NCAA Third Round Games Analysis – Sunday

Posted by rtmsf on March 20th, 2011

Well, Saturday’s games were a mishmash between unbelievable endings (seriously, unbelievable), competitive contests, and Jimmer from thirty feet.  What will Sunday have on tap for us?

Ed. note – some of the later games will be added as the day moves forward…

#2 North Carolina vs. #7 Washington – East Region Third Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 12:15 pm ET on CBS.

Arguably the best matchup of the second round takes place in Charlotte on Sunday with Washington squaring off in a semi-road game against North Carolina. One factor to immediately keep in mind is the quick turnaround for the Huskies, who had to play after midnight on Friday and prepare for a noon tip not even two days later. While this matchup could produce a high number of possessions and end-to-end action, a breakneck pace may do more harm for the underdog Huskies than anything. When the Heels are vulnerable, it’s when teams keep them glued in the halfcourt and unable to execute Roy Williams’ secondary break, where Kendall Marshall has proven himself as one of the best fullcourt passers and fast break orchestrators since replacing Larry Drew in January. The point guard duel is absolutely fascinating. Isaiah Thomas has whittled down his turnovers this season and is playing more like a true floor general, while Marshall’s insertion into the starting lineup has boosted his supporting cast and sent the Heels on an upward trajectory. While this game could escalate into the 80s if Washington’s wings get going from deep, North Carolina emerges on top because of their defense. Marshall’s story, the emergence of John Henson and the rapid improvement of Harrison Barnes shooting the basketball have been the primary headlines, but UNC has been rock solid on defense since November, ranking seventh in the country in efficiency on that end of the floor while the Huskies lag behind at 48th. Down the stretch in a tight ball game, we simply expect the Heels to generate more stops and move on to Newark.

The RTC Certified PickNorth Carolina.

#1 Duke vs. #8 Michigan – West Region Third Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 2:45 pm ET on CBS.

With Kyrie Irving, who returned on Friday for his first action since early December when he injured his big toe, the Blue Devils are an entirely different team. Not that they needed a ton of help, with National Player of the Year candidate Nolan Smith having filled in admirably at the point, but with Irving back, Smith can shift back over to his more natural two and bigs like Miles and Mason Plumlee will get a boost from Irving’s penetration ability. It remains to be seen exactly what Irving’s role will be for Mike Krzyzewski in close games, but without a doubt, Irving gives him another major weapon. For the Wolverines, coming off a thorough second half destruction of Tennessee on Friday, it all begins and ends with Darius Morris. He’s Michigan’s leading scorer and assist man, and shutting him down will be Duke’s primary focus. With Smith being an excellent defender in addition to his offensive skills, expect him to get that job. Inside, Jordan Morgan is the sole reliable big man for John Beilein, and he probably doesn’t have the ability to exploit what could be Duke’s sole weakness, it’s interior and rebounding game. While wing Zack Novak does a terrific job helping out on the glass, the combination of the Plumlees, Ryan Kelly and Kyle Singler will be enough for the Devils to win the inside game, while their guards get out and score in transition and knock down threes in the halfcourt game. Michigan can keep  the game tight for a while by controlling the pace and riding their momentum from their second round game, but there are too many talented guards here for Michigan to control.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke.

#1 Ohio State vs. #8 George Mason – East Region Third Round (at Cleveland, OH) – 5:15 pm ET on CBS.

Ohio State’s second round entrance was no surprise, but George Mason needed some more of their March heroics in the final minutes to shut down Villanova’s guards and live another day. Luke Hancock will need to pull out a few more stepback threes from his arsenal if Mason wants to etch their program further into March lore and knock off the overall #1 seed. As you might expect, the Buckeyes are superior to the Patriots in just about every facet. Ohio State ranks in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, third in effective FG%, eighth in turnover%, first in steal%, they shoot 42% from deep led by Jon Diebler and 53% from inside the arc courtesy of Jared Sullinger. This is a phenomenal six or seven man rotation that understands their roles and execute on both ends to near perfection. It’s going to take a yeomen’s effort from Mason to pull off the shocker, and that means excelling at what they’ve done all season and catching some breaks along the way, i.e., Sullinger picking up two early fouls or Diebler experiencing an off-day from deep. Like any mid-major looking to pull an upset, they’ll need their stellar 39% mark on the season from three to hold up, meaning Andre Cornelius, Isaiah Tate and Cam Long better have the stroke from three. Mason also held opponents to just 31% from behind the arc on the season. If they can contain either Sullinger inside or the perimeter workings of the Buckeye guards, they’ll have a shot, and Mason does happen to be the highest efficiency team a #1 seed has to face in the second round. In the end, the Bucks simply have too many options capable of springing for 20. It’s going to be a few steps down the road, if at all, until OSU is slain.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State.

