Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Complete Final Four Analysis

My Picks:

Final Four:
1. Kansas over 7. BYU
1. Duke over 2. West Virginia

Championship Game:
1. Kansas over 1. Duke

First things first, it's important to recognize that there are only seven teams in the nation with the overall talent and ability to win the National Championship. Those are Kansas, Syracuse, Duke, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio State and Georgetown. If you pick anybody else then you're really going out on a limb. But that doesn't mean that those seven teams will make up the Final Four. In fact, there are several possible Cinderella teams.

If you're in a bracket pool with a lot of people then you're going to need to be more aggressive. You're not winning that pool picking the four 1 seeds. The first bracket pool I ever won was in the 1996 NCAA Tournament, when I nailed Syracuse, a 4 seed, as a Final Four team. If you're looking for a team outside the seven teams I listed to pick to your Final Four, you can obviously go with Baylor, but they're getting a lot of hype and you could find a lot of people in your bracket pool picking them. And while I picked Baylor to the Elite 8, I also told you that I think Villanova would have the better shot of taking out Duke in the Elite 8 than Baylor.

If you're looking for a 4 seed or lower to take to the Final Four, I think there are two good picks: BYU and Wisconsin. I actually took BYU to the Final Four because I think they're the ideal NCAA Tournament team with their ability to take care of the ball, defensive rebound, nail all of their free throws and to hit their open threes. And I love their match-ups, against a very sloppy Kansas State team, and a Syracuse team that is very mediocre in the halfcourt and depends more than any other top team on turnovers and offensive rebounds: which will not happen in high quantities against BYU. I picked Wisconsin to take down Kentucky in the Sweet 16 because I think they're Kentucky's worst nightmare: an experienced team that plays slow, never turns the ball over, and has enough athletes that they won't get run off the floor by Kentucky. But that said, I don't like Wisconsin chances against West Virginia in the Elite 8. The Mountaineers have the same athletes that can jump out of the gym that Kentucky does, but they're experienced and savvy, and are used to dealing with teams that efficiently grind out games like Wisconsin does. It's no harder to play Wisconsin than it is to play Georgetown or Syracuse, so West Virginia will not be unprepared for what the Badgers bring. So I'd advise against picking Wisconsin as a Final Four team, but if you're looking for an edge in a bracket pool that has many dozens of entrants, you could certainly do worse.

But that said, don't get too crazy and think of picking BYU or Wisconsin as a National Champion. Both teams match up poorly against their most likely Final Four opponent: Kansas and Duke, respectively. I know what you're saying: didn't Wisconsin already beat Duke this season? Yes, but they did it at home, where they're vastly superior to the team they are away from home. And you know that Duke is going to be primed for payback. Meanwhile, BYU doesn't have the athletes that other elite teams have. I'd only pick them to the Final Four because they lucked into a bracket with teams that are great match-ups for them. Kansas doesn't turn the ball over like their in-state rivals do, and they're not dependent on easy baskets to score like Syracuse does. Kansas is great at every aspect of a basketball game, so they have no weaknesses.

I do think that Duke is a more dangerous team than people give them credit for. They've gotten much better on the interior than they've been in years, and they have excellent guard play and a killer scorer in Kyle Singler. Also, what I love about them is their execution. They execute like an Ivy League team, only with McDonald's All-American talent. Watching them at the end of games is like a textbook. They always foul or don't foul when they're supposed to. They always know when they're supposed to trap. They never make a stupid pass. And execution is so important in the NCAA tournament

One last thing to keep in mind is to not overdo it with worrying about Kansas's region. I made this mistake last season when I correctly nailed the Michigan State vs UConn Final Four game. In a vacuum, with that match-up in Detroit, I liked Michigan State to win that game. But I decided to go with UConn because I was nervous about Michigan State even getting there, because they had a brutal Sweet 16 opponent (defending National Champion and Big 12 champion Kansas), and a 1 seed to play in the Elite 8. So I decided that even though I liked Michigan State head-to-head over UConn, that I'd pick UConn because I was afraid of losing a National Finalist in the Sweet 16. UConn was just the safer, more cautious play. And as soon as their Final Four game tipped off I felt like an idiot.

