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Sweet 16 Breakdowns: How the Midwest will be won

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The Midwest arguably has the most coaching prowess left in the tournament.

Bill Self is a lock to be a Hall of Famer eventually. John Beilein may one day join him there. Dana Altman is widely regarded as one of the best offensive coaches in the sport, and Matt Painter is pretty good for the fourth-best coach left in the Sweet 16.

How will those four men guide their teams through the second weekend of the tournament?

No. 1 KANSAS

How they can get to the Final Four: The biggest thing for the Jayhawks is going to be staying out of foul trouble, particularly in their Sweet 16 matchup with Purdue. The Boilermakers have the biggest, most physical front line in college basketball with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, and when you throw in Vincent Edwards, who has been playing the four for the Boilermakers when they go to a smaller lineup, the three front court pieces for Purdue draw a combined 17.8 fouls per 40 minutes. If they advance, it won’t be any easier to deal with a potential matchup with Michigan, whose bigs are just as dangerous.

Kansas? They have one big man that has consistently proven to be able to handle the paint against quality competition, and that is Landen Lucas. Carlton Bragg, Dwight Coleby, Mitch Lightfoot: those guys have been good for fouls and sparing Lucas a few minutes here and there, but Bill Self doesn’t want to be in a position where he has to rely on those guys for major minutes.

Beyond that, the key for Kansas is going to be taking advantage of Josh Jackson’s ability to play the four in college. As good as Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are in the back court, Jackson is probably the most indispensable piece on the roster. He’s a potential No. 1 overall pick as a two-guard, but he averages 7.2 boards, he can block shots and he’s tough enough that he isn’t going to get bullied by college fours. He’s the perfect small-ball piece, and he’s what makes the Jayhawks hard to guard while remaining respectable on the defensive end of the floor.

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

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Why they won’t get to the Final Four: This is not your typical Kansas team on the defensive end of the floor. Part of that is they essentially play four guards, which hurts them on the defensive glass and limits them in the post. Part of it is because Lucas has to be diplomatic when it comes to what shots he decides he’s going to try and block at the rim. Part of it is because Mason and Graham, who are both terrific defenders in a vacuum, have to pace themselves when they are playing close to 40 minutes a night.

The Jayhawks have made a habit of taking total control of a game in the final eight minutes, and a big reason for that is because they don’t kick things into high-gear until the stretch run. That’s why you see them involved in so many close games. But when they lose, that comes back to bite them. Indiana scored 103 points and hit 15 threes when they beat Kansas. Iowa State had 85 points and 18 threes in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. West Virginia and TCU, neither of whom are known as offensive juggernauts, both put up 85 points as well.

The Jayhawks margin of error isn’t as big as it is for other teams, and if they get caught on a night where, say, Purdue’s guards are hitting threes or Tyler Dorsey or Derrick Walton are going crazy from deep, they could be in trouble.

(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

No. 3 OREGON

How they can get to the Final Four: Oregon is such a difficult team to guard when they have Dillon Brooks at the four, and that is how they have to play now that Chris Boucher is done for the year with a torn ACL. Brooks is big enough and strong enough that he can hold his own on the defensive end of the floor against most fours, and he’s such a talented scorer on the perimeter that the mismatches are typically a net positive for the Ducks.

The other reason Oregon can get to a Final Four?

Tyler Dorsey is playing out of his mind.

Oregon has played five postseason games, and he’s scored at least 21 points in all five of them, averaging 23.6 points while shooting 64.6 percent from the floor and 53.6 percent from three. He had 27 points on 9-for-10 shooting in the second round win over Rhode Island, and that included a game-winning 23-footer with 36 seconds left in the game. When Dorsey is playing like that, the Ducks more or less have two guys on their roster than can get a bucket any time they want. Throw in a coach as talented as Dana Altman is, and that is a dangerous combination.

Why they won’t get to the Final Four: Losing Boucher took away some of Oregon’s defensive ability. What made him so effective was that he let Oregon play big defensively and add rim protection without losing any of their floor-spacing thanks to his ability to shoot threes.

This becomes a real concern against a Michigan team that has two 6-foot-10 forwards with three-point range and the ability to score in the post, particularly when D.J. Wilson just may be athletic enough to stick with Brooks on the perimeter. The Ducks could use Bigby-Williams in that situation, but again, that takes away so much of what they want to do on the offensive end of the floor.

