First Round Game Analysis: Thursday EveningPosted 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 evening games.
7:10 pm – #8 Northern Iowa vs. #9 UNLV (Oklahoma City pod)
The Midwest Region’s first game of the tournament features two teams battling for the privilege of going up against Kansas in the next round. What press there is about Northern Iowa, Jordan Eglseder gets most of it. UNLV will also have to watch out for senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh, a streaky three-point shooter who’s had five straight games in single figures and is due for a run. It was thought at the beginning of the year that UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield would do a little more sharing of the scoring burden for the Runnin Rebels this year, but it’s been Willis who’s shouldered most of the load. At 17.5 PPG, he averages a full seven points more than the Rebels’ next leading scorer, sophomore forward Chace Stanback. Both of these teams take good care of the basketball and, even though neither of them is going to give the scoreboard operator much of a workout, the game itself should be a good one between two teams of similar talent. We hope all these guys get to enjoy the trappings of the tournament… because it won’t last long, sorry to say.
The Skinny: In a game played in the mid-50s (both in tempo and era), look for UNI to make the key plays down the stretch to win this one by four.
7:15 pm – #1 Kentucky vs. #16 ETSU (New Orleans pod)
If any #16 seed is going to be the first to topple a top seed in this bracket, here’s your best shot. East Tennessee State was in this exact position one March ago and took #1 Pittsburgh to the wire. In fact, the Buccaneers trailed by just three points with 2:47 left in a contest usually reserved for monumental blowouts. ETSU was expected to rebuild after losing four starters from the Atlantic Sun champion of 2008-09, but the Bucs pulled off two upsets in the A-Sun Tournament and toppled Mercer in a true road game, meaning ETSU and former UAB headman Murry Bartow are dancing for the second straight campaign. One player who may give the top seed Wildcats some trouble is a 6’4 wing named Tommy Hubbard that has finally harnessed his talent and is one of the most improved players in the nation. Let’s be honest here, though: Kentucky should roll over the underdog Bucs. The Big Blue has more athleticism and pure ability than any team in the field, never mind the A-Sun champion that finished the season with 14 losses. No guard can come close to contain the blazing speed of John Wall. DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson should have their way on the boards. Even a few breathtaking alley-oops could be in store for the ESPN folks to feast on. Last year Cal State Northridge gave John Calipari’s Memphis team a real scare in the first round. Expect the Kentucky head coach to learn from that game and have his squad prepared to blow the doors off ETSU from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
The Skinny: Kentucky will spend most of the game up 20+ before calling off the dogs Cats to win by fifteen or so.
7:20 pm – #6 Marquette vs. #11 Washington (San Jose pod)
If anyone has followed the miraculous run Marquette has endured this season, repeatedly accelerating heart rates have likely been a sizable part of your winter. The Golden Eagles have played 21 Big East games and 13 have been decided by four points or less. They began the Big East slate 2-5 and those five losses were by a combined 11 points. They played a three-game conference road swing in late February all in must-win situations and won each game in overtime. It’s been a commendable coaching job this season for Buzz Williams, a relatively green coach that has taken a team that lost Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews and garnered the same NCAA Tournament seed a year later. Washington is harder to figure out. The Huskies were a trendy top-20 pick in the preseason, but quickly flamed out of the discussion and lost seven games in a historically weak Pac-10. The talent is present: sophomore point guard Isaiah Thomas won Pac-10 Freshman of the Year a season ago, Quincy Pondexter can go for 20/10 on any given night and Venoy Overton is a defensive pest on the perimeter. If it comes down to making shots behind the arc, Washington is in trouble. The Huskies rank # 240 in the nation in 3-point percentage and the Warriors come in at a stellar seventh behind the efforts of Darius Johnson-Odom and Maurice Acker. The long Washington frontline could give Lazar Hayward some difficulties, but we trust the supporting cast of Marquette more than what Washington features. In a close, hard fought battle, expect the Big East representative to emerge. We wouldn’t expect anything else with Marquette involved.
The Skinny: Marquette continues to win close games, pulling out an overtime win over the Huskies by two.
7:25 pm – #3 Georgetown vs. #14 Ohio (Providence pod)
The Bobcat attack is fueled by their backcourt duo of Armon Bassett (16.9 PPG) and D.J. Cooper (13.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.9 APG) who are quick, cocky, and fearless. These two will relish the chance go up against a big-time squad like Georgetown, but the question is where Ohio’s inside points are going to come from. The tallest players they have who play substantial minutes are 6’10 senior Kenneth van Kempen who only averages 6.7 PPG,and 6’8 junior forward DeVaughn Washington (11.2 PPG). Neither of these can put too much of a scare into GU’s Greg Monroe, who not only contributes his 16.1 points and 9.5 rebounds, but serves up almost four assists a game as the nations’ best passing big man, especially on the interior. We know the Bobcats aren’t showing up just to lose, and you can count on a tremendous effort with those two guards in charge. But Bassett is a junior and Cooper is just a freshman, so going up against Chris Wright and Austin Freeman will be a good gauge for the Ohio U. backcourt for next year.
The Skinny: Georgetown locks up Ohio in the worst way en route to an easy 25-point blowout win.
