NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen ThursdayPosted by Brian Otskey on March 22nd, 2012
RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.
#1 Syracuse vs. #4 Wisconsin – East Region Semifinals (at Boston, MA) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS
Perhaps the most fascinating matchup to date in the entire NCAA Tournament will take place in tonight’s first game from Boston. Wisconsin, the most patient and deliberate team in the country, takes on a Syracuse team that has won 33 games due in large part to a lethal transition attack. While Syracuse ranks #202 in tempo, the Orange thrive on the fast break. You hear a lot about Jim Boeheim’s team struggling on the defensive glass and some of that is due to the fact that his guards already start out on the break when a shot goes up, taking them completely out of position to rebound. Without Fab Melo around to man the middle, Syracuse’s rebounding issues could be a major problem against the physical and deliberate Badgers. It’s always easier to slow a game down than to speed it up and that’s what Wisconsin is going to do. Syracuse will be forced to score in the half court against one of the strongest defenses in the entire nation. The big question will be whether Syracuse, already not one of the better half court teams, can get the ball inside and avoid settling for jump shots. At times this season the Orange have been frustrated and forced into shooting contested jumpers. Syracuse needs to utilize strong ball screening action in order to free up shooters. Wisconsin’s players will fight through screens and stick with you so using the pick-and-roll also wouldn’t be a bad idea. As for Wisconsin, the Badgers match up very well on the defensive end. The question for them will be whether they can score enough to win. Syracuse obviously has more offensive weapons but Bo Ryan has Jordan Taylor to take control of the game for his team. Taylor is the only player on Wisconsin capable of creating his own shot and that will be critical against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. Wisconsin shoots a bunch of three-pointers and it will have to make quite a few in order to knock off the top-seeded Orange. Syracuse’s zone encourages opposing teams to shoot over it but Wisconsin can actually make them, a major difference from Kansas State last week. If Boeheim chooses to extend his zone out on Wisconsin’s shooters, that will free up the Melo-less middle for Jared Berggren to go to work off screen and rolls in addition to opening up driving lanes for Taylor. Expect Jim Boeheim to adjust how his defense attacks Wisconsin as the game goes along, something he certainly has experience with. This will be a clean game between two teams with great defenses and terrific ball protection. Should it come down to free throws, Wisconsin has the edge. Syracuse is the better team and has many more offensive threats but the Tournament is all about matchups. We think the Badgers will make just enough shots to pull off the upset.
The RTC Certified Pick: Wisconsin
#1 Michigan State vs. #4 Louisville – West Regional Semifinal (at Phoenix, AZ) – 7:47 PM ET on TBS
One of the things we college basketball fans tend to really like about this time of year are the surprises. Not just the obvious ones like Butler running to the national title game or Villanova playing the perfect game against Georgetown, but more subtle ones like teams unveiling a new wrinkle to their offense or players making plays that you hadn’t known they were able to make. As for this game, however, don’t expect many surprises; we all more or less know how this is going to go down. We’ve seen Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino enough over the years to know what they want to do, and we’ve seen the 2012 vintages of both of these clubs to know what they are capable of. Michigan State is going to defend like crazy in the halfcourt, pound the glass on both ends of the court and try to knock Louisville around enough so that the Cards will be forced into submission late in the game. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are going to turn up the pressure defensively, try to force turnovers, rely on Gorgui Dieng to block shots in the middle and watch Peyton Siva get penetration and create offense off the bounce. It is likely going to be a low-scoring game that is still in doubt late into the second half and it will come down to which of these teams is capable of making the most plays down the stretch. While Siva’s numbers on the season are not great, he has been a different player since the Big East Tournament started, getting into the lane seemingly at will, creating opportunities for himself and for others and pitching in everywhere on the floor on his way to 13 points, 5.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game over the six-game stretch. He does a lot of damage in the pick-and-roll game, so not only will Spartan guard Keith Appling have to be on his game defensively, but whichever big man gets involved in the screen needs to do a good job of keeping Siva out of the lane. Draymond Green is clearly the big factor for Michigan State, and he too has been on fire of late, averaging 20 points, 12.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists and shooting it at a 64.3% eFG in the NCAA Tournament. Freshman Chane Benahan appears to be the most obvious individual matchup for Green, but it is going to have to be a full team effort for the Cards to slow the All-American down. Louisville will need to pressure the Spartan guards, keeping them from getting into their halfcourt offense easily and, perhaps more importantly, dedicate themselves to keeping Spartans like Green, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix off the offensive glass. However, given their relative lack of size (only Dieng is taller than 6’8”) and struggles with defensive rebounding, this could be the eventual downfall of the Cards. While they’ll certainly get their share of stops and turnovers, allowing Green and company second opportunities is a recipe for disaster.
