NCAA Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis – ThursdayPosted by Brian Otskey on March 24th, 2011
After three days of quiet, it’s time to get serious about figuring out this national championship thing. Sixteen to twelve… let’s check out tonight’s games.
#2 San Diego State vs. #3 Connecticut – West Regional Semifinal (at Anaheim, CA) – 7:15 pm ET on CBS.
One of these teams has won two national championships. The other just got done winning their first two NCAA Tournament games ever. While the Aztecs have had a great breakout season and now stand at 34-2 on the season, UConn has won 44 Tournament games in the Jim Calhoun era alone. Luckily for SDSU, past performances in the Big Dance need have no impact on this year’s games. If you throw out the bloodlines for the two programs, you’ll find that we have the makings for what should be an excellent game. We’ve got star power on both ends of the court, with UConn’s point guard Kemba Walker a candidate for the National Player of the Year and SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard an All-American candidate. We’ve got big name coaches with national championships and Final Four experience, as Calhoun will be matched up with Steve Fisher, who won one title at Michigan in ’89, then got back to the title game in both ’92 and ’93. We’ve got an impressive freshman class including Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, and Jeremy Lamb on the UConn side matched up with three starting seniors on the Aztec squad. In short, we’ve got all the trappings of a serious battle. For the Aztecs, the big goal is going to be slowing Kemba Walker. While SDSU has had plenty of experience at trying to slow another high-scoring point guard (one Jimmer Fredette – you may have heard of him), Walker is a different challenge for SDSU, as he is a quicker, shiftier guard than Fredette, and a guy who you’d rather have shooting the three than challenging his defenders off the dribble. As a result, it is likely that D.J. Gay and/or Chase Tapley will get the majority of minutes tasked with defending Walker, while frontcourt players like Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas will be left to keep one eye on Walker while trying to body-up the Huskies’ athletic offensive rebounders up front. The SDSU frontcourt will also have to provide the majority of the scoring, and given that they haven’t seen a team as big, long and bouncy as the Huskies, they’ll need to prove that their opponents’ size does not bother them. The Aztecs figure to have plenty of support from their fans, who only need to drive about an hour north to attend the game, but they’ll need to prove that their shaky performance down the stretch in Saturday’s game against Temple was an aberration rather than the norm. Until they can close out a game in the NCAA Tournament with confidence, we’re not sure they’re trustworthy against a big-time foe.
The RTC Certified Pick: Connecticut
#2 Florida vs. #3 BYU – Southeast Region Semifinals (at New Orleans, LA) – 7:27 pm ET on TBS.
Looking at this game on paper, it’s pretty hard to find any discernible differences between these two teams. The main determinant of this game will likely be tempo. BYU would love nothing more than to get the Gators caught up in a fast-paced game, forcing them to recklessly throw up ill-advised three pointers leading to long rebounds and many Cougar runouts. Dave Rose’s team excels in transition with Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery leading the charge. While Emery is certainly a terrific point guard, his biggest impact on this game could come defensively. He’ll guard Florida’s Erving Walker in all likelihood and that could be a major problem for the 5’8 Walker. Emery’s length and quickness has the potential to disrupt the Florida floor general, plus the BYU senior ranks #15 individually in steal percentage. If Walker can’t get the offense flowing, Florida may result to lots of isolations and quick shots, certainly not ideal for a team that does its best work at a slower pace in the half court. The Gators have a big advantage inside and have to use it to win. Billy Donovan needs to keep Kenny Boynton, expected to play after spraining his ankle against UCLA, in check and make sure his guards work the ball inside to Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus. This could very well be the game where the loss of Brandon Davies dooms BYU for good. The Cougars rank a paltry #222 in offensive rebounding percentage so Florida should hold a significant edge on the glass. BYU has been out-rebounded in four of their seven games without Davies and we expect that trend to continue tonight. Defensively, Florida has to keep Fredette off the free throw line and force him to make outside shots. It’s alright for the Gators if Jimmer drains more than a few bombs but he’s most dangerous when he can get into the lane and to the stripe, or create for others when defenders are drawn to him inside. Florida ranks #15 in defensive free throw rate and will have to keep that up against Fredette specifically. We have to wonder if Donovan will assign Parsons the task of defending Fredette. Parsons is a big man (6’9) but he’s fairly quick for his size and can bother Jimmer with his superior length. Quickness will be the issue because Fredette possess a terrific first step to blow by opponents. The Cougars will have an edge at the line if this is a close game since Florida struggles as a team (67%). It should be a terrific matchup but a slight edge has to go to the Gators in New Orleans this evening.
