Friday, March 23, 2012
Viewer's Guide to the Sweet 16 (Friday)
By Myron Medcalf
The first day of the Sweet 16 featured plenty of drama.
Wisconsin lost to No. 1 seed Syracuse after botching its final possession. Michigan State forgot how to score. Ohio State won the battle between two in-state schools. Florida continued its surge with a win over Marquette.
Things to know: Both teams have endured their fair share of criticism this year.
Xavier center Kenny Frease will be key to slowing down Baylor's bigs.
A December brawl with intra-city rival Cincinnati nearly ruined Xavier’s season. There were suspensions and public remarks about the incident from people around the country.
The fight seemed to take the wind out of a Xavier team that entered the year on numerous “Final Four dark horse” lists. Then, the scuffle happened and Xavier lost five of its next six.
But the Musketeers have begun the process of restoring their image. Tu Holloway has scored a combined 46 points in Xavier’s NCAA tourney victories over Lehigh and Notre Dame. This edgy, tough bunch will certainly put up a fight against a talented Baylor team, especially if Dezmine Wells can go.
Baylor has all of the tools to reach the Final Four in New Orleans. Some are even picking the Bears to upset Kentucky because they have the length and athleticism to match the Wildcats.
But the Bears have fallen short of their potential for most of the season. Perry Jones III, a possible lottery pick, has been inconsistent (nine points combined in two tourney victories). Scott Drew’s coaching decisions have been questioned.
Still, the Bears have a chance to reach their second Elite Eight in three years if they get past the Musketeers.
Look for Xavier to pressure the perimeter and try to neutralize Brady Heslip (9-for-12 from beyond the arc in Baylor's third-round win over Colorado). Kenny Frease will throw his weight around for buckets in the paint. Look for the Bears to continuously work their inside-outside game.
The journey: Xavier beat Notre Dame and Lehigh to reach the Sweet 16. Baylor defeated South Dakota State and Colorado.
Monitor his progress: Frease has scored in the single digits in four of his team’s last seven losses. The big man’s bulk will be vital for the Musketeers inside the paint.
Numbers to impress your friends: Heslip doesn’t have to dribble to score. He’s recorded his 14 field goals in the Big Dance via catch-and-shoot plays, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Game’s most critical question: Will Frease make an impact against Baylor’s length and athleticism?
The matchup: Frease against Quincy Acy. Two talented big men who don’t mind contact. Could get scrappy.
Don’t touch that remote because ... Baylor has one of the most impressive assemblies in the field on paper. But Xavier has a tough crew, too. Might be game of the night.
Things to know: Ohio wasn’t expected to reach this point. But junior D.J. Cooper has been a gem for the Bobcats. He has recorded 40 points and 12 assists in NCAA tourney wins over Michigan and South Florida.
Cooper might be the most important player in the remaining field. He’s scored or assisted on 56 percent of the team’s 71 points, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Looking for this year’s Steph Curry? Cooper has earned that tag.
Ohio is facing a North Carolina team that will likely compete without its starting point guard. Kendall Marshall had surgery on a broken wrist earlier this week. He suffered the injury in the team’s third-round win over Creighton. Coach Roy Williams said he has a “strong inclination” that Marshall will not play against Ohio.
The Tar Heels are ninth in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo ratings. They’ll certainly push the pace against the Bobcats.
Look for the Bobcats, however, to pressure new point guard Stilman White, Marshall’s replacement if he can’t go. The freshman has averaged just 4.3 minutes per game. Look for North Carolina to use its length and talent to overwhelm the Bobcats.
The journey: North Carolina defeated Vermont and Creighton to reach the Sweet 16. Ohio had to outplay Michigan and South Florida to reach the Sweet 16.
Monitor his progress: White might be the starting point guard for a North Carolina team that’s capable of reaching New Orleans, but he’s never played under these lights. Hard to know what to expect from the youngster. But he just became one of the most important players on the floor.
Numbers to impress your friends: Life without Marshall might not end well. The sophomore point guard has assisted on 41 percent of North Carolina’s points since the start of ACC play, per ESPN Stats & Info. North Carolina’s 38.4 points per game in the paint are the top mark among major-conference schools.
Game’s most critical question: How quickly will White adjust to his new role as starting point guard?
The matchup: Cooper versus White. Cooper is a veteran guard who’s put Ohio on the national radar with two great performances in his first two NCAA tournament games. White will have his hands full.
Don’t touch that remote because ... Ohio continues to surpass expectations. And North Carolina could crumble without Marshall.
Things to know: Get your popcorn ready for this one.
On Dec. 10, Indiana beat Kentucky at Assembly Hall and changed the trajectory of its season. Christian Watford’s 3-pointer at the buzzer. Court-storming. Players standing atop the scorers’ table. Legendary.
