Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sweet 16 (Day 1) Open Thread + Picking The Lines

It's close to 48 hours before the Sweet 16 tips off, but I figured I'd do the "Open Thread + Picking The Lines" post early. Why so generous? Because I have no conference preview post to go with today. The next batch includes the Ohio Valley Conference, and a couple of OVC teams are still playing in tournaments, so it has to wait. So while the next batch of previews won't be posted until at least Friday, you can chew on my previews of the first four Sweet 16 games now.

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

Day 6 ATS: 4-4-0
2014 Tournament ATS: 30-20-2
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Stanford (-3) over Dayton: A lot of your perception of this game has to be your perception of Dayton. They won 10 of their final 12 games prior to the NCAA Tournament, and have made the run to the Sweet 16. Are they really so much better than their overall computer numbers? I'm not sure they are. Let's keep in mind that both of their NCAA Tournament games came down to the final possession, and so they're the luckiest team in the Sweet 16. Stanford's size could be an issue for an undersized Dayton squad, and the Flyers have struggled to score even throughout this run (they're averaging just 0.93 PPP in the NCAA Tournament). Stanford is deservedly the favorite, and I wouldn't sweat the three point line.

Wisconsin (-3) over Baylor: There's far too much overreaction to Baylor's fluke win over Creighton. I don't mean a "fluke win" as saying that Creighton deserved to win - they didn't - but that margin of victory was entirely due to insane three-point luck. If both teams shot their season averages behind the arc, Baylor's 30 point victory would have dropped to 3. Baylor has held their two NCAA Tournament opponents to 0.90 PPP, which is great, but also a relatively small sample size. Their two opponents are shooting 56% on twos and 20% on threes. Remembering that the former is heavily impacted by defensive skill while the latter is almost entirely luck, I see evidence of a decent defense that has gotten really lucky. And keeping in mind that Baylor's five most recent pre-tourney opponents all scored at least 1.1 PPP (including TCU) and I'm very skeptical that Baylor's mediocre defense has turned the corner. Considering that Wisconsin does a good job denying three-pointers, Baylor is going to have to dominate the glass to win this game unless the Badgers go ice cold behind the arc. I'd bet against it.

Florida (-4.5) over UCLA: Florida has knocked UCLA out of the NCAA Tournament three times in the last eight seasons, including twice in the Final Four (including the 2006 title game), so UCLA fans are approaching this game with dread. To win this game, UCLA is going to have to force a whole lot of turnovers. It's possible, as this Florida team has struggled against all sorts of opponents when committing turnovers on more than 20% of possessions. But without those turnovers, UCLA's half court defense just is not that good, and Florida should light them up offensively. UCLA was able to absolutely overwhelm a tiny Stephen F. Austin squad with their size, but Florida shouldn't struggle too much there. UCLA taking out Florida would be a stunning upset, so I'd risk the 4.5 points.

San Diego State (+7.5) over Arizona: This is a massive spread, and feels like an overreaction to Arizona's crushing of Gonzaga. And Arizona definitely did crush Gonzaga - it wasn't the type of statistical fluke I was talking about with Baylor/Creighton. Arizona had 15 steals and 8 blocks while allowing only 16 made baskets. Aside from 1/16 and 2/15 games, that was the single most one-sided game I've seen in the entire tourney. An absolute annihilation. But it's just one game, and I'd trust Xavier Thames much more than any of the ball handlers on Gonzaga, With both of these teams significantly better defensively than offensively, this has the chance to be a low-scoring, physical game. With a spread this large, I'd definitely take the points and hope that we end up with an exciting end to the night of games.

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