staff, March 15, 2012

Yesterday, we previewed the paths for Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio State, who start tournament play today. Now, we'll take a look at the paths for the Big Ten teams that get going on Friday night – Michigan, Purdue, and Michigan State.



Site: Nashville, TN

Ohio – 7:20pm ET, TNT

Ohio wins most of their games with aggressive defense. Coach John Groce is a former Thad Matta assistant, and Groce's team has pressured its way into the nation's second-highest forced turnover percentage (behind only VCU). The good news for Michigan is that, if you manage to not turn it over, you can score on Ohio–the Bobcats aren't good on the defensive glass and put opponents on the foul line with great frequency. The bad news is that those are two areas that Michigan is not well-poised to take advantage of–the Wolverines will really need to keep those turnovers down.

At the other end, Ohio likes to go quick and is quite fond of hoisting the three, but the Bobcats shot a lowly 30.5 percent from beyond the arc in MAC play. If Ohio starts knocking down threes, this could be a very dangerous game for Michigan. An upset is not out of the question.

KenPom says: Michigan by 5

This Geek says: Michigan by 2

If they win, on Sunday the Wolverines will face one of:

Temple – The Owls are an offensive-minded bunch that can really shoot the ball. In fact, their offense profiles similarly to that of Indiana, except without all the free throws. 6-4 guards Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt are the leaders of this attack, combining to consume about half the team's possessions and each shooting just under 39 percent from three. At the other end, Temple's defense has been rather porous, although some of that was due to some bad luck in conference play–A-10 opponents shot 38 percent from three and 73 percent on free throws against the Owls, both abnormally high marks. Still,Temple isn't going to knock people off with their defense. If you're looking for the customary 5/12 upset, Temple is your best bet to falter.


South Florida Stan Heath's team wins with outstanding two-point defense, and a matchup with Michigan would be fascinating (and slow). South Florida held Big East opponents to lowly 42 percent shooting on twos, while Michigan shot 52 percent inside the arc in Big Ten play. After a First Four shellacking of California, the Bulls are playing their best ball of the season–they sit at 53rd in KenPom after being outside of the top 100 as recently as five weeks ago. That run has been propelled almost entirely by fantastic field goal defense–only one of South Florida's past 11 opponents has posted an effective field goal percentage above 40 percent. In that span, opponents are shooting 37 percent on twos and are only taking 27 percent of their shots from behind the arc–both marks of outstanding defense.



Site: Omaha, NE

St. Mary's – 7:27pm ET, truTV

Purdue drew a very similar team in St. Mary's. Both are much better on offense than on defense, and both like to shoot lots of threes. The resulting game should be close, entertaining, and played into the 70s. Where St. Mary's differs from Purdue is inside the arc, where the Gaels have shot 55 percent on twos, albeit against a much weaker schedule. Burly 6-9 freshman Brad Waldow has really come on as of late, and 6-6 bruiser Rob Jones spearheads the St. Mary's attack, so it will be interesting to see how often Matt Painter chooses to use the small lineup that has yielded such efficient scoring down the stretch of the season.

This is a game where travel might play a factor. The Gaels will be playing nearly a thousand miles farther from home than the Boilermakers. Nate Silver uses geographic adjustments in his tournament projections, and his system would indicate that this distance discrepancy gives Purdue around a 1.5 point advantage over a purely neutral court. That's not quite a home court advantage, but it's about half of one. In a matchup of teams this similar, one or two points can make the difference.

KenPom says: Purdue by 3

This Geek says: Purdue by 1

If they win, on Sunday the Boilermakers will face one of:

Kansas – The Jayhawks are a legitimate Final Four contender, and KenPom says they're slightly better than the 1-seed in their region, North Carolina. Kansas is fantastic at both ends of the floor, and their strength shows most inside the arc. The Jayhawks shoot 54 percent on twos while holding opponents to 40 percent. This shouldn't be surprising; after all, Kansas possesses a dominant inside force in the form of national POY candidate Thomas Robinson. It's hard to imagine a tougher player for Purdue to match up with, should it come to that. To make matters worse, Omaha is only a three hour drive from Lawrence, so the Jayhawks figure to have major crowd support.


Detroit – The Titans have a nice story with former McDonald's All-American Ray McCallum taking his dad's team to the NCAA tournament, but that story figures to end abruptly against Kansas. Detroit has a decent enough offense, fueled by second chances and free throws, but their shoddy defense will get torched by the Jayhawks.


Michigan State

Site: Columbus, OH

Long Island – approx. 9:20pm ET, TBS

While the Spartans will be playing in familiar environs in Columbus, it will be not in Ohio State's Value City Arena but instead in Nationwide Arena, home to the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets. While this year's tournament seems to have some unusually strong 16-seeds, Long Island isn't one of them. The Blackbirds' defense is consistently awful, a trait that's made to look even worse by the sizable amount of Ricky Bobby in them (they wanna go fast). Long Island surrenders 77 points per game, so its mere presence in the NCAA tournament tells you that it is pretty solid offensive team.

The Blackbirds are small and quick, and they attack the rim with abandon. This results in them getting a lot of shots blocked and turning the ball over quite often, but it also leads to bundles of free throws. I'd say Long Island's best hope for keeping this game close is to get multiple Spartans in foul trouble early, but even that might not be enough–the Blackbirds will be outmatched at every spot on the court.

KenPom says: Michigan State by 25

This Geek says: Michigan State by 20

If they win, on Sunday the Spartans will face one of:

MemphisThe Tigers boast an under-the-radar All-American candidate in 6-6 forward Will Barton, and they've stormed into the tournament with a series of impressive blowouts. Memphis' defense could be kryptonite for the Spartrans, in that the Tigers are among the nation's best at defending the lane–Conference USA opponents shot an incredibly low 42 percent on twos. Where Michigan State would have an edge is on the glass, where Memphis isn't particularly good. This would be an extremely dangerous game for the Spartans, one where Branden Dawson's offensive rebounding and defense might have come in handy.


St. Louis -Like Wichita State, St. Louis is a mid-major squad loved by the computers but lacking in marquee wins. This team does its best work on the defensive end, where it led the A-10 in steal percentage and was among the nation's best at preventing three-point attempts. Michigan State would have a size advantage on the interior, but the Billikens wouldn't let things be easy for the Spartans' guards. Rick Majerus' team isn't quite as fearsome as Memphis, but St. Louis could just as easily give Michigan State a major test.


Enjoy the Madness!