Monday, March 18, 2013

Complete West Region Analysis

Opening Thoughts:

Let me say that Gonzaga is a really good team. I not one of those people who thinks Gonzaga is undeserving of their 1 seed. Their set of wins doesn't match Duke, but they also didn't have as many chances. They're not one of the four best teams in the country, but I'd put them in the top 7 or 8. That said, if there's one region where you don't pick a 1 seed to go through (and really, don't pick all 1 seeds... it's super unlikely, and it's lame), it's this one.

Why do I say that? Well, Gonzaga is probably the weakest of the 1 seeds. Ohio State is a solid 2 seed. And you've got some really good teams lower down the bracket. Wisconsin, Arizona and Pittsburgh are all strong relative to their seed, as are teams like Belmont and Ole Miss. I can make an argument for 10 different teams in this region making a run to the Sweet 16.

Pittsburgh, in particular, is an insanely strong 8 seed. They are 7th in the Pomeroy ratings... that is the 7th best team in the nation. You can argue that Pitt is overvalued by Pomeroy, but those ratings are never off by much. Maybe they're only the 15th best team in the nation. But whatever they are, they're a very unfortunate Round of 32 opponent for the weakest 1 seed.

That makes this region a tough one to project. Remember, try to keep all of the games in mind. Don't project your thoughts on Gonzaga/Wisconsin without first thinking about Gonzaga/Pittsburgh and Wisconsin/Kansas State. All of the probabilities matter.

First/Second Round:

My Picks:
13. Boise State over 13. La Salle

1. Gonzaga over 16. Southern
8. Pittsburgh over 9. Wichita State
4. Kansas State over 13. Boise State
5. Wisconsin over 12. Ole Miss
3. New Mexico over 14. Harvard
11. Belmont over 6. Arizona
7. Notre Dame over 10. Iowa State
2. Ohio State over 15. Iona

La Salle is an interesting team to consider. There really wasn't much doubt that they'd get into the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, though it wasn't a surprise that they ended up in a play-in game. At the same time, there's really no evidence that they're a particularly good team. They are rated 57th by both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR. A 7-2 record in games decided by 7 points or less is the reason for that - they're not as good as their record. And that certainly seems to give the edge to a Boise State team that really has the record it deserves. But that said, La Salle matches up really well. Boise is an offense-focused team, and they generate much of that offense from a three-point shooting attack that led the Mountain West in 3P%. Yet La Salle led the A-10 in both defensive 3PA/FGA ratio and 3P%. Nevertheless, Derrick Marks should be able to handle the La Salle pressure defense, and the reality is that Boise State has shown much more ability to take down elite opponents. So you can argue either way here, but I give the narrow edge to Boise State.

Southern is the strongest team to come out of the SWAC in close to a decade, and against the weakest 1 seed should be able to put up the best fight of any 16 seed in the Tournament but, let's be real. There was talk a few weeks ago that this might be the year that a 16 takes out a 1, but upset automatic bids by teams like Liberty, LIU and North Carolina A&T put to bed that one. This is the only one that might end up being competitive in the second half. I really like Iona - they can really push the pace and score points, and MoMo Jones is an awfully good player. As a 13 or 14 seed with a reasonable draw I would have seriously thought about projecting them to win a game. But against a disciplined defense like Ohio State I just can't see it.

New Mexico/Harvard is another game that should be reasonable competitive. New Mexico is the softest 3 seed and Harvard has really come on in the second half of the season. They're better than their record, have a strong defense that can really eliminate threes and have a tremendous point guard in Siyani Chambers. The problem is, New Mexico's length and athleticism is beyond what Harvard has the personnel for. Harvard's interior defense occasionally struggled with  Ivy League big men, so how will they deal with Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow? Also, if New Mexico isolates 6'7" Tony Snell on the perimeter, I don't see how Harvard can match up against that. Next year is the year for Harvard, assuming that they get back Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey. This year they'll be one-and-done.

