NCAA Third Round Game Analysis – Saturday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 19th, 2011

Saturday promises to be a great day of matchups in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament.  On paper at least, there isn’t a single one of the eight scheduled games that shouldn’t be competitive.

#4 Kentucky vs. #5 West Virginia – East Region Third Round (at Tampa, FL) – 12:15 pm ET on CBS.

At first glance, West Virginia would appear to match up fairly well with Kentucky. The Mountaineers employ two fifth-year seniors while Kentucky trots out three freshmen in their slim rotation. Bob Huggins is 7-1 all-time against John Calipari, including last year’s Elite Eight triumph over the top-seeded Wildcats. The frontline of Kentucky, featuring only one consistent rebounding presence in Josh Harrellson, would seem to match up poorly against the assembly line of Mountaineer forwards and centers that finished sixth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. The reason we think Kentucky bucks this conventional wisdom is twofold: 1) a predominantly young Kentucky team may have discarded of their lackluster performance in the first round when they secretly felt showing up would be enough to defeat Princeton, and 2) the Wildcats are much more adept against a zone defense than they were last season because of the shooting ability of Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb. A key factor in West Virginia’s win over Clemson in the first round was the changing defenses Bob Huggins showed the Tigers, including a 2-3 and a 1-3-1 zone at various instances. Kentucky is eleventh overall in the nation in three-point percentage at just under 40% as a team and we think Knight will be on the board a lot earlier than the final offensive play of the game this time around. Kentucky simply has much more offensive firepower than West Virginia, who will have to out-tough, out-physical and out-rebound the Wildcats to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. John Calipari’s teams never receive enough credit for being solid defensively. Against a WVU offense that shoots just 48% from two and 34% from three, we believe Kentucky’s efforts on both ends of the floor will be sufficient.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky.

#2 Florida vs. #7 UCLA – Southeast Region Third Round (at Tampa, FL) – 2:45 pm ET on CBS.

The Gators stomped all over UC Santa Barbara on Thursday while UCLA narrowly avoided what would have been an epic implosion, holding off Michigan State after nearly blowing all of a 23-point lead with under nine minutes to play. Aside from a couple of losses to Kentucky down the stretch, Florida has been playing great basketball coming into this tournament and it continued in their first NCAA game. To advance to the Sweet Sixteen, Florida has to stick to what they do best, scoring inside while knocking down some timely threes. The Gators have the height to match up with the turnover-prone UCLA forwards and should also enjoy an edge in the backcourt with a much better team three point percentage behind Erving Walker, as well as Kenny Boynton when he’s hot. The Bruins turned the ball over 16 times against Michigan State and a similar performance will result in plenty of fast break points and extra opportunities for the Gators. UCLA’s strength is up front, both offensively and defensively, but Florida can match the height and depth of the Bruins’ frontcourt. Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt need to have solid games for UCLA to be in the game down the stretch, otherwise Vernon Macklin and Chandler Parsons could take over on the boards and in the paint. These two teams are similarly constructed but the Gators have had more consistent guard play, especially from Walker. This is a really good matchup for Florida, in our opinion, and the Gators should advance from Tampa to the regional semifinals.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida.

#12 Richmond vs. #13 Morehead State – Southwest Region Third Round (at Denver, CO) – 5:15 pm ET on CBS.

In yesterday’s interview session, Morehead State guard Terrance Hill referred to getting to the Sweet Sixteen as a goal for his team all season, “like Butler did last year.”  And his statement personified just how important this game is to non-BCS schools like Richmond and MSU — by winning one more game and advancing to the regional semifinals, it’s roughly equivalent in terms of status and prestige to a major program like Duke or Kentucky making the Final Four.  Given the fact that for both schools a power conference bully isn’t standing in their way to the regionals, neither wants to give an inch in pursuing the opportunity.  Still, even though Richmond isn’t a BCS school, they are a member of a high-mid league and Chris Mooney has a corps of four seniors in Kevin Anderson, Justin Harper, Dan Geriot and Kevin Smith who have been to consecutive NCAA Tournaments and have won ninety games in the last four years.  The offensive options available to Mooney are significantly better than those at the disposal of Morehead’s Donnie Tyndall, and it’s unlikely that the Spiders will be as careless with the ball as Louisville was on Thursday afternoon.  While Kenneth Faried is likely to pull down twenty rebounds against the slight Richmond front line, the Spider perimeter players are very good at locking down the opposing three-ball, holding opponents to a mere 30.5% (Morehead nailed nine, including the game winner, against Louisville).  Furthermore, MSU isn’t very good at stopping the three on their end, as Louisville was able to knock down ten, and UR, led by Anderson (42.7%), Harper (46.5%) and Darien Brothers (39.7%) makes a living as a team in bombing away.  With a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line, the smart money is on the team that isn’t as likely to have celebrated too hard — Morehead State won the biggest game in its history on Thursday; Richmond beat Vandy.  Who would you choose?

