NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday AfternoonPosted by BHayes on March 21st, 2013
And so it begins. Today at exactly 12:15 PM in Auburn Hills, Michigan, the 2013 NCAA Tournament as we all know it will officially tip off, setting in motion a chain of events that will undoubtedly bust most people’s brackets by mid-afternoon. Nevertheless, the anticipation for the best two weekdays in all of sports is over. Let’s get things started with an analysis of all of today’s games, beginning with the afternoon slate of eight contests.
#3 Michigan State vs. #14 Valparaiso – Midwest Region Second Round (at Auburn Hills, MI) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS
The Second Round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament tips off in Auburn Hills on Thursday, where Michigan State clashes with former March magician Bryce Drew and his Valparaiso Crusaders. Having been underseeded slightly by the committee, the Horizon League Champs now rest as a dangerous #14 seed. They are led by Ryan Broekhoff, a 6’7” senior and two-time Horizon League POY. The Aussie import does the bulk of his damage from three-point range, having made 82 threes this season. He will undoubtedly be the focus of the Spartan defense, a unit that has proven stingy as ever this season. Tom Izzo’s team ranks 8th nationally in defensive efficiency, in large part because of their defense of the three-point stripe, where opponents have shot just 30.8%. The physical, tough Spartan identity is not limited to the defensive end however, as Michigan State has played efficient (albeit slow) offense all season, despite a relative dearth of play-makers (apologies to the oft-dynamic backcourt of Keith Appling and Gary Harris). We can analyze this matchup all we want, but the final calculation is very simple. Despite Valparaiso being a tricky #14 seed, this is Michigan State, Tom Izzo and March. The home court advantage Sparty will enjoy in Auburn Hills is almost overkill – I like Michigan State to take care of business here.
The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State
#6 Butler vs. #11 Bucknell — East Region Second Round (at Lexington, KY) — 12:40 pm ET on truTV.
One of Thursday’s better games pits two teams that have combined to win 54 games against one another. The key to Butler’s resurgence this season has been the addition of Rotnei Clarke. The 6’0” transfer from Arkansas has opened up Butler’s offense and made it easier for the other Bulldogs to operate. In this game, Brad Stevens and company face a particularly difficult matchup for an 11-seed. The Bucknell Bison have one of the best centers in the nation (Mike Muscala) and are a senior laden team that maximizes possessions and won’t be afraid to bang with Butler. In addition Muscala, a 6’11” senior and perhaps the best rebounder in the country, Dave Paulsen’s team defends with the best of them and has a pair of very capable three point shooters in Bryson Johnson and Cameron Ayers. The key for Bucknell will be to contain Clarke and keep him from dominating the game. For Butler, getting on the glass and limiting Bucknell’s top scorers will be critical. Bucknell has very little scoring depth with four players averaging about 53 of its 67 PPG. It’s probably not too smart picking against Stevens but we like the match-up for Bucknell in this one.
The RTC Certified Pick: Bucknell
#8 Pittsburgh vs. #9 Wichita State – West Regional Second Round (at Salt Lake City, UT) – 1:40 PM ET on TBS
Arguably the most intriguing 8/9 game, in part because of the whispers of a potentially vulnerable one-seed awaiting in the next round, this game features a pair of teams who have spent time in the top 25 this season. The Panthers are one of those teams that have been a KenPom darling all season (they’re currently ranked ninth overall in that system), but have come up empty just when you think they’re about to turn it on. As for the Shockers, after winning 19 of their first 21 games and fighting through some injury issues, they’ve had a couple of losing streaks in the past month and lost a couple of games to the only NCAA Tournament-caliber team – Creighton – they’ve played over that stretch. But between Cleanthony Early and Malcolm Armstead, they’ve got a couple of guys that can fill it up from the perimeter. And Carl Hall, for one, is very capable of playing with Pitt’s bigs like Talib Zanna and Steven Adams. But, against a Panthers team that absolutely kills it on the offensive glass, Hall’s going to have to get some help somewhere. If Hall does find some help on the defensive glass, and if Armstead and Early fill it up offensively, the Shockers very much have a chance. Otherwise, Pitt is going to get their points off of the offensive boards and make it awful tough for Wichita to score inside the arc.
The RTC Certified Pick: Pittsburgh
#4 Saint Louis vs. #13 New Mexico State – Midwest Region Second Round (at San Jose, CA) – 2:10 PM ET on TNT
Saint Louis, one of the trendier dark-horse picks in the entire field, begins their Tournament against #13 seeded New Mexico State, the WAC champions. It’s the third time in the past four seasons that Marvin Menzies has his Aggies dancing, so do not expect to see a NMSU team intimidated by the bright lights. Not many are taking them seriously as a candidate to pull this second round upset — perhaps largely due to the respect afforded Saint Louis – but the Aggies will have a shot. They are the largest team in the nation, with 7’5” freshman Sim Bhullar serving as the poster boy for the massive front line. Don’t mistake Bhullar as some sort of novelty item either – he averages double figure points and plays more than 24 minutes a game for the Aggies. The giant is also the biggest contributor to New Mexico State’s block percentage of 14.2 – the 15th best clip in the nation. St. Louis will test those bigs early and often, as the Billikens have lived at the free throw stripe this season. New Mexico State isn’t so dissimilar in this regard, as they get nearly a quarter of their points from the charity stripe. Both teams also prefer to play in the half-court, so this games bodes to be the antithesis of a tempo clash. I don’t think there is as much separating these two teams as most believe, but the biggest advantage the Billikens have lies in the backcourt. Kwamain Mitchell and Mike McCall are key in this one; they ultimately make the difference in what will be a sneaky-close game.
