Formula For Success: Sweet 16 EditionPosted by zhayes9 on March 23rd, 2010
And then there were 16.
With the greatest four days of the year now in the rearview mirror, there’s still plenty to get excited about. The regional semifinals and finals can provide heart-pounding drama and unforgettable moments with games involving the best teams the sport has to offer. It only takes a quick rewind to five years ago: remember the West Virginia-Louisville and Illinois-Arizona regional final doubleheader?
If any team still standing — whether it be Cinderella Cornell or favorite Kentucky — wants to spend the first Monday in April cutting down nets in Indianapolis, they’ll first need to get by their Sweet 16 opponent. In order to jump over that next hurdle, there are a few in-game factors we deem imperative. Let’s run down what needs to happen for each team to advance and what will go wrong if each team finds their season has come to a heartbreaking conclusion:
East Region- #1 Kentucky vs. #12 Cornell
If Kentucky advances: The Wildcats need to speed up Cornell and go crazy in transition. Cornell loves to keep teams in the halfcourt where they can run their sets and explore a two-man game with heady point guard Louis Dale and seven-foot center Jeff Foote. If Kentucky is forced into a halfcourt game, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson must get a touch on each and every possession. The Big Red will have an incredibly difficult time containing two lottery picks if Cousins and Patterson receive the ball in prime post position. It would also help tremendously if Eric Bledsoe’s hot shooting streak continues. Bledsoe has nailed 75% of his three-pointers in the Dance thus far, giving Kentucky yet another dimension.
If Cornell advances: Cornell emasculated Wisconsin on Sunday, shooting the ball at over a 60% clip and scoring an otherworldly 1.45 points per possession against a Bo Ryan defense. If the Big Red continues their red-hot stroking from the outside with star Ryan Wittman, Dale, Jon Jacques and Chris Wroblewski, there’s a fair chance Kentucky won’t be able to answer. When the Wildcats struggle, they take and miss a plethora of long-range shots. Cornell runs the ninth most efficient offense in the nation, largely due to the intelligent play of their senior guards. With Kentucky starting a freshman backcourt, it’s possible the Big Red could frustrate the turnover-prone John Wall into mistakes.
East Region- #2 West Virginia vs. #11 Washington
If West Virginia advances: The Mountaineers need to stick to what they do best- namely hitting the boards with an unmatched intensity, beating Washington up physically, and getting the ball to Da’Sean Butler in big spots if the game comes down to the wire. Washington only has one main contributor that’s 6’9 and most of their forwards are more long than bulky. West Virginia is the second best offensive rebounding team in the nation and could rack up the second-chance opportunities, much like they did against an undersized Missouri squad in the previous round. A key matchup to watch is Devin Ebanks guarding Quincy Pondexter. It’s vital that Ebanks bring it on the defensive end; in fact, if I’m Bob Huggins, I tell Ebanks to transfer his complete focus to the defensive end and guarding Pondexter.
If Washington advances: The Huskies underachieved during the regular season for many reasons, the top two being an inability to win on the road and shooting woes from behind the arc. A 34% three-point shooting team the entire campaign, Washington has shot 47% or better from downtown in both of their tournament wins. Isaiah Thomas and Elston Turner have played tremendously well in this regard, and they’ll need the hot shooting to continue on Thursday because the Huskies can’t hold a candle to West Virginia in the paint. Also, Mountaineers point guard Joe Mazzulla is an above-average defensive player and can frustrate Thomas into poor shot selection and turnovers. Thomas needs to keep his head and continue to find Pondexter in the right spots and Turner off screens for open looks.
For the other three regions, read on…
West Region- #1 Syracuse vs. #5 Butler
If Syracuse advances: The Orange dodged this very bullet on Sunday when Rick Jackson picked up his third foul in the middle of the first half, but Syracuse absolutely must keep Jackson on the floor for 32-35 minutes of this game given Arinze Onuaku isn’t ready to play. Not that Butler has an assembly line of bruising big bodies, but Jackson is the one clear matchup advantage for Jim Boeheim and Co. If DaShonte Riley is forced into more crucial minutes and Matt Howard stays on the floor, Butler may be in line to pull off the upset. This could all be rendered moot if Syracuse shoots the lights out again. Their three main guards and swingman Wes Johnson put on an absolute clinic against Gonzaga. Just continue to do what they’ve been doing- score efficiently, knock down perimeter jumpers with Rautins and Johnson and have their two-headed point guard monster control and push at the right times.
