Elite 8 Day 1

NCAA Basketball by Phil Roeder, on Flickr

Kansas taking on Villanova seems like a three launching extravaganza.  The Jayhawks have been in the top 5 in 3pt percentage all season and Nova is shooting at a nut-trageous clip.  Each team has one true big man who can patrol the lane and neither of them runs the offense through him.  Bill Self has enjoyed a loaded team that can simply get behind whichever star is hot in a given game.  Some days it was Wayne Selden others it was Perry Ellis or Devonte Graham.  All four losses came against teams with balanced squads who were able to play solid team defense.  When KU faces Nova they’ll be facing a team that plays solid, not exceptional defense, but can score in bunches and push the tempo.  The Jayhawks need more than one of their stars to have a good game and a big time defensive effort on the perimeter to neutralize the Wildcat shooters.
While Kansas is doing all of that, Villanova will be working to establish some interior defense and hoping their fiery shooting continues.  While Jay Wright’s team shot the ball well in the regular season, even he didn’t see this kind of offensive explosion coming.  The most important key for Nova to win will be keeping Ochefu in the game.  He is the only post player and the only rim defender on the squad.  If he finds himself in foul trouble, Kansas will pound the ball inside to Perry Ellis or even Landen Lucas where the Wildcats will be left with 6-7 wing men to defend the post.

Bottom Line:  Kansas will have too much firepower for the Big East champs.  Even the Kansas guards are built for physical play.  They’ll attack the basket, create contact and force the Wildcats to pack into a zone to protect the middle.  A solid shooting night from Selden and aggressive defense from Frank Mason will be too much for a Villanova team whose shooting streak will hit it’s end on Saturday.

 

Oklahoma has become the fan favorite this season.  From Buddy Hield’s cranked up style to the last second heroics of the whole team, it’s tough not to be a fan when watching the Sooners.
Meanwhile, Oregon has quietly (to most of the country) won the Pac-12 title and secured themselves a number one seed.  Their length and athleticism has made them a matchup nightmare and an unexpected night of 3 point efficiency propelled them past Duke with ease.

This is going to be a sprint for the first half, at least.  Both of these teams love to get out and move in the open floor.  Oklahoma is phenomenal at finding open shooters on fast break kick-outs.  Their guards (and even forwards) are good-to-great shooters and equally solid ball handlers.  There are few teams who can draw you out with their shooting and blow by you to take advantage of defensive creases.  The key for the Sooners will be dealing with the long arms and leaping ability of the interior Ducks.  Bell and Boucher will try to force Oklahoma to make an extra pass to avoid their shots getting blocked.  Oklahoma will continue to do what they’ve done all season on offense by moving the ball and getting their scorers in position on the perimeter.  Defensively, Lon Kruger will force Oregon to keep shooting as well as they did against Duke.  On the season, the Ducks were only a 34% three point shooting team and it’s a safe bet they will come back to earth sooner rather than later.
Oregon will try to attack Oklahoma and force their offensive stars to guard and commit fouls.  As deep as the Sooners are, foul trouble is the one thing that will trip them up.  Oregon will try to take charges on the perimeter and defend the rim inside with shot blockers.  If Brooks heats up, Oklahoma will have to dedicate a defender which might take him out of the offensive game plan.

Bottom Line:  Oklahoma will have too many weapons for a Ducks team who has played above their talent level the whole tournament.  Brooks may shoot well, but they’ll be too busy chasing down Sooner scorers to get into their offense.  Oregon will grind hard to score inside, but their lack of depth and perimeter defense will catch up to them in a shootout.

Sweet 16 DAY 2

ACC Panorama 1 by jsmjr, on Flickr

UVA/ISU

It’s been said all season, “The Cavs need to score”. Malcom Brogdon is their best scorer, but would be a second option on most other contenders. In the end, the whole team has to shoot well because of the Cyclones size. Perrantes must force the issue through penetration in hopes of getting the Iowa State frontcourt in foul trouble. If Tobey can give them any real rim protection on defense, they can exploit a lack of athleticism on the ISU squad.
ISU must shoot well and push tempo. They can outscore VA if ball keeps moving and doesn’t hit the floor a lot. Virginia has athletic guys who can close quickly on shooters and will scrap for rebounds and loose balls. The key will be if Nader, Morris & Niang can all bring it tonight. If two of the three plays to regular season form they’ll outpace the Cavs and render the Pack Line useless. On defense, the Cyclones need to use their offense to set themselves up for success. They don’t have the athletes to stay in front of Perrantes, Brogdon and the others but a 10-12 point lead might force some ill-advised outside shooting. A solid, not great, defensive night could be enough to hold UVA at bay.
Bottom Line: Tony Bennet’s squad got this far behind a hot hand each night and the ability to stop the other team’s best scorers. There will be too many scorers to cover tonight and the Cavs will be the first #1 to go down.

