NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Second Round — Thursday Evening

Posted by rtmsf on March 15th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#1 Kentucky vs. #16 Western Kentucky – South Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

The Pressure is Squarely on Calipari This Year

It is all gravy from here on out for Ray Harper and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Standing at 9-18 at one point this season, WKU turned things around in a big way as they won the Sun Belt conference tournament to earn the automatic bid to the Big Dance. Trailing Mississippi Valley State by 16 points with less than five minutes remaining in regulation, the Hilltoppers ended the game on a 22-5 run to win by one point. Make no mistake about it, Western Kentucky’s magical run will end against Kentucky, but what a run it was. WKU was at their best against Mississippi Valley when they were pressuring the ball and running in transition, but this will simply not work against the Wildcats. It is senseless to breakdown the match ups as Kentucky is staggeringly better at every position, but don’t be surprised if the ‘Toppers keep it close for a good chunk of the first half as they are playing with house money and in their home state.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky

#5 Wichita State vs. #12 Virginia Commonwealth – South Region Second Round (at Portland, OR) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

One of the most intriguing games in not just the South Region, but the entire second round as a whole, Wichita State and Virginia Commonwealth proved to be two of the top mid-majors throughout the season. Wichita did it with their high-powered and efficient offense, while VCU with their pressure and relentless defense. The victor in this one will most likely be the team that excels in what they do best better than the opposition. If Joe Ragland is hitting shots from the perimeter and Garrett Stutz is his usual force down on the blocks, the Shockers will be in a good position to advance. However, much of the success Wichita has will hinge on whether they can protect the basketball and not let VCU get out in transition as the Rams force more turnovers better than any team in the country. A half court game certainly favors Wichita State, but Bradford Burgess and Darius Theus will look to push the ball every chance they have. In the end, Stutz on the inside and the slew of exceptional shooters Wichita State will throw at VCU proves to be too much for the Rams to overcome.

The RTC Certified Pick: Wichita State

#7 Gonzaga vs. #10 West Virginia – East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 7:20 pm ET on TNT

It really is unbelievable how much Gonzaga got screwed in this game. The higher seeded Bulldogs have to travel over 2,000 miles and play at 4:20 west coast time against a team that took a 75-mile bus ride up I-79. That said, the Bulldogs are the better team and have a good chance to win the game on talent alone. Despite ranking behind the Mountaineers in points per possession, Gonzaga has plenty more offensive weapons than West Virginia but the game will still likely come down to style of play. Gonzaga does a great job getting to the foul line and scoring inside, two very important aspects of the game against West Virginia. The Mountaineers do not shoot well from the stripe and rank #262 in two point percentage defense. With versatile forward Elias Harris and a strong front court led by Robert Sacre, the Zags should have an overall edge inside, although the ever-steady Kevin Jones gets the individual nod over Harris. On the low block, Sacre has to score against Deniz Kilicli. It’s going to be a tough, physical battle in the paint but Gonzaga’s outside shooting (mostly in the form of Kevin Pangos) gives the Bulldogs the edge despite the huge disadvantage in location. This is anyone’s game in Pittsburgh but give a slight edge to Gonzaga because of more balance throughout its rotation. Although they haven’t been all that impressive outside of Spokane, the Bulldogs’ best road/neutral wins were against Xavier and BYU, two teams that are pretty much on the same level as West Virginia.

The RTC Certified Pick: Gonzaga

#3 Baylor vs. #14 South Dakota State – South Region Second Round (at Albuquerque, NM) – 7:27 PM ET on truTV

After beginning the season with a 17-0 record and garnering a Top 5 ranking in many of the polls, Baylor concluded the season by going 10-7 in their final 17 games and looking very vulnerable at times on the defensive end. No one will ever question Baylor’s length, athleticism, and talent, but all too many times the Bears’ zone defense was all too porous. The easiest, and often best way, to beat a zone defense? Shoot right over it, of course. South Dakota State shoots just shy of 40% from beyond the arc, and has one of the top point guards in the entire NCAA Tournament with Nate Wolters. The Jackrabbits are also accustomed to competing against ultra athletic teams who play at a fast pace as they defeated Oakland and Oral Roberts in the Summit League, and absolutely embarrassed a very athletic Washington team 91-72. It would behoove Scott Drew and the Bears to glance right over South Dakota State, who is making their first appearance ever in the Tournament. One must remain cognizant, however, that Baylor has one of the most lethal offenses in their own right led by Perry Jones III, Pierre Jackson, and Quincy Acy. Baylor’s offense simply has more firepower than South Dakota State’s and will prevail, but don’t be surprised if this is a tight game down the stretch.

