Advanced Bracketology II

Last year, at about this time, we analyzed the Regionals in the context of certain statistical measures provided by Statfox in their publication “Edge,” which identified eight traits shared by more than eighty percent (80%) of Final Four teams over the past eleven years. They are, as follows:

Scored at least 73 PPG
Allowed 67 PPG or less
Outscored opponents by at least 10 PPG
Shot at least 47% from the field
Allowed 41% or less from the field
Shot at least 69% on free throws
Shot at least 35% on 3PT attempts
Out rebounded opponents by at least 3 RPG

Let’s apply these standards to our analysis of this weekend’s games:

East Regionals (Boston).

Pitt (1) vs. Xavier (4). Pitt has been our darling all year, but they don’t blow good teams out, and they are vulnerable should DuJuan Blair get into foul trouble. Plus, they’re not playing at their best right now. In Xavier, they meet a team which is cast in their blue collar image and coached by a Pitt alum, Sean Miller, who played point guard for the Panthers in the early nineties. Both teams favor the half-court set and a lot of interior banging. Role players play a big role with both teams. Pitt goes eight deep, Xavier nine deep. Between them, nine players score between five and nine points. But Xavier has no one to contain the bestial Blair, and no one to match the athleticism of Sam Young. The Muskies’ offense comes primarily from three versatile and veteran forwards: C.J. Anderson, Derrick Brown, and B.J. Raymond. Indicator-wise, Pitt nearly sweeps the board, but for its 67.4%. foul shooting .Most impressively, they out score opponents 78-64, and out rebound them by ten a game. The X-men flunk in two categories (46.3 FG%, 67.5 FT%), but out rebound by eight a game and shoot 39.9% from 3-point land, tying Gonzaga for best in the tournament. At crunch time, Pitt has veteran leadership with LaVance Fields at the point vs. the inexperienced Holloway and Redford. This may prove the difference in a close game. We like Pitt to emerge, but will not lay the seven.

Duke (2) vs. Villanova (3). Duke comes into this game ranked no. 1 in the RPI, and as ACC tournament champion, but we’re not convinced of their greatness. For one thing, they get scoring from three individuals only. Only Henderson, Singler, and Scheyer, are double figure threats. Like Pitt and Xavier, Villanova has several bangers and spreads its offense around nicely. Eight players score more than five per game, and Dante Cunningham will be the best big man on the floor. Their dismantling of UCLA in the second round was a masterpiece. Statistically, Villanova passes all the tests but one (45.7 FG%), but shoots free throws at 74.2%, second best to UNC in the remaining field. Duke shoots (44.8%) and defends (43%) less than the standard, and shoots 3-balls at 34.9%.We cannot see the Blue Devils matching up to ‘Novas muscular front court and overall depth. Take Villanova plus the 2.5 point helping.

If we’re right, Sunday’s regional final will be a rematch of two Big East heavyweights. When they first met, Villanova pasted Pitt in Philadelphia, 67-57; and true to form, Blair was in foul trouble. If the Big Fella plays his game, the Panthers will book passage to Detroit.

South Regional (Memphis)

North Carolina (1) vs. Gonzaga (4) This is a matchup of the most offensively-minded teams in the tournament. There are perhaps eleven future pros on both teams combined, including the starting teams and Carolina rookie sensation Ed Davis off the bench. Both teams like to press the tempo, but the ‘Zags pay more attention to stopping their opponent. They defend at 37% compared to the Tarheels’ 42%. They relinquish 61 PPG compared to UNC’s 73 PPG. Nevertheless, Carolina enjoys the largest margin of victory in the tournament (20 pts), and has been able to survive its benign neglect on defense by out scoring its opponents. A whopping five Tarheels score eleven points or more.

With the return to full strength of Ty Lawson, it becomes more important for Gonzaga point guard Jeremy Pargo to assert himself. At 6-2 220, Pargo is a brute with a good handle, a hard move to the basket, and post-up skills. His scoring is down from the last two years as he has become more of a distributor than a first or second option; but if he can put pressure on Lawson defensively, that might slow the Carolina engine. As well, Josh Heyvelt must actively engage Ty Hansbrough down low for the ‘Zags to stay competitive. The rest of the Bulldogs – Daye, Bouldin, and Gray- can more than match up with Heels Ellington, Thompson, and Green. Take Gonzaga plus the 8.5.

