NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday NightPosted by KDoyle on March 29th, 2013
We continue the Sweet Sixteen tonight with games from the South Region in Arlington, Texas, and the Midwest Region in Indianapolis. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.
#1 Louisville vs. #12 Oregon Midwest Regional Sweet Sixteen (at Indianapolis, IN) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS
The Midwest Regional descends on Indianapolis this weekend, with Louisville and Oregon kicking off the action in a matchup of red-hot teams. If not for Florida Gulf Coast’s otherworldly Tournament performance last week, we would likely be looking at the two most impressive teams of the first weekend. As the top overall seed in the Tournament, Louisville’s tour de force in Lexington may not have been unexpected, but it did drive home the notion that the Cardinals are still the team to beat – in this region, and beyond. On the flip side, Oregon’s pair of resounding victories were not expected (despite getting significant play as the most underseeded team in the field on Selection Sunday), but have quickly afforded the surging Ducks a lot of respect. They will head into a virtual road game as massive underdogs on Friday, but the last two weeks have proven that this is a talented and tough basketball team.
Do not expect Oregon to struggle with the aggressive Louisville defense as much as North Carolina A&T and Colorado State did. A quick briefing of the Oregon statistical profile may suggest otherwise – the Ducks are 264th nationally in turnover percentage – but that number is a bit misleading. For one, quick tempo teams are generally going to turn the ball over more, and Oregon plays fast (48th nationally in possessions per game). Also remember that starting PG Dominic Artis (I know, I know — how could we forget at this point?) missed more than half the Pac-12 season, and that backup PG Johnathan Loyd is just now beginning to hit his stride. These two guards will come as close to replicating the quickness and athleticism of that Louisville Siva-Smith combo as any duo the Cardinals have seen all season. Throw in athletes almost everywhere else on the floor – Emory and Dotson on the wings, Kazemi and Woods in the post – and there can be reasonable expectation that Oregon might actually be able to weather the turnover storm that has felled many Louisville foes.
If Oregon can manage that turnover battle, expect this to be a 40-minute game. Points will not come easily for the Cardinals against a well-school (and athletic) Oregon defense, and the Ducks are also a better rebounding team — at least on paper. Dana Altman’s X-factor will be the burgeoning freshman Dotson. If Dotson and others – here’s looking at you EJ Singler — can replicate the three point barrage that undid Saint Louis, Altman’s group has a legitimate change to swing the upset. Too much to ask for? Probably. This is not your typical #12 seed (how is Oregon a #12 seed again?), but they have run into a #1 seed that is playing its role all too well. I expect Oregon to prove a worthy challenger in all facets – managing turnovers, defending the dynamic Louisville backcourt, finding ways to score themselves – but ultimately they run into a team that is just a little better across the board. The Ducks will hang around, but Louisville should be safely bound for the Elite Eight.
The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville
#1 Kansas vs. #4 Michigan – South Regional Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 7:37 PM ET on TBS
The last time Michigan advanced this deep into the NCAA Tournament was all the way back in 1994 with the Fab Five coached by current San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher. Ranked in the Top 10 for much of the season, John Beilein’s team certainly won’t be content just advancing to the second weekend; it is Atlanta or bust for the young Wolverines. To advance to Sunday’s South Regional Final, they will have to knock off a team with a wealth of NCAA Tournament experience in the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas advanced to the championship game last season losing to Kentucky, but are missing two key components of that squad—Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. While Bill Self has led Kansas to another very successful season—a Big 12 regular season and tournament championship and 30+ wins for the fourth straight year—this edition of Kansas basketball is lacking a rock-solid point guard and dominant scorer. One could certainly make the argument that freshman Ben McLemore is that scorer, but he has largely been a no-show in Kansas’ first two games scoring just 13 points on 2-14 shooting from the field. The combination of Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe at point guard has dished out 11 assists to ten turnovers. Nobody will argue their frontcourt dominance anchored by the defensive prowess of Jeff Withey, but seniors Kevin Young and Travis Releford are prototypical role players and not go-to threats. As such, when looking up and down the roster, this has been yet another good coaching job by Bill Self. If Kansas is to defeat Michigan and advance to Atlanta, Ben McLemore must play up to his Top 5 NBA Draft pick ability. Kansas’ most glaring weakness happens to be Michigan’s clear strength: point guard play. This game will be decided in the backcourt, and Trey Burke along with Tim Hardaway Jr. are simply playing much better basketball than Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore. Also, let’s not forget the emergence of freshman Mitch McGary who has stepped up in a big way with Jordan Morgan’s nagging ankle injury. Morgan may return to the regular rotation tonight, but he is just 6’8” and would struggle handling Jeff Withey on the insdie. John Beilein doesn’t expect McGary to have a double-double kind of game like he had against Virginia Commonwealth, but if he is able to neutralize Withey then it is mission accomplished. Kansas would be the first one to tell you that they played just 20 good minutes of basketball in their first two games. If they get off to another slow start out of the gate like they did against Western Kentucky and North Carolina, they’ll be hard-pressed to climb their way back into the game.
