Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis: Friday NightPosted 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)
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)