First Round Game Analysis: Friday EveningPosted by rtmsf on March 17th, 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 Friday evening games.
7:10 pm – #8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Florida State (Buffalo pod)
This is a very tough game to call, so let’s start with what we know about it. The Zags, no stranger to cross-country travel, come into Buffalo after an 11-day layoff where St. Mary’s took Mark Few’s team behind the woodshed and beat them handily in the WCC Tournament championship. Florida State comes in having dropped its quarterfinal game against NC State in an effort that had their fans shaking their heads in disgust. So needless to say, both teams are looking for a fresh start here. The Zags are always dangerous, and this year’s squad led by Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris has the offensive firepower to score with just about anyone in America. Merely an ok three-point shooting team, they tend to rely on the drives of Harris and mid-range game of Bouldin to create offense. However, they don’t tend to respond well to teams that crowd and push them around, but unfortunately, FSU is just such a team. The Seminoles enjoy the nation’s top defensive efficiency, and while they have the opposite problem of finding points, they should have no problem putting the clamps down on the Zag scoring options. The question here comes down to whether the FSU defense, anchored by 7’1 Solomon Alabi and 6’9 Chris Singleton’s combined four blocks per game, is better than the Gonzaga offense, and we think that it is. And as up/down as the Seminoles were in the ACC, they never came close to losing to the likes of Loyola Marymount and San Francisco, as Gonzaga did this year.
The Skinny: The Zags this year aren’t quite as good as they usually are, and they’re facing a team that will shut down their biggest strength. FSU wins this one by eight points to get a date with Syracuse.
7:15 pm – #7 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Georgia Tech (Milwaukee pod)
Here’s another one that’s got people confused. For good reason, too. All year long we’ve been waiting on Georgia Tech to do something with all that talent, and now they’re playing better basketball, just in time. Oklahoma State’s showing against Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament will cost them some support, but we’re going to excuse that performance. That was a tired basketball team, playing their third game in a six day span with K-State at the end of it — and the Wildcats were coming off of a five-day rest. Georgia Tech is going to go inside to Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal like crazy, but when the Yellow Jackets actually shoot the three, they shoot it well. Defending the three is a glaring OSU weakness, so it will be interesting to see how often Georgia Tech eschews their big men in favor of launching it from the arc, because those shots will be there. So…good outside shooting, great inside players…sounds pretty good for Tech, right? The question will be whether or not they can get to that point in their offense. Georgia Tech ranks in the bottom twenty of Division I teams in terms of turning the ball over. Can the Jackets, then, find a way to keep James Anderson from shredding them or Keiton Page from raining threes?
The Skinny: Oklahoma State won’t have to exert too much energy guarding the three, since Tech’s propensity to turn the ball over will take care of some of that. The Cowboys have been getting more and more help from their role players, and we feel 9-7 in the Big 12 is better than 7-9 in the ACC this year. It’ll be a great first round game, but we like Oklahoma State in a close one.
7:25 pm – #1 Duke vs. #16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Jacksonville pod)
In reality it really didn’t matter who won the game that shall not be mentioned because even with how vulnerable Duke is as a #1 seed this game has cakewalk written all over it. While Duke is used to being the most hated team in the nation, their players have to be a little irritated with how much the media and public has been ripping them for getting the third #1 over Syracuse and getting the easiest bracket. In the past few years, Duke teams have been vulnerable to mediocre teams in the early rounds (think Belmont), but this year’s Duke is different. They aren’t even close to the Jason Williams teams from a decade ago, but they are a step above any of the Duke teams since the J.J. Redick teams and might actually be a little better. They lack the star power of Redick and Shelden Williams, but Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith can hold their own against most trios in the nation, much less what either of these two potential opponents can provide. Coach K finally has a team that has the inside/outside balance (and a suprisingly, an easy draw) to make it back to the Final Four for the first time since 2004. As for their opponent, here is all you need to know about these Golden Lions: For a school that has never been in the NCAA Tournament before, Arkansas-Pine Bluff will certainly be “Tournament tested” having played five road games against teams that are in the NCAA Tournament this year. Unfortunately, with those and six other games as the visiting team, they started out 0-11 this year. To be fair all 11 games were on the road, but they still started 0-11. If that’s not the record for the worst start to a season for a team that eventually made the NCAA Tournament, it has to be pretty close.
The Skinny: Duke big.
7:30 pm – #5 Michigan State vs. #12 New Mexico State (Spokane pod)
Michigan State… you remember them, right? Seems like everyone just forgot about Tom Izzo’s team late in the season when there were bigger and more compelling stories happening in the game. The only real forgettable stretch they had was that three-game run in early February when they lost on the road to Wisconsin and Illinois, and at home to Purdue when the Boilers still had Robbie Hummel. We don’t want to minimize New Mexico State’s 22-win season and their 11-5 WAC record, but paired against MSU’s 24-8 and 14-4 in the Big Ten, NMSU’s losses to teams with RPIs of #101 or greater (including one to Cal State Fullerton, #204) are pretty alarming. New Mexico State’s strengths are that they shoot a high percentage and they’re unselfish. Unfortunately for the Aggies, these are things Michigan State actually does better than they do, and the Spartans play better defense and hit the boards harder. The only way Michigan State loses this one is if they just don’t show up mentally. Expect MSU to come out stronger than everyone seems to be giving them credit for this year.
