Brownlow’s GIFs: Duke, Carolina want to flex their pedigree in Sweet 16
Y’all say you don’t like chalk? Well, you can save it. Of the Sweet 16 teams, 11 were in the top 13 of Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings (13 were in the top 20) and 9 of the top 12 adjusted defenses were there (12 of the top 19). All 16 teams were in the top 15 of one of those two things. AND all eight of the nation’s top offenses were still alive, including all three of the ACC’s. So I, personally, don’t mind a little bit of chalk if it means we get to see the best.
And if we do get chalk? It might mean that some teams got some revenge, including Duke and Gonzaga.
So let’s get to the Sweet 16 GIFs!
NO. 5 AUBURN (28-9) VS. NO. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (29-6)
Time: 7:29 p.m. TV: TBS
The logical thing one might expect to see when North Carolina and Auburn get together is, well, a track meet. We know North Carolina is going to want to run. Auburn is a middle of the road team in tempo, but 64th in number of seconds used on offensive possessions - it’s the 18.5 seconds they force opponents to burn on defense, likely due at least in part to their pressure, that drags their tempo down. But the Tigers had 26 fast break points IN THE FIRST HALF in their second round win over Kansas. That is ... remarkable. For perspective, North Carolina has more fastbreak points than that IN A GAME just twice (27 against Louisville in the ACC Tournament and a season-high 29 against Tennessee Tech back in November). The way North Carolina pushes the ball isn’t always counted as “fastbreak”, but the Tar Heels are going to want to run and it seems like Auburn will be willing to oblige.
But one reason the Tigers run is that they like to force turnovers. In fact, they lead the nation in defensive turnover percentage. Nine of Auburn’s last 10 opponents have turned it over on at least a fifth of their possessions (Auburn has won all 10, by the way). Auburn is 2-6 this season when its opponents turn it over on less than 20% of their possessions and 26-3 when they go over that mark. (NC State turned it over on 28.4% of their possessions, which was the highest percentage Auburn’s defense forced in a loss all year - by a lot.) Similarly, Auburn is 3-5 when it turns it over on more than 20% of its own possessions and 25-4 when it’s less than that. North Carolina has had its issues with turnovers this year but not as much lately; the Tar Heels have turned it over on more than 20% of their possessions just 10 times all year and just three times since February - but once was against Washington’s aggressive zone (22%) last Saturday. North Carolina has also been outscored in points off turnovers in five of the last seven games.
Another thing to watch out for with Auburn is if they get up the court in transition, you’re apt to see them shoot a 3-pointer. Because they shoot a lot of them. Auburn has attempted less than 48% of its shots from the 3-point line just once since February 13, and it lost that game.
And do you know why Auburn shoots a lot of 3-pointers? Because Auburn MAKES a lot of 3-pointers. The Tigers have shot over 35% from the 3-point line now in seven straight games and in nine of their last 10 (again, remember, they’ve won all 10). On the year, they’ve shot below 35% from 3 just 11 times and went 6-5 when they did. North Carolina has allowed 10 teams to shoot better than 40% from 3 and went 6-4 in those games.
And of course, worth nothing about Auburn’s defense is that it is bad against almost everything else except forcing turnovers. Opponents shoot 35.3% from 3 against them (225th nationally) and 51% from 2 (213th); Auburn also allows opponents to retrieve 33.2% of their missed shots (334th nationally).
