Showing posts with label South Region. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Region. Show all posts

Monday, April 03, 2017

NCAA Tournament Final Preview: Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. North Carolina Tar Heels

Bulldogs vs. Tar Heels For All The Marbles, 9:20 pm ET, CBS

Is this not how it should be? Number one seed from the West, Gonzaga, meets #1 from the South (should have been East), North Carolina. First-timer vs. thoroughbred, a team that's never been to a Final Four, much less a championship game, will be facing a team that's been to 20 Final Fours and has won the national championship five times (1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009). Roy Williams, head coach of North Carolina, is seeking his third national championship, which would tie him with Jim Calhoun and Bobby Knight (John Wooden won 10, Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp each won four). Mark Few, who, for 18 years, has labored diligently as the head coach of the Gonzaga Bulldogs - and built an impressive, successful program - has never won a national title.

So, who's got the goods? Spoiler alert: College Basketball Daily isn't making a pick. Since we have no dog in this fight (and we almost never do), there's no point in jading this column into being something it's not. Let's throw out some numbers and observations and enjoy what should be an exceptional exclamation point to another college basketball season.

For those of you with a gambling problem, who just have to make a wager, good luck. North Carolina is a one-point favorite, meaning, as expected, it's just about impossible to predict a winner. The over/under number comes in at a robust 155, seeking a game that ends up something like 80-75, which should be about enough scoring for anybody.

A quick recap of the path to the championship is in order, but one condition sums up why this match-up may be entirely too close to call: the total margin of victory for the five tournament games is North Carolina, 57; Gonzaga, 57. That's right. Both teams have won five games by the same total number of points.

On Saturday, the Tar Heels managed to slip past an aggressive and determined Oregon squad by missing four straight free throws at the end of the game, securing a 77-76 win.

Surely, that was not the Tar Heels' desired strategy, but, as it worked out, the object lesson is that North Carolina led the nation in rebounding during the regular season and, apparently, no team does it better, or, at more opportune times.

For Gonzaga, Saturday afternoon in Phoenix was no vacation. Facing the South Carolina Gamecocks, the #7 seed from the East region, the Bulldogs built a second half, 14-point lead, only to see it evaporate in the span of four minutes, putting the Gamecocks up by two with just over seven minutes to play. Seconds later, Zach Collins notched a three-pointer, Gonzaga began building their lead again and never game it up, eventually coming away with the 77-73 victory.

A few key takeaways from the semi-final games:
  • Both Gonzaga and North Carolina faced teams with solid, if not special defenses, however...
  • North Carolina was outshot by Oregon, 36.8% to 37.9%
  • Gonzaga shot 48.3% to South Carolina's 37.9%
  • Oregon tied North Carolina with 43 rebounds
  • Gonzaga had 41 rebounds; South Carolina, 36
  • Gonzaga hit 9 of 19 three-pointers; North Carolina made 8 of 21 vs. the Ducks
  • North Carolina's bench scored just 9 points; Gonzaga's scored 22
  • Of course, the Tar Heels won by one point; Gonzaga won by four

With those figures in perspective, and, in case you didn't see the games (how could you miss them?), North Carolina didn't pass the eye test. They looked, especially in the first ten minutes of the first half, disorganized, unconnected, and uninspired. They appeared to be playing without any emotion. However, they looked the same way at the end of the game - emotionless - so maybe that's just their look.

But, if you saw both games, the Zags looked much the sharper. Additionally, a couple of key players stood out. For the Tar Heels, Joel Berry II appeared nearly hobbled throughout. There's been much said about his sore ankles, and they showed up in the game against Oregon. Still, Berry played 35 minutes, In that time, he scored 11 points on 2-for-14 shooting. If Berry is actually hurting (and there's nothing to say that he isn't), Theo Pinson, and especially, Nate Britt, are going to get many more minutes.

The other player that one couldn't help but notice was struggling was North Carolina forward Isaiah Hicks, who appeared to be completely lost on offense and ineffective on defense. Hicks played 20 minutes, scoring 2 points on 1-for-12 shooting and had a mere three rebounds.

Maybe Hicks just had a bad game, and maybe Berry will feel better before tonight's tip-off. In any case, coach Williams will make an accurate assessment of both situations and make the needed adjustments. So too, Mark Few, a zealot for detail and preparedness.

For Gonzaga, point guard Josh Perkins played 22 minutes and had two points, but, he only hoisted up two shots, both threes and both misses. He had just one assist and fouled out. He was a non-factor, even though he's not generally a key to the Bulldog scoring.

On the other hand, seven-foot freshman Zach Collins had 14 points and 13 rebounds in 23 minutes, really stepping up his game.

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks scored 25 points and had 13 rebounds. Without him, the Tar Heels would have lost, and lost badly. It's not going to be as easy for Meeks - not that it was against the Ducks - against Gonzaga, in addition to Collins, 7'1" Przemek Karnowski weighs in at 300 pounds. Meeks, however, won't be alone, and he may have the edge. He's no doubt quicker than Karnowski, and, he's stronger than the lanky Collins.

