Saturday, March 30, 2013

Elite 8 Open Thread + Picking The Lines

Man, I came awfully close to going 8-0 against the spread in the Sweet 16. My two losses (Ohio State and Oregon) were by a half-point each. Regardless, my bracket was blown up by Indiana's atrocious performance against Syracuse. That loss assures that I won't be getting all four Final 4 teams again. Oh well.

We can talk about those Indiana and Miami atrocious performance briefly. I was in person for those games in Washington DC, so I saw just how stunned those fans were up close. Both Syracuse and Marquette came into those games loose and without pressure, while Miami and Indiana played terrible in different ways. As I noted on twitter, I didn't think Miami really played that badly. They just couldn't hit a shot to save their lives. If Miami hit outside jumpers anywhere near their normal clip then they would have dispatched Marquette pretty easily. The same could not be said for Indiana, who were truly poor on both sides of the ball. They had no idea what to do against the zone, where they could never get Cody Zeller the ball at the top of the key, and where their guards were not good enough ball handlers to attack the zone themselves. Christian Watford turned into their most effective offensive weapon, which is never a good sign. And defensively? They just were not very good. Maybe it was their offensive struggle that was causing them to be overly aggressive on defense, but their help defense was constantly out of position and useless.

Looking forward to the Elite 8, we can all thank the Selection Committee for putting two of the three best teams in the country in the same region. Louisville and Duke did both  manage to navigate the Region of Death (though Louisville got a huge break when Oregon knocked off St. Louis). Now, those two teams will play for a de facto National Title game. The winner will be the clear favorite in the Final Four. The only team that I think is a significant threat is Florida. Any other team knocking off the Louisville/Duke winner would be a pretty big stunner.

Anyway, let's get to the Elite 8 games

Sweet 16 ATS: 6-2-0
Total through Saturday: 32-27-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Syracuse (-4.5) over Marquette: Yes, Marquette won the head-to-head match-up by three points this year. But they were at home and took full advantage, earning 35 free throws to only 7 for Syracuse, and then hitting those FTs at an 83% clip. Syracuse is obviously the much better team on paper. That spread is large enough that you can take Marquette if those think they have enough of a match-up advantage to make this game something of a toss-up, but I don't. Marquette's ability to get after the offensive glass and to the free throw line is an advantage here, but they are a terrible shooting team (28.7% on threes in Big East play) and very sloppy (11th in the BE in offensive TO%). So the only way they can win this game is by rebounding a ton of their bricked threes or by having another march to the free throw line. Having been at the Sweet 16 games, Indiana had by far the most fans of any team there (so there might be a lot of open seats tonight), but Syracuse was clearly second. The Marquette/Miami game was a morgue. So if any team gets the hometown calls, I'd expect it to be Syracuse. And so Marquette should not expect a 28 free throw attempt advantage, and will probably lose.
Wichita State (+4.5) over Ohio State: Let's be honest, Wichita State has played better than Ohio State so far in this Tournament. And overall, the gap between these two teams is just not that large. Wichita State is, according to Sagarin and Pomeroy, better than Marquette, which is why they really shouldn't totally be lumped in with the "Cinderella" teams if they steal a trip to the Final Four. They would have to pull three upsets to make the Final Four (and avoided having to pull a fourth because Wisconsin got knocked out... though they'd likely have been favored over Kansas State), but they're no La Salle or Florida Gulf Coast. As for this game, I'm worried about Ohio State's ability to score if Wichita State's front line can shut down DeShaun Thomas. We've seen far too much this Tournament of Aaron Craft trying to do everything himself, which in the long run is a recipe for the disaster. And the Ohio State defense? It really hasn't been that great so far in the NCAA Tournament (both opponents have broken 1.1 PPP). I wouldn't be surprised to see Wichita State getting some easy baskets, particularly off of offensive rebounds. This is something of a toss-up game, so I'll take the points.

Florida (-2.5) over Michigan: Unfortunately, this game is going to get used as a proof by many people one way or the other on advanced metrics. As we know, it's idiotic to judge anything on a single game. Crazy stuff happens in 40 minutes, and it wouldn't be shocking if either team won this game. That said, I do still believe that Florida is the favorite here. While Trey Burke was the hero last night, the reality is that he wouldn't have had a chance to be the hero if Mitch McGary hadn't played the best game of his young career (and I call that his best game despite the fact that I appear to be super-high on McGary compared to most people - I think he could be the best big man in the Big Ten next season). Burke was a no-show in the first half, and Tim Hardaway was basically a no-show the entire game. And Florida's perimeter defense is awfully aggressive and is really going to get after those two. Michigan's outside shooting has not been great lately, and I would expect Florida to win the battle of the boards. If Burke plays an entire game at the level he finished the Kansas game, and if McGary has a repeat as well, then Michigan can definitely win this game. But the edge has to go to Florida.

Duke (+3.5) over Louisville: I agree with Ken Pomeroy in being unable to understand why Russ Smith has been blackballed from Player of the Year conversation. When I said I thought he and Otto Porter were pretty even for Big East POY, I got pounded on twitter by people saying I was nuts. But let's be honest here - Smith is by far the best player on arguably the best team. He is the best defensive player on the best defensive team in the nation. And offensively, he takes 32.5% of his team's shots (with a 47.3 eFG%) and assists 22.3% of their made baskets while on the floor - he is clearly the team's best offensive player. Last night, Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg (who tend to vary between saying trite things and saying false things about college basketball), kept talking about Russ Smith and Kevin Ware "stepping up" for Peyton Siva (who was in foul trouble), as if Smith was not the best player on the team. I just don't get it. Is this really just about a couple of bad "clutch" shots by Russ in the 5OT Notre Dame game? You can't judge a whole season on a few minutes in one bizarre game. Otto Porter and Victor Oladipo had bad games also. Everybody has a bad game in a 30+ game season.

Anyway, that all said, I picked Duke in my bracket so I have to stick with them here. I just think Duke is being undervalued by Vegas because the computers don't realize that Ryan Kelly was out for most of the ACC season. And Duke's defense is just so, so much better with Kelly in there. We saw it yet again last night as he locked down the paint for Duke with Mason Plumlee in foul trouble. He's such a smart player, and he's more athletic than he gets credit for. It's Kelly, not Plumlee, who is Duke's best defensive player. Louisville is a team that tends to give up a lot of open three-pointers if they don't turn you over, so Duke just has to avoid a 15+ turnover game and they should win. And that puts the pressure on Quinn Cook, who at times has looked overwhelmed by elite perimeter defenses. If he can play at his best and keep Louisville from transition offense then Duke will likely win. If Cook starts looking like the young player that he is, and the pressure falls on Seth Curry to generate offense by himself, then Louisville will likely win. That's the match-up that will decide this game.


Daffy Duck said...

If Louisville beats Florida in the title game I win my pool. What do you think the chances are this happens?

Jeff said...

Not bad. The Louisville/Duke winner will be a huge favorite against Wichita State, and Florida will be a solid favorite against Syracuse if they take care of business against Michigan.

I still think Duke is winning the Duke/Louisville game, but the winner of that game is the favorite to beat Florida in the title game.