I have Boise State playing Kansas State in the Round of 64. The concern for Boise State is that Kansas State's offense has gotten really sharp and efficient as the season has gone along. Frank Martin is good at a lot of things, but teaching fundamentals is not one of them. Bruce Weber has dramatically transformed Kansas State into a team that takes care of the ball, passes smarter and makes good decisions. With an elite scorer like Rodney McGruder and a savvy offensive creator like Angel Rodriguez, Kansas State was the second best offense in the Big 12. In fact, Kansas is the only team to hold the Wildcats below 1 PPP in a game since February 2nd. Boise State struggles to hold opponents to bad shots and was one of the weaker defenses in the Mountain West all season. Offensively, Boise State shoots the three well, but Kansas State was 2nd in the Big 12 in 3PA/FGA ratio defense. Throw in the fact that Kansas State is basically going to be at home here, and they are the heavy favorites.

La Salle would probably be the tougher match-up for Kansas State. Their paint defense is poor but their perimeter defense is excellent (they led the Atlantic Ten in 3P% and 3PA/FGA defense but were dead last in 2P% defense). Kansas State has good big men, but they don't work the ball inside often. They are a perimeter-oriented offense, which will play into what La Salle wants to do. I'd be concerned about La Salle's poor rebounding, though. Their last three losses (Butler, St. Louis and Temple) all happened because they got totally destroyed on the glass and gave up a lot of easy second chances. Kansas State doesn't crash the offensive glass like they did under Frank Martin (Weber plays a more Big Ten-style that emphasizes preventing secondary transition offense), but the Wildcats have the ability to get a lot of rebounds if they go for it. They finished third in the Big 12 in offensive rebounding percentage. So once again, the edge goes to Kansas State.

Wisconsin/Ole Miss is probably the strongest 5/12 game in the Tournament in terms of overall quality of teams. Even if Ole Miss was an 11 seed that got bumped to a 12 for scheduling/geography reasons, they still would have been a reasonably strong 11 seed. Wisconsin, meanwhile, is the strongest 5 seed in the field. I understand why the Selection Committee did what they did (I anticipated it and projected them as a 5 seed as well) it's a bit ridiculous after they finished third in the Big Ten in efficiency margin and then took out Michigan and Indiana in the Big Ten tournament.

To me, Wisconsin is a terrible match-up for Ole Miss. The Rebels are an undisciplined team with a few individual scorers that can be explosive, but they do not pass the ball well and they don't work the ball into the paint well. They were 12th in the SEC in A/FGM ratio and rely heavily on Marshall Henderson launching a whole lot of three-pointers. The problem is, there is no team in the nation that prevents three-pointers better than Wisconsin. They once again led the Big Ten in 3PA/FGA ratio and 3P% defense, and were top ten nationally in both stats, which is amazing when you consider that most teams ahead of them came from small conferences (Wisconsin led all BCS conference teams in 3PA/FGA ratio). Bo Ryan is going to have four days to put together an anti-Marshall Henderson plan, and I like his chances. Offensively, Wisconsin has struggled for significant stretches of the season, but the Ole Miss defense is pretty poor. Also, this Wisconsin team hits the offensive glass harder than any Bo Ryan team is recent memory, which is a problem against an Ole Miss team that was 8th in the SEC in defensive rebounding percentage. Wisconsin should win fairly easily.

The 6/11 match-up is fascinating, and a really tough draw for Arizona. Belmont was ridiculously good the past two seasons, and just happened to get really brutal NCAA Tournament match-ups against teams that were not just elite, but also matched up well against an aggressive, pressing defense that really wants to turn you over and get out in transition. This year's team isn't quite as good as those last two vintages, but they were still Top 50 in both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR. And this Arizona team is softer than Belmont's previous opponents. They faded down the stretch (losing 5 of their final 10 games), and are not really a team that controls tempo and limits turnovers. They were only 6th in the Pac-12 in offensive turnover rate, and despite being much better at scoring in the paint than on the perimeter (they only hit 34.5% of their threes in conference play) they tend to settle and take a lot of long jumpers. When Belmont speeds them up, there's a real risk that the Wildcats will get disjointed offensively and start rushing unwise jump shots. Particularly because so much of the offense has been run through Mark Lyons this season, and the natural result of Belmont's defense will be forcing other Arizona players to initiate the offense and to try to create something.