It is fair to consider draws, and the fact that Kansas and Kentucky have a much tougher path to the Final Four than Duke or Syracuse, but if you pick against Kansas because of that then you're going to feel like an idiot as soon as the Final Four tips off. Kansas is the clear best team in the nation, and you can never go wrong picking the best team to win the National Championship.


Unknown said...

How confident are you about BYU making a deep run? I like the Cougars due to ability to out-possession their opponents (huge advantages in rebounding margin and turnover margin) and stingy defense (opponents only shoot 40.7% FG). However, BYU hasn't won an NCAA tournament since 1993. They've been on losing end of the 8/9 game in each of the last 3 seasons. BYU's offense is heavy on the 3-pointer. Their top 4 scorers all shoot quite a few threes. BYU is great 3-pt shooting team (2nd in the nation in 3pt%), but doesn't that make them vulnerable to a bad shooting night? And despite the strength of the MWC this year, they haven't exactly been tested... no wins over a Top 25 team. At least they're not facing Texas A&M again this year. I am trying to get comfortable with picking BYU because the West Region looks awfully weak this year. Should Kansas State really be considered overrated? Mighty Kansas has had they're number, but they've run through just about everybody else (except for that recent home loss to a weak Iowa State team), including 2 wins over a strong Baylor team, a rout of Texas A&M, beating Texas when they were ranked #1, and convincing wins over UNLV (on the road) and Xavier.

Jeff said...

BYU is a team that just never has a bad shooting night. So many players shoot well, and Jimmer Fredette is amazing.

And again, it's about their match-ups. Through BYU in the Midwest and I wouldn't take them past the Sweet 16. They just got gifted a wonderful draw.

Mark said...

Hi, I've been following your breakdown and analysis for the last couple of days and think it's interesting. The concern I have with BYU are their two losses to UNLV and loss to Utah State. The reason is- BYU lost pretty badly to UNLV in Vegas during the season and again in the Conference tourney. Whereas, Kansas State went into Vegas and rolled UNLV. Team A is K State, Team B is UNLV and Team C is BYU- Based on regular season and the conference tourney you would have to say- Team A is better than B, Team B is Better than C. That's why the potential BYU/KSU matchup is scary. I know you have to go out on a limb to win a bracket pool but the 2nd round BYU/KSU game is tough to pick.

Jeff said...

College basketball is not transitive. Never ever ever use Team A beat Team B which beat Team C: therefore I'm picking Team A to beat Team C.

Syracuse lost both times they played Louisville this year, and Louisville lost at home to Western Carolina by eight points. So would you pick Western Carolina over Syracuse?

As for the losses to UNLV directly. They lost twice to them, yes, but both on UNLV's home floor. The second was a four point loss with UNLV desperately trying to make the NCAA Tournament, knowing that a loss could send them to the NIT. And the first loss was a bit of a fluke loss, where UNLV hit 12-for-23 behind the arc, and Jimmer Fredette had his single worst shooting night of the entire year (4-for-15 from the field).

And considering that every single team BYU lost to this season went on to get an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, those losses should not be enough to worry you. I mean, no team is perfect... even Kansas lost twice!

Anonymous said...


I've clicked thru all the bracketology blogs on the matrix and keep coming back to yours.

Great blog leading up to the selection, FANTASTIC blog with the bracket analysis.

JCK (I had some earlier posts about the WCC and Pac10 team, St. Mary's turned out to be better than I thought)

Jeff said...

Thanks for the kind words!

DMoore said...

I must have overlooked it, because I can't imagine that no one has mentioned that if BYU makes it to the sweet sixteen, they will have one of the biggest home court advantages ever seen in the NCAAs -- they'll be playing in Salt Lake City. That's not only a massive crowd advantage, that's also a tremendous advantage in being used to the altitude.

Mark said...

