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Sweet 16 Preview Day One

Right about now I should be boarding a plane for New York this weekend but. . . Not so much. Still, Texas or no Texas, the band must play on. There are a lot great games this weekend, starting tonight. Let's talk about 'em.

[Once more, as a reminder: for a less subjective preview of the Sweet 16, be sure to keep a close eye on Hack The Bracket]

Thursday, March 22, 2007
6:10 p.m.
(1) Kansas vs (4) Southern Illinois

How They Got Here: Kansas defeated Niagra 107-67 and Kentucky 88-76 / Southern Illinois defeated Holy Cross 61-51 and Virginia Tech 63-48

Game Analysis: Kansas looks like the hottest team in the tournament right now, but Southern Illinois' been awfully impressive in their own right. More importantly, they (along with Butler) play the slowest pace of the teams remaining in the tournament. The best place to start with this game, then, might be Kansas' 2006-07 profile in slow tempo games (defined here as <65).

Kansas In Slow Pace Games
Date Opponent Pace Result Off. Eff. Def. Eff.
11/24 Ball State 62 W, 64-46 102.2 73.3
11/25 Florida 63 W, 82-80 115.7 112.8
11/28 Dartmouth 63 W, 82-32 129.9 50.1
11/24 Ball State 62 W, 64-46 102.2 73.3
11/24 Ball State 62 W, 64-46 102.2 73.3
12/02 DePaul 62 L, 57-64 91.2 102.4
12/28 Detroit 61 W, 63-43 103.1 70.4
1/07 South Carolina 60 W, 70-54 115.8 89.3
1/13 Iowa State 62 W, 68-64 96.2 90.5
1/20 Texas Tech 64 L, 64-69 98.5 106.2
2/03 Texas A&M 64 L, 66-69 101.8 106.5
3/09 Oklahoma 61 W, 64-47 103.7 76.1
3/10 Kansas State 62 W, 67-61 107.8 97.2

Pretty interesting, actually. Kansas' only two Big 12 losses this year came against teams who got the pace under 65. Two others - Iowa State and Kansas State, got the pace under 65 and gave Kansas a closer game than you'd expect. Does this bode well for Southern Illinois' chances on Thursday?

It's honestly hard to say, because we have to take into account the fact that Southern Illinois hasn't faced a team anywhere near as good as Kansas. Lest we forget, the Jayhawks have the nation's top defense as measured by defensive efficiency. The Salukis' best bet at getting over the hump against Kansas may be how often they can draw fouls and rack up free throw attempts. Kansas has struggled at times when they've put opponents on the line too frequently, while Southern Illinois' offensive efficiency is highly correlated with free throw rate. If the Salukis get to the line early and often, we'll know we're in for a good game.

The Line: Kansas -9
PB's Pick: Kansas 71 Southern Illinois 64
AW's Pick: Kansas 75 Southern Illinois 60

Final Score: Kansas 61 Southern Illinois 58

6:27 p.m.
(2) Memphis vs (3) Texas A&M

How They Got Here: Memphis defeated North Texas 73-58 and Nevada 78-62 / Texas A&M defeated Penn 68-52 and Louisville 72-69

Game Analysis: Even more than most teams, Memphis' offensive efficiency this season has been correlated very highly with their field goal percentage. Guess which team is #2 in the country in effective field goal percentage defense? Yup, the Aggies. For their part, Memphis ranks 4th nationally in effective field goal percentage defense, but the Aggies’ offensive performance is correlated far less with their field goal percentage. Texas A&M’s offense thrives when the Aggies are getting offensive rebounds in bunches, so I’ll be watching closely to see how well Memphis can clear the defensive glass.

This matchup is an interesting one for a number of reasons, but perhaps none more than the striking similarity of the two squads' profiles. They excel in so many similar facets of the game and wind up winning games the same way. These are two very athletic, physical teams who overwhelm their opponents with superior athletes, solid rebounding, superb defense, and underrated offense.

