The first weekend of March Madness is in the books. Just like every single four day weekend, basketball fans at tBBC saw their ups and downs. Things started off horribly when Vee Sanford banked home the winning layup against the Buckeyes on Thursday. It was that same Dayton team that upset Syracuse later in the weekend, in Buffalo. The Flyers were one of the many upset artists on the weekend, including Stanford — the team they will play this upcoming weekend. We saw the only undefeated team say goodbye to the rest of the season, and a bunch of one and done studs mold into a team.
And the two top freshman in the country failed to taste the sweetness of being one of the final sixteen teams standing.
Now that your bracket it ripped up and you could care less about winning one dollar let alone a billion, we begin getting you ready for the weekend with our regional previews of the Sweet Sixteen.
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Arena: FedEx Forum (Home of the Memphis Grizzlies)
TV Affiliation: CBS
Game 1: Thursday, 7:15 PM #10 Stanford vs. #11 Dayton:
The Matchup: This is what the tournament is all about. Two lower seed teams battling for a chance to compete in the Elite 8. This game will be a classic low post vs. perimeter battle that could really get interesting defensively.
For Stanford, they’ll head into Thursday with the same gameplan they put together to upset Kansas. They don’t have a ton of size, but they will use what they have to front the post and create rebounding issues for the Flyers. Then they’ll focus on keeping Vee Sanford and Jordan Sibert at bay. The Cardinal will use it’s zone to swallow the penetration of Sanford, but if Sibert gets hot from three point range, Stanford might have to rethink it’s defensive strategy.
6’10″ senior forward Dwight Powell showed the country why he is considered one of the best big men nobody has heard of against Kansas. Offensively, he should have major advantage inside. Powell and center Stefan Nastic are to of the most efficient big men in the country, but have to avoid foul trouble. They are the only major contributors above 6’7″. They will be key in shutting down the lane and distributing out of the paint on offense.
Dayton showed last weekend that they can handle some of the best man to man pressure in the backcourt you can face in this tournament and equally they can exploit any of the top zone defenses in the country. What makes this Flyer team so special is that they have the personnel to deal with nearly anything on the court. For a half court offense, they have shown they have the weapons to get up and down the floor. They are also not afraid to sit in their offense, wait for the perfect ball reversal, and nail you with an open jumper. In fact, what has been the difference for them offensively in the tournament is their ball movement.
Defensively, the four guards that see playing time are not afraid to swarm you. They’ve held 11 opponents under 60 points this season, and are 11-0 when doing so. If Dayton can even out the rebound disadvantage by turning quick turnovers to points, they will be right in it at the end of the game.
Coaching Corner: Duke Lineage vs. The Miller family. What a great match-up of up and coming coaches on Thursday. For Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins, the road has been tough at his first head coaching gig. After taking over in 2008, after ten years as an assistant under Coach K, Dawkins has found success with the Cardinal. There was no doubt he was on the hot seat heading into this season, but finished above .500 in the PAC-12 for the second time in his career, and has seen his team turn it up in the post season. With new coaches, sometimes it just takes time. I think Dawkins bought some for himself this March.
On the other side of things might of been one of the most sought coaches in the country in Archie Miller. Miller continued the current trend of staying mid-major and signed an extension with Dayton through 2018. When you look at the coaches in the A-10, you start to realize why it was so competitive. Young and hungry coaches like Archie Miller, Shaka Smart, Derek Kellogg (UMass) and Dan Hurley (Rhode Island) are competing with veteran coaches like Mike Lonergan (George Washington), Chris Mooney (Richmond), John Giannini (LaSalle), and Phil Martelli (St. Joseph’s).
As everyone knows, Archie is the brother of Sean Miller, who saved Arizona’s program in 2009 from what could of been shambles after the stepping down of the legendary Lute Olson. Like his brother, Archie is one hell of a recruiter and has built his program on getting names to the Flyer program. He’s been able to do so well already because of his ability to get transfers to believe in his program and recruit really strongly the last two seasons. Vee Sanford and Jordan Sibert bought into the program, while Dyshawn Pierre, Khari Price, and Scootchie Smith have been part of back to back top notch recruiting classes.
Miller has a bright future in this game, and it will be interesting how long he decides to stay in Dayton.
Player to Watch: To me, the game changing player on Thursday will be Stanford’s Dwight Powell. Watching him this weekend reminded me of how strong a history Stanford has in the post the last few years. From the Collins brothers to the Lopez brothers, to Powell. He has some of the best footwork I’ve seen in this tournament. He uses that to get to the bucket with ease. Powell will benefit from being sagged off of Dayton center Matt Kavanaugh, but could face his toughest defensive match yet against Dayton. Whether or not he can’t score though, shouldn’t deter his ability to distribute. Powell is one of the best passing big man in the country.
