National Championship Game Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 8th, 2013

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Brian Otskey is an RTC Contributor and filed this preview of tonight’s game for all the marbles. Follow him on Twitter @botskey.

The National Championship Game: #1 Louisville (34-5) vs. #4 Michigan (31-7) – 9:23 PM ET on CBS. Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr will have the call live from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.

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After five months and 5,744 regular season, conference tournament and NCAA tournament games, the college basketball season comes down to one game on one night in Atlanta. Top overall seed Louisville enters the game as the favorite but by no means will this be a walk in the park. The Cardinals are in search of their third national championship this evening and their first since 1986. On the other side, Michigan is looking for its second national title, having won it all once before in 1989. It is somewhat hard to believe given the strength of the two leagues over the years but this is the first national championship game between Big East and Big Ten schools since the aforementioned Wolverines held off Seton Hall in overtime to win it all at the Kingdome in Seattle 24 years ago.

Louisville has now won 15 straight games after surviving a major scare from Wichita State on Saturday night. In fact, the Cardinals have won 18 of their past 19 games since a three game losing streak in January and the one loss was in five overtimes to Notre Dame. This game features the nation’s best defense (Louisville) and the most efficient offensive team in the land (Michigan) going head to head in what should be a terrific basketball game. For the Cardinals to win, they must attack the rim and use their defense to fuel their offense. Rick Pitino’s team is no slouch offensively (#5 in efficiency), but its offense is largely predicated off its ability to create live ball turnovers and score in transition. Louisville is lethal in transition but not great in the half court unless it attacks the basket, either with its guards off the bounce or great athletes like Montrezl Harrell and Chane Behanan working the baseline and the low block. In Saturday’s national semifinal, Wichita State forced Louisville into way too many jump shots for Pitino’s liking and it almost cost the Cardinals dearly. The Shockers were rattled by a series of turnovers late in the second half and lost the game because of it. Louisville’s ball pressure is the best in the country and it starts with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Both play the passing lanes so well but Smith in particular is among the nation’s best defenders. After it scores, Louisville’s full court pressure takes full effect. The big question in this game will be whether the Cardinals (#2 in forcing turnovers) can turn over the Wolverines (#1 in ball protection) enough to fuel their offense. When Michigan played VCU in the round of 32, the Wolverines obliterated Shaka Smart’s “havoc.” There is, however, one major difference between VCU and Louisville. The Rams are not a great defensive team in the half court while Louisville plays the best half court defense of any team in America. Siva has to slow down Trey Burke, who picked up just about every imaginable award this week. Michigan showed just how good of a team it is by winning its semifinal game against Syracuse without its star sophomore point guard being a major factor. While it’s fair to say Michigan has never seen a defense like this all season long, Louisville hasn’t seen an offense with as many weapons as this one. When Michigan has the ball, the battle between the best offense and the best defense could be one of epic proportions.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Final Four

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 5th, 2013

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Two games to get to Monday night… here are our breakdowns.

#1 Louisville vs. #9 Wichita State – National Semifinal (at Atlanta, GA) – 6:09 PM ET on CBS

Pitino is Inching Closer to His Second Title (AP)

Pitino is Inching Closer to His Second Title (AP)

Let’s get this out of the way right off the top – Louisville is the heavy favorite. Vegas calls them a 10-point favorite and KenPom.com agrees. They’re on a 14-game winning streak and have won those games by an average of 18 points. In a season where for the most part there has been no clear-cut favorite all year long, we certainly have a clear-cut favorite now. If some team other than the Cardinals are cutting down the nets on Monday night, it will be a surprise. So, with that said, let’s ask how Wichita State can keep this game close? First, it begins with playing the type of defense it has played in the tournament so far (0.94 PPP allowed in their four games). In particular, the Shockers have caused trouble for some big-time guards, limiting Tray Woodall of Pitt to what he called his worst game ever, harassing Kevin Pangos into 6-of-17 shooting, holding La Salle’s perimeter players to a combined 14-of-47 shooting, and making Aaron Craft a non-factor offensively. If guys like Malcolm Armstead, Tekele Cotton, Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker can turn in a similar performance and limit potentially erratic guards like Russ Smith and Peyton Siva (who, for instance, in Louisville’s last loss, combined to shoot just 5-of-25 from the field in a five-overtime loss) to poor shooting nights, that is step one for the Shockers.