Jeff, I understand what you're saying but this half of the region where BYU and KSU are can make or break some good points in a bracket pool. Pitt and Xavier are both good teams and if they meet each other it would be a war as the rivalry is huge. So, I don't feel good picking either of them to advance. Though, one has to move to the S-16. I do like KSU or BYU to knock off the winner of that game. That leaves me with the BYU/KSU dilemma. Though, K State got worked by KU this year, they're a strong team, no doubt. And, watching TTU beat up on Seton Hall badly last night, the Big-12 may be better than I thought. Either way, it's a risk but I tend to favor the major conference schools over smaller conference schools in games like this. I know BYU is a talented team and Jimmer can easily light up on any given day, but a strong reliance on the 3by BYU in a neutral arena may be asking a lot. And, the past stats show a 1 and 2 seed advance to the S-16 more often than not.

About the transitive concept in my initial post, I hear what you're saying. But, I'm not comparing a Western Carolina type team here. The three I'm comparing are all good, tourney teams. It's done in the BCS, why not consider it in hoops. I think there's validity because all three are in the field.

Decisions, decisions....

Mark said...

My Yogi-ism for the day (for BYU)-

You can't play in Salt Lake City if you can't get to Salt Lake City.

Jeff said...

I actually talked about the BYU homecourt advantage in the comments to the post on their region. And yes, I do agree that their second round game will be harder than their Sweet 16 game, for a variety of reasons.

Now as for the transitive problem, the same principle applies. If it's wrong to say that you should take Western Carolina over Syracuse because Western Carolina won at Louisville, who swept Syracuse, then it's wrong in all cases. This is what I always point out with people in polls: When Kansas lost to Oral Roberts a couple of years ago nobody was putting Oral Roberts in their Top 25 ahead of Kansas, but if Syracuse beat Kansas this year everybody would say that I was a moron if I didn't put Syracuse ahead of Kansas because "they beat them head to head!" No, either a single game is the be-all-and-end-all of rating teams, or it's not. And it's not. Upsets happen.

I mean, Kansas State lost at home on Senior Night to a very mediocre Iowa State team, which is much worse than any loss BYU has.

And I'm not trying to argue that Kansas State is not as good as BYU. They're probably about even. But I just think BYU matches up great with Kansas State. And when you are talking about what you look for in a team to make a Tournament run you look for experience, a team that can take care of the ball, free throw shooting and 3-point shooting. It would be hard to find another team that has more of those four things than BYU. Kansas State, because of how sloppy they are, is not what you're looking for in a Tournament run.

And by the way, every conference is better than most people think they are, because we are so warped by the world of ESPN where every Big East team is on another level from the rest of the country. In the real world, the Big East was not the best conference last year, and it's not the best conference this year. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate the Big 12 and ACC as the two best conferences, and both put the Big East third.

Mark said...

Jeff, Good points. My heart is pulling for BYU but my mind thinks otherwise. Getting to the bigger picture of the region, Syracuse is banged up at least for the first two rounds and play early games in Buffalo. From a talent perspective, when healthy, they're as good as anyone but they have to make it through the first weekend which is why the bottom of the region is so important.

Back to BYU,I hear you with them doing all of the little things well- ball-handling, no turnovers, FT shooting, shooting threes, depth, etc. but Cornell doe those things well too. Athleticism plays a key role and if BYU gets down early to a more athletic team like KSU, if they can't make their 3's, I can't see them getting back into it.

Going with what you said about the Pomeroy power conferences, it makes the K-State argument stronger. Doesn't it?

Jeff said...

Yes, Kansas State is a very good team. Pomeroy rates BYU 7th and K-State 8th. Sagarin rates K-State 4th and BYU 8th. So they're both very good and both have a lot of ability.

But being the better team in a large sample size is not the same as the being the better team in a one-or-done Tournament environment. Which is why I'm not just picking the higher rated team in Sagarin/Pomeroy in every game.

Mark said...

Thanks and keep up the good work. In all of the years of picking brackets, this site has been the best, by far. I used to listen to Jay Bilas because nobody watches basketball more than him and he went to Duke but when he picked Cornell going to the Elite-8, I've decided to go elsewhere for good info/analysis. I know Cornell played KU tight at home and KU blasted Temple in Philly, I just can't buy it. Can you?

