Archive | March, 2016

3/31 NIT Notes

31 Mar

Just a quick note or two on what should be a very competitive NIT final between George Washington and Valpo. These two teams match up reasonably well in terms of personnel. Both have mobile, floor stretching bigs in Peters and Cavanaugh, both can throw a lot of length on the perimeter between Hammink, Nickerson, Skara, Garino, and Watanabe, and both are comfortable with this game being played primarily in the halfcourt, which sets up a great showdown between Valpo’s oppressive halfcourt defense (4th lowest eFG% in the country) vs George Washington’s Lonergan play by play orchestrated halfcourt offense that just put up 1.14ppp against SDSU (who allows the lowest eFG% in the halfcourt in the country, and the Colonials posted 1.17ppp against Florida, who is a top 30 halfcourt defense themselves in terms of eFG%). I wonder how annoyed Lonergan was when he watched the Valpo/BYU tape and saw Dave Rose go to a 1-3-1, a favorite defensive switchup of his with Watanabe at the top. Valpo struggled with it for a good stretch, and I’m sure Drew is well aware of Lonergan’s propensity to go to it, so it was like an extended in game preview for the Crusaders. Probably a good game for Lonergan to go with Mitola alongside Country Joe for extended stretches, as it gives him another penetration option to try and get Vashil Fernandez in foul trouble. Obviously, if you can get the best shot blocker in the country in early foul trouble (something that only FSU was able to accomplish this tournament and it still didn’t help the Noles), it changes the complexion of Valpo’s defense, and they get smaller/less dominant defensively with Adekoya. GW’s offense is supplemented heavily by their offensive rebounding, but they run up against one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country tonight. In short, an interesting matchup between an offense that operates almost exclusively in the halfcourt and is conducted on a play by play basis by Lonergan and a defense that crushes teams in the halfcourt, but after watching GW pick apart SDSU on Tuesday, there’s certainly reason to think they can do it again tonight. On the other end, Valpo caught a glimpse of some of what GW does defensively when BYU went to a 1-3-1, but the Colonials have the length on the perimeter to combat Valpo’s versatility with Peters, Hammink, and Skara offensively. As you can probably gather from my rambling, I think there’s a case to be made for either team winning this game, so hopefully we get a barn burner tonight between two similar, veteran/senior laden teams.

PREDICTIONS (2175-1682-106):

VALPARAISO -2

3/30 CBI/Vegas 16 Notes

30 Mar

Game 1 of the CBI finals series went more or less according to plan, with the exception of neither team playing much defense at the rim, which wasn’t necessarily expected considering that’s a relative strong suit of both teams. Nevada wasn’t phased by Morehead State’s aggressive man pressure much (with the exception of Coleman, who struggled all game with his shooting and added 5 TOs), but the Pack were surprisingly outplayed by Gaines, Marrero, and Elechi in the paint, although a lot of that was due to Cam Oliver only logging 22 minutes with early foul trouble. Despite not getting much from Collins, Moon, and Arrington in the backcourt (although they didn’t really need it with the way the frontcourt was dominating at the rim), the Eagles still racked up 1.25ppp. The travel/short rest issues work both ways here tonight. Nevada had travel issues getting to Morehead (not the easiest destination to reach from Reno), and now they have to turn around and fly back home on a day’s rest. Morehead State meanwhile travels to play in altitude for the first time this year, which obviously isn’t ideal on a quick turnaround. Nothing much really changes scheme wise tonight, but if Oliver stays out of foul trouble, the Morehead State frontcourt production decreases, and Coleman likely rebounds with a much better game tonight in front of what has been a fairly raucous home crowd at Lawlor. As I stated here before game 1, these are two evenly matched, physical teams. That means there’s going to be a lot of fouls, and with Morehead State’s foul rate, especially on the road on tired legs, they could be the team that finds a key player in early foul trouble, and that could once again be the difference in game 2.

