Sunday, March 30, 2014

NCAA Tournament, Day 8

Connecticut 60 - Michigan State 54
This is starting to feel like 2011 all over again, where UConn storms through the bracket behind terrific guard play to reach the Final Four on their way to a national title. I don't think they'll get there, as I don't think they'll beat Florida. But then again, I didn't believe they would beat Michigan State, let alone look like the better team in the game. 

And that's the real shocker for me. Connecticut was the better squad, partly because the Huskies played a terrific game, and partly because the Spartans played like...well, manure. Michigan State had almost as many turnovers (16) as made baskets (18). And frankly, many of the turnovers were ones you'd expect from a group of pick-up players who we're playing together for the first time. 

But just as important was MSU's complete inability to get good looks around the paint. Aside from the occasional put-back, The Spartans got nothing close to the basket. Their guards couldn't penetrate, and their bigs couldn't establish themselves on the blocks. Essentially, their offense was swinging thr ball around and hoping they could hit at least 40% of their threes (not quite: 37.9%). 

Conversely, UConn consistently got into the paint, leading to points at the rim and free throws. UConn shot 22 free throws (and made 21 of them) to Michigan State's 8 attempts (making 7). In a game where the winners shot 34.1% from the field! free throws and turnovers were the difference. 

Here is where not watching college basketball pre-tournament hurts me. I can't tell you whether UConn is just that good defensively, whether Michigan State is that pathetic offensively, or whether Michigan State simply picked an inopportune time to have a Turrible game. 

Kentucky 75 - Michigan 72
Michigan is a terrific shooting team, they will put up offense against most everyone in the country. But their ability to spread the floor so we'll comes at a cost, as traditional big men don't usually fit well in their offense. They're athletic, but they can be attacked with size and strength. 

And that is exactly what Kentucky did, went after Michigan in the paint. It helped them shoot 53.4% from the field and set up good long range looks (they equalled Michigan's three-point makes on 7 fewer attempts, including the game-winner with 2.3 seconds remaining). Only heir free grow shooting was below par 6-for-11). 

And in the interests of a good semi-final matchup, I believe this was the optimal result. Kentucky is better-equipped to take on Wisconsin with their 7-footer, Frank Kaminsky taking over games both in the paint and from behind the arc. 

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