Phil said...

Thanks for the analysis, very in depth. The bracket Im in asks for a point total in the championship game. Is there a good way to figure this base off of previous champoinships or am I just shooting in the dark?

Jeff said...

I don't understand the Cornell thing. They're a dangerous team, but there's just way too much hype. You always want to worry about the team getting all of the upset hype. Particularly when you consider that Temple considers itself greatly disrespected (go to their fan forums and they're all convinced they were screwed worse than any other team by the Selection Committee), and now they've spent all week hearing the Cornell would beat them. Temple will come out fired up.

The Cornell thing seems to be based on two things: strong three-point shooting, and a good inside player. Their three-point shooting is very good, but it came against a soft schedule. And Jeff Foote is good... but let's not pretend he's some All-American all of a sudden. Cornell has played three good teams this year (Syracuse, Seton Hall and Kansas), and against those three teams Foote averaged 10.0 points and 8.7 rebounds, and the team shot 35.9% on three-pointers. BYU's three point shooters are far more impressive because despite only being 3rd in the nation in 3-point percentage (Cornell was 1st), BYU did it against a much more impressive set of opponents. I'm just not that impressed that they could shoot 60% against Bucknell. Let's see them do that against New Mexico and San Diego State. Trying to compare them to Davidson and Stephen Curry (as I've seen many on television, the radio and on the internet doing) is insulting to the unbelievable NCAA Tournament that Curry had that one year. Cornell doesn't have anybody in the same universe as a shooter as Curry was that year. The only player in the Tournament this year who I would allow somebody to compare to Curry is Jimmer Fredette, although Fredette would have to play out of his mind to replicate what Curry did (thankfully, Fredette has better teammates than Curry did).

Cornell is a good first round upset pick - don't get me wrong. But I picked Temple to win that game, and you'd have to be nuts to take Cornell to the Elite 8.

Sadly, I just think Jay Bilas wanted the attention. How many times have you heard this week from some random person that Jay Bilas picked Cornell to the Elite 8? It's the most prominent prediction in the nation.

Jeff said...

Phil, I would recommend picking the championship game score based on an expected number of possessions, and the number of points you expect each team to score per possession. If you go to Pomeroy's site he gives the number of points scored per possession of every game each team has played this season, as well as season averages. I would recommend using those stats to guesstimate a final score.

But I've been in a lot of bracket pools that asked for championship game score, and I can't recall that ever being the tiebreaker. It's just so rare to have a tie, I wouldn't sweat it at all.

Mark said...

Jeff, Thanks for the analysis on Cornell/Temple. Without a Conference tourney and a one-and-done scenario, I would have no idea how good they are except for the Kansas game.

A few other games I struggled with are- Vandy/Murray St., Tennessee/ SDSU, Butler/UTEP. The way I like to work the Brackets is it's good to pick some upsets and hedge yourself against the next round. For instance, I would take Siena over Purdue and Texas A&M to beat both of them. So, I don't lose too much if Purdue wins. Every average Joe who doesn't follow college hoops doesn't know about Robbie Hummel so if I can steal a point or two in the early rounds, I'm better off by picking Kansas in the National Championship game. The 8/9's are where you can get some points but that winner will always (so far), play the 1 seed in the second round and 1's tend to settle down after the 1st round.

I follow hoops a lot during the season but it drives me nuts when Mary, the Admin Assistant in Accounting wins the $$$.

JonL. said...

"I follow hoops a lot during the season but it drives me nuts when Mary, the Admin Assistant in Accounting wins the $$$."


Mark you are SO right brother!

Jeff, I want to echo Mark's statement about you having the best blog around to follow and the "smartest" stats and ideas going into who to pick. So many are out there riding the bandwagon of 1 team or another and filling out brackets with their heart and not their head.

thanks again and God bless bro!

Mark said...