In the Vegas 16 final, we have a massive tempo battle between Kay Felder and Oakland and Trey Freeman and Old Dominion. The Monarchs are no stranger to pace pushing, transition reliant offenses, as they played Marshall (3rd fastest team in the country), UTSA (32nd), LA Tech (39th), and UTEP (40th) in CUSA play, and I didn’t even mention Rice and Charlotte, two teams with quick offensive APLs as well. How did ODU fare in limiting possessions in those games? Well, their fastest CUSA game of the year was 70 possessions at Marshall after the quick Thurs/Sat turnaround from Bowling Green, KY. In short, the Monarchs WILL dictate tempo. Freeman, Caver, and Bacote don’t turn the ball over, and they’ll run myriad ball screen action for Freeman and Bacote that takes 20+ seconds off the shot clock. So how has Oakland fared against teams that have been able to keep them out of transition? Mixed results, but we all remember what happened vs Wright State in the Horizon tournament, and they not surprisingly struggled against Virginia’s transition denying, pack line defense, and Jeff Jones structures his defense similarly, walling off the paint and forcing a lot of jump shots. Can Oakland shoot over the top of the Monarchs? Absolutely. Felder can pop it and Hooper of course is lethal from outside, but if you can keep Felder out of the paint, you’re going to limit a lot of what Kampe wants to do offensively. On the other end, a lot of what Oakland does transition wise is predicated on forcing you into jump shots and pushing the pace off misses. ODU might take two point jumpers at a high rate, but they’re rarely going to settle for a 3, and those two point jumpers are so often Trey Freeman mid range looks off flex cuts and ball screens, and if they do miss, ODU crashes the offensive glass as well as any team in the country. In short, I don’t think there’s any doubt ODU is going to limit the number of possessions in this game, and that gives them an excellent chance to win this tournament.

PREDICTIONS (2173-1682-106):

NEVADA -3.5

OLD DOMINION +1.5

 

3/29 NIT/CIT/Vegas 16 Notes

29 Mar

Let’s start with the NIT semis

Valpo has had their fair share of experience against teams who like to push in transition, as the Horizon was the fastest league in the country, so I think they’ll be able make BYU operate in the halfcourt, where the Crusaders tend to dominate defensively. With all the length Valpo can throw at you 1-5, their ability to control the glass, and having more time for Tevonn Walker (best on ball defender and key vs Collinsworth, who is over the flu but lost 12 pounds in the process) to heal, I think the Crusaders have a really good shot to advance to the NIT title game. BYU has played three teams who had a hard time matching up with their length on the perimeter from Collinsworth and 6’7 FR Zac Seljaas, who has been on fire this tournament. That’s not the case with Valpo, who can put 6’7, 6’8, and 6’9 length outside when necessary, and then of course you have one of the best shot blockers/alterers in the country in the middle in Vashil Fernandez. Valpo has been sped up by the faster Horizon teams at times this year (see particularly the Green Bay semi final when they were without Tevonn Walker), but I think Valpo wins this game because their height is versatile in ball screen situations, and I can’t say the same about Davis, Kaufusi, and Austin. BYU’s defense is designed to keep you away from the rim, in fact no team allows a lower FGA rate at the rim than Dave Rose’s squad, and Valpo is a top 50 offense in that regard, but when you can force the bigs to defend in ball screens, and that’s exactly what Peters brings to the table, you’re going to create some mismatches.

George Washington is likely going to struggle to score against San Diego State, as most teams do, as the Colonials strengths offensively are matched by the Aztecs’ strengths defensively, but I think struggling offenses are also going to be a two way street tonight. The first two NIT games saw SDSU dominate against teams that can take them out of their comfort zone defensively, but then they were matched up with a Georgia Tech team that plays right into the teeth of their defense, and the travel tired Yellow Jackets were only able to muster .89ppp. If your gameplan against SDSU offensively is to rely on crashing the offensive glass, attacking gaps/getting to the FT line, and scoring at the rim, you’re probably going to be in trouble. That said, SDSU’s offense isn’t going to cakewalk like they did against Georgia Tech, as Lonergan will mix up defenses with the 1-3-1 and bother you with the length of Watanabe and Garino on the perimeter. Watanabe’s stat lines might not be impressive, but he’s been a big factor in this NIT run because of his ability to guard smaller opposing PGs (which was an issue for the Colonial defense heading into this tournament), and he was effective in frustrating Robinson and Hill, two of the better PGs in this tournament. SDSU has struggled all year against teams that can either pressure and disrupt their guards, or against teams that can throw unique, packed in defenses at them and force them into being jump shooters. George Washington doesn’t bring the former, but they can bring the latter. This one probably just comes down to who hits a few more jump shots, and I like Cavanaugh and the Colonials in that situation. George Washington has played like one of the oldest teams in the country who doesn’t want their season to end, but the length/athleticism combo SDSU brings to the court is a matchup nightmare. Interesting game.

