National Championship Game Analysis

Posted by jstevrtc on April 4th, 2010

RTC has attempted to break down the NCAA Tournament and Final Four 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 our thoughts on the national title game. Whomever you’re rooting for, we hope you enjoy it.

9:07 PM — #1 Duke vs #5 Butler

The six months since practices started have passed like a dream. As fans of college basketball, we travel this road every year from mid-October to early April. We always know our destination well in advance, we just don’t know who we’re going to find there. Therein lies the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. The entirety of that six months is spent trying to determine one thing: who’s playin’ on Monday night.

What a situation in which we find ourselves at the end of this particular journey. The fates have determined that the answer to the second most important question of the season is, “Butler and Duke.” There’s only one question left, the biggest one of all. All those practices, weightlifting sessions, sprints, miles, interviews, and games for each of these players on those two teams is now distilled down to one query:

What will you do on Monday night?

Hayward can guard anyone on the floor. And probably will. (AP)

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Final Four Game Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

RTC will break down the Final Four 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 Saturday evening’s national semifinals…aka…THE FINAL FOUR!

6:07 pm – #5 Michigan State vs. #5 Butler The winner of this game will have a built-in motivational mechanism, since this game is popularly considered the “Who will lose to West Virginia or Duke on Monday?” game.  Best be careful, because as we know, there’s almost no better way to get your guys ready to play than to tell them that it’s them against the world.  That nobody respects them.  That everyone expects them to lose and lose big.  In the case of Butler, I know I wouldn’t want to face a team playing in their home city and with that motivational tool.  A lot is being made of the home crowd advantage that Butler supposed to enjoy this weekend, but I ask you: because people love the storyline of a mid-major getting to the Final Four, in what city could you play this thing where Butler wouldn’t have most of the fans in the arena rooting for them?  I’ll tell you — East Lansing, Durham, and Morgantown (or anywhere else in West Virginia).  Well, we’re not in any of those towns.  Let me just add this…walking around this downtown area, I see mostly Butler fans, which is understandable.  But it’s not like the Duke, Michigan State, and West Virginia fans stayed home.  It’s Lucas Oil Stadium, people.  It seats over 70,000 (it must, to qualify to host this thing).  The freakin’ Colts play here.  The Butler cheers might be loud, but the other squads will have their supporters, too.  As to what’s going to happen on the floor, watch the boards.  This will be a rebounding battle for the ages, because it’s the biggest disparity between the two teams.  It’s not something Butler does particularly well, and it’s Michigan State’s greatest strength.  Brad Stevens knows his boys have to swarm the glass to have a chance.  They’ve done everything else he’s asked of them in each tournament game, not to mention the rest of the season, and I wouldn’t doubt that you’ll see them turn in their biggest effort on the boards this whole year on Saturday evening. Can Butler do it but still stay out of foul trouble?

We only picked against you three times, Coach Izzo. And we're sorry. (AP/Al Goldis)

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Elite Eight Game Analysis: Sunday Afternoon

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2010

Over the next two days, RTC will break down the regional final 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 Sunday afternoon’s games from the Midwest and South Regionals.

2:20 pm – #5 Michigan State vs. #6 Tennessee  (Midwest Region)

Last we heard, no Spartans were injured in the last 24 hours. Tom Izzo probably can’t believe it. It’s hard to recall a team that’s had more injuries to deal with late in the season than this Michigan State squad. Still, here they are, playing for another shot at the Final Four. To get there, they’ll have to knock off a Tennessee team that certainly chose the right time to peak. The Volunteers flexed a little defensive muscle against Ohio State in their last game, taking the route of letting Evan Turner get his while stopping the rest of the starters. It worked. Turner posted 31, but the other four starters could only muster 29, and that’s why the Buckeyes aren’t suiting up on Sunday. On a normal day, we’d say that Michigan State poses a much different problem, since (sort of like the Vols) they have a variety of weapons that can rise up and do a number on you at any time. But is that the case this time? We hate to keep bringing up the injuries to Raymar Morgan, Delvon Roe, and Chris Allen, but in a game like the one they have upcoming, it matters. Tennessee loves a physical game, and Michigan State doesn’t exactly shy away from them. Michigan State — similar to their Big Ten counterparts in the Buckeyes — is a team on which six players play the HUGE majority of the minutes, though, and the big question going into the game against Northern Iowa was whether or not MSU could stand any physicality the Panthers were going to throw at them because of their MASH-unit status. To be honest, the Spartans got less than they expected, had little problem, and were thankful. The problem for MSU is that Tennessee is not Northern Iowa. The Vols have several players, all healthy, who will relish the chance to get in and bang with the MSU boys. The Spartans will try to keep this more of a half-court, keep-it-in-the 40s slog, but with so many players coming off that UT bench, will it be possible?

