Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Picking The Lines: Sweet 16 Games

It's time to take a break from previewing the 2010-11 season pick some lines for the Sweet 16. As you all know, I've been a victim of statistical flukes this Tournament. There are always going to be a bunch of one-game flukes, like Georgia Tech's free throw shooting against Oklahoma State, or Cornell's team-wide shooting against Wisconsin, and it just seemed like every single one of those went against me this year. Just an awful run.

That said, I'm hopeful after finally having a good day picking the lines for Sunday's games, going 7-1 against the spread to bring myself to 26-20-2 against the line through two rounds. So does that mean you should trust my gambling advice for the first time in a couple of weeks? Maybe. Although don't get mad at me if the next team to go 24-for-25 from the free throw line is a team I picked against. Without further ado, here's my take on the Sweet 16 lines:

Butler (+6) over Syracuse: It looks like Arinze Onuaku probably wont play, and Syracuse could finally suffer from their lack of depth. Without Onuaku they barely even attempt to push the ball inside, and just launch deep shots all game. They hit them against Gonzaga, but there's no reason to expect them to shoot that well again. And Butler is a much better team than Gonzaga. Don't be surprised to see Syracuse go down.

West Virginia (-3.5) over Washington: The Truck Bryant injury doesn't change my mind here. West Virginia is just the much better team, and Washington has simply benefited from an easy path to the Sweet 16. Their run will end here.

Cornell (+10) over Kentucky: Kentucky's defense isn't any better than Wisconsin's, so if Cornell repeats their shooting performance then it's not impossible for them to take out Kentucky.

Kansas State (-5) over Xavier: If Kansas State plays half as well as they did against BYU, they should take care of a Xavier team that is going to really struggle to stop the K-State backcourt. Xavier doesn't have the athleticism to keep up, and that line is too small for me to bet on a close finish.

Ohio State (-4.5) over Tennessee: People forget that despite wins over Kentucky and Kansas and a Sweet 16 appearance, that the win over San Diego State was only Tennessee's third win over the RPI Top 50 this season. Ohio State has been rolling, and I can see them dominating the Vols here.

Baylor (-4) over Saint Mary's: Baylor has had all week to figure out how to stop Omar Samhan. And Saint Mary's doesn't have a lot of offensive options if he struggles or gets into foul trouble. Saint Mary's is good, but they're overrated because people forget how awful Villanova has been for well more than a month now: beating them isn't the same as beating a team like West Virginia or Ohio State. In fact, Baylor has been much better than Villanova of late, and will prove an even tougher test.

Michigan State (-4) over Northern Iowa: The Kalin Lucas injury is the only reason this line is so close, because the Spartans were so downright awful with the ball when Lucas was out earlier this season. But they had those troubles against Big Ten defenses, and Northern Iowa won't be quite as pesky. And not only is Northern Iowa due for a letdown after that big win over Kansas, but you can bet that Tom Izzo, arguably the best NCAA Tournament coach of the past 15 years, has spent all week studying how badly Northern Iowa struggled to handle the Kansas full court press late in the game. Northern Iowa has been very careful with the ball most of the season, but Michigan State might pressure them and force enough turnovers to balance out however many turnovers they commit themselves. And if the turnover numbers are remotely close then there's no way Northern Iowa can win.

Duke (-7) over Purdue: This is where the run ends for Purdue, a team that had a pretty easy path to the Sweet 16. Duke has been playing so well over the last few weeks, and is arguably the best team left in the Tournament. The upset of Kansas and the injuries for West Virginia and Syracuse mean that Kentucky might be the only true contender left that might stop Duke from another National Championship.


Anonymous said...

Jeff, can you look at that KSU, Xavier matchup again and call it for the Musketeers? I don't want you to jinx my Wildcats! Just kidding, I think that is a fairly safe bet, but it will be awesome to see if Cornell can pull off the upset over Kentucky, and the same with Butler over Syracuse. I hope you are right!

Anonymous said...

