Archive | April, 2014

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW

7 Apr

8 KENTUCKY vs 7 UCONN

Why Kentucky can win: If Saturday’s game was any indication, Kentucky is going to look to get the ball into the paint on nearly every single possession. Whether it be via Randle or guard penetration, Kentucky is going to literally lower their head and bulldoze their way into the rim. That puts a ton of pressure on the defenders to stay in position defensively, and it also puts a ton of pressure on the referees. More often than not, Randle either scored or Young went to the FT line. You always hear “take what the defense gives you”, well, that didn’t hold true for Kentucky on Saturday, as Wisconsin was giving them the 2 point jump shot, and while UK hit a few of them, they didn’t settle for it, even though available driving lanes weren’t open. I expect the same game plan tonight from the Wildcats.

While UConn has been a much better defensive rebounding team in this tournament than they were in the regular season, UK still has a sizable advantage on the offensive glass. They “only” grabbed 34% of their misses vs Wisconsin, their lowest number of the tournament, but they did shoot just 5 threes the entire game. With their inconsistent outside game, second chance points are usually a must for the Wildcats. 

Why UConn can win: I think UConn’s extremely ball screen heavy half court attack could have a big advantage here. I’ve been impressed with how the Harrisons have improved over the course of the year, and particularly in the tournament, but this UConn offense can take advantage of their lack of lateral quickness, and create some mismatches in terms of speed off their ball screens. All tournament long, the talk has been “what happens when UConn runs into size?”. Well, they’ve proven vs Michigan State and Florida that they quickly negate that size with mismatches on Daniels off the ball screen and pick and pop action. Speaking of Daniels, probably unfair to him to call him the “x-factor” at this point. He’s clearly a major factor, and while Napier has been great, the “Shabazz boom or bust” narrative is a disservice to both players. Kentucky’s defense hasn’t exactly been overwhelming opponents this tournament (great stat from @HoopVision68: “Kentucky has allowed over 1.19 points per possession in 3 tourney games. Rest of country had 159 wins in 1,828 games they allowed >1.19 ppp”), and when UConn goes small like they did vs Florida, it could get pretty dicey for the Wildcats in terms of switching on those ball screens. 

Defensively, I was beyond impressed with Boatright’s ability to fluster Wilbekin and Hill with pressure. UConn doesn’t apply much full court pressure at all, but they will pressure you as soon as you cross half court, and Wilbekin and Hill just couldn’t handle it all. Florida only had 11 turnovers as a team, but 7 were by those two, and 5 were live ball that resulted in easy points for UConn. All year long Andrew Harrison has struggled against smaller, quicker guards in terms of ball control. Boatright and Napier’s pressure in the halfcourt is going to be a major issue tonight. Additionally, Kevin Ollie isn’t a afraid to mix up defenses. If Kentucky is settling into penetration every time down court like they did against Wisconsin late, he’ll gladly switch to a zone and right back out of it. As much of a hoops genius as Bo Ryan is, he doesn’t really change his defense in game much, and I thought he needed to do something once UK was getting into the lane at will. Ollie is more than willing to play that game. 

X-Factors: Alex Poythress. He doesn’t make a huge impact offensively, but Kentucky doesn’t beat Wisconsin without him. He was huge on the glass, and even bigger defensively because of his height and athleticism combo. He tweaked his knee in the post game celebration, and it’s kind of been brushed under the rug, but he needs to be 100% vs Daniels in what could be the key matchup of the night. 

I hate to revive the Calipari free throw shooting narrative, but it could be an issue in a close game. Kentucky doesn’t shoot them well, UConn does, and you can’t overlook that with the glare of the title game lights on you. 

Although I’m sure everyone’s knees pretty much turn to jelly when you’re about to take the floor to play for the national title, experience has to be a bit of a factor here, especially when the best player on the court, Shabazz Napier, has won one of these games, and Niels Giffey was there too. 

WINNER: UCONN 68-58

ATS: UCONN +2.5

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FINAL FOUR THOUGHTS

5 Apr

7 UCONN vs 1 FLORIDA 

Why UConn can win: In big games like this, I love a team that has an offensive identity, and UConn has one…Shabazz Napier. The heavy Napier-centric UConn ball screen offense has the potential to singlehandedly win UConn the title. UConn’s ball screen action is so deadly because Napier has the ability to keep going to the rim, or drain a jumper right in someone’s face, and it creates major mismatches when Daniels is involved. If Napier gets going early, UConn is going to be tough to beat because they really slow the game down when they have a lead, and run ball screen after ball screen after ball screen until they get a good shot, which is also key against Florida’s defense. Florida’s weakness defensively is the perimeter. They can get beat by the 3, and UConn went 11-24 in their win on Dec 2. Speaking of that win, I’m not entirely sure why “we” tend to gloss over it. Sure it happened a long time ago and Wilbekin missed the final 3 minutes, but the keys to beating Florida were clearly displayed in that game, which are harass the guards and force Prather and Young to beat you, and take advantage of the fact that Florida doubles everything and focuses solely on limiting penetration defensively. Can Prather and Young beat you? Of course, they almost did it that game, but if you can disrupt Wilbekin and not let Frazier get good looks, offense can be tough to come by for the Gators. UConn can clearly accomplish that, and teams that give them the most trouble are teams with versatile bigs. They almost lost to St. Joe’s because of Kanacevic, Villanova didn’t have any, Hogue gave them fits but no one else showed up for Iowa State, and if Payne could have hit the ocean Michigan State would be in this spot. Does Florida have floor spacing bigs? Not really. Finney-Smith has length and can hit the 3, but I don’t consider him a “big”. Perimeter length can also bother Napier, but I don’t think that will be an issue tonight.

