NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015


In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s afternoon games:

#2 Kansas vs. #15 New Mexico State – Midwest Region (from Omaha, NE) — 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

New Mexico State has not lost since January 17 and will enter Friday’s action looking to pull a stunner against the second-seeded Jayhawks. The Aggies are led by their freshman big man Pascal Siakam, who caused problems for WAC big men throughout the season. Siakam carries averages of 13 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and he will look to mix it up against the Kansas frontline. New Mexico State, as a team, has been a very formidable defensive unit throughout the season, as it is 18th in the country in points per game allowed. Unfortunately for Kansas, its frontline depth took a bit of a hit earlier this week when it became known that freshman forward Cliff Alexander would definitely miss the NCAA Tournament due to a pending NCAA investigation. Sans Alexander, the Jayhawks still have some talent in the post with the strong play of junior forward Perry Ellis and the late season emergence of redshirt sophomore Landen Lucas. While Siakam’s play in the post could keep things close for a little while, expect Kansas’ perimeter play, led by point guard Frank Mason and swingman Kelly Oubre, to be the key as the Jayhawks will comfortably advance to the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kansas

#7 Michigan State vs. #10 Georgia — East Region First Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 12:20 pm ET on truTV.

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State comes in hot after rolling to the Big Ten Tournament championship game and nearly edging Wisconsin. The Spartans are ranked 17th overall by KenPom and have become a substantially better offensive team over the course of the season, especially with a healthy Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9.1 RPG) in the lineup. The senior forward looked like his old self in the Big Ten Tournament, averaging nearly 16 points, eight rebounds per game and locking down on the defensive end. The Spartans are at their best in transition and should push the tempo against the defensively stingy Bulldogs, a lengthy team which held opponents to the nation’s 15th-lowest effective field goal percentage this season. Although Tom Izzo’s bunch has become less-reliant on three-pointers as the year’s progressed, it wouldn’t hurt for Denzel Valentine (41.8% 3PT), Bryn Forbes (42.4% 3PT) and Travis Trice (36.6% 3PT) to knock down some perimeter shots, considering Georgia’s especially-stout interior defense (43% 2PT). On the other end, the Bulldogs do one thing especially well – attack the basket – which should keep them afloat against a Michigan State team that sent teams to the free throw line at the Big Ten’s third-highest rate. Junior guard Charles Mann (highest free-throw rate in the SEC) and his backcourt mates will get to the stripe. The Spartans are more well-rounded and should win this one, but count on a slimmer margin than some have suggested.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

#5 Northern Iowa vs. #12 Wyoming — East Region First Round (at Seattle, WA) — 1:40 pm ET on TBS.

Northern Iowa takes on Wyoming this afternoon in Seattle. (UNI Athletics Communications)

Northern Iowa takes on Wyoming this afternoon in Seattle. (UNI Athletics Communications)

Wyoming assembled one of the best postseason runs early March had to offer, beating Mountain West co-champs Boise State and San Diego State in back-to-back games and clinching the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid. Almost no one plays like the Cowboys, which use the majority of the shot clock on every possession and concede offensive rebounds in order set up their half-court defense. Since Larry Nance Jr. (16.1 PPG, 7.2 RPG) returned to full capacity after missing the bulk of February (mononucleosis), the team has been offensively more dynamic and visibly more confident – never a bad thing heading into the Dance. Unfortunately, for a team that thrives on its opponents’ lack of discipline, Wyoming got a bad draw. Northern Iowa is one of the best half-court defensive teams in the country, employing a version of the Pack-Line which held opponents to 45.1 eFG and allowed the lowest free throw rate in the Missouri Valley. The Panthers rarely get lost in their rotations – which means very few back-door cutting opportunities late in the shot clock (a Wyoming specialty) – and should make life difficult enough from behind the arc to keep the Cowboys’ so-so three-point shooters (32.3% 3PT) at bay. Throw in the 15th-most efficient offense in America – led by All-America-caliber forward Seth Tuttle (15.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG) – and it’s hard to envision Wyoming scoring enough to keep up. Expect one of the lowest-scoring games of the tournament, and look for Northern Iowa to win by several possessions.

The RTC Certified Pick: Northern Iowa

#5 West Virginia vs. #12 Buffalo – Midwest Region (from Columbus, OH) – at 2:10 PM EST on TNT.

West Virginia received good news Thursday when it became known that guards Juwan Staten and Gary Browne will be available to play against Buffalo. The return of Staten and Browne from injury will undoubtedly give the Mountaineers an offensive boost. Staten leads the team in points and assists and is the steady senior that serves as the squad’s floor leader. Even with Staten and Browne back in the fold, the Mountaineers still figure to face a tough test from a talented Buffalo squad that showed impressively in road losses to one-seeds Kentucky and Wisconsin in the non-conference slate. Bobby Hurley’s Bulls are led by junior forward Justin Moss, who carries averages of 17.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. The match-up in the post between Moss and West Virginia forward Devin Williams figures to be a good one, and it will likely play an important role in deciding who advances to the Round of 32. It might be due to all of Thursday’s weirdness, but for some reason it feels like Buffalo is going to get the best of West Virginia and advance.

