Point Blank – March 16, 2017
Tourney Thursday – The Game Inside the Game…
One of the flows that made the Weekend Edition a lot of fun this season was using the blueprint of “The Game Inside the Game”, going beyond power ratings to get to the heart of some of the key team vs. team matchups. I believe that is a good way to handle to the tourneys as well, so let’s get started with some of the intrigue from the Thursday board (note that almost all numbers being referred to will be the Ken Pomeroy efficiency stats, which I believe are the best for these purposes)…
Item: Virginia Tech’s 3-point shooting vs. Wisconsin’s defense
One of the things that became quickly apparent in the marketplace this week is that many of the committee seedings were being ignored, especially in the instance of Minnesota getting a #5 and Wisconsin a #8, despite the Badgers finishing higher in the Big 10 regular season, conference tournament, and winning both times head to head. I even pondered in a media appearance this week if that was an “Oscar’s Moment”, where they might have legitimately misplaced the teams in their spots, because if the Badgers got the Golden Gophers seed, and vice-versa, there would not have been an eyebrow raised.
I bring that up because Wisconsin laying -5.5 is higher than we usually see for a #8 vs. a #9, but since Wiscy really wasn’t a #8, we see this range. But there is also something else we see – an underdog that brings an intriguing matchup advantage as we break down the numbers.
Virginia Tech had a marvelous offensive season, and one of the keys was to knock down shots from all over the place – the Hokies were #9 in the nation in 3-point% shooting, and instead of the offense losing traction with Chris Clarke went down with an injury, it did not skip a beat. They went on to beat Virginia in OT the game Clarke was hurt, rallying from down 14 at halftime, and then went 5-3 SU and 6-1-1 ATS the rest of the way.
The Hokies spread the floor so well because they have five volume shooters from long range, and they are all good –
Ahmed Hill 59-157 37.6%
Justin Bibbs 65-153 42.5%
Seth Allen 51-113 45.1%
Ty Outlaw 53-110 48.2%
Justin Robinson 39-107 38.4%
That is some rather nifty marksmanship to have on the same team. Why such a fascination for this matchup? That sound Wisconsin defense, one that rated #8 in efficiency this season, was #305 in the nation at defending 3-point shots.
Now before you get too excited about that there are two caveats. First is that the Badgers are the much more experienced team, and better set to handle tourney pressure. And there is also that matter of tempo – the Hokies were at their offensive best when pushing the pace, and getting those 3-point looks in the open court, players stepping forward into their shots. Wiscy (#333 tempo) will make it a grinder, meaning some of those shots will come in the half-court, with less open space. Tech has to be able to handle the slower pace, but then again, those teams knocking down triples all season vs. the Badgers were doing just that (if you wonder how Wisconsin could be so bad at guard the arc, yet to good on the overall defensive numbers, it was because of a #8 in the land at guard 2-point shots).
But it doesn’t end there. One of the difficulties many coaches have noted over time is finding shots against the fundamental soundness of that Wisconsin defense, especially on the first look. But this isn’t the first look for Buzz Williams, who went up against the Badgers six times while the head coach at Marquette.
The Wiscy systems haven’t changed all that much from Bo Ryan to Greg Gard, who was the #1 assistant in the years Williams was at Marquette.
Item: On power-rating Xavier (vs. Maryland), and why I think the committee over-valued the Big East
This isn’t necessarily a matchup issue, but it is one that matters not just in the perception of this game, but also of how fellow Big East members are rated. We do know that Villanova is good, which has been proven outside of the league over the past couple of seasons. But there are real questions about the others, and while USC over Providence took a lot of work to get home, the Trojans got there, not so much because their play being brilliant in the rally as the Friars not being quite good enough to sustain for 40 minutes.
Xavier had Final Four potential entering this season – enough experience, talent and balance to get a #12 from the Blue Ribbon folks. I was all set to make D’Artagnan references after Myles Davis returned, after Edmond Sumner/Trevon Blueitt/J.P. Macura had literally become the Three Muskeeters in his absence. But Davis never really got involved in his short stint, and then Sumner was lost for the season back on January 29 vs. St. John’s.