So who wins? I think the advantage is with Texas A&M for three reasons. For one, their offense thrives on pounding the frontcourt and getting to the line, and Memphis is a truly hacktastic ballclub. Second, the Aggies have better perimeter shooters than the Tigers. And third, the location of the game in San Antonio should provide a significant home court advantage for the Aggies. These two teams are closely matched, but Texas A&M's better suited to win a game like this one - especially in San Antonio.

The Line: Texas A&M -3
PB's Pick: Texas A&M 74 Memphis 70
AW's Pick: Texas A&M 65 Memphis 61

Final Score: Memphis 65 Texas A&M 64

8:40 p.m.
(2) UCLA vs (3) Pittsburgh

How They Got Here: UCLA defeated Weber State 70-42 and Indiana 54-49 / Pittsburgh defeated Wright State 79-58 and Virginia Commonwealth 84-79

Game Analysis: This is another interesting matchup between teams with similar profiles. UCLA's defense is just stifling - they're big, they're physical, and they defend the perimeter. Pittsburgh's defense is a notch below UCLA's, but it's a strong one - they play a bend-don't-break style that doesn't force many turnovers, but excels in preventing easy transition points and easy baskets near the rim.

Neither offense is what you'd call elite, but they're both above average and operate similarly - limit the turnovers, don't force the pace, and shoot high percentage shots. Pittsburgh is a better offensive rebounding team than UCLA, which could be a huge boost to them if they can steal some extra possessions Thursday night. The other bit of good news for Pittsburgh is that UCLA is content to play a very deliberate pace. The Panthers aren't weak against up-tempo teams, but they do have to get Aaron Gray off the court more; with UCLA, the pace should be well-suited to give Pittsburgh’s seven footer lots of minutes.

This one looks like a bit of a coin flip to me, though UCLA's profile is a hair better. Whatever the outcome, I won't be surprised at all to see a very tight, back-and-forth battle. I'll say the team with the fewest turnovers wins, and I'll predict that team is UCLA.

The Line: UCLA -3
PB's Pick: UCLA 66 Pittsburgh 64
AW's Pick: UCLA 66 Pittsburgh 59

8:57 p.m.
(1) Ohio State vs (5) Tennessee

How They Got Here: Ohio State defeated Central Conncecticut State 78-57 and Xavier 78-71 / Tennessee defeated Long Beach State 121-86 and Virginia 77-74.

Game Analysis: Did you know that Ohio State hasn't lost since January 9th? I knew they were on a roll, but my goodness, that's quite a long time since they've lost. How are they doing it? On offense, the Buckeyes limit turnovers, make a very high percentage of their two point shots, and a solid percentage of their threes. On defense, the formula is simple: they don't foul excessively, they defend the perimeter aggressively, and they let Oden dominate near the basket.

Can the Volunteers make a game out of this? Looking at their statistical profile, it looks grim. Tennessee did play Ohio State very close (4 point loss) in Columbus back on January 13th, however, so they have to believe they can make a run at a win here. In that contest, the Volunteers forced twenty Ohio State turnovers, while coughing up the ball only eight times on their own. That kept the game close, but that was the only category in which Tennessee was competitive. The Vols were held to 7-for-30 shooting from beyond the arc, were out-rebounded, and couldn't get to the line.

In fact, if several of the first games we looked at are examples of teams with similar profiles, this is a matchup of teams who are nearly polar opposites. The big, physical Buckeyes take on the much smaller, quicker Volunteers. Tennessee wants to run and gun. Ohio State wants to get into a slugfest. Other than liking Bruce Pearl more than Thad Matta, it's hard to pick against the Buckeyes here. Tennessee’s best shot is Greg Oden foul trouble. If he picks up some whistles early, all bets are off.

The Line: Ohio State -4
PB's Pick: Ohio State 74 Tennessee 68

AW's Pick: Ohio State 77 Tennessee 74