The RTC Certified Pick: Richmond.

#2 San Diego State vs. #7 Temple – West Region Third Round (at Tucson, AZ) – 6:10 pm ET on TNT.

On Thursday, Temple had some trouble controlling Penn State’s active veteran front line. On Saturday, the ante will be upped. While PSU’s frontcourt was good, SDSU’s is great, with Kawhi Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas all superior athletes to what the Nittany Lions threw out there. With Owl center Michael Eric out for the season with injury, senior forward Lavoy Allen will have to take the responsibility for manning the middle against SDSU on his broad shoulders. In the first game, Allen hit the boards hard all day, grabbing 11 rebounds, but wasn’t much of a factor offensively (although his offensive rebound and putback with two minutes left was a major part of Temple’s eventual success). He’ll need to be the offensive threat that he can be for the Owls to move on. On the perimeter, the Aztecs also have a variety of athletes to chase the likes of Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore around. Steve Fisher can either throw bigger guys like James Rahon, Jamaal Franklin, or even Leonard at them, or he can mix it up and use quicker guys like D.J. Gay or Chase Tapley there. Either way, Fran Dunphy will need to find ways to keep Moore and Fernandez involved in the offense, as long droughts could doom them here. But, as always with SDSU, the big question for their opponents is whether they can keep them off the offensive boards. Temple has been pretty solid cleaning their defensive glass, but Allen will need to get help from smaller wings and guards to try to limit the Aztecs to one shot. However, given the limited size on the Temple roster, they’ll have an uphill climb, and ultimately, just don’t have enough length to spring the upset.

The RTC Certified Pick: San Diego State.

#1 Pittsburgh vs. #8 Butler – Southeast Region Third Round (at Washington, D.C.) – 7:10 pm ET on TBS.

This figures to be a well-played, fundamentally sound game. Each team protects the basketball very well and can rebound with anyone, as we saw when Matt Howard grabbed an offensive carom and put it in as time expired to beat Old Dominion on Thursday. Butler was able to beat the Monarchs at their own game, outrebounding them overall and on the offensive glass. They’ll need to do the same against a Pittsburgh team that is ODU on steroids, and then some. The Bulldogs rank #11 in defensive rebounding percentage and must prevent the Panthers, especially Gary McGhee, from getting second chances if they hope to pull the upset. Pittsburgh, embodying the personality of their coach Jamie Dixon, is a team built on fundamentals and mental toughness, able to grind for 40 minutes and wear out their opponent. Butler is in the same mold but it will take an extraordinary effort to win. Butler will have to grind this game out on the defensive end with special attention to interior defense and rebounding. They did a great job on both counts against Old Dominion and a similar performance against the Panthers will keep them in the game. Pittsburgh runs lots of screens and cuts to free up guys like Ashton Gibbs for jumpers so the Bulldogs have to switch well or fight through to succeed defensively. Butler gets a lot of points from three point land and a big night from Shelvin Mack could give the Bulldogs a chance to remind us of what they did last year.

The RTC Certified Pick: Pittsburgh.

#3 BYU vs. #11 Gonzaga – Southeast Region Third Round (at Denver, CO) – 7:45 pm ET on CBS.

