Monday, April 1, 2019

Final Four Preview

Who cares.  Eat at Arby’s

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Why This Virginia Team Broke Through

At the beginning of January, I said this wasn’t a typical Virginia team. They not only played slow, but they scored as well. To me, they looked like the two Badger Final 4 teams. They have a couple of NBA players and others than can score. Fast forward to last night and after the game, local media went after Pat Forde who wrote a scathing article about “Bennett Ball” after they got smoked by UMBC in the most embarrassing lost in tournament history. “Bennett Ball” can win in March and by proxy, Wisconsin had made the Final 4. But, the truth lies somewhere else. System and coach or players? Let’s dive in.

I put together some basic numbers here, comparing the tournament teams under Bennett at UVA (it also includes the ‘13 NIT season). What does it show?

2019: 71.3 ppg (192nd); 123.0 AdjustedO (2)
2018: 67.1 ppg (298th); 115.2 AdjustedO (30)
2017: 66.1 ppg (307th); 112.2 AdjustedO (50)
*2016: 71 ppg (209th); 120.6 AdjustedO (8)
2015: 65.4 ppg (211th); 115.6 AdjustedO (21)
2014: 66.4 ppg (274th); 114.8 AdjustedO (27)
2013: 64.2 ppg (242nd); 107.5 AdjustedO (83) NIT
2012: 62.5 ppg (274th); 105.2 AdjustedO (133)

*- Introduction of the :30 shot clock

The two best teams in March happen to be the two best offensive teams under Bennett, the ‘16 and ‘19 team. The ‘16 team were defeated in a shocker by Syracuse in the Elite 8 when they lost 68-62. Both squads were quite efficient on offense, top 10 and scored 70 points per game. PPG are a terrible way to judge an offense in most cases but I think this reinforces what we see on the court. They’re slow and methodical but can score. It also helps to have NBA players.

What happened in ‘18 was a shocker but they were certainly a 1-seed capable of putting up a stinker. I’d also argue 2018 didn’t have a lot of great teams, so they were over seeded compared to other seasons. Also, scoring was going to bite them at some point and it just happened in the opener.

The 2017 team lost in the Round of 32 to Florida, 65-39. In 2015, it was 61-54 to Michigan State. In 2014, it was 61-59 in the Sweet 16 to Michigan State again. Going back to their first tournament appearance under Bennett in 2012, Florida routed them 71-45. Truth is, “Bennett Ball” has had more flameouts than glory in March.

This reads as a criticism of “Bennett Ball” and in some ways, it is. But, it is a system that gets Virginia into the tournament and high seeds on a regular basis. Ultimately, though, you need the players to get you over the hump. Systems are nice, players are better. Pat Forde was too thick in his critiquing Virginia after UMBC but had valid points just like this run says it “works”. The system has been successful in positioning Virginia on a regular basis. Ultimately, the playmakers mean greater success. The coaches will get the ink this week but it takes the players to win more.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Sunday Picks

Auburn vs. Kentucky 

Auburn has looked impressive in routing Kansas and North Carolina. Kentucky has grinded to wins over Wofford and Houston, impressive in their own right.

During the regular season, Kentucky swept Auburn. Kentucky won by 2 at Auburn and blew them out at Rupp. I’m not sure that means much at this point. If Auburn turns Kentucky over and shoots like they have been, they can certainly win this game. I think Kentucky is a more disciplined defensive team than Auburn has seen so far and that’s the difference.

The Pick: Kentucky 68 Auburn 65

Duke vs. Michigan State

There’s some question whether Nick Ward plays. If he doesn’t, that’s going to be hard to overcome. Tre Jones won’t shoot as well in this game and Cassius Winston will be a problem for him but if he protects the ball and facilitates, that will be enough.

Michigan State’s physicality will be an issue for Duke, though it won’t intimidate them. Duke just can’t afford foul trouble. Izzo belongs in jail.

