Thursday, March 26, 2015

Friday Sweet 16 Action

SOUTH REGION

Gonzaga vs. UCLA- The best part of never watching ESPN or other cable outlets do highlights anymore is, I haven't seen the Adam Morrison crying video all week! I've mentioned UCLA is lucky to be this far, utilizing a big break in the SMU game and beating a 14-seed. The luck ends here. The Zags are a pretty big favorite in Vegas and for KenPom. They looked pedestrian against North Dakota State but ran Iowa off the court. Kyle Wiltjer has been playing like a man on fire. UCLA should get some buckets but their defense isn't good enough to slow down Gonzaga. The Pick: Gonzaga 79 UCLA 72

Duke vs. Utah- This is a great Sweet 16 match up. Duke is 6th in KenPom and Utah is 8th. Duke's defensive efficiency has improved quite a bit in the last month and this game I don't think it'll be an issue simply because Utah doesn't push tempo. If Duke gets out and can run, Utah will have a tough time keeping up. If it's a half court game, I also don't see Utah running away from the Devils. For Utah to win, it'll probably have to be a close game. They have some big bodies that could cause some problems for Duke. Okafor will have to be nimble on defense and avoid fouls early. Utah can put bodies against him. Duke should really focus on harassing Delon Wright and make it difficult for him to make clean passes. Let's see how Quinn Cook defends him. KenPom sees a toss-up. Think that's right but Duke finds an extra gear late and pulls away. The Pick: Duke 70 Utah 63

EAST REGION

NC State vs.Louisville- My expectations for this game are pure chaos. Louisville is a terrible offensive team. NC State is very talented but prone to confounding basketball. They've also been pretty lucky. LSU ought to be kicking themselves for not getting a shot at Villanova. Villanova ought to be kicking themselves for missing so many layups and open 3's. NC State played as well as they could and almost coughed up the Nova game. They played as bad as they could and stole the LSU game. Louisville is coming off of one of their best games of the year. I can't believe their going to the Elite 8, but I'm picking them in what could be an ugly game. The Pick: Louisville 54 NC State 51

Michigan State vs. Oklahoma- You'll hear a lot about two things tomorrow. One will be the slobber fest that is Izzo/March. The other will be how much better Oklahoma is on defense this year. Play the drinking game to both. You'll die. Both teams have been pretty unlucky this year, though I'll argue Michigan State has created most of its bad luck. if you've watched them, they've found ways to lose or put themselves in position to lose. They've avoided that through the first two games to their credit. I think if bad Sparty show up, Oklahoma pounces. Buddy Hield is pretty well-known in Big XII circles but lesser so nationally. Think that changes tomorrow. Despite the seeding, this is a close game in Vegas and KenPom. I jumped the Sooner bandwagon in January and will stay on it. The Pick: Oklahoma 62 Michigan State 58

Sweet 16 - Thursday

4 games on tap and I have the priviledge of not seeing any of them.

Wichita State vs Notre Dame
Like Kurly I have been off Notre Dame all year and I’m not going to buck that trend now.  Butler had a nice game plan against them and I expect Wichita to do the same.  Limited possession and lots of pressure.  Wichita never lets the fighting irish get going.
Wichita 61, Notre Dame 56

North Carolina vs Wisconsin
Wisconsin has been trending down since the tournament started while UNC is trending up.  I think this is where things change.  Meeks won’t be at 100% and North Carolina likes to play at a break neck speed.  Bo Ryan will not let that happen and I can see them getting frustrated early.  Roy may have to try and think about Coaching a bit and it’ll probably be a disaster unless Scott May has eligibibility left.
Wisconsin 66, North Carolina 61

West Virginia vs Kentucky
I’d really like to pick West Virginia here as I think there havoc defense can cause some problems but I think this will go like any other Kentucky game…they get flustered and are own 2 with 10 minutes left and then get there crap together and win by 12.
Kentucky 78, West Virginia 66

Xavier vs Arizona
I’m just going to say it.  I think it’s a blowout.
Arizona 79, Xavier 61


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sweet 16: Thursday Edition

MIDWEST REGION

Wichita State vs. Notre Dame- This is basically a pick 'em game in KenPom. Wichita State is 9th and Notre Dame is 10th. The Irish are more dynamic on the offensive side of the ball while Wichita State is a better defensive team. Wichita ranks, 16th in AdjustedO and 13th in AdjustedD, while the Irish are 3rd and 103rd respectively. The Irish are the best 2pt shooting team in the nation, making 58%. Wichita State is the 9th best at defending the 2. They hold teams to 42.1%, which is 9th best. While the Irish aren't great from 3, the Shockers are worst at defending the 3. If Notre Dame gets hot, it shouldn't be a Wichita State is a much better rebounding team on both sides of the ball. If the Irish aren't hitting shots, they won't likely get many second chances while Wichita State may create longer possessions for themselves. I've been touting the Irish as overrated all year. I'll stick with that but if they're making from deep, they'll win. The Pick: Wichita State 65 Notre Dame 63

