The Big Ten started with 9* teams in the Big Dance. They are all the way down to 1 in the final 12 and possibly as little as 0 in the Elite 8.
Tonight the Boilermakers will try to just keep dancing while ignoring the drumbeat of our impending conference doom. Hopefully, our readers dance better than most of the mascots did during their dance competition last weekend that I became aware of while searching for photos to put in this preview.
*it’s 9 only if you incorrectly count the play-in games
Tonight we get four games closer to finding out who are Final Four is. Make sure to look at the photos and then skip straight down to the comments. Complaints should be emailed directly to MNWildcat. All times Eastern.
Sweet 16 - Friday March 25 Games
#3 Purdue Boilermakers v. #15 St. Peter’s Peacocks
CBS 7:09 PM Philadelphia, PA
There are no such things as gimme games in the Sweet 16. Every team that makes it this far has beaten at least one solid team and deserves to be playing on this stage. So while the juggernaut that is St. Peter’s probably feels confident that they can knock off the scrappy, little Purdue team they should know that nothing comes easy at this point in the tournament.
Purdue fans took to twitter this week to cry out their complaints about the officiating crews sent to Philadelphia for this weekend. Bo Boroski, Courtney Green, and John Higgins are all among the 10 in Philadelphia for the 3 games (and among the 5 officials across all of college basketball whose names I know). And while yes it is strange that Purdue had 5 of their 7 losses this season with Courtney Green officiating, is 3-13 with him calling the game the past three seasons (60-19 in all other games), and just 1-15-1 against the spread with him on the court in the past three years, as I said Sunday night the complaint department on officiating is closed. Be better Purdue fans. Just maybe take Saint Peter’s plus the points should you find out before tip that Green is officiating our game.
In our OTE group discussions about why the B1G struggles come tournament time, one hypothesis has been that B1G refs let teams hack the shit out of each other in conference play and then the teams can’t adjust when fouls are called in the tournament. Ironically, that may be working out the opposite way for Purdue this season. It’s a team that hasn’t played much defense (outside of the past 5 games, where they’ve looked semi-solid defensively) so they weren’t fouling a lot whether things were called or not called. But unless I’m just remembering wrong, the Boilermakers also didn’t get quite as many foul calls during B1G play as you would expect a team with two really good centers and a super athletic attacking guard to get. Maybe, I’m just biased though. In the tournament however, refs have consistently called fouls in both of Purdue’s first two games and Purdue attempted 79 free throws in their first two games as opponents have played hack-a-Boilermaker.
Purdue probably shouldn’t need the greatest officials on earth to get past Saint Peter’s. They’ve got a huge size advantage, a week to prepare, and Jaden Ivey isn’t the type of player Saint Peter’s has guarded this season. The goal should be to throw it inside, let Ivey get going downhill, and take care of the basketball. If Sasha can get back on track and knock down some threes this may even be a semi-comfortable win. I doubt it because comfortable wins haven’t been Purdue’s thing this year, but it’s within the realm of possibility. The bottom line is that if Purdue plays their best version of their game (or even just a good version of their game) they should be able to win.
The Peacocks became everyone’s favorite Cinderella team when they knocked off Kentucky in overtime the opening night of the tournament. And I get why. Their colorful shoes, charismatic coach, and ability to rise and meet the moment was inspiring. Daryl Banks and Doug Edert are very good shooters. Then they followed up their UK upset with another win against the Murray State Racers.
If I was a betting man, a couple of things would give me pause before mortgaging my house to place a large bet on Saint Peters in this game however:
While the Peacocks are a decent three point shooting team (35.1%), it’s literally the only thing they are decent at on offense. They turn it over a ton, shoot poorly from inside the arc and at the free throw line, and their offensive efficiency numbers on the season are in the area of teams like Nicholls State, Yale, Western Illinois, and UMKC. While they did beat Kentucky, 6’9” Oscar Tshiebwe had 30 points and 16 rebounds for the Wildcats. The Wildcats lost because the Peacocks shot 52.9% from three while UK only shot 26.7% from behind the arc and added on a 65.7% FT rate and 2 point shooting of 11/30 from non-Tshiebwe Wildcats. And it still took St. Peter’s overtime to dispatch the Wildcats back to Lexington.