The Pick: Duke 71 Michigan State 66

Friday, March 29, 2019

Saturday Picks

West Region: Gonzaga vs. Texas Tech

KenPom’s top offense takes on KenPom’s top defense. Gonzaga is the offense, Texas Tech is the defense. Did we learn anything last night? I think enough where we can make an educated pick.

The Zags took on a Seminoles team that came in with swag and confidence. They eviscerated them. FSU got close at a point in the second half and the Zags never looked close to breaking. And they did it on both sides of the ball.

Texas Tech and Michigan took turns in the first half disgracing the sport before Texas Tech found a few buckets. They rolled in the second half overwhelming Michigan on both sides of the ball. Unlike Michigan, I can’t see the Zags turning it over as much and missing that many baskets. Truth is, Gonzaga is light years better than Michigan. That’s not a slam at Texas Tech, that’s praise for Gonzaga,

The Pick: Gonzaga 70 Texas Tech 59

South Region: Virginia vs. Purdue 

I really thought Virginia would glide to this game at least. I didn’t think Purdue would make it out of the first weekend. I thought Virginia’s offense had moved past their occasional stinkers. I thought Purdue’s offesne would have a game by now where it cost them. What can I say.

Virginia was clearly the better team last night. They won by 4. Purdue was coasting and then the offesne has its stretch of stink coupled with free throw shooting that was beyond bad. What does it all mean? Beats me. I think Virginia is better and they are favored by 4 in KenPom.

The Pick: Virginia 64 Purdue 60

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Midwest Region: Sweet 16

North Carolina vs. Auburn-

UNC comes in having rolled Washington while Auburn comes in having rolled Kansas. The Tigers look to continue their assault on blue bloods. Carolina possesses the 8th most efficient offense and 11th most efficient defense. Auburn is 6th and 45th. Can Auburn get enough stops?

Auburn is 225th in effective fg% defense. That’s bad. They force a lot of turnovers but UNC is pretty good at not turning it over. Auburn is going to need to turn it over on defense. If they don’t, UNC will feast on offense. Auburn is a bad defensive rebounding team. In fact, they’re amongst the worst in the nation. They foul a ton, too. Given UNC’s offensive rebounding prowess, Auburn is a great matchup for them.

On the other side of the ball, UNC’s defense doesn’t do anything spectacular save rebounding. That said, they are solid across the board without any weakness except fouling. Auburn doesn’t typically get to the foul line, though. One thing they do well and what gives them a chance is shoot 3’s and they shoot and make a lot. Carolina gives up a lot, so it’s possible.

If Auburn is making 3’s, they can win. If they’re not falling, it’ll be a rout.

The Pick: North Carolina 81 Auburn 74

Kentucky vs. Houston-

This has a chance to be another great Sweet 16 game. Kentucky is 7th in KenPom with the 11th best offesne and 8th best defense. Houston checks in at 20 and 12, respectively. Both teams play at about the same tempo. Giddy up.

Houston has the best effective fg% defense. They have the best 3-pt defense and 5th best 2-pt defense. They do foul quite a bit. Kentucky is 72nd in effective fg% offense. They’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams but PJ Washington was a big reason for that. Does he play and is he effective. Kentucky is aggressive on offense and collects a lot of fouls on their opponents. I think Houston’s defense is a huge advantage in this matchup but Kentucky can alleviate that by getting to the line.

Kentucky’s defense is quite good, too. The only thing they don’t do well is turn opponents over. Houston is solid on offense. They don’t do anything great except rebounding. Kentucky matches them with their defensive rebounding. But, part of that includes PJ Washington. If he gives them even 20 good minutes, it’ll be big. If he’s ineffective, I think Houston wins.

The Pick: Houston 66 Kentucky 65

East Region: Sweet 16

LSU vs. Michigan State-

What a great game for all those people that love old school toughness against those cheating bastards from the bayou. East Lansing and MSU might be a cesspool but they sure  are OLD SKOOL TOUGH. Does LSU have a chance? In a nutshell, I don’t see it.

