In an effort to a) limit repeat posts b) be as efficient with each post as possible, and c) keep from having eighteen new posts between Denver, Warden and myself go up between 11 o'clock Thursday night and mid-day Saturday, I'm going to roll my "First Thoughts" for the first weekend into one post. So, this one will likely be a bit different than anything I've done so far this year. Hopefully that means it will be better, too.
It's never happened before. As you surely know, a 16-seed team has never officially beating a 1-seed on the court of play. (As Warden and Denver made the final ruling and decided, Texas-Arlington are credited with a win over Memphis in the first round in 2008 due to Memphis vacating all wins from that season) And, it likely won't happen in this game. Teams are rewarded with 1-seeds for a reason. They are the cream of the crop out of 347 schools across the nation. The best of the best are expected to, and always should win. You almost always get conference champions from random, obscure, fledgling conferences. And, that is because...well, they are the worst of the 65 teams in the field. Lower even than the last at-large teams who didn't automatically qualify. The gap between level of competition and talent is just so vast that it is almost unthinkable a team from that far down could ever beat one of the best four teams in the nation in the culminating tournament of the entire season. And, it is for this reason that unless the event of Cole Aldrich shrinks a foot and a half between now and Thrursday night, the Kansas Jayhawks will defeat the Lehigh Mountain Hawks.
So, who are you? Not surprisingly, the Jayhawks have never played Lehigh before. (at least not anywhere on the internet that I could dig up.) The Mountain Hawks, whose athletic teams were known as the Engineers until 1995, have been Division 1 participants since 1948. This is their second time as champions and representitives of the Patriot League, which was formed in 1991. Their mascot, presumably a mountain hawk, goes by the name of Clutch. Let's just all hope there's no need for Kevin Harlan to mention this in the waning moments of Thursday night's game.
Rather than the same old backcourt-frontcourt comparisons I've been using, this time I've switched it up and gone with more of a player vs. player matchup type thing for the starting five. I stuck with fairly traditional stats, but did decide to include Shot Percentage (percentage of their team's shots taken by that player) for each player in and effort to show how much each team depends on a particular player.
Sherron Collins vs. Marquis Hall - Hall is more of a traditional point guard and less aggressive offensively, but has comparable numbers to Collins defensively. Hall has an inch height advantage, but Collins could probably out-wrestle Hall without the use of his legs due to his massive upper body strength.
Tyshawn Taylor vs. Dave Buchberger - The off guards for each team are actually very similar to each other. They are very similar in body and build, neither are huge scoring threats or frighteningly great shooters and both tend to defer on the offensive end and act as facilitators. The one major difference is Taylor's bout of the turnover-flu - a full turnover per game higher than Buchberger.
Xavier Henry vs. CJ McCollum - I am extremely excited to watch this matchup and hope that each coach delivers and allows these two fantastic freshmen to go at one another. McCollum can score with the best of them. He's a bit smaller than Henry (about two inches) and gives up about 50 pounds in heft. Yet, that hasn't stoped the Lehigh freshman from averaging nearly 19 points and 5 rebounds a game while shooting over 46 percent from the field and 43 percent from three point range. This would be a great challenge to get Xavier focused for a tournament run on the defensive end. Please, oh please, coach Self, let us have it.
Marcus Morris vs. Gabe Knutson - Now, I've scoured the internet to find the proper pronunciation for 'Knutson' for labbadabba, (is it 'newt-son' or 'kuh-newt-son'?) but I'm afraid I've got no official ruling. We'll have to let Kevin Harlan and Dan Bonner either nail it or butcher it without knowing and better. As far as on the court goes, the two are even in size. Morris is relied upon far more than Knutson, though, and produces at a higher level in every statistical category.
Cole Aldrich vs. Zahir Carrington - While Knutson (6'9" freshman) is actually two inches taller than Carrington, (6'7") I would imagine Lehigh head coach Brett Read will elect to go with the slightly bulkier, more seasond senior forward against the bigger Aldrich. If Aldrich can assert himself as he did early in last year's tournament, (triple-double against Dayton) it could make for a long day for Carrington, or anybody assigned to Aldrich.
While Denver further covered the UNLV-Northern Iowa first round matchup in his Midwest Regional Preview this morning, I've got a few quick thoughts to add before we think about how each would potentially match up with the Jayhawks.
Opposite ends of the style spectrum. As Warden discussed yesterday, this game will be one of the best things about the NCAA Tournament - matching up two totally different teams with two totally different styles of play. The Panthers would rather watch the 35-second shot clock tick away before taking a high percentage shot late in the shot clock. They never turn the ball over (10.5 per game - 9th nationally) and are more than fine to put the crowd and television audience to sleep. At the same time, the Rebels would much prefer to get out and run up and down the court on you. They average just under 70 possessions per 40 minutes, while the Panthers are below even the Big 10's average of 62 per 40 minutes, checking in at 59.4. Does that remind anyone else of the Southern Illinois tournament matchup Kansas had in 2007? A 61-58 squeaker - do not want again.
The differences continue. UNLV attempts over 60 shots per game; Northern Iowa - just under 50. The Rebels attempt over 20 threes a game; the Panthers - 18.7, so that's not terribly different, but the 18.7 threes attempted a game come out to be over 37 percent of their total shots, while UNLV takes so many more shots that their 20.4 makes up only 34 percent of their total shots. That means if they took the same amount of total shots per game as UNLV, the Panthers would attempt about 23 three point attempts a game. Hopefully I didn't lose you there, because that was a stretch to work out myself and stay with me. The totals seem fairly even, but once you take into account each team's pace of play, the difference shows.
So, who's it gonna be?* It may sound like a total cop out, (and it is) but whoever imposes their preferred tempo of play on their opponent. If the game gets fast-paced, back and forth in a hurry, UNLV is favored. If the Panthers can make shots and set up defensively, they can milk the clock not only on offense, but defensively, too. If I had to lean one way or the other, I'd pick UNLV, I guess.
And, they would match up with Kansas, how? As I said above, facing Northern Iowa would remind me a whole lot of facing a 61-possessions-per-game Southern Illinois team in 2007. That version of the Jayhawks struggled throughout most of the game with the defensive pressure and not being able to get into their fastbreak offense. Granted, that team was made up primarily of freshmen named Chalmers, Wright and Rush; so, this team has the "been there before" advantage, yet has shown they struggle from time to time when in half court sets. (see: vs. Cornell, at Tennessee, at Nebraska) All that said, I do think it will be UNLV that will advance to the weekend. Basically, this year's Rebels are created somewhat in the image of the Jayhawks, but with less size and talent. The two teams play at nearly the same pace, force turnovers at any chance and can score points quick if they do. The big difference - Kansas has about ten guys that can do it. The Rebels boast far fewer. Either way, the talent of Kansas should outweigh any minor advantages either team would have and we should see the Jayhawks in St. Louis next weekend.
*The stars could be aligning for Kansas and a potential championship this year. In 2008, they lost in Stillwater (their final loss of the season) before going on to win the regular season and Big 12 tournament titles and faced UNLV in the second round. If that's how it's going to play out this year, I can't help but get even more excited...