The CIT title game sees road weary UC Irvine traveling to Levien Gym after playing in South Carolina on Sunday, which means the Eaters have traveled ~5,000 miles this week. Scheme wise, there are a few glaring advantages for both offenses. With a deep and veteran backcourt led by the outstanding Maodo Lo, the Lions can shoot over UCI’s massive zone (zone the Lions at your own peril). Conversely, the massive Eaters have a distinct advantage in the paint against Columbia’s defense where rim protection has been an issue all year long, although Mamadou isn’t 100%, but obviously never having to leave home is going to be a huge advantage for the Lions on this quick turnaround in the finals. Columbia has played three straight jump shooting teams in this tournament (although NSU is a strictly penetrate and kick offense, which is a little different), so this is the first time that suspect rim protection will be tested, but the travel is such a big issue for the Eaters at this point. For Columbia, what kind of effect does Kyle Smith taking the San Francisco job have on his team tonight? A lot going on in this one off the court, and an interesting scheme disparity on it.

In Vegas, Old Dominion runs up against UCSB’s 3-2 zone, which isn’t ideal for a team that completely eschews the 3 pointer. ODU’s offense is essentially Trey Freeman dominating the mid range game off ball screens, and Stith and Taylor cleaning up the misses. Bob Williams’ 3-2 zone is tough to get those mid range looks against, but it does to allow teams to grab their misses. It took a while for UCSB to get going against NIU yesterday with their unique defensive scheme, but they won despite Michael Bryson’s worst game of the year (and it helped that NIU was dreadful offensively). Ultimately, I think the Gauchos can successfully defend Freeman, and that might be all they need, as they started to get back in the groove offensively late against NIU when they were figuring out how to play without Green again.

Oakland and ETSU should be fun with Felder vs Guyn, and both teams certainly aren’t afraid to get out in transition, but the Bucs are going to miss Petey McClain defensively if he can’t go tonight. Oakland’s going to be allowed to play at their pace, and in that scenario, Forbes needs Cromer and Bello to help Guyn offensively, as otherwise I’m not sure the Bucs have quite enough firepower, and Gibson and Hayes have clear matchup advantages and they weren’t a big part of the 90 point/1.17ppp offensive effort against Towson last night, which is worrisome if you’re ETSU. This one should be worth staying up for if you’re an east coaster.

PREDICTIONS (2171-1679-106):

VALPO -2.5

GEORGE WASHINGTON +3.5

UC IRVINE +1

UCSB +2

OAKLAND -6.5

3/28 Vegas 16/CBI Notes

28 Mar

In the CBI final series, we have Nevada traveling to Morehead State for game 1 tonight. These are two incredibly similar teams, as both eschew the 3, both look to score at the rim with a lot of flex cuts, and both defenses try to take away everything in the paint despite being undersized in the frontcourt. Nevada has the 39th lowest FG% allowed at the rim, while Morehead State is a little better at completely cutting off the paint and forcing you into jump shots. Sean Woods’ team is better at extending pressure as well, but that always comes with one of the highest foul rates in the country, and only 3 teams in the country score a higher percentage of their points at the FT line than Nevada. Morehead State is very similar to Fresno State, a team Nevada had some issues against, but with Coleman healthier the Pack are a hard team to press, and they have the athletes with Cam Oliver to burn you on the back end. Nevada can struggle on the defensive glass, and Morehead State is one of the best offensive glass crashing teams in the country, and after experiencing some travel issues on their first venture east this year, the Pack might be even more vulnerable in terms of keeping the relentless Eagles off the glass. In a matchup of two very physical teams, I’ll take the one that didn’t have to make the difficult trip from Reno to Morehead, KY, which isn’t the easiest destination to reach, but I think Nevada takes the next two back in Reno.

