NCAA Second Round Game Analysis – Thursday

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2011

Now that the Play-In First Four games are finished, let’s get back to normalcy with the best weekend of the year beginning this afternoon.  Sixteen games, eight sites, four television channels, and several million brackets busted by roughly 3:30 PM eastern time.

#5 West Virginia vs. #11 Clemson – East Region Second Round (at Tampa, FL) – 12:15 pm ET on CBS

Expect a low-scoring, gritty and physical opener for Thursday’s NCAA Tournament action, and not just because the tip time is barely after noon and Clemson arrived in Tampa just before the sun came up on Wednesday. Both of these teams pride themselves in their toughness defensively and play extremely hard on every possession. Clemson specializes in limiting opposing offenses inside the arc behind senior forward Jerai Grant prowess in the paint, while West Virginia limits their competition to below 30% shooting from the three-point line. While both Brad Brownell and Bob Huggins have a history of trotting out stalwart defenses, the edge offensively has to side with the Mountaineers. Kevin Jones has been playing his best basketball of the season as of late, posting three double-doubles in his last four outings. Casey Mitchell is a 38% gunner from deep that is tremendous off screens in catch and shoot situations where he barely needs any room to fire. Deniz Kilicli and John Flowers have aided what has turned out to be the sixth best offensive rebounding team in the nation, no surprise coming from a Huggins-coached squad. Clemson is merely middle of the pack in Division I in allowing offensive rebounds, so the Mountaineer frontline may be able to churn out extra possessions for their perimeter weapons throughout this game. Limiting Grant is certainly a challenge, but the WV frontline should be up to the task. Combine tired legs with Mitchell feasting on a perimeter defense that just surrendered 12 threes to UAB and the edge in this 5/12 matchup has to side with the Mountaineers.

The RTC Certified Pick: West Virginia.

#8 Butler vs. #9 Old Dominion – Southeast Region Second Round (at Washington, D.C.) – 12:40 pm ET on truTV.

Both teams have won their past nine games en route to conference tournament championships. Defense has been the key for each club during their winning streaks with Butler giving up 58 PPG and ODU at 57.7 PPG against over their last nine games. Old Dominion is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation and that is where they have to take advantage of the Bulldogs. This game will be played almost exclusively in the half court with both teams preferring a slower pace. Butler ranks #11 in defensive rebounding percentage but the Monarchs are the best offensive rebounding team in the land. Blaine Taylor’s team must win this battle and protect the basketball in order to advance. They struggle at times with turnovers and lots of giveaways will negate their expected edge on the glass. Look for the Monarchs to work inside utilizing star big man Frank Hassell as well as Keyon Carter and Kent Bazemore. Butler allows 48.7% FG inside the arc and that could hurt them against the frontcourt-oriented Monarchs. Butler shoots almost 21 threes per game behind Shelvin Mack, Zach Hahn and even Matt Howard (44%). Add in the recent play of Shawn Vanzant and you have a team playing as well as they have all year. ODU is very poor against the three, their biggest vulnerability. Bazemore is a terrific defender and needs to come up big on that end against the Bulldog guards. Both teams are experienced and obviously did well in last year’s tournament so they won’t be intimidated by the big stage. While the focus will be on Howard vs. Hassell in the post, this game could be determined by guard play.

The RTC Certified Pick: Butler.

#4 Louisville vs. #13 Morehead State – Southwest Region Second Round (at Denver, CO) – 1:40 pm ET on TBS.

