Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Complete South Region Analysis

Opening Thoughts:

The conventional take on the South Region, as far as I can tell, is that it's the strongest or second-strongest region. There are a lot of prominent coaches and programs here. We've got Kansas, Georgetown, Florida, Michigan, VCU, UCLA, San Diego State, North Carolina, Villanova, Oklahoma and Minnesota. Those are 11 premier programs, all with premier coaches.

The thing is that you really shouldn't believe that argument. The Midwest is far and away the toughest region, and I'd take the West over the South also. The thing is that some of these programs are quite a bit down. There are some teams better than their seed (Florida as a 3, North Carolina as an 8 and Minnesota as an 11 are three clear examples of teams better than their seed), but it's a mixed bag. The top two seeds (Kansas and Georgetown) are probably the weakest 1/2 seed pair in the Tournament. VCU, as much as I love them, are not one of the 20 best teams in the country as a 5 seed, and UCLA is a ridiculously weak 6 seed (they're not even one of the 50 best teams in the country right now).

This region will be pretty wide open because of the balance of teams. And certainly we will have some fun match-ups. North Carolina/Kansas could be the premier game of the Round of 32, and Michigan/VCU will be a fabulous contrast of styles. And there's almost no way that the Elite 8 game in this region isn't a really nice game with two top notch programs playing. Just don't think that in any way the South can compare to the Midwest in terms of talent and ability.

One final thought: Florida. They are the lightning rod team for the age-old statistics vs anti-statistics  argument. In terms of total points scored and points allowed, controlled for schedule strength, they are one of the three best teams in the country. They went 0-6 in games decided by six points or less, and 26-1 in games decided by 7 or more. Statistically, we know that results in very close games are not predictive. "Clutch" play exists, but the most un-clutch team ever can go 6-0 in close games and a very clutch team can go 0-6. It's just statistical randomness. Remember, a few weeks ago Louisville was in this same situation. The computers had them top 3 and the pollsters and the media were all convinced Louisville "couldn't win close games", and they dropped to near 15th in the polls. And now? They're the overall 1 seed in the bracket and considered by many to be the best team in the country. All of these teams have played more than 1200 minutes of basketball this season. Dismissing them because of two minutes in one game and 90 seconds in another is just inane.

Second Round:

My Picks:
1. Kansas over 16. Western Kentucky
8. North Carolina over 9. Villanova
4. Michigan over 13. South Dakota State
5. VCU over 12. Akron
3. Florida over 14. Northwestern State
11. Minnesota over 6. UCLA
7. San Diego State over 10. Oklahoma
2. Georgetown over 15. Florida Gulf Coast

Look Ma, no play-in games! We get to start right with the "Second Round" (or "The Round of 64", as I will call it everywhere outside of NCAA Tournament preview posts like this one). First, don't spend a moment thinking about Kansas/Western Kentucky. Move Kansas forward. That said, Florida Gulf Coast is a really tough 15 seed for Georgetown to get stuck with. Florida Gulf Coast beat the University of Miami this year and hung tight with teams like Iowa State and St. John's. They are an aggressive defense that is really good in transition. And considering some early Tournament flame outs by Georgetown under JTIII, I'm guessing that Georgetown fans are a little nervous about this one. That said, despite the fact that Georgetown lacks a true point guard, I have a hard time believing that Florida Gulf Coast will be able to turn Georgetown over like they did Atlantic Sun opponents. And that Georgetown defense is going to be the toughest they've seen all year. Georgetown will eliminate transition offense and force FGCU to score in the half court - exactly what they don't want to have to do. Georgetown should win, even if the game could be very competitive.

Northwestern State is another strong team in this region. As I talked about on this blog prior to the Southland tournament, I was not at all surprised that they could take out Stephen F Austin. They are the poor man's VCU, able to speed up teams, turn them over and get easy transition buckets. Their perimeter defense is very aggressive and very good, and they deny three-pointers (an important weapon for the Gators). That said, like VCU, Northwestern State struggles on defensive possessions where their opponent does not turn the ball over. Florida has a very experienced backcourt and they had the second best turnover rate in the SEC this season. And if Northwestern State doesn't get 20+ points in transition, they are going to be suffocated on offense by the Florida defense. So move Florida forward in your bracket.