The question is whether Belmont can win this game without getting a lot of transition offense, and I think the answer to that is "no". They led the nation with 57.1% two-point shooting this season, but that's inflated by all of the fast break layups they got. They do have a pretty good low post scorer this season in Trevor Noack, but most of the offense is always going to be through Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark. Arizona's half court defense is fairly good, and I don't think Johnson and Clark will be able to get to the basket at will like they were in the Ohio Valley this season. But Belmont does have several good outside shooters (two starters over 41% behind the arc), and Arizona has been vulnerable to hot-shooting three-point teams this season. And so for all of these reasons, I think that this is the year that Belmont finally breaks through.

Notre Dame is a dangerous team because they are playing their best basketball of the season right now. Over the past month, they have lost only three games, and two were against Louisville. The other loss was a close game on the road at Marquette, and the Irish got revenge on Marquette in the Big East tournament. Notre Dame has also beaten Pittsburgh and Cincinnati over that stretch, and pushed their Pomeroy rating from 60th to 31st. That's a huge jump for just over a month. They have been much more efficient on both sides of the ball. Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins are both really good at attacking the basket and setting up their teammates, and Mike Brey's teams always pass the ball really well. Iowa State's defense can be very soft, particularly against teams that move the ball quickly. Expect the Irish to score plenty.

The one concern for Notre Dame in this game is shooting. The Irish defense is not particularly athletic, and they particularly struggle against big front lines. Jack Cooley is a strong defender, but he has a tendency to get in foul trouble, which would leave the paint wide open for opposing offenses. Iowa State has three different starters who are strong scorers in the paint, and Iowa State led the Big 12 in both 2P% and 3P%. The Irish were third in the Big East in 3PA/FGA ratio on defense, and should stop Iowa State from shooting threes while hoping Cooley can limit what Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang do in the paint. It's a tall order, but I do think that the Irish will be able to win a shoot-out here. And they're just flat out playing better basketball right now. So I give the edge to the Irish.

For the final game of the Round of 64 we get back to the Pittsburgh team I talked about at the top. There are several reasons why Pittsburgh is so underrated. First, they were better than their Big East record. For example, at 12-6 in Big East play they had an efficiency margin in conference play of +0.12 PPP, while 14-4 Marquette was only +0.07 PPP. Pitt also had bad luck with things like FT% defense (71.4%). They had a chance to move up to something like a 4 seed in the Big East tournament, but flamed out against a white-hot shooting Syracuse team (Pitt would have won by 15+ if the three-point shooting was close to what would have been expected pregame). And they get a Wichita State team that really stagnated in mid-to-late January. They were looking like a legitimate Sweet 16 contender then, but then started losing so many games that they slipped onto the bubble heading into the Missouri Valley tournament.

To pick Wichita State in this game you need to see a glaring match-up advantage, and I don't see one. Wichita State has a superb paint defender in Carl Hall, but Pitt runs a perimeter oriented offense that will mostly avoid him. Wichita State dominated the glass in Missouri Valley play (they led the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage), but Pitt is a typical Jamie Dixon team that is tough and physical in the paint. They will be able to hold their own. So to me, you have to take the clearly better team on paper, and that is Pittsburgh.