Mary deserves to win if she picked George Mason to go to the Final Four. If something like that happens again this year, I'm bagging this whole hoops thing to watch Wife Swap "re-runs". Jeff, tell me that won't happen this time around. But, if there's one team that could make a crazy run like that, not including BYU, who could it be?

JonL. said...

oops, signed in with wrong acct. 8-)

Jeff said...

George Mason was a one-in-a-million scenario. They were a good team that deserved to be in the Tournament (I don't know if you remember, but George Mason was actually a controversial at-large team that year, with the consensus being that Hofstra should have gotten in ahead of them for head-to-head wins... I was in the camp that defended George Mason because, as you all know, I'm not a big believer in head-to-head being very important). I even saw them potentially winning a game. But that run was something that I still don't understand.

Maybe some day I'll reach a higher plane of understanding and it will click for me and I'll understand how that run might have been predicted, but right now I still have no explanation.

The only other team I can see pulling a deep run from a 7+ seed is Texas, but they've been so inconsistent and I think that Dogus Balbay injury was a real killer. They'll be a tough opponent for Kentucky, but it's asking a lot of them to expect them to beat four straight quality teams.

Mark said...

I agree with your GMU points. If a team can keep it close and play to their opponents' weaknesses, anything can happen in the last 2 minutes. That's when FTs come into play. I didn't get much work done today and it's time to enjoy a pint of Guinness for St. Pat's. I've got this as a favorite site and look forward to following the next couple of weeks. Enjoy the games tomorrow! Cheers!

Unknown said...

"BYU is a team that just never has a bad shooting night."

Actually that's not the case. Like most teams that shoot a lot of threes, BYU is very susceptible to bad shooting nights. Upon a deeper look, the problem is their bad shooting nights come against the best teams.

BYU has shot below 40% FG in 5 of 9 games against tourney-bound teams. In 25 games against non-tourney teams, they've only shot had 2 such performances. Even more alarming, BYU has only outrebounded tourney-bound teams in 3 of 9 games. All 5 of their losses have been to tourney-bound teams. In 4 of them, BYU has shot below 40% FG. In the other loss, they shot 29% from 3-pt range, which is their worst performance of the season.

Aside from an early-season victory over UNLV (which was followed by 2 losses to the Runnin Rebels), BYU didn't beat a team all season that received a single digit seed in this year's tournament. The main reason BYU is ranked so high by the computer models is they haven't lost to a non-tourney team. But they won't be facing any non-tourney teams in the NCAA tournament.

I do think the West is wide open for BYU, but a potential 2nd round matchup against K-State is very scary. Kansas State has also convincingly outrebounded their opponents (+4.0 rebounding in Big XII play). BYU should've blown out UTEP based on how well they shot in that game (even though Fredette didn't play), but they were hampered by severe foul trouble. Kansas State has the speed to get BYU in foul trouble. Kansas State leads the nation in FT attempts. Granted Kansas State is a poor shooting team, but forcing the other team's starters to sit on the bench is a tremendous advantageous.

TMiLLer22 said...

Ok i got a couple problems please help. A&M or Purdue? Duke or West Va and why? OSU or G Town? Also is BYU just ur cinderella pick or ur gut pick or do u really think they have a chance. Also how confident are u in Wisconsin? Thanks alot guys!!

JonL. said...

Hey TMiller22,

If you'll farther down at the earlier blogs, Jeff goes through each part of the bracket and the reasoning for his picks. You should be able to find those answers through there bud.

TMiLLer22 said...

Thanks John i just realized that sorry. But what do you think Duke or West Va? Thats my last problem. Thanks

Jeff said...

In this post I picked Duke over West Virginia. But I consider that a very close call, and can see that going either way. It's certainly not a slam dunk pick with Duke over West Virginia.

Also, if you're not sure between those two teams, the tiebreak has to be that Duke has an easier route to the Final Four than West Virginia.

You don't want to put a team in the National Championship game and then have them go down in the Sweet 16.

Anonymous said...

I just wanna say this is the best site for March Madness advice/tips/analysis. Just turned in my office bracket and couldn't have put it together without having read your blog first. Thanks!