First Round Games of Sunday, March 23
All games on CBS
St. Pete Times Forum (Tampa, FL)
Matchup: #13 Seed Siena (23-10, 13-5 Metro Atlantic) vs. #12 Seed Villanova (21-12, 9-9 Big East), 12:10 P.M. EST
Rankings: Siena, #98 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 10 in MAAC); Villanova, #47 (9th of 16 in Big East)
Pomeroy Prediction: Villanova, 75-68 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 27%
Prospectus: The Saints marched on to the second round in stunning fashion, by thoroughly dominating No. 4 seed Vanderbilt in an 83-62 victory. Junior guard Kenny Hasbrouck scored 30 points on 71 eFG% shooting and 10-of-10 from the line, and senior sharpshooter Tay Fisher knocked down all six of his shots--all of them three-pointers. It was the second straight potential elimination game in which Fisher hit six threes, after he scored 21 points in Siena's 74-53 win over Rider in the MAAC championship game. The Saints shot 66 eFG% as a team, held Vanderbilt's dangerous perimeter offense to just 4-of-20 from beyond the arc, and also came up with 10 steals. On the season, Siena ranks ninth in Division I in steal percentage.
The Wildcats also produced a remarkable performance on Friday, coming back from 18 points down against No. 5 seed Clemson to win, 75-69, thanks to 7-of-13 shooting from behind the arc and a 24-of-29 performance at the free throw line. That set up this 12-13 game, of which there have been just five prior to this season since the tournament field expanded to include 64 teams in 1985. This one should be a battle of the guards, between Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher of Villanova and Hasbrouck, Tay Fisher, and Ronald Moore of Siena. Reynolds scored 21 points on 4-of-5 from downtown to lead all scorers in Friday's win, while Corey Fisher hit 9-of-10 free throws for 17 points. Moore, the Saints lightning-quick sophomore point guard, had 10 points, six rebounds, and six assists (but also a beastly six turnovers) in the win over Vanderbilt. On the season, the Saints have turned it over on less than 16 percent of their possessions (fifth best in the country), while Villanova is not as strong in that department, having lost the ball over a fifth of the time. The winner of this game advances to the Sweet 16 to play Kansas, which beat UNLV yesterday. Siena has never been past the second round--in 1989, the Saints knocked off No. 3 seed Stanford in the first round, but then fell to No. 11 Minnesota in the second. Villanova, meanwhile, advanced to the Elite Eight in 2006 as a No. 1 seed, before it lost to eventual champion Florida.
RBC Center (Raleigh, NC)
Matchup: #10 Seed Davidson (27-6, 20-0 Southern) vs. #2 Georgetown (28-5, 15-3 Big East), 2:50
Rankings: Davidson, #33 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 11 in Southern); Georgetown, #7 (1st of 16 in Big East)
Pomeroy Prediction: Georgetown, 67-61 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 25%
Prospectus: Sophomore phenom Stephen Curry provided the opening round's most outstanding individual performance, as he scored 40 points on 14-of-22 from the floor and 8-of-10 from three-point range to help the Wildcats down Gonzaga 82-76. If you're scoring at home, that's an eFG% of 82 for Curry. That 40 point output was not Curry's season high--he scored 41 on February 13 against NC Greensboro--but, considering it came against a very solid Gonzaga defense, was certainly his best showing of the year. Curry also tossed in five steals in the game for good measure. The bar has been raised for the 6'2 shooting guard, and his next task is to bring down a defense that ranks first in the country in eFG% allowed, and that shuts down inside and outside shooting with equal aplomb. Georgetown handled UMBC in the opening round, holding the Retrievers to 0.79 points per possession in a 66-47 win. You would think that Georgetown's size--eighth in the country in Effective Height thanks to 7'2 center Roy Hibbert--would give it a big edge on the boards, but Davidson is actually significantly better on the defensive glass. The Wildcats are looking to advance past the second round of the tournament for the first time since 1969, while Georgetown is looking to finish the deal and capture the championship this year after falling in the Final Four to Ohio St. in 2007. The winner of this one moves on to play Wisconsin, which took care of Kansas St. yesterday.
