The 18,300-seat CenturyLink Center in Omaha will play host to two mid-major-high-major showdowns Friday in the “second” round of the NCAA Tournament when No. 7 St. Mary’s takes on No. 10 Purdue and father-son team Ray McCallum Jr. and Sr. of No. 15 Detroit throw down with No. 2 Kansas.
Does either have what it takes to take down their high-major counterpart?
No. 2 Kansas (27-6; Pomeroy ranked 4th) vs. No. 15 Detroit (22-13; 115th)
How they got here: The Titans returned their entire lineup (save for 0.2 percent of their minutes) this season, including McDonald’s All-American point guard Ray McCallum Jr. who turned down a number of high-major teams to play for his father. They were without big man Eli Holman for the first half of the season (he was put on personal leave) which lead to a rough 6-9 start. With Holman back, the team rapidly began to improve and their confidence on the court blossomed. They won 13 of their last 15 including the Horizon League tournament championship game over heavily-favored Valparaiso, 70-50, to snag the Horizon’s auto-bid.
Kansas was in the hunt for a No. 1 seed before they lost to Baylor in the second-round of the Big 12 conference tournament, 81-72.
The venue: Omaha is 734 miles from Detroit, and 212 miles from Lawrence, Kansas. Out of the gate advantage: Kansas.
Pomeroy: 92% in Kansas’ favor
Where Detroit has the advantage:
1. Turnovers Quality of competition aside, the Titans turn the ball over less (once per 19.2 percent of possessions) than the Jayhawks (19.5 percent). More importantly, Detroit creates more turnovers (22.4 percent) than Kansas (20.7 percent).
2. Blocking The Jayhawks may have a powerful shot-blocking force in 7-footer Jeff Whithey, who ranks second-nationally with a block in 14.7 percent of his chances, but the Jayhawks have two to contend with: 6-10 Holman (7.0 percent) and 6-11 LaMarcus Lowe (11.4 pecent). Withey has logged 60.2 percent minutes under Bill Self this season, but there’s nary a minute that goes by without either Holman or Lowe on the floor for McCallum Sr.
3. Getting to the free throw line Detroit’s free throw rate (44.0 percent) edges Kansas’ (41.1 percent), and that’s an important point of leverage for an underdog.
4. Possession sharing You don’t even have to look at the numbers to know that the ball will usually end up in the hands of Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson when the Jayhawks have possession. In fact, those two account for 57.0 percent of Kansas’ possessions when they’re both on the floor and 55.9 percent of their shots. The story is less clear for Detroit. Chase Simon, McCallum Jr. and Holman each get greater than 21 percent of Detroit’s possessions when they’re on the floor, and each take more than 23 percent of the shots when on the floor. The Kansas D will be spread a little thinner planning their attack.
5. Swagger The Titans have nothing to lose and a ton of heart, and it shows. Junior dunker-extraordinaire Doug Anderson is a highlight-reel of his own. You have to watch these guys play to know what I mean. Detroit last knocked off UCLA in the NCAA tournament in 1999 and St. John’s the year before that, but it would be a genuine Butler-style upset if they were able to bring Kansas to task.
No. 7 St. Mary’s (27-5; Pomeroy ranked 43rd) vs. No. 10 Purdue (21-12; 24th)
How they got here: St. Mary’s beat Gonzaga, also a seventh-seeded team in the tourney, 78-74 in OT, in the Championship game of the WCC tournament. Gonzaga and BYU are the best quality wins of the Gael’s season.
Purdue was just inside the at-large bubble as the last of the Big Ten team’s chosen. In Robbie Hummel’s senior season (he might finally get to play in this one too) the Boilermakers earned wins over Iona, Temple, Michigan and Miami. They lost to Ohio State, 88-71, in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
The venue: Omaha is 571 miles from West Lafayette, Indiana and over a day’s drive, 1,657 miles from Moraga, California — the home of the Gaels. Especially given the size of Purdue, the Boilermakers will have the advantage here.
Pomeroy: 61% in Purdue’s favor
Where St. Mary’s has the advantage: St. Mary’s may be the higher seed, but I don’t think they should be the favorite. Purdue’s resume is far more impressive, and Pomeroy agrees. Still, they can win, and here’s how.
1. Shooting inside The Gaels are tall — only one player on the roster is under 6-4. That’s led to them getting a lot of baskets inside. They hit 54.7 percent of their shots from inide the arc (sixth nationally), which accounts for their high (53.6 percent) eFG%.
2. Rob Jones destroys the boards The 6-6 240-pound senior is the main reason St. Mary’s opponents have pulled down offensive rebounds in just 26.4 percent of their opportunities. Jones alone accounts for that same percentage on the defensive end, and gets 12.0 percent on the other end.
3. Foul management Over the course of the season the Gaels have both gotten to the free throw line and kept their opponents off of the stripe at higher rates than Purdue.
4. Stephen Holt is probably back The sophomore guard injured his knee in a game Feb. 15 and hasn’t played since. He has a ridiculous 123.4 offensive rating.
5. Similar defenses Purdue has allowed 0.972 ppp this season, and St. Mary’s 0.974 ppp. It doesn’t get much closer than that, and both play at similar slightly below-average paces.