Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis: Friday Night

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2010

Over the next two days, RTC will break down the regional semifinal 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 Thursday night’s games from the East and West Regionals.

7:07 pm – #2 Ohio State vs. #6 Tennessee  (Midwest Region)

We know the Buckeyes have had three full days of rest since their second round game against Georgia Tech.  But Thad Matta has shortened (and by “shortened,” we mean “set on fire and forgotten about”) his bench so much late in the season and in this tournament that you have to even wonder if that’s enough time for the Buckeyes to recover.  Jon Diebler has played every minute of the Buckeyes’ first two tournament games.  William Buford has missed two minutes of action TOTAL out of the possible 210 minutes of game time in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.  David Lighty and Evan Turner have only sat for five minutes in that same time span.  The only starter who sits for any amount of time is big man Dallas Lauderdale, and he still plays at least 30 minutes a game.  Yet, the Buckeyes keep rolling.  The only thing Jon Diebler seems tired of is finding himself open behind the three point line.  He’s 11-22 in OSU’s two tournament games, and a lot of these things aren’t monitor-checkers.  They were deep.  And of course Turner has shown us his usual excellence.  There aren’t any surprises with the Buckeyes.  Tennessee, though, is a different story.  You never know whose night it’s going to be.  Scotty Hopson, Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince…any one or two of these guys can get hot, but then you have to worry about players like Brian Williams or Melvin Goins or Bobby Maze stepping up with a 15 point or 12 rebound night.  OSU’s four-forwards-and-Turner (who’s officially listed as a forward!) will be able to keep the Volunteer guards from getting too out of hand, but can they guard and rebound against the slightly taller Tennessee bigs?  As a team, rebounding is one of the few Buckeye weaknesses, and Tennessee has shown the capability to dominate the glass this year when they put their minds to it.  Both teams are among the nation’s best when it comes to guarding the three, but it’s OSU that gets a little more of their offense from the long ball.  On paper, the matchups are not favorable for OSU.  And the Tennessee kids are the kind who will relish the fact that they’re “supposed” to lose this game.  We doubt it’ll be a blowout, and remarkably both of these teams are fantastic in games decided by ten points or less.  In those games, OSU is 10-5 this season, and Tennessee is 13-2.  It’s gonna be a fun one.

The Skinny:  If both teams guard the three well, it will hurt OSU more than Tennessee.  Factor in the possibility that all those minutes could be catching up to the Buckeyes, and you have the makings of an upset.  It’s not easy taking the Volunteers in this game, because of how they can sometimes take nights off between the ears.  But Tennessee has had two chances to underestimate their opponent in this tournament, and didn’t either time.  They won’t here; they know what OSU can do.  Wouldn’t be surprised to see the Volunteers emerge.

7:27 pm – #3 Baylor vs. #10 St. Mary’s  (South Region)

The Gaels come into this game as one of the tournament’s Cinderellas, but this time Cinderella is actually the Tournament’s giant with Omar Samhan who has been the most dominant big man in the field so far after dominating Richmond and Villanova to the point where analysts were ripping Jay Wright for not doubling down on Samhan fo abusing Villanova’s interior players. In Wright’s defense, doubling down on Samhan would leave the St Mary’s guards open on the perimeter where they rank fourth in the country from beyond the arc. Scott Drew probably won’t be saddled with that dilemma since he has a center in 6’10 Ekpe Udoh who is every bit as good as Samhan. Even if Samhan does get the edge on Udoh here he will have to deal with 6’10 Anthony Jones, 7′ Josh Lomers and 6’7 Quincy Acy. With such a strong interior defense, the Bears block more shots than any other team in the NCAA Tournament at more than seven blocks per game so don’t expect Samhan to dominate the Bears like he did the Spiders and Wildcats. In addition to the challenge for Samhan on the offensive end, he will also be under pressure on defense going against a likely first rounder in Udoh. After hearing that you might be forgiven for thinking that this game will be decided solely on what happens on the inside, but you would be wrong. The matchup of guards featuring LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter against Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova could be the key to the game with the Bears having the edge in athleticism and the Gaels having the edge in shooting. Saint Mary’s will need their perimeter players (especially McConnell who is a ridiculous 75-145, or 51.7% from 3 this season) to hit treys against Baylor’s zone to open up space for Samhan to operate. If McConnell and Delledova can keep Dunn and Carter in front of them most of the time, the WCC might get its first team in the Elite Eight since 1999 when Gonzaga made it their before losing to eventual champion UConn (yes, that is the last time the Bulldogs made it that far).

The Skinny: Everyone will be talking about Baylor coming into this game with the homecourt advantage since the game is being played in Houston (a little over 180 miles away from Baylor’s campus in Waco), but Baylor doesn’t have a strong following like other schools in the state do. In fact, we might get a “Duke at Greensboro” situation where UNC fans (or in this case Texas and Texas A&M) root against the local team. Still the combination of Udoh, Dunn, and Carter should be enough to get it done as Samhan’s beastly NCAA Tournament run comes to an end.
9:37 pm – #5 Michigan State vs. #9 Northern Iowa  (Midwest Region)

