Sunday, March 23, 2014

Day 6 Open Thread + Picking The Lines

One of the more amusing things in media coverage is that way that we judge coaches basically on things out of their control. If Georgetown can hit a couple of extra open jump shots last season, Florida Gulf Coast goes down in the Round of 64 and nobody even considers Andy Enfield a viable major conference head coach. Yet he gets two fluke wins, and suddenly not only is he USC head coach but everybody in the media calls it a better hire than UCLA's hire of Steve Alford, who is the far, far more accomplished head coach.

We saw that last night with Dayton, where they had their second straight final possession tourney win. If Archie Miller should be in line for a high major job, why is it that he becomes less desirable because Devin Oliver missed the front end of a one-and-one late? Why does he suddenly become much more desirable because Tyler Ennis missed a buzzer beater by a fraction of an inch that was an easier shot than the buzzer beater he hit earlier in the season to beat Pitt? If Archie Miller deserves a job, judging it on the results of one or two close games is dumb. I understand that this is how morons on message boards and who do sportswriting at a lot of major outlets think, but athletic directors need to be smarter. Though often you get the sense that they aren't.

This poor thinking is not unique to sports, by the way. We see the over-reacting to small sample sizes statistically inseparable from randomness in all areas of life. There are plenty of books about this bias in the world of business, if you want to check them out on Amazon.

Well, I went only 5-3 against the spread yesterday, but came within a few seconds of 7-1. The Oregon and Michigan State beats, within minutes of each other, were brutal. I'm not sure which was worse, though I'd lean toward Harvard hitting a meaningless layup in the final second to cost Michigan State the cover. Particularly since I took MSU-7.5 when some casinos had it at MSU-7. Sigh. This is why you don't gamble more than a few bucks at a time for fun, people. Don't try to make your living this way. Don't do that to yourself.

Please join me in the comments below for a discussion or catch me on twitter. Below are my picks against the spread:

Yesterday ATS: 5-3-0
2014 Tournament ATS: 26-16-2
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Kansas (-6) over Stanford: Stanford is a solid team, but I don't think they're built to beat Kansas. They do not force a lot of turnovers and don't draw a lot of fouls, which are the two ways to really take advantage of Kansas's weaknesses. The Jayhawks are certainly the better team, and they should win. The one caveat here is that this Stanford team has a lot of size. Without Joel Embiid, the Jayhawks are vulnerable to big front lines, but the Cardinal are not a team that tends to take advantage of their size. They don't have a premier paint scorer and they don't get after the offensive glass. Kansas should win.

Kentucky (+4.5) over Wichita State: I have to admit, this spread is larger than I expected. I thought it would be closer to two. Wichita State's thumping of Cal Poly seemed to impress people, though I'm not sure why it necessarily should. Certainly the concern for Kentucky is going to be scoring, as Wichita State plays a very sound defense that tends to limit second opportunities and easy baskets. At the same time, Wichita State is not a team that has outside shooters, and Willie Cauley-Stein could make this one very interesting. I picked Wichita State to win this game in my bracket, and I do think that's the right pick, but don't be shocked if Kentucky pulls the upset.

North Carolina (+1.5) over Iowa State: This would be a fair line if Iowa State was healthy. But they're not. Georges Niang is (in my opinion) Iowa State's second best and second most important player after DeAndre Kane. Iowa State also suddenly only has a six man rotation in a game that is likely to be played at an awfully high tempo. As the weakest 3 seed, Iowa State was a dicey Sweet 16 pick to begin with, but with Georges Niang done for the season, North Carolina has the be the favorite to win this game outright.

Tennessee (-8) over Mercer: Tennessee, as an 11 seed, will not only be a big favorite in both the Round of 64 and the Round of 32, but they'll likely only be something like a two point underdog against the 2 seed Michigan in the Sweet 16. It's hard to really call them a Cinderella since they're not really upsetting anybody. As for this game, Tennessee is substantially more athletic and physical, and their strong three-point defense should limit Mercer's one real weapon. It would be stunning if Mercer somehow won this game.

UCLA (-9) over Stephen F. Austin: The biggest concern I have in this game is size. UCLA is a massive team, and while they don't always take advantage of it (neither Kyle Anderson or the Wear Twins ever score much out of a traditional post set), this is still just a massive gap. Jordan Adams is only one inch shorter than the tallest guy in Stephen F. Austin's primary six man rotation. The Lumberjacks did stun VCU in the last round, but they also got really lucky (a VCU collapse plus a couple of dicey referee calls late) just to get to overtime. And UCLA is even better than VCU.

Creighton (-3) over Baylor: Baylor is going to struggle to keep up offensively. The one area Creighton is strong defensively is defensive rebounding, which will take away a key part of Baylor's scoring. The only consistent, effective scorer from the perimeter that Baylor has is Brady Heslip, but Heslip isn't going to outscore Creighton's outside shooters. The only way Creighton loses this game will be if they break down in the paint and get completely out-physical'd.

Virginia (-6) over Memphis: I really like Virginia here. Memphis is a team that is sloppy and undisciplined offensively, and they're going to get eaten alive by this great Cavaliers defense. Also, people forget that this Virginia team can score (the second best offense in the ACC), so there's not much of a risk of this being a 45-42 slog. If Memphis won this it would probably be the most surprising upset of the tourney thus far aside from Mercer over Duke.

Gonzaga (+7) over Arizona: Arizona is happy that Oklahoma State was taken down in the Round of 64, but Gonzaga isn't that much easier of an opponent. The Zags were quietly a very good team this year, held back by a poor schedule more than anything. This is a game that could really be a grind, as both teams are built around a strong defense, and neither team has a lot of shooters (we've seen Kevin Pangos go nuts before, but it's inconsistent with him). Sam Dower did not see much of the ball against Oklahoma State, but I don't think that can be the strategy here. The Zags need to focus on getting the ball inside and getting Arizona's thin front line in foul trouble. Arizona has an outstanding starting lineup, but their bench falls off very quickly. If Aaron Gordon gets in foul trouble early, Gonzaga can definitely win this game outright.

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