Monday, March 16, 2009

Previewing the Pods: Midwest Edition

We'll be marching through each of the Big Ten teams' potential first and second round opponents this week, but we won't be offering any predictions. We don't want you yelling at us when your bracket has been decimated by Sunday.

Michigan State

Robert Morris
The Colonials marched through the Northeast Conference, going 15-3 and winning the conference tournament (which was played on their home floor). If there's one thing that you see a lot of in a RMU game, it's turnovers, and that likely makes Spartan fans sweat just a little. Michigan State, of course, has struggle to control its turnovers over the past four seasons. The good news is that RMU doesn't just force turnovers, but they also cough it up quite a bit themselves. With better care of the ball, this would be a much better team - they're #27 in the nation by eFG.

Boston College
I'm not going to lie - the Eagles feel overseeded here. BC went just 9-7 in the ACC, lost handily to Harvard at home (days after taking down UNC in Chapel Hill), and sport the second-worst conference efficiency margin of all tournament teams in the top 9 conferences (that list might not represent the top 9, however. Yo John, what's with the A-10 diss?). But wins over Duke and UNC go a long way, and the Eagles have ridden them all the way to a #7 seed. Like Michigan State, Boston College is one of the finest offensive rebounding teams in the country. Unlike the Spartans, they absolutely suck on the defensive glass. You can hear Goran Suton salivating over this matchup right now.

Don't be the least bit surprised to see the Trojans playing Michigan State instead of Boston College. In fact, this is almost a carbon copy, efficiency-wise, of the OJ Mayo-led Trojans of last season. Last year, USC was bounced by the criminally underseeded Kansas State. This year the tables are turned, as USC faces off against the criminally overseeded Boston College. Like last year, the Trojans are a defense-first team, led by the shotblocking monster of Taj Gibson. Tim Floyd's team also all-but pretends the 3 point line doesn't exist. Just 21.7% of USC's field goal attempts are from distance.

Ohio State

The Saints (as in St. Bernard's, not St. Do-gooder or St. Jazz Tune) are in the Dance for the second year in a row. Last year they pummeled Vanderbilt in the first round, a fact Thad Matta has no doubt shared with his team. Few teams win the turnover battle as handily as Siena does, and that's bad news for an Ohio State team that tends to struggle in that department. Another thing to watch for in this one is the amount of trips to the FT line. Neither team likes to foul very much, though Siena doesn't punish teams when they do get there anyways (66.2%).

Are the Cardinals deserving of a #1 seed? At this point, the discussion is academic, that's what they are. Rick Pitino's team has succeeded, as per usual, with suffocating defense. The Cardinals rank #2 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, and were heads and shoulders the best defensive team in the Big East (where only 3 teams held opponents to under a point per possession). What's more, unlike last season, this feels like a Pitino defense. Lots of turnovers. No three pointers. It's 1997 all over again. The flipside is that despite the dominating defense, the Cardinals finished a mere third in the Big East in efficiency margin. True, the Big East was very top heavy. But there's another point to be made here - as good as Pitino is at molding great talents into great defenders, the offense consistently lags the defense. Maybe it's because the scouting is off (Earl Clark has been in everyone's lottery for a year now, even though the guy can't shoot), or maybe it's something more fundamental. In any case, the worry for Matta shouldn't be whether the Buckeyes can contain the likes of Clark, it's whether the likes of Clark can contain Evan Turner.

Play In Winner
It's either Alabama State or Morehead State that will earn the privilege of getting beat by Louisville. Pomeroy says Morehead State is more likely, who Louisville pounded by 38 points back in November. Expect something along the same lines.

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