The RTC Certified Pick: Saint Louis
#6 Memphis vs. #11 Saint Mary’s – Midwest Region Second Round (at Auburn Hills, MI) – 2:45 PM ET on CBS
First Four victors Saint Mary’s get their crack at the field of 64. Waiting for them are Conference USA Champs Memphis, who will be out to silence the critics. The Tigers have failed to win a Tournament game in each of the past two seasons, and after a 2012-13 campaign in which they managed just one victory over a team in this field (#14 seeded Harvard), Josh Pastner’s guys would like to prove that they can play with the big boys. The key match-up in this one will come at the point, where Saint Mary’s all-timer Matthew Dellavedova matches up with Joe Jackson. Jackson’s career has been a microcosm of this Memphis era: A ton of talent, with a lot more good moments than bad when you add them up, but very few big games in the big spots. He will get another crack at it against Dellavedova, and despite a general distrust of this Memphis team, I believe Jackson is good enough to get the Tigers through. He has struggled most when teams have been able to successfully speed him up, and for all of Dellavedova’s grit (and capable defending), Saint Mary’s just does not turn teams over (286th nationally). If Memphis can get out and run, I think Jackson plays Dellavedova to a near stand-still, and the freaky-athletic Memphis front-line overwhelms the lumbering bigs of the Gaels. Don’t get used to it Tigers, but I think you get a Tournament win here. Pastner is on the board.
The RTC Certified Pick: Memphis
#3 Marquette vs. #14 Davidson – East Region Second Round (at Lexington, KY) – 3:10 PM ET on truTV.
On the surface this might not look like a great game. But dig a little deeper and it appears like one that will be very competitive. This is a dangerous spot for Buzz Williams’ team. The Golden Eagles are a very good team (they went 14-4 in the Big East after all) but it is perhaps the most flawed 14-4 major conference I have ever seen. Its performance away from home has been shaky to say the least. Marquette does not shoot the three ball well at all and relies on dribble penetration and efficiency in the paint in order to win games. Teams who can take that away from them, like Davidson in this instance, are bad matchups for MU. In order to win, Marquette has to pound the ball inside right from the start. For some reason, Marquette sometimes seems reluctant to feed Davante Gardner in the low post. At 6’8” 290 lbs, this is something the Golden Eagles should be doing every game. With that kind of size and strength, it’s hard for the opposition to guard him. Jake Cohen is 6’10” but is giving up 50-60 pounds when guarding Gardner one-on-one. Marquette has better talent across the board (especially at the forward positions) but count on Bob McKillop to come up with a quality game plan. This should be a close game throughout but we like Davidson to pull the upset because of Cohen making Marquette’s defenders guard him all over the floor and not just in the paint and Marquette’s rather one-dimensional offensive attack.
The RTC Certified Pick: Davidson
#1 Gonzaga vs. #16 Southern – West Regional Second Round (at Salt Lake City, UT) – 4:10 PM ET on TBS
You keep hearing it every year: “One of these years it is bound to happen, a 16-seed will bounce a one-seed.” And it is true; it’ll happen eventually. There have already been numerous near-misses, and they seem to be coming faster and even more furiously, with UNC-Asheville the latest team to throw a serious scare into a one-seed. All of which is just prelude to the ultimate buzzkill: if you’re looking to be the wise guy and correctly pick that 16-seed winner, move along, nothing to see here. Yeah, Southern is a fine team. They’ve won 22 of their last 26 games and came thisclose to springing an upset over Texas A&M back in December. But, the thing is, A&M ain’t in this tourney. And Gonzaga is way, way better than A&M. Really, Southern is very much like a middle-of-the-road WCC team like San Diego or Loyola Marymount, and the Bulldogs have already shown their ability to blow by teams like those with ease. Even if the Jaguars can lock up the Zags and force them to a low shooting percentage (Southern has held their opponents to the second-lowest effective field goal percentage in the nation this year), they send their opponents to the line and give up offensive rebounds too much – areas where Gonzaga can exploit them. So good luck to the Jags, but while there is the possibility that they can keep things close for a half, the Zags will eventually pull away.
The RTC Certified Pick: Gonzaga
#5 Oklahoma State vs. #12 Oregon – Midwest Region Second Round (at San Jose, CA) – 4:40 PM ET on TNT
As little as Oregon could have appreciated the #12 seed the committee handed them on Sunday, they may not be feeling all that down anymore. The college basketball world has been quite vociferous in their outrage over the Ducks seed line, to the point where Oklahoma State might even be wondering if they are still the favorite here. Situate Oregon as a #9 seed, and I guarantee you that Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps will have found better uses of their time than singing the praises of Dominic Artis and EJ Singler all week. Nevertheless, here we are, and as artificial as the noise around the Ducks may be, this is a pretty dangerous team. Artis’ return may begin to explain the Duck resurgence in Vegas last week, but the team around him also looked like they were playing with a fresh perspective. Last week was crucially important for Dana Altman’s team, but they also didn’t have to face a foe the caliber of Oklahoma State at the Pac-12 Tournament. The Pokes bowed out of Championship Week early (in an ugly loss to Kansas State), but let’s not forget that this team won 11 of their last 13 games and was a double-OT loss away from sweeping Kansas. They are awfully young (second youngest in the field), but I’m still trying to decide whether I actually believe Marcus Smart is a freshman. Oregon won’t make it easy, but Oklahoma State has the best player on the floor (Smart) and a supporting cast that should be sick of hearing about the Ducks’ Selection Sunday slight.
The RTC Certified Pick: Oklahoma State