Posted on March 14, 2023
Washington State and Oregon are facing opponents they have already played this season, while Colorado has a tough matchup against a respectable Big East team.
I preview the three games here and my picks, along with those of Stephen Vilardo, appear at the bottom.
Eastern Washington at 4-seed Washington State
Tuesday, March 14
8:00 pm PT, ESPNU
Jabe Mullins scored 24 points against the Eagles earlier in the year, leading the Cougars to a 26-point rout in Pullman. Mullins went 8-for-11 from three while the Cougars as a team shot 15-for-30 from beyond the arc.
That’s a spectacularly efficient game that is unlikely to be repeated.
Although an NIT appearance is a respectable accomplishment for the Cougs, Eastern Washington likely views the postseason birth in a much greater light.
The matchup with Wazzu is the Eagles’ proverbial “Super Bowl” and they should come out with strong effort levels. The result could be an advantage in 50/50 balls and an early lead.
To beat EWU for the second time, Kyle Smith’s team must play strong defense. The Big Sky program is No. 69 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency metric and features three players averaging in double-figures.
With three lanky guard-forward hybrids in Steele Venters, Angelo Allegri, and Tyreese Davis, the Eagles are a capable offensive team. The trio combines to average 8.5 assists per game, too, exemplifying the pass-first mentality of EWU’s system.
Forcing turnovers and converting those mistakes into points will be key. The Eagles are turnover prone and could struggle against Smith’s defense which ranks No. 62 in KenPom’s metric.
The X-Factor is the production of Mouhamed Gueye.
On paper, Eastern Washington has serviceable options to defend him with Ethan Price and Dane Erikstrup. Both are 6-foot-10 and have the strength to potentially hamper him.
Cedric Coward is a skilled shot-blocker and potential third option, yet at 6-foot-6 is too undersized to contain Gueye.
If Gueye uses his finesse game to carve up the Eagles’ bigs while the Coug shooters are relatively efficient from three, Wazzu should advance into the next round.
Seton Hall at 2-seed Colorado
Tuesday, March 14
8:00 pm PT, ESPN2
The Big East squad features the No. 22 defense in the nation, according to KenPom, and an offense with balanced scoring. The home-court advantage in Boulder could pay dividends, yet there’s no denying the upset potential of the game.
Led by guard Al-Amir Dawes, the Pirates’ strength is their defense. Somewhat similar to Colorado on the analytics level, Seton Hall would slot in as the No. 2 defense in the Pac-12 using KenPom’s efficiency metric.
No. 41 in the country in blocked shots per game and No. 51 in turnovers forced per night, the Pirates present a defensive challenge.
But, the Big East team runs a slow-tempo offense that Boyle’s group can take advantage of.
Colorado can use its pace to score on the fast break and in transition to increase the pressure on Seton Hall. If the pace of the game is fast, the altitude could adversely affect the Pirates and CU’s home crowd should provide a boost.
In that sense, the efficiency of CU’s guards and wings could be the determining factor.
Julian Hammond III has stepped up in March and Luke O’Brien has taken steps forward. Strong nights from the duo will ease the scoring burden on Tristan da Silva and substantially help Colorado’s offensive efficiency.
The game might go a different way if it were on a neutral court, but in the confines of the CU Events Center the Buffs should get it done.
Look for Boyle’s team to play lockdown defense while his offense pushes the ball up quickly after missed shots.
UC Irvine at 1-seed Oregon
Wednesday, March 15
8:00 pm PT, ESPN2
The defeat to UC Irvine earlier in the year hurt Oregon’s NCAA Tournament resume and the time for getting even is now.
Jermaine Couisnard didn’t play in the first matchup, but Will Richardson, Rivaldo Soares, and Quincy Guerrier combined to shoot 2-for-14 from the field.
The Anteaters play with a fast tempo and have a relatively efficient offense. The Big West program averages more points per game, more assists per night, shoots a higher percentage from the field and three, and rebounds the ball at a high rate.
Still, the key to slowing down UC Irvine is containing guards Dawson Baker and DJ Davis. The two average 15.3 and 15.2 points per game, respectively, and are the heart and soul of the team.
The Ducks must force Baker and Davis into a high-volume, inefficient day from the field. Otherwise, Oregon could find itself in a shootout that might not end well.
On offense, the game plan should begin and end with N’Faly Dante. The Anteaters have some size in 6-foot-11 Dean Keeler and 7-footer Bent Leuchten, yet neither have the skill to adequately defend Dante.
Even if the Oregon big isn’t 100 percent after playing through his ankle injury, UC Irvine doesn’t have the personnel to contain him.
But, the game figures to come down to the efficiency of UO’s guard-forward hybrids. Soares and Guerrier can’t be cold from the field like they were in November while Couisnard has to hit his shots.
If the trio has a strong shooting night, Dana Altman’s team should move on to the next round.
Our Senior Writers’ Game Picks
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