The Skinny:  One of the tougher games to project in this tournament. It runs contrary to everything within us to pick against Tom Izzo when he’s got a chance at the Final Four, but if those MSU injuries really are still there — and you don’t go from MASH unit (Izzo’s words) to healed-up overnight — then we have to figure that, with a similar talent level, a healthy 8-10 players on team that’s peaking will beat a mostly unhealthy 6-8 players who’ll probably be forced out of their usual style. We’ll go with Bruce Pearl’s Volunteers to make it to the program’s first Final Four in what should be a phenomenal matchup.

5:05 pm – #1 Duke vs. #3 Baylor  (South Region)

After all the buzz about how great Kansas, Kentucky, and Syracuse were this season we only have one #1 seed standing: Duke. Now that we have reached this point almost everybody is picking against the Blue Devils again and they might have good reason to feel that way. All year long we have been talked about how much better the Blue Devils are on the interior compared to prior years, but their interior players will be put to the test against Baylor’s frontline of Ekpe Udoh, Quincy Acy and Josh Lomers, the best remaining group in the NCAA Tournament. While that group won’t destroy Duke’s interior trio of Brian Zoubek and Miles and Mason Plumlee because the Bears don’t rely on their big men for offense, don’t expect the Blue Devils to continue to dominate the paint like they have for much of the last two weeks. If Coach K is going to get his first trip to the Final Four in six years, he is going to have to rely on Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith to hit shots from the perimeter against Baylor’s 2-3 zone. They will have to at least match the 40% they shot as a team from beyond the arc in their Sweet 16 win agianst Purdue. The big question mark for Duke is whether Scheyer will return to his early-season form or if he will continue his current tailspin which appears to have hit a nadir with his 6-26 shooting from the field in his last two games. On the other end of the court, Smith and Scheyer will struggle to defend Baylor’s guards — Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn – who were sensational in the Bears’ blitzing of Saint Mary’s in the Sweet 16. Smith might have a chance of neutralizing Carter, but Dunn should run Scheyer ragged unless Coach K gets him some help. The one advantage Duke has is Singler who doesn’t seem to have a peer match-up on the Bear roster. Singler will need to have a dominant game (something along the lines of 20 points and 10 rebounds) to give Duke a chance to win, but given the way he has been playing lately (like a 1st team All-American) the Blue Devils will be in it late. Then the question becomes who can convert down the stretch: Duke as the team with the pedigree and experience but a series of Tournament let downs, or Baylor as the team with the crowd behind them and a superior set of guards, but limited experience in high-level games?

The Skinny: It’s tempting to go with Blue Devils and Singler here if for no other reason than you have to believe that Coach K is bound to get a team back there at some point in the near future, but today isn’t the day. The combination of perimeter play with Carter and Dunn, interior play anchored by Udoh, and the home crowd should be enough to propel the Bears to their first Final Four since it was an eight-team tournament.

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Elite Eight Game Analysis: Saturday Night

Posted by zhayes9 on March 27th, 2010

Over the next two days, RTC will break down the regional final 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 Saturday night’s games from the East and West Regionals.

