Saturday, March 26, 2011

March Madness Catchup--Sweet 16/Elite 8

Well, Day 2 of the Sweet 16 was slightly less exciting than Day 1, with two huge blowouts highlighting early play. The later games were closer, and at least we picked three out of the four correct, but another huge favorite is gone from the tournament. We'll do a recap of last night's action and then talk about the Elite 8: 

Kansas def. Richmond & North Carolina def. Marquette: We're going to lump these games in together because they were both over nearly as soon as they began. Marquette had a 10-8 lead on North Carolina nine minutes into the game, but it was 27-10 before they would score again--and the rout was on. Kansas didn't even give Richmond that much time to think they could stick around. Nine minutes into that game, Kansas already had a 17-7 lead, and just 5 minutes later it was 31-9. So what happened? Not much--Richmond and Marquette, as we discussed yesterday, both had strong bracket draws. Marquette was able to play a team they'd beaten already this season in 3-seed Syracuse, and Richmond got the benefit of facing Morehead State in the second round, so their paths to the Sweet 16 may not have been as tough as, say, Butler. Richmond, who had been shooting the ball fairly well from three in the first two games (16-39, 41%) went only 4-26 in the loss to Kansas, while Marquette shot only 2-16. Kevin Anderson (right), the Spiders leading scorer, shot only 5-17 from the floor in his final collegiate game. Not much else to analyze here--just two games where far superior talent took hold against good coaching and luck of the draw.

For the rest of the Sweet 16 analysis and our Elite 8 preview, hit the jump!

#1 Ohio State vs. #4 Kentucky
What We Said: The Buckeyes are more than capable of going inside-outside, shooting a ridiculous 56% from beyond the arc through their first two games, a continuation of their #1 ranking from the regular season where they shot 42.4% from three. The difference in this game might come down to experience--Ohio State has seniors Jon Diebler (whose offensive rating of 140.7 would lead the nation if not for his usage %) and David Lighty, while Kentucky relies heavy on freshmen Knight, Jones, and Doron Lamb. I think Ohio State is on a mission, but there is always the threat of a letdown game after what they did to George Mason.

What Happened: We said the other day that we didn't see that letdown game coming, but come it did--Kentucky beat Ohio State by two. The experience that Ohio State had ended up not mattering--in fact, it was junior guard William Buford, a 46% shooter coming into the game, who had easily the worst game for the Buckeyes. Buford played 37 minutes for OSU, shooting 2-16 while gathering only one assist and two rebounds, helping drive his team's shooting percentage down to 32.8% (19-for-58). While the turnovers and offensive rebounding were both slightly in Ohio State's favor, it was their poor shooting that did them in. Despite taking 10 fewer shots, Kentucky actually made 22 of the attempts, even with 3-for-10 efforts from both Brandon Knight and Terrance Jones.

#10 Florida State vs. #11 Virginia Commonwealth
What We Said: VCU has an advantage in field goal percentage (51%-46%) up to this point in the tournament, but what they don't have is shot-alterer-extraordinaire Chris Singleton. The rangy junior has led FSU to the #1 ranking in opponent FG perentage for the season, as well as a tournament-low 31% in opposing shots made. VCU doesn't do a great job of grabbing offensive boards, either, with only 22.6% of their shots coming back for second chances. Virginia Commonwealth does like to shoot the three, however (20-46, 43.5% in the tournament), and so a good night of shooting could mean lights out for Florida State, no matter how well Singleton patrols the paint.

What Happened: Virginia Commonwealth only pulled in 5 offensive boards, and 28 overall, compared to the 20 and 45 that Florida State pulled down. However, VCU also shot 12-26 from beyond the arc, the exact kind of night they needed--and indeed, they pulled out the one-point victory in overtime. That battle between strengths played out exactly like we thought, with FSU controlling the inside while VCU shot the ball well from deep. In fact, VCU actually shot the ball worse from inside the arc (44.4%) than outside of it, though still well above the 31% that Florida State had held their first two opponents to. Led by Bradford Burgess (9-15 overall, 6-7 from three, 26 points), the Rams advance to take on the Kansas Jayhawks.