 

The Vegas 16 or 8 or whatever it’s called kicks off today with Old Dominion vs Tennessee Tech in the first game at Mandalay Bay. This is probably a tough matchup for Tenn Tech. They’re not the most up tempo team in the country by any stretch, but they like to get out in transition with their SR PG Rowe and spread the floor with some shooters, and they have a big man who can run in Martin. That’s not going to happen against ODU, who will force you into a halfcourt game. The Golden Eagles’ halfcourt defense isn’t anything special, but they will shrink the court and pack it in, and ODU avoids threes like they’re the plague. That said, Tech isn’t a very good ball screen defense when you force guys like Jugovic and Martin to defend in isolation situations, and that’s something the masterful Trey Freeman can exploit all night. No idea what kind of impact the rust from three week+ layoffs for every team in this tournament will have, but it’s certainly going to be a factor in the first halves of these games, and we should see some wonky starts from everyone.

In the second game, we’re going to see two zones used to different effects between UCSB and NIU. UCSB will use a 3-2 that goads you into terrible, contested jump shots, while NIU will utilize a zone press to make you uncomfortable in the halfcourt, force some turnovers, and keep you out of the paint, and if you do work inside, NIU has the 17th lowest FG% allowed at the rim. I’m not sure who is available for the Gauchos today. I know Green is out (poor kid has battled injuries his whole career), Beeler has a thumb injury that he’s supposedly going to play through, and Troutt and Hart are likely out (not major losses). For NIU, the extra rest/recovery time for Maric means he’s probably close to 100%, but I think the issue for the Huskies is that UCSB is an incredibly difficult team to zone because they have a lot of length and athleticism in the backcourt (led by Bryson) that can shoot, and veteran ball handlers against the pressure (although they have struggled at times with extended ball pressure this year vs Hawaii and LBSU). Maric has a big advantage in the paint at the 5, but it’s obviously difficult to feed the post consistently against Bob Williams’ 3-2. NIU won two games outside of the state of Illinois (three total road wins, but hard to count beating UIC at Pavilion).

Game 3 features a massive tempo battle between transition based Oakland and plodding, glass crashing Towson, and I’m sure Pat Skerry watched tape of Wright State’s burn offense in the Horizon Tournament against the Grizzlies. The fastest game Towson played this year was a 74 possession game against Morgan State way back on Nov 16. You have to think Kampe comes out more aggressive with the pressure than he was against Wright State to try to force the Tigers to initiate offense. Oakland isn’t going to foul you at a high rate (and Towson relies heavily on getting to the stripe), and Kampe won’t be afraid to zone the poor shooting Tigers, but Hayes and Gibson have to be able to match the physicality and aggressiveness of Moto, Foster, Davis, and Parker-Rivera, as Skerry sends all 4 to the offensive glass relentlessly. If Oakland can make Towson initiate offense, take jump shots/keep them off the FT line, and most important grab the miss, they can play this game at their pace. If not, we could have a repeat of the Horizon League Tournament meltdown.

The last game of the night could be the most entertaining, as both ETSU and Louisiana Tech will be willing to push in transition. LA Tech has a big size advantage 1-5, but they’ve had trouble defending smaller, penetrating teams off the dribble, for example UTEP when Floyd went to a 4 guard lineup. Konkol wants to mix in different defenses (and the Bulldogs have been using a lot of 1-3-1 at the end of the year) and extended pressure, but ETSU isn’t a team you necessarily want to press, as they saw it a lot in a league that features UTC, WCU, Samford, and Duggar Baucom, and they handled it well in OOC against Green Bay. That said, LA Tech’s pressure with all their length is more similar to UNCW, who ETSU struggled mightily against. ETSU’s a good shooting team dominated by their backcourt, and while LA Tech can struggle against dribble penetration, they REALLY struggle defending anyone with size on the block, which the Bucs completely lack, so they’re going to be able to extend out on the perimeter without repercussion on the back end. This one should easily be the most entertaining game of the night if the teams can adjust their clocks for the late tip.