Step two is having the Shocker “big” guys, Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall (both just 6’8”), stay out of foul trouble and stay effective against the likes of Gorgui Dieng inside. Hall and Early have both been foul prone this season, but on a team without a ton of skilled depth up front, Gregg Marshall will need the services of those two for the bulk of the game. But not only are the Cardinals a potent offensive team, they are the nation’s best defensive team – by a long shot. In the KenPom era (dating back to 2003), they’re the only team with an adjusted defensive rating below 82.0, essentially equivalent to allowing less than 0.82 points per possession. And while Wichita has had good success offensively in this tournament (1.09 PPP), they are about to face a whole different animal. The good news is, they just got done withstanding the pressure defense of Craft, one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders. The bad news is, Smith is even better. And he’s paired with Siva who is also one of the nation’s best on-ball defenders. And should Wichita escape the perimeter pressure and get the ball inside, either on the bounce or on the pass, there’s Dieng waiting for them as a potent shot-blocker. For Wichita to have success against that defense, they’ll need to have guards like Baker, Armstead and VanVleet to connect from deep, and they’ll need Early to be able to bring his man out of the middle and knock down some perimeter shots as well, essentially softening up the Cardinal interior for exploitation later in the game.

One bit of good news for the Shockers, with Dieng attempting to block almost every shot in the paint, the Cards don’t do a great job cleaning the defensive glass, while the Shockers are among the best in the nation at getting on the offensive boards; that trend will also have to continue for the Shockers to have a chance. So, those are a whole lot of ifs and buts. And we haven’t even mentioned potent Louisville weapons like Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear. The fact is, it is going to take a major confluence of events for the Shockers to stick around in this game. They’ve shown that they not only get great coaching, but they take that coaching well. And, as always, they’re going to play angry, so if you look up at the final media timeout and see the Shockers in the ball game, don’t be, well, shocked. But more likely the talent advantage that the Cardinals have slowly but surely wears Wichita down and Rick Pitino advances to his third national championship game.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville

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Midwest Regional Final Game Analysis: #1 Louisville vs #2 Duke

Posted by BHayes on March 31st, 2013

 

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#1 Louisville vs. #2 Duke Midwest Regional Final (at Indianapolis, IN) – 5:05 PM ET on CBS

Dream materialized into reality on Friday night as Duke and Louisville wins created a must-see Midwest Regional final match-up. In a wacky NCAA Tournament where five of the top eight seeds have already fallen by the wayside, the Midwest region largely held to form. #1 vs. #2 in the regional final feels all to0 appropriate. Louisville will enter Sunday as the favorite, with a 13-game winning streak and Lucas Oil Stadium full of Cardinal Red in tow. They have shown few weaknesses in reaching this moment, but the Duke team standing between them and Atlanta is elite in their own right, and will undoubtedly offer the sternest test yet for the Cards. The Blue Devils were five points better than Louisville back on November 24, but will the presence of Gorgui Dieng (absent from that Battle 4 Atlantis loss) and a constantly growing Cardinal swagger be enough to script a different ending today?

Krzyzewski Has Worked His Magic Again This Year, But Can He Get Duke Back To The Final Four Again?

Even without Dieng, Louisville posted a +6 advantage on the glass in the November game between these two teams. Where his absence was felt was on the defensive end, where a bigger Duke front line was able to attack the rim at will. The Cards managed just one block (Dieng averages 2.5 a game) and Duke went to the line 27 times, where 23 makes helped the Devils overcome a poor shooting night from beyond the arc (5-20 as a team on threes). Having Dieng around now will shore up the interior defense, but Louisville must maintain emphasis on guarding the three-point line, because no team spaces the floor and shoots the three as well as Duke. Louisville may be the best defensive team in the country and grades well in almost every defensive metric, but their defense of the three point line is the weakest of those areas. The manic defensive aggression is a staple of the Cardinal defensive plan, but risks need be well calculated against a perimeter attack as lethal as Duke’s.

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South Regional Final Game Analysis: #3 Florida vs #4 Michigan

Posted by nvr1983 on March 31st, 2013

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#3 Florida vs. #4 Michigan – South Regional Final (Los Angeles, CA) – 7:05PM ET on CBS

Florida-Michigan may be an undercard to the ridiculous Louisville-Duke game later today, but that doesn’t mean that it will be of much lower quality as it features two teams that were in the top 10 for most of the season and in the top 5 for long stretches. It was only late season slides that kept these teams from being on the 1 or 2 line on Selection Sunday. Despite those late season struggles both teams have recovered and have managed to play excellent basketball leading up to today.

Florida is of course the darling of advanced metrics fans as they have put up impressive efficiency numbers, but many observers have questioned whether the team has the ability to win close games as they have lost all six games they have played this year that were decided by single digits. The flip side of that is that their other 29 wins have been by double digits showing just how effective they can be. The Gators will have a tough time making this their 30th double-digit win of the season as Michigan is much better than anybody they have beaten this season and probably better than anybody they have played this year with the possible exception of Arizona (one of Florida’s six single-digit losses). To beat the Wolverines the Gators will need to find a way to contain Trey Burke who rebounded from a scoreless first half to score 23 points to go along with 10 assists. The task of containing Burke will likely fall on Scottie Wilbekin, who compared Burke to Phil Pressey yesterday. While Pressey is an excellent player and creator he lacks the explosive offensive game of Burke. In addition, Burke has been exceptional in his ability to create while taking care of the ball as he came into the weekend with a 3.11 assist-to-turnover ratio, which ranks 4th in the nation.

