NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday AfternoonPosted by Brian Otskey, Andrew Murawa, Walker Carey & Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 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.
#3 Duke vs. #14 Mercer – Midwest Region Round of 64 (from Raleigh, NC) – at 12:15 PM EST on CBS
Last season, the Atlantic Sun Tournament champions advanced to the Sweet 16. Mercer will try to repeat that accomplishment this season, but winning Friday’s game against Duke will be a very tall task. Duke forwards Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood lead a very talented Blue Devils squad that is an elite scoring team. There are no teams with close to Duke’s talent in the Atlantic Sun so Mercer has no basis for comparison leading into Friday afternoon’s action. Another thing that is working against Mercer is its lack of NCAA Tournament experience. The Bears have not been to the tournament since 1985. On the other hand, Duke has played in every NCAA Tournament since 1995. If Mercer is able to keep it close Friday, it will be because of its strong offense going up against an iffy Duke defense. Mercer averages an impressive 79.5 points per game and is shooting 47.5% from the field. Bears senior guard Langston Hall has been an impressive player throughout his collegiate career and his ability to make plays will be paramount to the team’s fortunes Friday. Mercer is a scrappy bunch that can keep it close in the first half, but expect Duke’s talent to take over in the second half and lead the Blue Devils to a comfortable victory.
The RTC Certified Pick: Duke
#6 Baylor vs #11 Nebraska – West Regional Second Round (at San Antonio, TX) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV
Welcome to your surprise first-round game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Baylor was left for dead somewhere back in early February in the midst of a 2-8 start to conference play, with only wins over TCU and a equally confused Oklahoma State team to show for their work. Meanwhile, Nebraska started the Big Ten season 0-4 and, without an NCAA Tournament win in their program’s history, they were safely ignored as well. Since those cherry-picked signposts in their respective seasons, the two teams have combined to win 21 of 27 games and earn unlikely NCAA love. For Nebraska, the Baylor zone will be just the second time this year that they have played against a mostly zone defensive team, and with a middling three-point percentage and not a great deal of luck shooting the two-point jumper either, the Huskers have their work cut out for them. Throw in the fact that the Bears are significantly longer and more athletic than Tim Miles’ club and this may be the case of a physical mismatch when these teams line up on the floor. And, given that this is an even year, clearly a Scott Drew Elite Eight (as happened in 2012 and 2010) is in the cards. Not even the lovable Miles could get in the way of that. The Bears will at times struggle to get shots at the rim (although, of course Cory Jefferson will wind up with his share of dunks) as the Huskers pack it in defensively, but a streaky Bear squad from the three-point line could lead to the Huskers’ eventual demise.
The RTC Certified Pick: Baylor
#7 New Mexico vs. #10 Stanford — South Region Second Round (at St. Louis, MO) — 1:40 PM ET on TBS
Happy one-year anniversary, Lobos! Exactly a year ago to the day Friday, third-seeded New Mexico added another chapter to the Steve Alford book of Tournament disasters when they fell victim to Harvard in one of the memorable upsets of the 2013 Tournament. Most teams would do everything possible to forget such a night, but New Mexico (minus the since-departed Alford) has chosen to keep the memory close to mind. New head man Craig Neal and the strong core of Lobo leadership — upperclassmen like Kendall Williams, Cameron Bairstow, and Hugh Greenwood — have used the memory of 3/21/13 to fuel this return to the Tournament. Now it’s time to create new, fonder Tournament memories. First up is Stanford, whose Big Dance appearance has supposedly saved Johnny Dawkins’ job. If you are a Stanford fan, it should be hard to know if that’s a good or a bad thing, but while you take the time to figure that out, the program’s first Tournament game in six years should tide you over nicely. The Cardinal own top-60 efficiency ratings on both offense and defense and have four players averaging double figure points, but Chasson Randle’s (18.7 PPG, 40% 3PT) sensational junior season has proven that it’s not all about balance in Palo Alto. Randle will have to be special on Friday, because that Lobo front line, led by Bairstow and Alex Kirk, will challenge a Stanford team that has never been renowned for their physical toughness. A competitive game isn’t out of the question here at all, but I’m not going to be the guy to pick against a talented New Mexico squad with as much to prove as any team in this Tournament.