PREDICTIONS (2168-1677-106):

MOREHEAD STATE -4.5

OLD DOMINION -8

UCSB -4.5

TOWSON +5.5

ETSU +2.5

3/27 Elite 8 and CIT Semis Notes

27 Mar

#1 VIRGINIA vs #10 SYRACUSE

Not a lot to say about this one. I don’t think Syracuse can score against the pack line while I think Virginia can against the 2-3, and that’s about it. Virginia’s offensive efficiency against the 2-3 since Syracuse joined the ACC: 1.16, .98, and 1.32 in three wins. The .98ppp came in the only road game of the three for the Hoos, but it was on Sat/Big Monday turnaround from a rivalry game with VA Tech. Conversely, Syracuse’s OE in those three games: 1.03, .78, and .98. The 1.03 came this year with Syracuse hitting 13-30 from 3, after going a combined 9-41 in the two previous meetings. Obviously it’s going to take a Herculean effort from Cooney, Gbinije, and Richardson from outside for Syracuse to have a chance in this one, and even if that occurs, I’m not sure it will matter because UVA’s offense is uniquely set up to shred the zone. UVA’s assist rates in those three games: 70%, 54%, 72%. That’s absurd. A Tony Bennett squad isn’t necessarily going to beat you on the offensive glass, as they prefer to take away all transition opportunities, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him crash early with Tobey and Gill and try to build an early lead. Speaking of low transition rates, Syracuse actually denies transition looks at a better rate than UVA, so this game is going to be played entirely in the halfcourt, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Overall, UVA’s execution vs 2-3 >>>> Syracuse’s execution vs pack line.

#1 NORTH CAROLINA vs #6 NOTRE DAME

In the second ACC game of the day, we have the Heels meeting Notre Dame for the third time this year, and I actually talked about this matchup a bit when I previewed the Indiana game, and it’s a very similar situation. Does the Irish 4 out offense exploit the relative lack of mobility of UNC, especially at the 4, or does size/paint advantage of UNC dominate at the rim/offensive glass? There will be one key difference for the Irish relative to IU though, and that’s limiting possessions, as I wouldn’t be shocked to see Brey bust out the burn offense and zone the hell out of the Heels tonight. Of course, if UNC is hitting threes like they did against IU, all Irish hope is lost. Part of me thinks Brey has been setting this up the burn offense all along with the 2 PG system with Matty Farrell getting starts/more minutes suddenly in this tournament. The question is how effective can Farrell actually be against an athletic, lengthy UNC team.

PREDICTIONS (34-26-2):

VIRGINIA -7.5

NOTRE DAME +9

 

CIT notes…

Probably a pretty good matchup for Columbia at Levien tonight against NJIT. The Highlanders utilize a lot of zone and a lot of pressure because of their lack of height, and if you can’t beat Columbia in the paint, you’re likely going to struggle because Lo and Mullins aren’t going to turn the ball over (13th lowest steal rate in the country, and the Lions are going to torch you from outside. Have to be able to beat Columbia in the paint, and NJIT just isn’t capable of that (although Smith and Howard were efficient the first time around). I’ll take Kyle Smith’s game planning with 4 days to prep.

UC Irvine will have Mamadou back tonight, while Coastal Carolina will be without PG Shivaughn Wiggins. While Cliff Ellis teams always have tremendous backcourt depth, the loss of Wiggins is big. He’s Ellis’ voice on the floor and a team leader, and obviously a key to attacking the monstrous Eater zone. That said, Irvine is making their way across the country in this tournament, as they went to Grand Forks, ND first, then Lafayette, LA next, now all the way over to Conway, SC. The Chants are small but athletic in the frontcourt with Freeman, Curtis, and Diagne back, but the real question will be how they function offensively. Ellis’ offense is predicated on those dual PGs with Wiggins and Shaw. Defensively, I think the Chants might be ok. Ellis notorious for his junk zones, and while Nelson, Young, and Martin can shoot, that’s playing into exactly what Cliff wants to accomplish defensively.

