Postseason Sunday ACCtion: Can Duke, North Carolina advance?
Posted March 19
Well darned if we don't have an ACC-SEC Challenge in Greenville playing out for the right to get to the Sweet 16! I suppose it's only fair that in basketball, the ACC has become the meatgrinder league that might have beaten itself up too much to have postseason success while the SEC is the up-and-comer with its bottom teams being hot garbage piles but its upper-echelon teams being better than expected (save Kentucky, which is Florida State in this scenario).
Can the ACC reverse course in Greenville, South Carolina as Duke plays essentially a road game as the No. 2 seed (THANKS, HB2!) while North Carolina plays a pesky Arkansas team that will give them trouble if Joel Berry is less than 100 percent? And can Louisville get back in my trust tree with a win over Michigan? And can Georgia Tech stop Georgia Tech-ing?
Let's find out!
NO. 8 ARKANSAS (26-9) VS. NO. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (28-7)
Time: 6:10 p.m.
Initially when this matchup came out, I said to myself, wow, again? North Carolina has played Arkansas a lot in the NCAA Tournament recently. Except it hasn't really been a lot - this will be the third straight meeting between the two that's come in the second round of the Tournament, though - North Carolina won both by an average of 20 points (2015 and 2008). Arkansas' last win in the NCAA Tournament series between the two came in 1995 in the Final Four. Just so you have some history.
So, North Carolina, would you like to go up-tempo? The Tar Heels usually don't get an opportunity like that, but here one is, staring them in the face. Arkansas will be the second-fastest team tempo-wise North Carolina has played this year behind Florida State. North Carolina isn't quite as dominant in transition as past Tar Heel teams have been, but make no mistake - they are much more comfortable in an up-tempo, high-possession game. The other good news for UNC is that Arkansas is a HORRENDOUS defensive rebounding team. But the Tar Heels will have their work cut out for them defending the Arkansas offense, which avoids turnovers, gets to the foul line and shoots pretty well. Carolina has to make sure it avoids turnovers and defends in transition.
Moses Kingsley. The All-SEC Second Team big man is the Hogs' go-to on offense, ending 23 percent of their possessions when he's on the court. But he's also one of the nation's better rebounders (300th in offensive rebounding percentage and 162nd in defensive) and shot-blockers (21st in block percentage). He's also very good at drawing fouls and getting to the foul line, where he makes about 78 percent of his shots. Opposing bigs have found life difficult on the interior against UNC this season overall, but Kingsley could change the game on both ends by either getting Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks in foul trouble and/or making life difficult for both of them with his defense.
HERE'S A GUY
Joel Berry. Last time these two teams played, freshman Joel Berry did not stand up to the press very well, finishing with six points no assists, three turnovers and three fouls in 11 minutes. Now, that was a long time ago, obviously. But Berry may have tweaked his ankle during the Texas Southern game (although he did come back into the game and look no worse for the wear). But he's in a bit of a slump. He hasn't played more than 30 minutes now for three straight games (for various reasons), and he's scored a total of 24 points on 9-of-24 shooting (2-of-12 from three). Can the Tar Heels survive without him at 100 percent? Well, yes. But can they survive against a team that pressures the ball as much as Arkansas does? I think that's a much taller order. They're going to need Berry to play well, even if he's not making shots, and to take care of the ball.
North Carolina Win:
North Carolina Loss: Carolina fans, to Roy
North Carolina, 87-79. Up-tempo hoops FTW!
NO. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA (23-10) VS. NO. 2 DUKE (28-8)
Time: 8:40 p.m.
South Carolina fans have not seen an NCAA Tournament win in quite some time....
...And so you can forgive them for being a little psyched.
Okay, so actual basketball.
South Carolina is an excellent defensive team, which is the main reason the Gamecocks are No. 28 in Ken Pom. But they are...um....not very good on offense, ranking 138th nationally in offensive efficiency and putting up shooting numbers that would make Georgia Tech blush (33.4 percent from three, 45.6 percent from two). Now, I have NO idea what to make of the fact that the Gamecocks put up NINETY-THREE POINTS on Marquette in their best performance from an offensive efficiency perspective since November 18. Will that carry over, in a building essentially in front of their fans (and North Carolina fans, who will be South Carolina fans)? Or will it wither and die and will South Carolina regress to the mean? They didn't shoot lights-out from three (just 33.3 percent), but they were 62.8 percent from two, second-best all year.