NAMES TO KNOW
Bryce Brown. Auburn’s senior shooting guard certainly lives up to the name of his position, having taken 321 3-pointers in 37 games for the Tigers (8.7 attempts per game!). But he takes a lot of 3-pointers because he makes a lot of them - 131, to be exact, or 40.8%. Of the six player’s on Auburn’s roster who have attempted at least 93 3-pointers, he’s taken the most. He’ll shoot from 2 as well - he has over 100 of those and shoots over 50% - but it’s from 3 where he’s most lethal. And no matter what kind of game he’s having, as the saying goes, shooters like Brown will indeed shoot. He’s had two games all year when he didn’t make a 3-pointer - one was in an overtime win over UAB and then again in the very next game at NC State, where he attempted a season-low four 3-pointers. He also had six turnovers. He can get steals here and there but he has cut way down on his turnovers (he has just three in Auburn’s last five games) and doesn’t pick up fouls (he has not had more than two fouls since February 20). Most teams have had success against him by limiting his attempts - during Auburn’s 10-game win streak, he’s attempted at least eight 3-pointers in every game and he has attempted eight or fewer in seven of Auburn’s nine losses. That’s not always North Carolina’s game, but maybe it will need to be with Brown being so lethal. Against Kansas, he had 25 points on 9 of 13 shooting and was a ridiculous 7 of 11 from 3; those 7 3-pointers tied a season high and it took him 19 attempts the only other time he did it. If Kenny Williams’ hamstring is hobbling him at all, he - and North Carolina - are going to have a long night.
Cam Johnson. It’s easy to let UNC’s best and most consistent player get lost in the fray, but you shouldn’t! Because he’s averaging 17 points in two NCAA Tournament games on 12 of 23 shooting (7 of 16 from 3) and has 11 assists to one turnover, adding 10 rebounds. He did pick up four fouls against Washington, which is unlike him, but his efficiency rating against one of the best defenses in college basketball in Washington - 177 was his highest individual efficiency since Tennessee Tech back on November 16 (and that was just in 19 minutes). He’s not made at least two 3-pointers in nine straight games and has scored at least 10 points in 16 straight. Johnson has just been so wonderfully dependable and efficient for UNC, but he’s also been their best and most consistent 3-point shooter. In a game like this one, North Carolina is going to need all of the 3-pointers it can get and if it can’t count on Johnson for the first time in forever, it could be trouble.
North Carolina Win: Have to use a Bruce Pearl GIF.
North Carolina Loss:
North Carolina, 89-80. Auburn is dangerous. But it feels like getting into a track meet with North Carolina is always a bad plan, no matter how good of a shooting team Auburn is.
NO. 4 VIRGINIA TECH (26-8) VS. NO. 1 DUKE (31-5)
Time: 9:39 p.m. TV: CBS
It’s weird that it’s the postseason and I’m still not 100% sure how good this Virginia Tech team is, right? For a variety of reasons. Sure, the Hokies lost Justin Robinson, and that changed how they might have looked. But even before his injury, they were 2-3 against the top 50 in Ken Pom and their two wins were No. 9 Purdue (great!) and No. 48 Washington, with a loss to No. 43 Penn State (ew) and two BLOWOUT losses to No. 1 Virginia and No. 6 North Carolina - although both on the road. But the Hokies were 3-7 against the top 50 in ACC play and their wins were No. 39 Syracuse, No. 42 NC State - and No. 4 Duke, at home. That was one of only two opportunities Virginia Tech got at home against a top-10 team, if we’re being fair, and after losing by 21 at UNC with Robinson, the Hokies wouldn’t lose by more than 8 the rest of the way in regulation.
And yet, even though Duke didn’t have Zion Williamson in their loss in Blacksburg, the Hokies still arguably shouldn’t have won, right? Because they were not only without their point guard still and hadn’t beaten anyone elite since November, but they also were still at a significant height disadvantage. And they still held Duke to rebounding just 25% of its missed shots, a big reason the Hokies were able to win. And they took advantage of Duke turning it over on 19% of its possessions. But Virginia Tech didn’t go crazy from 3 to win - it was the opposite, really, as they shot 62.5% from INSIDE the arc and just 30.*% from 3, draining 20 of 29 free throws. Duke actually shot better from 3 (7 of 21, 33.3%).
It was a strange game and one where Duke, at times, looked a little out of sorts. It was an example of the variance Coach K talked about in terms of how his team performed without Zion Williamson - sometimes, they’d play well, like they did at Syracuse. Other times, they’d look like a discombobulated mess, like they did against Wake Forest. This game was probably somewhere in between.