Burke Will Be The Focus Of The Gator Defense

Burke may be the star for Michigan, but Florida will have to contend with a trio of outstanding perimeter players in Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III, and Nick Stauskas who all can provide scoring from the outside if Burke struggles to find his shot. On the inside, Patric Young will be matched up with Mitch McGary, who has recovered from a slow start to his freshman season, which he has openly admitted was due to his poor conditioning and effort, to lead the Wolverines in scoring in the NCAA Tournament with 19.7 points per game while making a ridiculous 75.7% of his shots from the field and has added 12.3 rebounds per game for good measure. Young should have the ability to overpower McGary, but based on the comments of the Gators yesterday (essentially admitted they knew nothing about him) they may be underestimating his game. And as Jeff Withey and Kansas found out that could be a very bad idea.

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West Regional Final Game Analysis: #2 Ohio State vs #9 Wichita State

Posted by AMurawa on March 30th, 2013

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#2 Ohio State vs. #9 Wichita State – West Regional Regional Final (Los Angeles, CA) – 7:05PM ET on CBS

With Florida Gulf Coast’s magical run over, Wichita State is now left to carry the banner for Cinderella in the NCAA Tournament. Having already knocked off Gonzaga, the team that finished the season as the number one team in the polls, the Shockers have experience playing that role, but today they face a team in Ohio State that is as hot as any team in the country, having reeled off 11 straight victories with nine of those coming against NCAA Tournament teams. In other words, the Shockers are about to face a big step up in the level of competition. But, you know what? Wichita State belongs on the same floor as the Buckeyes. They’re not going to be over-matched athletically like so many underdogs are, if anything they have a slight height advantage and these Shockers are pretty darn hot themselves right now. They have a quintet of talented guards that as a group can attack the hoop, score from deep and play tremendous defense. And then up front they have a pair of 6’8” bulldogs, with Carl Hall more than willing to mix it up in the paint while Cleanthony Early can be a match-up problem with his inside/outside game.

Gregg Marshall Is One Win Away From Taking The Shockers To The Final Four

But, as well as Wichita State matches up with the Buckeyes, Ohio State matches up with them. While Early is a strong offensive threat and a tough rebounder, he’s not a real good match-up for Ohio State’s leading scorer DeShaun Thomas – not that very many people are. Thomas has faced far more fearsome defenders than Early, and Gregg Marshall probably knows that he’ll have to run additional defenders at Thomas to get the ball out of his hands. And if the ball is coming out of Thomas’ hands, if these last two games are any indication, that might mean it is going to wind up in LaQuinton Ross’ hands. Ross is Ohio State’s breakout star (he had 14 of the Buckeyes’ last 17 points in their Sweet 16 win over Arizona, including the game winner) and he has shown a versatile offensive game that very few teams in the nation have a great match-up for, and Wichita State is no exception. But, as good as Ross has been these last two games, two fine performances does not make a consistent offensive performer.

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East Regional Final Game Analysis: #3 Marquette Vs #4 Syracuse

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2013

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#3 Marquette vs. #4 Syracuse — East Regional Final (at Washington, D.C.) — 4:30 pm ET on CBS.

Big East fans will be treated to one final conference game so to speak (unless the winner of this game meets Louisville for the national title) this evening in Washington. Despite being the lower seed, Syracuse enters the east regional final as the favorite, a winner in six of its last seven games. The Orange are defending at an unbelievable level and one has to look no further than Thursday’s game against Indiana to see why. The Orange held the Hoosiers to a season-low 50 points on 33.3% shooting in a dominating performance against arguably the best team in the country. Michael Carter-Williams poured in 24 points for the victors, who were never really challenge by Indiana all night. Against Big East foe Marquette, who Syracuse will play for the final time as a member of the conference, the Orange figure to be just as imposing defensively. Marquette is a team that gets a huge percentage of its points in the paint and from the free throw line.

Can Buzz Williams Get Marquette Back To The Final Four?

