NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday EveningPosted by Brian Otskey, Andrew Murawa, Walker Carey & Bennet Hayes on March 20th, 2014
Half the day is in the books, and eight teams are headed home. We may not know what the Thursday evening sessions might have in store for us, but we can be confident in thinking there will be lots of excitement. Let’s continue our analysis of all of today’s games with the evening slate of eight contests.
#7 Connecticut vs. #10 Saint Joseph’s – East Region Second Round (at Buffalo, NY) – 6:55 PM ET on TBS
One of the better first round games in this tournament pits two of the nation’s better scoring guards against one another with Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier and Saint Joseph’s Langston Galloway. These two seniors each average over 17 points per game and their play will no doubt have an effect on the outcome of this game. The Huskies are a terrific defensive team and that could cause a problem for the Hawks, who rely heavily on three pointers and have a penchant for turning the ball over too much. That said, Phil Martelli’s team boasts a talented roster. Halil Kanacevic has been a warrior in his last go-around while freshman DeAndre Bembry looks uber-talented. As always with Connecticut, the question is the front court and whether DeAndre Daniels will continue his streak of better play in March. Over his last four games he has averaged 15.3 PPG on 50 percent shooting. Daniels will have to contend with Kanacevic and Ronald Roberts in the paint, where St. Joe’s was the No. 2 team in Atlantic 10 play when it came to defending two point shots (44.2 percent against). On paper this has the makings of a very strong 7 vs. 10 game and you would figure it will be close. If that comes to fruition, the advantage has to go to Connecticut. While both teams are experienced, the Huskies are a much better free throw shooting team and have more depth. Martelli’s Hawks rank dead last in the nation in bench minutes (14 percent) and shoot only 64.1 percent from the free throw line as a team while UConn connects 76.1 percent of the time (No. 10 nationally).
The RTC Certified Pick: Connecticut.
#2 Michigan vs. #15 Wofford – Midwest Region Round of 64 (at Milwaukee, WI) – 7:10 PM EST on CBS
Wofford won three games in three days to take home the Southern Conference Tournament crown and its reward for that feat is a 15-seed and a match-up with Big Ten regular season champion, two-seed Michigan. The Terriers are led into action by guard Karl Cochran, who was the Most Outstanding Player of the Southern Conference Tournament, and his 15.7 points per game. Wofford also has a bit of brawn in the post courtesy of forward Lee Skinner, who averages nearly a double-double at 11.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Heavy favorite Michigan, however, has the talent advantage all over the court. Guards Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert made up on the nation’s best perimeter duos throughout the season, while versatile forward Glenn Robinson III has shown flashes of the ability that has excited so many about his potential NBA prospects. While Michigan should be expected to roll Thursday evening, it is worth noting that in Wofford’s last two NCAA Tournament appearances (2010 and 2011) gave its higher-seeded opposition (Wisconsin in 2010 and BYU in 2011) everything it could handle before succumbing in the final minutes. Michigan is certainly the pick here, but do not be surprised if Wofford is able to keep it relatively close for a majority of the game.
The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan
#5 Saint Louis vs. #12 NC State – Midwest Region Round of 64 (at Orlando, FL) – 7:20 PM EST on TNT
NC State arrives in Orlando fresh off its dominant second half performance in Tuesday’s Opening Round victory over Xavier. The Wolfpack showcased the great luxury they have in ACC Player of the Year, T.J. Warren, who turned in a 25-point performance in the victory over the Musketeers. A key factor for NC State in Tuesday’s win was the emergence of Tyler Lewis at the point guard position. The sophomore finished the evening with seven points, eight assists, and only turnover. The Wolfpack have struggled with consistency this season from the point guard position and Tuesday’s performance from Lewis could be a launching point to sustained success from the sophomore guard. Saint Louis enters tournament play in a bit of a funk as the Billikens have lost four of their last five. Even though their fortunes have not been too good lately, the Billikens are still a quality unit that includes Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, Jordair Jett. This will likely be a hotly-contest affair for the whole 40 minutes, but in March, hot teams are the ones that are often able to earn victories. Expect NC State to pull off this upset and expect T.J. Warren to once again have his way with the opposition.
