NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Elite Eight SaturdayPosted by Brian Otskey on March 24th, 2012
#4 Louisville vs. #7 Florida – West Regional Final (at Phoenix, AZ) – 4:30 PM ET on CBS
RTC Region correspondents Andrew Murawa (West) and Brian Otskey (East) contributed to this preview.
It’s master versus pupil in a battle for the Final Four. Billy Donovan and Rick Pitino first gained national attention at roughly the same time as Donovan was the star player on Pitino’s 1987 Providence College team that made an improbable run to the Final Four, but their relationship didn’t stop there. Dovovan’s single year in the NBA was spent with Pitino as his head coach, and when he gave up his job on Wall Street to get back into basketball, it was to Pitino’s staff at Kentucky that he went. Since then, Donovan has had plenty of success, including back-to-back national championships, giving him one more for his career than his mentor, but in head-to-head matchups, Donovan’s teams have never won in six meetings. As for this meeting, we’ve got a couple of really interesting clashes here. First and foremost, we get to watch a Florida offense that is the third most efficient offense in the country competing against a Louisville team who has, on the strength of Thursday night’s absolute destruction of a good Michigan State offense, taken over the number one spot in defensive efficiency. The Cardinals did a lot of things right defensively in that game (grabbing over 80% of defensive rebound opportunities and limiting their opponent to just a 33.7% eFG night among them), but perhaps the key to the game was their ability to force turnovers on 25% of the Spartans’ possessions. That type of thing could be very hard to come by against a guard-heavy Gator team that generally does not turn the ball over with great regularity. Furthermore, when the Cards’ opponents do get into the halfcourt against them, their goal is often to force the other team into making tough shots over them, something that Florida can do very well. Not only are guards Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal all very capable shot-makers from both beyond and inside the three-point line, but stretch-four Erik Murphy is capable of pulling a defender like Chane Behanan away from the basket and further opening things up in the lane. On the other side of the court, it is no secret that Louisville has trouble scoring; they’ve only scored 0.98 points per possession over the course of their current seven-game postseason winning streak (which goes to show how good their defense has been – 0.86 PPP against good competition). And Florida’s defense is definitely on the uptick, as they’ve allowed just 0.78 PPP in the NCAA Tournament, including just 0.87 against a very good Marquette offense. Further, if the Cards are unable to force turnovers with regularity, they’re not going to be able to get out in the open court and get easy baskets, meaning they’ll need to find some type of consistent offense in the halfcourt game. If that’s the case, they’ll need the good Russ Smith to show up, they’ll need Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric knocking down threes, and, most of all, they’ll need an aggressive Peyton Siva getting penetration and finding offense for himself and for his teammates. All of those things can happen, but sooner or later, the lack of offensive coherency is going to come back to cost the Cards, and the Gators look to be the perfect team to take advantage of it.
The RTC Certified Pick: Florida
#1 Syracuse vs. #2 Ohio State – East Region Finals (at Boston, MA) – 7:05 PM ET on CBS
This East regional final should be a dandy as it features a heavyweight bout between two teams that have been near the top of the college basketball rankings all season long. The winner advances to New Orleans and the Final Four next Saturday night. Is this the game where the loss of Fab Melo comes back and bites Syracuse? It’s a real possibility. Ohio State should enjoy a huge rebounding advantage tonight as it ranks highly in both offensive and defensive boarding. A lot of rebounds falling into the hands of the Buckeyes equals more possessions and more second chances on the offensive end. With Syracuse’s much maligned defensive rebounding numbers, the opportunity is there for Jared Sullinger and his teammates to score a ton of second chance buckets. That could very well be the story of this game. Elsewhere, Syracuse may have an edge. Even without Melo, Jim Boeheim’s rotation is much deeper than Thad Matta’s. Syracuse thrives in the open court but the Buckeyes aren’t afraid to play that type of game. In fact, Ohio State games average more possessions than Syracuse games. Even so, Syracuse’s depth has to be considered an advantage in a one-and-done scenario. Defensively, the Orange may pack their zone into the paint more than usual. Ohio State ranks #218 in three point shooting (33.3%) and Syracuse must stop Sullinger inside in order to win. Until the Buckeyes prove they can hit an outside shot, Syracuse will likely keep its zone packed in tight around Ohio State’s sophomore big man. The X-factor for Ohio State is Deshaun Thomas. Averaging 25 PPG in this tournament, Thomas has been a breakout star. If he comes anywhere close to 25 points yet again, Ohio State will likely be sitting pretty. Thomas adds vital scoring depth to a team that is ultra-dependent on Sullinger to produce. Other players like William Buford can score for Ohio State but Sullinger is the key guy. If he can get Syracuse’s big men in early foul trouble (Baye Keita fouled out against Cincinnati), he’ll have a much easier time operating on the low block. With a hot Thomas alongside him, this team is really hard to beat. The question for Ohio State will be whether it can score effectively against a zone. It did so on Thursday night against Cincinnati but Syracuse’s zone is Boeheim’s trademark. It’ll be a lot tougher for the Buckeyes to get points tonight but the ability of Thomas and Buford to make outside shots will be the key to unlocking Syracuse’s defense. For the Orange, Dion Waiters provides a huge spark off the bench. He’s crucial to the Orange transition game and will see starters minutes. Waiters being on his game is a must for Syracuse tonight. Keep an eye on the point guard matchup as well. Aaron Craft is a defensive wizard and absolutely killed Cincinnati with his intensity and steals and has the potential to lock up either Scoop Jardine or Waiters. If Craft is successful, it’ll be extremely difficult for Syracuse to get any rhythm going in their half court sets. The Orange utilized a lot of ball screening action against Wisconsin to get good shots and they’ll have to do it again. Syracuse can’t settle for contested one-on-one jump shots and expect to win. Other good individual matchups will occur on the wings between Buford/Thomas and Kris Joseph/C.J. Fair. Sullinger has the trump card inside so Syracuse needs to win those battles on the wings in order to win the game. This will be a very close game between two highly talented teams but Ohio State’s rebounding edge puts them over the top in our estimation.
The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State.