NCAA Tournament Analysis: Sunday GamesPosted by Bennet Hayes, Walker Carey, Brian Otskey & Andrew Murawa on March 23rd, 2014
From 24 to the Sweet Sixteen, eight more games today to move to next weekend. Here’s our breakdowns on each.
#2 Kansas vs. #10 Stanford — South Region Third Round (at St. Louis, MO) — 12:15 PM ET on CBS
No Joel Embiid, no problem for Kansas against Eastern Kentucky in round two, but can the Jayhawks get by Stanford without their prized big man? Embiid will again be out of the lineup on Sunday when the Cardinal and Jayhawks meet, and at this point, it’s difficult to believe we will see the Cameroon native in a Kansas uniform again this season. Against EKU on Friday, Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor were tremendous in the extended minutes created by Embiid’s absence (combining for 29 points — on 13-14 FG – and 19 rebounds), but with all due respect to the undersized Colonels, the challenge to replace Embiid will grow far more serious against Stanford. 6’11” Stefan Nastic and 6’10” Dwight Powell are unlikely to dominate this game, but each are true bigs capable of scoring the basketball. As a team, the Cardinal are 22nd nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, so don’t expect Perry Eliis, Black, and Traylor to run roughshod on the offensive glass like they did against the Colonels, when they had 14 offensive rebounds.
I suppose an apology is in order for what was a relatively scathing assessment of the Cardinal in advance of their second round game with New Mexico, so after watching their resounding defeat of the Lobos, I say sorry to Coach Dawkins and the gang. While the Greatest Games Of The 2013-14 Stanford Cardinal DVD may not be one that ever sees the light of day, Stanford deserves credit for finding ways to win games ugly. The goal is to score more points than your opponent, and on many notable occasions this season, the Cardinal have been able to do just that. If Stanford is to advance to the Sweet 16 on Sunday, you better believe that their best chance to win looks a lot like what we saw against the Lobos on Friday. It all starts with preventing easy points on the interior and in transition, getting a competitive effort on the backboards, and then you can throw in a dash of Chasson Randle brilliance to make things work on the offensive end. I won’t completely discount a Cardinal victory this time, but believing in Dawkins is still a chore, especially when Bill Self is prowling the opposite sideline. I think it takes Andrew Wiggins and company thirty minutes to find real breathing room in this game, but expect the Jayhawks to be making their way to Memphis next weekend.
The RTC Certified Pick: Kansas
#1 Wichita State vs. #8 Kentucky – Midwest Region Round of 32 (from St. Louis, MO) – at 2:45 PM EST on CBS
In what is the most anticipated match-up of Sunday’s slate, unbeaten Wichita State will battle an extremely talented, yet enigmatic Kentucky squad. The Shockers cruised past 16-seed Cal Poly on Friday night in a 64-37 victory. Wichita State has been able to stay on the undefeated path due to its suffocating defense and that was on display once again in the victory. The Shockers held Cal Poly to just 13 first half points and to just a 20.7% shooting mark for the game. Gregg Marshall’s squad was led offensively by forward Cleanthony Early, who finished the night with a game-high 23 points. Kentucky did not have its best offensive game in Friday’s 56-49 victory over nine-seed Kansas State, as it shot just 38% from the field, but the Wildcats did receive very good performances from a pair of freshmen. Guard Aaron Harrison finished the night with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting and forward Julius Randle recorded a game-high 19 points and exhibited his rebounding prowess by grabbing 15 rebounds. The victory did not go without a hitch though, as freshman guard Andrew Harrison hyperextended his elbow late in the game and his status for the Wichita State game is in doubt. If Harrison is unable to go, expect reserve guard Jarrod Polson to be pushed into extended duty against the Shockers. As mentioned above, this game is going to be of great interest to all college basketball fans and those fans will be rewarded with a hotly-contested affair. Wichita State is a team in the truest sense of the word. The Shockers are undefeated for a reason and will not be intimated at all by one of college basketball’s blue bloods. Guards Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton anchor a perimeter group that is very composed and makes things difficult for the opposition of both sides of the court. Expect them to be the difference in Sunday’s game, as Kentucky will show its youth in the second half, allowing the Shockers to take control of the game and earn its ticket to the Sweet Sixteen.
