Tuesday, July 14, 2020

NCAA Tournament Projection: West Region second round

Some shocking twists in the Round of 32 after a less-than-exciting hypothetical first round

March 26, 2020
Sophomore forward Xavier Tillman (23) defends the ball against LSU’s forward Darius Days (22) and guard Skylar Mays (4) during the game against LSU at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Tigers, 80-63.
Sophomore forward Xavier Tillman (23) defends the ball against LSU’s forward Darius Days (22) and guard Skylar Mays (4) during the game against LSU at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Tigers, 80-63. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

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 latest State News series, we analyze and project what the NCAA tournament may have looked like, round by round, region by region.

Here is our projection of the West Region second round. If you missed the first round, you can catch up on the action here.

#1 Gonzaga V. #8 Louisiana State

Preview: Offensively, this game is a heavyweight matchup. Gonzaga and LSU are both top 10 teams in points per game and offensive rating with deeply respectable shooting percentages. Neither team is a defensive juggernaut and that's perfectly fine — this game was destined to be a shootout the second the clock ran out on the first round.

Taking personnel into consideration, Filip Petrusev (17.5 points per game) and Skylar Mays (16.7 points per game) comprise the most compelling matchup of the game. It's going to be significantly harder to limit Petrusev's effect on the game than Mays' but if LSU can play beyond Gonzaga's size, that won't be that big of an issue. Above all, this game is going to come down to tempo and I don't see the Tigers slowing it down in the slightest after the season they've had.

Prediction: LSU stuns the nation in an absolute gem of an upset and continues maybe the best athletic year in university history. Regardless, the Tigers' efforts quickly change the power balance in the West as Mark Few and the Zags are sent back home. Louisiana State 79-Gonzaga 78

#5 Michigan vs. #4 Oregon

Preview: From an analytical perspective, this matchup is easily the most interesting one on the board. Michigan and Oregon aren’t just neck and neck in tournament seeding, they’re also right next to each other in kenpom.com’s most recent rankings at 16th and 17th respectively.

A key statistic in kenpom.com’s method of ranking teams is AdjEm, which is the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency. This simple subtraction indicates how much a team would outscore an average Division I team over the course of 100 possessions. Since kenpom.com’s goal is to predict future accomplishment (exactly what we’re doing right now) instead of measuring past achievements, I’ve brought this up because the Wolverines (+20.12 AdjEm) and the Ducks (+20.00 AdjEm) are far and away the closest matchup being written about today.

And I cannot emphasize this enough: no matter how you evaluate, this matchup is an exceedingly tough one to predict. With that, I think this game is going to come down to whatever roster has the best scoring options. Yes, Oregon has an All-American in Payton Pritchard but besides him, the Ducks have gotten fairly uneven production across the board. Meanwhile, Michigan has a surplus of proven, if not better, offensive players to lean on. It’s understandable to not believe in Zavier Simpson, Isaiah Livers or Jon Teske because you don’t necessarily have to. Michigan’s got better scorers on a deeper team and while this matchup is a bit of a coin flip on paper, that’s the winning edge for any team in any game.

Prediction: I give Michigan the win here in what I would figure to be one of the best games of the tournament thus far. Pritchard goes off for 27 points in a blaze of glory but Michigan’s depth enables them to keep pace in a tight, contested affair. Michigan 73-Oregon 69

#6 BYU vs. #3 Seton Hall

Preview: It’s well-established at this point that BYU is pretty good at shooting from the arc. As shooters of an NCAA-best 42.2% from deep, they’re 2.3% higher than a second-best McNeese, a staggering difference when considering how teams have struggled with the new three-point line this season. I’d like to focus on sample-size too: sure, BYU is only 62nd in the nation in three-points attempted at 786 (North Florida leads the nation at 1,031) but I think this is more of a credit to the offense that Mark Pope has designed. There’s a clear emphasis on finding the best shot no matter what and BYU only got more comfortable with this system as the year progressed.

This doesn’t bode well for Seton Hall. They’re not exactly a great defensive team to begin with, allowing an average of 67.9 opponent points per game. Still, good defense is usually predicated on how well a team can take away what it’s opponent is best at; in Seton Hall’s case, this will be their ability to take away or at least minimize BYU’s shooting prowess, far and away their best trait. Surely this is a possibility, right?

Well, anything is possible in the tournament, but it doesn’t look good. Seton Hall is 113th in the nation when it comes to team three-point defense, just 0.2% better than the Indiana team the Cougars handled pretty well in the first round. The only way the Pirates can win this game is if they push the pace against BYU and get some serious production out of Myles Powell and his supporting cast or just pray that the Cougars go cold. That might work too.

Prediction: BYU doesn’t go cold, at least in this round. Actually, they’re red-hot, shooting 39.6% as a whole against a Seton Hall team that just can’t couldn't match that production. Jake Toolson advances with the Cougars after making five three-pointers himself and Powell goes out as a Big East legend despite the disappointing finish. BYU 87-Seton Hall 75

#7 Arizona vs. #2 San Diego State

Preview: Wildcats rejoice! Sean Miller has led Arizona to the second round of the tournament for the first time since 2017. More important: his freshmen are looking good at the right time. Nico Mannion said after the game that he “loves this team” (maybe he’s staying?) and boosts his draft stock after a nice performance against Texas Tech, Zeke Nnaji was impressive as usual and Josh Green’s offensive flexibility played a key role in the first round victory. Playing the Red Raiders in the first round served as considerable preparation for a San Diego State team that also plays exceptional defense, so expect Arizona to come out confident and more motivated than ever to keep this run going.

San Diego State took care of business by blowing out UC Irvine and now their biggest test lies in front of them. Arizona is the first Power Five conference opponent SDSU will face since Utah on Dec. 21 and that was only halfway through their 26-game win streak that shot them up the rankings. With all the hype and doubt hanging over this team after a late season stumble, both the Aztecs reputation and run are at stake, ample motivation for any team. Malachi Flynn is the best player on this SDSU squad but look out for Yanni Wetzell; his experience and rebounding ability could play a huge part in this game.

Prediction: All good things must come to an end. The Wildcats fall to SDSU in a deflating loss that sees the Aztecs put up one of their best defensive showings of the year. Mannion, Nnaji and Green all declare for the NBA Draft afterwards. San Diego State 70-Arizona 59

Sweet Sixteen Matchups:

#9 Louisiana State vs. #5 Michigan

#6 BYU vs. #2 San Diego State

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