Yes, we don’t have March Madness, but because of great minds like Joe Lunardi at ESPN, we can have a glimpse at what the bracket might have looked like. In the State News' latest series, we analyze and project what the NCAA tournament might have looked like, round by round, region by region.
Here is our projection of the Midwest Sweet Sixteen.
#1 Kansas vs. #12 Liberty
Preview: In all of my previous projections discussing Kansas, I’ve only been discussing how difficult it would be to upend the Jayhawks. However, this team has been beaten this season, but how have these teams done it? In Kansas’ three losses this season, the Jayhawks have turned the ball over about 18 times per game on average, including a staggering 28 turnovers against Duke in the Champions Classic in November. For Liberty, forcing turnovers is somewhere to start.
Next, the second biggest key for the Flames is to limit Udoka Azubuike and the Jayhawks’ frontcourt. In their three loses, Azubuike and his frontcourt partner David McCormack have had less than 11 shot attempts between the two of them on average. These guys both stand at 7’1 and 6’10 with over 250-pound frames, once they get underneath the basket in a good position, you are not stopping them from scoring. For Liberty, it will be key to limit their touches and opportunities for easy baskets.
Lastly, Liberty must slow the pace. The Flames rank last in the country in possessions per game as they take the Virginia approach on offense. Frankly the Flames do not have the weapons to run with the Jayhawks for a full forty minutes, so they will need to limit the amount of times Kansas’ guys have a chance to score.
So, can the Flames do all of this? To start, the Flames actually rank last in forcing turnovers in the country. A lot of this is because of their slow pace, as there is not as many opportunities for the Flames to force a turnover, but regardless this isn’t a good start. However, their pace alone will limit the amount of opportunities Kansas’s frontcourt will have to score.
In their most recent played game, the Flames faced Lipscomb, who is led by 6’8, 265-pound sophomore Ahsan Asadullah. Averaging over 18 points per game and 10 rebounds, Asadullah is a good example of how the Flames handle dominant frontcourts. In the Atlantic Sun championship, Asadullah exploded for 22 points in Lipscomb’s loss. Despite the win, this casts doubt over the Flames’ ability to contain a dominant frontcourt.
Projection: Despite a heck of a run, the Jayhawks extinguish the Flames quickly as Liberty just doesn’t have the ability to slow Azubuike as he explodes for 28 points and 20 rebounds. Kansas 81-Liberty 63
#3 Duke vs. #7 Providence
Preview: A lot of time has been dedicated to talking about how hot Providence has been in the last month, but what has changed for the Friars?
To start, in their final six games of the season, the Friars won all of them, including wins over Villanova, Seton Hall, and Marquette. In those games, the Friars have shot over 40% from beyond the arc in all but one of those games, where they shot nearly 39% against Villanova in a 58-54 victory. Basketball despite all these stats I am throwing at you is incredibly simple, hit your shots and you have a good chance at winning.
Next, the Friars have been incredible in getting to the foul line. In those final six games, only once did they not shoot at least 20 free throws, and that was when they only shot a meager 19 times against Xavier. To say the least, they have been incredibly efficient in getting their opponents in foul trouble.
This plays right into the Friars' hands when facing Duke, as the Blue Devils are not an extremely deep team and their star player Vernon Carey Jr. is prone to getting into foul trouble. The Friars despite a rough start have a really good chance of downing the Blue Devils if they can execute their game plan they have been so good at in the last month.
Projection: Texas decides to give Shaka Smart one more year to right the ship, but as demands begin to become louder, Indiana fires Archie Miller to begin their hot pursuit of Friars’ Head Coach Ed Cooley as the Friars continue their magical run to the Elite Eight. Providence 81- Duke 70
Elite Eight Matchup
#1 Kansas vs. #7 Providence