The RTC Certified Pick: Wichita State
#3 Iowa State vs. #6 North Carolina – East Region Third Round (at San Antonio, TX) – 5:15 PM ET on CBS
The big news coming into this game concerns Iowa State and the loss of Cyclones star sophomore Georges Niang. Niang led Iowa State with 24 points in its opening round victory over North Carolina Central before leaving with what turned out to be a broken foot. Niang will be out the rest of the season, regardless of how far his team advances. Without Niang, Iowa State’s tallest player, the already undersized Cyclones will have an even tougher time dealing with North Carolina’s size and length in the front court. Fred Hoiberg’s team will be down to six rotation players making avoiding foul trouble paramount against the deeper and taller Tar Heels. Niang was a key part of an Iowa State offense that ranks tenth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and ninth in two point percentage. Without him, North Carolina doesn’t have to worry as much about a triple threat of offensive weapons, allowing it to devote more time towards containing Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane. That is certainly no easy task but it is not quite as tough without Niang in the lineup. For the Tar Heels, defending the three point line will be a significant factor in determining the outcome of the game. On paper Niang was a high volume, low percentage three point shooter but now more resources can be devoted to guarding Ejim, Kane and Naz Long on the perimeter. Offensively this game sets up well for North Carolina. Roy Williams’ team shoots fewer three pointers than all but one team in the country and will look to get the ball inside against the smaller Cyclones. James Michael McAdoo and Brice Johnson could have big games and the Heels could very well dominate the rebounding battle as they did against Providence on Friday. Iowa State is a talented and explosive offensive team but considering the injury and personnel matchups, it will be difficult for the Cyclones to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
The RTC Certified Pick: North Carolina.
#11 Tennessee vs. #14 Mercer – Midwest Region Round of 32 (from Raleigh, NC) – at 6:10 PM EST on CBS.
Not many people were expecting a Tennessee and Mercer round of 32 match-up, but here we are. Mercer earned its fair share of national headlines after pulling a colossal upset of three-seed Duke on Friday. Bob Hoffman’s Bears played with tremendous confidence throughout the victory and used their cohesive offense to take advantage of Duke’s poor defense. Mercer’s perimeter trio of Jakob Gollon, Langston Hall, and Anthony White Jr. combined 44 of the team’s 78 points in the winning effort. Bears big man Daniel Coursey was able to take advantage of Duke’s lack of size and control the paint throughout much of the game to finish with 17 points. Mercer is mostly a veteran squad and its experience and cohesion was well on display in the upset victory. Tennessee has turned some heads nationally by already winning two games in the tournament. The Volunteers won their opening round game in against Iowa in Dayton on Wednesday before traveling to Raleigh and pummeling six-seed Massachusetts on Friday. Cuonzo Martin’s squad was a bit shaky offensively throughout the regular season, but it has exploded for 78 and 86 points in its two tournament games. Forward Jarnell Stokes may be playing as well as anyone in the country right now. The junior turned in a career-best performance in the victory over Massachusetts, as he finished with 26 points to go along with 14 rebounds. His frontcourt mate Jeronne Maymon also equated himself quite well in the post against the Minutemen with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Mercer is a great story and its upset victory over Duke will go down in NCAA Tournament lore, but Sunday is going to be the end of the line for the Bears. Expect Tennessee to get Stokes and Maymon involved early and often, as the Volunteers will win their third game in five days to advance to the Sweet 16.
The RTC Certified Pick: Tennessee.
#4 UCLA vs. #12 Stephen F. Austin — South Region Third Round (at San Diego, CA) — 7:10 pm ET on TBS
Hey Lumberjacks! America seems to know who you are now, but I’m still trying to figure it out. Friday’s VCU-SFA game had an entertaining finish and heart-warming, in-the-spirit-of-March final result, but I’m not sure it offered the definitive declaration of “we belong” many were hoping to see out of SFA. VCU did little to ease concerns of being overrated as a #5 seed, and let’s not forget that the Lumberjacks needed to come back from ten down with less than four minutes to play, manufacture a tying four-point play in the final seconds, and then dodge a wide-open JeQuan Lewis three-point attempt to win in overtime. Fine for the drama and all that, but I’m not sure we saw enough to believe the ’Jacks capable of winning another game in this Tournament. On the other side of this round of 32 matchup, UCLA has to enter Sunday feeling pretty good about themselves, and that’s saying something for a Steve Alford-coached team in March. Not only does their road to the Sweet 16 now run through a twelve-seed in an arena just a two-hour drive from their campus, but the Bruins systematically destructed Tulsa on Friday night, ultimately beating the Golden Hurricane by 17. More good news for Bruins fans: the matchup with the Lumberjacks significantly favors UCLA stylistically. SFA relies on forcing turnovers (4th nationally in turnover percentage), but with Kyle Anderson effortlessly guiding their ship, UCLA turns the ball over on just 14.7% of possessions, the 17th best rate in the country. The team that beats the Bruins will be a group that pounds them inside and on the glass, and with only one regular over 6’6”, SFA doesn’t appear to possess that potential. Desmond Haymon, Coach Underwood, Lumberjacks: Thanks, because we all had a great time. We really and truly did. And hey, maybe Steve Alford still is the Steve Alford of old and the SFA magic can improbably continue for another night, but I’m not seeing it. Too much evidence points to UCLA outclassing one of this Tournament’s true darlings, and come Sunday night, the Bruins should be Sweet Sixteen-bound for the first time in six years as a result.