Third Round:

My Picks:
1. Gonzaga over 8. Pittsburgh
5. Wisconsin over 4. Kansas State
3. New Mexico over 11. Belmont
2. Ohio State over 7. Notre Dame

A potential Gonzaga/Pittsburgh game would be awfully interesting. Considering how good Pittsburgh is and the fact that Gonzaga will not have a homecourt advantage here, I would expect the Vegas line to be only 3 or 4 points. Pitt has a couple of big men in Steven Adams and Talib Zanna that can match up physically with Kelly Olynyk and the Gonzaga front line, and Lamar Patterson could give Elias Harris a hard time. Gonzaga has too many weapons for Pittsburgh to make this into a 56-52 game, but don't expect Gonzaga to score 80 either. To me, the biggest concern in this game will be Gonzaga's defense. Defense has historically been what has held up the Zags, and this is (statistically) the best defense Mark Few has ever had. But you have to ask yourself, even though ratings like Pomeroy control for strength of schedule, just how much of that defensive efficiency had to do with eating alive a poor WCC this season. The Zags may struggle with a team as athletic and physical as Pittsburgh, even if Pitt doesn't have any particularly explosive scorers.

While Pitt can very well win this game, my biggest concern is the fact that Pitt has beat Wichita State to get here while Gonzaga gets Southern. While Southern will probably give Gonzaga a better game than any other 16 seed will give any other 1 seed this season, let's be real - Gonzaga is going to win that game 98% of the time. Pitt has a real battle on their hands with Wichita State. I consider Pitt the clear favorite in that game, but the reality is that unless you think Pitt is the overwhelming favorite over Gonzaga, you need to take the Zags here. And that's also the reason why you should take Gonzaga over a Wichita State team that you'd need to beat both Pitt and the Zags to get to the Sweet 16.

Ohio State vs Notre Dame would be a really high level Round of 32 game. As I said in my discussion on the Round of 64, the Irish are playing really well right now, and have been for more than a month. Of course, the Buckeyes have finished the season really strong as well. There was a little bit of panic about them when they were only 8-5 in Big Ten play, but their schedule had been really rough. And they are riding an 8 game winning streak that includes victories over Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan State (twice) and Minnesota. The Irish have only beaten three teams in the Pomeroy Top 35 all season long, and it's because of their lack of athleticism, particularly in the front court. They managed to take out Louisville and Pitt in a pair of low scoring games when their opponents couldn't shoot from the outside (a combined 5-for-33 behind the arc). And that win over Louisville was that crazy 5OT game where Russ Smith had around 37 chances to win the game and kept missing, and it would be really misguided to try to draw any NCAA Tournament conclusions from that late night insanity.

The Irish defend the perimeter well, but this is not the same Buckeyes team from two years back that depended so heavily on threes. This year's team gets the ball inside 15 feet and depends heavily on the shot-making ability of 6'7" DeShaun Thomas. They only got 22.9% of their points on threes in Big Ten play, which was third fewest in the conference. Also, Ohio State is one of the few teams that can feel pretty confident about defending Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant in man-to-man simultaneously without a lot of help. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are both excellent perimeter defenders, and Lenzelle Smith is no slouch himself. You can sometimes take advantage of DeShaun Thomas, but Notre Dame doesn't have the personnel for that. So I just don't see how the Irish can beat the Buckeyes here.

If you have Iowa State here against Ohio State, I don't think they're really a better match-up. They are an all-offense/no-defense kind of team, and the Buckeyes definitely will not let them score too much. The only concern might be on the inside, if Iowa State goes with a big lineup that forces Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel to play heavy minutes. That would slow down the Ohio State offense on the other end of the floor, where they're more effective when they can play small. But with the way Aaron Craft has been playing this past month and with the fact that DeShaun Thomas is one of the two or three best pure scorers in the nation, the Buckeyes will still score plenty. Move Ohio State to the Sweet 16.

New Mexico is a team that with another draw I could easily have picked them to lose here, in the Round of 32. I do think that they got a relatively nice draw here, though. I think New Mexico is a really tough match-up personnel-wise for Belmont. Belmont wants to get out in transition, of course, and they have struggled the past two years in the NCAA Tournament against elite teams that are sound with the ball (Wisconsin and Georgetown). New Mexico is that type of team, with a ton of experience and an elite point guard in Kendall Williams, They led the Mountain West in offensive turnover rate, and there's just no way to think that Belmont is going to have one of their 15 steal games against New Mexico. And on the other end of the floor, Belmont's efficient offense hasn't seen anything like the length and athleticism that the Lobos have. Belmont has played two nationally strong defenses this year - VCU and Kansas - and was wiped out by both (a combined 0.85 PPP). New Mexico isn't going to pour on the offense, but they won't need to. I don't see where Belmont can get their scoring from.