Wisc/ND
The Badgers rely on D and streaky shooting. If Koenig isn’t hot they’ll struggle. Success will come if they establish an inside presence that forces a foul-prone Zach Auguste to play physical. Wisconsin hopes to make Colson the best inside option for the Irish.
ND must keep Auguste on the floor and force tempo. Jackson is the X factor and when he finds that groove through penetration, shooting and drive-and-kick, Wisconsin can’t match up to him. On defense, Mike Brey will stay conservative and make adjustments based on who’s hot. This may mean a deficit for the Irish at the half with an early second half run. If Notre Dame struggles early shooting the ball, watch for a more aggressive defensive approach.
Bottom Line: Notre Dame will struggle early but find a way to push the ball and create transition match up problems for Wisconsin. Hayes will battle inside but the inability of the Badgers backcourt to get him the ball will prove too much.

Cuse/Gonzaga
Syracuse is lucky to be here. They don’t do anything extremely well but are opportunists who go with the hot hand. Cooney must shoot well and the team has to force Sabonis to defend the basket against penetration. If he gets in foul trouble the Zags interior advantage will diminish. That 2-3 zone will need to stretch to cover shooters which might open driving lanes, though that’s not really Gonzaga’s game.
Mark Few needs his team to be patient on offense and move the ball with as few dribbles as possible. The Orange will use it to protect their frontcourt against mobile, hot shooting forwards like Wiltjer. If Sabonis gets in early foul trouble watch for Gonzaga to go “small” with Wiltjer being their de facto five in a motion scheme.
Bottom Line: Gonzaga will be too deep and shoot too well for the Syracuse Zone to be effective. They’ll stretch the wings and open up passing lanes to the middle for Sabonis.

UNC/Indiana
This has the potential to be the hottest game of the evening. Carolina comes in playing really well, but relying on quantity over quality. They play a lot of guys and Roy will try to keep everyone fresh, sometimes at the expense of the hot hand. The Heels have lived off the offensive glass and allowing opponents very few second chance points. If Bryce Johnson starts off hot and is able to exploit the Hoosiers lack of true big men, he’ll get a ton of confidence and feed off of it. However, the flip side is true as well. Johnson is an extremely emotional player and can sometimes allow those emotions to create mistakes and uncertainty. Marcus Paige has been the best leader on the team this year but his shooting touch is streaky at best. If Joel Berry heats up and plays with the swagger he’s been known to have, his talent will create problems for Indiana.
On the other hand, Tom Crean has his guys playing phenomenally and they are dismantling teams right now. They shot well the second half of the season and have continued to do so in the tournament. Their shooting percentage (#1 in effective FG%) will nullify UNC’s advantage on the defensive glass and also bring the Carolina Bigs out further than they like to play. The Hoosiers need that outside threat and to penetrate and go to the free throw line as much as they can. On defense, it will be important to force the Tarheel offense away from the basket. Carolina shoots the ball horribly and relies on interior scoring. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Indiana in a match-up zone or NBA-style zone, daring Paige, Britt and Berry to carry the offensive load. Indiana won’t be able to match up inside so expect double teams and some easy baskets to avoid foul trouble.
Bottom Line: Johnson and Paige are the 2 stars for Roy Williams and he will lean heavily on Johnson to put up points against a smaller Indiana team. As has happened all year, the moment Yogi Ferrell and his backcourt mates back off the three point line, Paige, Berry and Britt will start launching threes. If they drop, the Heels are on to the Elite 8. If not, the Hoosiers will frustrate an unbalanced team and pull the biggest upset of the Sweet Sixteen.

Sweet 16 Day 1

ncaa by bionicteaching, on Flickr

Why they won……and why they lost

The game is layered and there’s always a lot going on.  On any given day, anything can happen.

On this day, a lot happened.

The Hurricanes came out fairly flat and never recovered. Their game has been built on solid-to-tight D and the ability to play above less athletic teams.  Their streaky shooters can often keep opposing defenses honest enough to open up lanes for cutters and lobs.  The problem tonight is they ran into a Nova team with the right blend of athletic ability and hot shooting.  The ‘Cats aren’t great on defense (though some make them out to be because they can block shots).  They can outscore and out rebound some of the best teams around…..and that’s what they did to Miami.

 

Oklahoma was not ‘on’ tonight.  Buddy Hield wasn’t raining threes, but he didn’t have to against an A&M team that struggles to put points up.  The Aggies have been fortunate to operate in a conference devoid of competition and in particular a division (the West) that was the worst in a bad league.  When they were able to slow it down and go inside to their big freshman they had success.  Unfortunately, those moments were few and far between.  A&M seemed unable to stick to a successful game plan while the Sooners continued to move the ball and find open shots and cutters.  Oklahoma is a far more balanced team than the analysts would have you believe.  Spangler, Cousins and the rest of the crew have been able to step up whenever they run into a defense who makes life hard for Buddy.  And tonight Woodard was the Big Dog with Buddy throwing in 10 rebounds.  

