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Bracket Breakdown: 16 Questions for 16 Games

March 19, 2011 Columns No Comments

With the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament in the books, we’re moving into the third round. By the end of Sunday, we’ll know which teams will form this year’s Sweet 16, and there promises to be a few surprises. Let’s take a look at 16 questions for the third round of action.


(4) Kentucky 71 (5) West Virginia 63
In a rematch of last season’s regional final between the Wildcats and Mountaineers, can Kentucky get revenge by suffocating West Virginia’s inconsistent offense with a defense that allows teams to shoot only 42.0 percent from inside the arc?

ANSWER: Yes, the Wildcats got their revenge by stepping up the defensive intensity in the second half. Kentucky held the Mountaineers to 22 second-half points and 41.5 percent shooting for the game. Brandon Knight bounced back from a poor shooting game against Princeton to break through for 30 points on 9-of-20 shooting.


(2) Florida 73 (7) UCLA 65
Can the Bruins’ interior defense, anchored by the massive Joshua Smith, keep Florida out of the post? The Gators are No. 8 in the country in offensive rebound percentage and shoot 51.4 percent inside the arc.

ANSWER: Sorta. The Bruins did a good job against Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus, holding the Gators’ bigs to a combined 18 points. However, mighty mouse point guard Erving Walker shredded the Bruins’ defense, especially late in the game, and finished with 21 points and got to the free throw line 10 times. Florida collected seven offensive rebounds, so the Bruins can’t be too upset about that effort.


(12) Richmond 65 (13) Morehead State 48
Richmond is a bad rebounding team. Morehead State is bad at defending the long ball. Which team will impose its game on the other?

ANSWER: Neither team established itself in its typical way, but Richmond controlled the game. Most importantly, the Spiders allowed Morehead State to out-rebound them by only two, 32-30. Richmond made only four three-pointers in the game. However, the threat of the long ball stretched Morehead State’s defense, and the Spiders shot 56.4 percent from inside the arc.


(2) San Diego State 71 (7) Temple 64 2OT
These teams are nearly mirror images of each other, but the Aztecs are a better version with more talent. Can Temple find a boost on offense from someone to overcome San Diego State’s advantages in talent, size and experience?

ANSWER: No, and especially not in overtime. Both teams played ugly down the stretch, and the Owls got 57 of their 64 points from only four players. In both overtimes, the Owls played passive on offense, and no one seemed to want to attack the basket or take a clutch shot. As a result, San Diego State slipped by in a game that the Aztecs could have easily lost.


(8) Butler 71 (1) Pittsburgh 70
Can Butler’s excellent post players, Matt Howard and Andrew Smith, stay out of foul trouble and play effectively against Gary McGhee and Pittsburgh’s prolific rebounders, who are No. 2 in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage?

ANSWER: Yes, the two combined for only four fouls and limited the Panthers to six offensive rebounds. But forget about that.

This game had one of the most memorable endings in a long time. Andrew Smith hit a would-be game winner with 2.4 seconds to go, giving Butler a 69-68 lead. Pitt fired an inbounds pass along the sideline, which Gilbert Brown let bounce once before picking it up to fire a prayer. But Shelvin Mack fouled him.

Brown proceeded to drain the first free throw to tie the game at 70. On the second shot, he just missed and the ball spun out to the left. Matt Howard collected the rebound with Nasir Robinson hanging on his arm — foul. At the other end with 0.8 seconds remaining, Howard made the first to seal the 71-70 win. He missed the second, and time expired.


(3) BYU 89 (11) Gonzaga 67
Besides Jimmer Fredette, who else will step up for BYU to produce points against Gonzaga, which is vulnerable against shooters because the Zags allow opponents to shoot 36.4 percent from three-point range?

ANSWER: Jackson Emery and Noah Hartsock. Jimmer Fredette’s running mates poured six three-pointers, in addition to Jimmer’s seven from long range. In sum, BYU scored 42 of its 89 points from behind the arc as the Cougars torched that suspect Gonzaga perimeter defense.


(4) Wisconsin 70 (5) Kansas State 65
Will Wisconsin’s massive free throw advantage — 82.3 percent at the line compared to Kansas State’s 65.9 percent — provide the difference in a tight match up of No. 4 and 5 seeds?

ANSWER: Absolutely. Jacob Pullen was magnificent for Kansas State, with 38 points. But when fouled on a three-pointer with Kansas State trailing by three in the final minute, Pullen made only two of the attempts, which sealed the Wildcats’ fate. As a a team, Kansas State made 15-of-22 free throw attempts, or 68.2 percent, compared to Wisconsin’s 19-of-23, or 82.6 percent.


(3) Connecticut 69 (6) Cincinnati 58
Can Connecticut complete a two-game season sweep against the Bearcats by locking down Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates, Rashad Bishop and Ibrahima Thomas in the post?