The Skinny: We know everyone’s going to be looking for those 5 vs 12 upsets when filling out their brackets. Don’t look here.
9:30 pm – #1 Syracuse vs. #16 Vermont (Buffalo pod)
Five short years ago a scrappy little team with a colorful coach (where is Tom Brennan this year, anyway?) and a couple of star players with funny names shot their way into Tourney history with an overtime win over Syracuse in the first round. Things have changed quite a bit for the Vermont Catamounts in the interim, but Mike Lonergan has done an exceptional job keeping the program at a high level in the America East Conference and getting UVM back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since that incredible victory. It will take an all-time performance from Marqus Blakely and Maurice Joseph to get past the Orange again, but the fact that Cuse center Arinze Onuaku will sit out this game with his quad injury at least gives them a fighting chance. Ok, maybe not — if Vermont shot the ball a little better, especially from outside (32%), we might be more willing to entertain the idea that they could pull off another shocker. But the fact of the matter is that this Syracuse team is a lot better than their 2005 forebears and UVM is nowhere near as good as they were that year. The storyline for this game will be how SU looks without Onuaku, of course, and of course any epic dunks that Vermont’s Blakely throws down. One other thing to watch will be how Wesley Johnson looks after a week of rest since he’s been fighting nagging injuries for the last month of the season.
The Skinny: Syracuse is too big, too athletic, too everything for this Vermont team to reproduce the magic of 2005; the Orange by 20.
9:35 pm – #2 Ohio State vs. #15 UC Santa Barbara (Milwaukee pod)
We all know what we’re getting with the Buckeyes, so while we have a minute, let’s talk about the Gauchos. They’re led by a pair of 6’5 sophomore forwards, specifically James Nunnally (15.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG) and the Big West’s leading scorer in Orlando Johnson (17.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG). As far as a calling-card for this team, the two things they do best are shoot the three (37.9%, 34th in the nation) and guard the three (30.5%, 26th in the nation). Ohio State, though, is fifth in the nation in FG%, hitting an amazing 49.6% of their shots, and most of that has been in the course of going 14-4 against Big Ten competition. If the Gauchos can raise their defense from Big West quality to the level of the Big Ten, they’ll at least be in it. Otherwise, we’d expect to see Evan Turner and his fellow Bucks on the bench pretty early in the second half, saving energy to continue their quest through what ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb on Tuesday night called “The Region of Death.”
The Skinny: Unless UCSB shoots about 70% from beyond the three-point arc, we’d expect OSU’s starters to be out by about the 8-minute mark of the second half.
9:40 pm – #4 Maryland vs. #13 Houston (Spokane pod)
This will be a battle of explosive scorers in Greivis Vasquez and Aubrey Coleman. Right after the bracket was revealed on Sunday, Houston coach Tom Penders called his senior forward, “the most underrated player in the nation.” He’ll have his showcase on Friday night, but it’ll also be fun to see how personally Vasquez takes the challenge. Houston has a couple of things going for it, like their fantastic care of the basketball (second in the nation with just 8.8 turnovers/game) and that they force almost twice that from their opponents. And Kelvin Lewis is a fine scorer in his own right and a great supplement to Coleman when the latter’s having an off-night. But let’s not get carried away. You don’t go 13-3 in the ACC with just one weapon. Vasquez averages 19.5 PPG but those 6.3 assists he dishes every game are going to someone. Usually it’s Landon Milbourne, but we think more credit is due to the 6’10 260-pound freshman Jordan Williams and his team-leading 8.2 RPG as well as the 9.2 PPG he contributes. Maryland is also one of the best ball-control teams in the country, which seems a little counter-intuitive, given how creative Vasquez can be.
The Skinny: We’re looking forward to the Coleman vs Vasquez battle, and Houston’s had a nice stretch of late, but the Turtles have too much class here.
9:45 pm – #8 California vs. #9 Louisville (Jacksonville pod)
The 8/9 game is typically a matchup of underperforming big name programs and this game is no exception. Both teams came into the season as AP Top 20 teams, but played so poorly that on the last weekend of the regular season both were considered by many to be potential NIT teams. This game also features the interesting subplot of well-known coaches in Rick Pitino and Mike Montgomery who have struggled recently. As for the game itself, the outcome will likely be determined by Louisville’s ability to handle Cal’s outstanding guards led by Jerome Randle (18.7 PPG on 40.6% 3FG and 4.5 APG), who is one of the best long-range threats in the country. Along with Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson they should give Rick Pitino’s perimeter players headaches all game long. On the other side the key for Cal is whether or not Jamal Boykin can guard Samardo Samuels on the inside. While Samuels has not been the force he was expected to be coming into college he is still much more talented than any of the Bears’ interior players. Whichever team covers up its deficiencies the most will be the one to advance out of this game. One other interesting subplot will be the postgame news conference with the two coaches having a reputation for giving interesting/overly dramatic quotes to fairly benign questions. One coach will have his season end on Friday night against a team that they think their team should have beaten so be on the lookout for some good quotes coming out of this one.
The Skinny: Louisville has been inconsistent this year, which might concern us typically when picking this game, but Cal has not beaten a single ranked team this year despite a schedule that offered them multiple opportunities so get ready for Krzyzewski-Pitino on Sunday.