Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Projecting the South Region

How far will Villanova go this year?

Projecting the South Region

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Before we get this started, you should know that Scottie Reynolds was voted as a first team All-America by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. For full disclosure, I am a member of the USBWA, as are many of the college basketball writers at the Inquirer and Daily News.

Reynolds was a first-teamer on my ballot. Whether you like Villanova or not, I think you'll agree he deserves the honor.

The full All-America teams are as follows:

First Team

G Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
G Sherron Collins, Kansas
G John Wall, Kentucky
F Wesley Johnson, Syracuse
F Evan Turner, Ohio State

Second Team

G James Anderson, Oklahoma State
G Jon Scheyer, Duke
F Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
F DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky
C Cole Aldrich, Kansas

I voted for Turner as my national player of the year and Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon as my national coach of the year. It was a tough decision between Dixon and Fran Dunphy, but I really think that Dixon deserves recognition for how well Pittsburgh has done with demonstrably less talent than the other teams at the top of the Big East. The talent on Temple's roster was more established coming into the season than was the talent on Pittsburgh's roster.

The USBWA's All-District teams, for which I also cast a ballot, were announced on March 9. You can find them here. The national player and national coach of the year awards will be announced the weekend of the Final Four in Indianapolis.


Now for my breakdown of the South Region, which includes Villanova. I was going to save this for Thursday to run it on the same day as the Wildcats' first game, but since the play-in game is tonight I have to do it now.

A reminder that you can pick agaist me as part of Philly.com's NCAA Tournament Pick'Em Contest. Click here to join the group of Soft Pretzel Logic readers. The group name is Soft Pretzel Logic and the password is pretzel. Same for the round-by-round contest here.

I would also strongly encourage you to read and listen to my reporting from yesterday's Philadelphia Coaches vs. Cancer March Madness Tip-Off Breakfast. It is an important event every year on the local college basketball calendar, and it deserves your attention.

Here goes.

Play-In Game

Winthrop over Arkanasas-Pine Bluff

Given the choice between a program that made the NCAA Tournament four of the last five seasons and a program making its debut, I'll take the former. I suspect that this game will be pretty ugly, as both teams rank below No. 250 in all three shooting percentage categories. But hopefully the fans in Dayton will throw as big a party as ever.

First Round

1. Duke over 16. Winthrop

These two teams met in a 1-16 matchup eight years ago, and the Blue Devils won it 87-34. I have no idea if this game will be that much of a blowout, but Duke is 22-2 all time in first-round games since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams. The Blue Devils' smallest ever margin of victory as a 1 seed in the first round was 57-46 over Delaware State in 2005.

9. Louisville over 8. California

This game is likely to be high-scoring, as both teams rank in the top 20 in offensive efficiency. Louisville's defense has a slight edge, especially in turnovers forced per 100 possessions. The Cardinals rank 59th in that category, while the Golden Bears are 252nd.

12. Utah State over 5. Texas A&M

Here we have a 5-12 matchup where the 12 seed is ranked three spots higher in Pomeroy than the 5. A lot of people are wary of Utah State because their only really good non-conference win was at home over BYU, and the WAC isn't that great. Texas A&M beat Clemson and Minnesota on neutral floors and Baylor and Texas at home.

But Utah State is ranked an impressive eighth in effective field goal percentage and Texas A&M is 257th in free throw percentage. That signals upset to me.

13. Siena over 4. Purdue

As with many other people here in Fran McCaffery's home town, I am on board with the Saints. The storyline has been presented by many people already about how badly the Boilermakers have been hurt by Robbie Hummel's season-ending ACL injury. Siena doesn't turn the ball over much, and Ronald Moore leads a pretty efficient offense. Get ready for #onions to become a trending hashtag on Twitter again.

6. Notre Dame over 11. Old Dominion

This time I am going with the lower-ranked team in Pomeroy, because I saw Notre Dame in person last week and I think the Irish could be about to make a deep run. Old Dominion has the nation's best offensive rebounding percentage, but the Irish are 16th in three-point percentage and 48th in two-point percentage.

That the Monarchs beat Georgetown at McDonough Gym is huge, but Luke Harangody should be able to counteract ODU's rebounding prowess. The Monarchs also are ranked 273rd in three-point percentage and 300th in free throw percentage. Both of those numbers raise red flags to me.

3. Baylor over Sam Houston State

Unlike Dick Jerardi, I am not going to buck the overwhelming trend towards picking the Bears in this game. Baylor will win this game with defense first, as the Bears rank seventh in two-point field goal percentage given up and fifth in blocked shots per 100 possessions. Sam Houston State's offense ranks 24th nationally in three-point percentage, but the Bearkats' defense is 237th in effective field goal percentage given up.

7. Richmond over 10. Saint Mary's

You have to feel bad for the Gaels. They finally won the West Coast Conference, beating Gonzaga in the final no less. Their reward is a trip all the way across the country to face a Richmond team that has the size to counteract Saint Mary's star forward Omar Samhan. The Gaels have a tremendous offense, but Richmond has a strong defense. If the Spiders can slow the pace down, they'll win.

