Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Complete Midwest Region Analysis

Opening Thoughts:

There's absolutely no question that from top to bottom the Midwest is the toughest region. It has the best 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 seeds, and all of the seeds are strong. Heck, even the 14 seed is the toughest 14 seed. I talked about this already, but the team that should be most angry at the Selection Committee of all 347 in the country is Tennessee. They deserved a 4 or 5 seed, and not only did they get dropped to a 6 but they got arguably the toughest route of any 6 seed ever. I'll talk about this in my Final Four preview, but there are only seven teams I think can win the national championship, and three of them are Kansas, Georgetown and Ohio State. Tennessee would have to beat all three of them. And just for the heck of it the Selection Committee gave them the strongest 11 seed: a San Diego State team that should be an 8 or 9 seed, and has proven to be road warriors all season long. Tennessee is a very good team that would be a sleeper Elite 8 team in any other region. But not in the Midwest. Don't take them past the Sweet 16. I have them going out in the second round. That all said, the Midwest's strength is deceptive, because the bottom half is much tougher than the top half. I think that Kansas actually has a not so awful route to the Elite 8. In fact, I'd argue that because of the particular match-ups, that Kentucky actually has a tougher route to the Final Four, even though the Midwest from top to bottom is far better than the East. So don't be too excited to project Kansas, the clear best team in the nation, as an early round upset.

First Round:

My Picks:
1. Kansas over 16. Lehigh
9. Northern Iowa over 8. UNLV
5. Michigan State over 12. New Mexico State
4. Maryland over 13. Houston
6. Tennessee over 11. San Diego State
3. Georgetown over 14. Ohio
7. Oklahoma State over 10. Georgia Tech
2. Ohio State over 15. UC Santa Barbara

I know that's a bit of a boring first round, but it's because the top teams are so good. For example, Ohio is a very good team that is the best 14 seed in the Tournament. They'd be a good team to pick for an upset if they weren't matched up with Georgetown. On the other hand, the 12 and 13 seeds are actually quite weak. Houston and New Mexico State are both weak teams for their seeds, and only got seeded so high because the upsets they pulled came in good conferences. New Mexico State has a Sagarin PREDICTOR of 127th, for example, and you should never, ever pick a team with a PREDICTOR outside the Top 100. Houston is 85th, but they have no RPI Top 50 wins all season long other than against UTEP. They're absolutely horrendous defensively, and Maryland is a strong 4 seed that hasn't lost a game all season to a team with an RPI worse than 65th. Feel very comfortable picking Maryland to play Michigan State in the second round.

The Tennesee/San Diego State game is one of the most interesting of the first round because both teams are better than their seed. Giving San Diego State an 11 while giving UNLV an 8, when their resumes were very similar and San Diego State beat them on UNLV's home floor to win the Mountain West tournament was completely inexplicable. That said, Tennessee is a very athletic team that is deceptively deep. Also, Tennessee actually matches up well with San Diego State. They have a suffocating defense that will frustrate a San Diego State offense that hasn't been overpowering against good teams. And Tennessee only struggles when they can't get the ball inside and they start settling for three pointers, which they're not very good at. But San Diego State doesn't have the big bodies to scare Tennessee inside defensively, other than perhaps Malcolm Thomas. In addition, San Diego State is a terrible free throw shooting team (61.4% as a team), which is always a big warning sign.

Oklahoma State is a fairly strong 7 seed, and Georgia Tech has been disappointing all season. Georgia Tech does have the advantage of two outstanding post players against a small Oklahoma State team, but since Georgia Tech hasn't figured out all season that they're best when they pound the ball inside, I'm not sure you want to depend on them doing it now. In addition, Georgia Tech went only 3-8 in true road games this season, including 0-6 in true road games against the RPI Top 75. That's always a huge warning sign. In addition, Georgia Tech is horrendous at both committing turnovers (305th in the nation in turnover percentage) and free throw shooting (307th in the nation), which are two other big warning signs for Tournament teams. I like Oklahoma State here.

Finally, I like Northern Iowa over UNLV for a couple of reasons. First of all, Northern Iowa should have been seeded higher: they were under-seeded, and UNLV was over-seeded. In addition, UNLV is not an explosive scoring team which means that they're going to have a real grind against the outstanding Northern Iowa defense. Not only is Northern Iowa a very strong defensive team, they're also outstanding at not turning the ball over (7th in the nation in offensive steal percentage), they are great at defensive rebounding (7th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage), and they shoot free throws well (12th in the nation). So they take care of the ball, they don't allow second chances, and they won't easily blow a late lead. They're just a very solid team from top to bottom, and UNLV's only chance will be to shoot the lights out from deep.

