Monday, April 03, 2017

Title Game Picking The Lines

There is a significant segment both of the media and of ordinary sports fans who simply cannot accept the idea of a "mid-major" program being on par with a blue blood. After all, these mid-majors aren't stacked with one-and-done guys like Duke or Kentucky, or getting steady 4- and 5-star guys like North Carolina or Kansas. They play too many white guys, damnit!

And so the excuses come thick and fast. We hear that they didn't play anybody in the regular season and got an unjustified seed:
But it doesn't matter because Gonzaga always falters in the NCAA Tournament:
And if Gonzaga wins? Meh, who did they play, anyway?
Of course, the idea that Gonzaga's path to the Final Four was any easier than North Carolina's path to the Final Four is simply not borne out by the facts (Gonzaga's route to the Final 4 is on the left while North Carolina's is on the right, with both images from

No matter what happens tonight, there will be some who will find a negative angle for Gonzaga - there will still be whining about how easy of a path they had to get here. But if they defeat 1 seed North Carolina in a title game, it will be a fitting topper for an extraordinary nearly-two-decade run for Gonzaga hoops as one of the premier programs in the nation.

It's been a weird NCAA Tournament picking the spread, and easily my worst performance ever, but let's do this one more time:

Saturday ATS: 0-2-0
2017 Tournament ATS: 32-31-3 (51%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)

Gonzaga (+1) over North Carolina: This is a "public" line, as they say. Most every computer rating, including Pomeroy, Sagarin, and BPI all have Gonzaga as a narrow favorite here. And Gonzaga has played better throughout the NCAA Tournament thus far.

As has been obvious for a long time, the way to beat North Carolina is to neutralize them on the glass, and if you can't do that then you need to shoot the lights out from deep (North Carolina was dead last in the ACC in defensive 3PA/FGA ratio, so if you get hot from behind the arc they won't do much to slow you down). Gonzaga certainly has the size to withstand North Carolina and they are a solid defensive rebounding team, though not a great one. The fact that North Carolina does not draw a lot of fouls should help Gonzaga's front line stay in tact more than it was during their foul-prone game against South Carolina.

Defensively, North Carolina certainly has the size to throw at Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins. As noted above, North Carolina is far more vulnerable to outside shooting than paint scoring, and Gonzaga is a solid shooting team but hardly great. It's trite to say this, but if Gonzaga shoots well then they likely win this game but if they go cold then they probably won't.

In the end, I think Gonzaga is just a good value here. They are likely the better team, have been playing better over the last few weeks, and match up reasonably well in terms of personnel. They are my pick to win.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Final Four Picking The Lines

After having so many strong teams that just didn't quite have the breaks go their way, it's nice to see Gonzaga finally break through and make a Final Four. They've had to deal with "Well who did they beat, anyway?" "They'd struggle to go .500 in a real conference" garbage every season.

NCAA Tournament results, of course, prove nothing. South Carolina made the Final Four, too, and they barely even deserved to make the NCAA Tournament at all. But Gonzaga was #1 in Pomeroy for a reason, and their ungodly +0.37 PPP advantage in WCC play was impressive for a reason. Anything can happen in a small sample size, and if Gonzaga had fallen in the Second Round to Northwestern then this still would have been a great Gonzaga team, but it was inevitable that one of these years they'd finally have the lucky breaks fall in their direction.

Gonzaga is, unsurprisingly, the gambling favorite to win the NCAA Tournament right now. Even if you don't believe in the advanced computer ratings which have Gonzaga is the best team in the Final Four, the fact is that Gonzaga has a significantly softer Final Four opponent than North Carolina does. Mark Few might never have a better chance to win a national title than he does right now.

Sunday ATS: 1-1-0
2017 Tournament ATS: 32-29-3 (52%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)

Gonzaga (-7) over South Carolina: South Carolina has to regress to the mean at some point right? Right?... Anyway, if there's one area of South Carolina's run that has been most surprising it has been their offensive explosion, pouring in 1.17 PPP against a difficult NCAA Tournament schedule after scoring just 1.00 PPP in SEC play. This has been due to a combination of factors, including both offensive rebounding and a high free throw rate. Gonzaga certainly has the size and skill to limit those two areas, though of course they have to score, too. The test for South Carolina will be how their post defense, which isn't particularly deep, handles Gonzaga's massive front line. Przemek Karnowski could have a monster game.

North Carolina (-5) over Oregon: This is a big Vegas spread, but understandable. It's become clear that the Chris Boucher injury isn't going to sink Oregon (he had lost his role in the starting lineup and seen his minutes decline even before getting hurt), but Oregon's front line has a major match-up problem here. North Carolina's offense is heavily dependent on offensive rebounding, having led the nation in offensive rebounding percentage while finishing just 10th in ACC play in both 3P% and eFG% shooting. Oregon finished just 9th in the Pac-12 in defensive rebounding percentage. That said, Oregon has a big outside shooting advantage, having hit 38% of their three-pointers this season, including 43% during their NCAA Tournament run. North Carolina was dead last in the ACC in defensive 3PA/FGA ratio. So if Oregon wins, it'll be because they got hot behind the arc. It's a realistic scenario, but not one I'm willing to bet on.