Games of Sunday, March 30
Both games on CBS
Reliant Arena (Houston, TX)
Matchup: #2 Seed Texas (31-6, 13-3 Big 12) vs. #1 Memphis (36-1, 16-0 Conference USA), 5:05
Rankings: Texas, #7 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in Big 12); Memphis, #3 (1st of 12 in C-USA)
Pomeroy Prediction: Memphis, 72-69 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: Both of these teams came up with surprising blowouts to set up the matchup of the two top seeds in the South region. Texas won going away from Stanford, 82-62, thanks to a huge 20-3 run after the Cardinal had cut the lead to 52-51. Memphis' game against Michigan St. was never that close after the first couple of minutes, as the Tigers led by as many as 32 points en route to a 92-74 victory. A glance at the HD Boxscore--the newest addition to the Pomeroy pages for the NCAA tournament--reveals that Texas sophomore guard D.J. Augustin pulled out of his mini-slump against Stanford, shooting 8-of-14 against a stout Cardinal two-point defense, and also adding two three-pointers and seven assists. As expected, the Longhorns, who sport the lowest offensive turnover percentage in the nation, gave it away just six times in 63 trips against Stanford, less than 10 percent of the time. Memphis, meanwhile, scored 1.38 points per possession and shot 56 eFG% from the floor, with Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose combining for 52 points.
Memphis gains the edge in this game because the one unit on either squad most likely to be exposed is the Longhorns defense, which is a fair pace behind the team's offense, an attack that ranks third in the nation in adjusted efficiency. Memphis usually does it with defense more than offense--with the lowest raw points per game total allowed in the country, at 0.87 per possession--but as the Tigers showed on Friday night, their offense is more than capable of tearing a strong defense apart. The Tigers have a similar offense to Texas's in that both teams are excellent at handling the ball and are strong on the offensive glass. You probably know all about Joey Dorsey, Robert Dozier, and Shawn Taggart, Memphis's collection of low-post behemoths who do the rebounding for the Tigers. A less familiar name that could play a key role in this one, however, is Texas' 6'10, 293 mammoth center Dexter Pittman, a sophomore who grabbed four of 12 possible offensive rebounds in the 10 minutes he was on the court against Stanford. Pittman scored four points and had six rebounds total, but his banging down low was credited for slowing down the Cardinal's 7'0 big men, Robin and Brook Lopez. Will the center be able to do the same against Memphis' wide bodies? No one has kept the Tigers off the offensive glass yet this tournament, and Texas doesn't look to be the team that will turn that around, as it ranks 226th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.
Memphis, which lost in its regional final last year to Ohio St., will be looking to make its first Final Four since 1985. The Tigers face an extra obstacle in getting there today, in that this game's location in Houston will likely again provide a significant homecourt advantage for the Longhorns, as it did in Friday's win. Texas last made the Final Four in 2003, losing while there to eventual champion Syracuse.
Ford Field (Detroit, MI)
Matchup: #10 Seed Davidson (29-6, 20-0 Southern) vs. #1 Kansas (34-3, 13-3 Big 12), 5:05 P.M. EST
Rankings: Davidson, #20 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 11 in Southern); Kansas, #1 (1st of 12 in Big 12)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas, 79-67 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 13%
Prospectus: Stephen Curry's sublime play and remarkable story continued on Friday, as the Wildcats slayed the Badgers, the best defensive team in the nation, by 73-56 to advance to the Elite Eight. For the third straight game, Curry and Davidson pulled away in the second half. After scoring 30 of his 40 points against Gonzaga in the first round after halftime, and 25 of his 30 against Georgetown in the second round after halftime, Curry poured in 22 following the break against Wisconsin. The Badgers had just 20 points as a team in the final 20 minutes, as they were outscored 37-20 after going into the break tied with Davidson at 36. Curry finished with 33 points total on 64 eFG% shooting (11-of-22, 6-of-11 from three), and also collected four steals, giving him 12 in the tournament's three games.
The latest team to try and stop Curry will be the Jayhawks, who took care of their business against Villanova, shooting 62 eFG% from the floor and holding the Wildcats to 38 percent in the 72-57 victory. Kansas did turn it over on 27 percent of possessions in the victory, preventing the game from being a complete blowout, and turnovers could become an issue for the Jayhawks against a Davidson squad that forces opponent giveaways on 24 percent of possessions and gets a good percentage of its defensive efficiency from those giveaways.
Excepting ball-handling--Davidson is also excellent at protecting possessions on offense--the Jayhawks are significantly stronger than the Wildcats by virtually all statistical metrics. However, such statistics are of questionable utility with Davidson, and Curry in particular, playing so remarkably well. Coming out of a small conference, Davidson is also harder to accurately compare with the power conference schools, and indeed the Wildcats have jumped significantly in the Pomeroy Ratings with their three tournament wins, from #33 to #20. One thing to consider, however, is that Kansas will be the most athletic team that Davidson has faced in the tournament to date. The Jayhawks have a bevy of quick guards on the perimeter, such as Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, and Sherron Collins, who will be chasing around Curry all night.
Davidson will be looking to reach the Final Four for the first time in school history, while Kansas will be looking to get the supposed Final Four monkey off of coach Bill Self's back by returning to the national semifinals for the first time since 2003. If Memphis wins the day's opening game, and Kansas stops Davidson in the nightcap, then all four No. 1 seeds will meet in San Antonio, which would be the first time ever that the four No. 1's each made it through the tournament to the final weekend unscathed.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.