PREDICTIONS (2167-1674-106):

COLUMBIA -9.5

COASTAL CAROLINA +5.5

 

3/26 Saturday Elite 8 Notes

26 Mar

1 OREGON vs 2 OKLAHOMA

The Ducks have an overwhelming athleticism and length advantage against the Sooners (of course, so did TAMU), and Altman is masterful with his trapping schemes, and if you can discombobulate Hield and Woodard at the top, they will turn it over. Again, that’s exactly what Texas A&M did and the Sooners negated 9 Hield/Woodard turnovers (and a 21% team TO rate) by torching the Aggies from behind the arc AND at the rim when they didn’t turn it over, and a similar scenario could very well play out vs Oregon’s traps, as the Ducks tend to lose guys on the perimeter post break. Oregon’s defense however is outstanding in limiting transition opportunities, and Oklahoma is lethal in transition (63% eFG). Offensively, I think Oregon has some advantages tonight. A Lon Kruger defense is generally going to switch on every ball screen, and with Oregon’s ability to spread you out with mobile length and athleticism, that’s going to create a lot of mismatches, and once Dillon Brooks starts attacking gaps, it’s all over for your halfcourt defense. Very similar gameplan for Oklahoma in terms of what they saw against Texas A&M, and if Oregon can’t hit a jumper like the Aggies couldn’t (and that’s a real concern for the Ducks), the Sooners could very well be making Houston travel plans, but I’ll take Oregon’s team length, mobility, and athleticism at the rim on both ends.

#1 KANSAS vs #2 VILLANOVA

This could easily be the national championship game and no one would complain. I went on at length in Villanova’s Sweet 16 preview about how it’s not just that Villanova attempts threes at a high rate, it’s that they attempt OPEN threes at a high rate, and they’re a product of their ball screen offense, penetrate and kick offense, and ball reversal offense, and the fact that all 5 guys on the floor (including 2 PGs) can move the ball. I also went on at length about KU’s improved ball screen defense, which gives the illusion that they’re crowding the middle, but they’re still able to recover on the perimeter and take away the three point line, and force you into a shot you don’t want to take (a lot of KU’s defensive revolution has come from the relatively sudden revelation of Landen Lucas, ans Self’s confidence to funnel offenses into him). In short, this matchup is all sorts of interesting. Can Ochefu/Reynolds defend Ellis when Self inverts the high low and brings him out on the perimeter? Can Lucas stay out of foul trouble (the 4/5 drop off from Ellis/Lucas to Bragg/Traylor is steep)? Kansas successfully turned Maryland into jump shooters, but that certainly works against you when you’re facing Villanova’s offense. I don’t think Nova can defend Ellis, but they could easily go 10-25 from 3 where Maryland went 5-25. Chalk on this half of the  bracket might have been a little boring, but it pays off in a matchup like this.

PREDICTIONS (32-26-2):

OREGON -1.5

VILLANOVA +2

3/25 Friday Sweet 16 Notes

25 Mar

#1 VIRGINIA vs #4 IOWA STATE

The evening starts with an interesting battle, Iowa State’s efficient up tempo offense vs Virginia’s notorious pack line defense. The Clones have a few things working in their favor here. 1) They just saw a very good pack line from Little Rock (Matt Thomas, who should have a key role tonight on the perimeter and was tenaciously recruited by Bennett, described Virginia as “Little Rock on steroids”), and they posted a robust 78 points in 63 possessions in an easy win. 2) ISU can shoot the ball over the pack line with efficiency, and it’s not just because they have good shooters, but because a versatile four like Georges Niang can command a double team in the post, and pass out of it adroitly, so the three point looks are clean. 3) The aforementioned Niang is a pack line buster because of his unique skill set inside and out. 4) There’s a bit of a misconception that Iowa State can’t operate in a lower possession game, but with the exception of an ugly home win over Oklahoma State, their efficiency has been typical or even at a higher rate in their lower possession games. All that said, there are certainly some factors working against ISU in this one, and it’s all on the defensive end, and it basically boils down to whether or not Abdel Nader can keep Malcolm Brogdon in front of him. It’s actually not so much “staying in front of him”, it’s more about being patient for 20+ seconds defensively and not gambling in the halfcourt, which the Clones don’t do much of anyway. ISU should have a noticeable HCA at the United Center as well.