I dove into the numbers looking for a way LSU can win and nothing is there. Everything LSU does well, Sparty does as well or better. It would take an uncharacteristic performance from Sparty. If LSU has one thing going for them is, they do turn teams over and Michigan State is turnover prone. I just can’t see Cassius Winston letting that happen. There’s a lot of Matean Cleaves in him (Hopefully just the basketball part).

The Pick: Michigan State 68 LSU 60

Duke vs. Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech won earlier in the season at home. Duke was without Zion Williamson but the Hokies were without Justin Robinson. Duke is a decent favorite but not overwhelming. The Hokies are 11th in KenPom and top 20 on both sides of the ball. Duke is top 10 on both sides.

Virginia Tech is 13th in real shooting, but Duke is 9th defensively. Duke is also 13th in 3-pt % defense. They’re 3rd in block % and 4th in steal %. They also don’t foul. This isn’t a good Duke defense, this is a great Duke defense. They’re weakness is rebounding. Tech is 9th in 3-pt shooting. Something has to give.

Tech is 19th in defensive efficiency and don’t foul as well. They force a lot of turnovers. Duke is slightly above average at protecting the ball and elite at offensive rebounding. Tech is slightly above average at defensive rebounding. Duke has a slight advantage here and with Zion, I think that outweighs VPI adding Robinson on this side of the ball.

 The Hokies are slow. 332nd in tempo while Duke is one of the quickest teams in the nation. Can one of them dictate pace? Duke didn’t blink against Virginia and only lost by 5 in Blacksburg. Buzz Williams more than anything wants to beat great coaches. Does it mean anything?

The Pick: Duke 77 VPI 72

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

South Region: Sweet 16

Tennessee vs. Purdue-

This is a pretty even Sweet 16 game, matching the KenPom 9 and 10 against one another. Basically, this should be a coin flip. The first two rounds saw Tennessee scuffle for long periods allowing inferior teams to hang around. Purdue poleaxed defending national champ Villanova in round two. Purdue has looked better between the two, but it’s a new week.

Purdue is 5th in adjustedO, Tennessee is 33rd in adjustedD. That’s a sizable advantage for the Boilers. However, the Vols hold teams to an effective fg% of 47.6%, dominating in the paint. Double however, they’re allowing teams to shoot  35% from 3, only 207th in the nation. Purdue is 78th offensively in effective fg% and 60th in 3-pt shooting. They’re also a good rebounding team on offesne and Tennessee is a bad defensive rebounding team. Boilers should get an extra possession or two and if it’s a toss-up...

Not to be outdone, Tennessee is 3rd in offensive efficiency and 21st in effective fg%. They’re like Purdue, a good 3-point shooting team but better 2-point shooting team. They’re also good at offensive rebounding, not Purdue good but above average. Purdue is 27th in defensive efficiency and lesser on defensive real shooting than the Vols. Basically, these teams are Spider-Man pointing at his doppelgänger. This goes either way but I’ve seen some real bad Purdue moments that give me pause.

The Pick: Tennessee 73 Purdue 72

Virginia vs. Oregon-

So, we go from a toss-up to a game where one team is favored by 10 with an 82% win probability. That said, Oregon was 67th in KenPom at the end of February and are up to 27th. They’ve won 10 in a row, including the PAC-12 title game by 20 and by 18 over Wisconsin. I’m saying there’s a chance but it’s slim.

The Ducks have a real good defense. Teams only shoot 29% from 3, that’s 6th best in the nation. Overall, the defensive effective fg% is 19th best in the nation. As we know, if Virginia has had an Achilles heel, it has been those droughts. Difference is this Cavalier team shoots 40% from 3, 6th best in the nation. As they say, something has to give.

As I noted about the Ducks against the Badgers, playing slow won’t bother them. Virginia is way slower but it’s not like the Ducks are going to be bothered by that style. Virginia’s defense is the greater concern for them than pace. The Ducks have a punchers chance in this one, they really do but they’ll need Virginia to miss a lot of shots and the Ducks defense can make that happen. Ultimately, I think Virginia is simply a better team and pulls away late for a comfortable victory.

The Picks: Virginia 65 Oregon 53