Second Round:

My Picks:
1. Kansas over 9. Northern Iowa
5. Michigan State over 4. Maryland
3. Georgetown over 6. Tennessee
2. Ohio State over 7. Oklahoma State

To me, the Kansas and Ohio State picks are easy. The talent gap is just massive. Northern Iowa is a very solid team that doesn't make dumb mistakes and takes care of the ball, but they're athletically not in the same universe as Kansas. They've played a soft schedule this year and will not be prepared for what Kansas will bring. And I don't give much of a chance for Oklahoma State or Georgia Tech against an Ohio State team that is firing on all cylinders right now. Ohio State is known for Evan Turner, and certainly he's the star of the team, but they're actually as good defensively as they are offensively. And while Oklahoma State's James Anderson always gets 20+ points every game, he either gets those points efficiently or inefficiently, and Ohio State will throw enough players at him to make him really work for those points. And you wonder how a small, poor rebounding team like Oklahoma State will handle somebody like Dallas Lauderdale. Ohio State will have a brutal Sweet Sixteen and Elite 8 game, but I think you can feel very confident penciling them into the Sweet 16.

The Michigan State vs Maryland game is a very good match-up, as both teams are dangerous. Maryland has had a tremendous season, including that Senior Night upset of Duke to earn a share of the ACC regular season title. But that said, I wonder if their ceiling is just limited. Besides that Duke win they had no other RPI Top 30 wins, and they had no RPI Top 40 wins away from home all season long. Michigan State has not only beaten good teams, and has one of the best all-time NCAA Tournament coaches in Tom Izzo, but they have quietly gotten better over the last few weeks. Set aside that close loss to a red hot Minnesota team in the Big Ten tournament. It wasn't until late in the regular season that they got a fully healthy Kalin Lucas, and they also had to deal with off-the-court issues with Chris Allen that I believe will be solved by the time this game would tip off. They didn't have a good record over the last month of the season, but it was because of a downright brutal schedule. In the month of February, for example, they played seven games: four were against the RPI Top 25, and the other three were on the road including one at Illinois, a bubble team with one of the strongest homecourt advantages in the nation. This Michigan State team is battle-tested, and has most of the players back from the team that made the National Championship game last season. I like them over a Maryland team with only one elite win all season long.

The Georgetown/Tennessee game is a very good one as well. In fact, this would probably be the best game of the second round. Tennessee is an outstanding 6 seed, but I worry about the possibility of them getting passive against a very physically tough Georgetown team. Tennessee has a very bad habit against elite teams of settling for three-pointers, and they're a horrendous three-point shooting team (31.3% as a team). They're going to need to attack the basket incessently to have any chance. Meanwhile, Georgetown is a team with a very high ceiling. Their resume is that of a 3 seed team only because they've had a couple of sleep-walk games against bad opponents, but they always bring it against good teams, and when they're at their best they are one of the five best teams in the nation. They're one of the best passing teams I've ever seen, and Greg Monroe has really lifted his aggressiveness over the last few weeks. For two years I've been insisting that Monroe realize that he's the best player on the team, and to act like it, and it seems to finally have clicked. Georgetown has has been tremendous over the last six weeks with wins over Syracuse, Duke, Villanova, Marquette and Louisville. And let's recall that while Tennessee did knock off Kansas and Kentucky, they went 0-5 against the rest of the RPI Top 50 teams that they played. And they had only two wins away from home all season long against the RPI Top 90: at Memphis, and at the SEC tournament against Ole Miss. Both teams are in the NIT. Without their crowd to feed off of, I just don't think they have the ability to take down a team as good as Georgetown.

Sweet 16:

My Picks:
1. Kansas over 5. Michigan State
2. Ohio State over 3. Georgetown

Both Michigan State and Maryland are quality teams, but Kansas is in another universe. Michigan State is vulnerable against their athletic defense because of how bad they are at ball handling. In fact, other than Kalin Lucas they're downright awful handling the ball. Kansas will force other players to make plays, and they're going to create a lot of fast breaks off of the turnovers they'll get. Michigan State is actually 10th in the Big Ten in offensive turnover percentage (ahead of only bottom feeders Iowa and Indiana) and Kansas will get a lot of easy offense. The one thing Michigan State can bring to the floor will be ferocious interior rebounding and defense, and they'll be one of the few teams that can fight back against the likes of Cole Aldrich and the Morris brothers, but the big Kansas backcourt advantage will be the difference. If Maryland is the opponent, I go back to what I said about Maryland being unable to beat any RPI Top 30 team except at home on Senior Night. Grievis Vasquez would have to go for 40 points for them to have a chance.