Syracuse seems to constructed very similarly to Ohio State after the Onuaku injury. Both teams are razor thin (they both go only six deep). Both teams havestud swingmen that can carry them at times (Wesley Johnson/Evan Turner). Both only have one true post player. Both have an excellent collection of perimeter players. So why do you feel Syracuse might lose to a Butler team that struggled against Murray State but Ohio State will steamroll over Tennessee?

Jeff said...

Well I thought Ohio State was as good as Syracuse even before the Onuaku injury. And you can't discount the fact that Butler is probably better than Tennessee, and also is a good match-up for a zone defense.

And Syracuse actually doesn't go with a six man rotation, they're effectively going with a seven man rotation, because DaShonte Riley plays every time Rick Jackson isn't on the floor. I would expect every future Syracuse opponent to do what Gonzaga did, which was to pound the ball right at Jackson until he got into foul trouble. And the drop off between the regular rotation and Riley is dramatic: Riley is absolutely useless right now. He's a total zero on the offensive end, to the point that Syracuse doesn't even pass him the ball, and just launches threes around him. According to Pomeroy, Riley ends only 11.5% of possessions when he's on the floor, and 35.3% of those possessions were ended with a turnover. In other words, at the average rate of possessions that Syracuse plays per game, Riley could stay on the floor for 40 minutes and he'll end only five possessions with a shot.

Syracuse shot 12-for-25 behind the arc against Gonzaga, and they might have to shoot like that again to survive Butler.

In the end, it comes down to Rick Jackson. If he stays on the floor for 35 minutes then they probably win, and if he gets into foul trouble then there's a pretty good chance that they'll lose. I'm not sure how confident I am that Jackson can stay out of foul trouble.

Anonymous said...

For the season Syracuse shot 51.7% from the field (1st in the nation) and 39.2% from the three point line (17th in the nation). So yeah they went 12-25 from the three point line against the Zags but that’s not really an aberration…they’ve been a great shooting team all season.
Ohio State is shooting 49% from the field (5th in the nation) and 39% from three point line (19th in the nation)…both very strong numbers. For the season OSU shot 80 more threes than Syracuse. In the last game 25 of Syracuse’s 53 shots were threes while 21 of OSU’s 51 shots were threes. Based on the numbers OSU seems to be as equally as reliant on the three ball as Syracuse yet you only describe them as the three point shooting team.
I purposely said Syracuse has a six man rotation simply because I don’t even include Riley. He gives cuse no value right now. I should have said Syracuse goes with a 6 ½ man rotation.
Wesley Johnson similarly to evan turner was hurt late in the season which is why cuse struggled (just like OSU). Again the only difference is the timing of the injuries…Turner got hurt earlier in the so OSU had more time to recover. Johnson is just now healthy again and it’s showing
OSU’s only big man Dallas Lauderdale is actually more foul prone than Jackson is so why won’t OSU struggle when he’s out?
Again I’m comparing OSU and Syracuse because to me they’re almost mirror images of each other except one plays man while the other plays zone and that’s why I had both of them in my Final Four along with Duke and WVU before the tourney started. Yet you seem to emphasize Cuse’s weaknesses but ignore Ohio State’s.

Jeff said...

It's hard to compare the Evan Turner and Wes Johnson injuries. Johnson wasn't ever really injured so much as he was hampered. He didn't miss any games, and only played short minutes in a game or two. Turner basically broke his back and it was shocking he was only out for about a month.

Also, Turner is the best player in the country. Syracuse can much more easily replace Wes Johnson. So it's not really comparable.

And I included Riley just because he's had to play. He played 15 minutes against Gonzaga, and 12 against Vermont. Like you said, he's useless. I've never appreciated Rick Jackson so much, because when he came back into the game for Riley in the second half he looked like a cross between Tim Duncan and Shaq. Talk about "value over replacement player"!