The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA
#3 Creighton vs. #6 Baylor – West Regional Third Round (at San Antonio, TX) – 7:45 PM ET on truTV
Not to start out on a downer or anything, but you do realize that at any time, Doug McDermott could be playing his last college basketball game, right? Going forward, whoever Creighton plays will have a good crack at knocking them off, and that begins this evening with a long and athletic Baylor team that has won 11 of its last 13 games. And the Bears are going to show the Bluejays something they haven’t seen very much of at all this season: 1-3-1 zone. Creighton got a healthy dose of a 2-3 zone out of Providence in the Big East final and struggled against it, settling for out-of-rhythm threes on a regular basis (30 of their 49 shots in that game were from deep, and just eight of those went in). But a 1-3-1 is a whole different animal, with the ability to extend pressure out and trap ballhandlers on one side of the floor. The problem is, that Baylor zone hasn’t been very good. In seven of their last ten games, the Bears have allowed opponents to score better than a point per possession against them and shoot better than 50% from the field. Against a deadly shooting team like Creighton, with McDermott and Ethan Wragge capable of dropping in threes from the parking lot, this could be a deadly flaw. But the Bears have plenty of offensive firepower of their own, and they’ll be facing a Bluejay team that isn’t exactly known for its stout defense. They’ll need to keep their eye on the deadly Brady Heslip as well as other prolific Bear three-point shooters, while also accounting for athletic bigs like Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin, Rico Gathers and Royce O’Neal who thrive at the rim. The Bears definitely have enough punch to knock off Creighton, but in a game where the emphasis will be on the ability to score, give me the most efficient offensive team in the nation.
The RTC Certified Pick: Creighton
#1 Virginia vs. #8 Memphis – East Region Third Round (at Raleigh, NC) – 8:40 PM ET on TNT
Virginia survived a scare from #16-seed Coastal Carolina in its first NCAA game but buckled down defensively and took care of business in the second half. The Cavaliers were actually quite efficient offensively but allowed one point per possession to the Chanticleers, far above their season average of 90.1 points per 100 possessions. That will have to improve against a Memphis team that averages 77 points per game. The Tigers got by George Washington thanks to strong game from Michael Dixon (19 points, 6-of-9 shooting) and Chris Crawford (6 assists, 0 turnovers). However, this appears to be a bad matchup for Memphis. Virginia’s interior defense is amongst the nation’s strongest and that is where Memphis gets the bulk of its points. The Tigers are very good inside with Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin but going up against Virginia’s lengthy front line will be a challenge. Guards Dixon and Joe Jackson need to open up the floor by driving and kicking or getting to the rim and finishing in order for Memphis to win. The Tigers will need a strong effort on the backboard in order to gain extra possessions and possibly get Virginia into foul trouble. Turnovers will also be a statistic to watch as Memphis was among the worst at protecting the ball in the American Athletic Conference while Virginia was one of the best in the ACC. Memphis has two wins against Louisville to its credit but it may require its best game of the season in order to get past Virginia.
The RTC Certified Pick: Virginia
#1 Arizona vs. #8 Gonzaga – West Regional Third Round (at San Diego, CA) – 9:40 PM ET on TBS
Eleven years ago, Arizona and Gonzaga played in the round-of-32 in Salt Lake City. Arizona was the #1 seed in the West, while Gonzaga was a nine-seed coming off a slug-fest win over a tough Cincinnati team. What transpired was a double-overtime classic, with Arizona needing a Luke Walton hoop with four second left in the first overtime period to force the second extra session, then having to dodge two good looks from the Zags in the final five seconds of the game to finally secure the win. For Gonzaga to stick around long enough to get into that type of a barn-burner, they’ll need to find a way to have some offensive success against the nation’s best defensive team. In their round-of-64 game, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell led the way, knocking in big run-stopping shots on the regular basis, and that type of thing may need to happen again. But with lock-down perimeter defender Nick Johnson across the way from one of them and likely T.J. McConnell checking the other, they’ll have their work cut out for them. The Bulldogs also got a fine performance out of 7’1” sophomore center Przemek Karnowski against Oklahoma State, and he’ll need to be solid again, hopefully without getting sucked into early foul trouble by the Wildcats’ aggressive front line. Meanwhile, the Zags leading scorer and most efficient high-use player all year was junior forward Sam Dower, but he was silent on Thursday, scoring just three points on five field goal attempts. Things won’t get any easier for him, with Aaron Gordon looming, but one of these Bulldog players is going to need to be able to be effective against a great defender in order to have a chance. If the Zags can stick around long enough, Arizona could be vulnerable late, with some sketchy shooting both from the free throw line and from the perimeter. But the likelihood is that the superior athletes of Arizona wear down the Bulldogs little by little en route to pulling away late.
The RTC Certified Pick: Arizona