Elite 8
We've talked enough about the stats lately--you guys know who's shooting well, who's shooting poorly, and that the tournament just doesn't make any sense even if we try as hard as we can to use statistics to pick the winners. That being said, here's who we have moving on to the Final Four:

BUTLER over Florida: I'm finally a believer. Brad Stevens manages to take whatever his team is weakest at and focus the game away from it. Against Wisconsin, he didn't try to speed the tempo up--instead, the Bulldogs focused on taking away the long swing passes, limited Wisconsin's open shots, and had a few things fall their way to run up a big lead on Wisconsin, one of the best teams to have a double-digit lead against. Against Florida, Matt Howard can match up with the ultra-versatile Chandler Parsons. After beating Pitt and Wisconsin, I just can't pick against Butler when they're playing a streaky, not-that-great shooting Florida team who just shot 11-for-34 from deep in their last game. The key to this game lies in the play of two players, one for each team: for Florida, Alex Tyus  needs to continue the success he had against BYU (19 points, 17 boards), while Butler needs Shelvin Mack to have the kind of lights-out game he had in the round of 32 against Pittsburgh.

CONNECTICUT over Arizona: The Duke Blue Devils didn't really have anybody who could match up with Derrick Williams, but the Huskies have a few athletic frontcourt players in Jeremy Lamb and Roscoe Smith. Both freshman, the Huskies need one of them to be able to stay on Williams, and try and limit him as much as they can. If that happens, if Kemba Walker keeps doing what he's been doing all tournament, and if UConn can keep Arizona shooting as poorly as their first three opponents (combined 38.5 shooting %), then the Huskies have a shot. Arizona has had a fantastic run lately, but so has UConn, and something has to break. I think that UConn's frontcourt can limit Arizona's much more than Kyle Singler and Mason Plumlee can do, especially being used to the physical Big East. This is no runaway pick, however, and Arizona could win this just as easily as UConn. But one of them has to win, and one has to lose, so I say this is the night where someone finally stops Derrick Williams.

KANSAS over Virginia Commonwealth: Yes, the Rams have had a fantastic run--one of the final teams included, they needed to beat USC in the First Four just to get into the main draw of the tournament, and now find themselves one win away from the Final Four. However, this is where the run ends--just like Richmond and Marquette got dominated by Kansas and North Carolina, Virginia Commonwealth finds itself the recipient of an incredibly favorable draw after pulling off the upset of #3 Purdue. I know that beating Georgetown and Purdue in back-to-back games is by no way "favorable," but you certainly can't argue that facing a #10 seed in the Sweet 16 doesn't hurt the chances of a #11 seed advancing--though it was the first time the two seeds had ever met in a Sweet 16. Kansas has something that Florida State doesn't have, however--not just one dominant frontcourt player like Chris Singleton, but two in Marcus and Markieff Morris. In addition, they have something the Seminoles didn't have--length around the perimeter, led by sophomore Tyshawn Taylor and freshman Josh Selby, VCU most likely won't be able to shoot the three as well as they have been doing. Crazier things have happened, I suppose, and an 11-seed in the Final Four isn't unheard of...but this would be quite the upset.
NORTH CAROLINA over Kentucky: Brandon Knight and Terrance Jones have both had fairly impressive freshman seasons, so for both of them to go 3-for-10 in a win over Ohio State shows how tough this Kentucky team can be. Chances are, at least one of the two finds the bottom of the bucket much more often on Sunday than they did on Friday, but I don't think that will matter against a North Carolina squad that is now officially on a roll after an absolute dismantling of Marquette last night. The key difference in this game could be offensive rebounding: both teams have been shooting at a fairly similar pace (48%-46% in favor of Kentucky), holding opponents to very similar 39% shooting against them, but it's North Carolina that has out-rebounded Kentucky, grabbing 38% of their misses compared to Kentucky's 29%. If all other things equal out, as they have thus far in the tournament, then it should be North Carolina with more opportunities, more buckets--and more points.


  1. UConn is basically a one man team, even with the emergence of Lamb. They're also fighting history. Arizona has a habit of making deep tourney runs when no one expects them to. Then they usually don’t perform up to expectations in the seasons when they are expected to go deep in the tourney. This team’s run reminds me of the ’97 team that caught everyone by surprise. I feel bad for UConn; I think they have no answer for Arizona’s depth of talent.

  2. I think that Derrick Williams is awesome, but he could be offset by Kemba Walker if UConn plays up to their defensive potential (15th in the country in D2pt%) then UConn could win, hence the pick. You can't use history as an example, especially when the coach is now Sean Miller, winning mostly with his players and his system now.