It’s an inter-mountain west battle in the Mile High City after BYU got by Wofford and Gonzaga cruised by St. John’s. The Cougars were predictably led by 32 points from Jimmer Fredette but they’re going to need him to do more or get better production inside to beat Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have the look of a dangerous team right now, plus they have the height and depth inside to give BYU lots of problems. Everyone has harped on the absence of Brandon Davies, but you could really see the effects in this game. San Diego State torched the Cougars in the Mountain West final and they have a front line similar to GU. Gonzaga didn’t even need a huge game out of Robert Sacre and still went through St. John’s with little trouble. If the Zags’ guards can slash through BYU’s defense and get in the paint, lots of looks will open up for them or their teammates, not to mention Steven Gray and his ability to score inside or from beyond the arc. The one glaring area of concern for Mark Few is his team’s perimeter defense, ranked #261 in opponents’ three point percentage. That could obviously be a major problem against Jimmer and BYU, a team that shoots a three 37% of the time. It wasn’t much of a problem against the interior-focused Red Storm, but it has the potential to be a game changer against the Cougars. If Gonzaga can just do slightly better than average in that department, they have all the tools needed to win this game.

The RTC Certified Pick: Gonzaga.

#4 Wisconsin vs. #5 Kansas State – Southeast Region Third Round (at Tucson, AZ) – 8:40 pm ET on TNT.

Each team survived opponents that were sexy upset choices on Thursday night, setting up this intriguing matchup between two well-coached and physical teams. Wisconsin successfully slowed down Belmont and they’ll look to do the same against Kansas State. The Wildcats didn’t shoot well against Utah State but got to the foul line 28 times, converting on 24 of those attempts. That won’t be so easy against the disciplined Badgers, a club that does a nice job keeping their opponents off the stripe. Wisconsin’s offense is highly efficient and often dependent on the three ball. Kansas State has to be able to focus defensively for the full shot clock every time down the floor, otherwise Jordan Taylor will find the open man or score himself. On the other end, Jacob Pullen and Rodney McGruder must stay in control and make jump shots against the Wisconsin defense. The Badgers do not defend the three well at all making it an area where the Wildcats can take advantage. Wisconsin will fire up lots of threes themselves but K-State can keep pace by hitting shots of their own. However, they must establish Curtis Kelly early against Jon Leuer. If Kansas State can’t get anything inside, where Wisconsin is at its best defensively, Bo Ryan will adjust and focus his defense more on the perimeter, thereby turning the Wildcats into a one-dimensional team. Kelly played well against Utah State and will likely be the X-factor in this game, but Kansas State also has to make jump shots with some consistency to win.

The RTC Certified Pick: Wisconsin.

#3 Connecticut vs. #6 Cincinnati – West Region Third Round (at Washington, D.C.) – 9:40 pm ET on TBS.

It is a little weird to see this type of intraconference matchup on the first week of the NCAA Tournament, but as we march toward the eventuality of a 64-team Big East-only Tournament, we need to get used to these things. In their lone previous matchup this year, the Huskies went into Fifth Third Arena, hit ten of their 19 three-point attempts, got a second-half mini-run from Kemba Walker in response to a taunting fan and came up with an eight-point victory. But aside from their three-point proficiency, the numbers elsewhere were pretty even – Cincy had a few more turnovers, a few more boards and slightly less free throw attempts, but mostly a tight game. Eight of the ten three-pointers came from UConn freshmen Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith and Shabazz Napier, who also combined for 39 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, and those youngsters will have to prove that they are up to the big lights of a prime-time NCAA Tournament game. Husky big men Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu were more or less invisible in the first matchup (seven points and four rebounds in 39 combined minutes), while Bearcat big Yancy Gates went for 14/8 himself. Gates added 18/11 in Thursday night’s win over Missouri and is playing the best basketball of his career over the last eight games, where he has averaged 16.4 PPG and 8.4 RPG. Throw in the fact that the Cincy guards have been rock solid of late (Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon combined for 27 points, eight assists and just four turnovers against the aggressive Mizzou press), and short of the Huskies knocking down another ten threes, the Bearcats can squeak one out here over a UConn team that has had a busy couple of weeks.

The RTC Certified Pick: Cincinnati.

Brian Otskey (269 Posts)

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