Why Florida can win: Well, first and foremost they have the best defense in the country. I’ve talked at length about how hard it is to score on them in the halfcourt because they hedge so hard on screens and double everything quickly in the post. If you’re not hitting from outside, you can’t beat them. Period. Additionally, they’re going to press you virtually the entire game. Some of it may be token pressure, but it will wear you down. Donovan is also a genius at mixing up defenses out of timeouts. A lot of coaches are awful with how and when they use a timeout, but Donovan is a freak in that regard, arguably the best I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. Offensively,  they have Scottie Wilbekin, who is as good of a half court guard as I’ve seen this year. He makes tremendous reads off ball screens, a real pleasure to watch in the half court. As good as Florida can execute in the half court, they can be lethal in transition because of multiple ball handlers. With Wilbekin, Hill, and even Finney-Smith, it can be tough accomplishing the most fundamental aspect of transition defense, which is stopping the ball. UConn’s transition defense can be on the iffy side, and that’s putting it mildly. On top of that, they’re a very good rebounding team on both ends. UConn has had major issues on the glass all year long.

X-Factors: For UConn, it’s always DeAndre Daniels. If he’s hitting from the outside off pick and pops, UConn is nearly unbeatable. Florida has Finney-Smith who has the length and versatility to cover him. Big time matchup. For Florida, it’s the outside shot. It can be inconsistent, and if they’re not hitting it, the offense can look pretty bad. We’re likely to see zone looks from UConn early to test Frazier and Wilbekin. If they’re not hitting, then Florida could be in trouble. Free throw shooting could be a huge factor if this game is close down the stretch. Florida isn’t good, UConn is very good.

ADVANCE: FLORIDA 64-58

ATS: UCONN +7


 

8 KENTUCKY vs 2 WISCONSIN

Why Kentucky can win: They’re playing with a ton of confidence right now, and they obviously have the most talent in the Final Four. That’s a lethal combo. I’m not a big reader of body language usually, but when Kentucky was struggling, it was embarrassing the way they were acting on the court. Lots of finger pointing and shouting at teammates. I haven’t seen that in the SEC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament. That confidence has parlayed itself into the Wildcats actually hitting outside shots, which is a huge development. Suddenly, simply zoning Kentucky is no longer a safe option. The length at every spot on the court is literally huge as well. The Harrisons and Young all run 6’6. It’s going to be difficult for Brust/Gasser/Jackson to feel comfortable outside. Kentucky obviously crushes opponents on the offensive glass as well. While Wisconsin is a very good defensive rebounding team, UK on the offensive glass is a different animal. We’re all familiar with Calipari’s “dribble drive” offense, and I’m sure we’ll hear Jim Nantz say it 75 times tonight, but it really is a concern for Wisconsin. While they usually struggle with smaller guards, their guards can be beat off the bounce with ease. It’s why they hedge Kaminsky and Dekker up to the FT line extended so often, because guards are going to get to the spot quickly.  Defensively, I think the bigs are athletic enough to matchup with Kaminsky. He’ll probably be able to get some looks from 3, but scoring inside is likely not an option. Making him one dimensional is a key. Not having Cauley-Stein hurts, but if Kentucky can get it to Randle quickly in the shot clock, Wisconsin rarely, if ever, doubles. He could have a field day. While Wisconsin doesn’t turn the ball over, they actually give up a lot of transition looks, 292nd in the country in fact. Those transition looks are generally coming 0-10 seconds after a rebound, not a turnover. Contrary to popular belief, Kentucky doesn’t run that often, but that’s an area they will look to exploit tonight.

Why Wisconsin can win: I just mentioned that Wisconsin can be beat easily off the dribble, but the flip side is that Kaminsky and Dekker are very good at limiting the secondary penetration. Wisconsin will gladly give you the 2PT jump shot, and Kentucky can’t make that shot. I never see them shoot it, and when they do, they’re hitting it at just 36% this year. Offensively they love to get a good quick look at a 3, but if it’s not there, they’re so great at working it around until they have a perfect shot, even though they’re utilizing the swing offense a lot less. Kentucky’s patience on defense is a concern. Wisconsin is the best shot/head fake team in the country that I’ve seen, and I can see that causing some major problems for Kentucky. I mentioned that Kaminsky can be shut down inside, but still concerned about Johnson/Lee getting out on him outside. If he’s hitting the three, not much Kentucky can do to stop it. Wisconsin’s versatility offensively (even their guards post up) is their biggest strength. Kentucky has to overplay the passing lanes because no one on Wisconsin besides MAYBE Jackson can beat you off the dribble.

X-Factors: The battle on the glass is just huge. If Kentucky is getting second chance points, it’s going to be hard for Wisconsin to win, and if Kentucky is also dominating the defensive glass, they’re going to get transition opportunities. Marcus Lee is a big factor too. How does he respond when the opposition is now aware of his existence? I’ll throw Alex Poythress in there too. He’s going to be called on to get out on Kaminsky and/or Dekker. Can he do it? For Wisconsin it’s Nigel Hayes. Wisconsin doesn’t have anyone who really plays with their back to the basket, but if Hayes can keep Kentucky’s bigs from cheating out on Kaminsky/Dekker, it could make a difference.

ADVANCE: KENTUCKY 70-69

ATS: KENTUCKY PK