When these two teams met in their only regular season meeting on February 25 in Milwaukee, Marquette was able to come away with a three point win thanks to dominance in the paint. The Golden Eagles visited the free throw line 35 times to Syracuse’s 7 and shot 58% inside the three point arc. Davante Gardner led the way with 26 points in that game and will need to come up big for Marquette once again if the Golden Eagles are to advance to the Final Four for the fourth time in school history and only the second time since Al McGuire’s 1977 championship team.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by KDoyle on March 29th, 2013

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We continue the Sweet Sixteen tonight with games from the South Region in Arlington, Texas, and the Midwest Region in Indianapolis. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.

#1 Louisville vs. #12 Oregon Midwest Regional Sweet Sixteen (at Indianapolis, IN) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

It's Russ' World, We Just Live In It (Credit Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

It’s Russ’ World, We Just Live In It (Credit Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The Midwest Regional descends on Indianapolis this weekend, with Louisville and Oregon kicking off the action in a matchup of red-hot teams. If not for Florida Gulf Coast’s otherworldly Tournament performance last week, we would likely be looking at the two most impressive teams of the first weekend. As the top overall seed in the Tournament, Louisville’s tour de force in Lexington may not have been unexpected, but it did drive home the notion that the Cardinals are still the team to beat – in this region, and beyond. On the flip side, Oregon’s pair of resounding victories were not expected (despite getting significant play as the most underseeded team in the field on Selection Sunday), but have quickly afforded the surging Ducks a lot of respect. They will head into a virtual road game as massive underdogs on Friday, but the last two weeks have proven that this is a talented and tough basketball team.

Do not expect Oregon to struggle with the aggressive Louisville defense as much as North Carolina A&T and Colorado State did. A quick briefing of the Oregon statistical profile may suggest otherwise – the Ducks are 264th nationally in turnover percentage – but that number is a bit misleading. For one, quick tempo teams are generally going to turn the ball over more, and Oregon plays fast (48th nationally in possessions per game). Also remember that starting PG Dominic Artis (I know, I know — how could we forget at this point?) missed more than half the Pac-12 season, and that backup PG Johnathan Loyd is just now beginning to hit his stride. These two guards will come as close to replicating the quickness and athleticism of that Louisville Siva-Smith combo as any duo the Cardinals have seen all season. Throw in athletes almost everywhere else on the floor – Emory and Dotson on the wings, Kazemi and Woods in the post – and there can be reasonable expectation that Oregon might actually be able to weather the turnover storm that has felled many Louisville foes.

If Oregon can manage that turnover battle, expect this to be a 40-minute game. Points will not come easily for the Cardinals against a well-school (and athletic) Oregon defense, and the Ducks are also a better rebounding team — at least on paper. Dana Altman’s X-factor will be the burgeoning freshman Dotson. If Dotson and others – here’s looking at you EJ Singler — can replicate the three point barrage that undid Saint Louis, Altman’s group has a legitimate change to swing the upset. Too much to ask for? Probably. This is not your typical #12 seed (how is Oregon a #12 seed again?), but they have run into a #1 seed that is playing its role all too well. I expect Oregon to prove a worthy challenger in all facets – managing turnovers, defending the dynamic Louisville backcourt, finding ways to score themselves – but ultimately they run into a team that is just a little better across the board. The Ducks will hang around, but Louisville should be safely bound for the Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville

#1 Kansas vs. #4 Michigan – South Regional Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 7:37 PM ET on TBS

The last time Michigan advanced this deep into the NCAA Tournament was all the way back in 1994 with the Fab Five coached by current San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher. Ranked in the Top 10 for much of the season, John Beilein’s team certainly won’t be content just advancing to the second weekend; it is Atlanta or bust for the young Wolverines. To advance to Sunday’s South Regional Final, they will have to knock off a team with a wealth of NCAA Tournament experience in the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas advanced to the championship game last season losing to Kentucky, but are missing two key components of that squad—Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. While Bill Self has led Kansas to another very successful season—a Big 12 regular season and tournament championship and 30+ wins for the fourth straight year—this edition of Kansas basketball is lacking a rock-solid point guard and dominant scorer. One could certainly make the argument that freshman Ben McLemore is that scorer, but he has largely been a no-show in Kansas’ first two games scoring just 13 points on 2-14 shooting from the field. The combination of Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe at point guard has dished out 11 assists to ten turnovers. Nobody will argue their frontcourt dominance anchored by the defensive prowess of Jeff Withey, but seniors Kevin Young and Travis Releford are prototypical role players and not go-to threats. As such, when looking up and down the roster, this has been yet another good coaching job by Bill Self. If Kansas is to defeat Michigan and advance to Atlanta, Ben McLemore must play up to his Top 5 NBA Draft pick ability. Kansas’ most glaring weakness happens to be Michigan’s clear strength: point guard play. This game will be decided in the backcourt, and Trey Burke along with Tim Hardaway Jr. are simply playing much better basketball than Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore. Also, let’s not forget the emergence of freshman Mitch McGary who has stepped up in a big way with Jordan Morgan’s nagging ankle injury. Morgan may return to the regular rotation tonight, but he is just 6’8” and would struggle handling Jeff Withey on the insdie. John Beilein doesn’t expect McGary to have a double-double kind of game like he had against Virginia Commonwealth, but if he is able to neutralize Withey then it is mission accomplished. Kansas would be the first one to tell you that they played just 20 good minutes of basketball in their first two games. If they get off to another slow start out of the gate like they did against Western Kentucky and North Carolina, they’ll be hard-pressed to climb their way back into the game.

