NCAA Elite Eight Game Analysis – SaturdayPosted by Brian Otskey on March 26th, 2011
There’s just a single #1 seed remaining as we head into Elite Eight weekend.
#2 Florida vs. #8 Butler – Southeast Region Finals (at New Orleans, LA) – 4:30 pm ET on CBS.
It has come down to this for Butler. One more win and the Bulldogs will head to their second consecutive Final Four after a lot of folks had them losing to Old Dominion in the first round. For Florida, they’re one win away from making it to the big show for the first time since their 2007 national championship, their second in as many years. Brad Stevens and Butler have fueled this run by taking their foot off the gas. Butler is playing at a slower pace but forcing more turnovers and that will again be a key today as it was on Thursday against Wisconsin. Butler forced the Badgers into 11 turnovers, three more than their season average of eight. A similar effort against Florida (12 turnovers per game) could be the difference and subsequently send Butler to Houston. The Gators became three-happy against BYU but survived the Cougars in overtime. Florida can’t fire up 34 threes again and expect to beat Butler, a team that defends the three better than they do inside the arc. Ronald Nored and Shelvin Mack will do a better job defensively than Jimmer Fredette did on the Florida guards and the Gators still shot only 32.4% from deep in the BYU game. The vast majority of Florida’s production comes from their five starters, all players that were around last year. Billy Donovan’s team is experienced in terms of their age and class but this group has never been in this position before. Butler has, and that should give them an edge in crunch time. Florida must work the ball inside because that’s when they’re at their best, controlling pace and creating good looks. The Gators feature the versatile Chandler Parsons along with Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus (coming off a career game) inside while Butler will go with the foul-prone Matt Howard and Andrew Smith who suffered a nasty ankle roll on Thursday but is considered “likely” to play according to Stevens. The Florida bigs are quicker and should enjoy an edge in the paint if successfully utilized by guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. If Walker and Boynton shoot too many threes and ignore the paint, Butler will win this game. Stevens’ main concern likely is Florida’s potential to do damage in the post making it vital that Howard stay out of foul trouble and Smith remains a presence despite his injury. The Bulldogs must prevent Florida from dominating inside because the Gators will control the boards and the pace of the game if allowed to operate with little resistance under the basket. Butler ranks #19 in defensive rebounding percentage and has to keep Florida off the offensive boards. As we said, Florida is at their best when working in the paint and second chance opportunities can jump start their confidence. The Gators have more depth inside so Garrett Butcher or Khyle Marshall may be needed for some important minutes off the bench to spell Howard and Smith. Butcher came up big against front court heavy Old Dominion and it is players like him who often have solid games to push their team over the top with a lot on the line. Keep an eye on Butler’s three point shooting. If they can’t get anything going from deep against the Florida perimeter defense (allowing only 31.3%), the Bulldogs won’t be able to spread the floor or create open looks inside. This game could come down to the very end making free throws crucial. Butler would have an advantage if it comes to that. While Florida has a slight edge in terms of matchups and talent, Butler has the experience that is such a valuable asset this deep into the tournament. We think they may be able to overcome the matchups and do just enough to keep the Bulldog train chugging along to Houston.
The RTC Certified Pick: Butler.
#3 Connecticut vs. #5 Arizona – West Region Finals (at Anaheim, CA) – 7:05 pm ET on CBS.
The easy storyline here is Kemba Walker vs. Derrick Williams. Two All-Americans, two larger-than-life basketball players, each player coming off dominating performances in the regional semifinal which helped his team knock off their higher-seeded opponent. And there are plenty who will tell that story. But the fact is, rarely, if ever, will those two players be matched up one-on-one on the court. And given how important each star’s supporting cast was on each team’s trip to this place, to this game, that’s not enough of the story. Take Arizona, for instance. In the first half of their win over Duke on Saturday, Williams scored more than 65% of his team’s points, and he was the only thing in the way of a Blue Devil blowout. In the second half, however, he scored less than 13% of his team’s points. Two other Wildcats (Jamelle Horne and Kevin Parrom) equaled Williams’ second half output, while Solomon Hill exceeded it with ten points, and Momo Jones doubled it, with 14. As a result, the Wildcats played what was likely their best half of basketball this season. Earlier, Walker had gotten plenty of support himself, as freshman Jeremy Lamb tied a career-high with 24 points, while fellow freshmen Roscoe Smith (five points, eight rebounds) and Shabazz Napier (six assists) and sophomore big man Alex Oriakhi (five points, nine rebound) helped get the Huskies over the top. The lesson is that while Walker and Williams are players capable of putting their teams on their backs, the collective is much better off when the stars don’t need to do that. As a result, this game may be decided not by which star has the bigger game, but which star gets the greatest contributions from his supporting cast. Now that’s not to say that Jim Calhoun and Sean Miller aren’t spending quite a bit of time this evening trying to figure out the best ways to control the opposition’s elite talent. Expect the Wildcats to start with Jones, who has proven himself a strong defender over the past month or so, on Walker, trying to send him to the inside of the court on penetration where additional Wildcat defenders can help out, and preferring that he shoot from deep rather than get penetration. On the other end, the Huskies will likely shift around trying to find the right matchup for Williams between Oriakhi, Smith and others, ready to send a double-team when necessary. Both teams would much rather that the “other guys” beat them, rather than the stars. And both coaches are preparing those “other guys” to do just that. In a tight game, however, I think the Wildcats have just a couple more options than the Huskies, giving Sean Miller a little better chance to shuffle the cards a bit and find the right combination. That, coupled with what should be a pro-Arizona crowd should give the Wildcats the tiniest of advantages.
The RTC Certified Pick: Arizona.