4:30 pm – #2 Kansas State vs. #5 Butler  (West Region)

This is an unusual regional final, in that two teams that are not typically in this position are facing off for a right to go to the Final Four next weekend.  Which is not to say that either team is undeserving or somehow less worthy, it’s just to point out the uniqueness of it.  The last time the Wildcats were playing this far into the NCAA Tournament, Ronald Reagan was still governing the country and the four letters USSR actually meant something to people under thirty.  The last time Butler played this deep into March?   Well, they haven’t.  As in, this is the Bulldogs’ first trip to the Elite Eight.  So from the perspective of seeing some new blood pushing through to the game’s grandest stage in Indianapolis, this should be compelling theater.  And the hoops ain’t half bad either.  K-State brings an athletic, gritty, defensive-minded team into this game, led by their duo of electrifying guards, Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente.  They don’t always shoot the ball well and they sometimes utilize questionable shot selection, but when the game is on the line as it was on Thursday evening against Xavier, Clemente (25/5/5 assts) and Pullen (28/4) made the plays necessary to win the game.  Butler, on the other hand, is a bit more balanced in their offense with scoring threats at every position, but the Bulldog defense is really what defines Brad Stevens’ team.  Riding a 23-game winning streak on the backs of the stickiness of it, there simply are no completely open looks against this team.  When Pullen and Clemente come off their curls and screens, they’ll find a Butler player waiting for them in much the same way that Andy Rautins and the other Syracuse shooters did on Thursday.  Correspondingly, the one area where SU held a significant advantage over Butler — powerful inside players — ended up being neutralized by the extreme difficulty that the Orange had in getting the ball into those players on the blocks.  K-State’s inside trio of Dominique Sutton, Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels are all talented but not the offensive threats posed by Syracuse’s bigs, so we think that this game will ultimately be decided on the perimeter.  If the Butler team defense can force a relatively poor shooting night from the Wildcat guards, a combined 11-30 or so, we think that the game will be low-scoring enough for the Bulldogs to sneak through and head back home to Indy with a regional championship in tow.  Butler can get enough points from their options of Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard, or Willie Veasley, so if any one player is off, another is capable of stepping up.  All they really will need to score is in the 60-70 point range.  Similar to the Syracuse game, if they can hang with KSU until the end, they’re poised enough to pull the victory out.

The Skinny:  Call us crazy or just plain sentimental, but we’re going Norman Dale with the upset. The rims are still only ten feet tall no matter who you’re lined up against, and there’s no telling when Butler will have another shot like this.  We think the Bulldogs will shock the world with its own personal Cinderella story by heading back home to Indianapolis, a mere five miles from their campus.

7:05 pm – #1 Kentucky vs. #2 West Virginia  (East Region)

The best regional final this season will take place in Syracuse, where chalk prevailed to bring us a 1 vs. 2 matchup of Kentucky and West Virginia. Of course, if the Selection Committee had any sense two weeks ago, this game wouldn’t have happened until Indianapolis. One can make the argument that these are the two best teams remaining in the field. West Virginia methodically dispatched of red hot Washington in their semifinal while Kentucky amassed one of the more impressive Tournament in-game runs in recent memory to vanquish Cornell’s season. The two teams meet on the Carrier Dome floor playing their best basketball of the season- Kentucky running and gunning behind their three lottery picks and West Virginia molding into an elite rebounding and defensive squad that simply wears you out.

This should be an ultra competitive and physical game, especially in the post. The key for the Mountaineers on the defensive end will be containing John Wall. Darryl Bryant is injured and Joe Mazzulla isn’t quick enough to hang with Wall for an extended period of time, so look for Huggins to plug 6’8 point forward Devin Ebanks and his incredible wingspan on the future #1 pick. The problem that poses for Huggins is that decision keeps Ebanks out of the post where Kentucky can play both DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. It’s going to take a stellar effort from Wellington Smith, Kevin Jones, Deniz Kilicli and John Flowers to keep the two Kentucky behemoths in check. With four serviceable big men, they shouldn’t be afraid to foul and send Cousins to the free throw line to earn his points. Also, analysts talk about how no team works harder than West Virginia. They’ll need to work as hard for 40 minutes as they have all season, most notably on the backboards.