The RTC Certified Pick: NC State
#5 Oklahoma vs. #12 North Dakota State – West Regional Second Round (at Spokane, WA) – 7:27 PM ET on truTV
It’s not always good to be the trendy round-of-64 upset pick: ask Bucknell last year or Montana the previous, or Belmont just about any year. But that’s the position the Bison find themselves in this season. After winning the Summit League regular season and conference titles, and with a potent low-possession offense led by four seniors in their starting lineup, North Dakota State has rightfully earned plenty of attention as a sleeper heading into today’s game. Unfortunately for them, Oklahoma has certainly heard the talk about their opponent and there is no way head coach Lon Kruger is going to let his team overlook its round-of-64 opponent. Even so, the guard-heavy Sooner squad will have their work cut out for them with frontcourt players Taylor Braun and Marshall Bjorklund, who shoot a combined 57% from inside the three-point arc for the Bison. Furthermore, this is a North Dakota State squad that held Notre Dame’s backcourt trio of Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson to seven-of-20 shooting back in December in the Bison’s win in South Bend, showing their ability to contend with prolific, major-conference guards. But, Oklahoma’s guards may be a cut above anything the Bison have yet seen. Between freshman point guard Jordan Woodard and a host of other backcourt stars like Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield, Frank Booker and Je’lon Hornbeak (the five guards average 48.4 PPG between them), the Sooners have plenty of backcourt punch to provide matchup problems for the Bison. to add yet another challenge, Cameron Clark is a long and efficient player who has the athleticism edge over Braun, while frontcourt grinder Ryan Spangler seems to do nothing but good things for the Sooners. Yes, the Bison have enough to keep the Sooners on their toes and keep this tight into the second half, but expect Oklahoma’s frontcourt to fight the Bison to a draw while North Dakota State’s sketchy perimeter defense may be the weakness that lets Oklahoma escape into the round of 32.
The RTC Certified Pick: Oklahoma
#2 Villanova vs. #15 Milwaukee – East Region Second Round (at Buffalo, NY) – 9:25 PM ET on TBS
These two teams enter the NCAA tournament on considerably different notes. Second seeded Villanova blew its chance for a one seed by losing to Seton Hall in the Big East quarterfinals while Milwaukee salvaged a 7-9 regular season with four consecutive wins in the Horizon League tournament. In fact, three of the Panthers’ wins in that event came away from home with two being true road games. It was a special March run for a team that otherwise would have been an afterthought. If Villanova is to right the ship and get back to playing good team basketball as it has for most of the year, the Wildcats have to do a better job on the perimeter. Villanova’s Achilles heel all year long has been three point defense, significantly exposed in all four of its losses to aforementioned Seton Hall (42 percent), Creighton (60 percent in each of two losses) and Syracuse (54 percent). While Milwaukee is not a great three point shooting team, Rob Jeter’s squad attempts just over 21 threes per game. If they get hot, the Wildcats could have a tougher game than they might expect. Jordan Aaron was phenomenal in the Horizon tournament and is fully capable of putting the Panthers on his back. Austin Arians is also another deep threat for Milwaukee. The bad news for the Panthers is getting hot from three is probably their only chance of pulling this one off. Milwaukee is not very efficient on either end of the floor and it would take its best game, combined with a sloppy game from the Wildcats, in order for Jeter’s team to win. While Milwaukee is a respectable opponent, Villanova has been too good all year long to slip up here.
The RTC Certified Pick: Villanova.