Oklahoma (2) vs. Syracuse (3) Oklahoma comes within a hair of meeting all the statistical measures, but they give up 68 PPG, and they shoot fouls at 68%. The Orangemen flunk four of the eight tests. Their margin of victory is only nine points, they give up 72 PPG, their rebounding margin is just two, and they shoot fouls at a woeful 63.9%. This figure may be a bit deceiving since big men Oneaku and Jackson are the primary bricklayers and the ball handlers shoot free throws well; but at crunch time, Boeheim cannot go with his best front court because of the threat of putting Oneaku or Jackson on the line. And the Orangemen will want all the front court strength they can muster to combat the tirades of Sooner Blake Griffin, who shoots 63.5% from the field and is the likely Player of the Year. To stay close, ‘Cuse must ring up the register with 3-balls because they will be at a disadvantage in the blocks. Reluctantly, because we favor the ‘Cuse, we see the Sooners advancing.

We like the winner of the Gonzaga-UNC tussle to advance against either Syracuse or Oklahoma.

West Region (Glendale)

UConn (1) vs. Purdue (5). Purdue is a nice team with nice players, but it may be in over its head against a rejuvenated Huskie squad which has found the scorer to replace the injured Jerome Dyson in 6’9” forward Stanley Robinson. Though averaging just 7.1 for the season, Robinson has scored 64 points in the last three games, including 28 in the memorable 6 OT affair against Syracuse in the Big East Tournament. There is no better front line in the tournament than Hakeem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, and Robinson. Slender Purdue simply cannot do battle with this threesome in the trenches. Purdue does not make up this deficiency in the backcourt where UConn’s Price, Walker, and Austrie will give no ground. Statistically speaking, Connecticut dominates, with a 13 pt scoring margin (77-64), a 47% -38% advantage in FG marksmanship, and an 8 rebound/game advantage. Their foul shooting and 3 FG% are slightly under par at 67.7% and 34.7%, respectively. Purdue has some difficulty scoring (69 PPG) and does not out rebound its opponents. This may be an old-fashioned beat down. Lay the 6.5.

Memphis (2) vs. Missouri (3). Missouri is the new kid on the block. Memphis has been here before. That should count for something. But there are other reasons that the Tigers (of the Missouri variety) may be in trouble. Memphis has the ball handlers to withstand the Mizzou press, and that may open up fast break opportunities for Memphis to attack the rim, which they do very well. There is no better forward scoring tandem in basketball than Missouri’s DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons; but after these two, there is a drop-off. No one else scores double figures. Carroll is a transfer from Vanderbilt, who left Nashville to join his uncle, coach Mike Anderson, at Missouri. The Commodores could have used him the last couple of years. Statistically, Memphis kills. They outscore opponents by 15 and impose a 36 FG% on the opposition. Their only drawback is from 3 pt. land where they shot an abysmal 32%, worst of the sweet sixteen. But they were accurate against Maryland in the round of 32. Missouri has a healthy margin of victory (81-66), but their rebounding (no edge) and their foul shooting (66.8%) are questionable. Lay the 4.5.

In the regional finals, we see a contest between Memphis and UConn that is too close to call. Check Today’s Selections II on game day for a pick.

Midwest Regional (Indianapolis)

Louisville (1) vs. Arizona (12). When the season began, Arizona found itself without a coach and without a starting five. When Lute Olson retired, and Mike Dunlap refused an interim appointment, hand-me-down Russ Fennell took over. Meanwhile, three prize recruits opted to go elsewhere. It took most of the season for the Wildcats to develop reliable complements to stars Budinger, Hill, and Wise; but having filled out their starting quintet, they are left with no bench. Against Louisville, which presses relentlessly and has a deep bench, the end is in sight for the Wildcats, whose average margin of victory is a scant 4 points (72-68) and who relinquish 44% FG%. On the plus side, they shoot 39.5% from 3 point land and 73.4% from the stripe. Louisville’s only deficiency is from the foul line (64.3%). Arizona will have to pitch a perfect game to keep this one close. Lay the nine.

Michigan State (2) vs. Kansas (3). Michigan State won a previous meeting at East Lansing, 75-62; but the Jayhawks feature four freshmen in their rotation who are better players now than they were then. And Kansas, alone among the Sweet Sixteen, meets all of the statistical measures we are following. Significantly, they shoot 48% from the field and give up just 39%; outrebound by seven; shoot 38% from 3 point land; and shoot 72.8% from the stripe. These are very strong numbers. The Spartans come up short in four of the eight categories. We suspect that the combination of Collins and Aldrich is better than anything that Michigan State can come up with.

If Louisville plays Kansas in the regional final, the Cardinals’ experience and pressure is likely to overcome any edge Kansas may have in the statistics. As all gamblers know, no matter the advantage going in, the game still has to be played on the court.

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