NCAA Viewing Guide, Round Two - Saturday
So now that we've confirmed that the merit system the NCAA uses is to keep all qualified officials away from tournament play, to the point that if you heard Three Blind Mice during a game, it'd be an insult to blind creatures and mice. The teams that are left are advised not to put themselves in a position where a blown call could decide their fate: no, Kentucky, we're talking to the rest of the field. You keep doing your thing over there and don't worry about this. Let's take a look at the two matchups I care to analyze today.
#10 Ohio State (24-10, kenpom 20) vs. #2 Arizona (32-3, kenpom 2), 5:15 PM or later on CBS
The NCAA has also screwed up starting times and length of breaks between games. You'd think they were replaying Super Bowl halftime shows between games on site. (Anyone have any insight into this? I don't go to games these days, but it sure seems like there is an interminable wait now. Evening games in particular seem to be held up for 30-60 minutes before they're allowed to start.) So set your alarm for 5:15, but make sure your DVR records the next hour or two of programming.
Both of these teams might have a legitimate beef about seeding: Ohio State faces arguably the strongest 2 seed in the Wildcats, who've lost three games by a total of nine points this season, and Arizona gets a 10 seed that basically had one awful game (the 24-point home loss to Wisconsin) and dropped more lines than Rob Lowe at his peak as a result. kenpom really likes the Wildcats in this one, largely because of their balanced attack (9th-best offense, 3rd-best defense). Arizona has five guys with enough minutes to be ranked and still have an ORtg of 110 or better; Marc Loving and Amir Williams are the only Buckeyes with that many minutes in D'Angelo Russell's supporting cast, and while their ORtgs are also 110+, Ohio State must get similar high-quality production out of Jae'Sean Tate and Shannon Scott if they are going to pull off the upset. Arizona is one of the few teams left with the size and skill to both pressure Russell and contain his teammates; it's OSU's bad luck to draw them in round 2.
My guess is that Russell will break 30 in a valiant comeback attempt, but Arizona will have too much for too long and will advance to the Sweet 16.
#6 Butler (23-10, kenpom 19) vs. #3 Notre Dame (30-5, kenpom 13), 9:40 PMish on TBS
A dollar says this game starts no earlier than 10:40 EDT. It's too bad, because the two latest games are likely the two most evenly-matched games: kenpom has this one with a Thrill Score of 72.0 and the Arkansas-UNC matchup at 71.7.
Butler nicely overcame an undercoached Texas squad in the first round - the Irish were probably hoping that Texas could finally win a game against quality opposition. Notre Dame does not match up with Butler nearly as well as they would have with Texas: the Bulldogs have an answer for nearly every aspect of ND's game at both ends of the court, and Butler is solid in one area where the Irish are weak, rebounding. Notre Dame does not rebound particularly well at either end (27.7% OReb, 281st; defense allows 31.9%, 22nd), and Butler is excellent at both ends (34.9% OReb, 50th; 25.2% allowed, 8th).
The one area that might be a problem for Butler is getting to the line. As good as they were during the regular season (41.0 FTA/FGA, 74th), Notre Dame is better at avoiding fouls (23.2 FTA/FGA, 2nd), and this is the wrong tournament to expect officials to make calls, even if the Irish do manage to foul here or there. With fewer opportunities, each free throw becomes more important, and Butler's struggles at the line (.681, 224th) may magnify a deficit if they need to overcome one, or may shrink a lead if they're trying to protect one.
The winner gets either Kansas or Wichita State (speaking of underseeded teams). Kentucky will cruise to the regional final on the other side of the Midwest, but the team they'll face will have earned their way to the Elite Eight ... and I wouldn't expect it to be Kansas.