Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sweet 16 Open Thread + Picking The Lines

The nature of a one-and-done tournament is that there is always going to be major media overreaction to everything. You'd think the lesson every year would be not to overreact to one or two games, but it seems like it actually gets worse each season. Georgetown and Pitt lose early? It's proof that they "can't win" in the NCAA Tournament. The Mountain West has a bad NCAA Tournament? They go from "underrated" to "way overrated disaster" in about 48 hours.

I have to say, though, I haven't seen anything like this Florida Gulf Coast freak out. And look, everybody (but Georgetown and San Diego State fans) is loving the Florida Gulf Coast thing. A team out of nowhere going to the Sweet 16 with an aggressive, no-worries styles of play. That one-handed alley oop late against Georgetown was incredibly stupid to attempt, but it worked so it was awesome.

But instead of enjoying FGCU's run for the fluke that it is, there's been an incredible amount of moralizing from the typical corners of the Internet. People who believe that college basketball is now "boring" and that offenses suck (despite the fact that the statistics don't back that belief up) suddenly think FGCU is revolutionizing college basketball. I have heard/read half a dozen leading college basketball "analysts" compare them to the Hank Gathers Loyola-Marymount teams. Yeah. No. First of all, FGCU was 4th in the Atlantic Sun in tempo and 2nd in offensive efficiency. You're getting much more tempo and offense from a team like Iona, if that's what you want. Second, these last two games in no way represent what FGCU is as a team normally. They did steal an early season game from a short-handed Miami team, but their other three games against BCS conference teams were all double digit losses, and they got rocked by VCU. This run came out of nowhere, and to pretend that it would happen again if we started the NCAA Tournament from scratch again is inanity.

My favorite spin-off of this topic, which I joked about on twitter, is the growing sentiment that FGCU is going to knock off Florida while Miami is really screwed without Reggie Johnson (i.e. "They can't get to the Final Four without Reggie Johnson"). If you don't realize that Miami sans Reggie Johnson is significantly better than FGCU, you're just wrong. You can't throw out FGCU's sweep to Lipscomb any more than you can throw out their two NCAA Tournament wins. They are what their entire season is.

I love watching FGCU's run, but I love it because it's such a fluke. This couldn't happen in any other sport. In college football, FGCU would never get to even play against the big boys, and in the NBA they'd never have a chance against Georgetown or San Diego State in a best-of-5 or best-of-7 series. But in one game? Anything can happen. That's what makes college basketball unique. Two weeks before the start of the NCAA Tournament, more than 300 teams still have a chance to win the NCAA Tournament. And if you get super hot at the right time? You become Florida Gulf Coast.

Anyway, let's get to the Sweet 16 games.

Sunday ATS: 3-5-0
Total through Saturday: 26-25-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Marquette (+5.5) over Miami (Fl): I do think that Miami is going to win this game. Marquette is very dependent upon getting after the offensive glass, while Miami is very strong on the defensive glass (they led the ACC in DR%). The loss of Reggie Johnson is very overrated. Johnson missed a bunch of time this year, and the team wasn't significantly worse without him. He regressed this year, and most of his production can be replaced by Julian Gamble. That all said, Marquette seems to keep getting themselves in close games, and they've been remarkably lucky in these close games. Five of their last seven games have been decided by six points or less, and they have won every single one of them. Four of those wins came down to the final possession of the game. So I'll take the points here just to be safe.
Ohio State (-3.5) over Arizona: As I said on twitter, Aaron Craft Marshall Henderson'd the final seven minutes of their game against Iowa State. He made several dumb mistakes, and then in the final couple of minutes fell into take-every-shot mode. He did this same thing in their overtime loss to Michigan, when DeShaun Thomas didn't get a shot in the final seven minutes of the game. Here, the epitome of that stupidity was in the final two possessions. First, unaware that speeding up would allow a 2-for-1, Craft dribbled in place for 20 seconds before going one-on-one and taking a terrible shot. Somehow the Buckeyes got the ball back, and Craft used his final possession to dribble in place until the buzzer and then launch a three-pointer without attempting any offense, despite the fact that he was only a 29% three-point shooter this season. Of course, like Marshall Henderson, he got all the glory. My twitter account was besieged with "What balls he showed to take the big shot after all his struggles!" No, if you lose on 100 lottery tickets in a row and then hit big on the 101st, it doesn't change the fact that investing in the lottery is dumb. Ohio State would have won much more easily if Craft had played smart and worked the offense the way he did the rest of the game.