The RTC Certified PickMichigan

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Thursday Night

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 28th, 2013

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Tonight we tip off the Sweet Sixteen with games from the East Region in Washington, DC, and the West Region in Los Angeles, CA. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.

#2 Miami vs. #3 Marquette — East Regional Semifinal (at Washington, D.C.) — 7:15 PM ET on CBS.

Let's Hope Buzz Keeps This in the Closet If He Makes the Elite Eight

Let’s Hope Buzz Keeps This in the Closet If He Makes the Elite Eight

Two coaches and teams that have significantly overachieved this season collide in tonight’s first regional semifinal game in our nation’s capital. Marquette has been the quintessential “survive and advance” team through its two games of this NCAA Tournament having gotten by Davidson and Butler in thrilling fashion. In this match-up, the Golden Eagles will have to overcome some notable disadvantages coming in to it. Even though Reggie Johnson will not play for Miami, he hasn’t been playing all that well of late so his loss isn’t a huge hit for the Hurricanes. Marquette is a team that thrives off of dribble penetration and offensive rebounding so Jim Larranaga’s game plan will no doubt focus on that. Buzz Williams doesn’t have the three point shooters needed to open up his offense, one that is highly dependent on Vander Blue and others creating and getting into the paint. If Miami defends the paint well, can keep Marquette off the free throw line for the most part and win the turnover battle (Marquette averages 14 per game and Miami is #18 in offensive turnover percentage) it should win the game. However, it’s not always so simple. In addition to the dynamic Blue, Jamil Wilson could be a very difficult match-up for Miami. Wilson is a bouncy 6’7 player who can create off the bounce and isn’t afraid of contact around the rim. He could be Marquette’s most important player in deciding the outcome of this one. The intangibles in this game strongly favor the Golden Eagles. It hasn’t just been in this tournament but Marquette has a ton of experience playing in and winning close games over the last few seasons. This team knows how to win and make plays in big moments down the stretch and that becomes such a valuable asset in the NCAA Tournament. We think Miami’s game against Illinois, where the Hurricanes were pushed a bit, was a good thing but it could be only a matter of time as the Hurricanes lack of tournament experience catches up to them. This may be the game as the pressure and scrutiny ramps up, especially against a team with so much experience in one or two possession games. Although this appears to be a good match-up for Miami on paper, there’s a reason why they play the games. The Golden Eagles may come away with another squeaker of a win.

The RTC Certified Pick: Marquette.

#2 Ohio State vs. #6 Arizona – West Regional Semifinal (at Los Angeles, CA) – 7:47 PM ET on TBS

The Thad Matta/Sean Miller backstory gives this matchup plenty of pizzazz, but even without that part of the story, this is quite a battle. You can just run down this game matchup by matchup and find plenty of compelling storylines. At point guard, the Mark Lyons vs. Aaron Craft face-off alone makes this a must-watch game, with Craft one of the nation’s most disruptive perimeter defenders and Lyons one of the most dangerous offensive players off the bounce. While Lyons has the reputation of a guy who is a killer in the clutch, he’ll need to play within himself against Craft and make sure not to force too much against his pressure. Meanwhile, on the other side of the court, Lyons is no slouch on defense himself and Craft an improving, but still somewhat limited scorer. You could do worse that spending the entire 40 minutes of action just watching those two go at it. Elsewhere, the next biggest potential matchup is DeShaun Thomas and Solomon Hill. Thomas is the Buckeyes lone pure scoring threat and Hill will certainly be guarding him for much of the game. Thomas has got a pretty complete offensive game, with range from three, a solid pull-up game off the bounce, some post-up ability and the ability to get on the offensive glass. But, luckily for Arizona, Hill’s defensive versatility can match Thomas’ game, as he’s as comfortable guarding in the post as he is away from the hoop. On the other end of the court, Thomas’ defensive game has improved, but he’s still a long ways from a defensive stopper, although depending on the matchups on the court, he might not be the guy tasked with checking Hill. Arizona doesn’t necessarily need Hill to outscore Thomas in this matchup, but if he can take him out of his comfort zone, OSU will have to count on other less polished scorers to have big games. And there are other great matchups all across the court. Nick Johnson is Arizona’s best perimeter defender and he could take a crack at anyone from Craft to Lenzelle Smith to Shannon Scott, even to Thomas for a stretch if needed. In the paint, Arizona’s three freshman bigs have been playing well of late, but they’ve got big physical veteran Bucks ready to bang with them all day long. And then there are X-factors like Kevin Parrom and LaQuinton Ross. Parrom, a senior, has turned into an excellent third-scorer for the Wildcats, while Ross is starting to live up to the high expectations he earned back in high school. All over the rosters there are strength-on-strength battles, leading me to believe that when we come out of the final media timeout, we’ll be in a dead heat. In that situation, give me the team most capable of putting the ball in the net in a variety of ways. And in this case, that is the Wildcats, with Lyons, Hill, Parrom and even Johnson and Grant Jerrett all capable of filling it up.

