NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday AfternoonPosted by Andrew Murawa, Bennet Hayes, Brian Otskey & Walker Carey on March 20th, 2014
And so it begins. Today at exactly 12:15 PM in Buffalo, New York, the 2014 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. Savor it. Embrace it. Respect it. Let’s get things started with an analysis of all of today’s games, beginning with the afternoon slate of eight contests.
#6 Ohio State vs. #11 Dayton — South Region Second Round (at Buffalo, NY) — 12:15 PM ET on CBS.
You could ignore the fact that Dayton and Ohio State are separated by 70 miles of Ohio interstate, that the Flyer’s leading scorer is an Ohio State transfer, that Thad Matta has never had any interest in scheduling a regular season game with UD, and this game would still be one of the most intriguing matchups of the first round. Or you could, of course, take account of all those things and declare this the game to watch in the round of 64. Former Buckeye Jordan Sibert will be a marked man on Thursday afternoon, and not just because he used to don the scarlet and gray. Sibert (43% 3PT) leads a proficient Flyer offense that excels beyond the arc; Dayton has made 38% of their three-point attempts this season. Aaron Craft receives plenty of recognition for his defensive abilities on the perimeter, but Shannon Scott is nearly Craft’s equal when it comes to on-ball defense, and both will strive to make Sibert and the rest of the Flyers’ life difficult. Similar resistance is unlikely to be provided by a Dayton defense that is less than elite, but can the Buckeyes take advantage? Ohio State’s scoring struggles this season have been well documented, but look for LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith to get just enough done offensively for the Buckeyes to seize this battle for Ohio. Either way though, subplots abound.
The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State
#2 Wisconsin vs #15 American – West Regional Second Round (at Milwaukee, WI) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV
Since 1985 when the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams, seven times has a #15 seed upset a #2 seed. You probably remember most, if not all of these names: Richmond, Santa Clara, Coppin State, Hampton, Norfolk State, Lehigh, and then, last year, Florida Gulf Coast, who had temerity enough to then go on and even win another game. And American can take further solace in the fact that if conference-mate Lehigh did it just two seasons ago, surely the Eagles can do it as well. So, what does American have to do to cash that 19% (according to KenPom.com) lottery ticket they’re holding? First and foremost, they’ve got to control tempo, keeping this game down there somewhere below 60 possessions. And with Wisconsin down there in the last handful of teams in the nation in terms of average offensive possession length, the Eagles may get their wish. The next think they need to do is keep their turnovers down. Only two other teams in the nation turn the ball over on a higher frequency of possessions than do the Eagles, but the good news is that Wisconsin doesn’t pressure the ball, so the Eagles may avoid that problem. American’s Princeton-style offense does result in assists on better than 65% of all field goals, best in the nation, but oddly enough, Wisconsin allows the smallest percentage of assists on made field goals, so it will be a clash to see whether American’s cutting and ball movement can regularly create the type of good looks that has allowed the Eagles to shoot a 56.3 eFG% (6th in the nation). If American can get comfortable in their offense, this matchup is actually about as good as the Eagles could ever hope for. And they might still need some luck to get this thing done. We’re not going to go crazy and actually pick American in this game, but there is reason to suspect this might be tighter than most #2/#15 matchups.
The RTC Certified Pick: Wisconsin
#8 Colorado vs. #9 Pittsburgh — South Region Second Round (at Orlando, FL) — 1:40 PM ET on TBS
Buffaloes, you made it. When Spencer Dinwiddie was lost for the year back in January, it appeared Colorado had sustained a blow likely to cost them their Tournament lives, but somehow, some way, Tad Boyle’s squad clawed their way into this field of 68. However, like the wounded animal that ultimately must watch his mates move on once his energy has been spent, this second round game with Pittsburgh may mark the end of the road for the Buffs. Pomeroy enthusiasts will certainly believe that to be the case, as Ken Pom’s rankings make the Panthers look like one of the field’s most underseeded squads (16th on Ken Pom), while Colorado (63rd) falls on the opposite, drastically overseeded end of the spectrum. The efficiency stats make this look more like a 4-13 game than an 8-9, but Colorado fans clinging to hope will be sure to remind us that as informational as number-crunching can be, the games are still played on the floor. Colorado is here because they found ways to win the close ones, while Pittsburgh did quite the opposite, losing seven games by five or fewer points. Pitt’s Talib Zanna and Colorado’s Josh Scott will be the matchup to watch in this game. Scott’s offense out of the post is critical to any success Colorado will have, but Pittsburgh has never been a program to show opponents much hospitality on the interior. No team deserves more credit for just being here than Colorado, but they were bound to meet a superior foe upon Tournament arrival. Pittsburgh is that opponent, and the Panthers shouldn’t have too much trouble advancing.
The RTC Certified Pick: Pittsburgh
#5 Cincinnati vs. #12 Harvard – East Region Second Round (at Spokane, WA) – 2:10 PM ET on TNT
The #5 vs. 312 game is always a popular upset pick and perhaps no 312 seed in this year’s Tournament will be as trendy of a pick as Harvard. The Crimson won the Ivy League by four games and enters the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year under Tommy Amaker after not having made it since 1946. It will be a tall order to defeat Cincinnati because Harvard has not seen a defense like this all year long. In order to pull the upset, Amaker’s team is going to have to do a number of things better than usual. For one, Harvard must make a good percentage of its three pointers. It cannot rely on Kyle Casey to do the bulk of the work alone inside, as good as he is (although his numbers are down a bit from last season). Harvard has to maximize possessions by not turning the ball over and sharing it well, meaning a good game from Siyani Chambers is a must. Amaker has three NCAA wins (one with Harvard) in three previous tournament appearances but in the end this feels like too tall of a task. Cincinnati has the best player on the floor in Sean Kilpatrick, a strong All-American contender and that should be enough to push the Bearcats on to the third round. The wildcard here is the game time (11:10 AM local) for two eastern teams playing in Spokane. If one comes out sleepwalking, all bets are off.
