NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Second Round — Thursday AfternoonPosted by Brian Otskey on March 15th, 2012
RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.
#6 Murray State vs. #11 Colorado State – West Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS
Anytime you enter the NCAA Tournament with just one loss and 4-0 record over NCAA Tournament teams, you’re a big story and a threat to go deep in the tournament. That’s the situation Murray State finds itself in. The fact that they’ve got a recent history of some success in the tournament (they knocked off Vanderbilt in the first round in 2010 before losing a heartbreaker to eventual national runner up Butler) makes them an even bigger challenge. In that 2010 loss to Butler, then-freshman guard Isaiah Canaan had the ball in his hands with the clock running down and threw an errant pass that got deflected by Gordon Hayward, effectively sealing the Racers’ fate. Two years later, Canaan is this team’s leader and one of the best guards in the nation, capable not only of getting his own opportunities in a variety of ways, but also creating for his teammates. And he’ll certainly be a problem for a Colorado State team whose guards, though talented scorers offensively, struggle to stay in front of their men on defense. Another issue for the Rams is the fact that they are one of the smallest teams in the nation (there are only five teams smaller, according to Ken Pomeroy’s effective height statistic), with a frontline that doesn’t go any larger than 6’6”. Murray may not have a lot more height (their two main interior players – Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel – go just 6’7”), but the lack of size has been an issue for CSU this year. Still, the Rams can score with just about anybody, but their inability to lock down defensively will be a problem. A bigger problem could be the fact that the Racers are playing not only within an easy drive of their campus, but that the hordes of Kentucky fans who show up for the early session will most certainly convert their allegiance to the Racers, at least temporarily.
The RTC Certified Pick: Murray State
#8 Kansas State vs. #9 Southern Miss – East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV
This could be an ugly game right off the bat. Neither of these two teams shoots the ball particularly well, especially Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles have an awful two point field goal percentage (43.3%) and rank second to last among NCAA Tournament teams in effective field goal percentage. Only 16th seeded Western Kentucky is worse. Despite the poor shooting numbers, Larry Eustachy’s Golden Eagles have a respectable offensive efficiency number thanks to a minimal turnover percentage and solid offensive rebounding. If Southern Miss is going to win this game, it must rebound the basketball and score on second chance opportunities. While Kansas State is regarded as a team that plays terrific defense and rebounds well, the Wildcats are vulnerable on the defensive glass. Provided Southern Miss and point guard Neil Watson can keep a good handle on the ball and get some decent looks, this team will hang around. For Kansas State, it must get Rodney McGruder going early and often. McGruder is the best offensive player on this team and has been playing at a high level of late. Kansas State should win the game if it rebounds well and plays its typical brand of physical hard-nosed basketball. The Wildcats should get plenty of offensive rebounding opportunities against a Southern Miss team that has just one player taller than 6’7.” The free throw battle could be important as well. Each team gets to the line well but also fouls a lot when playing defense. The Golden Eagles shoot it much better from the stripe and they’ll need to today in order to offset the rebounding disadvantage.
The RTC Certified Pick: Kansas State
#4 Louisville vs. #13 Davidson – West Region Second Round (at Portland, OR) – 1:40 PM ET on TBS
If Louisville is going to advance through the NCAA Tournament, they are going to do it the same way they won the Big East Tournament last weekend – ugly. Only once in their four games at Madison Square Garden did the Cardinals average more than one point per possession for an entire game (and then it was 1.01 PPP, against Marquette), and yet they took home the title while never playing in a game decided by fewer than six points. In short, they win by shutting off the water for their opponents offensively. They’re the second most efficient defensive team in the nation, a team that forces turnovers in bunches and limits good looks at the rim. Sophomore guard Russ Smith is second in the nation in steal percentage, and backcourt mate Peyton Siva is a defensive terror as well, while 6’10” center Gorgui Dieng is one of the most intimidating shotblockers in the country. If they have a weakness defensively, however, it is on the glass, where they struggle to clean up misses, and Davidson’s two best all-around players, junior Jake Cohen and sophomore De’Mon Brooks, do a good job getting after misses. In fact, they both do a good job in many different aspects of the game, fueling a very good Wildcat offensive team that takes what the defense gives them. And, Davidson has shown its ability to beat very good teams, having knocked off Kansas way back in mid-December. While the Wildcats will certainly have a hard time scoring against the Cards, they just may be able to score enough to send home a bad ‘Ville offense early.
The RTC Certified Pick: Davidson
#4 Wisconsin vs. #13 Montana – East Region Second Round (at Albuquerque, NM) – 2:10 pm ET on TNT
Montana has won 14 straight games and 20 of its last 21 but none of those games were against the caliber of the Wisconsin team they’ll see today in Albuquerque. Montana shoots the ball well (46.5%), especially from deep, and plays very solid defense for a team from a mid-major league. However, Wisconsin does all of that on a greater scale. The Badgers are one of the toughest, most physical teams in this tournament and will focus on taking the three point line away from the Grizzlies. Bo Ryan’s club beats you up defensively and makes you play all 35 seconds of the shot clock. Wisconsin is as fundamentally sound as they come but is vulnerable on the offensive boards. If Montana can clear the glass and limit the Badgers to one shot, the game will be close and the Grizzlies will have a chance late in the game. However, Montana is not a good rebounding team with only a couple players taller than 6’7.” One of those, Derek Selvig, is a seven-footer who plays largely on the perimeter. It wouldn’t shock us if Montana won but it will need a superb defensive effort and an off night from Jordan Taylor and Wisconsin from beyond the arc in order to pull the upset.