We’re quite sure that Louisville head coach Rick Pitino could only shake his head in disgust when he saw his team’s opening matchup on Thursday.  An in-state mid-major whose greatest strength — a dominant glass-eater by the name of Kenneth Faried — bears stark contrast with his Cards’ greatest weakness, interior play.  Over the years, Pitino has mastered the art of using team defensive principles to stymie players like Faried by throwing two and three bodies at him everywhere on the floor.  The Cards will need to again, because Faried’s nonstop motor and Rodman-esque knack for finding the ball is the best in the nation (he corrals 20% of offensive rebounds and 31% of defensive rebounds while he’s on the floor), something his players know all too well after facing Morehead State (and Faried) in the same round two seasons ago (Faried went for 14/11 in a 20-point loss).  He’s gotten better, and so has his team.  The good news for Pitino is that MSU is often sloppy with the ball, committing nearly fifteen turnovers a game, and the Eagles don’t defend the three very well (36.9%), which will allow ample opportunities for the Louisville shooters to get good looks from deep.  Two seasons ago a stronger Louisville team went into halftime only up two points on a weaker Morehead State team; expect a similar situation this year, as the relative strengths and weaknesses offset each other.  Ultimately, the Cards will find enough points through hustle and desire to fend off the school located two hours east, but we’ll forgive Pitino if he lambastes the committee for giving him this dangerous opponent for the second time in three years.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville.

#7 Temple vs. #10 Penn State – West Region Second Round (at Tucson, AZ) – 2:10 pm ET on TNT.

While the Owls are 25-7 and the higher seed here, this is not a team that is at full strength. They have played their last eight games without center Michael Eric, who will not return this year, and the last seven without swingman Scootie Randall, who is holding out hope that he will be able to go Thursday. The Nittany Lions, meanwhile, are at full strength, but their full strength means that their five starters are ready to play a whole lot of minutes, with only sporadic contributions from the bench, which averages less than eight total points per game. And given the pace at which Penn State plays (their games average just 60 possessions, in the bottom two percent of the nation), a pace which Temple will have little objection to, we’ll have a low-scoring, limited possession, defensive battle that will likely come down to seeing which of the two teams makes the most plays in the final few minutes. Because of that, the Lions may have the edge. Not only do they have four seniors amongst their five main players, but Talor Battle is an explosive scorer given the limited number of possessions he works with. And, among their five man rotation, only Andrew Jones is a poor free throw shooter. For Temple to counteract the experience of the Lions, they’ll need to get plenty of inside production from physical freak Lavoy Allen, while perimeter players like Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and point guard Juan Fernandez will have to take advantage of a PSU defense that likes to pack it in and force their opponents to beat them with their jump shot. Unfortunately for the Owls, even if Randall does make it back for this game, their most efficient offensive player does not figure to have his legs back, and Temple may come up a bit short.

The RTC Certified Pick: Penn State

#4 Kentucky vs. #13 Princeton – East Region Second Round (at Tampa, FL) – 2:45 pm ET on CBS.

The classic David vs. Goliath matchup of this year’s NCAA Tournament plays out in Tampa as SEC Tournament champion and perennial powerhouse Kentucky faces Ivy League champion Princeton, a squad that needed a Douglas Davis leaner at the buzzer to defeat Harvard in that conference’s thrilling one-game playoff. On every position on the floor, Kentucky is superior talent-wise, led by the dynamic play of scoring point guard Brandon Knight and matchup nightmare Terrence Jones. In order for Princeton to pull off the massive upset, they’ll need to slow the tempo to a crawl to limit possessions and out-execute the Wildcats on the offensive end. Kentucky ranked near the bottom of the SEC in turnovers forced and if the Tigers can receive a stellar performance from productive 6’8 forward Kareem Maddox against the one spot on the floor Kentucky doesn’t boast a heralded recruit, center Josh Harrellson, Princeton has a shot at reliving their magic upset of UCLA in 1996. Taking advantage of those limited possessions would be beneficial; they shoot 37% from three, 50% from two and 73% from the line on the season, all ranking in the top 75 in the country. For Kentucky, finding Jones and Doron Lamb often would serve them well. Princeton doesn’t have a defender that can contain the versatile and athletic forward, while Lamb’s 47% from deep is a large reason why UK ranks 13th in the country in percentage from behind the arc. We expect this to be one of the more lopsided 4/13 games of the tournament. While Kentucky has played more of a halfcourt game this season with Knight as opposed to John Wall, the UK point guard is more than capable of speeding up the tempo and making this one relatively ugly quickly.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky

#1 Pittsburgh vs. #16 UNC-Asheville – Southeast Region Second Round (at Washington, D.C.) – 3:10 pm ET on truTV.