The other issue for the Peacocks is that they send opposing teams to the free throw line a lot. Without playing teams with Trevion Williams or Zach Edey or Jaden Ivey - I’ve checked and the MAAC doesn’t have those types of players - they still send teams to the free throw line more often than Texas did this year. Playing defense without fouling could be an issue in this game. If it isn’t though, the Peacocks have one of the best defenses in Division 1. Opposing teams shoot poorly from both inside and outside the arc against them. Defense is what St. Peter’s hangs their hat on and that more than anything has carried them as far as they have gotten.
St. Peter’s strategy should be to get Trevion and Edey in foul trouble and force Purdue into taking three pointers. If Purdue misses more of them than usual, the Peacocks will have an opening. The Boilermakers strategy should be to pound it inside, take care of the basketball, and get to the free throw line. On defense they need to try and run the Peacock shooters off the three point line and make sure to contest all three point shots by Edert and Banks. I like the odds of the train team in this one, but stranger things have happened.
Purdue or St. Peters?
This poll is closed
Choo choo! The train keeps on chugging along
The Peacocks keep on proving that they are Goliath and David isn’t in this tournament
#1 Kansas Jayhawks v. #4 Providence Friars
TBS 7:29 PM Chicago, IL
It’s been said many times that anything someone says before “but” doesn’t count. Part time readers of my previews will know that I’m a big fan of Providence head coach Ed Cooley. But as good of a coach as Cooley is, he won’t have a significant coaching advantage over Bill Self. Most neutral observers would say Self is the better coach.
So where does Providence - the luckiest team this season per KenPom - go to compete with Kansas? Defensively Providence has been solid but not elite. Jared Bynum, AJ Reeves, and Noah Horchler are all pretty good three point shooters, but the team average is held down by former Hoosier Al Durham’s 23.9%. I’m not really sure why Durham took a step backwards in shooting this season, but unless he reverts to last year’s shooting form very quickly Providence would be wise to have him either driving to the hoop or passing the ball to others.
Nate Watson is the other really good Friar and he’s a talented center. But he has struggled against defenders with lots of length. The good news for him is that Kansas doesn’t have anyone taller than him on their roster. The bad news is that they play for Kansas so they are still really talented athletes with long arms and could pose him problems down low. I watched former Hawkeye Jack Nunge hold Watson completely in check twice this season. While the rest of Xavier wasn’t talented enough to beat Providence despite poor games from Watson, I can’t help but think that if Kansas similarly slows him down the rest of their team is talented enough to take advantage.
Kansas is trying to get back to the top of the mountain for the first time since way back in 2008 and while I think they are capable of it, this isn’t the best Kansas team since that year. Despite being a solid three point shooting team, the Jayhawks prefer to pound the ball inside. They have a good, not great defense. They are a good, not great rebounding team. Even though they aren’t really elite at anything, the Jayhawks still won another Big 12 regular season title, another Big 12 tournament, and are in another Sweet 16 looking to make another Final Four. Oh, and they are the only 1 seed left in the tournament.
Christian Braun, Ochai Agbaji, and David McCormack are the three leaders of the Kansas offense but Jalen Wilson offers another reliable interior presence. They also have 37 year old Jalen Coleman-Lands. He doesn’t play a big role, but he does offer an extremely veteran presence on their team.
I’d love for Ed Cooley to get to the Elite 8 here, but think Kansas pulls it out. The good news for Providence fans is that I’ve routinely been wrong this tournament although I’m no longer last in the OTE Bracket Challenge!
Kansas or Providence?
This poll is closed
Purdue Pete’s good friend, the Providence Friar, takes another step towards taking over the world
#4 UCLA Bruins v. #9 North Carolina Tar Heels
CBS 9:39 PM Philadelphia, PA
The Bruins are continuing to try and repeat their magical run from last season while the Tarheels are fresh off knocking for the first of the 1 seeds to lose this year.