The RTC Certified Pick: Wisconsin
#3 Marquette vs. #14 Brigham Young – West Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 2:45 PM ET on CBS
After a stunning come-from-behind win in the opening round game on Tuesday night, the Cougars get to play Marquette in a different city less than 40 hours later. Now, we certainly know from last year’s VCU team that such a predicament is not necessarily the death knell, but given the amount of energy and emotion that BYU spilled into their second half against Iona, it is awful hard to figure that they’ve got enough left over to battle a very good Golden Eagle team for 40 minutes. But, if we learned anything from Tuesday night, it may just be that we should never count out head coach Dave Rose and his squad. After a questionable first half strategy to run and gun with the Gaels that found BYU down by as many as 25, Rose turned primarily to a zone defense in the second half to slow down a smoking hot offense. That, coupled with brilliant second half performances by guys like Craig Cusick, Damarcus Harrison and Noah Hartsock got the Cougs all the way back. This Marquette team they’ll face has a similar style – they like to get up and down the court and out-athlete their opponents. The problem is, while Iona was a spectacular offensive team, Marquette is more balanced, capable of competing at near-elite status at both ends of the court. And, as much as you have to commend BYU for fighting back on Tuesday, they just may not have the caliber of athletes who are readily able to compete with guys like Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. While they may be able to hang around for a half or so (especially given MU’s tendency to start slowly), the Golden Eagles should ease away in the second half.
The RTC Certified Pick: Marquette
#1 Syracuse vs. #16 UNC-Asheville – East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 3:10 pm ET on truTV
The big news in the land of Orange is the announcement that Fab Melo will not play in the NCAA Tournament. This is a massive body blow to a team that looked mortal when Melo didn’t play. Syracuse was outstanding all season long but the big man in the middle truly takes this team to the next level. Melo is as an important player as there is in this tournament and the news that he won’t be playing likely means Syracuse will be lucky just to get to New Orleans. The Orange don’t have to worry about much in the 1 vs. 16 matchup but UNC-Asheville can actually shoot the ball. The Bulldogs rank #20 nationally in two point percentage and shoot 77.2% from the free throw line as a team. Combine that with the fact that they rank third in the country in free throw rate, UNCA gets more than a quarter of its points from the charity stripe. Syracuse does a good job of playing defense without fouling because of Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone but that’s something to watch in this game. With Melo out, seniors Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm have nothing to lose and should be eager to take the ball to the rim and challenge the back line of the Orange zone. UNC-Asheville can score points (81 PPG) but its defense is going to have to play at an unfathomable level in order to slow down Syracuse and have a chance at scoring the first 16 over 1 upset in NCAA history.
The RTC Certified Pick: Syracuse
#5 New Mexico vs. #12 Long Beach State – West Region Second Round (at Portland, OR) – 4:10 ET on TBS
A battle between two of the best teams west of the Rockies will send one of them home on the first full day of the NCAA Tournament – such is the nature of basketball in March. Both teams won at least a piece of their respective conferences’ regular season title, each won their league’s automatic bid and each has had at least an 11-game winning streak this season. Long Beach State may be the least familiar of these two teams to the average college basketball fan, but the 49ers are no stranger to playing difficult competition. For the fourth consecutive year, they have played one of the four toughest non-conference schedules in the land, with NCAA Tournament teams like San Diego State, Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina, Xavier, Kansas State and Creighton in their rearview mirror just this season (although they were just 1-6 in those games, the losses were by an average of less than ten points per game, with blowouts against Kansas State and Louisville skewing that number). So although this LBSU senior class hasn’t ever played in an NCAA Tournament before, they’ll not be shaking in their boots sheen they face New Mexico Thursday afternoon. However, the Lobos do feature one of the nastiest defenses in the nation, a whole different animal that what the Niners saw during the Big West. Senior forward T.J. Robinson is one of the nation’s better rebounders, but he hasn’t seen the likes of Drew Gordon in many a month. And while Casper Ware has turned in an excellent senior season, the Lobo defense does not take kindly to little guards trying to penetrate its perimeter. Throw in the fact that second-leading scorer Larry Anderson is coming back from a knee injury that kept him out of last week’s conference tournament and LBSU may come up just a bit shy in their upset bid.
The RTC Certified Pick: New Mexico
#5 Vanderbilt vs. #12 Harvard – East Region Second Round (at Albuquerque, NM) – 4:40 pm ET on TNT
Both of these teams have to get the proverbial monkey off their backs in this game. Vanderbilt hasn’t won its first game of the NCAA Tournament since 2007 while Harvard is making its first appearance in the Big Dance since 1946 having never won a game in this event. On paper, this isn’t a good matchup for the Crimson. Harvard’s weaknesses are turnovers and offensive rebounding, two things a team needs to do well in order to create more possessions and chances against a Vanderbilt team that is athletic and can really shoot the rock. Harvard’s two best players are in the front court, Kyle Casey and Keith Wright, but they’ll be faced with a strong Vanderbilt front court headlined by Festus Ezeli (2.0 BPG). If Harvard’s bigs can’t get anything going in the paint, players like Laurent Rivard are going to have to make jump shots. Rivard is Harvard’s best three point shooter but none of the Crimson guards are go-to scorers. Harvard doesn’t want to get into a shooting contest with John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor but that’s what Vanderbilt could lure it into if the Crimson front court is rendered ineffective. Harvard will look to slow the game down and get to the free throw line but this appears to be a pretty bad matchup for the Crimson, although the intangibles have to favor them. There is no excuse for the Harvard players not to be up for this game given the program’s history and pressure on Vandy’s seniors to get over the first (err…second) round hump.
The RTC Certified Pick: Vanderbilt