South Dakota State is a popular upset pick over Michigan. If you haven't seen Nate Wolters play yet, please watch this game in case it's his last in college. He has an incredible ability to get himself in the lane and to use one of approximately 300 different moves to score. He's mastered every little off-balance shot in the book. That all said, there's a reason why this will probably be his last game. First of all, while Michigan's overall defense is pretty mediocre (only 58th best in the nation by Pomeroy) they still have two strong defenders in Trey Burke and Mitch McGary. Against elite point guards this season, Burke has tended to play really well on both sides of the floor. He is going to be hearing about Nate Wolters all week, and I expect him to guard Wolters and limit him. More importantly, Michigan will not collapse its entire defense if Wolters goes on the attack, like I often see in Summit League games. McGary may come over to help if needed, but the other Michigan defenders will stay locked down on the perimeter. A large part of South Dakota State's offense is predicated on Wolters drawing defenders and kicking to the perimeter, where his team shot 42.1% behind the arc in Summit League play. I don't think that's going to work as well against Michigan.

Also, while Michigan's overall defense is mediocre, it's still way better than South Dakota State's. Pomeroy rates Michigan's offense second best in the nation, and ranks South Dakota State's defense 209th. So even if Wolters scored 25 points and his teammates hit 50% of their threes, I still think Michigan will score enough to overcome that.

VCU is a little bit overrated coming into the NCAA Tournament. Their Tournament run to the Final Four two years ago, as much fun as it was, was a total fluke. What drove the team wasn't #havoc (though obviously that helps), but their incredibly fluky three-point shooting. Play that NCAA Tournament over 100 times and VCU doesn't get back to the Final Four. That said, I don't really need to talk about my issues with VCU for at least one round, because they are going to smoke Akron. Why? Because Akron was 202nd in the nation in offensive turnover rate, and that's with playing almost the entire season with point guard Alex Abreu as their second best player. Then he went and got himself arrested and will not play the rest of the season. On top of that, the one really good weapon that Akron has is 7-footer Zeke Marshall, who has developed into one of the best big men in the country. But with VCU turning the screws on the tempo and rarely playing half court basketball? How much use is a 7-foot shot blocker and post scorer really going to be? Don't even think twice about VCU here.

We then move from an obvious 5-over-12 to an obvious 11-over-6. Minnesota is a three point favorite in Vegas, but that's basically what the computers say it should be anyway. Pomeroy has it at 3 and Sagarin has it at a little over 2. But that's before the Jordan Adams injury, which cripples the hopes of an already overrated UCLA team. Recall that UCLA only had an efficiency margin of +0.04 PPP in Pac-12 play (9-9 Stanford was better), and has spent almost the entire season rated around the 40-50th best team in the nation by the computers, while Minnesota has been around 20th. But now, UCLA loses their only other real scorer besides Shabazz Muhammad. The one game that they have played without Adams? They got smoked by a mediocre Oregon team in the Pac-12 title game. I'll be very surprised if UCLA pulls the upset here.

San Diego State and Oklahoma are two teams that are really limping into the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma lost three of their final five games, including bad losses to TCU and Texas. Meanwhile, San Diego State has lost five of nine. On paper, San Diego State was the better team this year. They play really good defense and have three true scorers in Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames. Oklahoma has a more limited roster. I like the energy and athleticism of Romero Osby in the paint, but overall Oklahoma is not a particularly good scoring team, and their defense is pretty mediocre as well. It's really hard to find a big advantage that one team has over the other here, honestly. I like that Oklahoma hits 76% of their free throws, so they'll be dangerous if they get a lead. But when in doubt, take the better team. That's San Diego State.

North Carolina, believe it or not, is a sleeper this season. It took about midway through the season for the team to realize that they need to run offense through Reggie Bullock instead of James Michael McAdoo. And Marcus Paige has really emerged into a quality point guard as the season has gone along. They are playing their best basketball late in the season, and in my opinion are one of the 15-20 best teams in the country. We'll get to their game against Kansas in a moment, but I think they are clearly a better team than Villanova.