If Butler advances: Butler needs Gordon Hayward to hit perimeter jumpers against the 2-3 zone. A 45% long range shooter as a freshman, Hayward has dipped to a woeful 28% this season and is 1-10 in the NCAA Tournament. Hayward and point guard Shelvin Mack opening up the zone by hitting from deep all of a sudden puts Butler in the driver’s seat. It’s been repeated ad nauseam by anyone that’s watched Butler on a regular basis, but they must keep Matt Howard on the floor against Rick Jackson. Howard had more foul difficulties against Murray State, but the play of Mack and Ronald Nored helped send the Bulldogs to Syracuse. Howard is the only legitimate post presence coach Brad Stevens can throw at Syracuse’s big men. Controlling the Orange transition game is also key.
West Region- #2 Kansas State vs. #6 Xavier
If Kansas State advances: Save the first three minutes of the game, Kansas State played about as well as possible on both ends of the floor as they have all season against BYU. The Wildcats sink or swim with the effectiveness of their guard tandem of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente. Those two complimented each other to perfection on Saturday- Pullen draining open outside shots and Clemente finishing at the rim in transition and with penetration. Xavier’s Jordan Crawford has played an exceptional tournament thus far, so this game could come down to Kansas State’s Jamar Samuels frustrating Crawford into porous shot selection. Get Crawford into frustration mode and he takes his own team out of the game (the talented guard ranks 17th in the nation in% of shots taken). Kansas State doesn’t have an overly talented frontline so they’ll need to utilize their patented physicality to beat up Jason Love and Kenny Frease.
If Xavier advances: The Musketeers will need to play a near-perfect game to down Kansas State if the Wildcats play similarly to their outstanding performance on Saturday. Jordan Crawford has made 20 of 36 shots attempted in the tournament. If he starts draining any shot on the floor like he’s capable of doing, Xavier can pull off the upset. Unfortunately, when Crawford’s stroke is off, Chris Mack doesn’t have a steady second scoring option to run a play for. Terrell Holloway just isn’t a compelling scorer and Jason Love is more of a defender/rebounder than a scoring threat. Along with Crawford getting hot, Xavier can go toe-to-toe with Kansas State up front. Love is an elite rebounder and effective shot blocker and even Jamel McLean can bang with Samuels, Curtis Kelly, Luis Colon and Wally Judge in the post.
Midwest Region- #5 Michigan State vs. #9 Northern Iowa
If Michigan State advances: With floor leader and star point guard Kalin Lucas sidelined, it’s Korie Lucious handling the Spartan offense from here on out. Despite his recent heroics, Lucious was shaky when Lucas hurt his ankle in the middle of Big 10 play and is much more effective as a spark off the bench shooting from deep. We all know how imperative steady point guard play can prove in late March. The other player that must step up if the Spartans wish to make Tom Izzo’s sixth (!) Final Four is Draymond Green. With Delvon Roe’s gimpy knee acting up and Chris Allen severely hobbled, Green has to be that outside/inside scoring threat making the mid-range jumper and even posting up on occasion given the limits of Garrick Sherman and Derrick Nix offensively. Even though Lucious will have to be controlled, Izzo may want to allow his team to get into transition with relative frequency. Northern Iowa should have a difficult time matching up with the athletes of Michigan State, especially Durrell Summers.
If Northern Iowa advances: A halfcourt game would absolutely benefit Northern Iowa. Many Kansas fans are enraged because Bill Self didn’t employ the three-quarter court press earlier in the game after seeing how much it frustrated the Panthers late. For 35 minutes, UNI was allowed to play at their slow tempo in the halfcourt and control the game at their speed and intensity. Much like point guard play is where the Spartans could be vulnerable, point guard play is where the Panthers are vastly superior. Both Kwadzo Ahelegbe and Johnny Moran are steady floor leaders with multi-dimensional games. Win the turnover battle by controlling tempo and using their experienced guards to set up Adam Koch and Jordan Eglseder, and the shocking run could continue to the Elite 8. Ali Faroukmanesh may have to hit another cold-blooded three to put the icing on the cake.
