First Round Game Analysis: Thursday AfternoonPosted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2010
Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds. Here are the Thursday afternoon games.
Thursday, March 18 (all times ET)
12:20 pm – #7 BYU vs. #10 Florida (Oklahoma City pod)
The NCAA Tournament kicks off in style this year with a good first round game from Oklahoma City. BYU enters the postseason riding the wave of one of its most successful regular seasons in decades, but it won’t matter much if the Cougars can’t slay their old bugaboo of winning a first round game on Thursday afternoon. The last time BYU won an NCAA opener in 1993, Grant Hill’s high fade was in style and the internet was something employees wore in their hair at fast food joints. Eight trips later, BYU has by far its best team and chance to end that losing streak. Jimmer Fredette is the best player casual fans haven’t yet heard of, but his 21/3/5 assts per game and 45% three-point shooting allow for the occasional explosion, as in the cases where he dropped 49 points at Arizona or 45 against TCU just last week in the Mountain West Tournament. The Cougs’ opponent, Florida, limped into the postseason, having lost four of five games and is a questionable entrant (especially as a #10 seed). But the Gators are still dangerous, boasting five players who average double figures with an ability to go off at any time. The most difficult problem Florida will face, though, is how to stop the highly efficient offense that BYU brings to the dusty plains. Dave Rose’s team shoots well from everywhere on the floor, and the Gator defense has been appropriately described as soft throughout the season, so UF will have to get into a high-scoring shootout to have a chance to outscore the Cougars in this one.
The Skinny: it’ll be difficult for Florida’s defense to slow the offensive talents of Fredette and his Cougars so we’re going with BYU by ten in a shootout.
12:25 pm – #6 Notre Dame vs. #11 Old Dominion (New Orleans pod)
Everybody knows about the Irish and their response to what was believed to be a potential season-ending injury to their superstar Luke Harangody. After the injury (and during Harangody’s return), the Irish have rebuilt themselves into a better team. We’re not saying they are a better team without Harangody because that would be ridiculous, but the brand of basketball they play when they don’t dump it down to him and watch him go to work is producing better results. They will have their hands full with the CAA champion (both regular season and tournament) Old Dominion. While the Monarchs ended up losing many of the “resume-building” games they played this year, they were competitive in most of them (5-point loss versus Missouri and 9-point loss at Northern Iowa) they also managed to win the biggest game on their schedule at #3-seeded Georgetown. So we know they can hang with a Big East team. Now the question is whether senior Gerald Lee can put it together to lead Blaine Taylor’s squad to an upset in the first game of the NCAA Tournament. It says here that they can, but the Irish are playing so well that they won’t.
The Skinny: Notre Dame gets enough production from each of its key scorers and is able to clamp down late on Lee and company to eke out a six-point victory.
12:30 pm – #2 Villanova vs. #15 Robert Morris (Providence pod)
Ok. Maybe the Wildcats did back their way into a #2 seed having lost five of their last seven games. A lot of analysts like to point to that as a knock against Jay Wright‘s squad. While we’re not saying that it is good thing by any means, but people need to take a look at who they lost to; except for a bad loss to UConn, all the other Villanova losses were against teams with top three seeds and away from home. And Robert Morris? Congrats for making the NCAA Tournament and not getting exiled to the game that shall not be named, but the ride ends here. Here’s all you need to know: Robert Morris played Pittsburgh and Syracuse this year and lost by 24 points and 40 points, respectively. Villanova is probably somewhere in between those two teams so expect a margin somewhere along the lines of a 30-point victory for the Wildcats.
The Skinny: Villanova’s guards will torch the slower-footed Colonials from start to finish, as the Wildcats easily move into the second round.
2:30 pm – #4 Vanderbilt vs. #13 Murray State (San Jose pod)
This matchup has Upset Alert written all over it. The only question is whether the fact that many people are picking against the #4 seeded Commodores will inspire them to bring their all in this game on Thursday afternoon. Because if Vandy is at all off their best game in this one, they will be going home early. There is nothing that Vandy does particularly well that Murray doesn’t also do. Both teams shoot the ball with consistency and confidence. Both teams have multiple scoring options in both the post and on the perimeter. The one area where VU holds an advantage is with their star center AJ Ogilvy, who brings 13/6 on 51% shooting to this game, but the problem that Jermaine Beal and John Jenkins will have involves getting him the ball. Murray State is one of the very best defenses in the nation in turning teams over, and Vandy can be sloppy with possessions at times. We also have concerns with picking the Commodores to win anywhere away from Nashville (and this year, even that was a dicey proposition with Ls to Western Kentucky, South Carolina, Kentucky and Mississippi State). Murray’s Danero Thomas, Isacc Miles, Ivan Aska and company spend all year hearing about the big, bad SEC; with Vandy located regionally not too far away, they’ll be exceptionally motivated for this one.
