(CBS Local)- The first weekend of the tournament is over and the field has been whittled to 16 teams. There are quite a few surprises, including the second-ever 15-seed to make the Sweet 16, Oral Roberts, and four total double digit seeds. The question heading into this weekend’s games is whether the upsets will continue or if the high seeds will begin to make their presence felt.
For all of the craziness, three top seeds (Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan), two second seeds (Alabama, Houston), and a three seed (Arkansas) are still alive. What should we expect from this weekend’s regional semifinals matchups? Can a double digit seed complete their Cinderella run to the Final Four? We dove into the Sweet 16 matchups to see how each team got here and what the key could be in advancing to the Elite 8.
(12) Oregon State vs. (8) Loyola-Chicago 2:40 p.m. Saturday, 3/27 on CBS
The Beavers have been one of the hottest teams in the country, winning three straight games to win the Pac-12 tournament and earn their bid before posting 70 and 80 points respectively in their opening two games of the tournament.
They’ve won their first two games in vastly different ways, hitting 10/21 threes and only 6/10 free throws against Tennessee before flipping those numbers against Oklahoma State going 32/35 from the line and 6/21 from deep. What has stood out in both wins is their ability to take care of the ball (18 total turnovers) and defend the three point line (13/55 combined). Granted, neither Tennessee (33.1% 3PT) nor Oklahoma State (33.2% 3PT) were overly proficient shooting teams in the first place.
That changes Saturday when the Beavers face a Loyola-Chicago team that is clinical in its execution (19 turnovers total) and has hit 15 of 37 attempts (40.5%) from three thus far. The Ramblers kept both Georgia Tech and Illinois off the
offensive glass (5 total offensive rebounds), which will be a key to watch Saturday as Oregon State has feasted on the offensive boards thus far (18).
For CBS Sports college basketball analyst Steve Lappas, the pace of the game will also be a key factor to watch out for.
“Loyola is the slowest playing team in America. They’re very methodical, they don’t turn the ball over, they take it to the end of the shot clock so the tempo of the game I think is going to be a huge factor in that game,” said Lappas.
For what it’s worth, Vegas likes the Ramblers, installing them as 6.5 point favorites.
(11) Syracuse vs. (2) Houston 9:55 p.m. Saturday, 3/27 on TBS
Here we are again. A Syracuse team that people debated whether they should be in the tournament or not is in the Sweet 16. The Orange’s success has come primarily due to red-hot three point shooting. Through two games they’ve buried 29 threes in 58 attempts an absurd 50 percent mark. Considering their season mark is 35.3 percent, you’d expect some regression in the near future.
The Orange defense was stifling against San Diego State, allowing 11 threes but on 40 attempts. Against West Virginia, the Mountaineers were able to find a bit more space hitting 11 of 26 from deep. But, they turned the ball over 14 times as the Orange had deflections throughout the game.
Against Houston, it will be interesting to see how the Cougars attack the zone. They haven’t shot overly well from three thus far (15/47 31%) which could pose problems.
“People are not used to playing that zone from outside the ACC,” said Lappas. “If you watched the way San Diego State
and West Virginia tried to attack it, it’s just not the way you want to attack it. They have to get the ball to the baseline, get it to the corner besides getting it to the middle. Everybody just concentrates on playing catch from wing to top to wing then throwing it into the high post but you have to use the baseline against that zone too. Make those guys guard more area.”
Another big question is what Dejon Jarreau is able to bring to the table. The senior was laboring through a hip injury in the win over Rutgers on Sunday but he gutted it out and hit a key three late. The guard trio of Jarreau, Quentin Grimes and Marcus Sasser were the driving force for Kelvin Sampson’s team this year. How they find the creases and open spaces in the Syracuse defense will be key as will their defense on Buddy Boeheim and Alan Griffin. Vegas has the Cougars as six point favorites.
(5) Villanova vs. (1) Baylor 5:15 p.m. Saturday, 3/27 on CBS
The Wildcats have been a bit surprising through their first two games for just how casually they have dominated their opening opponents. In the opener they beat Winthrop 73-63 before raining threes on North Texas (15/30) to end the Mean Green’s run. One could argue that the five seed should run through a 12 and 13 seed in that fashion but remember, there were questions about this ‘Nova team entering the tournament because of the loss of senior guard Collin Gillespie.
