Most Interesting Second Round Matchups
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” The next three days are spectacular, maybe even more so than the four days that follow. For the next 72 hours, millions of Americans will waste valuable company time and resources while pouring over bracket sheets, visiting various websites, and listening to and reading every “expert” explain why Team X will make it to New Orleans. Once the games begin, it’s out of our hands. At 12:15 pm on Thursday, the test will be over, and teachers will tell the students to put down the pencil and close the test booklet. Either you know the information or you don’t. Until then, every piece of information is valuable and necessary. It’s easy to pick the 1 & 2 seeds; after that it gets dicey. Each region has its own games that are calling out for examination. These are the “second” round games that are the most interesting.
#8 Iowa St - #9 Connecticut (Louisville)
By definition, the 8-9 game traditionally is the most difficult to predict, and this game is no different. However, looking at some key stats from Pomeroy’s ratings, Connecticut has a slight advantage. UConn is near the bottom of the country in % of pts from 3-point shots (268th), Iowa State is 15th in country in defending the three. Conversely, UConn is near the top in points from two and Iowa State is 255th in defending the two. UConn also is 3rd nationally in two point defense, a strength of Iowa State (96th). UConn strengths match up favorably with the Cyclones’ weakness, and for that reason, move the Huskies to the next round and a match-up with Kentucky.
#7 Notre Dame - #10 Xavier (Greensboro)
Mike Brey has done wonders with the Irish this season, as they have overcome suspensions and injuries, and now find themselves in a very winnable game versus an enigma wrapped in a mystery Musketeer team. This game might be won by the first team to 40 points. The Irish will work the shot clock every possession for the best shot possible, and Xavier is going to let Holloway and Lyons determine how well they play. Those two players account for almost exactly 50% of the possessions used for Xavier. The key to this game is going to be Notre Dame’s ability to contain those two, and based on the season, the Irish D is just stingy enough to get it done. Coach K vs. his disciple Mike Brey in round two. Nice coincidence, Tournament Selection Committee. Fear not Xavier fans, you can still get some really nice gear.
#8 Memphis - #9 Saint Louis (Columbus)
Statistically speaking, both of these teams are underseeded, but games aren’t played in the computer. The Tigers got off to a 6-5 rocky start, following a loss to Georgetown, but righted the ship in 2012. Since the new year started, Memphis has only lost 3 games and avenged 2 of the losses by almost 90 total points. Coach Josh Pastner has the Tigers rolling. Rick Majerus’ Billikens have 7 losses, 4 to NCAA teams and 3 BAD losses (LMU, UMASS, & Rhode Island), so who knows which team will show up to face Memphis. Good SLU will play great D (top 25 FG defense) and rebound the ball while shooting the lights out. If the bad Billikens show up, Memphis’ athleticism will get them easy baskets and quality shots. Memphis is playing too well right now to pick against them.
#7 Florida - #10 Virginia (Omaha)
Talk about contrasting styles. Florida shoots a great deal of 3 pointers (3rd in points from 3 pointers), while Virginia defends the three exceptionally well, holding opponents to 29.5% from behind the arc (13th in the nation). Something will have to give on Friday. That something is Mike Scott. Scott was the runner-up for ACC Player of the Year and is the most important player in the is game. Scott shoots 57% from the floor and a staggering, for a big man, 81% from the free throw line. If Florida can’t defend Scott successfully, not only will they get in early foul trouble, but it will open things up for UVA’s guards to knock down open jumpers. Florida is dependent on the outside shot and Tony Bennett’s team is too good defensively, setting up a very intriguing game versus Missouri in the “Third” Round.
#6 Cincinnati - #11 Texas (Nashville)
Will the real Bearcats please stand up? Mick Cronin’s team handled Syracuse Friday night in Madison Square Garden. The Bearcats also lost to Presbyterian (at home), Marshall (at home), Xavier (by 20), St. John’s (at home), and Rutgers. Two weeks ago, they ran Marquette out of the Shoemaker Center. On Saturday night, they looked like the team that lost to Presbyterian earlier in the season. For all the great things Cronin has done this year, it could easily be undone in Nashville. No one will ever accuse Rick Barnes’ teams of overachieving in the NCAA Tournament, but the job he did this year just to get the Longhorns in the dance is commendable. This game will be won on the offensive glass. Both teams are in the top 40 nationally in offensive rebounding % and below 250th in offensive rebounding % allowed. That means every missed shot will probably result in a second or third chance opportunity. Now, Yancy Gates becomes even more important and Texas has no answer for Gates inside. Cronin and the Bearcats will move on for the second consecutive year.
#8 Creighton - #9 Alabama (Greensboro)
This game could be brutally ugly or it could be highly entertaining. At times, Creighton’s defense makes NBA All-Star viewers cringe. On the other end of the floor, the Blue Jays have the phenomenal Doug McDermott and Antoine Young. Alabama’s offensively challenged to say the least, as they have no key offensive statistical rating higher than 135. Given that, and the off-court turmoil faced by Anthony Grant’s Tide this season, the challenge will be mighty on Friday. Alabama has a chance because they will play defense and will make things difficult for McDermott, but the Blue Jays will have just enough to set up a rematch of many Ames High School scrimmages against UNC & Harrison Barnes.
#3 Georgetown - #14 Belmont (Columbus)
The classic overseed vs. underseed matchup that everyone of the experts is going to pick as their upset special. Belmont is an excellent offensive basketball team, 5th nationally in Effective FG% and top 15 in offensive efficiency. The Hoyas are in the top 10 in both of those categories defensively. The difference in this game will be at the other end of the floor. Georgetown, while not great, is a much better offensive team than Belmont is a defensive team. Belmont doesn’t force turnovers, gives up a ton of offensive rebounds and is 124th in effective FG% defense. That is not a recipe for an upset, despite what you are going to hear. The Hoyas will move on and avoid another early round failure.