There may be teams with higher numbers beside their names, but the real Cinderella in this NCAA Tournament is Northern Iowa.  They’re the only ones with a #1-seeded scalp to their credit and half of everyone who filled out a bracket had them losing their first round game against UNLV.  For most of the season, when we heard about UNI we heard mostly about Jordan Eglseder.  But the star of the tournament (with apologies to Omar Samhan) has been Ali Farokhmanesh.  The 6’0 guard only averaged 9.7 PPG during the year but is averaging 16.5 PPG in this tournament, and we’re assuming there’s no need to remind you about his affinity for taking the big three when it’s needed.  UNI has been enjoying all this praise and head-patting, but we bet they didn’t just come here to get to the Sweet Sixteen.  It doesn’t matter what they were thinking before — that 30th win convinced them that though they may wear that “mid-major” scarlet letter (good luck convincing the big boys to play you in Cedar Falls, guys), they can take down anyone.  There’s not one doubt in their minds that they can be the last team standing in Indianapolis.  Their next obstacle comes in the form of a Michigan State squad that Tom Izzo described as “a MASH unit” because of all the injuries they’re nursing.  Durrell Summers is the only double-figure scorer they have who isn’t one of the walking wounded — and we now feel bad because we may have jinxed him.  Kalin Lucas is gone.  We’re pretty sure Raymar Morgan can adapt to his busted tooth, but Delvon Roe and Chris Allen are nowhere near 100%.  This game will be decided on whether or not the Spartans can physically make it.  We’re not kidding.  During the season, they had only seven players who averaged double-figure minutes, and those players played at least 20 MPG.  Now, some of the Spartans who didn’t even play ten minutes a game are going to be asked to provide significant time against a team playing its best basketball of the year and who will have the crowd behind them.  The only other option is for their main weapons to play through the pain.  We know he’d rather have a healthy team, but Tom Izzo will use this.  He’ll have his guys thinking they’re the underdog despite being the higher seed, and the emotional component will be generated from that.  UNI will not be the only team out there high on emotion.  We won’t know until game time how well each Spartan has recovered, but there’s no denying the talent advantage that MSU possesses.  True, Kansas possessed a talent advantage, too, but the Jayhawks underestimated UNI, and the Panthers made them pay.  Upsets are easier (so to speak) when barely anyone’s watching.  Everyone’s watching now.

The Skinny:  If the injured Spartans can go for a majority of the minutes, then MSU will win a close game.  If they have to go to the bench for extended relief, UNI will exploit it.  Make no mistake, UNI will get physical with MSU no matter who’s in the game, but Tom Izzo thrives on spots like this.  We officially welcome Northern Iowa into the ranks of the “major-mid-majors,” meaning the likes of Butler and Gonzaga.  That last win moved them up a notch on the college basketball hierarchy.  But in this battle of guts, Michigan State will move on.

9:57 pm – #1 Duke vs. #4 Purdue  (South Region)

A month ago this could have very easily been a mildly surprising but not shocking Final Four match-up. One Robbie Hummel injury later and it has become a surprising Sweet Sixteen matchup. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Purdue might had the lowest expectations from the public of any #4 seed in NCAA Tournament history particularly after their embarassing loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals where they trailed 37-11 at halftime and needed a JaJuan Johnson jumper at the buzzer to break into double digits. But after knocking off perennial giant killer Siena and then a Texas A&M team that would have been a dark horse to make it to Indianapolis if they had been able to get to Houston, the Boilermakers temporarily become the most popular team in college basketball (aka Duke’s opponent). On the other sideline, Duke comes into the game that everyone expected. Now the big question is whether or not Coach K can get his team over the hump and into the Final Four for the first time since 2004. Even though the talking heads will reference the game these teams played back on December 2, 2008, that the Blue Devils won by 16 points, it would be a mistake to use that game to extrapolate the outcome of this game since neither Gerald Henderson (1-8 FG for 2 points) or Hummel (15 points, but abused repeatedly by Kyle Singler) will play and the Blue Devils will be using Brian Zoubek (stop laughing. . .seriously, stop laughing) in the middle. While several analysts have been quick to point out how the loss of Hummel adversely affects the Purdue offense, they have not commented on how they might be a little better defensively without him in the lineup. Singler was able to control the most recent matchup, but he will have a much harder time against Chris Kramer, who is essentially a slightly stronger, more athletic version of Steve Wojciechowski. Kramer’s defense against a resurgent Singler, who is starting to look like a NBA lottery pick again, will be the key to keeping Matt Painter‘s squad in the game. If Kramer is able to lock down Singler, the task of providing the offense for Duke falls on Jon Scheyer who has struggled lately including a 1-11 shooting game against California in the second round. Scheyer will probably match-up against E’Twaun Moore on offense, but will get Kramer on defense while Singler will draw the task of guarding Moore because Coach K is too smart to let Scheyer get abused. Another interesting matchup to watch will be Johnson versus Zoubek. If we’re talking NBA future and athleticism Johnson has the big edge, but in this matchup the advantage might not be so clear with the way Zoubek has been playing. If Johnson is willing to battle down low with Zoubek, he can provide a big edge over the less nimble but more physical Duke center. If he doesn’t ,Duke could have a big advantage on the boards with Zoubek and the Plumlees controlling the paint.

The Skinny: Everybody keeps expecting the Blue Devils to fall on their face, but it probably won’t happen here against a Purdue team that should be proud of what they have accomplished so far. The wildcard here is Lewis Jackson, who has played limited minutes in his return to the Boilermakers but still averages an impressive 3.4 A/TO ratio. If he can provide the Boilermakers with a spark against Nolan Smith, Purdue could hang around against the Blue Devils.
rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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