The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan
#2 Duke vs. #3 Michigan State – Midwest Region Sweet Sixteen (at Indianapolis, IN) – 9:45 PM ET on CBS
Duke and Michigan State meet Friday evening in what may well be the most anticipated game of this Sweet Sixteen. You will always get your money’s worth when Tom Izzo’s and Mike Krzyzewski’s teams meet in March. In typical fashion, these two heavyweights have earned their way to the regional semifinals with tough, disciplined basketball. Duke’s ticket to Indy came via tidy victories over Albany and Creighton, while Michigan State made quick work of Valparaiso and Memphis en route to Lucas Oil Stadium. These two teams are too closely matched to name a favorite, and make no mistake – when the final buzzer sounds at the end of this one, the Tournament will lose a true title contender either way.
The dominating question in this game is whether or not Duke can respond to the Michigan State physicality. The Spartans are still practicing with football helmets (not all the time, of course…I think?) and they continue to bring that gridiron mentality to the hardwood. For all of Memphis’ wild athleticism, the Tigers were overwhelmed by said toughness last week. The Blue Devils will seek to avoid a similar fate, with much of the onus falling on Mason Plumlee. The Blue Devil senior has disappeared at times this season, with his vanishing acts often coinciding with Duke losses. The most conspicuous example of this phenomenon came in the Miami blowout back in January, where a tough, veteran (sounds a lot like those Spartans…) Hurricane team took it right at Plumlee and company. They have not needed their All-ACC big man to be a dominant force in this Tournament yet, but Duke will not live to see another day without a rugged performance from the one time national POY front-runner.
Michigan State will make life difficult for Plumlee on both ends of the court, but can they score enough points to hang with the Blue Devils? Duke is one of the most efficient offensive units in the country, and while the Spartans have had no issues putting the ball in the hoop in this Tournament, their offense hasn’t always kept pace with their defense and rebounding. Duke put the clamps on an explosive Creighton team in round two, but the Spartans attack in ways far different than those of the Jays. Sticking with the theme, neutralizing Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix in the paint will be the biggest challenge for the Blue Devils, but don’t sleep on the backcourt of Keith Appling and Gary Harris. Both are athletic creators capable of hitting the deep ball – an entirely different type of guard than what Duke has seen to this point in the Dance.
Ultimately, I think Plumlee proves up to the challenge that this tough Michigan State frontline will offer. It won’t be easy, but in this matchup of great teams and even greater coaches, it’s the Blue Devil senior who finds his December form and carries Duke to the precipice of the Final Four.
The RTC Certified Pick: Duke
#3 Florida vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast – South Regional Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 10:07 PM ET on TBS
Florida Gulf Coast has proven in their last two wins over Georgetown and San Diego State that even when one breaks down the game, analyzes the matchups, studies the metrics, and believes to have come to a confident conclusion of who the victor will be, all of that is meaningless once the ball is tossed up. Billy Donovan has won two National Championships and been to consecutive Elite Eights, while just a few years ago Andy Enfield was an assistant coach at Florida State with no head coaching experience. Florida’s starting five will be better at every position than Florid Gulf Coast’s five—well, maybe with the exception of point guard, but more on that later—and they all have ample NCAA Tournament experience. The Eagles have heard the underdog and Cinderella story the entire week leading up to their date with the Gators, but I can promise you they will come out just as confident as Florida will on Saturday evening. For FGCU, it all begins with Sherwood Brown—you know, the guy who shakes the Len Elmore’s and Reggie Miller’s hand at the conclusion of games—who has developed into the face of the program. He isn’t one of the high-flying dunkers, but is their best all-around scorer and threat from the perimeter. While Brown and the trio of dunk city’s finest dunkers—Chase Fieler, Eric McKnight, and Eddie Murray—steal the show at times, it is FGCU’s point guard Brett Comer who is ostensibly the most important piece. Comer was nearly flawless in the opening weekend dishing out 24 assists to just five turnovers, and he will need to be just as good against Florida as Donovan will surely turn up the defensive pressure to fluster the Eagles. The Florida defense turns the opposition over on 22.4% of their possessions, while FGCU turns the ball over on 20.7% of the time. The quickest way for this game to get out of hand for FGCU is coughing the ball up and allowing Florida to score in transition. As I alluded to before though, Brett Comer may be the best point guard on the floor tomorrow evening—better than Florida’s Kenny Boynton. Although Boynton’s and Florida’s athletic ability matches up with FGCU’s, they play at a much more deliberate pace. We have seen that Enfield encourages his team to run out in transition at every chance and this bodes well for the Eagles, especially considering Florida’s lack of depth in the backcourt. Do the high-flying Eagles have a shot against Florida? Of course, how could you argue otherwise at this point? However, Florida Gulf Coast has yet to face an offense that can pile up points quite like Florida can, and it will be tough to keep pace with them—Erik Murphy can stretch a defense as good as anyone in college basketball. They were able to run away from Georgetown and San Diego State largely because these offenses stalled for extended periods; I don’t see Florida’s attack being stifled by Florida Gulf Coast.
The RTC Certified Pick: Florida