Last night surely didn’t disappoint, with two games going down to the wire in the early session and a Duke-struction in the second session. Tonight’s games are heavy on the Cinderella factor, which could be a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.
#2 North Carolina vs. #11 Marquette – East Regional Semifinal (at Newark, NJ) – 7:15 pm ET on CBS.
Marshall Makes the Carolina Attack Dangerous
Vegas lists Carolina as only a 4-point favorite heading into the first of two excellent matchups in the Newark regional, but we anticipate a much steeper climb for Marquette than the bookmakers anticipate. The daunting challenge for Buzz Williams will be finding some way to contain the Carolina bigs on the offensive end, notably 6’11 John Henson and 7’0 Tyler Zeller. The Golden Eagles are perennially undersized and plain old toughness and heart can only carry a team so far against superior talents that hold considerable physical advantages. Moderately-used sophomore Chris Otule is the only Marquette player that stands above 6’8 and he must have a career night defensively against either Henson or Zeller. Williams will likely send double teams in the post to aid his forwards in post-up situations just as they did with tremendous success against Syracuse’s Rick Jackson. Sagging off shooters to help in the post could coax the Heels into taking a few too many outside jumpers beyond the arc, a spot on the floor where UNC shoots just 33% on the campaign. Also look for Marquette to attempt the slow the tempo and keep the game in the halfcourt to neutralize Kendall Marshall’s outstanding passing ability in secondary break situations. If Carolina gets off to their usual slow start in the first ten minutes, falls into a shooting funk and one of Henson/Zeller slips into foul trouble, pulling off the upset is a possibility. That’s a lot of ifs. Not only does Carolina hold a considerable advantage down low, but also at the all-important point guard position. While Marquette employs a platoon of actual two-guard Dwight Buycks and the rapidly improving but inexperienced Junior Cadougan, what Marshall has meant to this Tar Heels team down the stretch cannot possibly be overstated. Marshall has dished out 24 assists compared to six turnovers in the tournament thus far and Carolina has only twice to Duke since he was instituted as the starting point guard ahead of the now-departed Larry Drew. A key reason why Marquette upset both Xavier and Syracuse was turnover differential. We’re leaning towards Marshall being able to dictate tempo without turning the basketball over. UNC advances to a showdown against either Ohio State or Kentucky with a trip to Houston on the line.
RTC Certified Pick: North Carolina.
#1 Kansas vs. #12 Richmond – Southwest Regional Semifinal (at San Antonio, TX) – 7:27 pm ET on TBS.
This is the game considered the biggest mismatch of the Sweet Sixteen, with one of the two co-favorites to win the national title lacing up their sneakers to play a mid-major darling, the Richmond Spiders. To presume Kansas will run away with this one, though, is to make an error of judgment inconsiderate of two things: a) just how well Richmond is playing lately; and b) a recurring tendency by the Jayhawks to allow lesser teams to hang with them longer than they should. Chris Mooney’s team is built like a mid-major with some high-major talent and athletes on its roster. The Spiders like to spread the court and play a modified Princeton offense with their big men capable of knocking down jumpers as well as hitting cutters from the high post. Nearly every Spider starter can hit threes, befitting of a team that nailed long balls at a tenth-in-the-nation best 39.9%. The two players that the Jayhawk must key on are all-Atlantic 10 performers Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper. Both are athletic players who can pop for 25 on a given night, and with Dan Geriot capable of pulling a Morris twin outside and hitting long jumpers in addition to the range Harper has in his arsenal, the lane should be open for the classic penetration/kicks and the backdoor cuts that the offense is noted for. As for Kansas, its defense on the perimeter is typically good, holding teams under 30% for the season from deep, but they are small outside, and if the UR big players are able to hit shots, they will keep Richmond hanging around this one. KU obviously has a huge advantage inside, and as Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli showed in the Second Round, if Kansas remembers to throw the ball into the Morris twins from time to time, the big duo should have a combined 40-50-point night. One problem with Bill Self’s team in this tournament is that they’ve yet to put a complete performance together; they looked and played tight against Boston University for much of the game; and Self even mentioned it afterward. There were parts of the Illinois game that looked similar. If Richmond starts nailing some early threes and gets Kansas down 8-12 points, how will the Jayhawks react? Will they stay calm and play to their strengths inside; or will they panic and face another Northern Iowa situation? It’s a compelling storyline, and one that will only be answered tonight in San Antonio — it says here that the Morris twins will be too much for UR to ultimately handle.
RTC Certified Pick: Kansas.
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