NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Elite Eight SaturdayPosted by Bennet Hayes & Andrew Murawa on March 29th, 2014
Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, and Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCMidwestRegion and @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Indianapolis and New York City throughout the weekend.
#1 Florida vs. #11 Dayton — South Region Elite Eight (at Memphis, TN) — 6:09 pm ET on TBS.
One was an obvious pre-Tournament pick to be in this Regional Final, the other a barely noticeable #11 seed that few expected to escape the second round, but both Florida and Dayton are now just 40 minutes away from a berth in the Final Four. Having convincingly rolled through Albany, Pittsburgh, and most recently, UCLA, the #1 seeded Gators enter this Elite Eight tilt as deserved heavy favorites (our friends in the desert list Florida as 10-point favorites). Dayton turned heads in their efficient ousting of Stanford on Thursday night, but as legitimately solid as the Flyers have looked over the past two weeks (and for that matter, past two months), nobody in their right mind will be picking Dayton to extend their Tournament stay beyond Saturday afternoon. I fall into that “right mind” group (I think) in liking the Gators to move on, but this is not a mission-impossible for Dayton.
For the Flyers to shock the world, a number of things need to go right. With another bigger, more physically imposing opponent staring Archie Miller’s undersized troops dead in the eye, another competitive effort on the glass is a good place to start. Stanford outrebounded the Flyers by percentages, but Dayton held their own on the backboards, especially on the offensive glass (10 offensive rebounds). Another key to the victory over the Cardinal was the constant harassment of Stanford star Chasson Randle, who was never allowed to get going in what finished as a 5-21 night from the field. Neither Scottie Wilbekin nor Michael Frazier is a perfect Randle clone, but absolutely necessary is finding a way to disrupt the rhythm of the Gators backcourt as they did to the Stanford star. Frazier especially, for my money’s worth, is the most important Gator on the offensive end. When his saccharine stroke is resulting in made three-pointers, the Florida offense is borderline unguardable.
Finally, Dayton needs to arm their slingshot with any heavy underdog’s favorite stone: The three-point shot. You have to make shots to win games like this, and while the Flyers have averaged a respectable seven and a half made threes in their last two wins, their season average of 37.5% from three-point range would indicate that there should be room for inflation in that category. A big effort out of leading scorer Jordan Sibert (43% 3FG) is crucial.
A lot needs to go right, but it’s possible. Dayton can win this game. Cinderella doesn’t have to go home yet. But no matter how romantic the notion of Dayton’s impossible dream may be, you cannot pick against the Gators here. I’ve resisted anointing them South Regional champions for two weeks now, but with UCLA firmly in the rear-view, it’s nothing but clear skies and concrete ahead as Florida continues their charge to Dallas. For the best team in college basketball, the Final Four beckons.
The RTC Certified Pick: Florida
#1 Arizona vs. #2 Wisconsin – West Regional Semifinal (at Anaheim, CA) – 8:49 PM ET on TBS
The national storyline here is likely the coaches: Sean Miller vs. Bo Ryan in a contest to shed the unofficial title of best coach never to advance to the Final Four. But maybe the specifics of these teams are a little bit different than we would usually expect. With Ryan, we’ve come to expect defense-first teams, while Miller’s best teams have tended towards offensive excellent. The script is flipped here, however, as now the Wildcats come in with the best defense in the nation, while the Badgers are the second-best offensive team remaining in the tournament. Interesting individual matchups line the floor, with things like Frank Kaminsky vs. Kaleb Tarczewski, Sam Dekker vs. Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson vs. whichever Wisconsin guard he finds himself matched up with on any particular possession. But while individual players will make individual plays, the matchup of styles here appears to be the story. Offensively, Wisconsin is going to need to find good looks at the three-point line to feel comfortable, while Arizona’s length and defensive awareness have allowed them to limit their opponents’ three-point opportunities to just 26.5% of all possessions, good for 12th in the country.
Nevermind, however, as Wisconsin as recently as Thursday night showed their ability to get the ball down to Kaminsky or freshman Nigel Hayes in the low post or in the paint and have them create good looks inside. But, Arizona is even better at limiting opportunities at the rim, allowing just 23.7% of all their defensive possessions to wind up with shots at the rim. With Tarczewski playing behind in the post, active interior defenders like Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson dissuading entry passes and perimeter guys like Johnson and T.J. McConnell pressuring ballhandlers, the Badgers are going to have to be able to find midrange points for guys like Traveon Jackson off the bounce or Kaminsky and Hayes off of ball movement, a tenuous proposition. Offensively for Arizona, look for Nick Johnson to bounce back from his off-game on Thursday to take advantage of lesser Wisconsin athletes from the three-point line and in, while Miller makes it a priority to send multiple players to the offensive glass, especially since the Badgers aren’t particularly capable of making the Wildcats pay with transition buckets. It may bog down into a down-tempo, low-scoring, slog-fest of a half-court game, but Arizona’s athletes will be the difference in the long run.
The RTC Certified Pick: Arizona