To their credit the Musketeers played with a lot of heart in the first two games without him, gutting out wins of 72-70 vs. Seton Hall and 82-80 at Creighton (I’ll be back tomorrow to make a similar point about Maurice Watson of the Blue Jays). But then the wheels came off, a 4-7 closing stretch in which three of the wins came over lowly DePaul, and they lost contact in several of the losses.
This brings up a key component to the tourney – while those of us that do this to build a portfolio at the betting windows make significant adjustments for injuries, such sources as Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin do not, and of course the national NCAA statistics are all “full team/full season”. That means much of what the committee was looking at was stale, like the fact the KenPom rates the Big East as the #3 conference in the nation. Where they anywhere near that at the end of the season? No. Yet that supposed conference strength was enough that every team that played .500 or better in the league, seven of them in all, made the Big Dance. Some mediocre squads got the benefit of picking up late-season wins over Xavier and Creighton that don’t mean what the raw numbers make them appear to.
How much of the Xavier appearance in this field is based on the luck of the draw, three games vs. DePaul being played while Sumner was out? It is a fascinating case study in the adjustment of power ratings. I do not have the current Musketeers graded out as a tourney-worthy team, as was the case with Providence last night. I just wish to hell they had drawn someone other than Maryland in the first round (though the Terrapins do rate a small play at -1, should that appear).
Item: When the underdog wants to speed up the favorite - NC-Wilmington/Virginia and Winthrop/Butler
One of the matchup components often seen in the first round each season are underdogs with lesser talent that also play a slower pace than the favorite. Naturally those dogs need to be able to win the battle of tempo, slowing the game down as much as possible, in order to compete. When you have the lesser talent, that is not easy.
The Thursday board brings us something different on that front, a pair of games in which it is the underdog that has been accustomed to playing much faster than the favorite. As hard as it is for the team with lesser talent to slow down a superior opponent, is it even tougher when the challenge is to speed them up? Let’s focus on two key aspects of these matchups, total pace, and the SPS (Seconds Per Shot) of the underdog’s offense into that of the favorite –
Pace SPS O vs. D
UNCW 72 59
Virginia 351 333
Since there are 351 teams being tracked, you know exactly where the Cavaliers rate in terms of others in overall pace.
For Wilmington it was a fast-paced ride through the Colonial Athletic Association, with three starters back from the mix that led into the second half vs. Duke in the first round last March before succumbing 93-85 as +10. But the Seahawks won’t get that kind of ride today. Can they handle being forced to not only play at a slower pace, but to attack the #1 defense in the nation? It is something they did not have to do all that often during the regular season, and even in the first two rounds of the conference tourney they rang up 91 and 105. It is going to be a test of the composure from a team that has only been an underdog twice this season, splitting road games vs. Clemson and St. Bonaventure, neither of those challenges involving tempo.
And then there is my overall notion of wanting to be in play against the Big East as part of the next one -
Pace SPS O vs. D
Winthrop 48 36
Butler 295 297
Butler wasn’t anything all that special down the stretch, going 7-5 SU and 5-7 ATS over the last dozen games, two wins over DePaul in that mix, one of them going to overtime. But there was that high-profile 74-66 win at Villanova mixed in, which is something the Bulldogs were able to pull based on style – while Jay Wright’s team plays with a fundamental soundness and toughness that unnerves many opponents over the course of 40 minutes, that is simply Butler basketball, with slightly better players. The Bulldogs got gritty with the Wildcats in each meeting this season, and worked hard enough to pull them off.
I thought Butler looked a little tired down the stretch, falling 70-64 as -8.5 at home vs. Seton Hall, and then 62-57 as -6 vs. Xavier in the Big East opening round. But does that early exit from the conference tourney alter that, this now being only the third game for the Bulldogs since February 26?
Winthrop comes in having scored less than 72 points only once time since before Christmas, and the Eagles have also only played one game away from home over the past full month, a 93-56 rout of Presbyterian. I would like to be able to use them into the anti-Big East notions, and I will bite off a small piece of +11.5, though still holding out for a 12 – one of the things that can indirectly help here is that the Butler pace can keep the underdog in the game, the Bulldogs style being to simply grind away. But there is a concern about the tempo clash that will limit the amount of the investment – the fear of the underdog getting frustrated when forced to play much more slowly than they have been accustomed to is at hand.
I’ll be back in the Friday edition with some more “Game Inside the Game” notions, now let the fun begin…
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