The RTC Certified Pick: New Mexico
#1 Arizona vs. #16 Weber State – West Regional Second Round (at San Diego, CA) – 2:10 PM ET on TNT
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. As for this particular possibility in a battle of Wildcats, Ken Pomeroy puts the odds that Arizona will live up to expectations and come away with a win here as a 96% chance. So, accepting that we’re dealing with a longshot here, what exactly would Weber State need to do to have that 4% chance come home? Well, to begin with, they’re going to have to continue stroking their three-point shot to the tune of the nearly 40% they’ve shot all season, good for 13th in the nation in three-point shooting percentage. The problem with that is the long and athletic Arizona defense is driven to discourage three-point attempts and to challenge the ones that do go up. Still having their shooters like Davion Berry (39.2% on 143 3PA), Jeremy Senglin (40.3% on 144 3PA) and Jordan Richardson (35.8% on 134 3PA) be able to space the floor against the intimidating Zona defense and knock in a healthy amount of shots remains priority number one offensively. On defense, the challenge is much steeper, as Weber’s version of the Wildcats are not a particularly good defensive team; only 11 times all season have they held a Division I opponent to less than a point per possession. But they’ve got a good bit of size with which to at least challenge Arizona’s bigs, and guys like Berry and Richardson may have just enough athleticism to create a hurdle for guys like Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon. But more likely Arizona is able to force turnovers, get out in transition for easy buckets, score at will in the halfcourt and challenge every jumper that Weber State puts up on the way to a double-digit win. But, maybe Weber can hit enough shots early to keep this thing tight for a stretch.
The RTC Certified Pick: Arizona
#6 Massachusetts vs. #11 Tennessee – Midwest Region Round of 64 (from Raleigh, NC) at 2:45 PM EST on CBS
The Volunteers were overtime winners in their First Four match-up with Iowa on Wednesday. A big reason for this victory was the rugged play of junior forward Jarnell Stokes. Stokes gave Iowa all sorts of trouble inside all evening and finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Tennessee is known for its tough, physical play inside, but senior leading scorer Jordan McRae and junior guard Josh Richardson greatly contributed to the winning effort, scoring 20 and 17 points, respectively. Massachusetts has not played its best basketball for a long time. The Minutemen started the season 16-1 and since then, they are only 8-7. Guard Chaz Williams and forward Cady Lalanne provide Derek Kellogg’s squad with a solid high-low combination that has been greatly successful this season. While Massachusetts has been a pretty solid offensive team, it has had its defensive struggles. The Minutemen give up 70.8 points per game and they have allowed 80+ points in three of their last four losses. In the postseason, it usually comes down to what team can get hot and stay hot. Tennessee is hot, as it has won six of its last seven, and it would be wise to believe that Cuonzo Martin’s team will stay hot Friday by using their size advantage to get the best of Massachusetts.
The RTC Certified Pick: Tennessee.
