Saturday, March 31, 2012

Title Game Open Thread + Picking The Lines

There's perhaps nothing about mainstream sports commentary I get more amusement from than the broad-brush media narratives that get created by random luck. It's hard to think of a game with more randomness than the Kansas/Ohio State game. We can go throughout the game and pick out moments, such as the fact that if Aaron Craft had waited an extra 0.1 seconds before starting that last drive of the first half, Kansas probably doesn't get that bucket at the buzzer. Or just in the final 30 seconds of the game we had Jeff Withey accidentally shuffling his feet for a travel, then DeShaun Thomas taking two stupid contested threes, that incomprehensible Tyshawn Taylor turnover, Aaron Craft's lane violation, and then Kansas somehow inbounding the ball without television or Ohio State noticing. Which of those events is proof of Bill Self's coaching genius? I'm not sure. But we're going to be flooded with "Bill Self is the best coach in basketball" stories for the next two days.

Yet remember five years ago? Bill Self was the coach who always had the highly rated team that fell early in the Tournament. Self was the classic "regular season coach" who failed in the NCAA Tournament. As I always say about every coach: "They can't win in the NCAA Tournament... until they do". It's the nature of the one-and-done setting. If Bill Self goes down in the Round of 32 to Northern Iowa again next season, it doesn't mean that he suddenly forgot how to coach. It means the bounces went the wrong way. Bill Self is an excellent coach, but winning or losing tonight's game against Ohio State had nothing to do with that assessment.

Final Four ATS: 1-1-0
Total through Final Four ATS: 30-34-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Kansas (+6.5) over Kentucky: Kentucky should certainly be excited that Kansas won. The Wildcats would have been at most 3 point favorites over Ohio State, and that would have been on media reputation only. Sagarin and Pomeroy would have projected a 1 point game. Kansas is clearly the softer opponent. Now, the advantage for Kentucky in this game is their offensive firepower. They're the better offensive team and they have more offensive weapons. They're one of the few teams that Kansas has faced this season that is longer than they are, and they will test the Kansas depth. The advantage for Kansas is that they will be a much stronger defensive team around the rim than any team Kentucky has faced so far this season. Also, Kentucky plays a very passive defense, and they are not going to be able to exploit the Jayhawks' penchant for turnovers the way other teams have.

Can Kansas win this game? They can, but it's going to require both Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey playing 30+ minutes and staying out of foul trouble. They need to guard the rim or else Kentucky is going to have a layup line. Kansas is also going to need to match Kentucky's outside shooting. Kentucky has a better three-point offense and a better three-point defense than Kansas. Kansas will need to find a way to eliminate that gap.

Kentucky is obviously the favorite to win this game, but they depend very much on scoring around the rim. I'd have to go back through the boxscore, but I can honestly remember only one shot (the clutch Darius Miller three) that Kentucky hit from beyond five feet in the second half against Louisville. Kansas has the best interior defense in the nation, leading the nation in 2P% defense and featuring the player leading the nation in block percentage (the stats haven't been updated yet for today's games, but heading into today Withey led the nation by blocking 15.1% of opponents' two-point shots while on the floor - Anthony Davis was third at 13.9%). Ohio State spent most of today's game shooting jump shots, which is why things started to slip away when those shots aren't falling.

And so for that reason I do think that Kansas, while not nearly as good overall as Ohio State, is a tough match-up for Kentucky. I think it's going to be a very close national title game, and I'll take the 6.5 points.

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