The Skinny: A spate of turnovers will ignite the Racer attack in the first half, and Vandy will spend the rest of the game unsuccessfully trying to come back.
2:40 pm – #2 Kansas State vs. #15 North Texas (Oklahoma City pod)
After a good deal of talk about a potential #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Kansas State Wildcats stumbled down the stretch, losing three of their last five games. Two of those Ls were to the nation’s top-ranked and prohibitive Tourney favorite, Kansas, so we’re not going to presume major problems although the loss to Iowa State where the Wildcats played uninterested mildly concerns us. This game is not where those concerns will manifest, though, even as North Texas brings an eleven-game winning streak into OKC on Thursday afternoon. The Mean Green, while a nice mid-major who excels at getting to the foul line, will face a team that bumps, grinds and defends them as well as any team they have faced all season long. It is doubtful that the swarming arms and legs of Denis Clemente, Jacob Pullen, Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels and Dominique Sutton will be called for many fouls, so we’re a little unclear on where North Texas’ points are going to come from. The Mean Green played two Big 12 teams on the road previously this season (@ Oklahoma State; @ Texas A&M), acquitting themselves nicely before bowing out by 10+ points. We’d expect the same situation here. K-State doesn’t destroy them, but they are never truly in danger of losing either.
The Skinny: K-State controls the boards and forces turnovers to take an early double-figure lead which they ride the rest of the way without incident.
2:45 pm – #3 Baylor vs. #14 Sam Houston State (New Orleans pod)
This game features two teams from the same state with the same record, but that’s about where the similarities end. While the Big 12 isn’t as loaded as the Big East, it is certainly several levels above the Southland. The one thing that the Bearkats having going for them is that they won’t be intimidated by the Bears’ talent having played at Kentucky earlier this year and knocking down eighteen threes in the process. If they want to stay in the game they will need big games from Gilberto Clavell and Corey Allmond, each of whom are capable of scoring in a shootout type of game. Even then they will probably just match the offensive output from LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter, who have similar skill sets but happen to be better at them. Of course, the Bearkats have to figure out how they are going to deal with Ekpe Udoh. Short answer? They won’t, as Baylor pushed toward 100 points in this one.
The Skinny: Bad matchup for the SHSU Bearkats as their style of play dovetails nicely with what Baylor wants to do — the Bears bumrush the Bearkats by 18 in a high-scoring affair.
2:50 pm – #7 Richmond vs. #10 St. Mary’s (Providence pod)
This is the first round game in the South Region that everybody is talking about. Thanks to the greatness that is March Madness on Demand we won’t have to worry about missing this game because of regional coverage. While a lot of people will try to make this into a matchup of inside (St. Mary’s center Omar Samhan) versus outside (Richmond’s Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez), that misses the key to this game. Samhan is going to dominate the Spiders on the inside. The big question is whether the Gaels guards — particularly Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova – are hitting threes, because that is what makes the SMC offense capable. If they are, the Gaels might just knock off the traditional giant-killers in this first round game, which could have huge implications on a lot of brackets because we wouldn’t be shocked to see a fair number of people who picked the Spiders to knock off Villanova in the second round. If they aren’t, then Richmond’s toughness and style of play will easily dispatch of the visitors from the west coast.
The Skinny: St. Mary’s has to hit threes to win against good teams, and we have a sneaky suspicion that the well is going to dry up somewhere over Missouri on the trek east this week. Richmond is a much better team than they’re getting credit for, so we think they win by 10 in this one.
4:45 pm – #5 Butler vs. #12 UTEP (San Jose pod)
The beauty of this game is that it’s what we like to call the “bridge” game. There are no other games during this time slot, so if you have access to it your focus can be totally and completely in one place (rather than trying to keep your chiropractic bills low with your head on a swivel). This is a popular upset pick in the annual 5/12 mold, and with good reason. UTEP comes in as a mere 2.5-point underdog in the eyes of Vegas, and in the eyes of RTC they’re poised to pull off the ‘upset’ behind the superior talents of Derrick Caracter inside and Randy Culpepper on the perimeter. No disrespect intended to the talents of Butler’s Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward inside, but they haven’t seen a 6’9, 275-lb space-eater in the paint like Caracter all season long (Greg Monroe and Jason Love are probably the closest two, and they both played very well against the Butler interior players). But the teams are otherwise similarly matched — they both play hardnosed defense and don’t need to depend on the three-ball to win, while having an ability to put five scoring options on the floor at any given time. In what we see as a tossup game, we like the superior size and athleticism that UTEP can bring to the floor in addition to their ability for the bigs (including 6’11 Arnett Moultrie) to get Howard in foul trouble and the game-breaking abilities of the uber-quick Culpepper.
The Skinny: Maybe we’re underrating Butler, but we see a lot to like out of UTEP here, so we’re going with the 12/5 upset as Caracter shows why he was so highly touted a few years ago.