The other question: can West Virginia score enough points to match Kentucky? The Wildcats scored just over seven points per contest more than the Mountaineers during the regular season and numbers on defense are about identical. If Kentucky defends similarly to their effort against Cornell, I have a hard time seeing West Virginia stay with Big Blue, especially if Darius Miller replicates his stalwart defense on Da’Sean Butler. John Calipari’s UMass and Memphis teams that were successful always gave 100% on the defensive end of the floor. With so many young and hyped players, that was a constant question mark. If anyone has watched their three games in this NCAA Tournament, though, that question has turned into a statement.

Skinny: Kentucky is the prohibitive favorite remaining in the Dance, but West Virginia is more than capable of crashing the party. It will take their best performance of the season on both ends, from neutralizing the stronger Cousins and Patterson on the glass to dismissing Kentucky’s transition game to keeping John Wall in front of them to Butler scoring at least 25 points. I believe Kentucky will impose their style of play about midway through the second half, go on one of their patented runs and pull away for a spot in Indianapolis. The way Kentucky is playing right now, how can anyone pick against them unless you bleed blue and gold? But that’s the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. Everything can change in the blink of an eye.

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Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis: Friday Night

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2010

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.
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Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis: Thursday Night

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2010

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 – #1 Syracuse vs. #5 Butler  (West Region)

We’re starting to worry about this Arinze Onuaku situation.  Sooner or later, Jim Boeheim’s team is going to need the 11 points, five rebounds and general defensive anchor support on the front line that the 6’9, 260-pound big man provides.  Rick Jackson is a serviceable replacement, but the fact that Onuaku reportedly hasn’t even suited up in practice since his injury against Georgetown on March 11 is cause for alarm.  Even if Syracuse survives to advance to next weekend’s Final Four, how productive could he possibly be?  So far, Syracuse hasn’t shown a need for him yet.  The Orange ran over Vermont and Gonzaga without breathing all that hard thanks to the superb play of Wesley Johnson and friends, but there will be a team in the very near future where they’ll need more than Jackson alone can provide.

That team will not be playing SU in the Sweet Sixteen, however.  Butler is an excellent team and Brad Stevens has gotten players other than Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard to step up this season, most notably Shelvin Mack who went 9-12 from long range in the San Jose pod against UTEP and Murray State.  Syracuse is not UTEP or Murray, though, and the wide-open looks that Mack was getting in those games will no longer be as readily available thanks to the length and quickness of the Orange’s perimeter defenders.  Furthermore, Butler center Matt Howard has enough trouble staying out of foul trouble against Horizon League teams; it’s not realistic to think that he’ll be able to play 30+ effective minutes against Jackson, Johnson and Kris Joseph inside.  The main problem we foresee is that Butler is not a very good offensive team in general — when Hayward and Mack aren’t firing on all cylinders, the Bulldogs have trouble scoring points.  Add that to the fact they’ll be facing one of the best offensive teams in America, and you have a situation where numerous things need to go exactly right for Butler to get this win tonight.  Even without Onuaku on the floor for another game, we just don’t see Butler finding enough offense to win this game.

The Skinny: The last time the Bulldogs made it this deep into the NCAAs, they ran into a long, athletic team by the name of Florida in 2007.  They played the defending and future national champions as closely as they were played in that tournament thanks to their control of the tempo, strong defense and  attention to detail, but it still wasn’t enough because the Florida offensive attack was simply too good.  We think the same thing will happen in this game.  Syracuse has too many weapons for the Butler defense to key in on all of them, and even if they catch SU on an off night, where will the Butler points come from?

7:27 pm – #2 West Virginia vs. #11 Washington  (East Region)

Most prognosticators felt that Washington had Sweet 16 talent coming into this season. Lorenzo Romar was returning reigning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Isaiah Thomas, defensive stalwart Venoy Overton and a forward named Quincy Pondexter ripe for a breakout season. While Pondexter’s prediction panned out, guard play was shaky, road wins were hard to come by, and the Huskies found themselves on the NCAA bubble with seven losses in a weak Pac-10. A conference tournament win punched their ticket, though, and the Huskies have taken advantage of the opportunity, erasing a double-digit second half lead to beat Marquette and wiping the floor with Mountain West champion New Mexico. Their toughest test yet will come Thursday against Big East Tournament champion West Virginia. Washington needs to produce a near carbon copy of their performance against New Mexico. In other words, they need to play a near-perfect game. Thomas must keep his head on straight and continue to make outside jumpers. Overton must frustrate Da’Sean Butler, Elston Turner must continue to produce offensively and Pondexter must out-duel Devin Ebanks.