West Virginia vs. Kentucky- West Virginia is an interesting match up for the Wildcats. They press on misses and makes, so even if Kentucky is forcing misses, which they will because WVU is a bad shooting team, the Mountaineers will apply pressure. I saw some pundits pontificate about Kentucky being loose with the ball. Okay, the numbers disagree completely. They have the 16th best turnover % on offense this year. They protect the ball. West Virginia is a great rebounding team and they'll need to be on defense. Kentucky matches them on the offensive glass. If the Mountaineers had a couple of dead eye shooters, I'd give them a chance. Unfortunately, they don't. Think they can keep it close for awhile but Kentucky's depth won't be fazed by the pressure. KenPom has the Wildcats as significant favorites and I see the same. The Pick: Kentucky 74 West Virginia 58

WEST REGION

Wisconsin vs. North Carolina- The Tar Heels average 10 more possessions per game than Wisconsin. I actually think if the game is played at that tempo, it favors Wisconsin who is a better team. If Kennedy Meeks were playing, I'd be tempted to pick UNC but without him, I thinks it unlikely. Wisconsin should be more aggressive and try and get to the line and get the bigs of Carolina into foul trouble but that hasn't been a Wisconsin strength this year. Carolina is a strong offensive rebounding team and Wisconsin is a strong defensive rebounding team. If Carolina can win that battle, they have a chance but Meeks is their best rebounder. The Badgers don't defend the 3 very well. If Carolina can get hot there, they can scare Wisconsin. That said, I think too much has to go right for North Carolina to win. The Pick: Wisconsin 77 North Carolina 71

Xavier vs. Arizona-Credit to Xavier for making their 5th Sweet 16 in 8 years but the season ends here. I stand firm in my assertion Arizona is the 2nd best team in the land and a better team than last year. It'll take a herculean effort by the Musketeers or a complete no-show by Arizona. The Pick: Arizona 70 Xavier 60

Monday, March 23, 2015

Round of 32 Notes, Thoughts and General Disarray

Let's get to it

UCLA vs. UAB - UCLA making the Sweet 16 validates nothing. To their credit, they've taken advantage of the opportunity presented and deserve kudos for doing so. Doesn't mean they belonged in the field. 

Gonzaga vs. Iowa - This game intrigued me. Iowa, at times, looked like a team capable of making an Elite 8 run. At other times, you wondered how they won games. The tournament proved to be a microcosm of that dynamic. Not many teams looked more impressive in their opening round win. And few looked less impressive in their second round loss. A lot of credit goes to the Zags. Kyle Wiltjer has been one of the best players in the thourney thus far. Would love to see them play Duke.

Georgetown vs. Utah - A lot of people, including myself pegged Utah as a first round upset. While they didn't look great against SFA, they looked much better against the Hoyas. Entering the dance, not many teams had a better "numbers" profile than Utah. Historically, their numbers say they're legit to win it all. After watching them play late in the regular season and Pac-12 Tourney, I dismissed them. Sometimes, the numbers shouldn't be ignored.

Duke vs. San Diego State - The Aztecs didn't have a chance, really. Duke is far too dynamic on offense and SDSU can't match that. Duke has had two cakewalks so far. Utah will be a tough matchup because they have good size. Grant Hill called Justise Winslow the best defender Duke has ever had. That's heady (wrong) praise but pro guys love his game.

Kentucky vs. Cincinnati - The style the Bearcats played against Kentucky was referred to by some as the style to be copied.  What? Cincinnati played physical with no discernible offensive game plan. As far as I could tell, all they tried to do was intimidate Kentucky and hope they got rattled. They didn't and Willie Cauley-Stein killed a Bearcat with a dunk that demonstrated the mental resolve Kentucky has. It was an embarrassing effort by Cincinnati and kudos to Kentucky for not being baited.

West Virginia vs. Maryland - Of all Big XII teams, West Virginia was the one I had seen the least of. After seeing them last night, I was pretty impressed. They play an aggressive style that leads to fouls and they don't shoot well but agaisnt Maryland who had few ball handlers, it worked like a charm. Melo Trimble was knocked out midway through the 2nd half and that was it. If West Virginia had any shooters, they'd be a very dangerous team, more than they already are. 

Butler vs. Notre Dame - I've been highly critical of the Irish all year but to their credit, they won a game where the offense got bogged down and played a tempo at Butler's speed. Some solid defense late and a poor late possession by Butler sent the game to overtime where Notre Dame's more athletic players took over. Butler had a great season but they need to get more athletic moving forward 
.