Thus far they have answered those questions. But, Baylor presents a big test in that the Bears trio of guards can cause problems on both ends. Case in point, the Bears have forced 24 and 13 turnovers in their first two games while hitting 19 of 50 threes (38%). MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler present a test for Nova’s new look backcourt that they’ve yet to see in this year’s tournament.
“Collin Gillespie not being there, they’ve done a tremendous job so far of disguising it and being able to overcome it, this is a little different story,” said Lappas. “These guys (Baylor) have three not just tremendous guards, but three tremendous defensive guards. All three of these guys are high level offensive players. Then you have a guy in Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital who are two of the best defensive players in the country. Villanova, who is one of the most efficient half court teams in the country, I think they’re going to be up against it trying to score against this Baylor team.”
The Wildcats have turned the ball over just 11 times in their first two games. If they can keep that level of execution here, this game will be interesting. Baylor is seen as a seven point favorite.
(15) Oral Roberts vs. (3) Arkansas 7:25 p.m. Saturday, 3/27 on TBS
The Golden Eagles are just the second 15-seed ever to reach the Sweet 16. It’s largely thanks to the efforts of sophomore guard Max Abmas and junior forward Kevin Obanor. The pair have combined to average 56.5 points per game in the wins over Ohio State and Florida. Which is why it’s no surprise that Lappas is keyed in on how Eric Musselman’s group defends the pair to slow them down.
“I know he knows, he’s got to stop those two guys,” said Lappas. “If a team has two guys get 57, they can beat anybody. So I think they (Arkansas) have to really bear down on these two kids and make some of these other guys beat them. I’m going to guess that’s what Eric Musselman is going to do…You’re not going to stop them completely but you have to get those two guys to shoot 14/35 or something.”
Not to be lost in those upsets is Oral Roberts’ ability to turn opponents over too. They forced Ohio State into 16 giveaways
and Florida into 19. Arkansas hasn’t turned the ball over much thus far (10 & 9 in first two games), that will be an area to watch here.
Also of note, on the Razorbacks side, we saw what coach Musselman’s group is capable of in terms of turning up the heat on opponents defensively when they faced Colgate (22 turnovers). I’ll be interested to see if they go to a press at some point against ORU to try and speed them up getting them into bad shots and turnovers.
As for offensively, the Razorbacks haven’t been effective from three (9/33) but they aren’t overly reliant on the deep ball for offense. Instead it’s been battering opponents inside, including on the offensive glass (19 offensive rebounds). Oral Roberts has been prone to allowing opponents to get offensive rebounds allowing both OSU and Florida to pull down 10. Rebounds and turnovers two key areas to watch on Saturday night. Arkansas is a 11 point favorite.
(5) Creighton vs. (1) Gonzaga 2:10 p.m. Sunday, 3/28 on CBS
The Blue Jays needed a late missed layup from UC Santa Barbara’s Amadou Sow to avoid the upset in the first round before rebounding to comfortably take care of Ohio in Round 2. A big difference between those two games was better efficiency from three (9/21 vs. Ohio) and the Bobcats having a terrible night from the foul line (9/16). Overall, the Jays have been strong in defending the three point arc (12/52) but that defense will be tested on a completely different level by Gonzaga.
“They have to do something with Drew Timme and that’s a bad matchup for them,” said Lappas. “Christian Bishop has been really good this year but he’s a 6’7″ center. A 6’7″ center against Drew Timme is not working. That’s going to be a big issue.”
The Bulldogs have cruised to the Sweet 16, much as they did throughout the regular season, winning each of their first two games by double digits. They haven’t shown much in the way of weakness in either outing and are heavy favorites (13.5 points) here. The biggest question, as Seth Davis pointed out in The Athletic, is whether any team will force their bench to play a bigger role. Mark Few played just seven guys despite beating Oklahoma 87-71 on Monday. If a couple players get into foul trouble, how the ‘Zags bench performs will be closely watched.
(7) Oregon vs. (6) USC 9:45 p.m. Sunday, 3/28 on TBS
Oregon has only had to play one game after their first round matchup with VCU was cancelled due to COVID positives within the Rams program. The Ducks apparently put that extra practice time to good use as they rung up 11 threes and shot 56 percent from the field in upsetting 2-seed Iowa on Monday. Oregon’s offense is highly efficient (10th Ken Pom) and not shabby on the defensive side either (52nd).