For West Virginia, Washington seems like a favorable matchup. They may have preferred Joe Mazzulla guarding Isaiah Thomas more than the sidelined Darryl Bryant anyway. Mazzulla is the superior defender and Bryant has been woeful shooting-wise the last three weeks. They also match up well with the length of Washington. Bob Huggins can throw a lineup out on the floor of players 6’6 or above with huge wingspans, meaning the long WVU defense could fluster Pondexter and force him into difficult shots. One possible negative to the Bryant injury is that it increases the likelihood that the Mountaineer offense will become too reliant on Butler to bail them out. He’s done it time and time again this season and in postseason tournament play. Does he have more magic up his sleeve?

The Skinny: West Virginia has a plethora of defenders that can frustrate Pondexter and they boast the best late-game scorer in the nation in Butler. That combination should prove enough to take care of Washington in fairly methodical fashion. Avoiding their typical slow start would be prudent.

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Second Round Game Analysis: Sunday Games

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 16 of the second round 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 the Sunday games.

12:10 pm – #1 Syracuse vs. #8 Gonzaga  (Buffalo pod)

In the CBS national game to start the day, everyone will get this very enticing game between Syracuse and Gonzaga.  Given the way this year is winding up, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Orange without their big man Arinze Onuaku found itself on the short end of the score around 2:30 pm today.  But we still have faith in Syracuse even without the talented center and we think that Jim Boeheim’s team is too good to fall short of the Final Four this early.  The primary problem that the Zags are going to have is one they didn’t have to worry as much about with Florida State, and that is in stopping the powerful SU offense.  With offensive scoring threats at all five positions, Syracuse is in a far more advantageous position than FSU was (with their limited offense) when Gonzaga caught fire on Friday — if the Zags want to get into a shootout with Syracuse, that’s not likely to end well for them. Still, with the way the Big East has had so many early round troubles, and the WCC looking great with St. Mary’s already in the Sweet Sixteen, we’re not ready to dismiss the Zags based on that alone.  The Syracuse zone is likely to be something that Mark Few’s team has not seen with such athletes all season, so even with their ability to put the ball in the hole, we hesitate to think the Zags can consistently score on it.

The Skinny: Gonzaga will push the Orange, but we still like this team to advance and make a serious push for the national title in coming weeks.

2:20 pm – #2 Ohio State vs. #10 Georgia Tech  (Milwaukee pod)

You might not see it on their faces, but the Buckeyes are smiling.  Northern Iowa’s removal of Kansas puts Ohio State in the driver’s seat in the Midwest region.  That said, there’s still no way Thad Matta and Evan Turner are going to let the rest of that team look past their opponents and assume an open road to Indianapolis.  Good thing, because Georgia Tech showed us that they’re not just made up of Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal and a bunch of suckers.  The Yellow Jackets shot 2-10 from the three point line but balanced that by holding Big 12 player of the year James Anderson to a 3-12 shooting night, 0-6 from beyond the three-point arc, and an overall 11 points.  But the most impressive aspect of Georgia Tech’s performance on Friday night — by FAR — was the fact that they went to the free throw line 25 times — and hit 24 of them!  It wasn’t just Lawal and Favors.  Tech played nine players, and eight of them shot at least one free throw.  Evan Turner isn’t just the player of the year in his conference, though — he’s likely the national POY, so the Tech task is that much tougher.  Turner wasn’t himself in their first round game against UCSB, going 2-13 and posting only nine points (though he did contribute 10 boards and five assists).  He’s looking to break out, and knows he’ll have to be at his best.  Lawal and Favors, though, will be looking to get Dallas Lauderdale, Jon Diebler, and Turner in foul trouble early and open poke some holes in that OSU front line.

