NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015


The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky

#2 Arizona vs. #10 Ohio State – West Region Third Round (at Portland, OR) – at 5:15 PM ET on CBS.

Miller vs. Matta + Johnson vs. Russell = must see television. (AP)

Miller vs. Matta + Johnson vs. Russell = must see television. (AP)

Sean Miller vs. Thad Matta. Stanley Johnson vs. D’Angelo Russell. Pick a storyline, they’re both excellent. Miller and Matta were both assistants together at Miami (OH). When Matta got hired at Xavier, he brought along Miller as an assistant. When Matta left for the Ohio State job, Miller took his spot. They’ve met twice before in the NCAA Tournament and both have been classics (Ron Lewis and LaQuinton Ross), but both times Matta has won. As far as Johnson and Russell, they’re among the nation’s handful of best freshmen and all expectations are that next season when they face off on the hardwood, it will be in NBA uniforms. Russell’s one of the nation’s most electrifying point guards, while Johnson is a chiseled man-child on the wing. Russell makes everyone on his squad better, while Johnson’s biggest task has been to meld his talents in along with all the other elite athletes on the Arizona squad. But when it comes right down to it, this is a game of five-on-five. And as terrific as Russell is, he doesn’t have the talent surrounding him that Johnson does. T.J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley. These guys are all playing terrific basketball right now and seem to be on a collision course with Wisconsin in the regional final. And, here’s the worst part for the Buckeyes. All year long, if the Wildcats have wanted to go out and shutdown one player on the opponents’ squad, they’ve been able to do so. Just ask Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young. Russell is a tougher matchup, but the ‘Cats will try to slow him and make somebody else beat them. Unfortunately for Matta and company, there is nobody else on the roster readily apparent that is up to that task.

The RTC Certified Pick: Arizona

#6 Xavier vs. #14 Georgia State – West Region Third Round (at Jacksonville, FL) – at 6:10 PM ET on TNT.

Will Georgia State's surprising run continue? (Chris O'Meara/AP)

Will Georgia State’s surprising run continue? (Chris O’Meara/AP)

Will the clock run out on the early darling of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, Georgia State? There are five double-digit seeds remaining and one of them is guaranteed to advance out of the UCLA/UAB game, but Georgia State and the Hunter family have a puncher’s chance to add to the madness. Junior R.J. Hunter, he of the epic deep late-game three (not to mention the possibly more epic re-enactment of his dad’s sideline celebration) is no joke, an expected NBA First Rounder this offseason. He’s had his ups and downs in his senior season, but when he’s got it going, he’s capable of blowing up for a big night. Teammate Ryan Harrow, formerly of Kentucky and North Carolina State, missed Thursday’s upset win with a hamstring injury, but he’s hoping to be ready in time for Saturday and if so, the Panthers will be plenty experienced, with juniors and seniors up and down the roster. But Xavier has one thing that the Panthers don’t have a ton of: size in the frontcourt. Georgia State features 6’10” senior center Curtis Washington (formerly of USC), but the Musketeers have three rotation players along the frontline at 6’10”, including senior Matt Stainbrook, who went for 20 points on just 10 field goal attempts in the Round of 64 win over Mississippi. If the Musketeers can avoid turnovers against Georgia State’s pressure defense (they force turnovers on 23.2% of opponents possessions – 14th in the nation), they’ve got enough in the halfcourt to grind through to the Sweet Sixteen. If the Xavier guards aren’t up to the challenge, a potentially juicy Sean Miller vs. Xavier storyline could go by the wayside.

The RTC Certified Pick: Xavier

#1 Villanova vs. #8 North Carolina State – East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – at 7:10 PM ET on TBS.

Villanova should take care of North Carolina State tonight. (USA TODAY Sports)

Villanova should take care of North Carolina State tonight. (USA TODAY Sports)

North Carolina State stormed back from a double-digit deficit to beat LSU on Thursday night, despite its talented guard trio – Trevor Lacey, Cat Barber and Ralston Turner – combining for just 4-for-21 three-point shooting. Frontcourt players like Abdul-Malik Abu (13 points) and Kyle Washington (nine points) stepped up in the backcourt’s relative absence, helping the Wolfpack topple the talented-but-inconsistent Tigers. Mark Gottfried’s club will face another talented opponent tonight, but the ‘inconsistent’ part no longer applies; Villanova is deep, loaded, and arguably the most consistent team in America outside of Kentucky. The Wildcats decimated Lafayette on Thursday behind 11-for-22 three-point shooting and double-digit contributions from six different players, their sixteenth victory in a row. They now rank top-12 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, boast six different players who shoot better than 37 percent from behind the arc – their key source of offense – and have an excellent rebounder and rim protector in 6’11” Daniel Ochefu (9.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG). Frankly, they look unbeatable at times. Which brings us back to tonight’s matchup in Pittsburgh; North Carolina State will have to be firing on all-cylinders – backcourt, frontcourt and bench alike – in order to hang with Villanova for 40 full minutes. And even that might not be enough. The Big East champs are substantially better in nearly every major statistical category, so it may take an off-night from behind the arc for the Gottfried’s guys just to have a chance. Offensive rebounding could be one area where the Wolfpack actually have a leg-up – Jay Wright’s team has been average on the defensive glass this season – but converting second-chance opportunities still won’t do anything to prevent the probably-onslaught at the other end of the court. This game might be close for a while, and perhaps North Carolina State even controls things early. But Darrun Hilliard (13.9 PPG), Ryan Arcidiacono (10.3 PPG) and company are too simply too good and too well-rounded to lose to the often-middling Wolfpack. Expect Villanova to win by double-figures, and don’t think twice about it.