The RTC Certified Pick: Florida.
#1 Duke vs. #5 Arizona – West Regional Semifinal (at Anaheim, CA) – 9:45 pm ET on CBS.
Much like the other matchup in the West Region, we’ve got a lot to be excited about in the nightcap in Anaheim. The fact that Sean Miller, who made four NCAA Tournaments in five years at Xavier (including a Sweet 16 and an Elite Eight appearance) and is this year’s Pac-10 coach of the year, is the least accomplished coach in this region, says a lot about the quality of the programs we’re dealing with. However, the fact of the matter is that the difference in experience between not only the two coaching staffs, but also the two rosters, is significant. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler lead a Duke team that is full of players who have a national championship in their rearview mirror, while Arizona is led by a collection of sophomores who limped home to a Pac-10 regular season title in a down conference. That being said, Wildcat forward Derrick Williams is among the elite players in the nation, and Mike Krzyzewski will have to come up with some sort of plan for him, likely involving some combination of one of the Plumlee brothers and Singler. If the Blue Devils can limit Williams and make the Arizona supporting cast lead the way, that will be a good first step towards advancing to the regional final. But, the Wildcats advanced to the Sweet 16 despite Williams struggling a bit through their third round game. Freshman backup point guard Jordin Mayes turned in a career-high 16 points, while sophomore forward Solomon Hill added another 16. The starting point, sophomore Momo Jones, has been up and down offensively all year, but to his credit, has continued to play solid defense throughout, and he’ll need to continue that trend with Smith and freshman point guard Kyrie Irving now on his radar. Irving, who returned last week from a toe injury that had kept him out of the lineup for three months, is a truly special player when at the top of his game, but he is not nearly back to the level at which he played prior to the injury. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils have the deeper roster and the experience on their side, a pair of traits that should earn them at least another round.
The RTC Certified Pick: Duke
#4 Wisconsin vs. #8 Butler – Southeast Region Semifinals (at New Orleans, LA) – 9:57 pm ET on TBS.
Butler is back in the Sweet Sixteen and while we’re a bit surprised, we really shouldn’t be. The Bulldogs are just that, bulldogs. Butler bullied big bad Pittsburgh around last week and emerged victorious, despite the bizarre ending. They’ll have to be tough as nails against a Wisconsin team that survived a 2-16 shooting performance from Jordan Taylor to get by Kansas State and into the regional semifinals. The matchups in this game are fascinating, a purist’s dream. Both teams are comfortable at a slow pace and you can bet the farm that’s how this game will be played. Each team is patient on offense, protects the ball well and can make free throws in big spots (Wisconsin is #1 in the nation at 82.3%). To defeat these clubs, an opponent must defend well in the half court for the full 40 minutes, often until late in the shot clock. Both teams have holes defensively, Wisconsin against the three and Butler inside the arc, while the Badgers have an edge offensively. You’d think that would heavily favor Wisconsin. While that may be correct, Butler has the players to put the brakes on Bo Ryan’s efficient offensive unit. Butler has won 11 straight games dating back to a mystifying loss at Youngstown State on February 3. While their defense has improved, their efficiency numbers remain in the same ballpark. The real key has been slowing the pace and forcing turnovers, therefore maximizing their opportunities to score in low possession games. Brad Stevens’ bunch will be comfortable playing at Wisconsin’s pace but they can’t expect to turn Wisconsin over like they’ve been doing to other opponents recently. The Badgers are the best ball protection team in the land, turning the ball over on only 13.3% of their possessions. To beat Wisconsin you have to shut down their three-point attack (UW gets 36% of their points from beyond the arc) and prevent Taylor from setting up the offense. That’s very difficult to do against a point guard who doesn’t turn the ball over but it can be done. If there was one coach to come up with that plan and one player to execute it, Stevens and Ronald Nored are those guys. Nored is Butler’s defensive specialist and will be the key to Butler’s success in this game while Stevens is a master strategist. While he won’t turn Taylor over often, Nored can harass him and force the ball out of his hands. When Matt Howard hedges, Andrew Smith must protect the basket and prevent Jon Leuer from getting good position. When a Wisconsin shot goes up, look for Butler to send lots of guys, maybe all five, to the defensive glass to limit Wisconsin’s second chance opportunities. Offensively, Shelvin Mack will again be the key as he was against Pittsburgh. While Wisconsin is the slight favorite, Butler will advance if Mack can keep up his recent level of play. We think he will.
The RTC Certified Pick: Butler.