9:30 pm – #1 Kansas vs. #16 Lehigh (Oklahoma City pod)
Your overall #1 tips off at 9:30 PM on the tournament’s opening night. We’ll assume Kansas is good and rested after a three-day run through the Big 12 Tournament that saw them take down Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and a gutsy Kansas State team. It wasn’t like we couldn’t have learned this information by watching the Jayhawks throughout the season, but the most compelling thing we saw during the Big 12 Tournament is Kansas’ spooky ability to simply decide to press harder on the gas pedal when they need to put someone away. It as if they just decide to do it, and it happens. The game is effectively over moments later. With all due respect, they won’t have to press too hard on that pedal to handle Lehigh, a team that turned in a super 10-4 Patriot League season and an overall 22-10 record. The man to watch for the Mountain Hawks is freshman guard C.J. McCollum, one of the top 50 scorers in the country at 18.9 PPG. Because Bill Self is an intelligent man, you’ll probably see the starters come out as soon as Kansas has this firmly in hand; his fellas will need all the rest they can get as they try to make their way through the tournament’s toughest region.
The Skinny: KU presses the gas from the start this year, and easily handles Lehigh by around thirty.
9:35 pm – #8 Texas vs. #9 Wake Forest (New Orleans pod)
Both the Longhorns and Demon Deacons took fairly similar paths to the point of facing each other in this 8-9 matchup that not even Nostradamus could have predicted one month ago. Following a home win over Georgia Tech on February 13, Wake Forest was sitting pretty at the top of the hill in the ACC. The Deacons lost in Blacksburg in their next game and would continue to lose all but one contest until the end of the season, including an embarrassing loss at the hands of cellar-dwelling Miami in the ACC Tournament that brought Dino Gaudio’s postseason record to an unconscionable 0-4. If Wake fell down a proverbial hill, Texas tumbled down Mount Everest and hit every bump along the way. The former #1 ranked Longhorns finished just 9-7 in the Big 12, didn’t even receive a first round bye in their conference tournament, struggled constantly with lineup changes and battled an endless array of injuries. Regardless of both precipitous declines, the talent is undeniable in this game. If Al-Farouq Aminu stays out of foul difficulty and regains interest, Wake is scary. If Texas finally finds a workable rotation and something clicks, Texas is incredibly scary. The Longhorns still rank in the top-30 in offensive and defensive efficiency. One tantalizing matchup is at the point guard position where defensive stalwart Avery Bradley will attempt to front speedy Ish Smith, while Aminu will certainly have his hands full with the bulky Texas frontline. Frankly, I’d be stunned if Texas lost in the first round to a collapsing Wake Forest team. If they manage to choke, it will be one of the most spectacular collapses in college basketball history.
The Skinny: In the battle of nobody cares, Wake has proven an ability to care even less. Texas will care itself to an 8-10 victory as soon as they figure out how to play a zone.
9:40 pm – #3 New Mexico vs. #14 Montana (San Jose pod)
True followers of New Mexico’s season know they fully deserved this lofty seed: 29 wins in a competitive Mountain West, a 6-0 record against ranked opponents and five wins over the RPI top-25. They feature one of the most complete players in the nation in Darington Hobson, a crafty wing that can shoot from three and score with penetration while also averaging over nine rebounds and almost five assists per game. Dairese Gary is an outstanding distributor that lives at the free throw line. Roman Martinez shoots 42% from deep. This squad certainly has the pieces to make a deep push. What’s staring the Lobos in the face is one of the hottest players in the nation and (see his incredible story here) everyone’s favorite Cinderella guard. Montana found themselves down 22 at Weber State in the Big Sky Championship before Anthony Johnson went on a tear for the ages: 13-22 FG, 14-14 FT and 42 points including 34 in the second half and Montana’s last 21 of the game. Of course the only way Montana can pull off the somewhat plausible #14 over #3 upset is if they receive enough help from Johnson’s supporting cast. With no other Montana player averaging double figures, I don’t see an upset looming. But the Grizzlies may stick around if Johnson catches the hot hand; after all, the Lobos rank a pedestrian #87 in defensive efficiency, and Montana could find spots to score. Expect a competitive first twenty minutes until New Mexico pulls away quite comfortably.
The Skinny: New Mexico looks like an upset victim for a half until Hobson and Gary put the kibosh on that with a strong second half to win by fifteen.
9:45 pm – #6 Tennessee vs. #11 San Diego State (Providence pod)
The Aztecs are getting a little love as a possible upset winner over the Vols, even though half of the country hasn’t seen them play. It’s not hard to buy into SDSU’s fantastic freshman Kawhi Leonard and the fact that the Aztecs come in as one of the top twenty shooting teams in the country from the field. It’s important, though, not to get carried away and end up underestimating the talent on the Tennessee side. Not only do the Vols have enough skill along that front line in Wayne Chism and Scotty Hopson to quell any uprisings, but Bruce Pearl will run ten or eleven guys out there, while the most you’ll see from SDSU is eight. When you consider that Leonard, the Aztecs’ leading scorer, only averages 12.7 PPG, you have to wonder exactly where the scoring will come from. Fortunately for SDSU, NCAA Tournament upsets are usually built on things that the Aztecs already do well — exercise good shot selection and pound the glass. They better do them as well as they ever have if they’re going to pull a fast one on a Tennessee team that owns victories over the top two #1 seeds in this tournament, yet sometimes struggles with teams we feel that they should easily handle.
The Skinny: Tennessee looks great early before relaxing and allowing SDSU to come roaring back in the second half to spring the upset.