#5 Maryland Terrapins vs. #1. Kansas Jayhawks
How They Got Here: The No. 1 overall seed Kansas Jayhawks made quick work of its first two opponents in Des Moines, which included an average scoring margin of 20 points. The Jayhawks received strong performances from guard Wayne Selden (averaged 18.0 PPG, shot 52.1 percent) and forward Perry Ellis (21.0 PPG, shot 70.4 percent) in both contests. Despite poor perimeter shooting, where the Jayhawks shot 36.3 percent from three and sporadic play from PG Frank Mason, Kansas’ offense flourished. In first two rounds, Kansas points per possession (PPP) was 1.24, one of the highest this season.
Maryland wasn’t pretty in their first weekend of play, but it didn’t matter because in the end the Terps survived to play another week. Jake Layman flashed his sharp shooting in the first round against South Dakota State. The senior forward led all scorers with 27 points, and went 7/11 (63.6%) from the field, 5/8 (62.5%) from three. Melo Trimble shot just 41.6 percent from the field against SDSU and Hawaii, however his late surge on offense propelled Maryland, as he poured in a total of 43 points. The Terps experienced erratic play from their two centerpieces in the front court, as Diamond Stone and Robert Carter only attempted 2o field goals total in both games.
Maryland Will Win If: They rebound and contend with Kansas’ bigs. In total, Maryland was -5 on the glass against a zone-oriented Hawaii and a man-to-man South Dakota State. Carter gathered a total of 20 rebounds last weekend but will need help from Layman and Stone down low. Maryland won’t see a more versatile forward this season until they encounter Perry Ellis. Shutting off his production will be head coach Mark Turgeon’s main concern, but limiting him is easier said than done.
It’s not just the quickness or craftiness that makes Ellis lethal in the post, it’s his ridiculous efficiency from the floor. The numbers speak for themselves, Ellis is averaging 16.9 PPG and in doing so is shooting 44 percent from three, and 53 percent overall. Not to mention, a 120 offensive rating while playing 75% of the team’s minutes. It is mandatory that somebody on Maryland bodies him up and is able to handle his skill-set. This role might have to be placed on true freshman Diamond Stone’s shoulders, which could either go really good or really bad for the Terps.
Kansas Will Win If: The Jayhawks are capable of finding their three-point shot again. This won’t come easy as Maryland maintains teams to shoot 32 percent from behind the arc. Sophomore Svi Mykhailiuk was a spark off the bench for Kansas against Austin Peay, scoring a career-high 23 points and connecting on four three-pointers. However, he was non-existent against UCONN, this is nothing new as Mykailiuk’s production this season hasn’t been consistent.
But Mykailiuk isn’t the major issue, it might be junior Brannen Greene, who is experiencing a serious shooting slump. Although Greene is shooting 49 percent from three this season, he has hit two of his last 14 3-point attempts, and another bad night from him could spell trouble for Kansas.
Pick: Bill Self has been coaching Kansas for 13 years and only twice as he fallen in the Sweet 16. Ironically, both were to Big Ten teams, Michigan State in 2009 and Michigan in 2013. So, is it appropriate to place the Jayhawks on upset alert against another Big Ten team in Maryland?
All season, Kansas has shown why it’s the best team in the nation by flashing their endless depth. Whether it’s found in the front court, where Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor have evolved into a mainstay defensively, or Devonte’ Graham who has risen to the occasion when Kansas needs it the most. Maryland’s strong perimeter defense will undoubtedly keep this one close, however without the Terps possessing a second ball-handler behind Trimble, this will prove to be their undoing.
#3 Miami Hurricanes vs. #2 Villanova Wildcats
How They Got Here: Miami experienced quite the parallel in playing styles in its first weekend match-ups. First, the Hurricanes dealt with Buffalo’s tantalizing 1-3-1 zone and later Wichita State’s eccentric pressure and handled both admirably. Despite being loose with the ball often — turning it over on 25 percent of its possessions last week. Guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan showed up when it mattered the most. Collectively, the duo represented 63% of the Hurricanes’ scoring in both contests, as well as shooting 53 percent overall.
When the final buzzer against Iowa, it was as if a gorilla leaped off the shoulders of Villanova head coach Jay Wright’s shoulders. The win not only stamped the Wildcats into the Sweet 16, but alleviated the pressure off Villanova as a whole. Before Sunday, the last time Wright had made it past the first week of the tournament was 2009. The Wildcats coasted through the Barclays Center without any of their starters playing extraneous minutes. Only senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono played more than 30 minutes in both contests last weekend. Arcidiacono, and forward Kris Jenkins led Nova’s offense, providing 40% of the Wildcats’ points. If there’s anything that was gained the most from their rampage through the first two rounds, it was that Villanova re-discovered its offense, albeit against two teams that ranked in the bottom half of the NCAA in defensive efficiency. But in addition to Jenkins and Arcidiacono’s prolific perimeter shooting, where the duo amassed to drain 55% of their long-range shots. Mikal Bridges emerged as Villanova’s primary weapon off the bench, as he went 8/12, and tallied 18 points on an average of 20 minutes of playing time.
Miami Will Win If: Guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan show up and play at the elite level that they’re capable of. Playing under control was something that was heavily apparent during Miami’s second-round win over Wichita State, where the duo dominated, destroyed, and carried the Canes into the second weekend. Rodriguez will need to score inside and out against Nova’s bigger guards, although Rodriguez’s best option may very well be to get out in transition, where his superior athleticism will shine. McClellan poses himself as the perfect second option because of his ability to cut to the basket. In addition his ability to defend sets himself apart over most Hurricane players.
Villanova Will Win If: They stay discipline on defense. The Wildcats cruised to easy wins in the first two rounds, partially because they were quicker and more athletic than their opponents. That won’t be the case vs. Miami, and ‘Nova has struggled this season against teams with good length and athleticism. Guards Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono are going to be forced to work hard on the defensive end to stay in front of the Hurricanes’ guards, and that could become an issue late in the game when fresh legs are important. Offensively, Hart can get to the basket at will, and Arcidiacono brings a steady hand that helps Villanova excel in the halfcourt game. The Wildcats will need to get plenty from forward Daniel Ochefu, a tough rebounder who can stuff a box score. He doesn’t have to score to make an impact, but if he can rebound and defend well, Villanova will be in good shape.
Pick: This stage is basically uncharted waters for both teams. As Miami has never reached the Sweet 16 ever as a program, whereas Villanova will try to keep the momentum going and advance to the Elite 8 for the first time since 2009.
The Wildcats have been great all year, but they will have a tough time dealing with Miami’s quickness in the backcourt. Look for the Hurricanes to try to push the tempo while ‘Nova tries to slow it down, and Rodriguez’s ability to impose his will on a game will be key. If Miami controls the tempo, especially by installing forward Kamari Murphy and center Tonye Jekiri into the offensive game plan, then Villanova will be going home.