#4 Texas vs. #5 Arizona – West Region Third Round (at Tulsa, OK) – 6:10 pm ET on TNT.

The Longhorns and Wildcats advanced here after some tough opening games against lower seeds, but in the third round we’ve got a battle of the titans. Texas came into the tournament as the most efficient defensive team in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy, while Arizona features one of the most efficient offensive players in the nation in Derrick Williams. For Arizona’s opposition, the plan is often simply to control Williams and make the rest of the Wildcats beat you. On Friday, Momo Jones came up big with 18 points, but the sophomore point guard has been up and down all year, and the Longhorns would rather take their chances with guys like him (or Solomon Hill, or Kyle Fogg, or Kevin Parrom), than with the All-American candidate Williams. Texas also has the ability to make Williams work on the defensive end, with freshman Tristan Thompson and senior Gary Johnson both adept at drawing fouls on their defenders. And given that the Longhorns are such a strong rebounding team on both ends of the floor, Williams will need to put in a lot of effort on the glass. On the perimeter, we should be due for some good battles between guys like Jordan Hamilton and Parrom (Zona’s best perimeter defender) and Cory Joseph and Jones, but in all of those areas, the Longhorns should get the better end of the stick. While its tough picking against the team with the best player in March, the Wildcats just don’t have enough around Williams for them to get by a seriously good Longhorn squad.

The RTC Certified Pick: Texas.

#3 Purdue vs. #11 VCU – Southwest Region Third Round (at Chicago, IL) – 7:10 pm ET on TBS.

In two games against power conference teams, the VCU Rams and Shaka Smart have proven that they belong in this Tournament as much or more than many of the bigger names.  The CAA school from Richmond, Virginia, (apparently the epicenter of college basketball these days) has taken out a couple of overrated schools in USC and Georgetown, and have their eyes on a third skin this evening in Purdue.  Beating the Boilermakers rather than the inconsistent other two would be by far the greater accomplishment, which is the reason it won’t happen.  The big difference in both wins for the Rams was the three-point line.  Against USC, they hit nine threes (vs. one for the Trojans) and against Georgetown they hit twelve (vs. five for the Hoyas).  Point differentials like those are very difficult to compensate for, and Matt Painter certainly knows this — expect the Purdue perimeter of E’Twaun Moore, Lewis Jackson, Kelsey Barlow and Ryne Smith to crowd the VCU shooters all evening to cool them off.  The other x-factor that Painter has at his disposal is all-american center JaJuan Johnson, who, with all due respect to Nikola Vucevic, is the best post player Jamie Skeen has seen this season.  Johnson, a good scorer and even better defender in the paint, almost never gets in foul trouble, averaging a mere 1.6 per game; and if VCU has designs on pulling yet another upset, they need to either shut down Johnson or get him in foul trouble to win this game.  Neither will be easy, and it says here that Purdue’s duo of all-americans (including Moore) will carry them through to the Sweet Sixteen for the third consecutive season.

The RTC Certified Pick: Purdue.

#3 Syracuse vs. #11 Marquette – East Region Third Round (at Cleveland, OH) – 7:45 pm ET on CBS.