Villanova is in the NCAA Tournament because they won three close games at home over elite opponents: Louisville, Syracuse and Georgetown. But other than that, they really didn't do much. They went 3-6 on the road in Big East play, and failed to beat a single NCAA Tournament team away from home all season. And on top of all that, North Carolina is a terrible match-up for Villanova. Nova's best skill is FTRate (they led the Big East) and their worst is ball handling (14th in the Big East in offensive turnover rate). North Carolina led the ACC in defensive FTRate and defensive turnover rate. We've seen this season that North Carolina has eaten up teams that are loose with the ball, and they're not going to give Villanova easy points. To me, this is one of the safest picks in the Round of 64. North Carolina in a romp.

Third Round:

My Picks:
1. Kansas over 8. North Carolina
4. Michigan over 5. VCU
3. Florida over 11. Minnesota
2. Georgetown over 7. San Diego State

I'm so excited for this Kansas/North Carolina game. The media will obsess over "Roy Williams vs Kansas", but that kind of stuff is stupid. He's been gone a long time now, and I think Kansas fans are pretty happy with Bill Self. I would be, too - I think Self is the better coach. But North Carolina is a team really coming on, and a really brutal 8 seed. As I said above, I think North Carolina is one of the 15-20 best teams in the nation right now. Kansas, like Gonzaga, is at very serious risk of falling in the Round of 32.

Perhaps the biggest problem for Kansas here is going to be ball handling. Backcourt play has been as issue all season long, and they finished only 7th in the Big 12 in offensive turnover rate. North Carolina led the ACC in defensive turnover rate and defensive steal percentage, and they could really run up the points in transition. And in the half court, North Carolina tends to be perimeter oriented. They don't have a big man that they run any offense through, which will somewhat neutralize the Kansas strength. Kansas has the best interior defense in the nation led by the nation's best interior defender, Jeff Withey. The Jayhawks led the entire nation in 2P% defense (39.0%). Of course, if you turn that around, you see a potential problem for North Carolina. If the Tar Heels don't get a ton of offense in transition, and the threes aren't falling (they only hit 37% this season, so they're not exactly Creighton) then they have no chance of scoring in the paint. They were only 9th in the ACC in 2P% despite all of the transition offense.

The question for Kansas this year has been offensive production from their backcourt. Elijah Johnson had some really big struggles during the season, and hasn't totally turned it around, though he's shown flashes. Ben McLemore is the one consistent offensive producer that Kansas has in the backcourt. I do like the spark that freshman Perry Ellis has given them off the bench late in the season - he has immense raw talent and has finally figured out how to play Division I basketball. So if you think North Carolina can really destroy Elijah Johnson and get a lot of easy buckets then you should really strongly consider taking them here. Keeping in mind that Kansas will have a virtual home game, however, I give the narrow edge to Kansas.

Michigan/VCU will be a fascinating contrast of styles. There are also a couple of secondary issues to keep in your mind when picking this game. First, despite being the 5 seed VCU has a significantly easier path to this game. I think Michigan is a clear favorite in their game, but it's not inconceivable that Montana South Dakota State could give them a little trouble. VCU, on the other hand, is going to destroy Akron. They're going to come in with the media already starting to talk about another Final Four run. At the same time, of course, this will be a pseudo-home game for Michigan.

We know what VCU does: #havoc. They led the nation with an absurd 28.7 defensive turnover rate. But the nation's leader in offensive turnover rate? Michigan. They committed turnovers on more than 20% of their possessions only 4 times all season, and never more than 24.6% (in their 75-52 loss at Michigan State a month ago). So the odds of VCU really getting a ton of turnovers are pretty darn low. And that's a real problem for two big reasons. First, Michigan's offense is really good - ranked 2nd in the nation by Pomeroy. Second, VCU's defense (if they don't get a turnover) is pretty awful. They take a ton of risks defensively, and if you can beat their press then you're probably going to score. VCU was 15th in the Atlantic Ten in defensive eFG%, and allowed 1.40 PPP on non-turnover possessions in A-10 play. Michigan is absolutely going to pour on the offense. And to me, that's why Michigan is going to win this game. I just think they're a terrible match-up for VCU in terms of personnel.

