Point Blank – March 14, 2017
NCAA Bracketology 2017 – Who is going to Reign…Breaking down one of the lesser tournaments really does require some nit-picking…Sometimes you look for Thunder in a snow storm...
It’s bracket day, and before you get all excited about that the end results of my various meanderings across the regions may be utterly useless. I believe this field may bring us one of the most compelling tourneys of my betting lifetime, and with that comes the opportunity to be wrong both early and often. But sometimes with challenge comes invigoration, which brings a positive dynamic into play.
A few weeks ago the process of providing some quality background for the long Friday reads saw the focus turn to a series of guitar classics, and bracket day requires the next installment. This time the notion is to give you something you can put on repeat in the background while you do your own sorting (any time you disagree with my own bracket you have a good prospect of being correct), so how about this gem – if we are focusing in on who will reign supreme, let’s go to Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck, backed by the BBC Orchestra, with a rendition of “Love Reign O’er Me” that can elevate your spirit, and hopefully your thought processes as well -
Item: This bracket projection offers absolutely no guarantees
We have some outstanding Thai restaurants in Las Vegas, and most of my Thursday-Sunday dining this week will be catered by the lovely folks of Lotus of Siam, much as just about every football weekend has over the past 15 years (the staff and I have estimated about 700 meals from their woks to my plates, and learning to eat healthy during busy cycles has been a significant plus for me). On Monday the timing was right to spread out a bracket at a new and noble neighbor to Lotus, Arawan just a short stroll across the parking lot, not only with excellent food from the traditional menu (and terrific service), but also the best dessert program of any Thai restaurant in the city. I bring this up because over a most pleasant lunch, I spread out and filled in what may end up being a rather ridiculous bracket.
This tourney is tough, damn tough, but for the right reasons – it sets up as being extremely competitive, with as many teams having a legitimate chance to win as I can recall over the past decade, but also very little coming easily once the first round is over. All of those teams that are good enough to win? They are also vulnerable enough to get knocked out in the Sweet 16, and I don’t even have Kentucky getting that far.
I applied what I believe is a meaningful aspect of basketball science to get to the ultimate winner, the Kansas Jayhawks. If indeed this bracket is going to produce a lot of close games, my base concept was which team was best geared to succeed at crunch time. That leads to the veteran triumvirate of Frank Mason/Devonte’ Graham/Landen Lucas, and the NBA lottery-bound Josh Jackson, who is anything but a freshmen.
The run nearly took place in last year’s tournament. The Jayhawks were on a 17 game win streak when the met Villanova in the National Semi’s, and were -2 at tipoff, but lost a tough 64-59 decision. It was a game in which neither team ever led in double figures, and Kansas was within 58-57 in the closing salvo.
How well-tested is this bunch? The Jayhawks faced the #7 schedule according to Ken Pomeroy and #8 via Jeff Sagarin, and against that slate went 13-3 SU in the 16 games decided in single digits. But I believe we can take that 13-3 a step further…
One of the losses came in overtime in the opener, 103-99 vs. Indiana in Hawaii, but it wasn’t necessarily that the core cast lost – Mason, Lucas and Graham all fouled out, Graham and Lucas in regulation, Mason early in the extra period. And one of the other defeats was in the Big 12 tourney when Jackson was suspended. Outside of those two it was a 13-1 run, and there is nothing all that wrong about losing to Iowa State in OT. The bottom line is that against a difficult schedule the Jayhawks were superb in the end-game, part of why Mason would get my vote as Player of the Year. He wasn’t necessarily the best player over the full minutes of all games, but no one was better in the clutch.
There is a Part II to this, which I will bring in as the lead topic tomorrow – for all of the discussions about depth during the regular season, and especially during the conference tournaments, it is not much of a factor in the Big Dance. But I will save that for Wednesday, because there is my chicken scratch of a bracket for you to now sift through, as well as some wild cards being thrown at us in the NIT this year.
So here we go, a list of winners with an astounding lack of confidence behind them, yet also the anticipation of knowing how many competitive, and potentially classic games, we may be watching over the next three weeks…
KANSAS over UCLA
ARIZONA over DUKE
KANSAS over ARIZONA
As for the various value plays out there we can address many of them in the follow-up thread, but there will be one consistent theme – if you are looking at the odds for any team to win their regional, it will often pay better to roll them over on the Money Line in each game. The added vigorish of the Future Books can be negated that way. When your shopping shows that you have a price that is an outlier that is a different story, of course, but in most settings the individual game Money Lines will be a more productive way to play.
As for those other tourneys I can save you some time in terms of typing a question – the CBI and College Insider tournaments will not make my radar screens at all. The NIT will, although what exactly we are going to see this evening will be interesting, and not all that easy to project.
Item: Some real nit-picking is required in the NIT
The basketball flow is going to be a little different in this bracket, so I will lay it out in as simple of a form as possible. White it will still be two 20-minute halves, rather than four quarters, the clock will be kept in 10-minute increments. Once a team reaches four fouls in any of those four blocks, the opposition gets two shots for each ensuing foul. There will not be any 1-and-1 settings. But at the 10:00 mark of each half, the fouls are wiped clean, and start over.