What is Asheville’s reward for getting by Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday night in Dayton? A date with top-seeded Pittsburgh 42 hours later in a different city. Everyone knows a 16 seed has never taken down a 1 seed and we’re sure it won’t happen here. However, the Bulldogs play an up-tempo style that could take Pitt out of its comfort zone if everything goes right. That’s a huge caveat but it’s the only chance Asheville has to pull off the stunner. They were predictably led by Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm in their win over Little Rock but the addition of D.J. Cunningham at the center position gives them some much needed help in the paint. Cunningham was expected to be out for the season but was able to play on Tuesday in Dayton. Eddie Biedenbach’s team forced 16 turnovers the other night and will have to do an even better job against the Panthers, a team that protects the ball well. With little height inside to counter Gary McGhee and the rest of the Pitt rebounding corps, Asheville needs to shoot extremely well and force at least 20 Panther turnovers to have a chance.

The RTC Certified Pick: Pittsburgh.

#5 Vanderbilt vs. #12 Richmond – Southwest Region Second Round (at Denver, CO) – 4:10 pm ET on TBS.

In one of the more interesting games of this round, the Commodores and Spiders will match up in a battle of teams going in somewhat opposite directions.  Richmond comes in as the Atlantic 10 Tournament champions, having won eleven of its last twelve games and holding its last six opponents to less than sixty points — the Spider defense has truly become stickier than a cobweb in the last month.  Vandy, on the other hand, limped to a weak finish in the SEC, winning only three of seven games and beating only teams from the SEC West in the process.  The key to this game will come down to how well UR can contain the Vandy sharpshooters, led by John Jenkins (96 treys) and Jeffery Taylor (39), but three other players have at least twenty more and the Dores hit a healthy 37% from deep on the season.  Richmond will counter with its dynamic duo of Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper, both first-team all-Atlantic 10 performers this season, and both equally or even more capable from deep (43% and 47%, respectively).  Kevin Stallings’ team was stung as a #4 seed last year by Cinderella Murray State, who rode a staunch defense and a fair bit of moxie to a ballyhooed last-second victory over the Dores in the first round; it says here that Richmond is better than its seed and will prove it again versus a team that can’t seem to catch a break with its recent matchups in the NCAA Tournament.

The RTC Certified Pick: Richmond.

#2 San Diego State vs. #15 Northern Colorado – West Region Second Round (at Tucson, AZ) – 4:40 pm ET on TNT. For an underdog to have a chance against a higher seed, especially an athletically dominant higher seed like San Diego State, they’ve got to be able to score from the perimeter. Luckily for Northern Colorado, they fit that bill. The Bears have four players on their team who have knocked down 40 or more three pointers this season, and all four of those players (Devon Beitzel, Neal Kingman, Chris Kaba and Elliott Lloyd) have made their perimeter shots at 38% or better. In fact Beitzel, the Big Sky Player of the Year, knocked down 81 threes, and coupled with his ability to get to the free throw line and hit at a 90% clip from there, he is in the top 20 in the nation in true shooting percentage. Unfortunately for Northern Colorado, they also turn the ball over at an inordinate rate, with turnovers on nearly 22% of all their possessions, not a good trait for would-be-Cinderellas. To make matters worse, their opponents are the fourth most efficient defensive team in the nation, although the Aztecs are more apt to pack their defense in rather than force turnovers, a tendency which could cause problems against the Bears. UNC will also be repeatedly tested on the glass, where SDSU, behind Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas in particular, has dominated teams throughout the season. The Bears do have some size, with five players in their rotation checking in at 6’7 or better, but their heart will be challenged throughout the game. While Beitzel figures to do some damage, in the end the Bears just don’t have enough athleticism to outduel the Aztecs, although this may be a bit tighter for a bit longer than people expect.