Duke did, after all, put up the fifth-best offensive efficiency against Virginia Tech’s defense, even in the loss. It’s the only game Duke lost this entire year where it had an effective field goal percentage of over 47% (57%). But the Hokies had the second-highest offensive efficiency against Duke all year and turned it over on just 9.5% of their possessions - the lowest mark against Duke this season. And to me, that will be a stat worth keeping an eye on. Without Zion Williamson, the knock on Duke was they weren’t as good at forcing turnovers because they lacked his presence. But since his return, Duke’s opponents have had three of the 15 lowest turnover percentages and four of the 18 lowest Duke has forced. If Virginia Tech can take care of the ball and knock down shots, and Duke struggles doing both? Then yeah, this will be a game.
NAMES TO KNOW
Kerry Blackshear. As Virginia Tech’s sole true post presence, the junior often finds himself in foul trouble of some sort. He’s been whistled for fewer than three fouls just twice in the last 12 games and has fouled out twice, both in losses. But teams with more big bodies than Virginia Tech has, knowing that Blackshear is their only post threat, have still not been able to contain him. Duke was one of those - they faced him without Zion Williamson, of course (not sure if you’d heard that), but they still had Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier down low. Blackshear still had 23 points on 7 of 11 shooting (9 of 11 from the foul line) and added 10 rebounds, playing all 40 minutes and picking up just three fouls. Bolden and DeLaurier had 7 fouls between them. Blackshear has not been shooting as well as he usually does lately - just 10 of 26 in the NCAA Tournament - but he’s gotten to the foul line a lot. Duke, though is almost certainly going to go at Blackshear early and often, trying to get him into foul trouble and turn him into a non-factor. If they are able to do that, Virginia Tech is going to be in trouble.
R.J. Barrett. What if I told you that R.J. Barrett has NOT scored 20 points or more versus a top-50 Ken Pom opponent fewer times than he HAS done that? In other words, he’s scored at least 20 points against a Ken Pom opponent so often -13 times this season, to be exact - that it feels weird when he doesn’t do it. But he hasn’t done it now in three straight games against Ken Pom top-50 teams, and three of his seven lowest point totals all year have now come in the last four games. What does it mean? Probably not a whole lot; Zion Williamson is back in the lineup and getting more touches (as he should). Barrett likely went 4 of 12 from 2 at least in part because of UCF’s Tacko Fall, and he’s really prioritized attacking the basket and shooting fewer shots from deep - but he’s 4 of 7 in the NCAA Tournament so far from beyond the arc. For perspective, he took 11 3-pointers in the regular-season finale against North Carolina alone. Barrett can be streaky as a shooter but if he’s being more selective about his shots, that certainly isn’t a bad thing. Last time he and Duke faced the Hokies, Barrett was dealing with a stomach ailment that caused him to keep going to the locker room and he still played 36 minutes and had 21 points - but he was 1 of 6 from beyond the arc and 4 of 7 from the foul line, and he picked up four fouls.
We know that Zion Williamson is going to do work against the Hokies, with just one player taller than 6-8 in the rotation. But they need Barrett to get back to being an efficient scorer, too. The good thing about Barrett is in two NCAA Tournament games, he’s averaging 11 rebounds, 3.5 assists, just 1.5 turnovers and 1.0 fouls. That’s going to win Duke a lot of games if he keeps it up, even if he’s not making a ton of shots.
Duke Loss: Everyone in America who claims to hate Duke’s 1-and-dones while also watching them all the time
Virginia Tech Win:
Virginia Tech Loss: Duke, basically
Duke, 84-75. Just don’t see Duke losing twice to this team, as much as the Hokies have pleasantly surprised this year.
Last week: 9-2 (5-2 Postseason) Overall: 131-44 (102-32 ACC) (20-5 Postseason)