#6 NOTRE DAME vs #7 WISCONSIN

I think Wisconsin’s defense has some serious issues in front of them against the Irish, and the Irish have some serious issues in front of them against Wisconsin’s offense, so we might see more points than expected in this low possession game between two of the slowest offenses in the country. Wisconsin is going to overplay the three point line and completely take it out of the equation. The Irish can shoot the 3, but that’s not going to be a problem for them, as they’re absolutely lethal in PnR offense with Jackson and Auguste, and if the Irish can routinely force Happ to defend in space outside the paint, they’re going to win that battle more often than not (although Happ’s versatility on that end is a little underrated, as is Wisconsin’s interior defense, which is still a top 100 unit in terms of FG% at the rim). I’m interested to see if Brey sticks with the two PG lineup of Matty Farrell and DJ. Farrell was brought in mainly to combat SFA’s pressure (although he did start vs Michigan as well), but going away from the 4 out offense with Colson and Auguste seems to be a more favorable matchup for the Irish against Wisconsin. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter who starts of course, and Brey will distribute minutes between those two according to the flow of the game, but I think Brey is sort of enamored with what a two PG lineup can do with Jackson able to move off the ball some, and he’s going to be able to win off the dribble against anyone Gard throws on him at the 1 or 2. Essentially, Brey suddenly has a lot more flexibility with his short bench in March. In short, the Irish offense is probably going to be able to get a lot of clean looks at the rim, no matter the personnel on the floor. As for the Irish defense, I have some fairly grave concerns there as well. Gard has brought the swing offense with all its flex cuts, UCLA cuts, up screens, and inversions back to Wisconsin, and the porous Irish defense really struggles on the perimeter. Now, this isn’t really a “great” shooting Badger team, but they’re only a few percentage points off from the elite offensive teams of the past two years, and they’ve won in this tournament with Nigel Hayes essentially contributing nothing offensively. As you can tell, I have no idea who wins this game, but I think both offenses are going to be able to execute in the halfcourt, and Wisconsin has controlling the offensive glass in their favor.

#10 SYRACUSE vs #11 GONZAGA

Not really sure what to make of this one, because I think both offenses are going to be severely limited. Gonzaga, while they’ve seen lengthy athletic zones this year in Texas A&M in the Bahamas, UCLA, and SMU, I’m not sure they’re going to be fully prepared for the 2-3, even though Few has prepped for it before at least (that didn’t exactly go well). Add in the fact that their ppp average in those 3 aforementioned contests is a shade under 1, and I’m not really inspired about Gonzaga’s halfcourt offense tonight. That said, they could realistically grab 50%+ of their misses against the notoriously poor rebounding zone, and if Perkins and McClellan settle in and are able to feed Sabonis and Wiltjer routinely, this one could turn into a blowout a la the Zags vs Utah’s matchup zone. If the Zags can feast against Utah’s interior, then they can feast against Syracuse’s, but again, it’s all on Perkins and McClellan being able to handle the zone at the top, and Perkins, while I applaud has confidence, isn’t exactly doing himself any favors with quotes like this…”BYU tried it. Portland tried it. Utah tried it. And it wasn’t successful. So we’ll see how Syracuse does it. Like I said, man, we’re not a team that you can zone. … It’s just another defense, another scheme. Our coaches do a great job with game plans. They have a great one tomorrow. You’ll see.” Besides Lydon and Roberson trying to hold off Sabonis and Wiltjer, the other big matchup to watch is McClellan vs Gbinije. McClellan has been tasked with shutting down Whitehead and Bonam, and he’s largely succeeded, but he’s giving up 3 inches to Gbinije in this one. Of note, since Gonzaga nearly lost at Santa Clara on New Year’s Eve when the Broncos went 12-24 from 3, the Zags have been hell on 3PT reliant teams, but those teams have been San Diego twice, Santa Clara again, and Portland thrice, so take from that what you will, but a concerted effort had been made to close out better. The 2-3 is going to be effective in limiting Gonzaga for large stretches of this game, I don’t doubt that, but I’m not convinced Syracuse is going to be able to score with any sort of efficiency themselves against what has been a stellar Zags defense in this tournament, and when the Gonzaga backcourt gets a feel for the zone, Sabonis and Wiltjer are going to be able to take over.