But again, the point is that Onuaku is a big loss. To argue that Syracuse without Onuaku is as good as a fully healthy Ohio State is to argue that a fully healthy Syracuse is dramatically better than a fully healthy Ohio State, and I don't believe that at all. They are fairly comparable teams.

But here's the real point: not only did Syracuse shoot well above average, but Gonzaga couldn't hit a shot to save their lives. I can't remember ever seeing Matt Bouldin that bad. Gonzaga actually out-rebounded Syracuse, and also had fewer turnovers. Syracuse is a better shooting team, but remember that their 2-point shooting percentage is so good because they have so many fast break layups and second-chance dunks off of offensive rebounds. You can't expect them to shoot at their normal rate when they're firing from the perimeter.

So when you consider that an average shooting day for Gonzaga and an average shooting day for Syracuse makes that game a toss-up, and when you consider that Butler is just a lot better than a wildly overrated Gonzaga team that needed a minor miracle to get by Florida State (they were the first team in more than two years to shoot 50% against Florida State... which should put in perspective how awful their shooting was against Syracuse), that game is pretty even.

Of course, Matt Howard is just awful about fouling himself out of games (I've seen him commit some truly idiotic fouls this season). But as we saw in the game against Murray State, Butler might be a better team when he's on the bench anyway. Who on Syracuse can guard Gordon Hayward? And Zach Hahn could go nuts from behind the arc. All zones are vulnerable to three-point shooting, and Syracuse is no exception.

Anonymous said...

Syracuse did shoot lights out against Gonzaga, even for their extremely high standards. Moreover, without Onuaku Syracuse managed to grab offensive rebounds AND defensive rebounds at a higher rate than Gonzaga, and obviously outrebounded Gonzaga overall.
I don't think that Syracuse will be able to replicate that success on the offensive glass against Butler. But Butler is such a horrible offensive rebounding team, and I expect Syracuse to be able to push their offensive tempo off Butler misses a little more than they did against Gonzaga, and this is a style of play that actually benefits from Onuaku's absence. If Syracuse can dictate the pace in this way, I think they'll find themselves having a much easier time against a slowdown Butler team than Kansas had when they let Northern Iowa dictate pace.
As far as Butler killing the zone with threes, I guess it's possible, but Butler has been only average on threes all year, and Syracuse does have a very solid track record of defending the three. It would actually be more likely for Syracuse to go on a tear from the arc. But we shall see.

Jeff said...

To be clear, I'm not saying Butler will win. I do think Syracuse is the favorite to win. I simply think there's a high enough chance that this will be a very close game that when given the spread I'm taking the points.

In fact, despite the Onuaku injury I still think Syracuse is the most likely team to escape that region and make the Final Four. They have benefited from a soft region, and either Kansas State or Xavier won't be nearly the battle that West Virginia, Ohio State or even Baylor would be.

Questionable Picks said...

You've been underrating Syracuse all year. Your projections consistently had them seeded below any of the other bracket matrix projections (until the very end of the season, when you could no longer make any sort of reasonable argument not seed them 1).

Now you're trying to discredit the team if they make the final 4 by blaming it on a "soft region" since Kansas State is no Ohio State, West Virginia or Baylor. That's crazy talk. Kansas State beat Baylor twice this season in their only head to head matchups, including a win at Baylor. So you tell me which is the better team. Why not discredit Duke if they win their region? Also Syracuse beat West Virginia at West Virgnia in their only matchup this season and they'd be the favorites if they played again. I can already hear it - SU won with Onuaku, the game wouldn't be the same without him, etc. But even if Onuaku was healthy you'd still find a reason to either pick against Syracuse or discredit their wins.

Admit it - you try to be neutral but deep down you root against SU.

Jeff said...

I picked Syracuse to win the game. But, you're right, I really have a deep-seated hated against Syracuse and only Syracuse. I will always pick against them in every single game... except this one.

I understand that I've been a favorite punching bag by a couple of out of control Syracuse fans this year. But even other Syracuse fans on the Syracuse forums have put you guys in your place. Get over your inferiority complex, guys.