2. Villanova over 15. Robert Morris

At yesterday's breakfast, Phil Martelli relayed a conversation he had Sunday night with his son, Jimmy, who is an assistant coach at Robert Morris.

"Dad, your team lost 20 games this year. You think I want information from you?" Jimmy told Phil.

After that, I suspect that Jimmy and Mike Rice looked at their team's stats, and realized that the Colonials' offense ranks 257th in turnover percentage given up. 22 turnovers per 100 possessions, to be precise. Martelli fils and Rice then looked at Villanova's pressure defense, and realized they aren't going to win Thursday.

Second Round

9. Louisville over 1. Duke

No, Temple fans, the selection committee does not have a sense of humor. If it did, it would have tried to throw together Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski in the second round.

Oh.

Ever since Duke was roughed up at Georgetown, I have been suspicious of the Blue Devils' record and success this season. It's hard to argue against Duke's top-ranked offensive efficiency and fourth-ranked defensive efficiency, but I like superior athlete Samardo Samuels against Kyle Singler.

Cardinals point guar Edgar Sosa will have to have a big game, but also keep in mind that Duke won't have the crowd advantage it usually gets playing early-round games in North Carolina. There will be a lot of red in Jacksonville this weekend.

13. Siena over 12. Utah State

I am playing a hunch here because Siena doesn't turn it over much and Utah State doesn't force many turnovers. The Aggies' defense is 304th in turnovers forced per 100 possessions. Utah State's offense is a lot better, but something tells me Siena's prior experience in the NCAA Tournament will get them a win in this game.

6. Notre Dame over 3. Baylor

Usually, the later you get in the NCAA Tournament the more your frontcourt matters. But while Baylor's defense can neutralize Luke Harangody, I don't think they'll be able to stop Tim Abromaitis and Tory Jackson from hitting threes. In the Bears' loss at Kansas in January, Cole Aldrich only scored 10 points but Sherron Collins was 5-for-9 from three-point range.

And I'll say again that I saw the Big East at its best for three days last week, including two Notre Dame games. The Irish pull off the (relative) upset.

2. Villanova over 7. Richmond

I am gutless. I admit it. Were that not the case, I would pick the Spiders to win this game. I think they are going to give 'Nova fits all over the court. The pace will be much slower than the Wildcats like. Richmond guards David Gonzalvez and Kevin Anderson are good enough to beat Villanova's backcourt driving the lane and shooting from the perimeter. Spiders forwards Justin Harper and Dan Geriot can match up with Mouptahou Yarou and Antonio Pena inside.

But you know Jay Wright was on the phone with Fran Dunphy right away on Sunday night. My guess is that Dunphy noted that his team shot 6-for-14 from beyond the arc in the Atlantic 10 championship game. If Villanova makes threes at a decent clip, I think they'll win because Richmond might not be able to score enough.

If the shots aren't falling, the Wildcats will have to pound the glass relentlessly in order to keep Richmond from getting rebounds and setting the tempo. I would be very, very worried about this game if I were a Villanova fan, but I think the Wildcats pull it out in the end.

Regional Semifinals

13. Siena over 9. Louisville

Please allow me one pick that is entirely with my heart instead of my head. You'll recall that the Saints lost to the Cardinals in the second round last year by only seven points, and there's no question that the crowd in Houston will be pulling for the underdog.

I would like to think Siena gets revenge in this game, just as I thought North Dakota State would beat Kansas last year. And we all know where that got me. So what.

2. Villanova over 6. Notre Dame

Will those of you who can't stand Villanova at least admit that it would be fun for a significant proportion of you to watch the Wildcats take out Notre Dame?

From a statistical perspective, the Irish should win this matchup. But both these teams know each other so well. I give the edge to the team that has experience beating Big East teams in late March, if not in early March.

Regional Final

2. Villanova over 13. Siena

I am now going to talk slightly out of turn for a moment about one of my best friends in journalism. I am fairly sure that at some point, the Houston Chronicle's well-coiffed baseball reporter Zachary Levine has written on his blog that at various points in his life he has lived in both Albany, N.Y., and Philadelphia.

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As such, should this matchup comes to pass, Zach may be forcibly recalled from Astros Spring Training by municipal officials in Houston. The city will be in dire need of someone who can translate the brogue of the Yankee interlopers (speaking of baseball) who will converge upon Reliant Stadium for the weekend.

The visiting partisans may, for example, speak of the concept of playing basketball games in 8,700-or-so seat purpose-built arenas instead of 72,000-seat football stadiums. This may seem foreign to people who once believed in playing baseball on AstroTurf.

(That such a practice also took place in Philadelphia for 34 years will be conveniently ignored for the time being.)

Those of you who will make the trip from here should know beforehand that in Texas, cooked beef is not always served on an Amoroso hoagie roll.

The rest of you should know that I agree with Dick Jerardi's prediction in this morning's Daily News.

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Soft Pretzel Logic is Philly.com's college sports blog, with a primary focus on the University of Pennsylvania. You'll also see coverage of the Big 5, other major college sports events in the region, and the annual Penn Relays track and field meet.

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