Saturday, March 17, 2012
Saturday viewer's guide: What to watch
By Eamonn Brennan
Have you caught your breath yet? Me neither. But the glorious first weekend of the NCAA tournament rolls on undaunted, and so must we. Thirty-two teams remain. By the end of tomorrow, there can be only 16.
You know the math. And since you know the players and the teams and coaches, and there's more on the line today than even Thursday, let's avoid exclusions and run through each specific game quickly.
No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 8 Kansas State, 12:15, p.m. ET, CBS: Syracuse barely survived UNC Asheville on Thursday, and it required at least some small measure of fortuitous officiating to do so. So perhaps it's natural to see Jim Boeheim's team as shaky, even vulnerable, and the matchup won't do much to quell such fears. The Orange are a famously poor defensive rebounding team, ranking No. 341 in the country in opponents' offensive rebounding percentage this season, while Kansas State, with Jamar Samuels, Thomas Gipson and Jordan Henriquez, just so happen to be one of the 10-best offensive rebounding teams in the country. K-State isn't pretty, but it defends and rebounds.
Will that be enough? Boeheim's team is masterful at creating turnovers and scoring easy points in transition, and the Wildcats turn the ball over on a whopping 21.2 percent of their possessions, No. 237 in the country. If K-State coughs it up, there won't be enough wayward rebounds to collect in the first place, and Syracuse — warts and all — will advance.
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Gonzaga, 2:45 p.m. ET, CBS: Make shots, get to the line, make free throws. That is, in incredibly simplified form, what Gonzaga will have to do against Ohio State to win this game. It doesn't look altogether likely: OSU guard Aaron Craft is the nation's best perimeter defender, and he could take star Zags freshman point Kevin Pangos out of the game entirely. That will leave Elias Harris, Robert Sacre and Sam Dower to do work in the middle. Few teams can match up with that forward rotation; Ohio State is most definitely one of them. We saw some clunkers from this OSU offense down the stretch, but its defense never wavered. If the Buckeyes are locked in on both ends of the floor, well, look out.
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 5 Vanderbilt, 6:10 p.m. ET, TNT: Two great coaches. Two intelligent, veteran-led teams. Two very good, if not great, programs yet to achieve (to varying degrees, of course) ultimate NCAA tournament glory. This is a fantastic Round of 32 game, one of the best in the bracket, and one that should come down to (a) how difficult Wisconsin can make it for guard John Jenkins and the rest of the Commodores to knock down outside shots, and (b) whether Vandy forward Festus Ezeli can extend his defense away from the basket far enough to check Jared Berggren, a solid outside shooter, without losing sight of Jordan Taylor and the rest of the Badgers' attack. Both of these teams probably deserve a spot in the Sweet 16. Only one will get it. Shame, that, but it'll be awfully fun time watching them duke it out all the same.
No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 6 Murray State, 5:15 p.m. ET, CBS: Before Norfolk State and Lehigh and any other mid-major darling-come-lately, the Murray State Racers and their near-undefeated regular-season run captured the college hoops world's collective consciousness. Is that run near its end? It would appear so: Few teams are as well equipped to handle star Murray guard Isaiah Canaan, and Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder look like too much for the Racers to handle. But hey: Crazier things have happened. (Understatement of the year? Understatement of the year.)
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 5 New Mexico, 8:40 p.m. ET, TBS: Another fascinating No.4-No.5 matchup here, and another one that's difficult to predict. Here's one thing we do know: Both teams really defend. On a per-possession basis, the Cardinals' defense ranks in the top five nationally, while New Mexico's ranks in the top 15, and both teams are adept at stopping opponents in the half court specifically. New Mexico forward Drew Gordon may dictate whether the Lobos — who will struggle to find quality looks against Rick Pitino's defense — can collect enough second-chance opportunities to keep pace. And, as usual, Louisville guard Peyton Siva will play a major role. Should be a good one.
No. 12 VCU vs. No. 4 Indiana, 7:10 p.m. ET, TBS: VCU will bring the "HAVOC." How does Indiana react? Can point guard Jordan Hulls and off-guards Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo protect possessions and make good decisions once they cross half court? Can Indiana get Cody Zeller touches, and can Zeller finish those touches — or pass out of VCU's shapeshifting double-teams — without getting bogged down in the Rams' scrapping, digging half-court defense? The Hoosiers will have to do all this and more to get past the best turnover-forcing team in the country, one that pressures relentlessly and attacks opposing defenses with similar gusto. Havoc, indeed.
No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 11 Colorado, 7:40 p.m. ET, TNT: Old-school Big 12 matchup ahoy! The Bears haven't seen this edition of the Buffaloes this season, but they may remember Andre Roberson — CU's hyper-active rebounding big man, who ranks second in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage — from Colorado's last season in the old conference. The Bears will have to contain Roberson on the glass, but if they do, their offensive weapons, from Pierre Jackson to Perry Jones III to Quincy Miller to Quincy Acy and on down the line, should be too much for the Buffaloes to handle.
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 8 Iowa State, 7:45 p.m. ET, CBS: Apparently, everybody "wanted" to see the talented Connecticut Huskies take on the Kentucky juggernaut, but not me. For one, I like to watch teams that don't constantly appear apathetic. For another, I'm fascinated by Royce White, the most versatile big man in the country. Few players mix size and skill like White, and his unique talents — and the sharpshooting of the Cyclones' perimeter — have reignited a once-dormant, now-frenzied fan base in central Iowa. Unfortunately for those fans, though, the Cyclones couldn't ask for a worse matchup for White. The Wildcats are the Wildcats; they're the most talented team in the country, with Anthony Davis, the nation's most impactful defender, and a guy who mixes size and athleticism in once-in-a-generation style. It would be a shock to see White and Co. get past this Kentucky team.