Florida/Minnesota would be a match-up between teams that the advanced metrics like a whole lot more than the polls. Florida, a 3 seed, is the #1 team in Pomeroy and #2 in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. Minnesota, an 11 seed, is 23rd in Pomeroy and 27th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. I do think Florida is the clearly better team, of course. Their outside shooting is also a real problem for a Minnesota team that does a terrible job of preventing threes (dead last in the Big Ten in 3P% defense, second-to-last in 3PA/FGA ratio). The real action in this game is going to be in the paint. Patric Young vs Trevor Mbakwe will be a good battle between two really physical big men, but Florida is not a particularly big team outside of Young. Erik Murphy is the only other regular over 6'7", and he's more of a perimeter player than a low post force. Minnesota really likes to get after the offensive glass (they led the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage), and that will be a test for the Gators. If Florida can manage to keep the rebounding battle fairly even then they will win this game easily, because their offense and defense both executive much better than Minnesota.

The problem that I see for Minnesota is that they have really struggled to get open shots and to score against elite defenses this season. They do not move the ball well, and it has meant that their only chance against elite defenses is to dominate the glass (like they did in their win over Indiana, where they brought down 54% of their misses). But would you bet on Minnesota bringing down 50% of their misses against a Florida team that hasn't allowed that all season and only gave up a 29.4% offensive rebounding rate in SEC play? I wouldn't. Florida is the favorite.

Georgetown vs San Diego State would be a battle between two of the best defenses in the nation. San Diego State doesn't get a lot of credit as an elite defense because they play at a fast tempo and allow 61 points per game, but they finished the season rated the 10th best defense in the nation by Pomeroy. Georgetown is 4th, though because they play at a slow tempo they get all the typical "terrible offense"/"great defense" media descriptions that usually goes to teams like Pittsburgh and Wisconsin. Georgetown's defense really locks down the paint, though. They led the Big East in 3P% defense, but I think that's kind of a fluke - they were only 10th in the Big East in 3PA/FGA ratio, and that's a much better measure of three-point defense than 3P%, which involves a lot of luck. San Diego State does not really have any outside shooters - they hit 30.6% behind the arc in conference play and don't have a single regular over 38% - so they're really going to have to grind out points against Georgetown.

The other significant advantage that Georgetown has in this game is Otto Porter, who is a much better scorer than anybody San Diego State has. The one premier defender San Diego State has is Jamaal Franklin, and if he's the man that Steve Fisher puts on Porter it's going to be very difficult for him to handle Porter's height and length. Georgetown's lack of a true point guard makes them vulnerable to teams that play pressure perimeter defense, but that's really not what San Diego State does. The only way I see the Aztecs winning this game will be if they dominate Georgetown on the glass and get a lot of free second chance opportunities. That's a realistic scenario, by the way. Georgetown has struggled to win rebounding battles this season. But it's not likely enough for me to not take Georgetown.

I wouldn't take Oklahoma over Georgetown either. Georgetown will be able to limit Romero Osby, and that will make the Oklahoma offense even more impotent than usual. They will not be able to take advantage of Georgetown's ball handling or rebounding limitations, and don't have the shooting to beat Georgetown over the top. So even if you have Oklahoma over San Diego State, do not take them any further.

Sweet 16:

My Picks:
4. Michigan over 1. Kansas
3. Florida over 2. Georgetown

I have total chalk out of the Round of 32 in the South Region. But no chalk leaving. And let's get to the reasons why. First, one of the interesting things about the Michigan/Kansas game is that I think Michigan has a better chance than Kansas to get into this game. I really like Michigan's chances against VCU - they match up so perfectly well to stop what VCU wants to do. At the same time, Kansas is going to get an awfully tough challenge against a rising North Carolina team that matches up really well with them in terms of personnel. So you can make a good argument that if you have Kansas/Michigan as a toss-up that you should take Michigan on the "previous match-ups tiebreaker".

