Now it begins, we’ve made it to the “Sweet 16” level of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Today, I’ll look at the Midwest Region. The Midwest will play the first of its two games on Friday evening when the #2 seed University of Michigan (27-8, Big Ten) plays the #11 seed University of Tennessee (24-12, SEC). Michigan defeated Wofford and Texas to get to the Sweet Sixteen. Tennessee defeated Iowa, UMass and Mercer to reach this point.
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Arena: Lucas Oil Stadium (Home of the Indianapolis Colts)
TV Affiliation: CBS
Game 1: Friday, 7:15 PM #11 Tennessee vs. #2 Michigan:
The Matchup: Michigan and Tennessee bring similar games to this contest. Both teams average 64 possessions per game and are offensively quite efficient. They both shoot well and take care of the ball, with both teams averaging around 10 turnovers per game. Michigan has a slightly better effective FG%, since they take more 3-pointers per game (21 to 17) and are more accurate with them (40% to 33%). The advantage that does go to Tennessee is their rebounding. The Vols average 7 more rebounds per game than the Wolverines (39 to 32) and 5 more offensive rebounds (14 to 9).
Michigan’s offense is powered by Nik Stauskas (17.4 ppg), Caris LeVert (13.1 ppg) and Glen Robinson III (13.0 ppg). Although not prolific scorers, forwards Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford will have to play at a high level with their rebounding. Tennessee is led Jordan McRae (18.6 ppg), Jarnell Stokes (15.2 ppg) and Josh Richardson (10.0 ppg). Stokes also leads the team in rebounding, with 10.7 per game.
Size will be pretty equal since both teams use a 3G/2F lineup. Each squad starts a 6’1”-2” G, with the other four players ranging from 6’6” – 6’8”.
Coaching Corner: This matches up a seasoned, and very successful coach in Michigan’s John Beilein, who at 61 years old, has over 32 years coaching experience and a career winning percentage of 63% (700-411). Beilein’s approach is to utilize a motion offense utilizing screens to free up shooters. This provides a flexibility of scoring from the perimeter as well as finding gaps in the defense to attack with short-to-mid range jump shots. On defense, Beilein often favors the man-to-man defense, but changes it up with variations (2-3, 1-3-1) of a zone defense.
In contrast, this is the 42 year old Cuonzo Martin’s sixth season, third with the Volunteers. His coaching career got off to a delayed start because he had a brief two year professional career, cut short by a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In terms of his coaching style, you may recognize shades of him being ‘Purdue’ish” since he played there in the early 1990′s for Gene Keady. One item of note is that one of Martin’s Purdue team mates was Glenn Robinson, whose son Glenn Robinson III will be taking the floor for Michigan on Friday.
Players to Watch: Nik Stauskas for Michigan is the Wolverine to watch. He is tall (6’6″), is very active without the ball, and as we’ve seen, a deadly shooter. He needs to get open off screens and hit his shots for Michigan to win this game.
For Tennessee, the player is 6’8″, 260 pound forward Jarnell Stokes. Jarnell averages double-double (15.2 pts, 10.7 rbs) per game and is an accurate shooter (53%). In his three year career at Tennessee. he has never attempted a 3-point shot so he does not extend the defense, but with his size and shooting, he batters it. He’ll be a handful for Michigan.
Prediction: This is actually a pretty good matchup for both teams. Michigan is a 2-point favorite, and I think that sounds about right. It will be a close game, but Michigan’s Morgan/Horford offset Tennessee’s rebounding superiority while Stauskas’ outside shooting opens up the interior for LaVert and Robinson to get good mid-range looks. The Wolverines move on to the Elite Eight.
Game 2: Friday, 9:45 PM #8 Kentucky vs. #4 Louisville:
The Matchup: Louisville and Kentucky bring similar approaches to this game. So much so, that Louisville enters the game as a 5 point favorite. Based on the teams’ offensive efficiency (below), that’s not many possessions.Both teams have a good offensive pace (Louisville 69 PPG, Kentucky 67 PPG) and are offensively efficient with Louisville averaging 1.18 points per possession and Kentucky 1.12. They both shoot well and take care of the ball, with both teams averaging around 11 turnovers per game. Louisville has a slightly better effective FG% because they are better mid-range shooters and they take more 3-pointers per game (21 to 16) and are more accurate with them (37% to 33%). Not a big advantage, but over the course of a close game, it could be a decisive one. Kentucky does have a slight rebounding edge, 3 per game, and an advantage at the free throw line.
Louisville’s offense is powered by four double-digit scorers; Russ Smith (18.1 ppg), Montrezl Harrell (14.0 ppg), Luke Hancock (12.1 ppg) and Chris Jones (10.4 ppg). Harrell also leads the team in rebounding with 8.4 per game, and Stephan Van Treese contributes 5.6 rebounds. Kentucky also has four double-digit scorers; Julius Randle (15.1 ppg), James Young (14.3 ppg), Aaron Harrison (14.1 ppg) and his twin, Andrew Harrison (10.9 ppg). All these gentlemen are freshmen. Yes, that’s right. The sophomore “veteran” Willie Cauley-Stein Stokes contributes 7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, but the Wildcats’ leading rebounder is Julius Randle with 10.6 rebounds per game.
Size definitely favors Kentucky as their starters range in height from 6’6″ to 7’0″. Louisville’s starters range in height from 5’10″ to 6’8″.
Coaching Corner: Rick Pitino vs John Calipari. Quite a coaching matchup, no? These are two high profile (for events on and off the court) coaches who have been very successful (Pitino 74%, Calipari 76%) at winning basketball games. Interestingly, there are a couple of non-related threads that connect these men. Pitino played at UMass in the early 70′s, Calipari coached UMass in the early-mid 90′s. Pitino, in his 13th year at Louisville, previously coached at Kentucky. Calipari is in his 5th season at Kentucky.
This will be an entertaining game, if for no other reason you watch the coach’s sideline reactions. Of course, the real action will be on the court, but Rick Pitino and John Calipari will do their part to get their teams attention.
Players to Watch: Although Luke Hancock rightfully gets attention, I think the player to watch is 6’8″ forward Montrezl Harrell. He has a solid all around game and is an efficient shooter at 60%. For Kentucky, the player to watch is 6’9″ forward Julius Randle. He leads the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding. If Harrell and Randle are matched up against one another, settle in for some interesting basketball.
Prediction: This is actually a pretty good matchup of two very talented teams. As talented as Kentucky is, they are very young, starting four freshmen and a sophomore. I think that the Louisville “seniority” of three seniors, one junior and one sophomore will carry the day. Louisville moves on to the Elite Eight.