Two stats to watch: South Carolina has forced seven straight opponents into a turnover percentage of 20 percent or higher. Duke has had some issues with that in the past but less so lately. Their worst mark since a 20.6 percent turnover percentage against FSU was 19 percent in the ACC Tournament final. They've been below 13 percent in four of the last six games, and that kept them in the UNC game they lost and won them some of the others. The other stat is offensive rebounding percentage for South Carolina. Much like their Carolina counterpart, the Gamecocks depend on those; they're 9-7 when rebounding below 33.3 percent of their misses and 16-3 when above that mark. So Duke is going to have to get rebounds. Basically, avoid giving South Carolina "garbage" points off turnovers or second chances. They have a hard enough time scoring on first chances.
Sindarius Thornwell. Sindarius of House Thornwell is a bright light of offensive brilliance in South Carolina's otherwise dark tunnel of nothingness. The SEC Player of the Year earned this award by ranking in the top 25 of basically every single conference-only Ken Pom stat except three of the four that have to do with two or three-point shooting. At 6-5, he can play the 3 or the 4 and is an excellent defender who can both get steals and block shots. It doesn't seem to matter how well he plays in terms of whether his team wins or loses, but it obviously helps. He's also a great rebounder and finished the Marquette game with a stat line of 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting, 11 rebounds (7 offensive), two assists, three steals, two blocks, one turnover, 35 minutes. Good gravy. He's going to be a handful.
HERE'S A GUY
Grayson Allen. Ankle, shmankle! It doesn't appear to be bothering him anymore, as Allen is now averaging 13.4 points in postseason play, and that includes a zero-point game against Clemson. So in the last four postseason games, he's averaging 16.8. He's also had to play more than 30 minutes (exactly 30 against UNC) just once since February 15, which is useful. As the postseason continues, Duke is going to continue to rely on him as their spark off the bench and maybe more. In a game like this against a really good defensive team that struggles to avoid fouls, Allen could be a huge factor as that's what he does best. And he's happily become more of a distributor as well, getting 13 assists in Duke's last three games (he went 4-0 in assist-turnover against Troy to go along with 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting, 5-of-9 from three). He's typically been at his best in the postseason, and Duke will need him to be that in this game in a hostile environment.
Duke, 73-66. This game will be kind of gross, I fear.
NO. 7 BELMONT (23-6) AT NO. 6 GEORGIA TECH (18-15)
Time: 12:00 p.m.
So, Georgia Tech's offense is still not very good. But Belmont's defense is very bad. Will it matter? All I know is Belmont's offense has almost always been a joy to watch. Belmont is No. 10 nationally in effective field-goal percentage as they hit 62 percent of their two's (1st nationally), but Georgia Tech's defense allows just 43.6 percent from two (14th-best nationally). Obviously, Georgia Tech has the kind of athleticism Belmont doesn't see very often and the Bruins were beaten by double digits by all tough out of conference tests. This probably won't go too differently.
Georgia Tech Win:
Georgia Tech Loss:
Georgia Tech, 71-64. Why would you make that beautiful Belmont offense into something so hideous, Georgia Tech? Why?
NO. 7 MICHIGAN (25-11) VS. NO. 2 LOUISVILLE (25-8)
Time: 12:10 p.m.
Okay, so, full disclosure. The picks I make in this space are different than the ones I made in my bracket, mostly because I have the benefit of hindsight as each round goes by. But I actually have Michigan over Louisville in my bracket, too. I feel like sometimes the closer we are to teams, the more critical we are of them and that's certainly the case with Louisville. But Michigan has won six in a row, 11 of the last 13 and is one of the best offensive teams in the country. Their defense is lacking, of course, but they play that John Beilein 1-3-1 zone, and while Louisville plays a matchup zone of its own, zones played well have tended to befuddle the Cardinals at times this year. I want to trust Louisville's offense to make the right plays and take the best shots and have the patience against a Michigan defense that they have the talent to exploit. The problem is that I do not trust them. Louisville's a better defensive than than Oklahoma State and will offer more resistance, but they still have to score and keep pace because Michigan will get theirs. I do not trust them.
Michigan, 77-70. Out of my trust tree, Louisville. Au revoir.
Overall: 123-55 (96-44 ACC)
Last week: 9-5