#3 Creighton vs. #14 Louisiana-Lafayette – West Regional Second Round (at San Antonio, TX) – 3:10 PM ET on truTV
An upperclassman NBA-prospect from a school without a BCS-level football team gets his chance in front of a national television audience; no, not Doug McDermott, but Louisiana-Lafeyette’s junior point guard Elfrid Payton. Draft Express has Payton as a borderline first-round NBA pick in the 2014 draft, and how he plays will have a lot to say about how the Ragin’ Cajuns can do on Friday afternoon. Payton is an efficient scoring point guard who does a little bit of everything for his team. He leads the team in scoring, assists and steals and is second in rebounding, all while turning in an efficient offensive rating while regularly setting up bruising sophomore forward Shawn Long for scores both inside and outside. To put it bluntly, despite being a double-digit underdog with 11 losses on the season, this talented duo makes the Ragin’ Cajuns a threat. And certainly Creighton isn’t enough of a defensive threat to really slow them down. However, those Ragin’ Cajuns aren’t much to write home about defensively themselves, checking in at 190th in the nation in defensive efficiency. And with the Bluejays the most efficient offensive team in the nation, Louisiana-Lafayette has its work cut out for it. Plus, let’s just get right to the point: Doug McDermott’s stupendous collegiate career is not meant to end with a round-of-64 upset. Hopefully Payton gets a chance to strut his stuff, but, barring a sudden cold streak, Creighton is the big favorite to advance here.
The RTC Certified Pick: Creighton
#2 Kansas vs. #15 Eastern Kentucky — South Region Second Round (at St. Louis, MO) — 4:10 PM ET on TBS
The uncertain status of Joel Embiid may have made Kansas the most difficult team to figure out when putting together your bracket, but the Jayhawks don’t figure to miss their big man too much in this second round matchup. Perry Ellis and Tarik Black should prove overwhelming enough for an Eastern Kentucky team that starts just one player over 6’5” and is 326th in the country in effective height, but even if they don’t, the newly assertive Andrew Wiggins will pose an even more problematic mismatch for the Colonels. Stopping KU will undoubtedly be a chore for Eastern Kentucky, but Bill Self’s team has been underwhelming enough on the defensive end this season to believe that a dynamic EKU backcourt may actually be able to make some hay themselves. Glenn Cosey (18.8 PPG, 42% 3PT) and Corey Walden (14.1 PPG, 60% 2PT) terrorized Ohio Valley opponents this season, and EKU as a team boasts an effective field goal percentage of 57% — the 4th best mark in the entire country. But even if the Colonels’ offense is as successful against the Jayhawks as it has been against everyone else on their schedule, the task of keeping things under control on the backboards looks near impossible for what may be the worst rebounding team in this field of 68. In another region, against another opponent, Eastern Kentucky would have the look of a March darling. But against the Jayhawks, in St. Louis, the Colonels’ Tournament stay should be a brief one.
The RTC Certified Pick: Kansas
#8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Oklahoma State – West Regional Second Round (at San Diego, CA) – 4:40 PM ET on TNT
This may be the most anticipated #8/#9 matchup in the round-of-64 this year, and according to ESPN, this is the #8/#9 game where there is the biggest national disagreement about who will win. And yet, still, 65% of anyone who filled out an ESPN bracket had Oklahoma State advancing over the (slightly) higher-seeded Bulldogs. And, you can see why. Like Oregon and Baylor, who each lost eight of ten in the middle of the season, or Wisconsin, who lost five of six, the Cowboys had a mid-year down-turn where they lost three of their best players, their composure, and eight out of nine games. But, Marcus Smart returned from suspension (the only one of those three lost players to return – Stevie Clark was dismissed and Michael Cobbins was lost for the year to injury) and the ‘Pokes won five of their last seven games and when Selection Sunday rolled around, nobody wanted to see them opposite their favorite team in the bracket. Luckily enough for Gonzaga, they actually match up pretty well with the undersized Cowboys. The Cobbins injury left Oklahoma State with just two guys who earn regular minutes over 6’5”. And with two of Gonzaga’s four double-digit scorers checking in at 6’9” (Sam Dower) and 7’1” (Przemek Karnowski), the Zags present a significant challenge to the Oklahoma State frontcourt. However, on the other end of the court, there is no obvious solution for who is going to check Smart, the powerful and versatile Cowboy point guard. Expect both teams to get their offensive licks in, but in a year where the Zags are, for once, back in their role of lovable March underdog, give the slight edge to them and their size.
The RTC Certified Pick: Gonzaga