The RTC Certified Pick: Arizona

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Sunday

Posted by CNguon on March 24th, 2013

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Here are the game breakdowns for Sunday’s slate. From 24 to 16…

#2 Ohio State vs. #10 Iowa State – West Regional Third Round (Dayton, OH) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft will likely have to be their usual stellar selves to get past Iowa State. (Getty)

Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft will likely have to be their usual stellar selves to get past Iowa State. (Getty)

Friday night against Notre Dame, Iowa State hit nine threes as they rolled over Notre Dame into the Round of 32. Maybe just as impressively, they turned it over just six times, forced 17 turnovers and limited a good three-point shooting Irish team to just four threes on the night. Let’s just go out on a limb and say that none of those things are likely to happen when they face Ohio State today. But that’s not to insinuate that the Cyclones don’t have a chance. This is a team that can get scoring from all eight of the players in their rotation and guys like Will Clyburn, Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang are all inside/outside threats that are capable of creating matchup problems for their opponents. The problem is, the Buckeyes have shown their ability defensively to deal with versatile offensive teams; Michigan and Indiana are the top two offensive teams in the nation, and the Buckeyes have held each below one point per possession on one occasion earlier in the season. Of course, the thing is, on the other occasion when the Buckeyes faced those teams, they allowed an average of 1.21 points per possession and gave up a total of 21 three-pointers in those two games. In other words, while OSU has the ability to turn off the water for good offensive teams, there are just nights when good offense beats good defense. If Iowa State has it going, they’ve got enough talent to score enough points to beat Ohio State. The problem is, the Buckeyes have been pretty darn efficient offensively themselves of late and the Cyclones, meanwhile, are the third-worst defensive efficiency team remaining in the tournament. Iowa State’s offense has the ability to give Ohio State trouble, but it is just as likely that the Buckeyes will exploit that soft Cyclone defense.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State

#1 Indiana vs. #9 Temple — East Region Third Round (at Dayton, OH) — 2:45 PM ET on CBS.

Fran Dunphy's squad is known for defense, but lately the Owls have been putting up some major points. (Philly.com)

Fran Dunphy’s squad is known for defense, but lately the Owls have been putting up some major points. (Philly.com)

When you think of Fran Dunphy and Temple, you think of defense and a junkyard dog style of play. Not so much with this group. Since January 19, Temple has been an offensive juggernaut of sorts. The Owls have scored at least 70 points in their last 12 games and 16 of their last 17 games. Even in the one game they didn’t score 70, they fell only one point short of that mark. The point is the Owls can hang with Indiana offensively despite a talent disadvantage. The real question in this game is whether or not Temple can play the defense necessary to knock off the Hoosiers. Indiana is most vulnerable when teams slow the pace and get physical. Temple can surely get physical but we’re not sure the Owls can slow the pace against such a high-octane offense. For Indiana, the defensive key will be containing Khalif Wyatt. Although not a particularly great shooter, the Temple senior does it all. He gets others involved and averages 20.2 PPG with the potential to go for 30+ on any given night as he has done on six occasions this season, including in two of Temple’s last three games. Wyatt gets to the free throw line very well but one of Indiana’s many strengths is keeping opponents off the charity stripe. It’ll be very interesting to see if Wyatt can get to the line with regularity in this game. The Hoosiers have a significant talent advantage in this game but that was also the case with NC State, who Temple beat on Friday. Indiana can’t take this one for granted and must be focused defensively in the half court. Temple won’t turn the ball over often and Wyatt will be searching for contact all game.