Prediction: As much as Dayton feels, looks and acts like a Cinderella, I have a hard time not giving the nod to Stanford in this one. The Cardinal really showed something defensively against Kansas. Their zone rotation shut down two of the best guards in the country. It could prove difficult for the Flyer guards to cut that pressure and get to the bucket. And any time you live by the three, you have a good chance of dying by it too. One thing Stanford might need to win though is an improved performance on the perimeter. John Gage didn’t have a good game from downtown against Kansas, but even just a couple shots from long range could help propel his team to the elite 8.
Game 2: Thursday, 9:45 PM #1 Florida vs. #4 UCLA:
The Matchup: Holy cow, what a great nightcap Thursday night. This pits arguably two of the hottest teams in the country. Florida has won 28 straight games. UCLA has won 7/8, including upsetting Arizona in the PAC-12 tourney. Neither team has had any trouble advancing in the tournament, and both have some stretch guards that can really take over ballgames.
One of the interesting aspects of this game is how Florida has dominated UCLA in the tournament the last few years. From Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times:
The victory by the Bruins on Sunday meant they had dispatched their two opening-weekend foes by a combined 34 points. But they must now play a program that has knocked them out of this tourney three times in eight years by — you guessed it — a combined 34 points.
The Bruins bring one of the most explosive offenses in the country to the table. The Gators match that with their relentless intensity defensively and on the glass. A look at Florida’s team stats would make you think they were just a middle of the pack team. Their numbers aren’t flashy, but they get the job done. Billy Donavon will look to his scrappy D on Thursday to stop the fantastic sopohomore guard duo of Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson. There is no doubt the X-factor will be Anderson, who could make or break this game with his length at the point. Anderson, who was a secondary part of last years’ signing class behind Shabazz Muhammad – has drawn comparisons to Magic Johnson because of his length and ability to get to the rack. And unlike a Michael Carter-Williams, he has the strength to post up and hurt you. Adams has had a great tournament, including a 21 point, 8 rebound performance against Tulsa.
Florida will counter with a lineup full of “stat stuffers.” At the end there is not necessarily and individual who sticks out, but they get the job done. Playing a major part offensively is Scottie Wilbekin, who has really turned his situation at Florida around. After Donavon suggested he transfer this off-season, Wilbekin stuck around after being suspended indefinitely. He worked his way back to the team after serving a five game suspension and has undoubtedly become the Gators go to weapon. Inside, Florida will look to senior Patric Young to contribute. He has 18 total rebounds in the tournament.
Coaching Corner: Billy Donavon must be doing something right, because the former Providence guard received yet another extension today. Since taking over the Florida gig in 1996, Donavon has transformed an SEC program from mediocre to one of the tops in the nation. A member of the Rick Pitino tree, Donavon is a fantastic recruiter, but more importantly — a better teacher. He has had success with future NBA players on his roster (Noah,Brewer,Horford), or just talented kids that work as a team (as seen this season).It wouldn’t be surprising to see him finally make the jump to the NBA in the next few years. He seems to be one of the few coaches that could have success on both levels.
There is no doubt that Steve Alford adapted a very talented team, but It has been his coaching style that has really brought the best out of his Bruin squad. One thing that the former Indiana guard can say as a head coach is that he has controlled his own destiny. Despite building success at Iowa, Alford bolted to New Mexico knowing that there was plenty heat on the way for some struggles and off-court issues.
At New Mexico, Alford beat some really good teams, and even more controversy. After his 2012-13 team went on to win the Mountain West title, they were picked by many out there to surprise people in the NCAA tournament. After being upset by Harvard in the first round, Alford signed a major extension to stay with New Mexico.
Just to take the UCLA job days later. All drama aside, Alford is a solid defensive coach that has taken a talented group and turned them into a team. The Bruins won the PAC-12 tournament for the first time in six years. Alford is heading in the right direction, the only question is if he will abort ship before UCLA can build something special.
Player to Watch: Kyle Anderson is one special player on the offensive end, and has a good chance of being a premiere NBA talent someday. At 6’9″ The sophomore can really handle the basketball, find open lanes, and take over ballgames. He has gotten better this season at controlling the basketball and not giving it up. Against Stephen F. Austin, Anderson just gave up the ball once in his time on the floor.
Prediction: To me, this game has the potential to be a barn burner. You’ve got two teams that match up well on both ends. If Florida dominates the boards, it’d seem they’d have an advantage throughout. But UCLA’s offense is so good, that if they stay away from the turnover bug, they’ll be right there all night long.
I’m taking the Bruins in the upset. Florida just won’t be able to muster enough offense at the end of the game. But this is going to be a fun one to watch. I’d highly suggest tuning in Thursday.