The RTC Certified Pick: San Diego State

#2 Florida vs. #15 UC Santa Barbara – Southeast Region Second Round (at Tampa, FL) – 6:50 pm ET on TBS.

Florida should definitely win this game but it may not be the easy walk in the park you’d think it would be. UC Santa Barbara won a game at UNLV this season, a borderline top 25 team. The Gauchos do two things very well that could keep them in this game. One, they defend the interior to the tune of 42.3%, ranked ninth in the nation. With Florida getting a lot of production inside, this could pose a problem for the favorites. Secondly, they shoot the three ball very well. If they can get hot from deep, even against the strong Florida perimeter defense, Santa Barbara could hang with the Gators. However, this is also a team that could only manage a .500 record in Big West play and has plenty of turnover problems (14 per game). Two players, Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally, combine for 55% of UCSB’s total point production. Johnson, a 6’5 wing, shoots 40% from three and put the team on his back in the conference tournament, averaging 28.3 PPG over their three wins to get to the Big Dance. He also rebounds well for his size which will be very important against the Gators, a team with plenty of solid rebounders on the roster. Nunnally is a 6’7 forward but he also steps out and knocks down plenty of triples. They’ll likely pull Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons away from the basket on defense but Florida still has Vernon Macklin underneath the bucket to rebound. The Gauchos have an experienced roster laden with juniors and seniors but the Gators have everyone back from last year’s team looking to take advantage of their high seed and make a deep run.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida.

#3 BYU vs. #14 Wofford – Southeast Region Second Round (at Denver, CO) – 7:15 pm ET on CBS.

Two of the better players in non-BCS basketball will go head to head here, although their games are entirely different. Jimmer Fredette has been the talk of the college basketball world all season but Wofford’s Noah Dahlman has been spectacular for four years in Spartanburg, SC. In order for Dahlman’s Terriers to pull off the upset, they’ll have to slow down the high-octane Cougars in the Mile High City. Wofford has won eight straight games but the competition wasn’t like this. Playing at altitude, BYU is going to run, run and run some more. They’re used to it in Provo and from playing throughout the Mountain West while the thin air will be a shock to the system for the Terriers. Wofford attempts only 14 threes per game (to BYU’s 23) and utilizes Dahlman on 27% of their possessions. Mike Young’s team is #5 in three point percentage but only Cameron Rundles and Kevin Giltner shoot the trey with any kind of regularity. Even if Wofford is successful in slowing the game down to their preferred pace, they’re going to have a tough time stopping Fredette and the efficient BYU offense. Defense is Wofford’s main problem and it will be a struggle whether in the halfcourt or in transition. They don’t force a lot of turnovers, plus the Cougars protect the ball really well. Dahlman may have more room to operate without Brandon Davies but Noah Hartsock still presents a challenge for the undersized Terrier forward. Wofford is the second-most experienced team in the nation but the altitude of Colorado and strength of BYU’s offense will make it extremely difficult to advance.

The RTC Certified Pick: BYU.

#3 Connecticut vs. #14 Bucknell – West Region Second Round (at Washington, DC) – 7:20 pm ET on TNT.

After losing four of their last five regular season games, UConn is hot again. They stormed through the field in New York last weekend, winning five games in five days to take home the Big East Tournament championship. But there’s no rest for the weary, as the Huskies were rewarded with a matchup with another of the hottest teams in the nation, the Bucknell Bison, who have won 23 of their 25 games since December 1, including a road win over Richmond in early January. The big question for Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen is how to slow Kemba Walker and there is no easy answer, although Patriot League defensive player of the year Bryan Cohen figures to get the first shot as the Bison go almost exclusively man-to-man. Offensively, they’ll need to keep in touch by knocking down threes, and sophomore guard Bryson Johnson is one of the best pure shooters in the nation, stroking the three at a 46% rate. Up front, however, the Bison are limited, with sophomore center Mike Muscala the only member of the typical seven-man rotation over 6’5, a problem that could be exploited by Alex Oriakhi and the Huskies’ frontcourt that is one of the better offensive rebounding clubs in the country. Bucknell showed their ability early in the season to hang around with major conference schools for quite a while, but came up short against Villanova, Marquette and Boston College, and it is likely that the result will be similar here.