Once Oregon gets past Michigan, things won’t get any easier for them. They’ll either have to deal with that massive Purdue front line or they’ll have Josh Jackson, one of the best perimeter defenders in college basketball, chasing around Brooks.

Frankly, I think Oregon has the toughest matchups of any team left in the Midwest Region.

It’s a good thing Brooks, Dorsey and Altman don’t need good matchups to get wins.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

No. 4 PURDUE

How they can get to the Final Four: His name is Caleb Swanigan.

It really is that simple.

Swanigan is the most dominant force in college basketball this season. He simply overpowers defenders, in the post, and when you send help, he’s able to pass out of it to one of Purdue’s multitude of shooters. The Boilermakers are sixth nationally in three-point percentage.

And here’s the best part about that: Everyone in the Midwest Region has issues with their front court. Kansas has basically one big man that can be trusted to guard Swanigan in Landen Lucas. Oregon has two, and as good as Jordan Bell is, this is where losing Chris Boucher and his ability to block shots and hit threes is going to hurt. Kavell Bigby-Williams is good, but he’s can’t do the same things as Boucher. Michigan’s bigs are not as physical as Swanigan, although the Wolverines have won both of the matchups between those two teams this season.

Swanigan’s presence opens things up for everyone else on Purdue’s roster.

Why they won’t get to the Final Four: There are three things that the Boilermakers struggle with on the defensive end of the floor. One of them is a quick and athletic back court that can put pressure on them with penetration, and that’s precisely what Kansas has at their disposal. To that same end, Purdue also has issues with ball-screening actions, as Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas are not exactly know for their defensive prowess. Along those same lines, the Boilermakers can struggle when they play against teams with mobile big men. In each those two games, one of D.J. Wilson or Mo Wagner went for at least 24 points.

All three of the teams left in the Midwest do some variety of the things that Purdue struggles against.

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

No. 7 MICHIGAN

How they can get to the Final Four: The Wolverines have become such a lethal offensive attack that when they are playing their best, they can beat anyone. Think about how hard this lineup is to guard:

  • Derrick Walton Jr. has been playing like one of the best point guards in college basketball over the course of the last six weeks. He’s reached Trey Burke circa 2013 territory.
  • Duncan Robinson (42.5 percent), Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (39.3 percent) and Zak Irvin (34.1 percent) are all lethal shooters from the perimeter, dangerous enough that you cannot comfortable help off of them.
  • D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner play the majority of the minutes together in the Michigan front court. Both are mobile and 6-foot-10, both can score in the post and both are very good three-point shooters, making a combined 82 threes on the season at a 38.7 percent clip.

The Wolverines spread the floor as well as anyone, and they do it with a dominant point guard and a pair of bigs that can overpower smaller defenders in the post and take bigger defenders to the perimeter. Both Oregon, their Sweet 16 opponent, and Kansas like to play with a small-ball four, and Dillon Brooks and Josh Jackson, respectively, are going to have a tough time dealing with those big men.

In other words, Michigan makes you play big even though you know you can’t guard them when you play big. Vintage John Beilein.

Why they won’t get to the Final Four: The Wolverines are the worst defensive team left in the tournament this side of UCLA. They currently rank 73rd in KenPom in defensive efficiency, and in the KenPom era — which dates back to 2002 — there have only been three teams to rank outside the top 70 in defensive efficiency while making a Final Four. Butler and VCU were both outside the top 70 in 2011 in that Final Four where there wasn’t a top two seed. Dwyane Wade’s Marquette team in 2003 was the third.

That’s a bad sign.

A good sign?

In 2013, the last time Michigan and John Beilein got to a Final Four, the Wolverines were 66th in defensive efficiency.

Aaron Holiday’s value on full display as No. 23 UCLA beats Wisconsin

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With the trio of Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton starting on the perimeter, UCLA point guard Aaron Holiday was forced into a supplementary role as a sophomore last season. With all three of those players gone and another highly-regarded freshman class on campus, Holiday is in a position of leadership for a UCLA program that saw its depth vanish due to the suspensions of three players who were caught shoplifting in China earlier this month.

Holiday’s been the leader the Bruins needed at this point in the season, with Tuesday’s 72-70 win over Wisconsin (2-3) in the third-place game of the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City being his best outing of the season to date. Holiday capped the game with a layup with eight tenths of a second remaining to give UCLA (4-1) the win, but it was his play throughout that afforded the Bruins the opportunity to avoid suffering a second defeat in as many nights.