Kansas vs. Wichita State - In a game that wasn't an upset, the Shockers simply outclassed Kansas. The Jayhawks struggled to find an identity all year and despite all the talent they have, none of the players stepped up like Wichita who had all their stars play well. Anyone dismissing Bill Self or Kansas as frauds though, are pretty clueless. What they've accomplished under him is second to none.

Arizona vs. Ohio State - All the talk about D'Angelo Russell was overshadowed in this game by another brilliant performance by TJ McConnell. He was phenomenal as was Gabe York. They carried the Wildcats who were too much for Ohio State. The Buckeyes had no answer. Arizona also crushed them on the glass. Not many teams are playing better than Arizona right now.

Xavier vs. Georgia State -Xavier is going to their 5th Sweet 16 in 8 years and third under Chris Mack. Georgia State was game but Jalen Reynolds and Matt Stainbrook were far too much. Ron Hunter was the star of the first weekend.

North Carolina vs. Arkansas - UNC has played two diametrically opposed teams as anyone. They played steady Harvard and chaotic Arkansas on the first weekend and won both games. That's a nice stretch for the Tar Heels. I half jokingly said they'd lose to BC in the ACC Tourney but it's clear I underestimated them. It's not their most talented team under Roy by far. Credit to them for playing as well as they have.

Wisconsin vs. Oregon - Bucky survived Joseph Young and the Ducks in a game far closer than I expected. Last summer, the Ducks had 3 scholarship players. Not a bad season at all by them. Wisconsin's defense isn't that good. That offense, though. Holy smokes, there isn't one better. But their margin for error is pretty small because they aren't going to win with defense.

Michigan State vs. Virginia - It may not have been pretty but credit to Sparty. They didn't sit back and let Virginia dictate pace. They were the aggressors on both sides of the ball from the beginning and established themselves. Virginia never looked comfortable. They're going to need a favorable draw like Dick Bennett's 2000 Badgers did to make a deep run in March. Their style isn't adaptable and it bit them yesterday. I'm not sold on Michigan State having discovered something late to make a run. That said, Izzo schooled Bennett yesterday.

Oklahoma vs. Dayton - I admit I was actively cheering for Oklahoma. As an 11-seed, it wasn't fair the Flyers were playing in Columbus. To their disadvantage, they were playing their 6th game in just over a week and with limited depth, I think it caught up to them. I pegged OU as a sleeper Final 4 team in January and with a few breaks, they have been given a golden opportunity. Take a look at Lon Kruger's Final 4 run at Florida and tell me this doesn't look eerily similar. 1 & 2 seeds bounced before regionals.  Just saying.

NC State vs. Villanova - The cliche is March is about matchups and this game was a terrible one for Nova. They simply couldn't match the size and ability of the Wolfpack. People dismiss NC State because of their schizophrenic results but they don't lack for talent. They have 8 top 80 players and they played like it. Nova was awful from range and missed many layups. The Wildcats still had a chance but could never get over the hump. It'll be a long off season in Philly.

Louisville vs, Northern Iowa - When the bracket came out, I immediately thought UNI had a chance in this bracket but my fear was they'd run into a hot shooting team. I never imagined it would be Louisville. UNI is the 2nd of 3 top ranked under 60-possession teams to be eliminated. It doesn't detract what they accomplished this year but they have to be disappointed knowing a Final 4 run was legitimate. They ran into a team who had one of its better offensive games (sad as that is) of the year at the wrong time.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Friday Recap

Zzzzzzzzz.....

After a roller coaster Thursday, yesterday's games failed to match the excitement level. Upsets were there for the taking but late game possessions proved too difficult for teams to handle. 

It's an epidemic that happens at high, mid and low majors. Coaches have taken control of the game so much, players look to the coach instead of letting instinct or trust take over. Mix in some offense on practice, coaches.

1. Committee Folly
The committee made all kind of odd choices this year, an increasingly disturbing trend. One of the sillier occurrences was putting Dayton in the play-in game. Under no metric was Dayton one of the last 4 in. But they were and had to play in Dayton and earned their win over Boise State. What was avoidable was putting them in the Columbus region. Under no circumstances should an 11 seed have home court advantage. BYU can't play on Sundays, so Dayton had to play Friday. National pundits are shrugging saying it was unavoidable. You have weeks and months to plan. It's avoidable. As for the game, Providence played its worst game of the year. It was rattled early by questionable officiating and simply didn't handle it well. 

2. Coaches Hot Seat
Oklahoma State under Travis Ford had its defining moment last night. Before half, their sideline thought they had a foul to give and fouled an Oregon player. They didn't and Oregon got two freebies. Tom Crean continued a proud tradition of Big Ten losing coaches acting like petulant children telling an official "You Suck" after the game before even shaking Gregg Marshall's hand. Wichita shot more free throws but that's because Indiana is a jump shooting team. Good luck if you let him come back, Hoosiers. Steve Lavin could be on thin ice, too. His current group of Seniors graduated without a tournament win and has a pretty thin roster returning. In a region teeming with up and comers, he's squarely on the hot seat.

