Over the next two days, RTC will break down the regional semifinal games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds. Here are Thursday night’s games from the East and West Regionals.
7:07 pm – #2 Ohio State vs. #6 Tennessee (Midwest Region)
We know the Buckeyes have had three full days of rest since their second round game against Georgia Tech. But Thad Matta has shortened (and by “shortened,” we mean “set on fire and forgotten about”) his bench so much late in the season and in this tournament that you have to even wonder if that’s enough time for the Buckeyes to recover. Jon Diebler has played every minute of the Buckeyes’ first two tournament games. William Buford has missed two minutes of action TOTAL out of the possible 210 minutes of game time in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. David Lighty and Evan Turner have only sat for five minutes in that same time span. The only starter who sits for any amount of time is big man Dallas Lauderdale, and he still plays at least 30 minutes a game. Yet, the Buckeyes keep rolling. The only thing Jon Diebler seems tired of is finding himself open behind the three point line. He’s 11-22 in OSU’s two tournament games, and a lot of these things aren’t monitor-checkers. They were deep. And of course Turner has shown us his usual excellence. There aren’t any surprises with the Buckeyes. Tennessee, though, is a different story. You never know whose night it’s going to be. Scotty Hopson, Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince…any one or two of these guys can get hot, but then you have to worry about players like Brian Williams or Melvin Goins or Bobby Maze stepping up with a 15 point or 12 rebound night. OSU’s four-forwards-and-Turner (who’s officially listed as a forward!) will be able to keep the Volunteer guards from getting too out of hand, but can they guard and rebound against the slightly taller Tennessee bigs? As a team, rebounding is one of the few Buckeye weaknesses, and Tennessee has shown the capability to dominate the glass this year when they put their minds to it. Both teams are among the nation’s best when it comes to guarding the three, but it’s OSU that gets a little more of their offense from the long ball. On paper, the matchups are not favorable for OSU. And the Tennessee kids are the kind who will relish the fact that they’re “supposed” to lose this game. We doubt it’ll be a blowout, and remarkably both of these teams are fantastic in games decided by ten points or less. In those games, OSU is 10-5 this season, and Tennessee is 13-2. It’s gonna be a fun one.
The Skinny: If both teams guard the three well, it will hurt OSU more than Tennessee. Factor in the possibility that all those minutes could be catching up to the Buckeyes, and you have the makings of an upset. It’s not easy taking the Volunteers in this game, because of how they can sometimes take nights off between the ears. But Tennessee has had two chances to underestimate their opponent in this tournament, and didn’t either time. They won’t here; they know what OSU can do. Wouldn’t be surprised to see the Volunteers emerge.
7:27 pm – #3 Baylor vs. #10 St. Mary’s (South Region)
The Gaels come into this game as one of the tournament’s Cinderellas, but this time Cinderella is actually the Tournament’s giant with Omar Samhan who has been the most dominant big man in the field so far after dominating Richmond and Villanova to the point where analysts were ripping Jay Wright for not doubling down on Samhan fo abusing Villanova’s interior players. In Wright’s defense, doubling down on Samhan would leave the St Mary’s guards open on the perimeter where they rank fourth in the country from beyond the arc. Scott Drew probably won’t be saddled with that dilemma since he has a center in 6’10 Ekpe Udoh who is every bit as good as Samhan. Even if Samhan does get the edge on Udoh here he will have to deal with 6’10 Anthony Jones, 7′ Josh Lomers and 6’7 Quincy Acy. With such a strong interior defense, the Bears block more shots than any other team in the NCAA Tournament at more than seven blocks per game so don’t expect Samhan to dominate the Bears like he did the Spiders and Wildcats. In addition to the challenge for Samhan on the offensive end, he will also be under pressure on defense going against a likely first rounder in Udoh. After hearing that you might be forgiven for thinking that this game will be decided solely on what happens on the inside, but you would be wrong. The matchup of guards featuring LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter against Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova could be the key to the game with the Bears having the edge in athleticism and the Gaels having the edge in shooting. Saint Mary’s will need their perimeter players (especially McConnell who is a ridiculous 75-145, or 51.7% from 3 this season) to hit treys against Baylor’s zone to open up space for Samhan to operate. If McConnell and Delledova can keep Dunn and Carter in front of them most of the time, the WCC might get its first team in the Elite Eight since 1999 when Gonzaga made it their before losing to eventual champion UConn (yes, that is the last time the Bulldogs made it that far).
The Skinny: Everyone will be talking about Baylor coming into this game with the homecourt advantage since the game is being played in Houston (a little over 180 miles away from Baylor’s campus in Waco), but Baylor doesn’t have a strong following like other schools in the state do. In fact, we might get a “Duke at Greensboro” situation where UNC fans (or in this case Texas and Texas A&M) root against the local team. Still the combination of Udoh, Dunn, and Carter should be enough to get it done as Samhan’s beastly NCAA Tournament run comes to an end.