NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Third Round – SaturdayPosted by Brian Otskey on March 17th, 2012
RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.
#1 Syracuse vs. #8 Kansas State – East Region Third Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS
You can make a case that Syracuse shouldn’t even be here after the officiating disaster at the end of its first game. However, the Orange survived and now are being questioned by many fans and commentators. A word of caution: Thursday’s game against UNC-Asheville may have been what Syracuse needed to get over the jitters of playing without Fab Melo. While that’s not likely to be a popular opinion, it may be enough to move Syracuse to at least the Sweet Sixteen. The Orange are not going to have an easy time with Kansas State’s physical defense but the big question mark is if the Wildcats can score enough to keep pace. Kansas State is actually somewhat vulnerable on the defensive glass and Syracuse did a nice job of offensive rebounding against Asheville. Obviously the Wildcats have a significant edge on their end of the floor when it comes to offensive rebounding but we actually like the matchups for Syracuse. The Orange have a lot more talent, are deeper and can pressure a Kansas State team that averages 14 turnovers per game. Syracuse won’t get out on the break often but all it needs is a couple stretches of turnovers and fast break points in order to create a cushion. Experience also matters and the Orange feature two seniors in Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph while Kansas State has freshman Angel Rodriguez running its offense. Syracuse isn’t nearly as good without Melo but we think the Orange are good enough to advance past the Wildcats in this game.
The RTC Certified Pick: Syracuse.
#2 Ohio State vs. #7 Gonzaga – East Region Third Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 2:45 pm ET on CBS
There are a ton of fascinating matchups in this game. From Gonzaga’s front court guarding Jared Sullinger to the nation’s most efficient defensive team going up against a Gonzaga team that can certainly put up points. Aaron Craft is widely considered to be one of, if not the best perimeter defender in the nation. Thad Matta will count on his sophomore point guard to shut down Gonzaga freshman Kevin Pangos, an absolute sniper from the arc. Gonzaga shoots the ball very well as a team but Pangos is the guy who really provides the spark for this team. The Bulldogs demolished West Virginia on Thursday but facing Ohio State is going to be a totally different animal. Gonzaga does have the front court depth needed to double Sullinger and make it difficult for the big fella to score inside. The key to beating Ohio State is to make them take jumpers while frustrating Sullinger and Gonzaga can do that with its strong front line. However, foul trouble could become a major concern for the Zags if they’re not careful. A matchup on the wing between Elias Harris and Deshaun Thomas are also intriguing, as is Gonzaga’s ability to get to the foul line against a defense that is physical but doesn’t foul a lot. If the Bulldogs can’t get to the stripe that means Sullinger isn’t in foul trouble and they’re going to be forced to make shots against a really tough Buckeye defense. This is going to be a really fun game to watch between two very talented teams. In fact, it may be the best Saturday matchup on a day in which there will be many.
The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State.
#3 Marquette vs. #6 Murray State – West Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) – 5:15 PM ET on CBS
With a 32-1 regular season record, Murray State earned some favorable treatment from the selection committee; while that may not have come in terms of seed number, their placement a mere 225 miles away from home was definitely a gift. Unfortunately for Marquette, it may have come at their expense. Despite earning a three seed with a 26-7 record, the Golden Eagles will almost certainly face a hostile atmosphere on Saturday, as Kentucky fans preparing to watch their Wildcats in the late game in the pod will likely hop on the Racer bandwagon early and often. Still, it isn’t like MU hasn’t seen tough road environments before (they’ve got road wins at Wisconsin, Connecticut and West Virginia – all tournament teams), and they’ve probably got a bit higher level of athlete than MSU has. Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, for example, are a duo that is arguably unmatched anywhere else in the country. Crowder does a little bit of everything, able to step out and knock down a three, take a bigger man off the dribble or post up a smaller defender, while adding great work on the glass and on the defensive end. Johnson-Odom is an even deadlier shooter and is also able to attack off the bounce and get to the line. But, across the way, the Golden Eagles will run into another great player in Murray’s Isaiah Canaan. Though Canaan did not have his greatest shooting game in the opening round win over Colorado State (four-of-13 from the field, one-of-six from deep), he has been excellent this season, posting 19.2 PPG, 3.7 APG and 3.2 RPG, all in a wildly efficient manner; of all the players in the country that use at least 24% of his team’s possessions, Canaan is the third most efficient offensive player. So, that’s priority number one for the Golden Eagles: slow Canaan, likely through some combination of Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan. Priority number two is to clean the defensive glass. Actually, neither team is particularly good on the defensive glass, an odd thing for a pair of teams that are pretty good on the offensive glass. But, with Marquette owning a bit of a size advantage (the Golden Eagles aren’t big, but the Racers are in the bottom 5% of the smallest teams in the nation), they’ve got a chance to eke out an advantage on the boards. If they can slow Canaan a bit and make an impact on the glass, Marquette should be able to advanced even in the face of a pro-Racer crowd.