ANSWER: The Huskies advanced, but they barely slowed down Cincinnati’s big men. Those three combined to shoot 15-of-28 and had 39 points. But Connecticut held the rest of the Bearcats to 25.9 percent shooting, and Kemba Walker battled through physical play that left him with a sore wrist and hip to finish with 33 points.


(2) North Carolina 86 (7) Washington 83
Will Washington’s quick guards, especially Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton, force Kendall Marshall to make mistakes and disrupt an occasionally spotty Tar Heel offense?

ANSWER: Not often enough. Marshall had four of North Carolina’s nine turnovers, but he also had 14 assists, a Tar Heel record in an NCAA Tournament game. With North Carolina’s big men, especially Tyler Zeller, sprinting down the court in transition, Marshall delivered several long passes on the money for easy baskets. North Carolina’s offense had its way with Washington en route to an 86-83 win.


(1) Duke 73 (8) Michigan 71
Can Michigan build on a terrific performance against Tennessee by stopping Duke’s three-point shooters and keeping Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving from repeatedly driving through the lane for buckets?

ANSWER: Yes to the first part, no to the second. Duke took advantage of its size and quickness advantage by shooting 20-of-29 from inside the arc and getting to the line 25 times, covering up a weak 5-of-20 shooting performance from three-point range. Smith led the way with 24 points. But he missed the second of two free throws in the closing seconds, which gave Michigan an opportunity to tie the game. But Darius Morris’ running jumper in the lane with two seconds to go clanked off the back of the rim to preserve Duke’s win.


(1) Ohio State 98 (8) George Mason 66
Will George Mason’s March magic come up empty against a team that can light up the scoreboard in many different ways?

ANSWER: The Colonials’ great season ended at the hands of the team with the highest ceiling of any in the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State blitzed George Mason 98-66 with 61 percent shooting from the field, including 16-of-26 from three-point range. David Lighty was phenomenal as the Buckeyes’ senior leader, delivering a nearly perfect game with 9-of-10 shooting and 25 points.


(5) Arizona 70 (4) Texas 69
Texas’ size and defensive prowess could frustrate the Wildcats’ Derrick Williams. If he struggles, who else for Arizona will step up to score for the Wildcats against one of the best defenses in the country?

ANSWER: Solomon Hill. The Longhorns did stymie Williams for much of the game, and he finished shooting 4-of-15 from the field — an off day for one of the best players in the country. Hill delivered with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting and helped keep the team in it until Williams got into the flow in the second half. Down the stretch, Williams took over by attacking the rim and boards, and he made the game-winning play on a driving layup and three-point play at the free throw line.


(11) VCU 94 (3) Purdue 76
As one of the best teams in the country at protecting the ball, can Purdue continue to execute on offense against the Rams’ pressure defense, which forces turnovers on 22.8 percent of opponents’ possessions?

ANSWER: Yes, but the Boilermakers’ defense was so bad, a solid offensive performance went for naught. Purdue committed only seven turnovers and grabbed 12 offensive rebounds. With a solid shooting day, Purdue averaged about 1.12 points per possession. However, VCU torched Purdue’s usually stout defense with 57.8 percent shooting, including 67.4 percent inside the arc. VCU put up and Ohio State-esque 1.40 points per possession.


(11) Marquette 66 (3) Syracuse 62
Can Marquette replicate a home win in January against the Orange, when the Golden Eagles attacked Syracuse’s zone and got to the line 33 times, providing he difference in a tight battle?

ANSWER: Yes, and the Golden Eagles used nearly an identical formula. Marquette attacked Syracuse’s zone and got to the line 23 times, where the Golden Eagles made 19 attempts. When they weren’t getting to the line, they were collecting 36.7 percent of their missed shots, led by Jimmy Butler’s four offensive rebounds. Butler was one of three Golden Eagles to reach double figures in scoring, and Darius Johnson-Odom led the way with 17 points, including a tie-breaking three-pointer in the final 30 seconds.


(1) Kansas 73 (9) Illinois 59
If Kansas starts sluggish again against Illinois, can the Illini build and hold onto a lead with their excellent shooting?

ANSWER: That didn’t happen, and it wasn’t a concern for the Jayhawks. Illinois hung around until midway through the second half, when the Morris twins buried the Illini for good. Marcus and Markieff combined to score 41 points and grabbed 25 rebounds, just five fewer than Illinois collected as a team.


(10) Florida State 71 (2) Notre Dame 57
Will Notre Dame’s great offense, ranked No. 3 in points per possession, be able to score enough to get past Florida State’s great defense, ranked No. 1 in points per possession?

ANSWER: Not even close. Florida State’s superior size and aggressive defense frustrated the Fighting Irish, who shot only 30.6 percent from the field and made only 7-of-30 three-point attempts. Meanwhile, the Seminoles took advantage of Notre Dame’s questionable defense by shooting 47.4 percent from three-point range, led Michael Snaer’s three three-pointers.

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