Arizona would be the tougher match-up for New Mexico. The Wildcats had the best offense in the Pac-12 and are able to score efficiently in the paint, which is the weakest area for New Mexico. Also, while New Mexico's team defense is great, they don't have great individual perimeter defenders. Their best defender is 7-footer Alex Kirk, but he's going to be a little bit useless against Arizona. Arizona doesn't have a traditional big man that they run offense through. Expect to see Kirk helping a lot in the paint on drivers, but that's also a good way for him to get in foul trouble. That said, Arizona has the same defensive problem. New Mexico's offense is not the greatest, but they use their shooting to spread teams out and then attack the rim. They were 2nd in the Mountain West in FTRate, which is a relevant stat against an Arizona team that was 9th in the Pac-12 in defensive FTRate. And the thing you have to remind yourself here is that New Mexico has a far easier Round of 64 game than Arizona (after all, I'm picking Arizona to lose that Round of 64 game). So unless you see a glaring reason to take Arizona over New Mexico, the safe play is to put the Lobos in the Sweet 16.

Kansas State and Wisconsin would be an interesting battle between two coaches who played a whole lot of times in the Big Ten, but also would provide for a contrast in secondary issues. First, Wisconsin is a very strong 5 seed while Kansas State is probably the weakest 4 seed (Pomeroy only has them 30th). But at the same time, this is basically a home game for Kansas State in Kansas City. Now, we obviously know that Kansas State will struggle to score against Wisconsin. Everybody struggles to score against Wisconsin, and the Badgers have gotten really good at shutting down elite perimeter scorers. What makes the defense so good is that every defender is interchangeable, and they can happily switch every screen to another defender that can stay in front of Rodney McGruder.

The concern for Wisconsin is whether their hot scoring spark in the Big Ten tournament is a trend or a fluke. Kansas State's vulnerability is defensive, but Wisconsin is not a team that can really take advantage of that unless they're shooting well. The one area that offensively that I think the Badgers will have an advantage will be inside, particularly on the offensive glass and on second chances. Kansas State has a couple of big bodies in Thomas Gipson and Jordan Henriquez, but Bruce Weber often likes to go with a small lineup. Also, both of those guys are fairly big, and might struggle with the speed that Wisconsin front court players like Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans can bring to the table. Will Thomas Gipson really chase Berggren and Frank Kaminsky around screens at the three-point area? I just don't like those match-ups. Wisconsin is the favorite here.

Sweet 16:

My Picks:
5. Wisconsin over 1. Gonzaga
2. Ohio State over 3. New Mexico

Gonzaga versus either Wisconsin or Kansas State will be an interesting pick. We know that at least one of the 1 seeds is likely to go down before the Elite 8. The concern that you need to have every year, however, is that the 1 seeds usually have an easy draw to the Sweet 16. So to pick them to lose to the 4/5 winner, you need to really feel that the 4/5 seed is much better. And certainly that is occasionally the case - last year I correctly picked fourth seeded Louisville to make the Final Four - but it's rare. In this region, though, Gonzaga has what is basically a 50/50 game in the second round against Pittsburgh. The Zags will be slightly favored, but barely. So while Wisconsin has a tough game against Kansas State, the odds of them making the Sweet 16 are only slightly lower than Gonzaga. And this means that you do not need to think Wisconsin is the overwhelming favorite over Gonzaga to pick them here. If you would take Wisconsin in a head-to-head match-up against Gonzaga in a vacuum, then you should feel comfortable taking them here.

