The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is the most exciting for fans, with virtually non-stop action for four days straight. It is the second weekend of the tournament, though, that really gets interesting, and this season is no exception. With 14 of the top 16 seeds still remaining — including all four in the West region — there will be plenty of tough matchups in the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8.
This is nothing new for Michigan, who is making its third straight appearance in the second weekend. The Wolverines are joined by a couple of top-notch defensive squads in No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 4 Florida State, with the country’s best offense lurking in No. 1 Gonzaga. No opponent will be an easy victory, but that is a given at this time of year.
No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders
Kenpom: 7 overall; 33 offense, 1 defense
Barttorvik: 5 overall; 23 offense, 2 defense
Much has been made of the upcoming slugfest between Michigan and Texas Tech, as the two schools have traded the top spot in adjusted defensive efficiency back and forth all year. While the Red Raiders ended in the top slot via Kenpom, the difference is negligible. Both squads are excellent at limiting field goal accuracy inside the arc and from deep, and neither has allowed over 0.90 PPP in the tournament.
While the Wolverines never foul and clean up the defensive glass pretty well, Texas Tech ranks in the top 10 in both blocks and forced turnovers. The former could be an issue for Michigan, but the Maize and Blue should be able to win the rebound battle. Turnovers, meanwhile, are likely to be the true determining factor of who advances on Thursday.
Texas Tech is the better shooting team, but Michigan has a better adjusted offensive efficiency rating. Part of this is due to strength of schedule (19th vs. 44th), but another big component is turnover rate; the Wolverines are third best in the country while the Red Raiders are just 152nd.
This could end up hurting Texas Tech on both ends of the floor. Michigan will not gift the defense with many steals and opportunities in transition, while the Red Raider offense is likely to make some mistakes against the Wolverine D. When two teams are this similar in both quality and composition, every little detail counts. Look for turnovers to be the deciding factor on Thursday.
No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Kenpom: 2 overall; 1 offense, 17 defense
Barttorvik: 2 overall; 2 offense, 11 defense
Make as many comments as desired about quality of competition, but this Gonzaga team is the real deal. The Bulldogs have the longest active streak with five straight Sweet 16s, and this squad is as good as any of the past iterations. The number one offense by efficiency, Gonzaga is averaging over 1.25 PPP in the tournament.
No team is better at making twos, and the Bulldogs are not too shabby from three either. Their offense ranks near the top in not turning the ball over and not getting blocked, and they really do not have any obvious weaknesses. Even though most of their shots come from inside the arc, they do not draw a ton of fouls, which does fit Michigan’s profile, but they would still be able to generate offense against the Wolverines.
The defense sits in the top 20, but it is definitely the second fiddle for this team. The three legitimate opponents that Gonzaga faced in the non-conference portion of the schedule were all able to score with some level of regularity: Duke averaged 1.21 PPP, Tennessee posted 1.12 PPP, and North Carolina hit 1.23 PPP.
Michigan might have trouble reaching marks that high, but its defense is better on paper than all three of these squads and should be able to keep the Wolverines in the game. The biggest challenge would be protecting the paint without getting into foul trouble and finding enough points on the other end against a defense that did record a top 10 ranking in effective field goal percentage. Gonzaga is a very good team. The Bulldogs are not unbeatable, but they are completely deserving of their No. 1 seed.
No. 4 Florida State Seminoles
Kenpom: 14 overall; 28 offense, 10 defense
Barttorvik: 14 overall; 30 offense, 14 defense
Gonzaga should be able to take care of Florida State on Thursday, but it also looked that way on paper last season when the Seminoles handled the Bulldogs in the Sweet 16 to set up a contest with Michigan in the Elite 8. They held tough for much of the game but just could not do enough on offense, scoring only 0.84 PPP with a 35.3 percent eFG against a lights-out Wolverine defense.
One year later, the Seminoles have gotten better on both ends of the court, especially defensively. Opponents have struggled to score inside the arc and have endured a hearty number of blocks this season. There may not be one particular area where Florida State is far and away ahead of the rest of the country, but it boasts a solid overall profile and can win games in multiple ways.
If a rematch against Michigan does occur, turnovers could be the main problem, just like they might be for Texas Tech. The Seminole defense has recorded a 20.4 percent turnover rate this season, but the offense is just 207th in the country at protecting the ball. The Wolverine offense is unlikely to be harassed effectively, and sloppy play on the other end could be hazardous for Florida State. Anything can happen in March, but it is difficult when the three other teams in the pod all boast a top-two unit on one end or the other.