NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Elite Eight SundayPosted by EJacoby on March 25th, 2012
RTC Region correspondents Kevin Doyle (South) and Evan Jacoby (Midwest) contributed to this preview.
#1 Kentucky vs. #3 Baylor – South Regional Final (at Atlanta, GA) – 2:20 PM ET on CBS
Despite there being four double digit seeds advancing to the third round, two of the teams many predicted to reach the South Region Final will meet on Sunday afternoon at the Georgia Dome: Kentucky and Baylor. Kentucky has been nothing short of impressive and, at times, downright jaw dropping to watch; their speed, athleticism, length, and sheer ability cannot be matched—or can it? The Baylor Bears will look to pull off the upset and ruin millions of brackets across the nation in the process. After watching both teams compete on Friday evening, Kentucky demonstrated why they are the top team in the land, but it would be foolish for one to believe that they are invincible and Baylor doesn’t have the horses to knock off the Wildcats. The individual matchup that seemingly everyone is focusing on is in the frontcourt between Anthony Davis and Perry Jones III; both move like an athletic two guard, but have the imposing presence of a seven footer with an endless wingspan. But, let’s not forget about Terrence Jones and Quincy Acy, both dominant players in their own right. As we have seen throughout the tournament, especially lately, officiating crews seem to have quick whistles. Against Indiana, Davis picked up two quick fouls and sat for the remainder of the first half; it was an obvious, yet brilliant move by Tom Crean to get Davis on the bench. Expect Scott Drew to employ a similar tactic; he would be foolish not to dump the ball inside on Baylor’s early possessions in an effort to get Davis and Jones to the bench. When you have forwards running like guards, and guards running like track stars, expect this game to be played at a frantic pace. As has been the case throughout the year, when a rebound is corralled by either Kentucky or Baylor, there are instantaneously four players filling the lanes down the floor, and it doesn’t take long for the ball to move from one basket to the other. Baylor’s Pierre Jackson and Kentucky’s Marquis Teague are two of the best in the game in pushing the ball in transition. While the offensive proficiency of both teams will, no doubt, be the focal point of the game, the team that strings together a series of critical defensive stops will ultimately be the team that wins. Kentucky’s three point defense has been exceptional all season—a good thing since Baylor is a strong outside shooting team—while their interior defense is the best in college basketball bar none. The Bears will give Kentucky a run for their money, but the Cats and Calipari prevail in the end and march on to New Orleans.
The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky
#1 North Carolina vs. #2 Kansas – Midwest Regional Final (at St. Louis, MO) – 5:05 PM ET on CBS
This is the game we’ve all been waiting for in this region, but we barely got to see this matchup as both teams struggled to close out their games in the Elite Eight. It’s Roy Williams against his former team in a rematch of the 2008 Final Four matchup that saw Bill Self’s team dominate en route to an eventual National Championship. This time around, though, the story is all about Kendall Marshall’s right wrist and the problems it is causing North Carolina’s offense. A team that averages an offensive efficiency of over 110 on the season, the Tar Heels were held to a 92.4 efficiency and 73 total points in the overtime win over upset-minded #13 Ohio on Friday. Replacing the injured Marshall, Stilman White and Justin Watts played a combined 47 minutes and scored a total of two points, rarely putting any pressure on the defense. White performed fairly admirably, though, being thrust into the starting point guard role, dishing out six assists without a turnover in 32 minutes. But expect Kansas to play super aggressive defense on White, Watts, and anyone else bringing the ball up the floor for Carolina, which is not expected to have Marshall back for this game. Tyler Zeller was massive for Carolina last game but don’t expect another 20-point, 22-rebound performance against the Jayhawks’ trees, Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson. Kansas narrowly escaped in the previous round, itself, with a lackluster performance against #11 NC State, but the interior defense was enough to get the job done. Withey had an absolutely incredible performance, recording 10 blocks (!) against the Wolfpack. Robinson also recorded 18 points and 15 rebounds inside and remains the most dominant interior force in college basketball. There is so much talent, size, and athleticism between these two front lines in this game; it’s incredible. John Henson joined Zeller with a double-double for UNC last game, but James Michael McAdoo played just 11 minutes and didn’t do a whole lot. The Tar Heels need big games from all three big men to gain that paint advantage if they want to win, as Kansas will have the perimeter advantage with Tyshawn Taylor against the inexperienced Carolina point guard replacements. But North Carolina can have its own advantage through the X-factor that is Harrison Barnes, by far the most talented wing player in this matchup. UNC needs him to bounce back from a horrific 3-16 shooting night on Friday and that can help nullify the mismatch at point guard. But we still see this one coming down to the battle in the paint, and whichever team can impose its will most effectively throughout the game will have the advantage. Henson and Withey are elite rim defenders but Robinson and Zeller are point producers in the same fashion; who will have the advantage? The natural logic would point to Kansas having the overall advantage in the game since the paint players are so similar and the Jayhawks have that perimeter advantage. But Kansas has simply not played very well on offense during this tournament, and what UNC lacks on its own end should not be such a huge issue unless the Jayhawks can find a way to produce points more efficiently. We’ll bank on UNC’s bigs playing well enough to either match or outperform Kansas, and then it can win this game with better offense from the shooters Barnes, Reggie Bullock, and P.J. Hairston. In what would be considered a minor upset, North Carolina wins this game with its more talented and well-rounded roster, even without the injured Marshall.
The RTC Certified Pick: North Carolina