Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thursday Early Games

Ranked according to how compelling they were.

Dayton - Ohio State
  • By the end of the game, it seemed like the announcers had a bet going to see who could say the most ridiculous thing about Aaron Craft. "Angelic countenance" had the edge until the final seconds, when the play-by-play guy said he had more respect for Craft as a player than anyone he has seen in the last 30 years. Of course, immediately after that, Craft gives up the game-winning shot on a relatively easy drive by Vee Sanford. There's only so much the announcers can tempt the basketball gods - by building Craft into something he's not, they only made the fall all the more painful.
  • Dayton was in control until midway in the second half, when Thad Matta went small and put LaQuinton Ross at the 5. Ross at the 5 is an almost impossible cover and Dayton didn't have the big men to really exploit him. And while the tactic almost worked, it exposed the underlying problem with the OSU team this season - they didn't have much of a presence at the 4 and 5 positions. That's where high-majors usually separate themselves from the mid-majors; a high-major without size isn't any different from a mid-major like Dayton. Everyone has good guards - so if it becomes a small-ball game, the underdog has a much better chance of pulling it out. 
  • Dayton is a good team - they are very athletic and they have a lot of skilled guards. However, you saw their weaknesses in this game and it doesn't seem likely they advance past the round of 32. They have no real big man and no PG - if the game is in the half-court, they can have a lot of trouble executing on offense. There's no one on their roster who creates shots for their teammates, so if the game isn't going up-and-down, it's a lot of isolation basketball by guys who aren't elite scorers. 
  • OSU fans shouldn't worry about losing Craft next season. As long as LaQuinton Ross stays in school, Craft's departure should make them a better team. He was a very inefficient scorer who dominated the ball and couldn't stretch the floor - Craft dominating the ball puts a lid on how good your offense can be. Ross and Scott, both juniors, have never had the chance to play with the ball in their hands - they could be poised for big seasons. 
  • Ross is a tantalizing talent - a 6'8 220 small forward who can shoot and put the ball on the floor. He's got a big body, he's very skilled and he's pretty athletic - it's just been a matter of him putting it all together. If he comes back to school, he should be one of the front-runners for Big Ten POY. If he goes pro, I would take him in the first-round, for sure. He has a ton of upside, because he never had the chance to play out of Craft's shadow and his downside is pretty low. Worst case, he's a 6'8 shooter/scorer who adds a lot of pop to your bench.
Harvard - Cincy
  • The 5-12 pairing usually has a few upsets because after the top 4 seeds, the talent level starts thinning out completely. A lot more separates teams 1-4 from teams 17-20 in the country than 17-20 from 44-48. Harvard was just as good as Cincy - it wasn't really an upset at all. Harvard was bigger, they had a better PG and they had more outside shooting. While Cincy was the better defensive team, Harvard ran much better offensive sets. The margin was close enough that the game came down to the buzzer, but I would take Harvard as a comfortable favorite in a seven-game series.
  • Cincy had the same problem as OSU - they didn't have the size to punish the mid-major team down low. The Bearcats play five-out with their tallest player at 6'8 - they are downsizing and playing the mid-major game too. A high-major team that doesn't have a 4 or a 5 who can get offense - that's a big red flag to me that they could get upset.
  • Harvard probably had the better personnel upfront than Cincy, which is just ridiculous. Tommy Amaker is straight killing the recruiting trail. They can go 6'7 225, 6'7 225, 6'6 215 across the front-line, all of whom are good athletes. That's just about as big as the Bearcats. Wesley Saunders, the Ivy League Player of the Year, is a legitimate NBA prospect. If he can improve his three-point shot as a senior, he might have a chance to get drafted. Their PG - Siyani Chambers - is pretty good too; he did a much better job of controlling tempo and getting guys shots than the Cincy PG's. Long story short, Harvard is a really good team. 
  • If they weren't in Michigan State's pod, I think they would have a really good chance at making the Sweet 16. As is, though, they just have no one who can match-up with Adreian Payne at 6'10 245. That's the difference between a team like Michigan State and one like Cincy.
Oregon - BYU
  • By far the most aesthetically pleasing of the early batch of games - a fun-and-gun West Coast game played almost entirely in semi-transition. Eventually, Oregon's firepower edge just wore out a game but injury depleted BYU team. Both wanted to play uptempo; the difference was Oregon was just as skilled and far more as athletic. For the second straight year, Dana Altman's team looks like it's peaking at the right time. 
  • The NCAA Tournament is all about exposing the weaknesses of a team. BYU has a good big man (Erik Mika) and some guards who can fill it up (Carlino, Hawes), but without the injured Kyle Collinsworth, they don't really have a 6'6+ wing who can match-up with 3's and small ball 4's. That really killed them against Oregon, which had 6'6 205 Elgin Cook waiting to pounce. I kind of doubt there was a team in the Pac 12 as weak on the wings as BYU was today, which is why Cook was able to have a career game. 
  • Oregon - Wisconsin could be one of the best games of the Tourney. Just like with BYU, Wisconsin will want to play up-and-down with Oregon. Contrary to their usual style of play, this is one of the most offensive-minded teams Bo Ryan has had. Wisconsin and Oregon have a lot of skill and they do a great job of running sets in the half-court - expect a lot of points on Saturday. There should be a lot of very intriguing individual match-ups, but I think the key will end up being Wisconsin's ability to execute in the half-court. As long as they take care of the ball, they should be able to take advantage of their edge in size upfront and pound the offensive glass. If Oregon can turn them over and get out in transition, they have a real chance at the upset.
Syracuse - Western Michigan
  • Syracuse was at their best in this game - when their defense can get TO's and they exploit their athletic advantage in transition. You beat the Orange by taking care of the ball and making them execute in the half-court, which Western Michigan was not able to do. While they were a popular upset pick, the red flag should have been them averaging 11 assists on 14 turnovers a game. That tells you two things - they don't have a PG who can control tempo and keep the other team out of transition and they don't create a lot of easy shots for themselves. That formula can work if you have an athletic advantage and can dominate defensively, but that's usually not the situation when you are a 14 seed facing a 3.
Colorado - Pittsburgh
  • Colorado's performance today really shows what a great job Thad Boyle did this season. This is their true talent level without Spencer Dinwiddie - I'm shocked they even made the NCAA Tourney after their best player tore his knee. Dinwiddie was one of the most underrated players in the country - a 6'6 205 PG who could score, shoot, rebound, defend and get everyone else shots. It's just very hard to replace a big guard with that skill-set - you saw that with Jerian Grant at Notre Dame as well. Dinwiddie may not be 100% next season coming off the ACL injury, so he could be a huge steal in the 2nd round of 2015. As long as he retains his athleticism, he'll be a ten-year player in the NBA. 
Wisconsin - American
  • You saw what a good high seed does to a low seed trying for the upset in this one. American was up 7-8 points midway through the first half when Wisconsin started pounding the ball inside - Frank Kaminsky (7'0 235), Sam Dekker (6'8 220) and Nigel Hays (6'7 250). It took them a little while to get it going, but they just had too much size. It was only a matter of time until they either scored at the rim or collapsed the D and got open 3's. 

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