NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 19th, 2015


And here we are. For those of us who grew up from around 1985 to 2001, the mathebracketal beauty of a 64-team field is what the NCAA Tournament is all about. Today and tomorrow are a mixture of so many highs and lows that it’s impossible to keep track of it all. We won’t be able to do that, but we can at least get you ready. Here’s a preview on each of today’s afternoon games. Enjoy the Madness.

#3 Notre Dame vs. #14 Northeastern – Midwest Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

All-American Jerian Grant Starts Things Off Today (USA Today Sports)

All-American Jerian Grant Starts Things Off Today (USA Today Sports)

Notre Dame enters NCAA Tournament play fresh off a thrilling run to the ACC Tournament title. Waiting for the Irish in Pittsburgh is Northeastern. The Huskies enter the tournament after winning three games in three days to take home the CAA Tournament crown and earn its first tournament bid since 1991. Bill Coen’s squad is led into action by senior forward Scott Eatherton, who leads the team in both points per game (14.6) and rebounds per game (6.4). Northeastern also has some talent at the guard position with junior point guard David Walker, who scores 13.4 points and dishes out 3.5 assists per contest. While the Huskies do have talent, they do not have enough to stop the Notre Dame offensive attack. Seniors Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton lead the way for the Irish, who are second in the country in field goal percentage at 51 percent. Grant and Connaughton have gotten it done for Mike Brey’s squad all season, but the Irish appear to be even more lethal now due to the emergence of sophomore guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia. Notre Dame has had its fair share of bad luck in the NCAA Tournament, but that should not be case Thursday afternoon. Expect the Irish to  ride their explosive offense to a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Notre Dame.

#3 Iowa State vs. #14 UAB – South Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV.

Iowa State and UAB commence South region action Thursday afternoon. Fred Hoiberg’s team underwent their annual roster overhaul last summer, but the end result – a team whose fast-paced, hyper-efficient offense leads to wins – saw no change. Iowa State’s national offensive efficiency rankings the last three seasons, including their current mark: 6th, 6th, and 7th. UAB’s primary task has to be slowing down the tempo and effectiveness of that Cyclone attack, a pursuit in which the Blazers are unlikely to be effective. There is little in the statistical profile that suggests they have the extra gear needed to keep pace with Iowa State, whose 15-6 Big 12 mark was about as it good as it got in the Big 12 this season. UAB was not the Conference USA regular season champion (Louisiana Tech was), but the Blazers gloomy Tournament outlook is a subtle reminder of how far their league has fallen. Sending one team to the Tournament, and on the #14 seed line, would have been unthinkable three years ago. It’s the unfortunate reality of 2015, however, and it should get only more uncomfortable after Thursday, when Iowa State will likely to dispatch an overmatched UAB team from the Tournament field.

The RTC Certified Pick: Iowa State.

#3 Baylor vs. #14 Georgia State – West Region Second Round (at Jacksonville, FL) – 1:40 PM ET on TBS.

The old trope about Baylor making the Elite Eight every other year? We can put that one away now, after they “only” made it to the Sweet Sixteen last year. Still, this version of the Bears is definitely a team capable of making a deep run. They’ve got size, speed and shooting. Their combination of the second-best offensive rebounding team in the nation (led by junior power forward Rico Gathers ripping down 18 percent of his team’s misses) and 35th-best three-point shooting percentage (four players on their team have made at least 40 threes on the year at a rate of better than 38%) is a deadly combo. Still, the Bears are going to have to work for everything they get, as they’re faced with a tough opponent right out of the gate. Led by wing R.J. Hunter – an NBA Draft prospect currently ranked right in between Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Virginia’s Justin Anderson by DraftExpress – and with veteran guards Kevin Ware and Ryan Harrow, the Panthers aren’t short of talent. However, Harrow is battling a strained hamstring and is merely questionable for the opening round game. Georgia State needs all hands on deck in order to beat Baylor, especially considering the Panthers struggled to clean the defensive boards, possibly a fatal flaw in this matchup.

The RTC Certified Pick: Baylor.

#2 Arizona vs. #15 Texas Southern – West Region Second Round (at Portland, OR) – 2:10 PM ET on TNT.

Will The Presence Of Point Guard T.J. McConnell Help Brandon Ashley Break Out In His Sophomore Campaign? (credit: Chris Coduto)

Arizona’s advantage in the frontline, headlined by Brandon Ashley, will give the Wildcats an edge against every team they run against except maybe those other Wildcats. (Getty)

The number in front of Arizona’s name indicates they’re a two-seed, but with favorable geographical placement and a loaded squad playing its best ball of the season, the Wildcats are a slight favorite in the West region and effectively the one-seed. Vegas makes the ‘Cats 22-point favorites in this matchup, but at least the Mike Davis-coached Tigers know that they have the ability to beat major conference teams – just ask Michigan State and Kansas State. Still, let’s be clear: for Texas Southern to spring this upset, it is going to take a fabulous confluence of events. First, they’re going to have to find a way to be effective on the offensive glass against the nation’s best defensive rebounding team, a tough task for a team with nobody over 6’5” playing more than 40% of the team’s minutes this year. Second, they’re going to need to put in three-point shots at a higher clip that the 32% they’ve hit at all year, with senior guards Deverell Biggs and Madarious Gibbs being prime candidates. And third, they’re going to need to be able to get to the line against an Arizona team that can be foul-prone at times, with penetrating guards Chris Thomas and David Blanks the best possibilities. Oh, and just for fun, Arizona is going to have to play significantly below their abilities for all of those things to happen at once. Realistically, there is very little chance any, let alone all, of that happens. Ken Pomeroy gives the Wildcats a 98 percent chance to advance here, and there appears to be very little reason to disagree.