Alltell Arena (North Little Rock, AR)
Matchup: #7 Seed Miami FL (23-10, 8-8 Atlantic Coast) vs. #2 Texas (29-6, 13-3 Big 12), 2:15
Rankings: Miami FL, #45 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 12 in ACC); Texas, #8 (2nd of 12 in Big 12)
Pomeroy Prediction: Texas, 74-66 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 20%
Prospectus: Miami trailed at halftime against St. Mary's on Friday, but blew the Gaels away in the second half en route to a 78-64 win. Junior guard Jack McClinton was the star--he scored 38 points, a career high, on 9-of-13 from two, 3-of-6 from three, and 11-of-11 from the foul line. Thirty two of those points came in the second half, equaling St. Mary's team total in the period. Texas breezed past No. 15 seed Austin Peay 74-54, getting six threes and 26 points from junior guard A.J. Abrams, a double-double from sophomore forward Damion James, and a strong performance from sophomore guard Justin Mason, who had nine points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. Texas turned it over 11 times against the Governors, giving it away on a modest 18.8 percent of possessions, which shockingly is the highest turnover rate for Texas in a game since a January 2 win over Texas Christian. The Longhorns have yet to cough it up on 20 percent of possessions since that game, and that streak will most likely continue against a Miami defense that is not adept at taking the ball away. What the Hurricanes are good at is the dirty work on offense--rebounding and getting to the foul line. Forwards Anthony King and Dwayne Collins do the honors on the offensive glass and are also good at earning trips to the stripe. Juniors Brian Asbury and Lance Hurdle have strong free throw rates, as well. Texas does not share Miami's knack for drawing contact, but the Longhorns do rank third in the Big 12 at keeping foes from reaching the stripe.
Both teams use their personnel quite differently. Texas relies upon its bench less than every other team in Division I: the Longhorns have rolled with starters D.J. Augustin, Abrams, Mason, James, and Connor Atchley for 83.6 percent of minutes this season. When Rick Barnes does dip into his reserves, he does so to find sizable bodies--6'10 forwards Clint Chapman and Dexter Pittman, 6'8 Alexis Wangmene, and 6'6 Gary Johnson. Will Texas' starters begin to wear down as the tournament progresses? The Hurricanes, whose bench plays 35 percent of the minutes, is sure hoping so.
Matchup: #8 Seed Mississippi St. (23-10, 12-4 Southeastern) vs. #1 Memphis (34-1, 16-0 Conference USA), 4:45
Rankings: Mississippi St., #35 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in SEC); Memphis, #4 (1st of 12 in C-USA)
Pomeroy Prediction: Memphis, 72-62 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 16%
Prospectus: Two southern paragons of defense do battle in Arkansas for one spot in the Sweet 16. Both teams boast some impressive statistics, not the least of which is that Memphis has lost just one game all season. The Tigers' most recent win eliminated Texas Arlington, 87-63, on Friday. Mississippi St. beat Oregon 76-69 to advance, with Charles Rhodes scoring a career-high 34 points on 10-of-12 from the floor. If you enjoy seeing balls swatted away from their flight plan, this is the game for you--the Bulldogs are first in block percentage, led by their 6'9 shot hound, Jarvis Varnado, while Memphis ranks ninth, thanks to the Tag(gart) Team of 6'9 forwards Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier and the 6'10 Shawn Taggart. Not surprisingly given their shot-blocking acumen, both teams are among the national leaders in eFG% defense, with Mississippi St. third and Memphis fourth. The Bulldogs ranking first in the country in block percentage and also two-point percentage defense is especially impressive considering that their team isn't particularly tall--just 242nd out of 341 Division I squads in Effective Height, or height in the frontcourt, which is directly correlated to defensive efficiency. Coach Rick Stansbury plays his starters--Rhodes, Varnado, Barry Stewart, Jamont Gordon, and Ben Hansbrough (Tyler's brother)--during 78 percent of the minutes, more than all but 14 other D-I teams, so that is the group responsible for the team's strong defensive play. The Bulldogs, however, are kept from being an elite defense on the level of Memphis, which ranks first in raw defensive efficiency, by the fact that they don't force turnovers and aren't as good as the Tigers are at shutting down the three-point game. Memphis is also a significantly better offensive team, thanks to excellent ball security, offensive rebounding, and two-point field goal percentage. All that makes the Tigers the favorite to advance to their third straight Sweet 16, and prevent the Bulldogs from getting past the second round for the first time since 1996. Which of these states has the best BBQ, however? The Pomeroy Ratings are at a loss.