How they handle the inside presence of Evan and Isaiah Mobley will be interesting to watch. The brothers have been menaces so far with Isaiah averaging 16 points and 6.5 rebounds and Evan averaging 13.5 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks per game thus far. They have also held their opponents to just 13 of 48 shooting from beyond the arc.
Oregon doesn’t really have a clear answer for the Mobleys inside, evidenced by the 72-58 dismantling they received from the Trojans in February. What did they learn from that matchup and how they apply it here will be one to watch.
“I think the Oregon team right now is really starting to gel,” said Lappas. “Will Richardson’s back in the flow, he was out for about half the season, he’s back into the flow of the game now. It’s a different Oregon team. They can’t really compete inside in this game. This USC team is a lot like Florida State defensively because they’re big, they’re tremendous inside the lane. But, I think the one thing about USC is they’re going to have to come out and guard these guys.”
(4) Florida State vs. (1) Michigan 5:00 p.m. Sunday, 3/28 on CBS
The Seminoles defense has really carried them through their first two wins of the tournament over UNC-Greensboro and Colorado. In those two games, they’ve held their opponent to an average of 53.5 points, 25 percent shooting from three and 13 turnovers. But, the offense hasn’t really awoken yet. They shot 0-of-9 from three against UNCG before then shooting 6-of-17 against Colorado.
That won’t be enough against Michigan. The Wolverines have allowed just seven made threes in their first two matchups and opponents haven’t been good from inside the arc either, shooting just 37.5 percent there. The Seminoles will have to execute to their regular season level (38.2% 3PT) to give themselves a shot at knocking off the top seed in the region.
“I don’t think this is a great matchup for Florida State for one big reason. They’ve been a great shot blocking team and
they do a really good job of defending two point shots but they don’t really come up against a Hunter Dickinson who’s a really good inside player, post player that can pass,” said Lappas.
For Michigan, they have been able to absorb the loss of Isaiah Livers to a broken foot without much problem thanks to the combined efforts of Eli Brooks and Chaundee Brown. In the win over LSU on Monday, the pair combined for 42 points, seven rebounds and eight assists while shooting 8-of-15 from three. Brooks and Brown more than made up for the missing Livers there. Now, the question will be if they can do the same against this Seminoles defense which is much better than what the Tigers brought to the table.
“Obviously, they have not missed Livers yet but you have to think that will come up at some point,” said Lappas. “The only guy I’m worried about for Michigan is Mike Smith because he’s small. He’s a really good player but he’s only 5’10”-5’11” and these Florida State guards are very big. But, I just think this Michigan team is so solid on both ends and I think Florida state is going to have a tough time trying to score.”
(11) UCLA vs. (2) Alabama 7:15 p.m. Sunday, 3/28 on TBS
The Bruins are just the latest team to make a run from the First Four to the Sweet 16. We’ve seen the extra game be a benefit for teams in that 11-seed range before and it certainly seems that was the case here. Mick Cronin’s group escaped Michigan State in OT before upsetting BYU and then ending Abilene Christian’s hopes. They’ve done it with a combination of three point shooting and defense (42.8% for vs. 24% against) along with taking care of the basketball (18 total turnovers).
But, they now face an Alabama team ranked third in the nation in defensive efficiency, one that can bother the Bruins shooters (30% 3PT against). The Tide’s shooting has been inconsistent as they hit just five threes against Iona before exploding for 16 against Maryland. The question is which version of the Tide offense shows up Sunday. Is it the lights out shooting group? Or the one that struggled from the field against Iona?
“Alabama thrives off on making threes in transition off of their defense,” said Lappas. “And it’s not a full court pressure. It’s a half court defense but they force a lot of steals, a lot of turnovers and that’s where they get those threes in transition. If you make them shoot those threes in the half court, which is what I think Mick Cronin is going to have them try to do, those threes aren’t the same.”
UCLA plays at one of the slower tempos in the country (337th KenPom Adjusted Tempo) and they will need every bit of that half court execution here.
One other key to watch here. Free throw shooting. UCLA has gone just 9-of-16 and 6-of-13 in their last two games from the stripe while Alabama was 13-of-23 against Iona before hitting all 10 of their foul shots on Monday. The later we get in the tournament, the more those shooting woes can rear their heads and make the difference between moving on and heading home.