The RTC Certified Pick: Connecticut.

#4 Wisconsin vs. #13 Belmont – Southeast Region Second Round (at Tucson, AZ) – 7:27 pm ET on truTV.

The Bruins put a major score into Duke back in the 2008 tournament and will be a trendy pick to knock off the Badgers in Tucson. This is another game featuring two teams with completely different styles of play. Belmont thrives on an up-tempo turnover-filled game, ranking second in defensive turnover percentage. That leads to lots of transition baskets and high percentage looks and it shows in the statistics. However, the Bruins are facing a team with exceptional discipline and ball protection (thanks to uber-point guard Jordan Taylor) that plays at the slowest pace in all of D1. Wisconsin ranks second in offensive efficiency but is coming off two consecutive losses entering the NCAAs. Aside from UNLV, Wisconsin has not lost to a team that plays at a really quick pace all season. The good news for Belmont is their defense ranks #19 in efficiency and holds opponents to 32.8% from three. That will be critical against a Wisconsin team that shoots a three 40.5% of the time. Belmont also shoots plenty of treys and that could spell trouble for Bo Ryan, a great coach but also someone with a history of early exits (although he’s lost only one “first” round game). Wisconsin has been awful all year against the three, allowing opponents to shoot 38.9% in Big Ten play and 37.5% overall from distance. Ian Clark and Jordan Campbell each shoot well over 40% from the arc, plus Belmont has the depth and interior strength to combat Taylor outside and Jon Leuer inside.

The RTC Certified Pick: Belmont.

#7 UCLA vs. #10 Michigan State – Southeast Region Second Round (at Tampa, FL) – 9:20 pm ET on TBS.

Sparty looked like they were turning the corner after beating Purdue but laid an egg against Penn State in the third round of the Big Ten tournament. UCLA has enjoyed a nice season but flamed out in its first conference tournament game. These two teams have combined for 151 all-time NCAA tournament wins making it one of the best brand-name matchups you’ll see on the first day of the tournament. Each team has struggled with turnovers all year long but UCLA has been worse. If the Bruins give the average-shooting Spartans more opportunities to score, that could doom their chances. Michigan State has to be careful themselves with turnovers but they can score in transition with Kalin Lucas off UCLA giveaways. Lucas carried them to the win over Purdue and needs to be a factor in this game. Tom Izzo has so many players perform inconsistently from game to game but Lucas has been his one rock to depend on. The Spartans must stop UCLA’s inside attack with Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith and Tyler Honeycutt. The Bruins have terrific rebounders in the paint and that’s something Izzo has taken pride in over the years. Draymond Green has to show up and play big in order for Michigan State to advance. UCLA has the talent edge but we feel Izzo is good enough for at least one win in this tournament. That’s no slight on the highly successful Ben Howland, but March is the month where Izzo works his magic.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State.

#6 St. John’s vs. #11 Gonzaga – Southeast Region Second Round (at Denver, CO) – 9:45 pm ET on CBS.

