Sweet 16 Picks: Kansas vs. Richmond Odds and Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 3/23/2011
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 12 Richmond
San Antonio, Texas, Friday, March 25, approx: 7:27 p.m. EST
Opening line: Kansas -11, 138
This was the round in which I expected Kansas to get their first legitimate challenge of the tournament. That may still be the case, but I was quite sure it would come from Louisville, not Richmond. Judging by all of the complaining, most people who filled out a bracket thought the same basic thing. Just because it’s a long way from a predictable matchup, though, doesn’t mean it’s not an intriguing one.
You have a hot team from an under-appreciated mid-major conference facing off against the current favorite to win the tournament. The game has the longest odds on the board for the Sweet 16, but it’s no mismatch -- at least not a brutal, unappealing one. Here are eight thoughts on the game, followed by my Sweet 16 picks for the game:
Kansas’ road to glory - The Jayhawks really got all of the breaks in this tournament. Because there have been so many upsets in their region they are able to make it all the way to the Final Four without playing a team seeded higher than ninth -- Illinois in the second round. That seems almost impossible, and it’s the clear reason why Kansas is now the solid favorite to win the tournament. It may not be a good thing, though. If Bill Self can’t keep the team totally focused then they could easily play lackadaisical game if they feel entitled to a win. Richmond is not a team you can let up against.
Richmond’s path - While Kansas has followed the easy road, Richmond hasn’t exactly moved mountains to get where they are. They opened against a Vanderbilt that is remarkably consistent at being frustratingly underwhelming in the tournament, but still gets well seeded despite their struggles. In the second round they faced a brilliant player in Kenneth Faried, but Morehead State just wasn’t deep or talented enough to challenge a good team twice in three days, and they certainly weren’t going to catch Richmond off guard after what happened to Louisville. This game against Kansas represents a massive step up in class for the Spiders, and it’s hard to really know if they can handle it. Outside of an impressive win over Purdue, Richmond’s nonconference schedule featured a lot of major conference teams, but none that were particularly good.
Against the spread - Richmond has been a very ice team to bet on this year. They are 21-12 ATS on the season, and have covered the college basketball odds in 10 of their last 11 games. With a fairly big spread here there will be lots of opportunity for them to cover even if they prove to be outmatched, and they are clearly capable of doing so. Kansas is far less generous to bettors. They are just 17-16-1 ATS, and are an ugly 2-5-1 ATS in their last eight. When you are a public team that is playing good basketball and facing big spreads it can be hard to cover, and that’s clearly the case here. In this department, at least, Richmond has a solid edge.
Bet distribution and line movement - Given that Kansas is so highly regarded and Richmond is a 12 seed, the bet distribution here is very interesting -- Kansas has drawn just a very slight majority of the bets at about 52 percent as I write this. The line has dropped from 11 to 10.5 in most places, so there isn’t significant action on the Jayhawks at this point. Either that’s a sign that Richmond is getting a lot of respect -- deservedly -- or that the oddsmakers did a very nice job in setting this number.
Learning from history - Last year Kansas was a No. 1 seed that was upset in the second round by ninth seeded Northern Iowa -- a team from a mid-major conference that most people hadn’t seen play, and which Kansas obviously didn’t give enough credit to. There are obvious similarities between this situation and that one, and you would hope that Kansas learned from that disaster this time around. They certainly aren’t going to find Richmond any less motivated, prepared, or capable than Northern Iowa was.
Defense - The story here could definitely be the defense. Both teams have very strong defenses, and are similarly highly ranked in categories like points against, three point field goal percentage and, to a lesser extent, field goal percentage. Where Kansas does have a clear edge here, though, is in rebounding. Kansas is a Top 5 team nationally in rebound margin, while Richmond comes in all the way down at 242nd in the country.
Kansas player to watch - Point guard Tyshawn Taylor is a man possessed. He lost his starting job because of attitude and production issues. After getting it back in the Big 12 Championship Game he has played brilliantly -- 11.5 points and 5.5 assists while shooting 57 percent. If Taylor can be similarly hot in this game then the Jayhawks will get the ball into the right hands -- far more talented hands -- at the right time, and they will be in good shape. If the time off cools Taylor down, though, then Richmond could have a shot.
Richmond matchup to watch - F Justin Harper and C Dan Geriot vs. the Morris twins. Harper is Richmond’s best player and the key to success here. He and Geriot are going to have to deal with the Morris brothers all night. The twins are, plain and simple, better. Richmond’s bigger men need to find a way to minimize that gap and limit the impact the twins can have. If they can do that then things get interesting.
Sweet 16 Picks: I concede that Kansas -- a team that I don’t love -- is well positioned to win this game. Against the spread, though, I have to take Richmond and the points. The Spiders are the much better ATS team, they are defensively sound, they have nothing at all to lose, and they have a chance to disrupt Kansas’ shooting enough to keep this one close.
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