Georgetown-Ohio State is an outstanding match-up. This could be a Final Four game, and it's a shame that it has to happen in the Sweet 16. It will also be a fun game to watch because both of these teams have tremendous offenses. Neither team is known as an explosive offense because most people still erroneously think in terms of points per game, and both teams are scoring below 75 per game. But both play very deliberate tempos (both play about 66 possessions per game). Both teams are rated by Pomeroy as among the Top Ten offenses in the nation. Ohio State does have a few advantages here, however. For one, Georgetown is a very weak rebounding team, and Ohio State is fairly good (not great, but definitely better than Georgetown). Also, Georgetown is really very vulnerable to fouls: not only to Greg Monroe, but to any of their big three of Monroe, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman. Georgetown only goes 8 deep, but really they only go 6 deep, and the other two only see the floor against certain match-ups or when there's foul trouble. If Evan Turner gets loose and starts drawing fouls (he draws 5.6 for every 40 minutes on the floor) then Georgetown has problems. Also, Georgetown's key is their passing game, but they're not going to fool a Ohio State team that is used to defending good passing teams like Purdue and Wisconsin. And Georgetown has a bad habit of being overly aggressive with their passing, and heads-up defenders can force a lot of turnovers (Georgetown commits a surprisingly large number of turnovers for a team that makes so many pretty passes). Ohio State has a couple of players who are aggressive at jumping passing lanes, and can potentially win the turnover battle fairly dramatically. Of course, Georgetown can turn this around: if Greg Monroe can get Dallas Lauderdale in foul trouble then Ohio State becomes very small and the Hoyas will neutralize their rebounding disadvantage. And if Ohio State gets too excited jumping passing lanes then they're going to get back-doored to death. So you can't go wrong with either Georgetown or Ohio State here, and this is very close to a 50-50 game, but I'm going to lean toward Ohio State.

Elite 8:

My Pick:
1. Kansas over 2. Ohio State

Both Ohio State and Georgetown are outstanding teams with real Final Four potential, so I'll talk about both of them and their chances against Kansas. The only chance Ohio State has is for Evan Turner to completely take over this game, because they don't have any other players that can really create a lot of offense for themselves. Jon Diebler, for example, is incredibly dependent on Turner opening up space for him. His numbers went down by more than half when Turner was out because he couldn't create his own offense. Kansas has a tremendous defense, finishing second in the nation in field goal defense (40%). That said, if they have a weakness it's three-point defense, and so it's possible if Kansas becomes too pre-occupied with Turner that Diebler could get lost and start knocking down threes from all over the floor. But that's a big if. Kansas is just so strong from top to bottom. And Ohio State is a thin team that is vulnerable against teams with a lot of big, quality offensive frontcourt players. If Dallas Lauderdale gets in foul trouble then it's game over.

As for Georgetown, they're going to have to be perfect offensively to have a chance. Their defense is weaker than their offense, and they're a poor rebounding team, so Kansas will torch them. And when you consider again that Georgetown has a tendency to turn the ball over, and also is 257th in the nation in offensive block percentage, those are all bad stats against a Kansas team that is tremendous at ball-hawking and in blocking shots with their imposing big men. And Georgetown is even more vulnerable than Ohio State is to foul trouble for their key post player, and Kansas is excellent at drawing fouls - particularly Cole Aldrich and the Morris brothers in the paint.

And the other key thing to remember here is that Kansas has a much easier path to the Elite 8 than either Georgetown or Ohio State. So if you're going to pick Georgetown and Ohio State here then not only do you have to think they're better than even odds to beat Kansas straight up, but you've got to think that they're a big enough favorite to overcome the greater likelihood of Kansas being in this game at all. And since Kansas is clearly the best team in the nation, I just don't see how you can come to that conclusion.


Anonymous said...

How long to wait for the Final Four analysis???

JonL. said...

Jeff, Do you really think GT has no chance against OkSt.? With them being bigger I figure Hewitt would know this and make them pound inside against them and take of advantage of the size difference.

Anonymous said...

I am with Sonicman in the this debate. I feel like GT is coming off some great momentum from the ACC tourney and pull the so-called "upset" here.

Anonymous said...

I took GA Tech as an ACC homer, but never underestimate Paul Hewitt's inability to execute an obvious strategy.

JonL. said...

And...I will have to agree with Anonymous (#3? lol). Heweitt has not had his team play up to their ability in several games this year. They came out of the gates hot at the beginning of the season and then started losing 1 nail biter after another. You HAVE to win those games. Heck, some of them shouldn't have been close to begin with.

IF they play up to their potential. They'll definitely take the 1st round but they just dont have their heads on straight enough to take down Ohio St. UN-fortunately.