Big Ten Teams in the Sweet Sixteen: Three Key Match-upsPosted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2014
Considering Wisconsin and Michigan State both had tough match-ups in the round of 32, the Big Ten advancing three teams into the Sweet Sixteen is an accomplishment. In case you are keeping tabs, the Big Ten has done relatively well with its draw — #11 seeds Iowa and Nebraska weren’t expected to do much, and really only #6 Ohio State’s loss to Dayton was disappointing. Keeping in mind that only one ACC team is still alive (Virginia) and the Pac-12 and SEC also sent three teams to the second weekend, the Big Ten is in solid position right now. Now, each of the three teams remaining — Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin — have very tough opponents in the next round, so the wheels could come off and the league could end it season with a mediocre 6-6 record; or, each of the three has a reasonable shot to make a run at the Final Four this weekend.
Let’s take a look at these three match-ups that are key to each team winning its next game.
- Adreian Payne vs. Virginia’s big guys: The blueprint for the Cavaliers is fairly clear: Everything starts with their excellent defense, as indicated by opponents averaging just 43.1% eFG against them during ACC play. They will try to smother Gary Harris and Keith Appling from the outside, forcing the Spartans to earn a win from inside the arc. That’s where Adreian Payne needs to help out Tom Izzo. He needs to abstain from using his jumper in favor of leveraging his post moves in the paint. Shooting jumpers off the pick-and-roll will be tough because Virginia’s wings — Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris — will be quick enough to cover those, so Payne needs to play well with his back to the basket. Payne has shown signs of brilliance with his moves in the paint at times, but he’ll have to provide some breathing room for his guards by picking up the offense early; otherwise, the game could be a defensive grind that favors the Cavaliers.
- Jordan Morgan vs. Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes: Michigan’s rise to the Big Ten title happened without a great interior presence, but you knew that at some point the Wolverines would have to beat a team that dominates the paint. Stokes feasts on the offensive glass; he averaged six offensive boards per game over the first weekend against UMass and Mercer. Nagging is an appropriate a word to describe his ability to sneak around the paint and clean the glass to provide second chance opportunities for Josh Richardson and Jordan McRae. Morgan needs to hold his own on the defensive glass because the Volunteers don’t shoot well from beyond the arc (33.1% 3FG). It won’t be a cakewalk for Nik Stauskas and company to score on the Volunteers’ stingy defense, but the night could get even longer if they are dominated on the offensive end.
- Josh Gasser vs. Kenny Chery: By coming from behind against Oregon in Milwaukee, the Badgers proved that they can win an NCAA Tournament game by outscoring a good offensive team. But can they continue that trend for two straight games? Baylor isn’t as quick as Oregon in the open court, but it has guards like Chery who are very dangerous if they are allowed to penetrate into the paint past the first layer of defense. The Ducks’ Joseph Young poured in 29 points against Wisconsin because he was able to get past the Wisconsin guards fairly easily, and Chery could do the same. Gasser played a pivotal role in the second half on Saturday by clamping down on defense and he will have to carry that intensity into the next game. The Bears’ big men — Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson — can’t create their own shots in the post, but they take full advantage of his ability to get into the paint. We know that the Badgers can shoot their way to a win, but they need to make sure they can get some stops in the next round to avoid another close game.