NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Evening

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 evening games. Enjoy the Madness.

#1 Villanova vs. #16 Lafayette — East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) — 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

Villanova should take care of Lafayette, its Philadelphia area counterpart. (Mark Jordan / City of Basketball Love)

Villanova should take care of Lafayette, its Philadelphia area counterpart. (Mark Jordan/City of Basketball Love)

After leading Lafayette back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000, Fran O’Hanlon now gets the pleasure of facing his alma mater in the Round of 64. Problem is, there won’t be anything pleasurable about it. Villanova enters the Dance hotter than arguably any team outside of Kentucky, ripping off 15-straight wins to end season and drubbing opponents by nearly 17-points per game in that span. The Big East champs boast the fourth-most offense efficient in college basketball, while their defense has allowed over one point per possession just five times since January 19. The Leopards might actually wind up exceeding that mark – their offense is really good, and no other team in the tournament shoots as well from long distance (41.4% 3PT) – but their Patriot League-worst defense simply won’t be able to stop the Wildcats on the other end. Darrun Hilliard (37.8% 3PT), Josh Hart (46.8% 3PT) and the rest of Villanova’s motion attack should have a field-day from behind the arc against O’Hanlon’s zone, and Lafayette doesn’t really have the athletes to stop their dribble-penetration. Leopards’ forward Seth Hinrichs (13.1, 5.8) is a legitimate stretch-four and could have his moments on the offensive end, but barring some strange Pennsylvania voodoo, expect Jay Wright’s bunch to light up the scoreboard and win going away.

The RTC Certified Pick: Villanova

#8 Cincinnati vs. #9 Purdue – Midwest Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Just like in the Butler/Texas match-up, the lower seed is the favorite in this one. Purdue, making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012, is a two-point favorite in this match-up of contrasting styles. The Boilermakers are led into action by junior center A.J. Hammons and Big Ten defensive player of the year, junior Raphael Davis. Purdue’s biggest advantage on any given night is its size. Matt Painter has two seven-footers at his disposal in Hammons and freshman big man Isaac Haas. While Purdue averages a respectable 70 points per game, Cincinnati struggles in that category as it puts up just 62.4 a game. The Bearcats do get strong production from junior forward Octavius Ellis, who leads the team in both scoring at 10 points per game and rebounding at 7.3 boards per game. Expect this game to be a low-scoring grinder that will likely be close until the final buzzer. That being said, Cincinnati’s offensive issues will be too much to overcome and Purdue will move onto the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Purdue

#4 North Carolina vs. #13 Harvard – West Region Second Round (at Jacksonville, FL) – 7:20 PM ET on TNT.

Can Freshman Phenom Siyani Chambers And Harvard Head Coach Tommy Amaker Turn The Crimson Into Tournament Darlings? (Joe Murphy/Getty)

Could Siyani Chambers and Tommy Amaker once again turn the Crimson into tournament darlings? (Joe Murphy/Getty)

Two years ago, Harvard was a 15-seed, slotted to play against two-seed New Mexico in Albuquerque. Having never won an NCAA Tournament game, the Crimson knocked in eight threes, held the Lobos to 37.5% from the floor and snuck away with an upset win. Now, Tommy Amaker and company are old pros at this NCAA stuff. They won another game last season against Cincinnati and, despite getting this year’s Ivy League bid in miraculous fashion, they think they can get another win. And with good reason. Senior Wesley Saunders and Steve Moundou-Missi and junior Siyani Chambers are veterans of the Crimson’s two other wins, so when they tip off tonight, they’ll be plenty confident. The problem is, this Tar Heel team is a different level of team than any that Harvard has beaten before. Just looking at this year alone, the best team that the Crimson have beaten is Yale, that team who collapsed down the stretch of the Ivy schedule. Meanwhile, North Carolina will roll out guys like Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson – all guys with NBA dreams. For the Crimson to win, they’ll need to keep the Carolina bigs off the offensive glass and knock in jumpers at a rate that they haven’t done all year.

The RTC Certified Pick: North Carolina

#5 Utah vs. #12 Stephen F. Austin – South Region Second Round (at Portland, OR) – 7:27 PM ET on truTV.

If you coach a team with only one regular taller than 6’6”, what kind of team are you hoping to draw on Selection Sunday? A team that plays the 25th quickest tempo in the nation and ranks 228th in the country in effective height, or one that operates at the 324th fastest tempo in the land and is 16th nationally in effective height? I don’t think we need to bring in outside consultants to help you select the former option. A year ago, Stephen F. Austin was a dangerous #12 seed that was offered a dreamy matchup with VCU, and the Lumberjacks took advantage. SFA’s smaller, guard oriented lineup was less-affected by VCU’s pressure than most, while their frontcourt was never made to pay for their lack of size. That Tournament success has caused many experts to feel confident SFA will be successful in their return to the #12 seed line a year later, even though their opponent is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT this time around. Utah does not rely on forcing turnovers (the Utes are fifth nationally in effective field-goal percentage against) and absolutely have the size to overwhelm the ‘Jacks down low. Ownership of one of the best players in this Tournament (Delon Wright) isn’t even a necessary part of the explanation for why Utah will roll SFA Thursday evening. Utah is everything VCU is not, which is why Stephen F. Austin’s spin as Tournament darling will see no sequel this year.

The RTC Certified Pick: Utah

#8 North Carolina State vs. #9 LSU — East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) — 9:20 PM ET on TBS.