The Skinny:  You probably don’t want to go with our Midwest picks, since yesterday we took Kansas and Ohio.  It’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that this will be a great second round game, but that stat line of Turner’s shows you that he can play such an important role on the team even when he’s not scoring.  For Tech to win, they’d have to turn in a similar performance at the free throw line, keep Turner under wraps and coax him into a supporting role again, and cool down Jon Diebler.  That’s a tough trifecta to pull off.  We don’t see it happening.  But we didn’t see Northern Iowa dismissing Kansas, either.

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Second Round Game Analysis: Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 16 of the second round 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 the Saturday games.

1:05 pm – #2 Villanova vs. #10 St. Mary’s  (Providence pod)

A great opening game of the day for the group of teams that produced the best opening day of the NCAA Tournament ever. A lot of experts are going to be calling for an upset here and based on the way these two teams are playing we can’t say that we blame them. The Wildcats came into the NCAA Tournament having lost five of seven games and nearly lost to Robert Morris (down by 7 with less than 4 minutes left before some controversial calls went ‘Nova’s way). On the other side, the Gaels stormed through the West Coast Conference Tournament and knocked off Richmond, a team that a lot of people had as a potential sleeper, in the first round. The key to this game will be how Reggie Redding handles Omar Samhan. After watching Samhan rip apart the Spiders, Jay Wright has to be concerned about his interior players going against one of the best low-post players in the country. On the other side, Saint Mary’s has to figure out how to deal with Scottie Reynolds and the rest of the Wildcat backcourt. They are certainly better equipped to match-up with Villanova’s perimeter players with Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova than the Wildcats are to handle Samhan. Saint Mary’s perimeter players pack enough offensive punch to make keep up with Villanova’s guards, but Mouphtaou Yarou and Redding shouldn’t challenge Samhan too much defensively. The one wildcard here is Reynolds. Will he “learn” from Wright’s “teaching moment” and become the Scottie Reynolds we knew for most of the past two seasons or will be the 2-15 from the field Reynolds?

The Skinny: Samhan overwhelms the Wildcats on the inside and advance into the Sweet 16 as this year’s Cinderella.

3:20 pm – #5 Butler vs. #13 Murray State  (San Jose pod)

The second game of the second round will feature the top mid-major program in the east versus an upstart who would love to get there themselves.  In their first round game, if you haven’t heard, the Racers’ Danero Thomas hit a shot at the buzzer to knock Vanderbilt out of the Tournament, but what you may not know about that game is that Murray State pretty much controlled it throughout.  It was very late when Vandy regained the lead and set the stage for Thomas’ game winner.  The point: Murray is better than your typical #13 seed Cinderella.  Butler, on the other hand, had a weak first half and a superb second half to put away UTEP.  It was two of the staples of Butler’s attack — relentless halfcourt defense and the three-ball — that allowed the Bulldogs to quickly take the lead and never look back against the Miners.  As for this game, Murray State does many of the same things that Butler does, it’s just that Brad Stevens’ team does those things better.  It will certainly be interesting to see how Butler responds to being the Big (Bull)Dog in an NCAA Tournament game, as they’re usually the upstart taking on some higher-seeded Kansas or Florida type of team.

The Skinny: We’d love to take Murray State here, but Butler isn’t going to let a johnny-come-lately out-Butler them en route to the Sweet Sixteen, so we expect Butler to hang on and win by 6-8 points.

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First Round Game Analysis: Friday Evening

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round 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 the Friday evening games.

