NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12 TeamsPosted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) & Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 16th, 2014
Six Pac-12 teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament today. Let’s break down each of them in this instareaction format.
Arizona – NCAA, #1 seed in West region, San Diego pod, vs. Weber State, 3/21 – The Pac-12’s regular season champion earns a #1 seed and gets to play in San Diego and Anaheim until the Final Four in Arlington. The selection committee didn’t throw us any curveballs with this one, as each of the major prognostications have had the Wildcats on the top line and staying out west for some time now. They get Big Sky champion Weber State in the opener, and while the potential Third Round game is much more interesting, we’ll get to that in a moment. The Wildcats from Ogden finished the year at 19-11 and won both conference tournament games by an average of 12 points. Senior guard/forward Davison Berry is their only main offensive threat, averaging 19.1 PPG. Weber lost by 23 at UCLA in their final game before Christmas break, it’s only Pac-12 competition of the season. Sean Miller’s team will face either Gonzaga or Oklahoma State in that one. The Bulldogs are the only team besides Creighton in this region that will travel as well as Arizona fans, so that potential matchup wouldn’t necessarily be a “home game” for the Cats. If it’s Oklahoma State in that second game, the one seed gets a hot Cowboy team; always a dangerous matchup come tournament time. They have won five of their last seven, with the two losses coming against Top 20 opponents in overtime. Sophomore point guard Marcus Smart is a difficult matchup for anybody, and Senior Markel Brown is averaging over 17 PPG. Oklahoma State went 3-1 against opponents shared with Arizona (Colorado and Texas Tech), while the Wildcats are 3-0.
UCLA – NCAA, #4 seed in South region, San Diego pod , vs. Tulsa, 3/21 – When UCLA fans saw their team pop up on the #4 line in San Diego, they had to be pleased; their team not only earns a high seed, but also gets to play just a quick jaunt down Interstate 5. That pleasure, however, was probably short-lived, as Tulsa appearing on the #13 line across from them likely brought back some bad memories of a game 20 years ago in 1994, when a Tubby Smith-coached Tulsa team hung 112 on Ed O’Bannon, Tyus Edney and Jim Harrick’s squad and booted the Bruins in round one. Back in 1994, UCLA was a young and talented team that had yet to consistently live up to its vast potential despite flashes of brilliance, quite similar to the Bruins 20 years later. Back then, Tulsa was a team that went 15-3 in the Missouri Valley Conference largely on the stretch of an up-tempo offense and a pair of big-time scorers (Gary Collier and Shea Seals – who combined for 54 in the win over UCLA) for an up-and-coming head coach. This time around, second-year head coach Danny Manning has Tulsa getting it done mostly on the defensive end, with undersized grinders keeping the Golden Hurricane in the top 30 nationally in defensive efficiency. The Pac-12 team with roughly the same type of efficiency numbers as Tulsa would be Colorado, a team that UCLA beat in their two meetings by an average of 15.5 points per game. Tulsa will certainly test UCLA, but the Bruins are used to playing teams with defenses in the same vicinity and then going out there and simply outscoring them. Plus, for whoever winds up seeing UCLA across the court from them this postseason, the big question is: who checks Kyle Anderson? An answer is not immediately apparent for the Golden Hurricane. Looking further down the line for UCLA, Virginia Commonwealth potentially awaits in the round of 32, a team that can cause all sorts of matchup problems in a quick turnaround. And if the Bruins are fortunate enough to get out of the first weekend, they can expect to see #1 overall seed Florida in the Sweet Sixteen. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but that is an utterly winnable game for the Bruins.
Oregon – NCAA, #7 seed in West region, Milwaukee pod, vs. BYU, 3/20 – After finishing tied for third in the regular season but falling in the quarterfinals in Las Vegas, the committee thought Oregon did just enough to avoid the 8/9 game. Not only that, but the Ducks get to face BYU in their opener, a team moved up a seed line due to bracketing procedures, and a team they have already beaten earlier in the season. The Cougars tied for second in the WCC and fell to Gonzaga in the conference championship game, and will be without sophomore guard Kyle Collinsworth for the rest of the season. Collinsworth, the team’s second leading scorer, tore his ACL in that loss against the Bulldogs. That means Tyler Haws will have to take on an even bigger role than he already has. BYU won at Stanford early in the season before falling against Utah and Oregon in their three Pac-12 games this year. Taking a look further into the bracket, Oregon would likely face #2 seed Wisconsin in its next game, who faces American U in its opener. The Badgers were in the mix for that final top seed that eventually went to Virginia, so maybe the Ducks’ draw isn’t as easy as originally thought. Much like Oregon, their season was a rollercoaster ride as well. They started 16-0 before dropping five of their next six, allowing them to then fly under the radar as Bo Ryan‘s squad then won their next eight. The final mark was 26-7 when the dust settled. Junior forward Frank Kaminsky leads a balanced offensive attack with 13.6 PPG, but four Badgers are averaging more than 10 PPG.