North Carolina State vs. LSU should be an excellent matchup. (Brianna Paciorka | The Times-Picayune)

North Carolina State vs. LSU should be an excellent matchup. (Brianna Paciorka/The Times-Picayune)

There aren’t many teams in the NCAA Tournament as inconsistent and enigmatic as these two. North Carolina State beat Duke and North Carolina by double figures this season, yet lost to Wake Forest and Boston College. LSU upended West Virginia on the road and nearly toppled Kentucky, but lost to Auburn twice. The question isn’t whether the Wolfpack and Tigers are capable of winning in March; it’s whether they will play to their potential. And they certainly have potential. Jarrell Martin (16.9 PPG, 9.2 RPG) and Jordan Mickey (15.5 PPG, 9.8 RPG) comprise one of the best frontcourts in America, giving LSU a pair of strong interior scorers and rim protectors who enable the team’s guards to be more defensively aggressive. For North Carolina State, the story is in the backcourt, where the three-headed monster of Trevor Lacey (15.8 PPG), Ralston Turner (13.2 PPG) and Cat Barber (12.1 PPG) account for 59 percent of the team’s scoring. The Wolfpack is slightly better offensively and tends not to over-rely on one mode of scoring, while the Tigers have the edge on defense, boasting the third-best efficiency mark in SEC play and holding opponents to ugly shooting percentages from all areas of the floor. So which unit has the advantage? Realistically, it’s probably a coin-flip – 8/9 games are head-scratchers – but there is one area that sticks out: turnovers. LSU struggles in that department, coughing it up 13-plus times in nine of its 10 losses this season. But North Carolina States simply does not force miscues, ranking 341st nationally in defensive turnover percentage. Look for Johnny Jones’ club to find its uptempo, uninterrupted offensive groove and squeak out a victory in what should be among the better Round of 64 matchups.

The RTC Certified Pick: LSU

#1 Kentucky vs. #16 Hampton – Midwest Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 9:40 PM ET on CBS.

Kentucky fans have packed Bridgestone Arena this week (

The quest for perfection begins against Hampton. (

Hampton earned the right to take on unbeaten Kentucky with its 74-64 victory over Manhattan on Tuesday. Tennessee transfer guard Quinton Chievous led the way with 15 points and 13 rebounds, as the Pirates won their fifth consecutive game. Kentucky – at 34-0 – is a much, much different animal than Manhattan though. The Wildcats are stacked across the board with high level talent at each position. Thursday night is the first step in Kentucky trying to finish the season at 40-0. Expect big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns to establish their dominance early, as the Wildcats will cruise to a sizable victory in front of what will be an extremely pro-Kentucky crowd in their home state.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky

#5 Arkansas vs. #12 Wofford – West Region Second Round (at Jacksonville, FL) –  9:50 ET on TNT.

This game is a classic clash of styles. The Razorbacks play at the ninth-fastest tempo in the nation, attempting to pressure the opposition, force turnovers and get transition baskets (about a quarter of their possessions come in transition). The Terriers play at the nation’s 317th fastest pace, averaging almost nine fewer possessions per game. Arkansas is big and strong and athletic, featuring 6’11” forward Bobby Portis, a future NBA player. Wofford has two guys that are 6’7” (and combine for about 28 minutes per game), two guys that are 6’6” (Lee Skinner and Justin Gordon are technically the team’s highest-usage “big” guys) and then a collection of effective three-point shooters. Wofford has two different ways they can lose this game: they can turn the ball over and let Arkansas play at the pace they prefer or they can get beat up and taken advantage of on the glass. However, if the Terriers can slow the Hogs in those two areas, and if the Terriers can pour in some threes, they’ve got a chance. Odds are good they’ll be able to slow the game down and stick around by hitting threes, but in the end, their relative lack of size and athleticism may be their undoing.

The RTC Certified Pick: Arkansas

#4 Georgetown vs. #13 Eastern Washington – South Region Second Round (at Portland, OR) – 9:57 PM ET on truTV.

Despite some recent struggles, John Thompson III and Georgetown still have a lot going for them. (Washington Post)

Can John Thompson III and Georgetown avoid the proverbial upset? (Washington Post)

It sounds silly, but might Georgetown fans have preferred their team return to the bracket (after a much-needed one-year hiatus) as an underdog? Or as a participant in an #8/#9 or #7/#10 game, at least? Instead, Georgetown has been afforded another opportunity to acquaint America with another basketball program nobody has heard of. Ohio, Florida Gulf Coast, VCU and Davidson now read as a list of who’s who in mid-major basketball, but Georgetown once gave each an initial push out of anonymity. Their March struggles are no secret: John Thompson III’s teams have gone 2-5 in the Tournament since leading the Hoyas to the Final Four in 2007. Might Eastern Washington be ready to add a sixth loss to that tally? Eagles coach Jim Hayford is confident they are – he predicted as much on-air with Jim Rome on Wednesday – a conviction undoubtedly buoyed by his star guard Tyler Harvey (22.9 PPG, 122.5 offensive rating), the nation’s leading scorer. Harvey and the Eagles have already beaten Indiana (in Bloomington) this season. Hoya guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (16.2 PPG, 122.3 offensive rating) is one of the most underrated players in this field of 68, but bottle him up and the Hoyas’ offense often grows stagnant. If I were a Georgetown fan I would argue that the March nightmare has gone far enough, that a loss Thursday couldn’t happen, if only because it would begin bending the boundaries of reality. I’m just not sure the nightmare is quite over. Eastern Washington is good enough – and playing close enough to home – to awaken the ghosts of Georgetown Tournaments past. In doing so, Hayford, Harvey and EWU will deliver the upset of the opening round.

The RTC Certified PickEastern Washington

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