The RTC Certified Pick: Marquette
#4 Wisconsin vs. #5 Vanderbilt – East Region Third Round (at Albuquerque, NM) – 6:10 pm ET on TNT
The NCAA Tournament has a funny way of pitting contrasting styles against one another. This game is no different as Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin Badgers, the team that loves to slow you down, beat you up and grind out games, faces Kevin Stallings’ Vanderbilt Commodores, a team loaded with talent, experience, athleticism and shot making ability. This 4/5 game features Vanderbilt’s high-powered offense colliding with Wisconsin’s bruising defense, a unit ranked in the top ten nationally in defensive efficiency, eFG% against and two and three point percentage against. Both teams shoot and guard the perimeter well and that’s what this game is likely to come down to. Each team shoots a three more than 40% of the time but Wisconsin’s perimeter defense may be the best in the land. The Badgers don’t even let you get a shot off, holding opponents to 29% shooting from deep and only 23.8% of total shots coming from beyond the arc. Now that Vanderbilt has made it over the first game hump, the Commodores may be feeling a bit less pressure in this game. Vandy should be able to play loose but trying to push the pace against Wisconsin would be a very bad idea. The Badgers don’t turn the ball over and they make you play their game. Vanderbilt has struggled against teams that key in defensively on John Jenkins and that’s something you can expect from Wisconsin. If the other Commodore players aren’t making shots, it could be a long night for Vanderbilt. The game will be close because Wisconsin plays slow and Vanderbilt has a ton of perimeter talent but we have to give Vandy an ever so slight edge. While our gut says Wisconsin because of defense and pace, we’ll take the shooting ability of Jenkins and company over Jordan Taylor and his group of solid shooters.
The RTC Certified Pick: Vanderbilt.
#4 Indiana vs. #12 Virginia Commonwealth – South Region Third Round (at Portland, OR) – 7:10 PM ET on TBS
Indiana, the best three point shooting team in the tournament, will do battle with Virginia Commonwealth, one of the best defensive teams and the nation’s leader in steal percentage: Something’s got to give. In the Rams second round game against Wichita State—a team that is very similar to Indiana in terms of offensive style of play—they took the Shockers out of their comfort zone by forcing them to take tough shots and rush their offensive flow. By extending their defense all the way out beyond the perimeter and throwing a mixture of pressing defenses at the opponent, VCU matches up nicely with Indiana’s strengths. The Rams will struggle, however, to gain any separation with Indiana as their offense is anything but stellar. Shaka Smart has constructed his team to succeed primarily with their defensive play, so even when VCU’s shots are not falling the defense will keep them within striking distance. The ‘X’ factor is freshman forward Cody Zeller, an exceptional force in the paint who moves well without the ball and has a variety of ways to score in the post. While VCU is, no doubt, an incredibly tough team to cope with beyond the arc, they do have holes inside. Ultimately, the onus falls on Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo against the Rams pressure defense. If there is one thing I have learned after watching last year’s NCAA Tournament and the season as a whole this year, it is to not bet against Shaka Smart. I’ll take Smart’s coaching prowess and VCU’s defensive tenacity to slip by the shooting ability of Indiana.