The RTC Certified Pick: Indiana 

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by KDoyle on March 23rd, 2013

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#4 Michigan vs. #5 Virginia Commonwealth – South Region Third Round (at Auburn Hills, MI) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

It's Time For Burke to Play Like the NPOY (AP Photo)

It’s Time For Burke to Play Like the NPOY (AP Photo)

The even-keeled and veteran John Beilein, an All-American point guard in Trey Burke, and the scoring prowess of Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Shaka Smart’s NCAA Tournament charm and relentless havoc defense led by Darius Theus and Troy Daniels. Make no mistake about it, Michigan vs. Virginia Commonwealth has the potential to be an instant classic. When the brackets were released this past Sunday evening, many of the talking heads on ESPN and other networks fell in love with Virginia Commonwealth and picked the Rams to advance deep into the Tournament. Jay Bilas, in particular, referenced their havoc defense and how it is so difficult to prepare for in such limited time. Bilas is right, their defense is a bear for any team to cope with. Just look at what the Rams did to Akron, albeit a depleted Zips teams. Lest we forget that Michigan is coached by one of the best in the business and has a backcourt consisting of two future NBA players? Burke has a 3.3 assist to turnover ratio and the Wolverines, as a team, take impeccable care of the basketball ranking #1 in the country in turnover percentage. On the flipside, VCU is #1 in turnovers forced. Something has to give, right? Assuming Burke takes care of the ball, limits Michigan’s turnovers, and turns it into a halfcourt game the Wolverines have the advantage. The Rams are very susceptible in giving up points inside the arc and are a weak defensive rebounding team. Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan will have opportunities to score inside once Michigan is able to settle into their offense. In many of the games where VCU has had success, they have largely controlled the game’s tempo and forced 20+ turnovers that led to easy transition points. It is foolish to imply that the Rams are a one trick pony, though. They have three deadly three point shooters in Troy Daniels, Rob Brandenberg, and Treveon Graham, along with Juvonte Reddic who will challenge the Michigan big men in the paint. Ultimately, the game comes down to Trey Burke handling VCU’s pressure, thus forcing the game to be played in the halfcourt. I’m not betting against an All-American point guard, nor a coach like John Beilein.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

#3 Michigan State vs. #6 Memphis – Midwest Regional Third Round (at Auburn Hills, MI) – 2:45 PM ET on CBS

Memphis’ Thursday victory over Saint Mary’s may not have been the most dominating of wins, but it advanced the Tigers to the round of 32 all the same. Michigan State awaits Memphis there, and Sparty looked awfully solid in dispatching Valpo in their Tournament opener. Derrick Nix was dominant against the Crusaders, as the smaller Valpo front line could not match-up with the burly Spartan captain. The final damage was 23 points and 15 rebounds for Nix, and a +23 edge on the boards for Michigan State. First order of business for the Tigers will be doing what Valpo could not in matching that trademark Spartan physicality – on the glass or otherwise. We all know how athletic this Memphis team is (across the board), but a second round win over a WCC team offers no conclusive evidence as to the toughness of this group. Beating the Spartans would. The Memphis frontcourt was solid against the Gaels, but obviously will need to elevate their play even further on Saturday. DJ Stephens was at his springy, high-flying best Thursday though, blocking eight shots and providing multiple highlight-reel caliber dunks – a reminder for all of us to say a nightly prayer for a Final Four that does not include Memphis, if only so that we see Stephens in that weekend’s dunk contest. I digress however, so back to Thursday, where Stephens and co. got a big boost from Tarik Black, who scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and didn’t miss a shot in his best individual game since January. Memphis fans would certainly welcome a repeat performance on Saturday against the Spartans. For all their tough, physical banging, Michigan State does have the athletes to match up with Memphis up front, with Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne adding the explosive athleticism that the plodding Nix lacks. The matchup in the backcourt will be equally important (and athletic), as Gary Harris and Keith Appling square off with the Tigers’ Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson.

Getting any kind of NCAA Tournament win was big for Memphis. But getting a win over Tom Izzo and Michigan State, with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line? It would completely legitimize everything Josh Pastner has done since taking over four seasons ago. If the Tigers can force turnovers and get easy buckets like they did at times against Saint Mary’s, there’s a shot that it happens. I just can’t see it though, as I expect Michigan State to make this a half-court game that Memphis never truly settles into.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by KDoyle on March 22nd, 2013

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#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast – South Region Second Round (at Philadelphia) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

Florida Gulf Coast is one of the better stories in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Only in their sixth year as a Division 1 program, the Eagles are riding their first winning season in history thanks to the hiring of former Florida State assistant Andy Enfield. In Enfield’s first year, they finished 15-17, but were a game away from the NCAA Tournament as they lost to Belmont in the Atlantic Sun finals. This year, Florida Gulf Coast has been the team to beat, and it began with an early season win over Miami (FL). FGCU’s style of play greatly differs from today’s opponent, the Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas are predicated on a stingy zone defense that rarely allows for clean looks at the basket, and they play at a snail’s pace. Led by Otto Porter, Georgetown has a legitimate star that can carry them deep into the NCAA Tournament. FGCU very much likes to get up and down the floor with Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson leading the attack. If FGCU is able to get out in the open floor and score in transition, they’ll keep it close for much of the game. Problem is that not many teams control the pace of a game quite like Georgetown—that’s what makes them such a difficult opponent as they force the opposition to play their style of game. Historically, Georgetown has struggled in the NCAA Tournament under John Thompson III as they’ve failed to reach the second weekend in four of six appearances under him, but many believe this is a different Hoya team. FGCU is playing with house money and expect them to make a game of this, but in front of a heavy Georgetown crowd in Philadelphia the Hoyas are simply too much in the end.