The two players upon whose shoulders victory or defeat will probably land are Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss and Carolina's Justin Jackson. Both led their teams in scoring during the regular season and each is the "go-to" guy in pressure situations. They both played well in the semis and are expected to be at their best in the final.

In the end, there really isn't much separating their last two teams standing, which should make for a thrilling conclusion to the college hoops season.


Friday, March 31, 2017

NCAA: South vs. Midwest National Semi-Final, North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Oregon Ducks

North Carolina vs. Oregon, Saturday, April 1, 2017, 8:49 pm ET, CBS

The nightcap of the National Semi-Final includes one team that's been to the Final Four on multiple occasions - the North Carolina Tar Heels - and one that hasn't been since winning it all in 1939, the Oregon Ducks from the vastly underrated PAC-12 conference.

As shown below in CBD's Tournament Conference Scoreboard, the PAC-12, which sent a mere four teams to the tourney, has outperformed nearly all other conferences with 10 wins and just three losses. Only the SEC, now represented only by South Carolina, has more wins, with 11. The ACC, which sent nine teams - the most of any conference - has just nine wins, and the Tar Heels have accounted for four of them. Three ACC teams went down in their opening tournament game, and none, other than Carolina, won more than one game.

Thus, the dichotomy between the ACC and PAC-12 is clear, muddying the waters of the Final Four with an unusual conference set-up.

Statistics may tell another story about the relative chances of the Ducks and Tar Heels to advance to Monday's championship game. The most telling is North Carolina's dominance on the boards. They were the leading rebounding team in the nation during the regular season (43.5 per game) and that has continued during the tournament. The Tar Heels have grasped an average of 45.3 rebounds per game during their tournament run, winning by an average margin of 14 points, the most of any remaining team.

By contrast, Oregon has hauled in 37 rebounds per game during the tournament, wining their four games by an average margin of just 8.5 points per game, the lowest of the four competitors heading to Phoenix.

Oregon's wins are something of an oddity in themselves. After dropping #14 seed Iona in the opening round by 16, 93-77, they slipped by #11 Rhode Island, 75-72 and held on against #7 Michigan by a mere point, 69-68. Thus, when the Ducks met up with #1 seed in the Midwest, Kansas, there were doubters, but the Ducks played remarkably well on defense, holding the Jayhawks to a season-low 60 points in a no-doubt, 74-60, victory, posting their decond-largest winning margin.

See CBD's Final Four team stats here.

With the win over Kansas in hand, the task before the Ducks is daunting, because North Carolina has more scoring options than the Jayhawks, rebounds far better, share the ball better (18.0 assists per game during the tourney) and have an assist to turnover ratio of 1.36.

In the paint, the Ducks are short-handed, with stalwart Jordan Bell the only defender and rebounder of excellence since the injury to Chris Boucher. Bell had a monster game against Kansas (11 points, 13 board, 8 blocks), but will have his hands full against 6'10" Kennedy Meeks and 6'9" Isaiah Hicks. North Carolina will no doubt be going strong to the hole on every opportunity, as point guard Joel Berry II and forward Justin Jackson have driving, scoring and passing ability on a par with any team in the country.

Oregon may have to lean heavily on Tyler Dorsey, who has scored 20 or more in every tournament game thus far and has been on target from three-point range. They;ll also get scoring from Dillon Brooks and hope that Dylan Ennis steps up his game. The Ducks may play a lot of zone defense against North Carolina, forcing them to shoot threes, the one area of North Carolina's game that may be considered a slight weakness. The 31-7 Tar Heels are shooting just 32% from beyond the arc in the tourney. 33-5 Oregon is hitting threes at 43%, with Dorsey the main contributor.

Head to Saturday, the oddsmakers have North Carolina a mere five-point favorite. While Oregon has demonstrated throughout the tournament that they can defend well, they have not faced a team as deep and talented as the Tar Heels. North Carolina's rotation goes nine deep; Oregon is a stretch to get seven quality players into the game at this juncture.

North Carolina's depth and general advantage in the paint could produce a monstrous blowout, especially if the Tar Heels establish a lead early and defend the three-point line. There's also the intangible factor of North Carolina's last-second loss to Villanova in the tournament final last season that comes into play. The Tar Heels are hungry for retribution which only a national championship can provide, making them the overall favorite to emerge victorious, not just in this game, but again on Monday night. Oregon could see the end of the line despite a solid run.

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through Sunday (3/26) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 9-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (4)
Big East (7) 6-7 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (3)
Big Ten (7) 8-7 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 9-6 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (3), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 11-4* Florida (3), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (3), South Carolina (4)
PAC 12 (4) 10-3 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (4), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 5-1 Gonzaga (4), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) (4-23) Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

*One SEC loss and one SEC win occurred in the East Regional Final, South Carolina 77, Florida 70

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bracket Breakdown: South Region

1 North Carolina vs. 16 Radford - Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, 28-4, ACC vs. Big South. Carolina favored by 26 1/2 points. Any questions? The Tar Heels will cruise past Radford and get ready for the 8 vs. 9 winner.