So does Wisconsin have the edge over Gonzaga? In some ways "yes" and in other ways "no". I do think that Wisconsin has the defensive personnel to handle Gonzaga. The Zags really hurt teams in three different ways. Olynyk is the best offensive true big man in the nation (with his passing I put him slightly ahead of Cody Zeller), Elias Harris is a very athletic 6'8" perimeter player who is excellent at getting to the rim, and they can hurt you over the top with Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell. Jared Berggren is one of the best big man defenders in the nation and has gone toe-to-toe with guys like Cody Zeller for a couple of years now and been fine. Even if he gets in foul trouble, I don't think that Frank Kaminsky is a huge drop off. And don't think that a guy like Mike Bruesewitz can't do alright with Olynyk for stretches. The three-point shooting, as usual, is not really a concern against the Wisconsin defense. And Wisconsin has multiple elite wing defenders who will be able to slow down Elias Harris. And the Wisconsin guards are physical enough that they'll be okay if they get switched onto Harris off of screens.

Offensively, I do think Wisconsin will have trouble against Gonzaga. Wisconsin's ability to control tempo and protect the ball won't really do them a lot of good against a Gonzaga team that likes to sit back and play sound defense, and does not require turnovers and transition offense to be successful. Wisconsin has a tendency to become a jump shooting team if the paint is denied to them, and Kelly Olynyk and Sam Dower can both do that. If Wisconsin turns into a jump shooting team, they really aren't a good jump shooting team at all. So in my opinion, this is going to be a close, low scoring game. Gonzaga is wildly talented offensively, while Wisconsin's defense has shut down anybody and everybody lately (they have held 11 of their last 13 opponents below 1 PPP and led the Big Ten by allowing only 0.88 PPP in conference play). In the end, I give the narrow edge to Wisconsin because they are used to games like this while Gonzaga isn't. The Zags have been running roughshod against over-matched WCC defenses. This will be a big change. And when you throw in the fact that Pittsburgh really has a good shot to take down Gonzaga in the Round of 32, it's really not a huge risk to project a Wisconsin upset here.

New Mexico's defense will give Ohio State's offense troubles, just like they give every team trouble, but Ohio State is not a team that ever gets totally shut down. They won't have an easy time against a good defense, but they have too many weapons to get totally shut down. In their past 16 games, they've been held below 1 PPP just twice, and both times were by Wisconsin. And as good as New Mexico's defense, they're not Wisconsin. If Aaron Craft plays like he did down the stretch of the regular season, the Lobos will struggle to keep him out of the lane. And again, Alex Kirk is going to be somewhat neutralized by the fact that Ohio State does not run offense through a true big man. Kirk would have been much more useful against Jared Sullinger than he will be chasing DeShaun Thomas and Sam Thompson around.

That said, New Mexico will not be fazed by Ohio State's defense. Kendall Williams can certainly handle the ball against Craft. And one of Ohio State's defensive strengths - their aggressive pursuit of turnovers - can actually backfire against New Mexico. The Lobos pass the ball really well, and if Ohio State over-rotates or gets caught out trying to get a turnover, the Lobos will likely be able to convert that into an open shot on the weak side of the floor.  So on first glance, Ohio State is the better team on paper and New Mexico is overrated, but the individual match-ups are pretty much a draw. So I give the slight edge to Ohio State, but certainly can understand New Mexico being an upset pick here.

If you have Arizona or Belmont taking out New Mexico, I wouldn't think twice about moving Ohio State past them. Besides the fact that Ohio State will be more likely just to be in the Sweet 16 game, I don't think Arizona or Belmont matches up well against them. Arizona's perimeter defense is mediocre, and after the Buckeyes get the ball toward the rim they are going to overwhelm the Wildcats with their physicality. All of Arizona's success this year has come by having their offense make up for defensive deficiencies, but the only defense they've seen this year like Ohio State was Florida, and the Gators shut them down for the first 35 minutes (until the crazy chaos of the final five minutes). The Buckeyes are just the clearly better team.