Anyway, getting back to this actual game, Craft is usually a really good player. I'd be concerned about his play late in games, but I don't think this game will be so close. The Buckeyes have an aggressive defense that should give a lot of troubles to Arizona's turnover-prone backcourt. They also limit offensive rebounds and free throws, which are the two things the Wildcats really depend on offensively. So I don't think this game will get close enough that Craft's late game selfishness can harm the Buckeyes.

Syracuse (+5.5) over Indiana: This is a dangerous game for Indiana. Indiana has a tendency against quality defenses to become too perimeter-oriented, and to stop working the ball into their best offensive weapon (Cody Zeller). Against the Syracuse zone, there's a really good chance that Zeller goes invisible and the Hoosiers try to win by just hitting threes. Indiana hit 40.8% of their threes this season, of course, so shooting threes could lead them to a big victory. But if those shots don't fall then they'll lose. On top of all that, Yogi Ferrell and the Indiana backcourt does occasionally turn the ball over and they lack another true big man aside from Zeller. The Hoosiers were 11th and 10th in the Big Ten in offensive turnover rate and DR%. Syracuse feeds off of turnovers and easy second chances. To me, Syracuse is a bigger test than whoever Indiana might play in the Elite 8.

Wichita State (-4) over La Salle: I have to admit: this is not a match-up I broke down in my Tournament previews. I did not think we'd be seeing this one. There are a few things to remember in this game, though. First of all, while Wichita State keeps getting lumped in with "Cinderella" teams like La Salle and Florida Gulf Coast, that's really an unfair comparison. Wichita State is a very strong 9 seed. They're currently sitting 21st in Pomeroy. For comparison, 3 seed Marquette is 28th and La Salle is 47th (with their two lucky final possession wins, Marquette's Pomeroy rating has actually dropped from 25th to 28th during the NCAA Tournament, which makes sense when you understand tempo-free analysis). In addition, La Salle has gotten lucky with opponents a bit. They are a very poor rebounding team, but haven't really played a team that gets after the offensive glass. They were outrebounded in every game, but good outside shooting (or poor outside shooting from their opponent) was enough for them to escape with wins. Wichita State will get after the offensive glass much more aggressively than the other teams La Salle has played so far. This is La Salle's toughest game so far in the NCAA Tournament, and I think their run ends here.

Oregon (+10) over Louisville: Oregon's fluke run isn't quite at the level of Florida Gulf Coast's, but it's closer than you think. Oregon beat two significantly better teams by wide margins. By any metric, their two best performances of the entire season have been their two NCAA Tournament games. Great timing. So can they keep it up? Maybe. I guess. VCU did this two seasons ago (although as mediocre as Oregon was for most of this season, they were still better than 2010-11 VCU was in their regular season), and they kept it going for another week. Honestly, this game could be chaos. Both teams have quick guards, both force a ton of turnovers, but both can be sloppy with the ball as well. This would be an even more shocking upset than what they did to St. Louis, but 10 points are a lot with how Oregon is playing right now. I'll take them.

Michigan (+2) over Kansas: I took Michigan in my bracket, so I'll stick with them here. As blown up as my bracket is, I still have 7 of 8 Elite 8 teams and all of my Final Four teams left, so I still have a chance for a decent year. Michigan over Kansas was one of my big picks. I think Michigan has a massive backcourt advantage here, and that's why I like them here. They can shoot the ball pretty well from outside, and I think Mitch McGary is exactly what they need against Jeff Withey. McGary doesn't generate a lot of offense in the post, so it's not like Withey is going to have the opportunity to shut down an important Michigan option, but McGary has the defensive ability and physicality to hang in there on rebounds and to limit what Withey can do offensively. With did a ton of damage on the offensive glass against North Carolina, and it will be up to McGary to prevent a repeat performance. It will be fascinating to see Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway attacking the paint with Withey looming. If they can generate a decent amount of offense that way, they should win. Michigan is just playing better basketball than Kansas right now.