The RTC Certified Pick: Villanova

#4 Georgetown vs #5 Utah — South Regional Third Round (at Portland, OR) — at 7:45 PM ET on CBS.

John Thompson III Has His Hoyas Playing At A High Level (Getty)

Now that John Thompson III got that opening game hump behind them, could the Hoyas be poised to make a deep run? (Getty)

We learned many things from Georgetown’s 84-74 opening round victory over Eastern Washington. We learned that EWU coach Jim Hayford is not Joe Willy Namath, Muhammad Ali, or Larry Bird (thank you John Thompson III for bringing that to our attention). We learned that Hayford delivers a pretty awkward halftime interview. But most importantly, we learned that Georgetown can win an opening round game in the NCAA Tournament. Whether it was Hayford’s bold pregame victory assurance, a growing weariness of the program’s March plight, or just a good team playing a good game of basketball, Georgetown’s was fully activated for 40 minutes Thursday night. Utah’s opening round victory wasn’t quite as convincing – they let Stephen F. Austin stay within a possession into the final two minutes – but the Utes still very much resembled the outfit that won 24 games in the regular season. They won in spite of the struggles of Delon Wright, who made just 2-of-7 field goal attempts and turned the ball over six times. It was nice that Utah survived, but that type of performance from Wright is likely do in the Utes against Georgetown, or any other team moving forward in this Tournament. Wright frequently takes on the role of the quiet star — feeling out a game before asserting himself, enabling teammates before looking for his own shot. It’s been a perfectly viable strategy for Utah most of the year, and much of Wright’s brilliance does lie in his more subtle contributions. But beginning Saturday night and ending whenever this Utah season (and Wright’s career) ends, the Utes need an aggressive, attacking Wright every single minute he’s on the floor. The going won’t be easy for Wright against the Hoyas – he can ask Tyler Harvey about Jabril Trawick’s physical defense – but Larry Krystkowiak will make sure his star knows how badly they need his best effort. Credit Georgetown for exorcising their opening round demons, but this is a tough third round draw for the Hoyas. The higher seed is not only closer to home but also the better team here: Expect Wright and Utah to advance to Houston.

The RTC Certified PickUtah

#4 North Carolina vs. #5 Arkansas – West Region Third Round (at Jacksonville, FL) – at 8:40 PM ET on TNT.

North Carolina's Marcus Paige is getting healthier and more productive with each passing game. (AP/Bob Leverone)

North Carolina’s Marcus Paige might be the key to Saturday’s matchup against high-flying Arkansas. (AP/Bob Leverone)

Are you one of those college basketball fans that hates seeing final scores in the 50s? Well set your DVR now, because this is the game for you. Arkansas has the eighth-shortest average offensive possession length (15.7 seconds). North Carolina plays just slightly slower at 15.9 seconds, good for 11th in the nation. We’re going to get to see guys like Arkansas’ Michael Qualls and Bobby Portis or UNC’s Marcus Paige and J.P. Tokoto in the open floor for much of the 40 minutes. Be very intrigued. Size. Speed. Athleticism. Shot-making. This could be a good one. But in games like this, give the edge to the team with the best guards. And the Tar Heels’ Marcus Paige is one of the best. After a slow start to the year following preseason All-American expectations, Paige turned it on after the calendar flipped to 2015. He doesn’t make many mistakes and as a shot-maker, there aren’t many better. While the Hogs may have the slight advantage in terms of pure athleticism, when this game slows down as March games tend to do, North Carolina has shown a greater ability to run consistently good halfcourt offense than Arkansas has.

The RTC Certified Pick: North Carolina

#3 Notre Dame vs. #6 Butler – Midwest Region Round of 32 (from Pittsburgh, PA) – at 9:40 PM EST on TBS.

When the Bulldogs needed timely shots, they went to junior guard Kellen Dunham. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

When the Bulldogs needed timely shots against Texas, they went to junior guard Kellen Dunham. Expect more of the same Saturday against Mike Brey’s balanced Notre Dame squad. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

“Survive and Advance” was the name of the game for Notre Dame on Thursday as the Irish needed all 40 minutes to pull out the 69-65 win over pesky Northeastern. Given Notre Dame’s past March demons, Mike Brey and his squad have to be thrilled with just getting the victory. The Irish can take some positives from the narrow victory, though. Enigmatic junior forward Zach Auguste had a tremendous afternoon, finishing with a game-high 25 points, as he used his 6’10” frame to routinely took advantage of Northeastern’s undersized frontline. All-American guard Jerian Grant also had quite the hand in the winning effort, as he shook off a rough start to finish with 17 points and five assists. Meanwhile, Butler battled through a rough shooting night — just 33.3% from the field for the game — to earn a 56-48 win over Texas on Thursday. When the Bulldogs needed timely shots, they went to junior guard Kellen Dunham. Dunham finished with a game-high 20 points and his three-pointer with 1:20 to play all but secured the victory for Chris Holtmann’s squad. The victory did not come without a cost though, as junior forward Roosevelt Jones briefly left the game in the second half with a knee injury. It had to have been a relief for Butler fans on Friday though when Holtmann said that Jones will play Saturday, but the extent to which he will play has still yet to be determined. The Bulldogs will be a tough match-up for the Irish due to their strong fundamental play and knack for taking advantage of their opposition’s mistakes. However, the athleticism advantage provided by Grant and sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson should provide Notre Dame with enough of an edge to grab the victory and advance to the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2003.

The RTC Certified Pick: Notre Dame

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