The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State
#2 Ohio State vs. #6 Cincinnati – East Region Semifinals (at Boston, MA) – 9:45 PM ET on CBS
These two schools, separated by just over 100 miles, have only met nine previous times, the last coming over five years ago. They have met two prior times in the NCAA Tournament with Cincinnati taking both meetings. This game will feature a nice matchup in the post between Jared Sullinger and Yancy Gates as well as at the point guard position (Aaron Craft vs. Cashmere Wright). Craft is a defensive pest but his skills will be put to the test against one of the premier ball protection teams in the country. Wright and his teammates do a great job of not turning the ball over, something that will be highly important against an Ohio State team looking to speed up the game. Ohio State is the more efficient team across the board but Cincinnati is more physical and can get hot from long distance at times. Cincinnati doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well but grinds games out and can burn you with its timely three-point shooting. The Bearcats have to be careful not to fall in love with the three early. Instead they should focus on taking the ball inside with Gates as well as Jaquon Parker driving the lane, trying to get Sullinger in early foul trouble. If Sullinger has to sit on the bench, Ohio State’s tremendous rebounding advantage goes to the pine with him. Cincinnati ranks #261 in defensive rebounding percentage and simply cannot afford for Sullinger to grab second chance opportunities around the rim. Similarly, Ohio State should take it inside from the get-go and try to get Gates in foul trouble. The Buckeyes rank #11 in two-point percentage and don’t shoot nearly as many threes as Cincinnati. Ohio State’s strength is inside and Thad Matta’s group, similar to Syracuse in the first game, can’t get lulled into settling for jump shots. They need to establish Sullinger early. As for Cincinnati, Mick Cronin should play a zone defense. Ohio State does not shoot well from deep (32.8%) and Cronin has to protect Gates from foul trouble. If Gates has to sit down, Cincinnati’s chances of winning this game will plummet. The Bearcats have to force the Buckeyes to beat them from outside while packing the defense in on Sullinger and slashing scorers like Deshaun Thomas. Ohio State is really difficult to beat when Thomas is scoring and that’s exactly what he’s done in two NCAA Tournament games. Stopping he and William Buford also has to be high on Cincinnati’s list of priorities. The Bearcats struggle from the free throw line (64.4%) and that could cost them as well in a slow game. Cincinnati will have to put forth one of its best efforts of the season to hang with Sullinger and Ohio State and it would be disappointing to see free throws doom them. Neither team is deep, but the matchups strongly favor Ohio State in this contest.
The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State
#3 Marquette vs. #7 Florida – West Regional Semifinal (at Phoenix, AZ) – 10:17 PM ET on TBS
At the start of the season, there was plenty of talk about Florida as a potential Final Four team and certainly heavy consideration as a preseason Top 10 team. Meanwhile, Marquette figured to be somewhere in the Top 25, but not much of a serious threat on the national level. Somewhere in the middle of the season, as the Gators were losing to Rutgers and Georgia and Tennessee a couple of times, their expectations dwindled while the Golden Eagles, who started 10-0 with a big road win over Wisconsin mixed in there, saw their stock soar. But, take away a late-season slide by the Gators where they lost three straight to end the regular season (at Georgia, at Vanderbilt three nights later, and then home against Kentucky) and the resumes look pretty similar. Both schools struggled against elite competition (Marquette was 4-5 against top 30 KenPom teams, Florida 4-6), both had slip-ups against lower tier teams (although Florida had more), but both generally took care of business. And now here they both are, two games away from a Final Four looking each other squarely in the face. The Gators made their path to the Sweet Sixteen look easy, blowing out their first two opponents by an average of 30 points, while Marquette made a tougher road look relatively easy as well. If there is one thing Florida has proven it can do, it is score in a highly efficient manner – only Missouri and Kentucky were better with the ball – while they’ve been poor defensively. Marquette, meanwhile, has been a balanced team, a bit better on the defensive end, but certainly no slouch in putting the ball in the bucket. The Golden Eagles want to get up and down the floor (they played at the 16th fastest tempo in the nation), and while the Gators are a relatively down-tempo team, guards Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal will take advantage of the opportunity to push the pace with an advantage. But they can’t get sucked into a run-and-gun game, as Marquette stars Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom are among the best open court players in the nation and, given the chance, could run the Gators right out of the Tournament. When the game comes down the stretch, however, the tempo will likely moderate, putting the Gators at a bit of an advantage. Crowder, Johnson-Odom and center DaVante Gardner have been solid efficient offensive players, but beyond that threesome, there are precious few trustworthy offensive options. Meanwhile, Florida’s trio of guards as well as frontcourt players Patric Young and Erik Murphy are all capable of making big shots in pressure situations. Marquette is a solid defensive squad, but few if any teams have the ability to tamp down the Gators offense throughout 40 minutes and when ultimately this slows down into a half-court slugfest, Billy Donovan’s shotmakers could be the difference.
The RTC Certified Pick: Florida