These two Big East foes met once this season already on January 29 in Milwaukee with the Golden Eagles emerging victorious 76-70 behind 25 points from junior Jae Crowder. So why do we believe Syracuse clearly has the upper hand in the rematch? First of all, some context is necessary. That late January contest marked Syracuse’s fourth consecutive loss of the season, a far cry from the current Orange unit playing some of their best basketball of the season. Marquette also shot 46% against the patented 2-3 Cuse zone, including a number of extremely difficult threes at the end of the shot clock to clinch the win. On the season, Marquette shoots threes at only a 35% clip and Syracuse’s zone coaxes teams into just 31% from long range, so the 46% the Golden Eagles posted on the first meeting was a bit of an anomaly. Also, we believe the size of Syracuse will be too much to handle for the perennially undersized Marquette frontline. Rick Jackson has been the most consistent frontcourt player in the Big East this season and should have his way with Chris Otule, Davante Gardner or any other MU big in the post. Syracuse’s 2-3 has also been more consistent this season than Marquette’s defensive efforts overall this season; Syracuse ranks 14th in efficiency and Marquette is a lackluster 62nd, more than making up for the near-identical offensive totals. While Buzz Williams’ squad plays with more intensity, heart and passion on a possession-by-possession basis than any other team in the tournament, we fully anticipate Marquette to have trouble scoring against Boeheim’s 2-3 zone and Rick Jackson to have little trouble compiling yet another double-double in a Syracuse victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Syracuse.

#1 Kansas vs. #9 Illinois – Southwest Region Third Round (at Tulsa, OK) – 8:40 pm ET on TNT.

Two days after the Lon Kruger Bowl vs. UNLV, Illinois moves on to the Bill Self Bowl.  You’ll recall that Self was the head coach in Champaign before moving on to take the helm at Kansas in 2003.  None of that matters much today except to the fans with long memories at both schools, but the two teams come in to tonight’s prime time game on slightly different paths.  KU, of course, has won nine games in a row and seems destined on a collision course with Ohio State or Duke in the national title game in two weeks; Illinois, on the other hand, has listed and lurched itself into a frustrating season where so much more was expected.  Ironically, the two teams appeared in contrast on Friday night — it was the Jayhawks who largely played with their heads in the clouds, struggling to put away a vastly inferior Boston University team until the mid-second half, while the Illini put together one of their best performances of the season in blitzing UNLV en route to an 11-point victory that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated.  The question is which of the two teams will show up tonight?  When KU is focused, they’re one of the two or three best teams in America; when they’re not, they can lose to most anybody.  Illinois hit 60% of its shots against UNLV the other night — they’ll be hard-pressed to do that against one of the nation’s stickiest defenses.  It says here that Kansas will remember the Northern Iowa debacle from last season and bring its best game in Tulsa tonight; the Illini, on the other hand, will regress back to their schizophrenic tendencies and end their season in a flurry of bricks from beyond the arc.   

The RTC Certified Pick: Kansas.

#2 Notre Dame vs. #10 Florida State – Southwest Region Third Round (at Chicago, IL) – 9:40 pm ET on TBS.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more interesting contrast of styles in this matchup between the Fighting Irish and the Seminoles.  Mike Brey’s team is the third-most efficient offensive team in America, led by the scoring talents of Ben Hansbrough (18/4/4 APG) and Tim Abromaitis (15/6), whereas Leonard Hamilton’s squad holds teams to a national-best 42% eFG% including a frosty 40% from two and 30% from three.  The key to FSU’s sticky as molasses defense, of course, is the availability of their star defender, Chris Singleton.  The 6’9 dervish of arms and legs is recovering from a broken right foot, and was largely ineffective in Friday night’s game against a similarly defensive-minded team, Texas A&M, scoring five points and committing four fouls.  Scoring only 57 points might have worked against A&M, but the Seminoles will need to find more production to hang with the scoring punch of the Irish in this round — the only chance FSU will have is if they can find a way to get out on the ND shooters, four of whom have nailed over a three per game this season.  With Singleton still clearly on the mend, we’re just not sure that the Seminoles can find enough points to keep up with the Irish here tonight — sixty points is likely to win this game, and Notre Dame should be able to manage that much through the talents of their big two plus Carlton Scott and Scott Martin alone. 

The RTC Certified Pick: Notre Dame.

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