Saturday, March 26, 2016

Elite 8 Day 1 Picking The Lines

Every year before the NCAA Tournament I preach that you cannot judge teams, coaches, or programs based on what happens in a one-and-done tournament, and every year I end up spending one of these "Picking The Lines" posts talking down a narrative. And here we are.

This year the narrative is that the ACC is the best conference, since they have a full half of the Elite 8. Certainly, North Carolina and Virginia have been dominant, but we knew that they were elite teams coming in. Teams like Duke and Miami got wiped out in blowouts, while mediocre ACC teams like Syracuse and Notre Dame have gotten lucky in close games. The reality is that ACC teams combined to play close to 300 games this season. Justifying an entire league because Kyle Wiltjer missed a crucial shot, or because the refs looked the other way as Nigel Hayes got hacked in the backcourt, is pretty dumb and irrational. Yeah, Syracuse stunned Gonzaga yesterday, but they also lost to St. John's by 12 points. You don't get to pick one game by one team and have it define an entire conference.

We can debate how we define "the best conference", but by any kind of average computer rating it was the Big 12 by quite a bit this season, and a handful of games in the NCAA Tournament don't change that. A few fluky wins doesn't change the fact that Boston College and Wake Forest were in the ACC, too. It all has to matter.

Anyway, let's get to today's games:

Yesterday ATS: 2-2-0
2016 Tournament ATS: 31-28-1
2015 Tournament ATS: 39-28-0 (58%)
2010-14 ATS: 181-139-11 (57%)

Villanova (+2) over Kansas: I took Kansas in my bracket, but I think that there's something to be said for how utterly dominant Villanova has been so far. #Momentum is not a thing that exists, but teams do get better or worse as seasons go along, and Villanova is currently playing their best basketball of the season. In large part, this game is going to come down to which team hits their outside shots at a higher rate. I do worry about the Kansas ball handling against Villanova's pressure defense. If Villanova's outside shots aren't falling, however, the Kansas interior defense is dominant.

Oklahoma (+1) over Oregon: This Vegas line is fair, but I do think that it would be a mistake to overreact too much to that blowout of Duke. Oregon was great, but it was still just one game. My biggest concern in this game is an Oregon defense that has a great shot blocker in Chris Boucher, but which has struggled to defend the three-point line. Oklahoma led the Big 12 in the fraction of offense from three-pointers, and they were dead last in the fraction of offense gotten from two-pointers. They're happy to chuck up threes. Offensively, Oregon will pose difficulty for an Oklahoma front line that isn't particularly deep, but Oklahoma has proven to be a solid defensive rebounding team and they protect the paint reasonably well, if not at the same level as Oregon. The Ducks looked great on Thursday, but I'd bet on regression here.

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