The RTC Certified Pick: Cincinnati
#3 Syracuse vs. #14 Western Michigan — South Region Second Round (at Buffalo, NY) — 2:45 PM ET on CBS
On Thursday afternoon, a team that began the season 25-0 will go to battle with a team that has lost five of their last seven games. And Western Michigan will be on the court as well. Syracuse’s fall from grace has been sharp, sudden, and discouraging, but there is time yet for the Orange to right the ship. Which version of the Orange shows up – that charmed group that sprinted out to 25 wins without a loss, or the offensively-challenged crew that has repeatedly stubbed their toe in the latter portions of the season – is anyone’s guess. On the one hand, in C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis and a healthy (hopefully) Jerami Grant, among others, there’s definitely enough talent for the Orange to make what once felt like a fated Final Four run. But then there are also enough areas of concern – depth, outside shooting, defensive rebounding – for Western Michigan to be licking their chops at the sight of the Orange on the seed line next to them. Hold your horses though. Sorry to be a buzz-kill, but before visions of a WMU upset crystallize, we must point out that stylistically, this is a horrendous matchup for the Broncos. Western Michigan’s biggest strengths are their 2-PT field goal shooting (54.1%) and free-throw earning ability (51.7 FTA/FGA, 15th best nationally), but the vaunted Syracuse zone allows relatively little of those activities, instead forcing opponents into a plethora of three-point attempts. Syracuse would be on upset-watch with a number of higher seeds, but for the Broncos to deliver a knockout punch to the reeling Orange, David Brown (19.4 PPG) and co. will need to find a three-point stroke that, up to this point in the season, has proven elusive.
The RTC Certified Pick: Syracuse
#7 Oregon vs. #10 BYU – West Regional Second Round (at Milwaukee, WI) – 3:10 PM ET on truTV
Sit back, buckle up and, whichever team you’re rooting for here, don’t give up hope too quickly. Because you can expect each of these teams to experience multiple positive and negative runs during this game. Remember two years ago when BYU trailed Iona by 25 in a First Four game before coming all the way back to win by six? Don’t expect that kind of a swing to happen, but realize that in a game where both teams are varying degrees of great offensively and a similar quality of bad on the defensive end, it is going to take a whole lot for one of these teams to be declared out of this game right up until the time that final buzzer sounds. BYU, of course, will be without its third-leading scorer Kyle Collinsworth, who tore his ACL in the WCC final against Gonzaga, but they’ve still got a pair of high-octane guards in Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino, to go with solid frontcourt guys like freshman Eric Mika and junior Nate Austin. Meanwhile, Oregon has two of the most efficient offensive players in the country in Joseph Young and Jason Calliste and senior forward Mike Moser has elevated his game just in time for March. And, after a downturn in the middle of the season, the Ducks are playing really good ball right now and BYU will need to adjust on the fly to playing without one of its key cogs. Translation: while this may be a wildly entertaining offensive basketball game, the Cougars will be playing it with one hand tied behind its back.
The RTC Certified Pick: Oregon
#1 Florida vs. #16 Albany — South Region Second Round (at Orlando, FL) — 4:10 PM ET on TBS
Patience is starting to wear thin with the First Four (can’t help but agree with Gregg Doyel’s eloquent explanation on why it should cease to exist), but the boys up at Albany probably don’t hate it as much as most of us. The Great Danes now enter the field of 64 with an official Tournament victory under their belt, and their school is a little heavier in the pockets for it. It was an undeniably enjoyable night in Dayton for Albany, but even their head coach knows the fun is soon to end. When the post-game conversation turned towards their next opponent, Will Brown, with a shrug of the shoulders and a smile, summed it up by saying “The reward we get? Facing Florida.” There’s a difference between showing respect for an opponent and acknowledging all-too-certain defeat, and Brown’s unscripted response certainly seemed to do the latter. That isn’t to say the Great Danes won’t come out on Thursday afternoon and compete like heck, because if we’ve learned anything from their four-game postseason win streak, it’s that they are willing to grind for 40 minutes. But when a #16 seed takes to the floor against the Tournament’s #1 overall seed — in a virtual road game no less — there is little analysis necessary. The Gators should roll by Albany to extend their winning streak to 27 games, and begin what they hope to be a most extended Tournament stay.
The RTC Certified Pick: Florida
#4 Michigan State vs. #13 Delaware – East Region Second Round (at Spokane, WA) – 4:40 PM ET on TNT
It has been a fantastic year for Monte Ross’ Blue Hens, the Colonial Athletic Association champions. Delaware went 25-9 with competitive losses to Villanova, Ohio State and Richmond, among others. There is no doubt the Blue Hens are good enough to compete on this stage but you just get the feeling they are running into a buzz saw. Michigan State is appearing on many brackets as the pick to win it all, given the way it played last week at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. However, this is a team that still lost seven of its final 12 regular season games before finding something in Indy. Which Michigan State team will show up? In this round, it would be incredibly difficult to bet against the Spartans team that beat Wisconsin and Michigan back to back just under a week ago. Delaware can score (80 PPG) and the triple threat of Jarvis Threatt, Devon Saddler and Davon Usher could give Tom Izzo’s team some issues. However, the Blue Hens are weak defensively and you would figure a guy like Adreian Payne would be licking his chops at the matchup in this one. This is the last stand for Payne and fellow senior Keith Appling and we would find it very hard to believe if they didn’t come into this tournament with something to prove. Delaware is a good team but this could be too much Sparty talent and toughness for it to overcome.
The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State