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Iona – West Regional Second Round (at Dayton, OH) – 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS
One of the nation’s most balanced teams, the knock on the Buckeyes for the longest time this season was that they didn’t have a secondary scorer to help out junior DeShaun Thomas. We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s just say that Iona never had such a problem. Senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones has always been the main offensive weapon on this team, never afraid to look for his own shot, but the Gaels have always trusted guard Sean Armand and forward David Laury to chip in heavily in the scoring column. And as a result, the Gaels have one of the most efficient offenses in the mid-major ranks. The problem for Tim Cluess’ team is the complete inability to stop teams on defense; only nine times all season have they held an opponent below one point per possession in a game. Given that Ohio State is one of the best defensive teams in the nation (sixth in defensive efficiency per KenPom.com), you can expect the Buckeyes to at least slow Iona’s prolific offense. And given that Thad Matta has been getting significantly improved offensive play out of guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, you can expect the Bucks to take advantage of that buttery soft Gael defense. While Momo Jones, et al. have the ability to make some exciting plays when they’ve got the ball, their inattention to details defensively will allow the Buckeyes to have more than their share of exciting offensive plays as well.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by BHayes on March 22nd, 2013

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#2 Duke vs. #15 Albany – Midwest Region Second Round (at Philadelphia) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

Day two of the second round of the NCAA Tournament kicks off in Philadelphia, where #2 seeded Duke will hope to exorcise the demons of a year ago. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, CJ McCollum will not be walking through those Wells Fargo Center doors. This year, making an appearance on the #15 seed line opposite Duke are the Great Danes of Albany. The America East Champs are a middle-of-the-road team on both ends of the floor in regard to overall efficiency, but do have strengths that could prove useful versus the Dookies. The Danes are deep (10 players average 9+ minutes a game), have good size for a low-major, and shoot the three-ball pretty well, hitting 36.4% as a team. All are nice ingredients when preparing for an upset, but Albany’s middling paper resume also makes them appear to be the least dangerous #15 seed in the field. Really though, does it even matter how good the Danes are? After last year’s embarrassing second-round exit, a part of me feels like you could put Louisville as Duke’s #15 seed and there would be no way that Coach K’s team makes that same early departure. Mason Plumlee will be an interior nightmare for Albany, and with Ryan Kelly fully healthy and stretching the floor alongside Seth Curry and Quinn Cook, expect Duke to come out fast, leaving no doubts about their Sunday afternoon plans this time around.

Seth Curry And Duke Are Looking To Avoid Another Monumental Upset -- At All Costs

Seth Curry And Duke Are Looking To Avoid Another Monumental Upset As They Begin Their NCAA Tournament

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke

#5 Wisconsin vs. #12 Ole Miss – West Regional Second Round (at Kansas City, MO) – 12:40 PM ET on TruTV

When Mississippi completed their run to the SEC title on Sunday with an upset win over Florida, college hoops fans everywhere were rewarded with – or doomed to, depending on your viewpoint – an NCAA Tournament with a Marshall Henderson appearance. The polarizing junior shooting guard of the Rebels has either thrilled or infuriated spectators this season with his brash demeanor and freewheeling style. And who did the Selection Committee reward Ole Miss with as a second round opponent? None other than a Wisconsin team, where brash and freewheeling hotshots go to die. For the second time in as many years (and the fifth time in the last decade), the Badgers are a top-ten team in defensive efficiency, this year third in the nation. Not coincidentally, the Badgers are also holding teams below 30% three-point shooting for the second time in as many seasons, meaning Henderson and Ole Miss are going to find points hard to come by. However, this is also the least efficient Wisconsin offense in the KenPom era, meaning even if the Badgers go out of their way to turn off the water for Henderson, Ole Miss will still likely be within shouting distance deep into the second half. If Andy Kennedy can suck in the Wisconsin defenders with scoring from interior guys like Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner, maybe they can hang around long enough to steal one late. More likely, Wisconsin uglies this one up and advances by a comfortable margin.

The RTC Certified Pick: Wisconsin

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