East Regional Preview: Duke, Michigan State, LSU, Virginia Tech
No. 4 seed Virginia Tech will face No. 1 seed Duke in Washington, DC on Friday night in the East Regional. The game will tip at approximately 9:39pm, or 30 minutes after the conclusion of the game between No. 2 seed Michigan State and No. 3 seed LSU. It will be televised by CBS. If the Hokies win, they’ll take on the winner of the Spartans-Tigers game on Sunday.
No. 1 seed Duke (31-5, 14-4, ACC Tournament Champions)
Virginia Tech defeated Duke 77-72 back on February 26 in Blacksburg in a game that was played without Zion Williamson and Justin Robinson. Williamson is Duke’s top player and the likely No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, while Robinson is Virginia Tech’s all-time leader in assists. Williamson returned for the ACC Tournament and led Duke to the tournament championship and a No. 1 seed, while Robinson returned to the Hokies’ lineup against Saint Louis and Liberty in the NCAA Tournament.
Williamson is one of a handful of NBA prospects that will take the court for Duke. Here are their draft projections, based on NBADraft.net’s consensus mock draft, which is taken from 104 different mocks…
No. 1: Zion Williamson (6-7, 285, Fr.)
No. 3: RJ Barrett (6-7, 202, Fr.)
No. 4: Cam Reddish (6-8, 218, Fr.)
No. 27: Tre Jones (6-2, 183, Fr.)
Virginia Tech sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker is projected as the No. 13 overall pick by the same consensus draft.
The Blue Devils are loaded with talent, but they do have a weakness: three-point shooting. Check out the following numbers…
You’ve heard Duke’s beautiful 2-point but awful 3-point shooting doesn’t fit with past national champions. Well, it also doesn’t fit with past *teams* period. This group’s 1-in-6,000.
— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) March 26, 2019
It’s been a long time since any NCAA basketball team had such a large drop-off between 2-point shooting and 3-point shooting. Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish are both 33.3% shooters from the outside, while RJ Barrett shoots 31.3%. Tre Jones, a 23.2% shooter from the outside, is the weak link. You will often see opposing teams play off Jones to help inside, giving him wide open shots. They feel that gives them a better opportunity of winning than guarding guys like Williamson, Barrett and Reddish one-on-one when the ball gets in the paint, and that’s probably true.
Coincidentally, that’s similar to how Virginia Tech has been playing defense all season. The Hokies’ No. 1 focus is keeping the ball out of the paint. That worked against the Blue Devils in the first meeting, with Duke shooting just 7-of-21 (33.3%) from the outside in that game. Tre Jones was 1-of-4 (25%). If Tech wants to pull an upset against the Blue Devils for the second time in a row, they must keep the ball out of the paint, and they most rely on another sub-par outside shooting performance from the opposition. Fortunately for the Hokies, that has been par for the course for Duke.
Of course, keeping the ball out of the paint against Duke with Zion Williamson is easier said than done. Here are his numbers since his return…
Syracuse: 29 points, 14 rebounds, 13-of-13 from the field
UNC: 31 points, 11 rebounds, 13-of-19 from the field
FSU: 21 points, 5 rebounds, 7-of-11 from the field
North Dakota State: 25 points, 3 rebounds, 12-of-16 from the field
UCF: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 12-of-24 from the field
Totals/Averages: 57-of-83 (68.7%), 27.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg
Those shooting numbers are incredible, with his 50% mark against UCF representing his worst performance from a shooting perspective. Even with Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech will probably have to play even better this time around to beat Duke a second time.
No. 2 Seed Michigan State (30-6, 16-4, Big Ten Tournament Champions)
Tom Izzo is a perennial NCAA Tournament coach, a National Champion, and UVA’s worst nightmare in March, having knocked the Cavaliers out of the Big Dance in both 2014 and 2015, when UVA was a 1 seed and a 2 seed, respectively. Izzo has taken the Spartans to the NCAA Tournament 22 seasons in a row. He has one National Championship, six other Final Four appearances, nine Elite Eights, and this is his fourteenth Sweet 16. Very few coaches in the history of college basketball have enjoyed such a run of success.