St. John’s begins life without third leading scorer D.J. Kennedy after being shipped out west and having its seed downgraded because of his injury. Gonzaga hasn’t lost since a home defeat to Memphis on February 5 as Mark Few’s team kicked its defense into high gear. The Zags have allowed only 58.3 PPG during their nine-game winning streak and finished tops in the WCC in defending the two. They’re ranked eighth nationally in that statistic and that will be the focus of this game. St. John’s is a team that utilizes dribble penetration to the extreme, not attempting many outside shots while pounding the ball in the paint and scoring in transition. The Red Storm will have a difficult time dealing with the Gonzaga front line, sporting four players at 6’8 or taller. In addition, Gonzaga has put a lid on the turnover problems that plagued them for the first couple of months. Steven Gray hasn’t turned the ball over more than once in any game in over a month while Elias Harris has made great strides as well. If St. John’s can’t create turnovers, they’ll be forced to score in the paint through their offensive sets. If Dwight Hardy isn’t on top of his game, this will be a long night for the Johnnies. Hardy is their catalyst and thrives by getting in the lane and finishing, getting to the foul line or dishing to Justin Brownlee. Steve Lavin’s team will be in this game but their defense against the triple and an expected rebounding disadvantage could be too much to overcome.

The RTC Certified Pick: Gonzaga.

#6 Cincinnati vs. #11 Missouri – West Region Second Round (at Washington, DC) – 9:50 pm ET on TNT.

Tempo, tempo, tempo. The Tigers, under head coach Mike Anderson, want to play the fastest 40 minutes in basketball, while the Bearcats will be just fine slowing it down, using plenty of the shot-clock and pounding the offensive glass relentlessly. The old saying is that it is easier to slow a game down than it is to speed it up, but for Cincinnati to effectively slow the game down to their liking, they’ll need to give their primary ball-handler, sophomore point guard Cashmere Wright plenty of help, with guys like Sean Kilpatrick, Dion Dixon and even little-used freshman Jaquon Parker needing to have solid games. If Cincinnati is able to evade Mizzou’s press, the Tigers will need frontcourt players Ricardo Ratliffe, Laurence Bowers and Justin Safford to compete hard on the boards. Given that the Tigers have struggled cleaning the defensive glass and that the Bearcats are one of the best teams in the land at hitting the offensive boards, this area could be a mismatch if this turns into a halfcourt game. If this is a close game in the last several minutes, there are a couple of factors working against Cincinnati. First, nobody on this Bearcat team has ever played in an NCAA Tournament game, while Mizzou has been there the last couple of years. Second, there are more than a couple really bad free throw shooters on this squad, including leading scorer Yancy Gates, who shoots just 59% from the charity stripe. In the end, it is likely that the Bearcats will succeed in keeping the tempo slow, will beat up the Tigers on the boards, and will hang on to win a game that won’t be the prettiest piece of art anyone sees this weekend.

The RTC Certified Pick: Cincinnati.

#5 Kansas State vs. #12 Utah State – Southeast Region Second Round (at Tucson, AZ) – 9:57 pm ET on truTV.

Utah State will finally get the chance to prove themselves on the national stage in another game where pace will be a huge factor. The Aggies have to slow Kansas State down and force them to the perimeter in order to win. If Jacob Pullen and company can score in transition, Utah State could get caught in an up and down battle they can’t win. Brockeith Pane is a fine point guard but the Aggies aren’t built to play fast. They are at their best in the halfcourt with Pane setting up Tai Wesley inside or the other guards, such as Brian Green (47.2% 3FG), outside. Wesley will have to contend with Curtis Kelly and the rugged Kansas State interior but has some help with two other big forwards to draw defenders in the paint. Both teams possess solid inside play but this game could come down to defense and three point shooting. The Aggies are a stout defensive club (so is K-State) and do a terrific job keeping opponents from getting offensive rebounds, ranked second in defensive rebounding percentage. That’ll be important against the Wildcats, ranked in the top five in grabbing offensive boards of their own. Utah State has to neutralize K-State inside and work hard defensively on the perimeter where they rank #11 against the trey. Pullen and Rodney McGruder do a good job from deep but will face a difficult challenge from the Aggie defenders. This game, despite the seeding, is essentially a tossup, but we’re going with the mild upset here.

The RTC Certified Pick: Utah State.

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