NCAA Tournament: Final Four Notes

1 Apr

Season Predictions: 2052-1857-89, 403-339-19

NCAA Tournament: 32-26-2, 13-10-1

#1 Gonzaga vs #7 South Carolina

South Carolina’s defense is outstanding (and these are the top two defenses in the country by KenPom’s metrics), there’s no questioning that. They deny, literally, everything. A simple perimeter pass becomes a Herculean effort against South Carolina’s physical man, and downright impossible extended Frank Martin’s extended 3-2 matchup zone. That said, the Gamecocks’ offensive explosion in this tournament is why they’re here. At no point in the regular season did they string together three straight +1ppp OE games, a feat they’ve accomplished four straight times in this tournament run, mostly thanks to the heroics of Sindarius Thornwell (who reportedly has been battling an illness this week). So while South Carolina’s ultra physical and aggressive defense gets the headlines in this matchup, I actually think it’s Gonzaga’s defense that’s going to be the difference tonight, a defense that allows the lowest FG% at the rim in the country (where South Carolina really has to score off penetration/FTs, turnovers, and Kotsar post ups to be effective), they defend without fouling, and they’re an excellent defensive rebounding team, a necessity against USC (although they’ve been routinely challenged on the glass in this tournament). Scoring efficiently in the halfcourt against Gonzaga is next to impossible (per hoop-math, they’re limiting opponents to a sub 40% eFG in the halfcourt), but I’m not quite willing to count out Lord Sindarius. Frank Martin has been really creative in how he uses Thornwell, and will almost certainly try to go small for extended periods with Thornwell at the 4 rather than try to match up straight up against the Gonzaga height in the frontcourt. Martin will use a lot of Al Skinneresque flex action when Thornwell is lined up at the 4, and the idea will be to try to get the Gonzaga bigs on him in space, where he can attack and cause some foul trouble (although I think Williams is capable of guarding him outside the paint if that match up arises on pnr/flex action). If, and it’s a big IF, Thornwell and Dozier can get Gonzaga in foul trouble, Mark Few will likely go to the 2-3 he’s shown when Karno is getting exposed in pnr or they’re having foul issues (see WVU). However, there’s a pervading myth that USC is terrible against zones, when in actuality, they’ve been just as good as anyone else, if not slightly better against zones (and they’ve seen everything from the Boeheim zone to Ole Miss’ 1-3-1 to Baylor’s morphing 1-1-3). If Gonzaga does get in foul trouble, they’ll start to run into some matchup issues, if the Gamecocks aren’t getting the whistles, they’ll likely really struggle to score in the halfcourt. As for Gonzaga offensively, my major concern is Williams-Goss against the physical aggression of the South Carolina guards. He really seemed rattled by WVU (but who doesn’t?), and while USC doesn’t really extend full court, the pressure and trapping borne from the 3-2 is virtually impossible to deal with in the halfcourt if NWG is tentative again, and it will lead to transition points/USC not having to score against a set Gonzaga defense. That said, Few has had a week to prepare for this, and his offensive sets against Xavier’s morphing zones (albeit far less aggressive and active at the top) on short prep were outstanding. Look for a lot of backdoor action tonight against the zone, which plays so far up on the floor. In short, keys for Gonzaga: solid guard play against extended 3-2 zone, keeping Karno/Williams/Collins out of foul trouble so South Carolina is forced to “play big” with Kotsar and Silva. For USC: continue to utilize a hopefully healthy Thornwell at the 4, which forces Gonzaga to try to guard him in space, force TOs against shaky Gonzaga backcourt.

ADVANCE: Gonzaga

ATS PREDICTION: Gonzaga -6.5

#1 North Carolina vs #3 Oregon

I would love Oregon in this matchup if they had one more Jordan Bell (well, they did when Chris Boucher was healthy). As it is, I still think Oregon can really challenge the Heels here because of Altman’s switching zone defenses and some mismatches they’ll create with their 4 out spread pnr offense. The bigger UNC defense with their more traditional 4/5 men have had issues when they’re forced to defend a ball handler at the 4, which Oregon sets up in often with Brooks. Miami exposed the Heels that way with four interchangeable parts on the perimeter that can all penetrate and kick within the motion offense, as did IU and Duke twice. Hicks can’t guard Brooks outside and Jackson can’t guard him when Brooks wants to back him down if Roy wants to go small to match. It seems rather obvious and banal analysis, but Brooks really is the key, as UNC’s best perimeter defender, Pinson, will be on Dorsey (who has been out of his mind this tournament). That said, UNC of course has some inherent advantages offensively with their size, and this game actually should play out quite a bit like last year’s outstanding title game between the Heels and Villanova. With Hicks, Bradley, and Meeks (and now apparently Luke Maye out there spacing defenses), the UNC frontline is too much for Oregon, even with the otherworldly play of Jordan Bell. Bell is a physical phenom, but unless he sweats off into a second Jordan Bell (and Altman has shown he’s not going to simply plug in Bigby-Williams in Boucher’s spot/minutes), and there’s just too much size in the UNC frontcourt. Simply put, Altman probably can’t use much, if any man to man. Jackson is too big for Brooks/Dorsey, and with the one man frontcourt, the soft zone press and switching 2-3 have to be the defenses of choice tonight. The problem is that UNC can actually shoot from outside this year, and if Luke Maye is going to continue to be the best player on the court out of nowhere, he provides Roy with that frontcourt spacer he’s been missing. Additionally, Oregon can’t really keep UNC off the offensive glass, especially when they’re in zone. However, since Oregon really only sends Bell to the offensive glass, they’re solid in limiting transition opps off misses, and keeping the Heels from running is always a top priority.

ADVANCE: North Carolina

ATS PREDICTION: Oregon +5

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2 Responses to “NCAA Tournament: Final Four Notes”

  1. RB April 1, 2017 at 12:14 pm #

    As we come upon the end of another season, I have never learned more from a website about a sport, for free no less. Meanwhile the big websites only hire guys who “have access” with coaches that say nothing anyway. You know 351 teams better than the Katzes and Parrishes know the big 5 conferences alone. Love your work, would happily give a donation if you ever decided this hardcore analysis isn’t worth your time anymore.

    • jorcubsdan April 1, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words RB! Much appreciated

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