8 LSU vs. 9 Butler - As befits an 8 vs. 9 game, this is one tough call. LSU is currently favored by 2 1/2 over the Bulldogs, but what happened to those national rankings? Butler was ranked 20 or higher almost all season, while the Tigers only got into the Top 25 in late February. LSU is one of only three SEC teams, so they're going to have to represent for the entire conference here, despite the tough draw.

Tasmin Mitchell and Marcus Thornton are the main scoring threats for the Tigers, though 6'11" senior center Chris Johnson could be a big contributor if he can handle Butler's power forwards, Matt Howard and rapidly improving freshman, Gordon Hayward. While Butler may eventually control the boards in this game and usually offers pretty stiff defense, the long, lean Tigers seem to be too much to handle for the returning Horizon League champs. LSU has lots of experience with three senior starters and their top two men coming off the bench, so look for LSU to advance, as these fellows don't want their first NCAA game of '09 to be their last. Butler's players will be back in 2010. They start three freshman and their elder statesman, Willie Veasley, is a junior.

5 Illinois vs. 12 Western Kentucky - The Hilltoppers are more athletic than the Illini squad, but Illinois is one of the better disciplined teams from the Big Ten, plus, Western Kentucky will find out that they really don't have an answer for 7'1" sophomore center Mike Tisdale, who has a nice touch from anywhere inside of 12 feet. Tisdale and his frontcourt mate, (another soph.) Mike Davis are likely to terrorize the smaller Hilltoppers. If that occurs, Illinois' backcourt is probably also an overmatch, so this could turn into a Big Ten blowout. Illinois is only favored by 4 1/2. Should be more like 12 1/2. Take note of the talent on Illinois. These guys could go deep.

4 Gonzaga vs. 13 Akron - Possibly the worst seeding of the entire tournament was making Gonzaga a 4, when they should have been a 2 in the West or at worst a 3. The 26-5 Zags blew through the West Coast conference and won the tourney easily. Since losing three straight to quality opponents (UConn, Portland St. and Utah) at the end of '08, they've won 17 of their last 18 and enter the tournament on a 9-game win streak. The Zips won't put up much of a fight - they are 12 1/2-point underdogs - as they duffer from a height disadvantage at every position and are especially overmatched inside. This should set up an interesting matchup in the next round vs. Illinois.

6 Arizona St. vs. 11 Temple - Most people know little about the Sun Devils and even less about Temple, but the skinny is that the Sun Devils are a high-quality team that can do harm to opponents from beyond the arc or in the lane, have plenty of experience and lost by just 3 points in the PAC-10 tourney final to USC, one of the hottest teams coming into the tournament. The Owls come back to the NCAAs for their second straight year and are looking to get past the first round, but it's a tough task. Their leader is Dionte Christmas, who may get into a "my best is better" situation with Arizona State's James Harden. Those two are the players to watch here, along with the Sun Devils' Jeff Pendergraph, who will have to deal with 7-footer Sergio Olmos inside. These are two great battles in the back and frontcourts which should be excitng to watch. This one could turn into one of the best games of the opening round.

Arizona State is a 4 1/2-point favorite, but this really could go either way.

3 Syracuse vs. 14 Stephen F. Austin - The way Syracuse has been playing of late - reaching the Big East tournament finals - one would expect them to be more than ready for the start of a nice run in the NCAAs, and the oddsmakers are thinking the same way, installing the Orangemen as 12-point favorites to knock off the Lunberjacks. An interesting matchup at point guard has smooth Jonny Flynn (who usually stays out of foul trouble) for the Orange against diminutive Eric Bell, who is only 5'3". Beyond that, SFA is not a great perimeter shooting team nor do they match up well inside, meaning that Syracuse can settle into their 3-2 zone, create turnovers and get out and run. This one shouldn't be very close.

7 Clemson vs. 10 Michigan - On paper, this 7-10 tilt looks like it should be a tight one - Clemson is favored by 5 - but, in reality, the Tigers are a far more talented bunch than the Wolverines, who probably are really a year away from being competitive in the NCAAs. The fact that they actually received an invitation is a tribute to coach John Beilein's reputation and early wins over UCLA and Duke. Michigan was just 9-9 in the sub-par Big Ten, while Clemson went 23-8 and 9-7 in the tough -as-nails ACC. The Tigers don't own any huge wins besides a 74-47 pummeling of Duke, but they do have three players who can really light it up: K.C. Rivers, Trevor Booker and Terrence Oglesby. If they get going, it will be a long day for Michigan, which relies on the 3-point shot heavily.

2 Oklahoma vs. 15 Morgan State - Nobody's saying much about Oklahoma except that Blake Griffin is one of the top big men in the nation and the Sooners are geared to go deep in the tournament. Morgan State is not going to pose much of a problem unless they stroke threes early and collapse their defense around Griffin. After all, the Sooners are 16-point favorites and appear capable of at least reaching the regionals. No sweat here.

Next: Midwest Region Breakdown