2019 NCAA Viewing Guide, Regional Finals
Huh. So that’s how this part of the season works. Something pretty good happened Thursday night; by now you’ve read coverage from me and J Money and Boilerdowd and listened to the Beat. You’re ready, aren’t you? Let’s go!
Oh - fellow Big Tenteen contenders went 1-1, as Michigan fell to Texas Tech and Michigan State dismissed (vacated). I actually saw a screencap of someone on Twitter suggesting that it was time for Beilein to go. I’d laugh, but if Purdue had lost to Tennessee there probably would have been people calling similarly to replace Painter so there you go. Maybe if we still had College Hoops 2K around, those people would realize that the world isn’t full of outstanding coaches who are employed in a different role and waiting to take Your Team to a national championship.
Or maybe it would be worse? Who knows? We’ll find out before too long anyway, once that house of cards comes down. It would be kind of funny if the next game in the series only featured schools from California and North Carolina, wouldn’t it?
TO THE GAMES.
3 Purdue (26-9) vs 1 Virginia (32-3), 8:49 PM tonight on TBS
kenpom: Virginia 65%
Torvik: Virginia 64% (Purdue 18.3% finals, 7.3% champs)
Virginia entered the tournament on a two-game losing streak as a 1 seed. Halfway through their opening game, it looked like it would become three. The Cavaliers came back from a 14-point deficit - still the biggest comeback in this year’s tournament - and have been reasonably comfortable ever since. Similar profile to last year: excellent offense, excellent defense, they give up a lot of threes but many are contested and few are assisted. They play at a glacial pace, rarely draw or commit fouls, rarely force or commit turnovers, and basically play to get a five-point lead and lull you to sleep once they have it.
Hmm. If only Purdue had a guy who could hit contested threes.
Nah, they’d probably have to have two.
Bennett has a really quick hook - Virginia players with two fouls have played just 3.9% of available minutes the rest of the first half, 346th in DI (the average is 21.6%, Painter is 86th at 30.3%, down significantly from earlier this season), and their bench doesn’t get a lot of minutes. Purdue absolutely has to attack the basket this game - perimeter shots will be there, but a much quicker route to victory involves getting a bench guy on the court and making him look lost.
I don’t know if the Good Guys can do it, but they haven’t lost a tournament game this year either. Got plans for next weekend?
By the way, Virginia’s Final Four drought is almost as long as Purdue’s: the two schools made a combined 3 trips in 5 years (Purdue 1980 obvs, Virginia 1981, 1984). Auburn, Texas Tech and Gonzaga round out the quintet of teams with little to no Final Four experience: the former two have never made it, while Gonzaga’s only appearance was two years ago. The other three are Kentucky and the next two teams. You know enough about them already.
2 Michigan State (31-6) vs 1 Duke (32-5), 5:05 PM Sunday on CBS
kenpom: Michigan State 52%
Torvik: Duke 53% (MSU 19.3% finals, 9.4% champs)
If I can interpret the analytics: kenpom thinks Duke’s struggles in the tournament are a sign of a weakness Michigan State can exploit, while Torvik thinks they’re anomalies - sort of. Possibly the least likable coach in the Big Tenteen faces possibly the least likable team in the country, Zion notwithstanding. This game should tip slightly toward offense, with MSU’s balanced attack facing Duke’s inside-heavy game. The Spartans lead the country in assist percentage, while Duke is middle-of-the-pack, almost like their plan is to just scoop up loose rebounds and slam them home.
Oh? I was kind of kidding, guess I shouldn’t have been. Sparty hasn’t really been challenged yet, facing an overrated LSU side and a thin Minnesota team after their casual win over Bradley. Duke’s margin of victory in their last two games combined was 3 points, and in both instances a shot that would have won or gone to OT was taken from within 10 feet near the buzzer. If Duke wins, people will say the close games toughened them; if MSU wins, people will say Duke was lucky just to get here.
1 Gonzaga (33-3) vs 3 Texas Tech (29-6), 6:09 PM Saturday on TBS
kenpom: Gonzaga 61%
Torvik: Gonzaga 57% (34.1 % finals, 20.2% champs; Texas Tech 23.1%/12.2%)
Chris Beard is about one game away from pretty much any coaching job in the country, if he wants a different one; with Kansas seemingly on a downward slope, it may be better for him to stay in Lubbock, but with four seniors graduating and Jarrett Culver becoming draft-eligible about 30 seconds after his last game this season, it might be a good time to move up and rebuild elsewhere.
First things first. Which of these two teams has put together three straight double-digit victories? Trick question, since the correct answer is both. Gonzaga’s only played two opponents on the level the Red Raiders are at right now, beating Duke and losing to North Carolina, but those games were a long, long time ago. Texas Tech just played one on Thursday.
The streaks of double-digit wins will likely come to a close; I wouldn’t be surprised if Gonzaga becomes the second #1 seed to fall in the tournament.
2 Kentucky (30-6) vs 5 Auburn (29-9), 2:20 PM Sunday on TBS
kenpom: Kentucky 58%
Torvik: Kentucky 59% (25.4% finals, 10.9% champs; Auburn 14.1%/4.7%)
John Calipari. Bruce Pearl. If you’re an NCAA investigator, you won’t be able to get any farther than that. The rest of us get a game 3 in a series that has gone to Kentucky by 2 and 27 in the first two installments. The Wildcats did just enough against Wofford and Houston to get to the point, having to scramble late against the Cougars to win Friday, while Auburn has been knocking off storied programs left and right on their unlikely run to the Elite Eight. The Tigers squeaked past New Mexico State by 1, and we’re all thankful for that, because otherwise it would have been Sadface Roy Williams coaching against Calipari. (Ha! You think Bill Self would have knocked off North Carolina? They might have lost to New Mexico State themselves.)
Auburn’s 10-0 March record has been keyed entirely by offense - Torvik has them as #1 in the country this month. Their defense, however, has been baaaaaad, 77th (worse than their 48th overall). It’s worked so far, and it can work against Kentucky as well. Remember how last year, Virginia was vulnerable to a hot-shooting team? Auburn is 14th in three-point percentage and 8th in three-point attempts (nearly half come from outside the arc; for reference, Purdue is 36th), and UK is dead average in three-point attempts allowed.
The Tigers were 13 for 30 in the 2-point loss and 8 for 27 in the blowout. They’ll likely have to do better than both to get to their first Final Four ever; if they find their range, this Wildcat team simply isn’t built to catch them. Is the world ready for Charles Barkley reacting to an Auburn Final Four?