#7 Texas vs. #10 Arizona State – Midwest Region Round of 64 (in Milwaukee, WI) – 9:40 PM EST on CBS
Texas and Arizona State both enter the NCAA Tournament after completing seasons that likely saved their respective coach’s job. The Longhorns overcame an 0-2 start in Big 12 play to finish 11-7 in conference play, which was good enough for a third place tie. Forward Jonathan Holmes leads the way for Texas, as the junior uses his great strength to pour in 13 points and collect 7.2 rebounds per night. While he does not grab the national headlines like other freshmen around the country, guard Isaiah Taylor has provided solid play-making ability from the point guard position and that has been a major reason for the Longhorns’ success. The Sun Devils are a talented team, but they did not finish the season playing their best basketball, as they enter the tournament fresh off three straight defeats. However, Arizona State’s losing streak to end the season is no reason to count out the talented squad. Point guard Jahii Carson and swingman Jermaine Marshall were one of the Pac-12’s best scoring tandems all season and big man Jordan Bachynski anchors the team’s defense as one of the nation’s top shot blockers. This should be a back-and-forth battle that is not decided until the very end and for that reason, Texas seems to be the safer pick due to its success in close games (6-2 in games decided by five points of less) this season.
The RTC Certified Pick: Texas
#4 Louisville vs. #13 Manhattan – Midwest Region Round of 64 (in Orlando, FL) – 9:50 PM EST on TNT
Louisville has garnered a great number of national headlines this week due to the fact that a majority of people feel as if the Cardinals were under-seeded by the selection committee. Our two-cents on the Louisville discussion: Yes, Louisville was under-seeded. It is playing arguably the best basketball in the country right now and there is no way that there are 12 teams in the country better than Louisville. The Cardinals have a clear talent advantage in their match-up with Manhattan. Guard Russ Smith and forward Montrezl Harrell provide the team with great production and elite athleticism. The factor where Louisville has the most significant advantage over Manhattan is in its NCAA Tournament experience. A good number of the current Cardinals were on the Louisville squad that won the national title last April. Manhattan, on the other hand, has not played in the NCAA Tournament since 2004. If the Jaspers are able to make it competitive Thursday, it will be because of the play of standout forward George Beamon, who does a little bit of everything for the team. A nice subplot in this game is the coaching match-up between Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Manhattan’s Steve Masiello. Masiello was a ball boy for the New York Knicks when Pitino was their coach, he played for Kentucky when Pitino was its coach, and he served on Pitino’s staff at Louisville from 2005-11. Expect the mentor to get the best of the protege in this one, as Louisville should advance to the Round of 32 with relative ease.
The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville
#4 San Diego State vs. #13 New Mexico State – West Regional Second Round (at Spokane, WA) – 9:57 PM ET on TruTV
San Diego State has lost to three teams all season: Arizona, Wyoming, and New Mexico twice. One of the six teams to beat New Mexico this season was New Mexico State, who knocked off the Lobos in The Pit in December. That’s as far down the road of the sports transitive property as any reasonable analyst is allowed to go, but suffice it to say: New Mexico State is not coming into this game as a completely overmatched team. The Aggies have plenty of size to give the Aztecs trouble, what with three guys standing 6’10” or taller – including 7’5” sophomore Sim Bhullar – earning at least 50% of available minutes. Given that two of those three Aztec topplers have the trait of elite size in common, and that New Mexico used its large frontcourt duo of Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow to give San Diego State trouble in recent weeks, the sheer size of the Aggies is concerning. And it’s not just size, as the New Mexico State backcourt has plenty of punch as well, with Daniel Mullings, DK Eldridge and three-point specialist Kevin Aronis combing to present a challenge. However, the team’s start at point guard for the first 29 games of the season – K.C. Ross-Miller – will not play in the tournament for the Aggies, after being suspended following a post-game incident against Utah Valley at the end of February. So, these are all the reasons why the Aggies can hang with the Aztecs; but can they beat them? The fact is, the Aztecs are a stubborn group. They make things hard on you, and many of the things that New Mexico State wants to do, the Aztecs are very good at preventing you from doing. NMSU gets to the line regularly, but SDSU rarely fouls; NMSU pounds the offensive glass, but SDSU does a good job cleaning the defensive glass; NMSU hits a high percentage from the field, and SDSU makes it very hard to score over them. And then there are turnovers. The Aggies are playing without their regular point guard, and the Aztecs are going to extend their defensive pressure up and down the court and make life difficult for Mullings and the Aggie backcourt. This will be the difference in the game, allowing the Aztecs to get easy buckets in transition and keeping that tough Aggie frontcourt from hurting them too much.
The RTC Certified Pick: San Diego State