This time of year the mantra of winning college basketball is having great guard play. Every team reportedly needs a player that can control the tempo, knockdown shots and defend the perimeter. But what about a big fella in the middle? One who can score in the paint area and draw fouls to help his team get in the bonus shooting free throws sooner, resulting in fewer empty trips. Another example would crashing the offensive boards on errant shots for demoralizing baskets and what about having an intimidating defensive presence that makes shooters wary when they are within several feet of the rim! All four teams have individual or collective players that could be the reason they move on to Sunday’s Elite Eight.
Omar Samhan vs. the Waco Gang
Tenth-seeded St. Mary’s has much the same feel as the conference partner Gonzaga had back in 1999. That Gonzaga team went to the Elite 8, with three consecutive upsets, led by guards Matt Santangelo and Richie Frahm. Watching that team play, you were struck by the fact they looked like a collection of guys that would be playing at the health club in the not too distant future, not being Mickey D’s All-Americans with a professional career in their future.
Taking a gander at St. Mary’s (28-5, 22-9 ATS), their team has many of those same qualities except for one person, Omar Samhan. The Gaels big man is one of the finest centers in the country and a terrific example of someone who benefitted from four years of collegiate ball. He has an assortment of moves around the basket and always works to make himself available for passes to the post, which is how he’s scored 61 points in two games. Samhan this season has become a more skilled passer, able to find open shooters on the weak side as double-teams are about to arrive. He’s a very big reason why St. Mary’s is 16-6 ATS facing defensive teams forcing 14 or fewer turnovers game this season.
He and 6’11 Ben Allen will be dueling with Baylor’s big men.
The Bears (27-7, 17-10 ATS) have the size and quickness edge in the paint with 7’0 Josh Lomers and 6’10 Ekpe Udoh. It appears Udoh will probably draw Samhan on defense and he has the quickness and arm length to play denial defense and shot-blocking skill to make him hesitant. Lomers also will undoubtedly take a few turns and he has the bulk to match strength with St. Mary’s big men.
Udoh is also a rim-runner, able to play at accelerated pace, which makes him devastating dunker and exceptional offensive rebounder. Baylor’s length at several positions on the floor allows them to be 7-0 ATS vs. excellent three point shooting teams converting 41 or better of their attempts.
Baylor is a 4.5-point favorite, with total having dipped to 142 at DiamondSportsbook.com. Though Waco is a long way from Houston (where this game is being played), Texans tend to stick together and the Bears will have partisan fan-base. The Bears are 11-2 ATS having won four of their last five games and are 14-3 OVER after playing a game as favorite this season. Don’t expect St. Mary’s to be intimidated, with the gregarious Samhan always having something to say.
The Gaels are 8-1 ATS in any tournament game this year and 10-seeds are 4-7 SU against three seeds in this round. One bad note for St. Mary’s, if this 10-seed didn’t make the tournament last year (which the Gaels did not), they are 0-7 SU.
JaJuan Johnson takes on Duke brigade
Purdue (29-5, 15-18-1 ATS) lacked size before Robbie Hummel went down, now they have to find other ways to win. Coach Matt Painter has dug into the old Southern Illinois playbook (his last stop), where he made size not matter. To upset Duke as 8.5-point underdogs, the Boilermakers are going to have to win the battle on the perimeter and have Johnson create a stalemate inside.
Johnson has good moves around the basket, however, as he exhibited against the stronger Texas A&M; big men, he can go outside and bank 15-footers and comfortably make 18-footers, which opens the middle for cutters. Much like the win over the Aggies, Purdue has to manufacture points and have a high number of points per possession. The Boilers have cashed eight of previous 11 tickets as neutral site pooches.
Duke (31-5, 20-14-1 ATS) can bring tall, strong players in waves. Center Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas start things off with solid defense and score enough to have to be guarded by opponent. Next comes the Plumlee brothers, both are aggressive rebounders on each of the floor and what they lack in quicks, they make-up for by using bodies to stay fundamentally sound. Like Purdue, the Blue Devils permit 61 points per game and their opponents only convert 40.1 percent of the time. With Duke’s defense, they are 8-2 ATS after allowing 25 points or less in the first half last game this year.
The oddsmakers believe Purdue will control the tempo, with 126.5 listed total. The Boilermakers can’t allow many short Duke runs of 6-0 or 8-2, since they lack the firepower to run with the Blue Devils and are 6-13-1 ATS after a cover dating back to last season. Jon Scheyer and teammates only committed five turnovers against California last Sunday and are 8-1 ATS after a game committing eight or less miscues.
This was the only region to have expected 1 vs 4 matchup. The top seeds are 26-10 SU, winning by 8.6 points per game. A key number for the lower seed is score differential to pull the upset. Four seeds that win by 10 or more points are 7-6 when these seeds collide; all others are 3-18 SU. (Purdue is +9.9)