BJCC Arena (Birmingham, AL)
Matchup: #7 Seed Butler (30-3, 16-2 Horizon League) vs. #2 Tennessee (30-4, 14-2 Southeastern), 2:30
Rankings: Butler, #30 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 10 in Horizon); Tennessee, #13 (1st of 12 in SEC)
Pomeroy Prediction: Tennessee, 72-68 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 35%
Prospectus: How do you beat Tennessee? The Bulldogs might just have the blueprint to do so. Because the Volunteers force so many turnovers--17th in the nation with a 24.6 opponent turnover rate--and because their defensive efficiency rests quite heavily upon those takeaways--a -0.66 correlation between opponent turnover rate and defensive efficiency--any team that hopes to vanquish Tennessee needs to do a good job of taking care of the ball. The four teams that beat Tennessee this year all turned it over on fewer than one in five possessions when playing the Vols. Does Butler fit the bill here? Very much so: the Bulldogs are eighth in the country in turnover percentage on offense, having coughed it up on the season on just 16.6 percent of their trips. The next thing that helps is to have strong three-point field goal percentage defense. Seniors JaJuan Smith and Chris Lofton both shoot a ton of threes, and both are very effective from long range. Combined, they are 199-of-508 from deep, 39 percent. Butler does a good job in this regard, as well, with a three-point field goal percentage allowed (32) that is the 33rd lowest in the nation. What else does a team need to beat Tennessee? A strong ability to get to the free throw line wouldn't hurt. In Tennessee's four losses, to Texas, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas, its opponents had free throw rates (free throws attempted/field goals attempted) of 41.8, 62.2, 75.5, and 50.0, respectively, all higher than the average rate allowed by Tennessee this year, 38.8. Butler has gotten to the stripe at a rate of 27 free throws per 100 field goal attempts, which ranks 108th in the nation, so this is not exactly an area of strength for the Bulldogs.
Will Butler be able to make Tennessee the second No. 2 seed that goes home? The Bulldogs are no stranger to playing with the big boys, as last year the squad beat No. 4 seed Maryland to get to the Sweet 16, and then gave eventual champion Florida a game before succumbing 65-57. Butler's team this season is not quite as strong as last year's edition, but the Bulldogs did take down a good South Alabama squad by 20 points in their NCAA tournament opener behind senior forward Pete Campbell, who hit 8-of-10 three-pointers. Tennessee was extremely sluggish in its game against No. 15 seed American, and was in a two-point struggle at the six minute mark before turning on the jets late for a 72-57 victory. The Vols are trying to make it to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year under coach Bruce Pearl. Pearl also guided Wisconsin Milwaukee to the Sweet 16 in 2005, the year before he moved to Tennessee.
Matchup: #6 Seed Oklahoma (23-11, 9-7 Big 12) vs. #3 Louisville (25-8, 14-4 Big East), 5:00
Rankings: Oklahoma, #39 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 12 in Big 12); Louisville, #11 (2nd of 16 in Big East)
Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville, 65-60 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 26%
Prospectus: Defense will be the order of the day in this second round matchup in Birmingham. The Sooners rank 26th in adjusted defensive efficiency, and are most effective at cutting down three-point percentage, while the Cardinals rank fifth overall, thanks to equally vicious defense both inside and outside of the arc (15th in the country in both three and two point field goal percentage defense). Oklahoma advanced by ripping the defenseless Hawks in a 72-64 win, getting 25 points on 5-of-8 three-point shooting from senior David Godbold, while Louisville rolled over Boise St., getting 10 steals and six blocks in the 79-61 win. It remains to be seen whether Louisville can generate enough offense to make a title run--the Cardinals possible X factor on the attack, sophomore guard Edgar Sosa, scored just three points against Louisville--but the team's defense should be able to carry it into the Sweet 16, where Louisville has not been since its Final Four run of 2005, the Cardinals' last year as a representative of Conference USA before moving to the Big East. Oklahoma's last Sweet 16 run came in 2003, when it earned a No. 1 seed under Kelvin Sampson and lost in the Elite Eight to eventual champion Syracuse.