Christian Watford hit a clutch 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Wildcats during the regular season.
And here we go again.
A rematch, but both teams have matured since that game. Following that loss to Indiana, Kentucky didn’t lose again until the SEC tournament title game.
From Dec. 28 through Feb. 1, the Hoosiers went 5-6. But they’ve amassed a 10-2 record since that rocky sequence.
Cody Zeller’s transformation from impressive freshman to potential lottery pick helped the Hoosiers reach the Sweet 16. Zeller, ranked seventh in John Hollinger’s PER ratings (31.16), recorded 14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 6 steals in his team’s second-round win over New Mexico State. He followed that up with 16 points and 13 rebounds against VCU.
With the assistance of Zeller’s development and a 43.7 percent clip from the 3-point line (No. 2 in the country), the Hoosiers possess the No. 4 offense in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings.
But against Kentucky, it’s always a game of “anything you can do I can do better.” The Wildcats have the No. 2 offense in Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings. They’re ninth in defensive efficiency.
After that Indiana loss, the Wildcats stopped all arguments about the best team in America. They separated themselves from the field and entered the NCAA tournament as the favorites to win it all.
That hasn’t changed.
In this matchup, look for the Hoosiers to attack Davis again -- he picked up early fouls in the first game -- and hoist 3s early to stretch Kentucky’s defense. Look for the Wildcats to burst up the floor off misses and turn this into an up-and-down affair.
The journey: Indiana beat New Mexico State then dismissed VCU with clutch plays down the stretch. Kentucky beat Western Kentucky then overcame Royce White’s 23-point, nine-rebound effort to beat Iowa State.
Monitor his progress: The Wildcats are a different squad without Davis on the floor. The Wildcats were outscored by 12 points during the 16 minutes the team had to go without Davis because of foul trouble in the first Indiana-Kentucky game in Bloomington.
Numbers to impress your friends: Davis is one of the toughest defenders in recent history. Teams are perplexed as they try to find ways to score with Davis inside. But he’s not just a post defender. Davis has blocked 14 3-point attempts this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Game’s most critical question: If Davis picks up early fouls, can Kentucky still win?
The matchup: Davis versus Zeller. Must-see TV.
Don’t touch that remote because ... This is Indiana-Kentucky: The Rematch. It’s that simple.
Things to know: NC State lost four in a row in February. The Wolfpack were the last to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
But the Wolfpack revived their entire season with a surprising outing in Columbus last week. The 11-seed upset San Diego State in the second round. The Aztecs didn’t have answers for NC State’s size and athleticism. Then, the Wolfpack recovered from a 10-point deficit in the first half to beat Georgetown, a No. 3 seed.
It’s all coming together at the perfect time for Mark Gottfried’s team. C.J. Leslie, a player whose effort has been questioned in the past, is leading the charge.
But they’re going into an environment that will resemble a home game for the Jayhawks. The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis will be packed with Kansas fans. And that’s just the start of NC State’s worries.
The Wolfpack have to deal with National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson (16 points and 13 rebounds in a second-round win over Detroit; 11 points and 13 rebounds in a third-round win over Purdue) and one of the best defensive teams in the country (No. 5 in Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings).
The Jayhawks were on the verge of suffering an upset late in the third round, but a Purdue turnover gave the squad the opportunity it needed to secure the win in the final minutes. Part of Kansas’ challenges thus far are tied to its subpar shooting. Its 26.3 field goal percentage outside the paint in its first two games was the worst mark entering the Sweet 16, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Look for NC State to push the pace and find Scott Wood (41.7 percent from beyond the arc this season) and Lorenzo Brown (3-for-5 from the 3-point line in the NCAA tourney) on the perimeter. Look for Kansas to feed Robinson and Jeff Withey and challenge NC State’s frontcourt.
The journey: Kansas beat Detroit in its first game and escaped Purdue in its third-round win. The Wolfpack defeated San Diego State and Georgetown to reach the Sweet 16.
Monitor his progress: Tyshawn Taylor (17.3 ppg) is one of the most explosive guards in the tourney. But he’s committed 16 turnovers in the team’s last five games. Similar mistakes in Friday’s game could give the Wolfpack the opening to pull off the upset.
Numbers to impress your friends: NC State has scored 58 points in the paint (38 against San Diego State and 20 against Georgetown).
Game’s most critical question: Will 7-footer Withey (11 points) show up?
The matchup: Leslie versus Robinson. This matchup between a pair of talented forwards will have a critical impact on the outcome of the game.
Don’t touch that remote because ... Kansas hasn’t looked great thus far. NC State has surpassed expectations. A third upset for the Wolfpack is possible.