Saturday, March 17, 2012
Previewing Portland: Saturday's games
By Ted Miller
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Previewing the Round of 32 games at the Rose Garden:
No. 4 seed Indiana (26-8) vs. No. 12 VCU (29-6), 7:10 p.m. ET
VCU coach Shaka Smart enjoys inspiring, insightful quotes, and he's leaning on one that is relevant to his 2011-12 team as it prepares to face Indiana in the South Region with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line: "Things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing."
It's from Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida," but it could just as easily be from a book on the NCAA tournament, one written as a self-help tome for a select group of so-called mid-majors: "Cinderella: The Year After (and After and After)."
You might have heard this: Smart and the Rams burst onto the scene last year with a surprising Final Four run. Yes, they agree, it was really neat. Yes, they'll tell you, the banners hanging in their home gym still give them goose bumps. But things won are done and losing's soul lies in living in the past.
Said Smart, "We've used that [quote] at times because everyone wants to talk about last year's Final Four run, but that's done, that's over. It's all about now."
The Rams' showdown with Indiana is interesting for a variety of reasons. For one, the Hoosiers are a super-elite program that's been in the dumps of late but is eager to climb back to the top of hoops' Mt. Olympus. VCU is a newbie riding high under Smart's pitch-perfect leadership.
VCU, which has won 18 of 19, is all about its full-court-pressing "Havoc" defense. Indiana is a high-scoring team that isn't afraid to run. The Hoosiers also are great from behind the 3-point line, hitting on 43.6 percent of their attempts, which ranks second in the nation. In their first game here against New Mexico State, they put on an offensive exhibition, hitting 59 percent of their shots, including 7 of 13 from 3-point range. They scored inside and outside, they ran the break, found open looks in the halfcourt and seven players contributed to 15 total assists.
The question on Saturday is whether they can break the Rams' press and again get good looks at the basket. The key, Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said, is to not let the Rams dictate where the ball goes.
"You've got to do a great job of catching the ball where you want to catch it," he said. "If you catch it where they want you to catch it, it's going to be a problem."
VCU has good size, and 7-footer D.J. Haley did an outstanding job Thursday of containing Wichita State big man and leading scorer Garrett Stutz. But Indiana center Cody Zeller offers a different challenge: He's 6-11 and moves like a 3.
"He's as good as any big kid that we've played in the three years I've been at VCU," Smart said of the freshman. "You talk about him running the floor. We definitely can't give him easy baskets in transition. I would guess that one of the things that they'll try to do is get the ball in quickly after makes or, certainly on misses, get the ball outlet quickly and then look for Zeller running to the rim. If you can get the ball in extremely quickly before the press is set up, then that's one way to beat pressure defensive teams."
Against Wichita State, VCU showed it could score out of a half-court offense, which it has struggled to do this season, and make big shots when the screws tighten. And, while Indiana is the pedigreed program, it's the Rams who have been here before.
Of course, four starters are gone from the 2011 VCU team, and Indiana couldn't have looked more poised while it pounded the Aggies. The past, recent and dusty, probably won't dictate much Saturday.
Said VCU senior forward Bradford Burgess when asked to compare last year's team to this year's team, "Really, the only similarity is the name on the jersey."
No. 4 Louisville (27-9) vs. No. 5 New Mexico (28-6), 9:40 p.m. ET
Louisville has inside information on New Mexico. Cardinals assistant coach Wyking Jones was an assistant the previous two seasons for the Lobos. He was particularly close to the Lobos' two best players, forward Drew Gordon and guard Kendall Williams.
It might not matter a whit. It could, in fact, become more of a distraction, something New Mexico coach Steve Alford can anticipate and counter. But the Louisville players and coach Rick Pitino didn't hide the fact they see it as an advantage against the Lobos for Saturday's matchup.
"Well, he can't hurt, obviously, because he recruited some of their players, knows the guys, knows their personalities, when they could get down or when they could be up," Pitino said. "So we're going to have a good feel for them in abbreviated [way]. He gives us things, a feel that we wouldn't normally get."
Said guard Russ Smith, "It definitely helps because he knows their personnel very well. As far as the seniors and juniors on the team, he knows some of the calls that might be made. So Coach Jones definitely is helping us a lot, especially in practice and in film the past day."
The key in this one, however, is shooting. I know: Genius. But this game pits two of the nation's top-five field goal percentage defenses, with both hovering around 38 percent. Both defenses won the battle in their second-round victories. The Cardinals shut down a high-scoring Davidson attack, miring a team that likes to run in a half-court game, while Williams played a major role in shutting down Long Beach State point guard Casper Ware, the Big West Player of the Year, who shot 5 of 19 from the field and was 2-of-9 from 3-point range.
Williams seems most likely to take on surging Louisville point guard Peyton Siva. While Siva isn't the Cardinals' leading scorer, he won Most Outstanding Player as he and his teammates took a surprising roll through the Big East tournament. He scored 17 points -- one below his season's high -- in the win over Davidson, and has averaged 14.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.6 steals in five postseason games.
Not surprisingly, the uptick in Siva's play has coincided with the uptick in the Cardinals' fortunes. Pitino credited the change to Siva's late-season ability to vary the speed of his play, which came out of a meeting between the two.
Said Pitino, recalling the meeting, "'Peyton, I'm going to tell you why you're struggling, because you just play at one pace, extremely fast. And because of that, you have a lot of turnovers, because you don't know how to probe and change your pace and create things because you play at one speed.'
"And we showed him a tape of Steve Nash and how Steve always probes and gets in the lane and keeps his dribble and comes back and does something else. And that more than anything else really changed his mindset of learning how to change speeds. And he's been brilliant in the Big East tournament. Brilliant yesterday with doing that. And for someone to make that abrupt change like that and really just visualize himself doing that speaks about his basketball IQ in a big way."
So, is the Siva-Williams matchup going to happen? We'll, er, Siva. Alford wouldn't commit.
"Kendall Williams always gets the top assignment," he said. "If he's the top assignment, Kendall will get that assignment."
While there are some similarities between the teams, there also are plenty of differences. For one, New Mexico doesn't see a lot of full-court press in the Mountain West Conference. And Louisville will be much happier running and creating a frantic pace.
The biggest is this: New Mexico has never reached the Sweet 16. Louisville has been there 17 times, fifth-most in the nation.
But neither history nor Wyking Jones is likely to be the difference in this one. It's probably going to be about getting good looks against defenses that don't give many of them. And converting those looks.