Does that lead to more foul shots or less? That is a conundrum for the handicapper. In essence it allows for more fouls to be committed without shots being taken, but it also means FT attempts if fouls #5 and #6 occur in non-shooting situations before a 10-minute period has ended.
Meanwhile there is also a new shortening of the shot clock for some situations – if a team gets a new possession from an out of bounds setting in the offensive end, the clock will only be for 20 seconds, not 30. That has more basketball integrity behind it than altering the foul cycles, but they did not go far enough – all new possessions that start in the offensive end should have gone to 20 seconds, including live ball offensive rebound plays. Perhaps that will be something for the future.
But now the next conundrum – the 20-second clock will mean more possessions, but also less effective ones, many of the added shots perhaps a bit forced because the teams are unaccustomed to the rhythm of this particular timing.
So how do the markets see it? There is a usual tendency to think of NIT first-round games as being looser and higher-scoring, and with the rules changes it looks like a far different scoring range is being projected. Let’s use the Ken Pomeroy numbers, and the current market consensus, to set the example –
Syracuse 142 149
Monmouth 159 162.5
Georgia Tech 135 143.5
Illinois 131 139.5
Caifornia 113 123
Colorado State 126 135
Alabama 130 137.5
Clemson 146 155.5
Utah 151 155
And of course there is also some tweaking of the home court advantages that needs to be done as well. One of the annual issues for the NIT is that many of the host schools are in their spring break cycles, which can not only limit the crowds, but also significantly alter the “decibels per fan” ratio.
Here is your list of home teams impacted in the first round, listed in schedule order – SYRACUSE, MONMOUTH, COLORADO STATE, ALABAMA, UTAH, CENTRAL FLORIDA, IOWA, HOUSTON, TCU and ILLINOIS STATE.
Impacting the crowds for Syracuse and Monmouth even more tonight is that major storm on the east coast (opponents NC Greensboro and Mississippi were able to arrive on schedule). How much adjustment are these settings worth? It varies by the school, of course, but there are times in which I will dock a full point for the court value, although a half is more common.
About Last Night, NBA…
In the on-going saga that has been the Memphis Grizzlies of late, the rotation shuffling by David Fizdale being a feature topic here twice over the past week, the scoreboard might make it appear that there was a break-through in last night’s 113-93 rout of Milwaukee. I’m not sure – so much of that simply came down to a roll of the dice that just happened to bring the numbers that Fizdale needed.
Giving 40-year old Vince Carter his first start of the season was either the final act of desperation, or a stroke of genius. While Carter is not going to provide any kind of long-term solution in that role, he was brilliant on Monday, exploding for 16 points in the first half to set the tone. Not only did he make all six 3-point attempts, but there was also a reverse dunk that rolled the clock back about a decade.
What Carter may have done was to supply a catharsis for a team that badly needed it. Up next is an arduous stretch of six road games in seven outings, the only home affair in the span a difficult challenge vs. the Spurs. Now it will be up to Fizdale to tweak again, having had nine different players start over the last four games – does he give Carter another try, or was that the kick-start he was hoping for, which can lead to the veteran back in his customary bench role? The physical rotations are still an issue, but for the psyche of the team that may have been a significant turning point.
For your listening pleasure...
The Thursday NCAA Podcast is up, with all of the matchups covered, joined by Brad Powers, Steve Fezzik and Dave Essler -
In the Sights, Tuesday NBA…
One of my favorite settings in all of sports shows on the Tuesday board, a game in which a team is going to take a bottom-feeder seriously, and that will put #535 Oklahoma City (7:35 Eastern if the snow allows this one to tip off on schedule) into pocket at -6 or less.
The gist of the concept is a simple one – teams like the Nets have better scoreboards and stats than their true abilities show, but they rarely have to take the best punch from the opposing team. A game vs. Brooklyn can mean lethargic preparation going in, the focus more on more important games ahead, and in the game itself a low level of intensity once the outcome is under control.
That changes tonight, with the Thunder having had two days off to build a game plan (their travel plans got them to Brooklyn ahead of the snow), and also Wednesday off to preclude any look-ahead notions. And both Billy Donovan and his players have talked openly about ending a skid in which they haven’t won a road game since January. It was not all bad, however – contributing to that demise were injuries to Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter, and not only are they back now, but Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott have been added to the rotation.
The buy signal from Oladipo, and for the team as well, came in those last two home games to build momentum for this trip, wins over the Spurs and Jazz by a combined 18 points in which he scored 42 points, and had seven rebounds and six assists, over 65:47 of court time. Now they are playing the first road game with all hands on deck since January, and that sense of purpose can lead to getting a more comfortable win over this hapless opponent than the markets are calling for, in particular with control of the boards (#2 vs. #28), and with a small crowd that won’t boost the home team all that much (don’t be surprised to hear some cheers for the Thunder, with some folks braving the elements to come out and see Russell Westbrook in his only appearance at the Barclay’s Center this season).
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