7:10 pm – #8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Florida State  (Buffalo pod)

This is a very tough game to call, so let’s start with what we know about it.  The Zags, no stranger to cross-country travel, come into Buffalo after an 11-day layoff where St. Mary’s took Mark Few’s team behind the woodshed and beat them handily in the WCC Tournament championship.  Florida State comes in having dropped its quarterfinal game against NC State in an effort that had their fans shaking their heads in disgust.  So needless to say, both teams are looking for a fresh start here.  The Zags are always dangerous, and this year’s squad led by Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris has the offensive firepower to score with just about anyone in America.  Merely an ok three-point shooting team, they tend to rely on the drives of Harris and mid-range game of Bouldin to create offense.  However, they don’t tend to respond well to teams that crowd and push them around, but unfortunately, FSU is just such a team.  The Seminoles enjoy the nation’s top defensive efficiency, and while they have the opposite problem of finding points, they should have no problem putting the clamps down on the Zag scoring options.  The question here comes down to whether the FSU defense, anchored by 7’1 Solomon Alabi and 6’9 Chris Singleton’s combined four blocks per game, is better than the Gonzaga offense, and we think that it is.  And as up/down as the Seminoles were in the ACC, they never came close to losing to the likes of Loyola Marymount and San Francisco, as Gonzaga did this year.

The Skinny:  The Zags this year aren’t quite as good as they usually are, and they’re facing a team that will shut down their biggest strength.  FSU wins this one by eight points to get a date with Syracuse.

7:15 pm – #7 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Georgia Tech  (Milwaukee pod)

Here’s another one that’s got people confused.  For good reason, too.  All year long we’ve been waiting on Georgia Tech to do something with all that talent, and now they’re playing better basketball, just in time.  Oklahoma State’s showing against Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament will cost them some support, but we’re going to excuse that performance.  That was a tired basketball team, playing their third game in a six day span with K-State at the end of it — and the Wildcats were coming off of a five-day rest.  Georgia Tech is going to go inside to Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal like crazy, but when the Yellow Jackets actually shoot the three, they shoot it well.  Defending the three is a glaring OSU weakness, so it will be interesting to see how often Georgia Tech eschews their big men in favor of launching it from the arc, because those shots will be there.  So…good outside shooting, great inside players…sounds pretty good for Tech, right?  The question will be whether or not they can get to that point in their offense.  Georgia Tech ranks in the bottom twenty of Division I teams in terms of turning the ball over.  Can the Jackets, then, find a way to keep James Anderson from shredding them or Keiton Page from raining threes?

The Skinny: Oklahoma State won’t have to exert too much energy guarding the three, since Tech’s propensity to turn the ball over will take care of some of that.  The Cowboys have been getting more and more help from their role players, and we feel 9-7 in the Big 12 is better than 7-9 in the ACC this year.  It’ll be a great first round game, but we like Oklahoma State in a close one.

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RTC Consensus Bracket: Where Cinderellas Go To Die

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

If you’re on Twitter, you may have seen that every hour for the past 64, we tweeted out our consensus picks for the NCAA Tournament with a short description as to what we think will happen.  And by consensus, we mean John Stevens told us what to pick and we ran screaming in the opposite direction.  Seriously, though, the four of us talked through the brackets and, much like the ESPNU ‘experts’ the other night, ended up with a Garden State-sized quarry full of chalkiness.

Braff, Portman and Saarsgard All Have Kansas Too

Seriously, though, the below bracket represents the official RTC bracket picks, and when they go horrendously wrong as they naturally will, there’ll be no accountability for it whatsoever.

“Hey, that’s the consensus pick, I wouldn’t have gone that way myself.”

“I don’t remember making that pick… must have been you other guys.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever you want.  I just want to get the f@#$ off the phone.”

So here goes.  There is absolutely nothing interesting here.  Don’t even bother clicking the jump, you’re only going to be disappointed.

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First Round Game Analysis: Friday Afternoon

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round 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 the Friday afternoon games.


12:15 pm – #2 West Virginia vs. #15 Morgan State  (Buffalo pod)

West Virginia enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation. They squeaked out an enormous road win at Villanova to end the regular season then swept through Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Georgetown en route to a Big East championship riding the heroics of Da’Sean Butler. The Mountaineers are an extremely gifted rebounding team; in fact, sometimes their best offense comes after a missed shot. They feature multiple weapons that can step out and shoot a mid-range jumper or three from Wellington Smith to Kevin Jones to the all-around dynamo Butler. Also, few teams can match West Virginia’s intensity in the halfcourt defensively. Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman will need a gigantic scoring output from their own star, Baltimore native Reggie Holmes. Holmes scored 25 or more points fifteen times this season, averaging 21.3 PPG and ranking in the top-50 in percentage of shots taken. The Bears also feature a rugged forward named Kevin Thompson who comes in at fifth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. In fact, Morgan State ranks 11th in the country as a team in that very category. Unfortunately for the underdogs, West Virginia is never outworked on the glass, not with Jones, Devin Ebanks and Bob Huggins prominently involved.