Offensively, being a perimeter oriented team helps Michigan here. Jeff Withey is great against post scorers, but against Michigan he's going to be spending his whole time helping defensively. He's very good at that also, but it's also the only way he ever gets in foul trouble (Withey never ever commits fouls in one-on-one post defense, which is one of the things that makes him such a great and underrated defender). And with several good outside shooters (including Nik Stauskas, who has rediscovered his game the past couple of weeks), Michigan has the ability to shoot over the top of Withey. While the Michigan defense is fairly mediocre this season, it mostly struggles on the perimeter. Mitch McGary is a premier interior defender. Kansas can't really take advantage of this, though. They don't shoot the ball particularly well. The Jayhawks generate a ton of their offense at the free throw line - they led the Big 12 with a 44.1 FTRate in conference play, but Michigan led the nation in defensive FTRate. The Jayhawks are going to have to get a big game from Elijah Johnson to win, and they're going to have to hope Michigan doesn't out-shoot them. I think Michigan has the higher ceiling as a team, and is an awfully difficult 4 seed. Kansas has been given a tall task with potentially having to beat North Carolina, Michigan and Florida to make the Final Four. In my opinion, that's too tall of a task. Michigan is my pick.

Should you have VCU over Michigan, I'm not sure I'd take them over Kansas, but they'd definitely give them trouble. Kansas is not a great ball handling team, and they were only 7th best in the Big 12 in both offensive turnover rate and steals rate. Kansas is the type of team that VCU could turn over 20+ times. Since VCU doesn't have good outside shooting (only 33.7% behind the arc in conference play) they'll get destroyed if they don't turn Kansas over, but there is a clear path to victory.

If you have North Carolina getting to a game against Michigan, I think that they'd have trouble against Michigan for the season reason that VCU will. North Carolina's offense relies heavily on turning over opponents and getting out on the break. But as I said above, Michigan led the entire nation in offensive turnover rate. The North Carolina defense has trouble stopping penetration, and I'd expect both Burke and Hardaway to have big games. The one area that North Carolina would have an advantage would be on the offensive glass, where Michigan was only 8th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding percentage. But the way Michigan is going to put up points against the Tar Heels, they can afford to give up a few offensive rebounds.

Florida/Georgetown is a game very likely to happen. Both should be pretty large favorites for both of their games before the Sweet 16. This would also be a battle between two of the four best defenses in the nation (according to Pomeroy). In a lot of ways, this game comes down to what you believe about the Georgetown defense. As I talked about above, Georgetown led the Big East in defensive 3P% defense but was only 10th in defensive 3PA/FGA ratio. Statistically, 3PA/FGA is a much more predictive stat for the future while 3P% defense tends to be relatively random. Teams with strong 3PA/FGA ratios tend to be slightly better at 3P% defense, so the latter is not entirely random, but in all I think Georgetown got lucky this year on outside shooting. And so because of that, I wouldn't think Georgetown 3P% defense really tells us a lot about their ability to stop Florida's perimeter attack. One other issue here is Georgetown's ball handling, which is not as great as it's been in years past. They were 12th in the Big East in offensive turnover rate, while Florida has at times really eaten alive teams without point guards that turn the ball over (their romp over Kentucky in Gainesville being a perfect example).

There are really three arguments in Georgetown's favor here. First, in a low scoring game it helps that they have a true go-to scorer while Florida does not. Otto Porter has the potential to have a huge game and to win this one by himself. Second, Georgetown's biggest defensive flaw is that they put teams on the line a lot, and Florida cannot take advantage of that. The jump shot-loving Gators were dead last in the SEC in offensive FTRate. And third, if you believe in Georgetown's 3P% defense then Florida will have troubles, because they do generate so much of their offense behind the arc.

In my opinion, though, the ability of one player to take over a game is generally overstated. It's rare that a player can take down an elite team all by himself. If we look at Porter, he's really only had one of those games all season - when he hit 5-for-10 behind the arc and scored 33 points in that huge win at Syracuse. Are you going to bet on that once-in-a-season performance happening a second time against Florida after Billy Donovan has nearly a week to prepare for him? Florida is the better team, and they have the ability to really take advantage of Georgetown's offensive flaws. The Gators are the favorite.

Elite 8:

My Pick:
3. Florida over 4. Michigan

In my opinion, you can reasonably have five different teams in this game. The top five seeds are all legitimately scary squads that, when they're at their best, can beat any team in this region. Of the 6+ seeds, the only real threat to go far is North Carolina. So I suppose you can consider moving North Carolina out here, but I really don't think you want to put them in your Final Four. Asking them to potentially beat Kansas, Michigan and Florida back-to-back (all among the ten best teams in the nation, in my opinion) is a really tall order.

