And then there were four. Let's take a quick preview of each game.
(1) Weber State vs (6) Northern Colorado
In their first meeting, UNC ran the Wildcats out of the gym, using pressure defense and great offense to blow them out in the second half. In the second meeting, it was Weber State who won comfortably, making 12/20 threes. As I said last night, this game will come down to which Northern Colorado team shows up - the one that dominated NAU on both ends for 30 minutes, or the one that nearly blew a 20 point lead in 9 minutes. We have seen both iterations this year.
Things start for the Bears on the defensive end, where they have allowed 1.13 PPP in conference play, second to last. They simply haven't been able to get stops over the second half of the conference season, which is bad because Weber's offense has been getting better. On the other side, UNC is an excellent offensive team, and they shoot 54.9% on twos in Big Sky play. However, Weber State has solid interior defense, led by the Defensive POY in the conference in Joel Bolomboy.
For UNC, the key is to take at least one of Weber's big men out of the game, either by foul trouble or by wearing them down. The second key is to force the young backcourt into making some mistakes. That is what happened in the first meeting between the teams. However, I think the Wildcats have outgrown some of those issues. The Bears can hang in this for awhile because of their offense, but I don't think they can get enough stops, especially on the road. Weber State 77, Northern Colorado 67.
(2) North Dakota vs (5) Portland State
UND probably did not expect that Portland State would be their opponent, but it sets up an interesting match and what should be a great game. KenPom pegs it as almost even, and it's hard to argue. They split their season meetings, and both looked impressive yesterday.
The key to this game could be turnovers. Both defenses are at their best when they are pressuring teams and forcing turnovers, as they have the two highest turnovers forced rates in the Big Sky during conference play. Both teams defenses break down after the initial line of defense (if you get in the lane against UND, two points can basically be put on the board), so it's important to force turnovers.
To me, North Dakota has the slight edge in this game because they are a little better offensively. Troy Huff struggled yesterday, but he will be the best player on the court. Additionally, a lot of UND role players are really stepping up - I can't say enough about Aaron Anderson (who is always underrated), and guys like Josh Schuler and Cole Stefan are playing well. Both teams have their defensive struggles at times, but when one team needs a few buckets during the doldrums of the second half, I trust UND a little bit more to get those baskets. North Dakota 79, Portland State 75.
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