The RTC Certified Pick: Baylor

#8 Iowa State vs. #9 Connecticut – South Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 9:20 PM ET on TBS

Does Jim Calhoun Have Another Magical NCAA Run In Him?

It seems like many fans and so-called experts are looking at Connecticut’s three potential lottery picks—Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, and Shabazz Napier—their Hall of Fame head coach Jim Calhoun, the three National Championships, and the name on the front of the jersey. I ask you though: What have the 2011-12 Connecticut Huskies done this year to impress? Going 8-12 in their last 20 games does not exactly instill confidence. There is no questioning their talent and ability, which makes them such a scary team to play in a tournament setting, but all of the pieces have yet to come to fruition for Connecticut. All this said, their opponent Iowa State is an accomplished team that should not be discounted. Royce White is one of the better frontcourt players in the South Region that many have not heard of or seen perform, while Chris Babb, Chris Allen, and Scott Christopherson can light it up from the outside. The fans and media both clearly want to see a Connecticut-Kentucky game in the Third Round, and there is no doubt that Iowa State hears this and feels disrespected as a result. The Cyclones will come out strong and expose Connecticut for the middle-of-the-pack Big East team that they were this season.

The RTC Certified Pick: Iowa State

#4 Indiana vs. #13 New Mexico State – South Region Second Round (at Portland, OR) – 9:45 PM ET on CBS

The Hoosiers enter the NCAA Tournament without the services of senior Verdell Jones, arguably Indiana’s best assist man and “glue guy” as he was an experienced on-court leader. Jones tore his right ACL against Penn State in the Big Ten conference tournament—head coach Tom Crean called it “heartbreaking news.” How will this affect Indiana’s prospectus in the Tournament? That remains to be seen, but we will soon find out against a New Mexico State squad that hovered under the radar for much of the season as Nevada looked to be the clear-cut favorite in the WAC. Lest we forget that the Aggies took Michigan State to the brink in the 2010 NCAA Tournament losing 70-67, and have one of the best players in the South Region you’ve never heard of: Wendell McKines. New Mexico State is an exceptional rebounding team and McKines is a versatile 6’6 forward who can step out and shoot the three, as well as go inside and score. Aside from McKines, however, New Mexico State is not the most proficient offensive team, while Indiana has six players that average eight points or better. Not to mention, the Hoosiers are the best three point shooting team in the Tournament.

The RTC Certified Pick: Indiana

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Loyola (Maryland) – East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 9:50 pm ET on TNT

With Fab Melo out of the Syracuse lineup, the focus immediately shifts to the Buckeyes as the favorites in the East region. While this Ohio State team isn’t as good as last year’s team that was upset in the Sweet Sixteen, the Buckeyes have the talent, toughness and draw needed to get to New Orleans. It starts tonight against Jimmy Patsos and the Loyola-Maryland Greyhounds, a team that lost three of its last five regular season games before winning three straight in the MAAC Tournament to capture the league’s automatic bid. Loyola’s two major strengths are offensive rebounding and getting to the free throw line but those happen to be two of the things Ohio State does a great job of shutting down defensively. The Buckeyes have the top-ranked defensive efficiency in the land and are #2 in defensive rebounding so they should be able to limit the Greyhounds from getting second chances. You can expect Aaron Craft to lock up one of Loyola’s guards, whether that is Dylan Cormier or R.J. Williams, and Jared Sullinger is simply too much for the Greyhounds to handle in the paint. Loyola may be able to slow the game down at times but this is just a bad matchup all around for the MAAC champions.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State

#6 UNLV vs. #11 Colorado – South Region Second Round (at Albuquerque, NM) – 9:57 PM ET on truTV

UNLV took the college basketball world by storm early in the season as they sprinted past previously unbeaten North Carolina 90-80. In their last ten games though, the Runnin’ Rebels went a mediocre 5-5 and seemingly have lost that mojo they had earlier in the season. Despite some recent struggles, UNLV remains an all-around solid defensive team that forces turnovers and defends the perimeter well. Their opponent, Colorado, is one of the worst offensive teams in the NCAA Tournament and snuck their way in by virtue of being the final team standing in a very weak Pac-12 conference. If the Buffaloes are to have a chance, they will need freshman Spencer Dinwiddie (44% 3PT) to be hot from the perimeter and senior Carlon Brown to have a standout game. When matching up with a team like UNLV, Colorado simply does not have the offensive weapons that the Runnin’ Rebels have—Mike Moser, Chace Stanback, and Oscar Bellfield will make this apparent early on.

The RTC Certified Pick: UNLV

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