#1 NORTH CAROLINA vs #5 INDIANA

The last game of the night is going to be the antidote to the three pace killing games ahead of it, and it essentially comes down to which team can exploit their matchup advantage more efficiently. UNC is massive, we all know this. With Johnson, Hicks, Meeks (sorta), they have absurd talent and length in the frontcourt, and they will crush Indiana on the offensive glass. That’s just an inevitability with the structure of IU’s lineup combined with the sheer amount of missed jump shots from UNC (4th highest 2PT jumper rate in the country, a hallmark of Roy Williams teams). Against four out offenses (and even against fellow double post teams), the Heels are going to exploit that matchup at the 4 against the “stretch big”. But, that advantage comes at a cost on the other end, as 4 out ACC offenses like Duke and Notre Dame have had success offensively while still getting absolutely hammered on the offensive glass by the Heels. Notre Dame beat UNC because their ball movement and 4 out motion sets created mismatches that allowed Jackson to routinely attack off the dribble against a slower defender, and the Irish went to the FT line 38 times. Duke won the first meeting with UNC in a similar fashion, spreading the court and making Johnson and Hicks defend quicker ball handlers in space, and routinely isolating that matchup. Can Indiana can exploit this same advantage with their offense? Absolutely. Crean loves to use Troy Williams and Collin Hartman in “big to big” pick and roll situations, and that’s going to be unguardable IF Hartman is actually capable of shooting jump shots (I believe his wrist is worse off than has been reported and he’s not really capable of shooting, but maybe the rest has helped) and Williams brings a good balance of his athleticism and unpredictability (sometimes that ratio is skewed, and you’ll see #BadTroy trending on IU twitter). Now there is the fact that in rematches with Duke and Notre Dame, the Tar Heels won (and you can argue that UNC should have swept Duke if Paige and Berry would have just given Johnson THE DAMN BALL!!!), but the fact is IU has a clear mismatch to exploit on offense with their 4 out offense, and UNC has the same advantage with their double post offense. Encouraging for the Hoosiers is that they beat UK without getting on track from 3, and as has already been discussed, you can shoot over UNC’s big lineup. There are also some health concerns for the Hoosiers with Juwan Morgan and Robert Johnson both iffy (although it looks like both will play), and they’re incredibly key on the perimeter defensively against Berry, Paige, and Jackson. The last note I have here is that IU’s interior defense has actually been under the radar solid of late against teams known for their 2PT offenses (Purdue (they were shutting them down completely until a spirited comeback), Maryland, and Kentucky), and that’s simply because of OG Anunoby. Thomas Bryant has improved TREMENDOUSLY on the defensive end as the year progressed, but the development of Anunoby was a season changer for Tom Crean. His length, athleticism, and ability to legitimately guard 1-5 transformed the horrific Hoosier ball screen defense we saw in Maui. It’s going to be interesting because he’s going to get a lot of time on Johnson tonight, and his wingspan makes him a 7 footer with better athleticism. Everyone is looking at Paige vs Yogi, which is of course the marquee matchup, but that Johnson vs Anunoby battle is going to be more important. If the Hoosier interior defense holds up like it has the past few weeks (excluding Mark Donnal inexplicably going 6-6 in Indy), then that could tip this one in favor of the Hoosiers. Of course the inherent problem is that with Anunoby at the 4, you sacrifice that perimeter “stretch 4” advantage on the other end, but again, I’m not sure what Hartman is physically capable of providing offensively anyway, and he’s going to be exploited on the other end routinely, which makes me think this isn’t quite going to be the mid 80s point total battle everyone is expecting. I’m rambling at this point…

 

PREDICTIONS (32-22-2):

IOWA STATE +6

WISCONSIN +1.5

GONZAGA -4.5

INDIANA +5.5