I'm consistently amazed at how many people seem to dislike defense. Throughout this year's NCAA Tournament, there has been a consistent harping from certain corners (particularly the older, establishment writers) that the charge is called way too much and should be called more like the NBA. Because, you know, if there's one thing we have too much in college basketball it's players putting their bodies on the line to make a defensive play. Much better to have NBA matador defense.
We saw the same attitude during the Indiana/Kentucky game tonight, with people oohing and ahhing about how it was the best game in the Tournament so far. It was a good game, but the high scoring had more to do with awful defense than anything else. Indiana has had poor defense all season long, so the bigger surprise was how poorly the normally stout Kentucky defense played. If it wasn't for some unconscious free throw shooting (35-for-37 for the game), Kentucky could well have lost the game.
It seems like a lot of people view the NBA All-Star game as the ideal basketball game - tons of points, no defense. I disagree. But then again, it's like how casual baseball fans tend to prefer 10-9 games to complete game shutouts.
Anyway, I've had a weird dichotomy with my Tournament projections this season. I hit 7 of the 8 Elite Eight teams (the one I missed was Florida), and I still have my entire Final Four left. Yet I'm getting killed against the spread. Friday night was the perfect example - I correctly picked the winner of all four games, and all four came within 5 points of the Vegas line, and somehow I went 1-3 against the spread.
Oh well. Hopefully I've helped some people win their Tournament pools, even if I haven't helped you picking games at the betting window in Vegas.
Friday ATS: 1-3-0
Total through Friday ATS: 26-32-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3
Louisville (+1.5) over Florida: Florida is always a hard team to pick because they live and die by the three. Louisville is not a great three-point defense, and if Florida gets hot then they can run Louisville out of the building. The concern, of course, is that if they're not hitting their threes then they're in trouble. Louisville has been shutting down everybody lately, speeding up games and forcing turnovers. Florida prefers to play at a deliberate pace, but they will run if Louisville presses enough. I will say that I think Florida matches up very well with Louisville - Louisville is more vulnerable against perimeter-oriented offenses, and particularly against offenses that don't turn the ball over. But I simply think that Louisville is playing better basketball right now. I also like Louisville's superior depth with this being the second tough game for both teams in a three day span. Louisville has seven really good interchangeable players while Florida has a gigantic drop-off after their starting five. If Beal, Walker & Boynton can't all play heavy minutes against the Louisvlile press, they'll be in trouble.
Ohio State (-3) over Syracuse: The fact that Ohio State is favored by 3 points has nothing to do with the Fab Melo injury. Sagarin projects a three point win and Pomeroy projects a four point win. Ohio State has simply been a better team than Syracuse this season, as I've been saying for a while. Syracuse was a weak 1 seed even before the Fab Melo injury. In my view, Syracuse has been lucky so far. They got some gifts from the refs late in their game against UNC-Asheville, then they had Kansas State lose their heart and soul to suspension about a half hour before game tip, and then they faced a Wisconsin team that matches up really poorly against the Syracuse weaknesses. While the difference in team quality between Wisconsin and Ohio State is pretty small, OSU matches up much better against the Syracuse zone. They have two good interior weapons who will challenge Syracuse in the post like Wisconsin couldn't. They also led the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage, which will put a lot of pressure on a horrible defensive rebounding Syracuse team. The only way in which Ohio State is an inferior opponent for Syracuse than Wisconsin is with ball handling (Ohio State was only 6th in the Big Ten in offensive turnover percentage in conference play), and so there is a chance that Syracuse can force enough turnovers to get the large number of transition baskets that they'll need to win this game. But I'd bet against it. I think Ohio State is the clear pick.