The Spartans haven’t lost since a 63-62 setback at Indiana on March 2. They have won 12 of their last 13 games since going through a three-game losing streak at the end of January and beginning of February. They are 7-1 on a neutral court this season, with their last loss coming way back on November 6 to Kansas, which was the first game of the season.
Here is a possible Michigan State starting lineup, according to their game notes, though Izzo has started eight different players this season.
G Cassius Winston (6-1, 185, Jr.): 18.9 ppg, 7.5 apg, 40.1% three-point shooter. Winston is one of the best point guards in the country, and the Big Ten Player of the Year. He is the only player in the country averaging at least 18.0 ppg and 7.0 apg while shooting at least 40% from three-point range.
G Matt McQuaid (6-5, 200, Sr.): 9.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 43.3% three-point shooter. McQuaid is a co-captain and a member of the Big Ten’s All-Defensive Team.
F Aaron Henry (6-6, 210, Fr.): 5.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg. Henry has started 19 of the last 20 games for the Spartans.
F Kenny Goins (6-7, 230, r-Sr.): 8.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg. Goins is an excellent rebounder who was All-Big Ten Honorable Mention.
F Xavier Tillman (6-8, 245, So.): 9.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 61% FG. Tillman was the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year, and he’s averaged 12.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in the postseason.
Not a single Michigan State player is projected to be drafted this season, but Izzo is an elite coach, and he’s got a well-balanced team. They will be a difficult team for anyone to beat.
No. 3 Seed LSU (28-6, 16-2, SEC Tournament Quarterfinalists)
LSU was the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament, but they were upset in their first game by Florida. The Tigers haven’t played particularly well since head coach Will Wade was suspended pending the famous FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting.
vs. Vanderbilt (winless in the SEC): 80-59 W
vs. Florida: 76-73 L
vs. Yale: 79-74 W
vs. Maryland: 69-67 W
The Tigers blew out hapless Vanderbilt, who is in the market for a new coach. They were then upset by Florida in the SEC Tournament, they didn’t play particularly well against No. 14 seed Yale, and they barely snuck by Maryland on a late basket when many people thought they should have been called for traveling on the play.
Assistant coach Tony Benford has been serving as LSU’s interim head coach in Wade’s absence, and Wade is still suspended as of the time of this writing. Benford was an assistant coach under Buzz Williams at Marquette from 2008 through 2012.
Statistically speaking, the Tigers aren’t as much of a threat as Duke or Michigan State. They rank No. 13 nationally in Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency, though they are only No. 140 in effective field goal percentage and No. 290 in three-point percentage. Their ability to offensive rebound (No. 9 in offensive rebound percentage) has been a big key to their offensive success, as well as free throw shooting (No. 32).
Defensively, LSU ranks No. 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency. They are No. 128 in effective field goal percentage defense, No. 140 in 2-point defense, and No. 120 in 3-point defense. However, they do a great job on the defensive glass, and generally win the battle of second chance points.
Here’s a look at LSU’s probable starting lineup…
G Tremont Waters (5-11, 175, So.): 15 ppg, 5.9 apg. Waters is undersized, but he’s the Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He averages three steals per game, which ranks second in the nation.
G Skylar Mays (6-4, 200, Jr.): 13.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg. Mays is an 86% free throw shooter.
G Marlon Taylor (6-5, 210, Jr.): 6.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg. He’s an athletic player who had the No. 1 play on Sportscenter’s Top Ten twice this year.
F Naz Reid (6-10, 250, Fr.): 13.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg. Reid is projected as the No. 25 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by NBADraft.net’s consensus mock draft.
F Kavell Bigby-Williams (6-10, 250, Sr.): 7.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg. The London native makes 62.9% of his shots, and he’s blocked 67 shots this season.
The Tigers could give Virginia Tech, or whichever team they face, a lot of trouble on the glass, though without Will Wade on the bench it’s difficult to tell exactly how good LSU is right now.