Two good games are on tap in Atlanta
The Longhorns and Mountaineers played early in the season, with Texas coming away with a narrow one-point victory on a late LaMarcus Aldridge basket and his blocked shot at the buzzer. Texas turned the ball over 24 times against the Mountaineers' 1-3-1 zone trap, with 14 of those turnovers coming from the starting guards, Daniel Gibson and Kenton Paulino. To beat West Virginia in the Sweet 16, Texas has to take better care of the ball, push the ball upcourt quickly on a make or a miss, and rebound the ball effectively.
Texas has a distinct advantage on the glass. The Longhorns outrebound their opponents by almost 10 per game and have a plus-15.5 rebound margin in the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia is one of the weakest rebounding teams in the tournament, having been outrebounded by almost 10 per game.
The Mountaineers, however, make up for their rebounding deficiency from the 3-point line and with their valuing and care of the ball. West Virginia shoots more than half of its shots from behind the arc, which is an extraordinary stat, and has made more 3-point shots than free throws on the season. Plus, West Virginia turns the ball over fewer than nine times per game, second in the NCAA this year behind only Temple, and turns its opponents over 16 times per game.
In order for West Virginia to win, the Mountaineers have to hit shots from deep -- at least 10 -- and have to get deflections and disrupt the Texas offense with their 1-3-1 zone and man defenses. Mike Gansey is out top in the Mountaineers' zone and is a pivotal player, as is Kevin Pittsnogle. Expect Texas to play mostly man-to-man (but the Longhorns can also play some zone, as long as the zone is active and wide -- see the Syracuse game) and Aldridge likely will guard Pittsnogle, and he must make him into a 2-point shooter or at least make him dribble before he shoots.
Texas is a better team than it was in the early season, and it will have to be to beat West Virginia.
Let's assume J.J. Redick will get his points -- even with LSU switching off athletic defenders on him and trying to play him physically off screens -- and look at one of the most fascinating matchups of the Tournament: Glen Davis against Shelden Williams.
Although the two will not always be guarding each other because of transition pickups, they no doubt will go head-to-head during the game. Davis is 310 pounds of fun and is one of the most engaging personalities in the game. He lights up a room, and he has the chance to light up the Georgia Dome with his size and great feet. Williams is the most accomplished big man in the tournament and is very productive and hardworking. Because he can run, Williams might wind up having the advantage. The more Williams runs and keeps moving, the more the advantage swings to him.
The only way Davis will get the ball is off the offensive glass and in the low or high post. Davis is more of a face-up player than a back-to-the-basket post-up player, and he is somewhat dependent on his teammates getting him the ball.
Darrel Mitchell is a terrific guard, and has converted from the off-guard position to the point. Mitchell has done that admirably, but he is the only primary ball handler on the team. When the ball is in the hands of others, LSU is more turnover-prone. Handling pressure, limiting turnovers and getting the ball into an operating area are the keys to the game, and Mitchell is the key to LSU's chances.
LSU is wonderfully athletic but painfully young. John Brady has done an amazing job to have this team at 25-8 with so many young players in so many prominent positions. The Tigers have lost several close ones, and they have learned from those losses to become a formidable team. The Texas A&M game might not have looked pretty for LSU, but the Tigers faced some overplay and ball pressure that will simulate what they will see against Duke.
Duke is the older team, with two All-American senior stars in Williams and Redick, and that could wind up being the difference in the game.
Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, is a regular contributor to Insider.