The Skinny: This one shouldn’t be close from the tip. Morgan State dominated the MEAC all season, but West Virginia is flying high at this point. Expect the Mountaineers to dominate by 25-30 points.

12:25 pm – #6 Xavier vs. #11 Minnesota  (Milwaukee pod)

The answer to which team will win this game depends entirely on which Gopher team shows up to play in Milwaukee.  Will it be the defensive juggernaut that held Purdue to 11 first  half points last Saturday, or will it be the team that got obliterated by Ohio State 52-29 in the second half on Sunday?  Tubby Smith’s team has been schizophrenic like that all year, following up strong wins with disastrous performances (two losses to Michigan?  really?), which probably explains why they were a bubble team up until Sunday evening.  Xavier comes into this one with the stronger resume, but it’s difficult to say if the Musketeers are the better team.  When he plays under control, XU’s Jordan Crawford is a talent, and his supporting case of Jason Love on the interior and Terrell Holloway running the show makes for nice balance throughout the Xavier lineup.  The question we have is who will win the defensive battle, though.  Xavier defends the three really well, while Minnesota behind Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook both shoot it equally as well.  This game is essentially a tossup (Vegas agrees, setting Minny as a one-point favorite), and we really liked the first seven halves of basketball that the Gophers put up in Indianapolis on a neutral floor last week, so we’re going with the extremely mild 6/11 upset here, in a close game that comes down to the last possession. 

The Skinny: Despite the seedings, this is a tossup game and we like the Gophers to win it on the last possession. 

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Profiling Elite Eight and Beyond With Pomeroy

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

This is an idea we’ve had bouncing around in the dome for a while now, and since we’re not smart enough to actually do a bunch of number-crunching analysis with regression formulas and all that other statistical nonsense, we’re going to do what we know how to do — eyeball it.  (note: if you want a more data-driven analysis, visit Vegas Watch for a region-by-region breakdown)  We’ve taken a look at the Pomeroy numbers for the last five seasons (2005-09) to get a sense as to the type of offensive and defensive efficiency numbers that constitute your typical Elite Eight/Final Four/Runner-Up/Championship team.  We know that all of these teams are pretty darn good — but can we draw any conclusions based on the past five years of historical data that might give us a clue as to how we should be looking at this year’s bracket?

Here’s the list of roughly thirty or so teams with the strongest efficiency differentials in the 2009-10 season (sorted as such): that far right column is the key number for our purposes.  The greater the efficiency differential, the more dominant a team tends to be.  Remember that both the offensive and defensive efficiency statistics represent the number of points a team scores over 100 possessions of basketball.  +120 is really good for offense, while less than 90 is really good on defense.  Anytime a team’s differential approaches +30 points or more, we’re reaching rarefied air in college basketball.  (note - Pomeroy doesn’t provide historical data prior to past years’ tournaments, but we still think there is some value in looking at his final ratings because the likelihood that a team significantly improves or regresses during the snapshot window of the NCAA Tournament is small).  If you don’t follow Pomeroy regularly, you might be a little surprised at the placement of certain teams versus some others.  Have a look…

 
So what, right?  Well, let’s see if we can use the historical data that we have from Pomeroy to make assessments of this year’s batch of teams and their prospects. 

National Champions

Let’s first take a look at the last five national championship teams.  What jumps out at us immediately is that they’re all offensive juggernauts.  Every one of them is ranked first or second in offensive efficiency.  These teams know how to score the ball.  Defensive efficiency is a little more spotty, but they’re all pretty good (<90 and ranking in the top twenty).  The average differential is really high at 37.4 points per 100 possessions, and all of them easily reach the +30 threshold in that regard.

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