Category: Session previews

Kentucky Wildcats' Kidd-Gilchrist celebrates with teammates Miller and Davis as Indiana Hoosiers' Zeller walks off the floor during their men's NCAA South Regional basketball game in Atlanta

Previewing Sunday’s Elite Eight action


Baylor may be the least popular team in the country tomorrow afternoon.

And contrary to what Baylor fans will believe, that fact has nothing to do with their head coach wouldn’t win many popularity contests or that their team spent the majority of the season folding when they were faced with an elite opponent.

It will, however, have everything to do with the fact that the team they are playing — No. 1 seed Kentucky — just so happens to be the heated in-state rival of Louisville, their would-be opponent in the Final Four. That’s the game that everyone wants to see. Those are the stories that everyone wants to read. Those are the teams that would draw the most eyeballs to TV and bring the biggest crowds to New Orleans.

And given the way that Kentucky has been playing of late, it should come as no surprise that many consider it a foregone conclusion that Big Blue Nation will be headed to the Big Easy.

That’s perfect for Baylor.

The Bears are as talented as anyone left in this tournament, and they are playing as well and as confidently as they have all season long. They are one of the few teams in the country that can matchup with Kentucky athletically. They have big bodies in the paint and a talented point guard that is unafraid of taking and making a big shot.

They have all the pieces needed to take down the Wildcats if Kentucky’s players decide to look forward to next weekend instead of focusing on this afternoon.

Of course, Kentucky-Baylor is not the only game of the day, as North Carolina will tip off against Kansas in St. Louis at 5:05 pm. And the story line that everyone will be following in that game involves Kendall Marshall and the wrist heard ’round the world.

The latest?

Marshall is questionable. He dribbled a basketball for the first time yesterday, but he still has pain and needs a better range of motion in the wrist. Even if Marshall does suit up, there is reason to be skeptical about his effectiveness. He’ll be playing more or less one-handed, and doing so after not touching a ball for a week.

And while Stilman White played well in Marshall’s stead — finishing with six assists and no turnovers — the concern is that, as a team, UNC had 24 turnovers against Ohio. The rest of the roster tried to do too much against the Bobcats, and the result was some ugly offense.

Seeing Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey go up against Tyler Zeller and John Henson will be a treat. But if Tyshawn Taylor is able to break out of his slump, than UNC is going to be in big trouble against the Jayhawks.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Kentucky’s the favorite, but Indiana is a dangerous matchup

Kentucky v Indiana

Indiana played pretty close to a perfect game on December 10th.

That was the day that the Hoosiers, then undefeated but unranked, knocked off Kentucky in one of the season’s best games with one of the year’s most memorable shots.

Indiana shot 9-15 from three that day. They won the battle of the back boards, they put five players in double figures and they managed to get Anthony Davis — who never fouls — into foul trouble.

The problem, however, is that many of the issues that Kentucky faced they brought upon themselves. Like, for example, the fact that Terrence Jones spent much of the second half pouting about the fact that he wasn’t playing well. He finished the game with four points, one rebound and six turnovers in 28 minutes. Jones seems to have gotten his head screwed back on over the last couple of month, which should make him a different player.

The other issue is that while Davis did get in foul trouble against the Hoosiers the first time they played, that was basically the last time he’s had foul problems. In the 27 games he’s played since then, Davis has committed three fouls just four times, hasn’t picked up four fouls in a game and has gone without a foul three times.

Need I mention the fact that Marquis Teague is playing his best basketball of the season and Verdell Jones III is out with a torn ACL?

And you’re wondering why this game has all-but been given to Kentucky already?

That said, you’d be crazy to think that the Hoosiers won’t come to play. Remember, this is an Indiana team playing with house money right now. Not only have they already beaten Kentucky this season — having confidence you can win against a team of Kentucky’s stature is half the battle — but they’ve made it farther than anyone expected them to.

Indiana wasn’t supposed to be in the NCAA tournament this year, let alone in the Sweet 16. They were called overrated for months after their hot start. They were a trendy pick to get knocked off in the first weekend. And yet, here they are.

Playing the overwhelming favorite to win the national title who just so happens to be a heated rival.

Indiana has nothing to lose. And that’s what makes them so dangerous.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Sweet 16 Previews: Baylor’s zone vs. Xavier’s ball-screens

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Lehigh v Xavier
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Ed Isaacson of contributed to this post.

Back in November, if I were to have told you that there would be a Sweet 16 matchup between Baylor and Xavier, you wouldn’t have been surprised. Both team were in the top 15 nationally, both teams had rosters stocked with talent surrounding a potential all-american. But were considered favorites to win their league.

But for a variety of reasons — The irony here? One team’s season changed when they got in a fight while the other is criticized for not putting up enough of a fight. — both the Musketeers and the Bears had seasons that didn’t exactly coincide with the expectations they had coming in. As recently as the first week of March, I’m not sure that there was anyone that would have picked this Sweet 16 as something that could happen.

Well, here we are. For the fourth time in the last five seasons, Xavier made their way through the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. UNC, Michigan State and Kansas are the only other programs that can make that claim, and none of them has made it this far all five years. With a win, Xavier will be advancing to their second Elite 8 in the last five seasons and third since 2004. That’s impressive.

What may be more impressive, however, is that Scott Drew is now just one win away from his second Elite 8 appearance in the last three seasons. Say what you want about his coaching ability or how he handles himself as a recruiter and I may not disagree with you. But it is inarguable that getting Baylor to the Elite 8 twice in three seasons, especially given the fact that this program was very nearly wiped from the face of college hoops thanks to Dave Bliss, is an accomplishment.

Now that that’s done, on to the game.

What’s more intriguing to me about this game is the matchup between Tu Holloway and Pierre Jackson. Jackson and Holloway are different players — Jackson is quicker and more athletic while Holloway is bigger, longer and more physical — but they player essentially the same role for their respective teams: penetrating point guards that can score big and want the ball in the clutch.

That has been magnified in the NCAA tournament, as both Holloway (25.5% to 31.4%) and Jackson (26.0% to 30.4%) have seen their usage rate spike. The reasons aren’t exactly the same — Holloway is Xavier’s leader and go-to guy while Jackson has had to make up for the fact that Perry Jones has been a no-show thus far — but the bottom-line is that both players have become more important to their team’s success.

And for both players, the pick-and-roll happens to be where they get the majority of their offense. Here’s a handy-dandy breakdown of how Jackson and Holloway perform in the pick-and-roll, and how well Baylor and Xavier defend it as a team:


What’s notable in that chart is how heavily Holloway — and Xavier, for that matter — rely on the pick-and-roll to be able to score.

I’ve written plenty about how bad Baylor’s zone is capable of being, but if there was ever a situation where I would recommend playing zone, this would be it.

Screening the zone is possible, however. Here are two examples from Xavier’s win over Notre Dame. In the first you’ll see Jeff Robinson set a screen on the inside of one of the zone’s top defenders:


This creates a gap for Mark Lyons to dribble into, giving him an open 17 jumper:


In this next example, you’ll see Lyons setting a guard-to-guard screen on the outside of one of Notre Dame’s top defenders:


A lot of times, you’ll see the guard try to penetrate off of this screen as it opens up one of the gaps in the 2-3. This is a set play, however. As Davis dribbles off the screen, Dez Wells and Andre Walker set back-screens on the opposite wing and the middle defender in the zone:


And Davis finds Frease wide-open for a dunk:


(*I know Holloway isn’t in either of these ball-screens, but these were the two best examples I found in the tape.)

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.