 

Kansas started a little flat tonight, too.  Maryland was able to get the ball moving in transition and also had success inside with Diamond Stone.  Some early foul trouble forced Stone to sit and that seemed to affect Maryland in a major way.  The Terps got stops on defense and were extremely competitive with the Jayhawk guards, but lost confidence in their offense.  And once again, Melo Trimble was inconsistent and failed to put this team on his shoulders.  On the flip side, upperclassmen Perry Ellis (the best-dressed man in college basketball) and Wayne Selden pushed the issue for Kansas.  With Graham and Mason struggling at times, the front court was too athletic for Maryland which led to the foul trouble.  The leadership of the upperclassmen coupled with Maryland’s lack thereof created a no-win situation.  On a side note, Diamond Stone has talent but he lacks court awareness and plays solely on instinct.  If he works on his upper body and learns another position he’ll be a beast.

(Perry Ellis has the skills to be a good-to-very-good NBA player)

The final game of the night pulled back the curtain on 2 teams with more image than reality.  Duke (full disclosure: my team since childhood) benefitted from the Baylor upset and almost didn’t make it to the Sweet Sixteen.  Oregon won a league that we’ve all seen is last of the Big 5 conferences.

The Blue Devils seemed to hang around, much like the first UNC game, by hitting jump shots and riding Brandon Ingram’s coattails down each side of the lane.  They had no answer for the athleticism or defensive intensity of Oregon.  And the foul shooting killed them almost as bad as it did Texas A&M.  Oregon, on the other hand had an outrageously good shooting night.  They were a full 10% higher from 3pt range than their season average and doubled their assist average.  The Ducks brought out their top offensive game and patrolled the paint and protected the rim, which isn’t hard to do against a Duke team with only one true big man.  Grayson Allen having an off night and Duke not shooting well as a team showed they were the most exhausted team in the field.  When Oregon gets a lead, they feed off the energy and it shows on the defensive end.  

DA BOSS!

 

We love to think about how teamwork and sharing make champions….expecially this time of year.  From the Spurs to Wichita St to VCU, the story of selfless teams keeps us all warm and fuzzy.

Problem is, it takes Big Dawg to win championships.

The Spurs passed the ball like mad back in 2014.  But when they needed a big play it went through Kawhi Leonard.  Tony Parker handled the ball a lot and Tim Duncan got his shots, but they would’ve barely made the playoffs without the small forward’s presence.  Golden State sliced through the playoffs last year with Draymond Green leading them in assists and rebounds.  Klay Thompson was able to spot up for long range daggers throughout.  But none of that happens without Steph Curry commanding respect (and often double teams) from opposing defenses.  And last year’s Duke team needed the sizeable impact of Jahlil Okafor in the middle to open up possibilities for his teammates on the perimeter.  His ability to turn and score on almost anyone who guarded him made everyone around him better.

I LOVE team basketball.  Magic has been my favorite player since childhood because passing the ball is so much more entertaining than isolations and pick and rolls.

But, c’mon…….do the Hawks really strike fear in the Cavs?  Is anyone under the impression this Celtics squad is contending?  Are you willing to turn in a Big Dance bracket with Virginia as the winner?

Think of a team as a company.  The coaching staff is a board of directors.  They provide wisdom and advice; steering the ship in the right direction.  Then you have the COO (Chief Operating Officer) doing the trench work, making sure the loose balls and long rebounds get tracked down.  Every successful company has a CFO as well.  As the numbers guy, he’s the gunner who can make it rain from anywhere (as long as his feet are set).  Don’t look now but here’s the CTO, shutting the opposing team’s best player down, using the edge gained from film study and technique.  They all take their cues from the CEO, the Head Honcho, Numero Uno, Tha Don.  This dude has a cool like Django and is ruthless as Frank Underwood.  There’s no shot he won’t take, pass he won’t throw or charge he won’t commit.  He’s Buddy Hield launching a three as the shot clock strikes zero……Steph Curry dribbling through everyone to finger roll with English for an and-one……LeBron taking the inbounds pass after a made basket and barreling coast to coast for an emphatic, locomotive throwdown.  That cat makes deals and topples empires because he bends opponents to his will.  His team provides the support, but he’s the tip of the spear,.

See, we champion the ‘glue guy’ because that’s who WE are.  We are perfectly fine running our TPS reports and hoping we do enough to keep our job but no too much to rock the boat.  When the moment comes to drop that shot, close that deal or nail that presentation we choose to pass it to off to the Dude who has the confidence….not to succeed, not to fail, but to do it at all.

So the next time you find yourself admiring the “team-first” attitude of some successful basketball player, check to see what lens you’re using.  Is he really the pass-first Mother Teresa of the hardwood or is he simply a Boss keeping his C-Suite buddies happy.