3. Maryland Luck
The Terps have been one of the luckier teams this year, KenPom's luckiest team thus far. Yesterday didn't change that. A blown replay, a missed hack on the last attempt by Valpo and a date with West Virginia on Sunday. Get that lucky penny, Huggy Bear.

4. Conference Glory
Your conference is not superior or inferior based on what happens in March. If your assessment of a confrences strength is based on a single-elimination tournament, I can't listen to your argument. The ACC is 6-0 after one round. It's not the best conference and is a few plays from being 3-3 and possibly 2-4. But it's a fun argument, so I get it. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Second Round Preview

Saturday will be interesting day of games.  The closest game according to KenPom will be Butler vs. Notre Dame. There's potential for some blowouts on tap but as we know, anything goes. Quick thoughts on all 8.

East Region
Only one game out East as Villanova takes on NC State. Villanova is the 2nd biggest favorite behind Kentucky but the Wolfpack have a history of being upset makers. Don't see it but think they make it interesting for awhile.

West Region
Three games here. Arizona is a solid favorite over Ohio State. Like the Nova game, this'll be close but Zona pulls away and wins comfortably. Georgia State is the Cinderella but Xavier is the better team. 

Arkansas-UNC has the chance to be the best game of the day or the dumbest. No in between.

Midwest Region
Thanks for playing Cincinnati. Enjoy your parting gifts.

Butler-Notre Dame is the closest game on paper. Honestly, if you believe in this stuff, there's no pressure on Butler. Notre Dame is the bigger school in state. If the Irish are clicking on offense, can't see Butler winning but if the can make it ugly and limit second chances like they do if the Irish are cold shooting, they can win.

West Region
UAB against UCLA happened in 1990 and the Bruins won. Means nothing but I recalled it. Think they win again.

Utah-Georgetown meet in the game everyone didn't think would happen. Utah is a decent favorite but given their slower pace, I doubt they run away and hide. I like the Hoyas here

The Day That Was

If you weren't entertained yesterday, you're probably a Baylor or Iowa State fan.

1. What to make of the Big XII

The easy reaction is to say the conference was overrated. That's far too simplistic a reaction to one day of a single-elimination tournament. Nonetheless, it wasn't good. Iowa State had been playing with fire for awhile and they finally got burned. Poor shot selection and getting out hustled is a recipe for losing to a 14. As for Baylor, their loss will sting for a long time blowing a 12-or lead with just under 3 minutes left. A lot of people will criticize Scott Drew and maybe he deserves it but this team overachieved all year. Georgia State is a pretty talented team. They've underachieved in my eyes but yesterday erases that.

2. Texas

Brian picked the Longhorns to go to the Final 4 at the start of the year. I thought they were good enough to usurp Kansas. We were both wrong. No offense to Butler who is a well-coached and Godoy team, Texas should beat them. Forget seeding, Texas has the better players. I'm not sure Rick Barnes is going to get fired but if I were Texas, I'd give it a long look. He's been there a long time and had lots of success but it can get stale. The basketball team will always take 2nd to football and some would say 3rd to baseball but it's an attractive job in a great city and has all the resources you need. If I'm Shaka Smart, I look at where I am and realize that the ceiling at VCU is unfairly low because of Power 5 arrogance (I'll get to this later). Worth a look.

3. SMU - UCLA

UCLA is in position for back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances after beating the Ponies and seeing Iowa State upset. The story of the game is the goaltending call. Whatever side of the call you come down on, it doesn't matter much to me. There seems to be a lot of assumption that cost SMU the game. It certainly didn't help but they also blew a 9 point lead with 6+ minutes left and had two really good looks to win it. 

4. The Coin Flip Games get Flipped

8/9 games to me are the toughest to pick. Yesterday certainly backed that up as Cincinnati overcame a late 7 point deficit to beat Purdue in overtime and NC State took advantage of an LSU collapse. That game went to script. NC State, man, it's always interesting with the Wolfpack. 

5. Mid-Major Strut

We touched on the two big upsets of yesterday earlier but let me say this, the difference between mid and big majors isn't nearly as big as the Power 5 wants you to think. The Power 5 would love to shutout all mid-majors because it means more money for them and that's all the tournament is about. For people complaining about the schedules of mid-majors? Get lost. No school wants to play these teams if they're any good, afraid of that loss on their schedule and a loss in general. The committee has an easy out by referencing SOS every year knowing Murray State can't get those games and knowing they'll never have the SOS. And if you think they had those games and went 0-5 out of conferemce like UCLA and still ran the table in conference like the Racers would get in, you're wrong. It's a crooked game and why I'll be cheering for those teams today.