talented, but young and somewhat struggling, No. 8 LSU team in the first round. The Bulldogs’ tournament savvy should rule the day in that matchup, but they don’t have the guns to take down the Tar Heels in the second round.

No. 4 Gonzaga also has its program humming and got hot after a tough start to grab its usual spot as a high seed in the tournament. The Bulldogs should make quick work of No. 13 Akron – which is likely overseeded – and should have the advantage over the Western Kentucky-Illinois winner as well. But Carolina in the Sweet 16 will be the death of the Zags as well.

East Region breakdown

Today’s version of my bracket breakdown goes into the East and South. I wish I had more to introduce, but I don’t. Sue me.

Overall theme:
Physicality vs. free-flowing offense. This region brings some teams that like to throw down. No. 1 seed Pittsburgh, with bruising forward DeJuan Blair, will elbow you in the face and smack you down with some brass knuckles. No. 12 Wisconsin is fortunate to get to the 60-point mark but has a tendency to hold its opponents below that number. No. 6 UCLA has been to three straight Final Fours thanks to lockdown defense and No. 7 Texas likes to bang with Damion James, Gary Johnson and 295-pound Dexter Pittman.

On the other end of the spectrum, No. 2 Duke shoots threes all day and has junior Gerald Henderson slash to the bucket, No. 3 Villanova has a bevy of guards named Corey and talented junior point Scottie Reynolds while No. 5 Florida State has a dynamic scorer in senior Toney Douglas. None of those teams have much of a post presence, so it will be interesting to see how they match up with the bruisers, and vice versa.

Watch out for: Villanova
The Wildcats have perhaps the best setup of any team in the tournament during the first two rounds, as they get to play in their hometown of Philadelphia in an arena (The Wachovia Center) where they host games from time to time. How Nova got that prime setup is beyond me, but it allows them a nice passage into the Sweet 16.

From that point on, the Wildcats will likely have a No. 2-seeded Duke that they match up with athletically and might even be superior to inside thanks to Dante Cunningham. Then they’d have a good shot at Big East rival Pittsburgh. Jay Wright has coached teams with less talent and less diversity to the Sweet 16, so there’s no reason Villanova can’t make a run.

Stay away from: UCLA
The Bruins have had a ton of success in the tournament recently, making it to the Final Four three years in a row. But No. 6 UCLA hasn’t been able to turn it on for an extended period of time – either falling into shooting lapses or defensive lapses. It hasn’t found a replacement for Kevin Love in the post and freshman guard Jrue Holiday hasn’t been the scoring threat that the Bruins expected him to be.

Add that in with a tough No. 11 VCU team that knocked out Duke in the first round two years ago and a virtual road game with Villanova if it survives that and it’s foolish to be taking UCLA anywhere.

High risk, high reward: Florida State
The No. 5 Seminoles have two things that typically make for good tournament teams – lots of athleticism and a go-to scorer in Douglas. Douglas averages over 20 points per game and has the complete offensive package – allowing him to take over games and giving the Seminoles an ability to take out any team in the bracket – even No. 1 Pittsburgh – who they’d meet in the Sweet 16 more than likely.

With that being said, No. 12 Wisconsin is a terrible matchup for them in the first round. The Badgers are very adept at taking away a team’s best offensive option and forcing its opposition to play at a slow pace. If FSU is sucked into that, it could be bye, bye Noles.

Upset special: No. 12 Wisconsin over No. 5 Florida State, first round
Yes, its kind of a copout after the previous category, but it was either this or VCU over UCLA. Expounding on what I was saying about Florida State, if Wisconsin can take away Douglas, there’s no other Seminole that averages double-figure points. Wisconsin has good guard play in Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon and several bigs that can come at the Seminoles in waves. The last time Florida State played a slow-paced Big Ten team it was whipped 73-59 to Northwestern in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. I wouldn’t be shocked to see that happen again.

Lead-pipe lock: Some team is getting a monkey off its back
That team will likely be top-seeded Pittsburgh – which has fallen in the Sweet 16 four times since 2002 and has never beaten a team seeded No. 5 or higher in its history. The Panthers set up like Kansas did last year – a talented, well-rounded team with a good coach that has had issues getting over the hump. Don’t be surprised if Pitt wins it all.

Of course, Duke might have something to say about it. Say what you will about Coach K and his three titles, but barring a 2004 run to the Final Four, Duke has been fairly ordinary in the tournament in the 2000s, crapping out in the Sweet 16 six times and losing in the first and second round, respectively, the last two seasons. The Blue Devils did win the ACC tourney title though, perhaps serving as a sign of better things to come.