Colorado – NCAA, #8 seed in South region, Orlando pod, vs. Pittsburgh, 3/20 – The Buffaloes got a bit of a gift, as they were expected to perhaps be a couple seed-lines down. And, in all honesty, this is probably a gift they wouldn’t mind returning. For instance, while Pittsburgh is probably most famous for what it hasn’t done this year (you know, beat anybody of relevance – up until this past weekend when they beat North Carolina, their only wins over NCAA Tournament teams were a neutral-site win over Stanford and home wins over Albany and Cal Poly), their efficiency numbers indicate a team that is just about equal to Colorado on the defensive end of the court, and much, much better on the offensive end. The Panthers aren’t going to overwhelm you with size and they’re going to play a deliberate style that will regularly keep games close, but they do everything well and will make it exceedingly difficult for the offensively-challenged Buffaloes to get on a roll against them. Colorado’s best bet will be to go inside to sophomore center Josh Scott early and often, but the Panthers have physical big guys inside (like Talib Zanna, for instance) who are capable of giving Scott trouble. It goes without saying that Tad Boyle will need junior point guard Askia Booker to have a big (and efficient) day in the opening round game, while X-factor Xavier Johnson will need to at least play Pitt senior Lamar Patterson to a draw. Still, despite the closeness of the typical 8/9 games, the Buffaloes are the underdog here. And with Florida likely awaiting in the round of 32, this bracket does not shape up for a lengthy stay for Colorado.
Stanford – NCAA, #10 seed in South region, Saint Louis pod, vs. New Mexico, 3/21 – Well, Johnny Dawkins is finally dancing. His team’s reward? An opening round matchup with a New Mexico team that just won the Mountain West tournament and is criminally under-seeded (by at least a couple seed lines). But, nothing can be done about that now; how do the Cardinal match up with the Lobos? The first thing that comes to mind is that the Cardinal’s usual size advantage (Stanford is 13th in the nation in effective height per KenPom.com) is not going to happen against a New Mexico team whose biggest strength is their interior play of guys like 6’9” Cameron Bairstow and 7’0” Alex Kirk. Guys like Stefan Nastic, Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis will be challenged heavily by the Lobo frontcourt. In the backcourt, expect to see a brilliant matchup between Stanford’s junior point guard Chasson Randle and New Mexico’s senior leader Kendall Williams. Honestly, this is a game featuring teams that are near mirror images of one another. The Cardinal may be more experienced, but they’ve never danced before while the Lobos are regular NCAA Tournament participants. Offensively, both teams are pretty deliberate while stingy on the defensive end. Neither team forces many turnovers, not commits many of their own. Stanford maybe shoots it a little bit better from deep, and maybe New Mexico has slightly more depth, albeit inconsistent. All things considered, expect this game to come right down to the wire. Maybe give the slight nod here to New Mexico on the basis on their tournament experience and desire to make amends for last year’s opening round loss to Harvard. If Stanford should get past the opening round game, odds are good that they’ll need to beat Kansas on Sunday in order to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Arizona State – NCAA, #10 seed in Midwest region, Milwaukee pod, vs. Texas, 3/20 – The last we saw the Sun Devils, they were getting run off the court in the Pac-12 Tournament by Stanford en route to their third-consecutive loss. Barring a turn-around in effort and execution, Arizona State doesn’t have a chance to beat anybody in this tournament. But, assuming the ship gets righted and we see a Sun Devil team similar to the squad we saw for the last couple weeks of conference play, Texas is a team they can most definitely beat. The biggest advantage will come, as it does in most games Arizona State plays, at the point guard position where sophomore Jahii Carson will have a decided advantage over freshman Isaiah Taylor, a fine player who may be a year away from being ready for this level of competition. The Longhorns biggest threat to the Sun Devils will come from sophomore center Cameron Ridley and junior forward Jonathan Holmes, both of whom are big, physical players who have made great strides this season. While Jordan Bachynski would seem to be a good matchup against Ridley, ASU’s senior center at times has struggled against physical post presences, and that’s most definitely what he’ll run up against on Thursday. But if Arizona State can get out in transition early and often and get clean looks on the wing for Jermaine Marshall or slashing to the rim for Shaquielle McKissic, the Sun Devils could spring this upset and advance to face Michigan on the weekend.