Holiday was efficient throughout, scoring 18 points (14 in the second half) on 7-for-12 shooting from the field and dishing out five assists without committing a turnover. The junior led five Bruins in double figures, and on a night in which a few of his teammates struggled to take care of the basketball — Prince Ali and G.G. Goloman were responsible for 11 of the team’s 19 turnovers — Holiday’s work with the ball in his hands was critical.

UCLA trailed by as much as 12 late in the first half, with their 5-0 spurt to finish the stanza giving Steve Alford’s team a boost of sorts heading into the locker room. Holiday’s layup just before the buzzer was the final basket of that run, and he would make one three-pointer and assist on another as UCLA managed to regain the lead before the first media timeout of the second half.

A dogged defender on the perimeter, Holiday’s offensive skill set and poise were incredibly important for UCLA Tuesday night and will continue to be throughout the season. While there are some veterans on the roster in addition to Holiday, most notably Thomas Welsh, UCLA will have to rely on newcomers in key positions as well (Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, especially).

Having Aaron Holiday to call upon gives UCLA a safety net of sorts; he rarely gets out of control and puts in the work on both ends of the floor night in and night out. That was the case Tuesday night at a time when UCLA needed him most, and thanks to Aaron Holiday’s play down the stretch the Bruins found a way to escape Kansas City with a win.

No. 19 Louisville doubles up Southern Illinois, 84-42

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Three games wasn’t too soon for No. 19 Louisville to enjoy a blowout after winning its first two the hard way.

Jordan Nwora came off the bench to score a career-high 18 points, Deng Adel had 16 points and the Cardinals coasted past Southern Illinois 84-42 on Tuesday night.

After scraping past George Mason and Nebraska-Omaha, the Cardinals (3-0) had a surprisingly easy time against the Salukis (2-1) once they got past the early moments. They turned a 9-6 deficit into a 29-18 halftime lead before putting put it out of reach, leading 65-30 with 6:47 remaining.

Louisville still has work ahead trying to develop chemistry with seven newcomers and a first-time coach. But the Cardinals finally saw how it looked with everyone in sync and focused.

“We wanted to come out and play well for 40 minutes and get a win,” said Louisville interim coach David Padgett, whose team shot 59 percent in the second half and 45 percent overall.

Credit the Cardinals’ youngsters for shifting things into high gear on both ends of the court.

Though the teams combined to shoot just 11 of 47 from behind the arc, Louisville’s freshmen found their mark late to help the Cardinals finish 8 of 26. Nwora had 12 career points coming in but made 4 of 6 shots in the first half for 10 points and set the tone along with Adel (12).

Louisville’s defense created offensive chances in the second half that allowed many to benefit.

“We weren’t shooting the ball well and just let the offense come to us,” said Nwora, who finished 7 of 10 from the field and grabbed eight rebounds.

“We were a little sluggish. We just knew we had to keep playing defense. He (Padgett) just said the offense will come.”

Dwayne Sutton had eight points with two 3s, guard Darius Perry had 10 points and forward Lance Thomas (five points) added one from deep for Louisville.

Louisville held SIU to a season-low 27 percent shooting, including just 3 of 21 from long range. The Salukis’ 42 points tied for their eighth-lowest total all time.

Armon Fletcher had 14 points and seven rebounds for SIU while junior center Kavion Pippen, nephew of NBA great Scottie Pippen, had 10 points.

“Their press was kind of different,” Fletcher said. “Those guys, they’re long and athletic. . We needed to run our patterns that we’d practiced. When we did, we got good shots on the other end. We’ve just got to finish around the basket.”

BIG PICTURE

Southern Illinois: Despite missing their first 11 shots, the Salukis regrouped to grab a 9-6 lead. That didn’t last long as Louisville outscored them 16-2 over 5:17 and 23-9 the rest of the first half. Inside scoring was tough against the taller Cardinals, who won that category 40-24. SIU managed to stay close on the glass for a while before eventually being beaten there 49-40. Sixteen turnovers leading to 19 Louisville points also hurt.

Louisville: The Cardinals still have a lot of rough edges, but showed much more intensity from the first two games. “That’s what our defense is capable of,” Adel said. “The first two games, it wasn’t there. … We are going to need that type of defense the whole season.” They dominated bench scoring 49-10, which they have needed in hopes of finding depth. Adel had another good game against SIU, scoring in double digits with seven rebounds after registering 12 points and 12 rebounds last December for his first career double-double.

