Friday, March 28, 2014

Sweet 16 (Day 2) Open Thread + Picking The Lines

It wasn't the most exciting set of first round games of the Sweet 16, though I do think we set up a really nice Arizona/Wisconsin match-up that should be an interesting contrast in styles. Dayton might have had their best performance of the NCAA Tournament so far, as they just keep getting better. Hard to imagine how big the party in the streets will be if they somehow stun Florida in the Elite 8.

But I think day two of the Sweet 16 is what most people are waiting for. Louisville/Kentucky is going to get massive tv ratings, but every game is great. No offense to Dayton/Stanford, but there's no Dayton/Stanford tonight. Let's get into it:

Sweet 16 Day 1 ATS: 3-1-0
2014 Tournament ATS: 33-21-2
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Tennessee (+2.5) over Michigan: Technically this will be an upset if Tennessee takes out Michigan, but not much of one. Pomeroy actually has Tennessee as the 1 point favorite while Sagarin has the game a toss-up. Don't be blinded by the seeds, as Michigan is a weak 2 seed and Tennessee is probably the strongest 11 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee is now ranked one of the ten best teams in the country by both Sagarin and Pomeroy.

Now what about the individual match-ups? I think Tennessee matches up really well with Michigan. Their three-point defense is really good at running opponents off the arc (21st in the nation and 2nd in the SEC in 3PA/FGA defense, and their ability to crash the glass (4th in the nation in OR%) will be a test for a Michigan team that was below average in Big Ten play on both the offensive and defensive glass. In my opinion, Tennessee should be the favorite in this game. I would actually recommend the money line rather than the 2.5 points.

UConn (+1.5) over Iowa State: This is another peculiar line, though makes sense when you consider that Iowa State is an extremely "public" team this season. The spread fits Sagarin's numbers, though Pomeroy has UConn favored by a point. But of course, Iowa State is without Georges Niang. Iowa State managed to escape North Carolina, but they were powered by unsustainable 12-for-26 three-point shooting. The Cyclones are going to struggle to score against the big UConn defensive front line. They're not usually a strong shooting team, though obviously they proved against North Carolina that they can do it for 40 minutes.

Louisville (-4) over Kentucky: Kentucky is BAAAAAAACK. Okay, maybe not. Let's not overreact to Fred Van Vleet missing an open three-pointer at the buzzer. Kentucky was coming off an unimpressive 7 point win over Kansas State, which came after a 5-5 finish in their final ten games before the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky is obviously a very strong 8 seed, but there's no evidence that they're on a Dayton-type run where they're improving drastically down the stretch.

Kentucky beat Louisville head to head back in December, but Louisville's 6-for-26 three-point shooting is unlikely to be repeated. The other key to that win for Kentucky was managing to only commit 11 turnovers against the aggressive Louisville defense. If they can do that again then they can win. But Kentucky was just 7th in the SEC in offensive turnover rate, so the Harrison twins are going to have to come up big to prevent easy transition buckets for Louisville.

Michigan State (-2) over Virginia: This spread is a fair line, I think. The computers would have this more of a toss-up, but Michigan State is obviously playing better ball now that they're fully healthy. The match-ups will be the key to this one. Michigan State's offense depends heavily on jump shooting, and they have a whole bunch of guys who can hit open shots. They led the entire Big Ten with 41.0% three-point shooting in conference play. This Virginia team, though, tends to pack in their defense, and they're not a great three-point defense. They led the ACC in 3P% defense, but were only 10th in 3PA/FGA defense, and the latter is a significantly better metric of three-point defense than the former.

Offensively, this Virginia team is probably the most underrated in the nation. They were the second best offense in the ACC this season, but because they play at a slow tempo they don't get any credit for it. We'll hear a lot from the announcers tonight about how great their defense is and how they "grind out wins", but you won't hear a word about their elite offense. They're a jump shooting team, though. They don't generate a lot of their offense in the paint, and they likely won't do it against a Michigan State team with so many defensive bigs. Michigan State is not a good three-point defense, so if Virginia gets hot, they can definitely win this. But with a spread this small, just pick the team you think is going to win. I think Michigan State is playing better right now, and Virginia does not have a clear match-up advantage. I give the Spartans the narrow edge.

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