Monday, April 04, 2011

Championship Game Preview

Total through Final Four Against The Spread: 40-25-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Butler (+3) over UConn: I know that a lot of people treated the UConn/Kentucky game as the Varsity Final Four game while the Butler/VCU game was the "isn't it cute that those teams got in" JV game. But if you watched those games objectively, it was quite clear that the Butler/VCU game had a higher quality of play. The UConn/Kentucky game was exciting, but it was horribly played offensively. There were a ton of rushed shots, and neither team could run any kind of system. If Kentucky only shot poorly, instead of terribly, they'd have won the game. They had seven more offensive rebounds and five fewer turnovers. And in fact, UConn almost always loses games like that. They finished in 13th place in the Big East in both 2P% and 3P%, and usually depend on dominating the boards to win games (they are 7th in the nation in offensive rebounding rate). Well, Butler has outrebounded their opponents in four of their five NCAA Tournament games, including a destruction of VCU on the boards in the National Semifinals.

Butler's biggest flaw is ball handling. As good as Shawn Vanzant, Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are at making their own shots and scoring, none are true points, and Butler has struggled against aggressive defenses. They've actually lost the turnover battle in three of their five games in the NCAA Tournament, and the biggest reason that they beat VCU was that they only turned the ball over nine times. UConn doesn't turn anybody over, and actually finished 15th in the Big East in defensive turnover rate.

UConn will have the best player on the floor, but they aren't going to win the turnover battle and aren't likely to shoot that well. Honestly, I think UConn has to dominate the boards to win this game, and that's going to be very difficult. Neither ODU or Pitt could dominate the boards against Butler, particularly with the way that Khyle Marshall has been such a force off the bench (22 offensive rebounds in 88 NCAA Tournament minutes). To put Marshall's numbers in perspective, his 10 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes played in the NCAA Tournament are more than 213 of 345 Division I teams averaged as a team this season - and Marshall did it against elite defensive rebounding teams like ODU, Pitt, Florida and Wisconsin (Pitt, Florida and Wisconsin led the Big East, SEC and Big Ten, respectively, in defensive rebounding percentage, and ODU led the entire nation in rebounding margin per game). Matt Howard has done a great job of staying out of foul trouble, and Andrew Smith is more than capable of playing extended minutes and holding his own. All bets are off if Howard and Smith get into early foul trouble, but the interesting part of that is: will UConn even try to get them into foul trouble? Attacking Howard and Smith means playing the ball through the paint and taking it out of the hands of Kemba Walker. Is Jim Calhoun willing to take that risk just to try to get the Butler bigs in foul trouble?

In my opinion, Butler is the favorite and I'd take them even without the three points.


Anonymous said...

This is without a doubt the worst title game I've ever seen. The fact that Butler is only down 10 with 20% shooting says a whole lot about this game.

Jeff said...

Yeah. The upsets are great when they happen, but the downside is that you get a weak Final Four. As much fun as the Butler and VCU runs were, it's a shame that we didn't get a chance to see games like Ohio State vs Duke or Kansas, or a Pitt/Kansas Final Four game.

If Butler could have hit anywhere near their season average on open shots they'd have won the game easily. I wonder if the big football stadiums they play these Final Fours in are beneficial to a team like UConn that can't shoot anyway. They want a game where neither team can shoot. I'm not sure fans want to see that, though...