BIRTHDAY GIFT

Louisville is 6-0 all time on Nov. 21, the birthdate of longtime sports information director Kenny Klein.

UP NEXT

Southern Illinois faces another Kentucky school on Saturday when it visits Murray State.

Louisville hosts Saint Francis (Pennsylvania) on Friday night to conclude its season-opening, four-game home stand.

___

For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

No. 16 Aggies win Progressive Classic behind Williams

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NEW YORK (AP) — Robert Williams had 21 points and 10 rebounds to lead No. 16 Texas A&M to a 98-87 victory over Penn State in the championship game of the Progressive Legends Classic on Tuesday night at Barclays Center.

Duane Wilson led the Aggies (4-0) with 22 points while Tyler Davis chipped in 15, Admon Gilder had 14 and Tonny Torcha-Morelos finished with 11.

Despite getting a career-high 31 points from Tony Carr, Penn State (5-1) lost its first game of the season. Lamar Stevens added 25 points for Penn State.

The Aggies took a 42-40 lead into halftime due to Williams’ two-hand follow jam with 4 seconds left in the half. Seven of the eight players who got into the game in the first half for Texas A&M scored, led by Williams’ 12.

And the Aggies needed every point, as Carr was a one-man offensive onslaught for the Nittany Lions. Carr had 21 points in the opening half on 7-of-8 shooting including 2 for 2 from 3-point range. He made 5 of 6 free throws.

Texas A&M took a 63-51 lead on Wilson’s scoop layup 6:41 into the second half. Wilson’s layup was the culmination of a stretch in which the Aggies outscored the Nittany Lions 21-11.

Following Wilson’s layup, Penn State coach Pat Chambers called time out. DJ Hogg hit a 3 for the Aggies, Gilder made two free throws and Williams finished a 2-on-1 break with a two-handed jam off an alley-oop pass which pushed the lead to 70-53.

Penn State used an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 70-61.

After a layup by Gilder pushed the lead to 72-61, the Nittany Lions scored the next five points on a layup by Carr and three free throws from Stevens. That was as close as they would get.

Williams was named tournament MVP, and was joined on the all-tournament team by Wilson, Carr, Stevens and Oklahoma State’s Jeffrey Carroll.

BIG PICTURE:

PENN STATE: The positive for Penn State is that Carr and Stevens combined for 56 points. The negative? The rest of the Nittany Lions totaled 31.

TEXAS A&M: The defensively stout Aggies were able to flex their offensive muscle against Penn State. Texas A&M made 33 of 54 shots (61 percent) from the field and knocked down 26 of 29 (89.7 percent) free throws.

NOTABLE:

PENN STATE: In the Chambers Era, the Nittany Lions are 4-3 all-time in games played in New York City, and 2-2 at games held at Barclays Center.

TEXAS A&M: The Aggies improved to 4-0 all-time against the Nittany Lions. Texas A&M is 2-0 at neutral site venues against Penn State.

UP NEXT:

PENN STATE: Hosts Oral Roberts on Friday.

TEXAS A&M: Hosts Pepperdine on Friday.

___

For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Trayvon Reed ends up on wrong end of Udoka Azubuike dunk

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Listed at 7-feet, 280 pounds, Kansas redshirt freshman Udoka Azubuike is an imposing figure on the basketball court. If he gets his defender pinned underneath the basket, there’s a good chance that Azubuike is going to finish things off with a powerful dunk.

That’s exactly what happened in the first half of Kansas’ home game against Texas Southern, with 7-foot-2 center Trayvon Reed being on the receiving end of a vicious poster-worthy dunk. Had this been on a fast break maybe Reed has the opportunity to make a “business decision.” No such luck in a half-court set, however.

Jalek Felton serves up first poster dunk of collegiate career

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The final seconds of No. 9 North Carolina’s 96-72 win at Stanford Monday night proved to be far more eventful than many anticipated, thanks to freshman guard Jalek Felton. The nephew of former Tar Heel point guard and 2005 national champion Raymond Felton, Jalek drove towards the basket with Stanford’s 6-foot-11 sophomore big man Trevor Stanback standing in the way.

The attempt to stop Felton at the rim did not work out well for Stanback. And someone on the North Carolina bench was so fired up about the dunk that he broke into a full sprint towards the baseline.

North Carolina played the game, with Stanford being coached by one of Roy Williams’ former players in Jerod Haase, ahead of its trip to Portland for the inaugural PK80 event.