The RTC Certified Pick: Arizona.

#6 Butler vs. #11 Texas – Midwest Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 2:45 PM ET on CBS.

Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor will be critical to the 'Horns run. (Getty)

Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor will be critical to the ‘Horns run. (Getty)

Even though Texas is the lower seed in this game, the Longhorns are the slight favorite. That goes to show that at 20-13 overall, they have a lot more talent than the record suggests. Guard Isaiah Taylor and forward Jonathan Holmes set the tone for the Longhorns and each have a knack for making big plays. While Taylor and Holmes undoubtedly lead the way for Texas, talented freshman Myles Turner might be the key for the team making a run in this tournament. The 6’11” Turner has battled some consistency issues throughout the season, but his averages of 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game show that he can make an impact on the game. Even though it is the underdog in this one, Butler is certainly no slouch. Guard Kellen Dunham along with forwards Roosevelt Jones and Andrew Chrabascz each average double digits scoring per game. Teammate Kameron Woods is one of the most polished rebounders in the country, as he grabs 9.8 boards per night. Texas might have the talent advantage, but expect Butler’s cohesiveness and  strong fundamental play to be the deciding factor in this one. The Bulldogs will advance to the Round of 32 in their return to the NCAA Tournament following a one-year absence.

The RTC Certified Pick: Butler.

#6 SMU vs. #11 UCLA – South Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 3:10 PM ET on truTV.

UCLA’s inclusion in this field may have been the most controversial result around the bubble on Selection Sunday. Logic would have suggested that it was a Dayton-or-bust scenario for the Bruins leading up to the Selection Show, yet here they are, taking on the American Athletic Conference champs in Louisville. SMU might feel like they were slighted a seed line or two after they won 16 of their final 18 games to finish 27-6, but Larry Brown’s team still has to be excited to be back in the field of 64. It’s been 22 seasons since the program made the NCAA Tournament, and Brown himself hasn’t coached a Tournament game since 1988. He has a team capable of extending the feel-good story beyond this weekend, as AAC Player of the Year Nic Moore (14.2 PPG, 5.2 APG) headlines a balanced group. The Mustangs are as adept at stopping opponents as they are putting the ball in the bucket – something UCLA hasn’t always been able to say this season. The Bruins do possess a wealth of scoring options – five players average double-digit points per game, led by Norman Powell (16.4 PPG) — it’s just that the defense hasn’t always been included in that package. Ignore the fact that UCLA has won more national titles than SMU has made NCAA Tournaments: The Mustangs have been the better team all season, and here’s guessing they are the better team on Thursday afternoon.

The RTC Certified Pick: SMU.

#6 Xavier vs. #11 Mississippi – West Region First Round (at Jacksonville, FL) – Approx. 4:10 PM ET on TBS.

Stefan Moody Led Ole Miss to the Round of 64 (USA Today Images)

Stefan Moody Led Ole Miss to the Round of 64 (USA Today Images)

Since Xavier finished up its finals week back in December, the Musketeers are 13-11. Mississippi had a six-game win streak at the end of January and the start of February (featuring a home win against Texas A&M as the most impressive); throwing that out, this team is 15-13 on the season. What’s the point? Simply, these are not vintage teams that you’ll think back fondly on in 20 years. Still, one of these teams will be a game away from a Sweet Sixteen on Thursday night. The Rebels already have an NCAA Tournament win under their belts, thanks to a blistering-hot second half against BYU on Tuesday night, in which six players scored in double figures, led by 26 from Stefan Moody and enabled by 10 assists from Jarvis Summers. Task number one for the Musketeers will be controlling those two, with guard Myles Davis, Dee Davis and Remy Abell leading the defensive charge. Offensively, Xavier is at its best when it spreads the ball around and gets contributions from a variety of players. Senior center Matt Stainbrook is the team’s leading scorer, but head coach Chris Mack has six players average between eight and 12 points. Of some concern is freshman win Trevon Bluiett, who has hit something of a freshman wall. He averages 11.7 PPG for the year, but has only topped that average once in the last eight games. Still, with plenty of offensive contributors and a more reliable defense than the Rebels, the Musketeers have a good chance of sneaking by here.

The RTC Certified Pick: Xavier

#7 VCU vs. #10 Ohio State – West Region First Round (at Portland, OR) – Approx 4:40 PM ET on TNT.

There’s more to any single game beyond just one matchup. But, that being said, how D’Angelo Russell handles the VCU defensive pressure will go a long ways towards deciding the winner of this game. The Rams force turnovers on 23.8% of all opponents’ possessions, good for ninth in the nation. Ohio State turns it over on only 17 percent of all possessions, putting them at 52nd in the nation in taking care of the ball. And Russell is particularly good at taking care of the ball, especially for a freshman point guard. Still, that last point – freshman point guard – that normally carries some negative weight. However, Russell isn’t your average freshman point guard. He plays with a maturity that belies his class, and if he, with the help of his teammates, especially senior guard Shannon Scott, can successfully navigate the Rams’ pressure, and not only that, but make the Rams pay for their pressure, it will alleviate some of the problems the Buckeyes had scoring in the halfcourt against good defensive teams. On the other end of the court, the turnover battle will also be big, as the Bucks are adept at forcing turnovers themselves, forcing turnovers on 22% of opponents’ possessions. If Russell, Scott, Jae’sean Tate and Sam Thompson (all in the top 500 nationally in steal percentage) can get VCU point guard JeQuan Lewis and Jonathan Williams out of whack, it will be very hard for the Rams to win.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State

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