RBC Center (Raleigh, NC)
Matchup: #9 Seed Arkansas (23-11, 9-7 Southeastern) vs. #1 North Carolina (33-2, 14-2 Atlantic Coast), 5:20
Rankings: Arkansas, #34 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in SEC); North Carolina, #5 (1st of 12 in ACC)
Pomeroy Prediction: North Carolina, 84-76 in 76 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: Looking to fulfill the destiny of its ranking, formidable No. 1 overall seed North Carolina pairs up with No. 9 seed Arkansas. The Tar heels are coming off a 113-74 trouncing of Mount St. Mary's, in which they scored an unheard of 1.5 points per possession. They bring a strong offensive game: second in the country in adjusted efficiency, North Carolina is also the best offensive rebounding team in the country, and has grabbed over 50 percent of its misses in each of its past two games. Arkansas, on the other hand, is stronger on defense than offense (ranked 33rd in adjusted efficiency, behind North Carolina's ranking of 25th), but it too is quick to the boards on offense, led by 6'10 senior Darian Townes. The Razorbacks beat Indiana Friday 86-72, with senior Sonny Weems scoring a career-high 31 points and hitting 12-of-14 shots from the floor. The fourth tallest team in the frontcourt by Effective Height, Arkansas has several players that can stare down upon all of the Tar Heels--besides Townes, there is 7'0 senior center Steven Hill, as well as 6'10 sophomore Michael Washington--and that translates to a better two-point shooting percentage and two-point percentage defense than North Carolina, as well as a better block percentage. For a team with such height, however, Arkansas too often lets its opponent get an offensive rebound, which is a problem that will likely be exacerbated against North Carolina. And the Hogs also have a tendency to be sloppy: they are second to last in the SEC in turnover percentage, a trend that they can't afford to continue while facing a team like North Carolina.
St. Pete Times Forum (Tampa, FL)
Matchup: #13 Seed San Diego (22-13, 11-3 West Coast) vs. #12 Seed Western Kentucky (28-6, 16-2 Sun Belt), 2:40
Rankings: San Diego, #112 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 8 in WCC); Western Kentucky, #63 (1st of 13 in Sun Belt)
Pomeroy Prediction: Western Kentucky, 68-63 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 29%
Prospectus: Neighboring seeds Western Kentucky and San Diego meet in this highly unlikely second round matchup. Let's review the various similarities between these squads set to battle for a berth in the Sweet 16. Both boast puzzling mascots (the Hilltoppers and Toreros, respectively). Both won their last game in the final seconds of overtime in a major upset--Western Kentucky beat Drake on Friday 101-99 with a buzzer-beating, contested three-pointer from Ty Rogers, and San Diego beat UConn 70-69 with an 11th hour jumper from just inside the arc by De'Jon Jackson. Both also joined the Big Dance by winning their conference tournaments; Western Kentucky taking the shine in the Sunbelt, and San Diego upsetting both St. Mary's and top-seeded Gonzaga to carry the West Coast. Improbably, San Diego is the last of the three WCC tournament teams left playing for the national title, after Gonzaga fell to Davidson and St. Mary's to Miami in the first round. It's been quite a run for the Toreros, a team that doesn't rank in the top 50 nationally in any category except holding down three-point attempts. San Diego is also decent at forcing turnovers--UConn turned it over 15 times on Friday, 22 percent of their trips--and is an able defensive rebounding team thanks to forwards Gyno Pomare and Rob Jones. Western Kentucky appears to have the edge because of its offense/defense equilibrium, holding steady at 68th on the adjusted efficiency leaderboard on each side of the ball. The Hilltoppers force turnovers on nearly one in four opponent possessions, and are an excellent three-point shooting squad, as was demonstrated so spectacularly Friday with a 14-of-28 showing from beyond the arc. Senior Courtney Lee is one of the best players in the country and dominates the Western Kentucky offense, but he is not the team's only capable high-possession player--fellow senior Tyrone Brazelton scored 33 points on 70 eFG% shooting in the upset of Drake, picking up Lee, who had an off night on offense, with just 15 points on 44 eFG% shooting. Western Kentucky is also one of the more egalitarian teams in the nation with regards to its minutes (if not its shots, with Lee taking 35 percent of them while on the court), as the Hilltoppers give out 40 percent of court time to their bench.
This game is the second of two 12-13 matchups in Tampa today, the sixth and seventh such matchups in the history of the tournament and the first time ever that two have occurred in the same year, thanks to the wild Friday at the St. Pete Times forum, when all four lower seeds pulled off upsets. Western Kentucky is looking for its first berth in the Sweet 16 since 1993, while San Diego and first-year coach Bill Grier is in completely uncharted waters, having just won its first-ever NCAA tournament game.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.