I have Florida vs Michigan in this game. And Florida's one advantage here is a glaring one: jump shooting. Michigan has struggled all season against teams that shoot the ball well. Their perimeter defense is not particularly good, and they finished in the bottom third of the Big Ten in 3P%, eFG% and 3PA/FGA defense. Florida is a team that likes to shoot jump shots, and is pretty good at them. The Gators hit 39.2% of their three-point attempts in SEC play, where they took more than 40% of their shots behind the arc and were dead last in FTRate. If Florida is hitting their shots, they will win this game.

The argument for Michigan is depth, and the fact that they have more ways to win. They can shoot over the top of a Florida defense that wasn't the best at preventing threes. And with Burke and Hardaway they can handle the aggressive Florida perimeter defense, and potentially attack the softest spot in the Florida defense, the paint. Florida also is not the type of team that can take advantage of Michigan's occasional rebounding woes.

In the end, I'm taking Florida for a couple of reasons. First, their paint defense is soft, but I don't think Burke and Hardaway will have a lot of success against Florida's tremendous perimeter defense (they don't prevent threes, but they do everything else you want in a perimeter defense). Absolutely nobody has had a big game against this fabulous Florida defense all season. Only four opponents have broken 1 PPP, and the best all season was 1.14 PPP by an Arkansas team that had their game of the season and shot the lights out. Meanwhile, unless Florida goes ice cold shooting the ball, they are going to light up this Michigan defense. Florida has been the advanced stats litmus test all season long, and so I'm sure I'll be criticized for "of course" taking Florida to the Final Four. But in my opinion, their bracket is built for them. I'd take their 3 seed draw over Louisville's 1 seed draw. This region has really good teams as 4, 5 and 8 seeds, among others, but the 1 and 2 seeds are relatively soft and Florida was given a gift of a 6 seed. They are the favorites.

Against Kansas, jump shooting would against be key for Florida. Kansas has the best interior defense in the nation, but they are vulnerable on the perimeter. Florida won't even attempt to test Jeff Withey, and he'll be mostly neutralized. And defensively, I think Florida again matches up well against a Kansas team that has such inconsistent backcourt production. The Florida perimeter defense is going to really give Ben McLemore and Elijah Johnson a ton of trouble. Florida is always at risk of a cold shooting night, but I like them as an even heavier favorite over Kansas than they are over Michigan.

I think VCU would be an interesting test for Florida. In recent weeks, the Gators have struggled a little bit with ball handling against pressing defenses Arkansas and Alabama. So VCU would have the ability to get out on the fast break and get a lot of easy baskets. Also, the way to beat VCU is to beat their press and then get the ball to the rim while their defense is out of position. But Florida never attacks the rim. Even if they beat the press I could easily see Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario wasting 3-on-1 opportunities by launching 20-foot jump shots. VCU is going to have an impossible time trying to score in the half court against the Gators, but this is a game that they really can win. To me, VCU's toughest game in this region is Michigan. That's the one team that really matches up well against #havoc. If VCU can get past Michigan, I really think they'll have a great chance against Kansas and then Florida. And if they get Georgetown in the Elite 8? Even better. That's yet another team that struggles with ball handling and can get turned over, and which doesn't have the offensive firepower to overcome an opponent that gets 25+ points in transition.

Should Georgetown get to this game against Michigan or Kansas, I wouldn't particularly like their chances against those teams either. Georgetown has trouble keeping opponents off the line, which is a problem against a Kansas team that led the Big 12 in FTRate. The Jayhawks will dominate the glass and also have several different players who would be able to do a reasonable job against Otto Porter. Against a Georgetown team that struggles to put up a lot of points, Kansas has too many ways to get easy offense.

Georgetown's defense would slow down Michigan, but the Wolverines really can never be stopped entirely. They always take care of the ball and they shoot well, so they put up a reasonable number of points on everybody. For Georgetown to win this game they'd, like the Florida game, need a monster performance from Otto Porter. And this again comes back to what I said about how overstated it is that star players can put a team on their back and get to the Final Four. Michigan's defensive liability is in preventing jump shots, but Georgetown really can't do that. Other than Porter they have only one regular hitting greater than 36% behind the arc (Markel Starks). So really, I very much recommend against taking Georgetown to the Final Four.