Duke (-2) over Michigan State: A 2 point spread is too small to worry about. Pick the team you think is going to win, and for me that's Duke. With Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee at full strength, I do think Duke has enough post defense to limit the damage from Michigan State's front line enough to make up for their big backcourt advantage. Michigan State (8th in the Big Ten in defensive 3PA/FGA ratio) is not great at stopping threes, which are a big part of Duke's offense. And I just think Michigan State as a team doesn't have a great ceiling this year - they don't have a great offensive scorer, they don't have a true lock down defender, and they're not great at any one aspect of the game. They're strong across the board, but the only arguments for Michigan State going far this year are "Izzo is a wizard", which is an argument I find unconvincing. Besides, no coach in the history of the modern 64/65/68 NCAA Tournament has a better track record than Coach K, so that intangible doesn't work in Sparty's favor anyway. Duke is the better team, so they are my pick.

Florida (-12.5) over Florida Gulf Coast: I've seen this line anywhere between 11.5 and 13.5 - it's all over the place. Nobody really knows what to make of this Florida Gulf Coast situation. That said, even with the way their computer rating has shot up with these two huge NCAA Tournament performances, they're still 19 point underdogs in Pomeroy and 17 in Sagarin. This isn't a situation like Oregon, or even VCU two years ago, where an at-large quality team got super hot at the right time... Florida Gulf Coast is not at that level at all. FGCU was a strong 15 seed - I said so multiple times before the NCAA Tournament tipped off - but they'd have been a pretty average 14 seed. And when you think of it that way, against a Florida Gators team that is good enough to be a 1 seed, those 12.5 points suddenly don't look that big. And maybe FGCU will make me look silly like they did against San Diego State (though to be fair, I did take them against the spread when they played Georgetown and warned that they could seriously scare the Hoyas), but I'll take my chances. FGCU is a great, fun story that we're going to remember for decades. But there's just no way that a 15 seed can keep this up much longer... right?


David Mann said...

It's really unfortunate the best story of the entire season would get matched up against Florida-statistically the best or second best team in the country. Florida Gulf Coast hasn't been particularly good most of the season, but they've been great the past two games. And how you're playing right now does mean something, if not as much as most think. If they won each game on a buzzer beater I would be more willing to call it a fluke. But when you are dominating both games (with the final margin only being ten because of late, hopeless runs) I just don't think you can call it that. It's shocking, but they've earned both victories, and the right for this run not to be chalked up to luck.

I would feel like they had a solid chance to keep this going against LaSalle, Wichita State, Oregon, or even Marquette. But Florida should roll, though I sincerely hope they don't (despite the fact I have them in my final four.)

Jeff said...

Sure, there are different types of "flukes". In terms of luckiest/flukiest wins, Marquette has to be leading the pack for the NCAA Tournament. FGCU has earned their two wins. They, like Oregon to a slightly lesser extent, have just happened to have by far their two best performances of the season at the NCAA Tournament.

And there's something to peaking at the right time, but in general that's a minor effect. Coming into the NCAA Tournament it would have been hard to come up with a team that was "peaking at the right time" better than Notre Dame, yet they got rocked in their opening NCAA Tournament game.

The moral of the story is, I think, that you can't predict the future. Some teams are just going to have terrible games out of randomness, and some are going to have great games out of randomness.

Adam said...

Good breakdowns. I agree that Florida is going to absolutely destroy FGCU. They are well-equipped to play at a very fast tempo. Just look what they did to NW State, a team superior to FGCU

Anonymous said...

Kansas has 3 starters that started in the NCAA title game last year. Michigan starts three freshmen and a sophomore. Huge experience edge.
And for what it's worth, Bill Self is 7-2 in sweet 16 games.

Jeff said...

Kansas is a good team, and they certainly can win, but I find those arguments a bit unconvincing. For one thing, all freshmen and sophomores are not equal. I'd rather have the freshman Mitch McGary than the senior Elijah Johnson on my team. Second, what Kansas has done in previous Sweet 16s, generally against teams much weaker than Michigan, doesn't really matter.

Anonymous said...

I think you are selling way too short the value of maturity and big game experience. Kansas has one of the top 2 freshmen in the country and he isn't handling the tournament pressure at all, so Kansas benched him in the second half of the NC game and let the experience of Releford and Withey lead them to a huge comeback. Bill Self knows how to win. I agree to disagree with you.

Jeff said...

I guess Marquette doesn't have a chance against Miami, then?