Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Binghamton Preview and ACC Thursday Games

Every Duke fan with a functioning long-term memory is having nervous Belmont flashbacks right about now. The facial similarities are there - small school, lots of little guards, name starts with B, etc. I'm here to assuage some of those fears. Here are some key difference. First, Belmont was a very dangerous offensive team. They shot and passed the ball extremely well, and had three players - Hare, Dansby, and Dotson - with top 300 offensive ratings. They ran a spread-and-back-cut system that has historically given Duke problems. Binghamton, on the other hand, is one of the 5 worst offensive teams in the tourney and doesn't really have a single efficient, medium- or high-usage player. They don't shoot the ball well, and really don't pass it well. Mayben and Rivera mostly try to create for themselves - this is a team that can get bogged down in the half court. Second, Belmont had some size to keep Duke honest. 6'8" Mathew Dotson started and played 22 minutes and 6'9" Keaton Belcher played another 11. That's 33 minutes of at least one guy with size. Binghamton, on the other hand, starts no one over 6'6" and their two tall players got about 30 minutes total in the three AEC tournament games. Belmont was a very adequate rebounding team - Binghamton is poor, particularly on the defensive end. Third, Belmont had experience against decent teams and in the NCAAs. They played 3 top-100 squads in 2007-08 - Cincinnati, Alabama, and Xavier - and won 2 of the 3 (Xavier, on the other hand, destroyed them). They also had made the tourney the two years before, losing to Georgetown by 25 and UCLA by 34, but getting the novelty nerves out of the way. Binghamton has never been here before, and played a ridiculously easy schedule. Their non-conference games were against Masnfield (non-DI), Quinnipiac, Central Connecticut, George Washington, Utah Valley (twice), Rutgers, Bucknell, Manhattan, Rider, Tulane, and Marist. Their toughest opponent all year was Vermont. Unlike Belmont, which was exposed to high-talent teams before and during that season, Binghamton hasn't seen anything close to what Duke will roll out.

Everything about this matchup looks like a comfortable Duke win. Binghamton apparently runs a press, which has given Duke trouble this year. But if they can't turn the Devils over, they'll be in for a long night. Buckets will be difficult to come by, and they shouldn't get many second chances. Binghamton is going to be at a serious size disadvantage. Their starting lineup runs 5'11", 6'2", 6'3", 6'4", and 6'6" - every starter for Duke is 6'4" or better. Personally, even though Binghamton is a pressing team and filled with quick guards, I think Duke should try to aggressively press them early, force turnovers, and run them out of the building. I would also be surprised if Duke shoots a ton of threes - I think they'll exploit Singler's, Henderson's and Scheyer's size advantages and really attack the rim. Obviously every NCAA game creates the risk of a loss, but I can't help but think that this is a very good matchup for Duke.

I feel the same way about UNC's matchup with Radford, with or without Ty Lawson. The Highlanders have a very capable big man in Artsiom Parakhouski. He's been a superb rebounder - top 50 nationally both on offense and defense - he blocks shots, gets to the line, shoots well from the field, and is not turnover prone. He killed VMI in the Big South championship game. Of course, his ability to stay out of foul trouble against Hansbrough is uncertain - he's been relatively immune to fouls, but this assignment is very different. Aside from Parakhouski, though, this team is not good on offense. They trot out no less than five players who don't produce a point per possession on offense, including Amir Johnson, who leads the team in minutes. Like Binghamton, Radford just doesn't have the profile of a typical low-seed Cinderella. They'll try to control pace, and if they do, they might keep the final margin under 20. But there's just no realistic possibility of a win, or even a game that's interesting in the last 5-10 minutes.

Kansas City is ACC country tomorrow, as both Clemson and Maryland have their opening matchups there. Maryland plays first, drawing the Cal Bears. This is actually a reasonably favorable draw for the Terps. Cal's not a particularly big team - Jamal Boykin, of all people, gets the most minutes of anyone 6'8" or above (by the way, if he's 6'8", he's grown since his transfer). Cal's also not particularly adept at forcing turnovers, and they don't block shots. In general, the Bears don't play good defense. That said, their offense is very dangerous - 12th in the country in efficiency, and the best three-point shooting team in the nation (although they don't take full advantage of that skill, shooting just 26% of their attempts from downtown, 311th in the nation). Randle, Christopher, and Robertson are all deadly from outside. Vasquez will need to have a good game for Maryland to win, but Cal should give him every opportunity to do so. I can easily see him putting the Terps on his back and carrying them into the second round.

Clemson takes the court next, in what may be the biggest contrast in styles in the first round. Clemson presses the full court, seeks to push pace and force turnovers, while Michigan controls pace, falls back in the 1-3-1 zone and shoots a lot of threes. The Wolverines have been extremely good this season at avoiding turnovers - 16th best in the country and 9th best in the tournament. What they're not, however, is a particularly strong defensive team. The only thing they do well is avoid fouls - teams shoot well, rebound well, and don't commit turnovers against Michigan. Rivers and Oglesby are going to get to shoot a lot of threes tomorrow, and KC will be charged with locking up Manny Harris. Ultimately, I think this matchup falls in Clemson's favor - Booker and Rivers can neutralize Harris and Sims (Michigan's best players), and the Tigers can generate enough turnovers to get free points. In what's likely to be a low pace game, those free points will loom larger.

ACC in the NIT

Virginia Tech and Duquesne played one heck of a game. Double overtime, with all 5 Hokie starters playing over 40 minutes. AD Vassallo, Jeff Allen, and JT Thompson led the way, although none had the game Aaron Jackson had. Setting a career high in the final game of your career is one heck of a way to go out. For the Hokies, it was a great time to have their best offensive game of the season, including 31-47 on two point shots, a .648 efg%, 1.40 PPWS, and turnovers on just 1 of every 8 possessions. The Hokies will host breakfast with the Bears next - 11am local Saturday morning against Baylor.

Miami made it a clean sweep for the two ACC teams in the NIT, winning rather comfortably at Providence. Jack McClinton had a fantastic game, knocking down 7-14 from downtown. Lance Hurdle and James Dews played some nice complimentary roles, but this was was really all about Jack. Like Mills on St. Mary's, he has the capability of carrying his team to the Garden without much help. The journey continues this weekend at Florida.

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