UCLA is a top 15 offense and a top 15 defense. During their game with St. Mary’s the had the appearance of a team that has been laying in the weeds waiting to flip the switch all season and now they have. But they also only escaped Akron by 4 points and have lost to teams far worse than North Carolina.
The Bruins rely on their wings and guards for most of their offense. Juzang, Jaquez, and Tyger Campbell contribute the most with the first two taking the largest percentage of shots for UCLA and Campbell dishing out a bunch of assists as he fills the role of a true point guard. Former Scarlet Knight Myles Johnson hasn’t been heavily involved in the offense but has been effective when he gets chances and is a great rebounder and rim protector.
UCLA relies on limiting possessions, taking care of the basketball, working the offense for good shots, and playing the traditional Cronin defense that he’s had for nearly two decades as a head coach.
UNC slept thru most of the season because getting ripping off a streak of wins at the end of the ACC season. They capped off that run with a win over Duke in Coach K’s final regular season game which sent sports media types into a tizzy. The win against Duke was nice, but the win against Baylor this past weekend was nicer - well if you ignore the 25 point blown lead by the Tarheels anyway.
Bacot and Manek can both score it inside and Manek is capable of stepping out to the perimeter and knocking down open threes which helps bring out opposing centers and open up the lane for the UNC guards. Speaking of UNC guards, Caleb Love and RJ Davis are the leading contributors for the Tarheels and Caleb Love is great at getting to the rim and drawing fouls. His 86.8% from the FT line is pretty nice as well.
UNC plays a fast, somewhat frantic pace on offense, but isn’t able to speed up opposing offenses. The Tarheels contest shots fairly well and never give up second chance points. They also don’t put opposing teams on the free throw line.
Whomever manages to impose their pace on the other will win the game in my opinion. Either UCLA establishes a slow pace in which every possession needs to be valued or UNC keeps the game at a slow gallop and is able to push the pace enough in transition to get great looks that their half court offense doesn’t always get.
UCLA or UNC?
This poll is closed
Light blue team with yellow
Light blue team without yellow
#10 Miami Hurricanes v. #11 Iowa State Cyclones
TBS 9:59 PM Chicago, IL
The first matchup of natural disasters in the tournament since Tulsa played one of these teams roughly twenty years ago. 1200 bonus points* in the OTE Bracket competition to the first person who can mention who won that game in the comments.
*offer not valid if competition organizer is a coward that doesn’t want to allow it
This is the only matchup between two double digit seeds in the Sweet 16. The fighting fluorides got here by beating the tallest midget of the Pac 12 in USC and then knocking off the alleged cheater and scumbag Bruce Pearl. The best team from Iowa got here by beating coachless LSU and our own wisconsin.
I like Jim Larranaga as much as everyone else that remembers the 2006 tournament (although Hofstra got screwed over in favor of George Mason for an at-large bid that year). The Hurricanes take care of the ball extremely well and are an effective offense but their defense is a leaky dam. They are also a horrendous rebounding team.
The second favorite team of every Hawkeye fan got here by beating the third favorite team of every Hawkeye fan in the Round of 32. It’s been a miraculous rebound for first year head coach T.J. Otzelberger who has as many NCAA tournament wins this season as the Cyclones had total wins last year. The fact that he isn’t the unanimous national coach of the year is a joke.
The Cyclones rely on their top 5 defense because their offense is awful. They turn it over too much, can’t shoot, and can’t rebound. But because they can create turnovers and limit opposing teams offense they’ve been competitive in the toughest conference this season. Former B1G players Izaiah Brockington and Gabe Kalscheur terrorized the Badgers in the Round of 32 and will attempt to continue to carry both the B1G torch and represent Iowa in the Elite 8 since the B1G teams decided not to this year.
Miami or Iowa State?
This poll is closed
Iowa’s big brother
Have fun, behave, and choo choo!