The RTC Certified Pick: Buffalo

#7 Wichita State vs. #10 Indiana – Midwest Region (from Omaha, NE) – at 2:45 PM EST on CBS.

This match-up between a team that was fortunate to make the field (Indiana) and a team that it was probably under-seeded (Wichita State) should be an entertaining battle between two strong offensive units. The Hoosiers have a very capable perimeter attack with guards Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., and Robert Johnson. The Shockers counter with a tremendous backcourt of their own with Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton. While Indiana certainly has the talent and firepower to steal the victory, it will be hard for them to get by Wichita State’s experience and cohesiveness. Expect this one to be close before Wichita State grabs control late to advance to the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Wichita State

#2 Virginia vs. #15 Belmont — East Region First Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 3:10 pm ET on truTV.

The Cavaliers are too strong for Belmont. (

The Cavaliers are too strong for Belmont. (

Belmont probably has a better chance against Virginia than any other #15-seed would. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean much. The Bruins take a bunch of threes – nearly half of all field goal attempts – and make a very healthy 38 percent of them. Virtually every player on the floor is capable of knocking down outside jumpers, and several guys (see: Taylor Barnette’s game-winner against Murray State) can hit despite being heavily contested – crucial against the Cavaliers’ defense. Likewise, Belmont’s most glaring offensive weakness – turnovers – shouldn’t be a huge problem against an opponent that ranks 240th in defensive turnover percentage (18.1% TO). But the outlook is far from rosy for Rick Byrd’s club. Virginia’s Pack-Line defense is virtually impenetrable on the interior (39.5% 2PT) and does an excellent job of running shooters off the three-point line (30.3% 3PT). Even if the Bruins do find success from behind the arc, it’s doubtful many opportunities for high percentage backdoor cuts arise. Back in January, Notre Dame – another perimeter-heavy offense – shot 10-for-24 3PT against the ACC champs, but barely mustered one point per possession for the game because it’s inside scoring (28.6% 2PT) was virtually non-existent. The Cavaliers are the best defense in the country from an efficiency standpoint and simply too good for Belmont to overcome its own porous defense, fourth-worst in the Ohio Valley. Healthy Justin Anderson or not, expect Tony Bennett’s club to run away with this one by game’s end.

The RTC Certified Pick: Virginia

#4 Louisville vs. #13 UC Irvine — East Region First Round (at Seattle, WA) — 4:10 pm ET on TBS.

You might see a lot of these faces when Louisville takes on UC Irvine today. (

You might see a lot of these faces when Louisville takes on UC Irvine today. (

Of all the #12 through #16-seeds in this region, UC Irvine is one to really keep an eye on. The Anteaters are massive on the inside – seventh-tallest in college basketball (effective height) – and limit opponents to just 42.3 percent two-point shooting, one of the lowest marks in the game. Their interior defense gained extra strength when 7’6” Mamadou Ndiaye returned from injury in late February, bringing with him 1.7 blocks per contest (3.1 BPG last season) and extreme rim-protection alongside 6’8” senior Will Davis. That bodes very well against a Louisville team which relies heavily on inside scoring from Montrezl Harrell (15.7 PPG, 9.7 RPG) and company, especially considering the Cardinals shoot just 30.4 percent from behind the arc. UC Irvine will likely sit back and force Louisville to beat them from the perimeter, an extra-difficult task now that point guard Chris Jones in no longer on the team. And while Rick Pitino’s club likes to create transition offense from its high-pressure defense, the Anteaters take care of the ball reasonable well (18% TO) and enter this matchup fresh off playing Hawaii in the Big West championship – another pressure-based team very much in the Louisville mold. Of course, the Cardinals boast one of the country’s top defenses in their own right and should make life very difficult for UC Irvine in the half-court, too. Look for Louisville to come up with just enough late stops to win, but do not be surprised if the Anteaters pull off an upset.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville

#4 Maryland vs. #13 Valparaiso – Midwest Region (from Columbus, OH) – at 4:40 PM EST on TNT.

Some people saw Maryland as a bit under-seeded when it was given a four-seed on Selection Sunday. The Terrapins completed a wildly successful first season in the Big Ten and had won eight consecutive games before falling to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals. Valparaiso also had a fantastic season, as the Crusaders took home the Horizon League regular season title with a 13-3 conference record and ran through the Horizon League Tournament with relative ease. Sophomore forward Alec Peters leads the way for Valparaiso, and he has been a standout player since he stepped foot on campus. Peters could give the Terrapins some issues, but ultimately that will not be enough. Expect Maryland to get big performances from guards Melo Trimble and Dez Wells, as the Terrapins will advance to the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Maryland

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