Ended up four games under last weekend, which turned out being not fun, surprisingly enough. Just means we’re setting up to be scorching hot (hopefully) down the stretch.
Oregon (+1) over Michigan
One of the many really intriguing matchups we’re due for this weekend. I’m really interested to see how the battle at the 4 and 5 positions goes down. Bell and Boucher – off the top of my head – would probably be the best possible pair in the country to slow down the Wilson/Wagner duo that has been looking like a pair of NBA players recently. Dillon Brooks will be able to stick with the two out on the perimeter better than Boucher, but he won’t have nearly the same effect when the Wolverines go down low. Derrick Walton has the obvious advantage at point guard, but that’s negated by how lethal Tyler Dorsey has been on the wing for the Ducks.
The difference for me in this one is Michigan’s defense. As good as they’ve been the past month and a half, their defense is still lacking quite a bit against stronger offensive-minded teams. They gave up 1.4 points per possession to Oklahoma State last weekend, but they were able to overcome by simply outscoring the Pokes by going 16-29 from three. That’s more manageable against the worst defensive at-large team in the tournament, not so much against the top 25 defense the Ducks trot out. I’ll very reluctantly take Oregon.
Gonzaga (-3) over West Virginia
First things first, the Zags should do just fine against the West Virginia pressure. However, Josh Perkins is the wildcard to keep an eye on there. He’s been prone to big turnover numbers and he might just cough it up eight times himself. The pressure doesn’t stop once the Zags are in the frontcourt, though. They’ll be going strength on strength trying to score around the bucket. The Zags have shooters, but it’s not necessarily their preferred method of generating points, which is typically the area you can punch back on the Mountaineers.
On the other end, Gonzaga really doesn’t have any major holes. They run people off the three-point line. That’s also not a big focal point of WVU’s offense, but if they’re hitting at the rate they were against Notre Dame in the second half, they’re really tough to beat. But really the reason I like the Zags in this one outside of their ability to take care of the ball (and the fact that they’re a great team) is their ability to keep the Mountaineers off the offensive glass. That’s a big key for Huggy’s group and if you’re not giving them transition and second chance opportunities, then they’re going to have to hit 10-12 threes at an efficient rate just to stay in the game.
Purdue (+5) over Kansas
I don’t know what to totally expect from the teams on the floor, but what I can guarantee you is that I will feel like dying during the entire game.
Everyone seems to want to talk about Purdue’s size against the shallow frontline that the Jayhawks have. Personally, I don’t think it’s as big of an advantage for the Boilers as it’s being made out to be. I mean, Swanigan pretty much always gets his in some form, but I don’t think Matt Painter is going to be able play him and Haas at the same time much anyway because neither of them has a shot in hell at guarding Josh Jackson at the other end. The keys for Purdue offensively are how proficient they are from the perimeter (40% for the year, shaky lately) and if Vince(nt) Edwards is able to keep up his recent production.
Kansas can shoot it, too, but Purdue is a little better at running people off the line. I can only remember a shot or two Iowa State got off from three that wasn’t contested. Anytime the Jayhawks can draw the Purdue big men out to the perimeter and make them defend anyone not named Landen Lucas or Carlton Bragg, they’ll get a good look. Frank Mason will be a problem, but when isn’t he? If the Jayhawks start getting a bunch of runouts and easy transition buckets, Purdue is essentially screwed. That’ll get the KC crowd into it and those one-to-two minute bursts Kansas goes on are killers.
Xavier (+7.5) over Arizona
Would’ve been nice to know that the Muskies have been carrying around a Walmart jar filled with ashes all March. When there’s a team that has a jar full of ashes facing a team without a jar full of ashes, you bet the house on the ashes every single time.
As for the things that might actually affect the game…I don’t know. I think it’ll largely be a halfcourt game, which should help Xavier stick around. They shot it incredibly well against Florida State, which isn’t something you can really rely on, especially against Zona. They also may not get to the line as often as they’re used to.
The interior defense looks like a real problem for X on paper, but they’ve been so damn good at guarding the perimeter lately it hasn’t hardly mattered. In their five wins over the past six games, they’ve held their opponents to under 29% from three every game.
I don’t love the matchup for the Muskies here, but I’m also not over the moon about the Wildcats in general. When in doubt, take the points, take Chris Mack, take Trevon Bluiett, and take the ashes.