And I certainly feel the same way about Belmont. They are going to struggle with Ohio State for the same reason I think they're going to struggle against New Mexico - they aren't going to get the kind of turnovers and easy buckets against the Buckeyes that they got in the Ohio Valley, and in the half court they're going to be overwhelmed by the aggressive, athletic Ohio State defense. And if the Buckeyes go with a big lineup to attack the glass, Belmont simply does not have the bodies to counter - particularly if JJ Mann is chasing DeShaun Thomas around the perimeter.

Elite 8:

My Pick:
2. Ohio State over 5. Wisconsin

Should this match-up come to pass, it would be the fourth game this year between these two teams. And maybe this is a little bit of wishful thinking on my part, because I really do love watching these two teams play each other. It might be my favorite match-up in the Big Ten right now. Two excellent coaches with personnel that fit what they want to do and that know how to take away what the other team wants. Ohio State won a tight game in Columbia, got blown out in Madison and then won the rubber game in the Big Ten title game. To me, the first game is actually the most instructive. I don't think we can draw too many conclusions from that game in Madison where everything went right for Wisconsin while everything went wrong for the Buckeyes, and the Big Ten title game featured bizarrely putrid three-point shooting for both teams. Both teams did a great job of preventing open threes, but it was still true that either team could have the game relatively easily if they had gotten in a groove shooting jumpers.

But the first game in Columbia is meaningful, to me. Both of these teams play really good defense, both take care of the ball and the rebounding should be pretty even. The one advantage that Ohio State has is DeShaun Thomas. Thomas went for 25 points in that game with 10-for-16 shooting, despite never being open all night. It was an incredible performance. These teams are so even that the fact that Ohio State has a player who can take over offensively while Wisconsin doesn't is the edge for the Buckeyes.  It will be hard to see Wisconsin overcoming a strong DeShaun Thomas game unless they shoot really well beyond the arc, which is not something that you want to rest your Final Four hopes on. Besides, Ohio State has an easier path here than Wisconsin, so even if you think this game is an even match-up then you should take Ohio State.

If you have Gonzaga in this game against Ohio State, I think the Zags have the same problem that they do against Wisconsin. It's going to be a physical, low-scoring game that Ohio State will be used to and the Zags won't. Also, despite Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Gonzaga is really not a prolific outside shooting team. They depend on getting the ball into the paint and scoring there, and Ohio State is going to make that a very tough proposition. I do think that Ohio State would struggle to score against Gonzaga, but I wonder where Kelly Olynyk is going to play on defense. I would expect Thad Matta to go with a smaller lineup to force Kelly Olynyk to wear himself out on the perimeter. The Buckeyes have a front line that is athletic and physical enough that they'll be able to play decent defense on Olynyk even without Amir Williams or Evan Ravenel in there. In fact, considering that Olynyk is more of a finesse player than a true low block scorer, I think Ohio State would do just fine with a guy like DeShaun Thomas on him.

If you have New Mexico in this game, I wouldn't like their odds against Wisconsin. The ability of New Mexico to win turnover battles is not going to matter against a Wisconsin team that never tries to turn you over and which is a perennial leader in offensive turnover rate. New Mexico's offense is a perimeter offense, which plays into the hands of Wisconsin. The Badgers have the athletic swing players and front court players to stay in front of guys like Tony Snell. If New Mexico plays Gonzaga, I think that the Alex Kirk/Kelly Olynyk match-up will be fascinating. Even though I don't have either of these teams in my Elite 8, that is one of my favorite potential one-on-one match-ups in the Tournament. And again, the fact that New Mexico doesn't generate a lot of offense in the post means that a Gonzaga defense that is perimeter-oriented shouldn't have too much trouble limiting what the Lobos do. And between potential match-ups against Belmont/Arizona and then Ohio State and then Wisconsin/Gonzaga... I really don't think you want to put a weak 3 seed into the Final Four.


Anonymous said...

I really like your bracket! Thanks for the tips! I really hope Pitt can get past the first two rounds atleast. I feel that they're way better then their record, and it would be cool to actually see them go far.

the dude said...

What about a Pitt / Wisconsin sweet 16 match up? What are your thoughts on that?