Men's Basketball 2017 NCAA Tournament East Region Round of 32 Game Breakdowns

East Region Round of 32 Game Breakdowns
A slow first half of Villanova’s opening round game gave way to a more comfortable second as the Wildcats ended up blowing out Mount St. Mary’s by a score of 76-56. The margin was just one point at halftime before Villanova pinched down on defense and crushed the Mountaineers on the glass.
Wisconsin, as would be expected, had a bit more trouble with its first-round opponent, though the Badgers still advanced with a double-digit victory. Much in the same way that Nova dominated the boards in its game, so too did Wisconsin against Virginia Tech. That was somewhat easy to predict with the type of lineup the Hokies have been playing all year. What was less predictable was how little Wisconsin needed Ethan Happ and how on-fire Bronson Koenig was from start to finish.
With less foul trouble for Happ inside, another blistering shooting game from Koenig could easily propel Wisconsin over Villanova in the Round of 32. These things aren’t that simple though. Koenig, for the season, shoots just 41.7 percent from the floor and 39.3 percent from three. The Wildcat backcourt is also much more formidable physically than what VT was able to muster after the injury to Seth Allen. Just like it would be insane to imagine Koenig shooting 8-of-17 from three again, it would be impossible to see Kris Jenkins go 2-of-13 in back-to-back contests. Villanova is in good shape here. It got its wakeup call in that MSM first half. These two teams, each of which plays one of the slowest paces in the country offensively, will be ready to battle for every possession.
#4 Florida vs. #5 Virginia
The Florida Gators used a huge second half to pull away from East Tennessee State. T.J. Cromer was great for the Buccaneers, pouring in 19 points, but he didn’t have enough help. His squad also didn’t have anyone that could stick with Devin Robinson, who tied a season-high with 24 points. Robinson and company will find far fewer holes this coming round.
Virginia had its hands full with UNC Wilmington. The Cavaliers needed everything they could muster, as well as a complete substitution overhaul by Coach Tony Bennett, to advance. The team went small, sacrificed rebounding margin, and was able to generate enough movement both offensively and defensively to escape. Six guards gobbled up nearly all of UVA’s minutes, with no one else playing more than 16 minutes. Marial Shayok, who averaged just 20 minutes per game during the regular season, was the biggest beneficiary of the change in strategy.
It will be interesting to see what Bennett leans on in the Round of 32. Florida, as currently constituted, is not a large team. Virginia, regardless of lineup, has the bodies to contain Robinson and company defensively. It will come down to which Cavaliers are able to get something going offensively against a stingy UF defense. Bennett may have to flip his rotation entirely back the other way if he feels like his squad has the edge in the paint.
#3 Baylor vs. #11 USC
As has been the trend in the East Region, the Baylor Bears needed a half of basketball to get their sea legs. A two-point halftime deficit gave way to a 20-point second-half clearing. New Mexico State couldn’t hang with Baylor on the glass or with its execution from the field. The Bears shot 57.4 percent from the floor and 89.5 percent from the foul line as a team.
They will be up against the surprise of the East Regional in the USC Trojans. By all accounts, USC was the worst at-large team and very last team to make the NCAA Tournament field. It needed a massive second-half comeback to just get out of the First Four. You’d think that would have given the Trojans major momentum, which allowed them to bulldoze over SMU in the first round. Instead, USC fell down big again before coming back to win. Not only was the opponent superior, but USC used such a backwards strategy of playing zone against an exceptional outside shooting club…and it somehow worked.
The USC big boys, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, have had very nice beginnings to this tournament, but they should find it much harder to maneuver against the elastic bodies of Baylor’s front line. We will see if the inconsistency of their supporting cast comes back to bury USC or if it can build another surprising victory in this March run.
The Blue Devils had no issues with Troy in round one after topping 50 points in the first half alone. Luke Kennard had a poor shooting night, but they didn’t need him. The game was decided easy enough in two categories: three-point shooting and the turnover battle. Duke dominated both.
South Carolina was the final team to advance in the East Region. Its first half was definitely played at its opponent’s pace. Marquette was launching and knocking down numerous threes, as it’s known to do. Carolina did all it could to stick in the game, feeding off the local crowd for energy boosts. In the second half, South Carolina kicked the defense into gear, forcing 18 turnovers by game’s end, and again using the crowd to its advantage. With that defensive effort, it is so hard to defeat the Gamecocks if they shoot 52 percent from the field.
In the Round of 32 match, USC has to be feeling good about the way it is playing and the arena it is playing in. According to reporters, the Greenville crowd was much more pumped about South Carolina’s opening game than it was for national favorite Duke. The two now face off. The Gamecocks will obviously have to bring another elite defensive effort, but their offense will be key. They so rarely reach the offensive heights that they did in round one, but it may be a requirement to stick close to the Blue Devils.