Midwest Region- #2 Ohio State vs. #6 Tennessee
If Ohio State advances: The X-factor for Ohio State is Jon Diebler. When he’s shooting the ball with fury from deep, the Buckeyes are impossible to guard. Diebler is shooting at over a 50% clip in the Dance; his red-hot shooting allows the seas to part for Evan Turner to create and do what he does best. In order for the Buckeyes to keep playing and win a suddenly wide open Midwest region, Turner has to limit turnovers. More physical defenses with lengthy wings can frustrate the National Player of the Year into coughing up the basketball. Tennessee may have their perfect defender in J.P. Prince. If he contains Turner and the Volunteers score enough on the offensive end, all of a sudden Diebler and William Buford are forced to make deep jumpers rather than play off the effectiveness of Turner.
If Tennessee advances: As I mentioned, Prince must have his signature defensive performance against Turner for the Vols to stand a chance. Don’t think Turner isn’t aware that a heroic NCAA Tournament performance will vault him to the top of a handful of NBA Draft boards. The Buckeyes are not deep, but their starters have enough talent to put points up on the scoreboard. Tennessee’s offense isn’t always so steady. The Vols ranked #91 in offensive efficiency, #94 in effective FG%, #241 in FT% and #262 in 3pt% this season, shocking numbers for a team still hoping to cut down the nets in Indy. Wayne Chism and Scotty Hopson must shoot the ball well from three for the Vols to match the offensively-gifted Buckeyes. Limiting possessions could be of help to Bruce Pearl’s squad.
South Region- #1 Duke vs. #4 Purdue
If Duke advances: The difference between Duke in the past 3-4 years and Duke this season is their ability to win games even if they’re not making outside shots. The Blue Devils shot 3-17 from downtown in their convincing second round win over California. Duke shooting 3-17 from three in past tournaments usually resulted in a close win or a soul-crushing loss. Now Duke can overcome struggling from the outside because they rebound and defend exceptionally well. Brian Zoubek has molded into one of the best rebounders in the nation while Lance Thomas and Miles Plumlee also contribute on this end. The Blue Devils are strong defensively, sagging a bit on their opposition compared to previous years because Coach K doesn’t need to hide a size disadvantage. Even if Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith struggle shooting threes, Duke can win this game on defense and by pounding Purdue on the boards.
If Purdue advances: Most pundits counted Purdue out after losing Robbie Hummel to a torn ACL and posting 11 points in a half during the Big Ten Tournament, but the Boilers have proven to be the first #4-seed Cinderella in Tournament history. How did they down Siena and A&M? Two primary reasons: 1) offensive contribution from Chris Kramer and 2) wavering intensity and effort from JaJuan Johnson has been replaced by a consistent ferocity on both ends (his leaping rejection late in the A&M game evidence of this). Johnson needs to have a career night against the many Duke forwards Coach K can throw at him defensively. Kramer also must lock up Scheyer and force him into bad shot selection. Keep this a low-possession game, utilize their patented perimeter defense on the Duke guards and Matt Painter may be able to pull off a stunner. I wouldn’t rule it out.
South Region- #3 Baylor vs. #10 Saint Mary’s
If Baylor advances: The formula is pretty simple for the Bears- control the paint and make enough outside shots to draw the Gaels defense closer to their guards. Saint Mary’s likes to employ a defense that dares the defense to make outside shots; if Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn are hitting 40-45% of their long 2’s and three-pointers, it could be the last call for Randy Bennett’s Gaels. The clear advantage for Baylor, though, is in the paint. The Gaels received a fortunate draw in that both Richmond and Villanova couldn’t pose a definitive threat on the both ends down low against Samhan. Baylor has a handful, from Josh Lomers to Quincy Acy to Anthony Jones to Ekpe Udoh. Acy and Udoh, specifically, are long, athletic, leaping forwards with the propensity to posterize opponents. Baylor leads the nation in team blocks (nearly seven a game) and could force Samhan into foul trouble.
If Saint Mary’s advances: With Samhan on the floor, the Gaels have a perfect combination: the fourth best three-point shooting team in the nation and a legitimate 20/10 threat on the block. Without Samhan, not only can the defense play up on their shooters, but in this specific matchup the Baylor forwards should have a field day with points in the paint. It’s imperative that Samhan not leave his feet on defense, don’t try to make the spectacular play or lower his shoulder into the Baylor defenders, but play a smart yet aggressive brand of basketball that allows him to stay on the floor for 35 effective minutes. Saint Mary’s also needs to keep shooting lights out from the perimeter. Get out to a quick lead and the Bears can be forced into playing with a streetball mentality of forced shots and poor decisions offensively.