B McCroy said...

Here's my argument why KU is a much better team *right now* then they've been credited in your prediction. You rightly said that if you talk about 90 seconds in a season where they've played 1,000 times that, it's not a big enough sample size. However, taking an entire season and not considering the most recent form is also unsighted. Compare UNC, KU and Mich's last 3 games and some of their important stats.

Shooting Eff: KU- 1.303 UNC- 1.147 Mich- 1.016
Opp pts/game: KU- 63.3 UNC- 75 Mich- 69.9
3Pt %: KU- 41.2% UNC- 41.7% Mich- 35.8%
2Pt %: KU- 62.2% UNC- 49.1% Mich- 45.5%
eFG%: KU- 62% UNC- 54.3% Mich- 47.8%

While a 3 game stretch, an entire season does not make, it is all about momentum for teams going into the tournament. And Bill Self has his squad playing among the best in the country over that stretch. Considering the stretch of games following that 3 game losing streak, KU has only lost once at a Baylor squad that was playing for its NCAA tournament life.

Which is why I think the argument that it would be tough for KU to come off a tight game with UNC and beat Michigan is shortsighted. It would be the same thing as playing one tough conference opponent after another, it's not 48 hours to recoup but 5 days.

And if you consider how Iowa State and Kansas State rely on perimeter offense and how Kansas fared against them defensively in the Big XII tournament, it's not as easy as theorizing that Michigan will simply be able to shoot over KU.

On top of all of that, KU has a superior coach whose ability to make changes within a game is an intangible that cannot be ignored. For the in-form, statistical and historical reasons, I think you have to give this KU team a stronger argument for moving into the Elite Eight...and beyond.

Jeff said...

I don't put much weight on "momentum". You can look at teams that are playing better now than they were early in the season because of players progressing (such as North Carolina), but a hot streak for a few games really is not predictive of anything.

Also, I'm not sure why you think Bill Self is a better coach than John Beilein. Self is a great recruiter and a pretty good game coach, but Beilein is a really good coach in his own right. I certainly don't see a large coaching advantage there.

I understand your argument and agree that Kansas is a very good team. And as I said, they're one of the teams you can take as your Final Four squad. I'm not cautioning strongly against them. I just give Michigan a little edge in style of play.

Anonymous said...

In the end, picking Florida to advance to the Final Four is definitely the safest move. Florida has by far the easiest path. Georgetown is a weak 2 seed, San Diego State and Oklahoma are struggling, and UCLA is way over-seeded.

Anonymous said...

I think part of his reasoning isn't the turnaround in the UM game coming off the UNC game, it's the idea that the probability of UM advancing to the sweet 16 is better than the probability of Kansas advancing, because Kansas has a much more difficult second (third?) round match up.

Jeff said...

That is correct. I think Michigan has a better chance against VCU than Kansas does against North Carolina. So if you think Michigan/Kansas is a toss-up you should give the tiebreaker to Michigan.

Adam said...

Appreciate the commentary on VCU. I'm still taking them to the Elite 8 but am switching on to UF for the Final Four, given the easier road.

My gut is still that VCU's D will overwhelm UMich into roughly twice their usual TOs. Hardaway is too big to handle like his father did. Staukas is also 6'6'' and only a FR. So, it should come down to what Burke can do by himself and I could definitely see him getting a little careless, as he did more often last year.

UF might do better with the Boynton / Rosario combo.

Adam said...

Appreciate the commentary on VCU. I'm still taking them to the Elite 8 but am switching on to UF for the Final Four, given the easier road.

My gut is still that VCU's D will overwhelm UMich into roughly twice their usual TOs. Hardaway is too big to handle like his father did. Staukas is also 6'6'' and only a FR. So, it should come down to what Burke can do by himself and I could definitely see him getting a little careless, as he did more often last year.

UF might do better with the Boynton / Rosario combo.

Adam said...

Michigan is not playing Montana. Just a heads up

Jeff said...

Gah, dumb typo. Thanks for noticing it. It's been fixed.