The RTC Certified Pick: Virginia Commonwealth
#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Iowa State – South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) – 7:45 PM ET on CBS
Their entire starting five, in all likelihood heading to the NBA, and playing in front of a hometown crowd in Louisville, Kentucky is the clear-cut favorite to get by Iowa State and advance to the Sweet 16 in Atlanta. The Cyclones, however, would not have it any other way. Many discounted Iowa State against a very mediocre Connecticut squad, and many will do the same thing once again against Kentucky. If the Cyclones are to have any success against Kentucky, it all boils down to their sophomore forward Royce White. The Wildcats have the most imposing frontcourt in the country, and the 6’8 White is Iowa State’s tallest player that receives regular minutes down on the blocks. Because of the Cyclones’ shooting ability with Chris Allen, Scott Christopherson, and Chris Babb, Iowa State will be able to hold their own on the perimeter against Darius Miller and Marquis Teague. But, the Unibrow—Anthony Davis if you are not attune to the hair that connects one eyebrow to the other—and Terrence Jones will be a whole lot for them to cope with in the frontcourt.
The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky
#3 Baylor vs. #11 Colorado – South Region Third Round (at Albuquerque, NM) – 8:40 PM ET on TNT
When breaking down Colorado’s roster, statistics, and results throughout the season, the Buffaloes should not even be in consideration to hang with Baylor—heck, UNLV should have rolled them if we are going off of numbers alone. As we saw yesterday though, there is some March magic in the air with Norfolk State and Lehigh earning shocking victories over Missouri and Duke, respectively. If these teams were able to advance to the third round, surely Colorado can sneak their way into the second weekend. Colorado has a subpar offense, does not shoot particularly well in all three phases—three point, two point, and free throw shooting—and greatly struggles in forcing turnovers on the defensive end. Their opponent, Baylor, is a freakishly athletic team who has many weapons on offense in the form of Perry Jones III, Pierre Jackson, and Quiny Acy. As good as the Bears are in transition and in the halfcourt on offense, there are holes on defense that must be exploited if Colorado is to have a chance, namely defensive rebounding and three point defense. Senior Carlon Brown will need to have a big game shooting if Colorado is to advance to the Sweet 16.
The RTC Certified Pick: Baylor
#4 Louisville vs. #5 New Mexico – West Region Third Round (at Portland, OR) – 9:40 PM ET on TBS
Defense, defense, defense. Between the Lobos and the Cardinals, we’ve got two of the top 15 defensive teams in the nation, with Louisville, in particular, dialed in on the defensive end. When this game tips off, it will be just a day shy of a month since the last time that Rick Pitino’s team allowed more than one point per possession over the course of a game (against DePaul on 2/18, when they allowed a whopping 1.04 PPP) – a span of nine games. But, while those nine games feature four wins on the way to the Big East championship and an opening round win in the NCAA Tournament, there are also three losses mixed in there for the Cards, in part because they’ve had a ton of trouble on the offensive end. Over those nine games, they have only scored more than one point per possession in three games. Meanwhile, while the Lobos aren’t nearly as dominant as the Ville on defense, they are far, far better offensively. They’re on a six game winning streak (with three of those games coming against top-50 defensive efficiency teams) and have scored 1.22 points per possession over that streak. While the Lobos still haven’t necessarily figured out exactly who is going to be their go-to scorer in clutch situations (as was abundantly clear on Thursday against Long Beach State), they’re getting it done offensively as a collective. And that is far more than can be said for a Louisville team whose entire offense seems to be based around Peyton Siva penetration and kicks to inconsistent shooters. The fact that the Lobos have been excellent at limiting penetration indicates that they’ve got a good chance to hold the Cards to an ugly shooting percentage and slug out a win. Throw in Louisville’s struggles cleaning the defensive glass and Drew Gordon’s ability to make them pay for that and the Lobos can extend the Mountain West’s presence in the tournament at least through the weekend.
The RTC Certified Pick: New Mexico