2019 NCAA Viewing Guide, Regional Semis
The Best Conference in All the Land did pretty well for itself in the second round: sure, only three teams made it through, but only three teams were top-4 seeds, and this year, if you weren’t, well … anyway, Minnesota had a pretty good excuse, losing to Michigan State, but Maryland nearly made it to OT before losing on a last-minute shot to LSU, and Iowa did get to OT, digging out of what would have been a record-tying 25-point deficit before falling to Tennessee. Ohio State … not bad for an 11 seed.
Who’s left besides the Good Guys? The usual teams, that’s who.
3 Purdue (25-9) vs 2 Tennessee (31-5), 7:29 PM Thursday on TBS
kenpom: Purdue 51%
Torvik: Purdue 51% (20.4% Final Four, 10.1% finals, 4.2% champs)
There are two ways you can look at an opponent who nearly blew an epic lead in their last game: as a team that had several days to figure out how to fix a weakness, or as a team that has a soft spot they can’t hide anymore. The Volunteers give up a lot of quality looks from three, but Iowa’s comeback was spurred by turnovers: the normally-surehanded Vols had 17, many in the second half. Guess who focuses on gaining extra possessions? Yep, the same team that lit Villanova on fire in the second round from three (16 for 30, the worst performance by the Wildcat D this season and the third-best outing for Purdue, behind only the two Penn State games).
Purdue should have everyone at full strength, and if they come out like they did Saturday night, turnovers will be helpful but not required - five Boilers hit at least one three and none of those five shot less than .500 from outside. In fact, only five Purdue players shot a two. Why would you?
There is the other possibility. An effort like their first-round game will be a loss if it lasts 40 minutes; on the other hand, Iowa showed that even 20 minutes could be nearly enough against Tennessee. This Purdue team has at least 20 minutes in them, and we’d all love to see that happen Thursday in Lulvul. LET’S DO THIS THING
2 Michigan (30-6) vs 3 Texas Tech (28-6), 9:39 PM Thursday on CBS
kenpom: Michigan 54%
Torvik: Michigan 57% (29.9% Final Four, 18% finals, 10.2% champs)
Neither Michigan nor Texas Tech has allowed 60 points in a game this tournament. The Wolverines are somewhat more likely to do so, but this could also be the sort of game where nobody leads by more than 6 and yet a 6-point lead feels like a double-digit margin. The Red Raiders are interesting in that they’re only a bit deeper than UM but also have the kind of defense that can put themselves in foul trouble: if it’s the wrong guy, they could be in for a long night. Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews will lock down any bench guy, and if they can keep Culver and Moretti in check, Michigan will make their fourth Elite Eight trip in seven seasons.
2 Michigan State (30-6) vs 3 LSU (28-6), 7:09 PM Friday on CBS
kenpom: Michigan State 74%
Torvik: Michigan State 68% (34.3% Final Four, 14.6% finals, 7% champs)
The Spartans nearly got a second straight rematch, as Iowa nearly toppled favored Tennessee; instead, they get easily the weakest of the 3 seeds, as you can tell from the chances to win. Michigan State could actually have faced four different Big Tenteen opponents on their way to a national title; now it would only be three, and of course that would require Other Things to happen. Surprisingly, beating Duke is not the least likely of those Other Things, as Torvik still believes Virginia and Gonzaga are the best of the 1s, and they’re roadblocks for the other two conference teams, should they all reach the regional finals.
Michigan State certainly should. LSU gives up a ton of offensive rebounds and doesn’t shoot threes well, so as Maryland can point out, you’re never out of the game against the Tigers, who managed to beat Yale by only five (although in fairness, a number of late threes made the score close). Then again, this is Old Tom Izzo on the bench, and he’s capable of more than a few questionable in-game decisions if something goes wrong.
On a third hand, there’s a 140% chance that Izzo will complain about a call in the first four minutes and then get maybe 70% of the remaining calls to go his way. (Good luck with that in the next round, Coach.) Sparty should do the NCAA a favor and make sure that LSU only has to vacate two tournament wins this season.