Bracket Prep: Florida, Virginia, Michigan StatePosted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2014
Championship Week has found its close, but here are a few final short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket this week. None of these titans really needed the “automatic bid” portion of their Tournament title gift package, of course, but with each figuring to play a key role in the weeks ahead, here’s what you need to know about a trio of Championship Week’s final victors.
- SEC Champion (32-2, 21-0)
- RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #2/#3/#3
- Adjusted Scoring Margin = +16.1
- Likely NCAA Seed: #1
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
- In the final minutes of basketball before the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled, Florida survived Kentucky to claim the SEC crown, complete their 21-game conference sweep, and keep alive a 26-game win streak. Quite a tidy going away package for the Gators, who will enter the Tournament as a #1 seed and among the two or three favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas. The one-point victory Sunday was only the fifth time this season that the Gators have won by three points or less – a testament to the workmanlike attitude that has extended this win streak time and time again.
- The Gators led the SEC in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Defensive weaknesses are hard to spot with the Gators, but despite the high overall level of offensive efficiency, there is a weak spot or two that opponents will seek to exploit. Florida’s free throw shooting is shaky (66.2% as a team, 295th nationally), and even primary ballhandlers Scotty Wilbekin (72%), Casey Prather (68%) and Kasey Hill (63%) are anything but sure things at the charity stripe. Three-point shooting isn’t a concern for Florida at first glance – they shoot 37% as a team, 73rd best in the country – but Wilbekin (58 3PM, 40%) and Michael Frazier (107 3PM, 46%) have combined to make over 70% of the team’s three-point field goals. The rest of the team shot just 27% from distance, so if an opponent can find a way to take away looks from either Wilbekin or Frazier – especially the latter, who is strictly a perimeter shooter – things could get pretty one-dimensional for the Gator offense.
- Florida is the perfect example of a team that used the entire season to grow into an elite squad. For much of November and December, Billy Donovan was just trying to keep proverbial head above water with his team, as pieces shifted in and out of the Gator lineup. Wilbekin, Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Chris Walker all missed time for various reasons, but save for road losses at Wisconsin and Connecticut (and no shame in those, either), the Gators kept on winning. Prather grew into an unlikely All-American candidate, Wilbekin has staked his claim as the best point guard in America, and Frazier is now second to none when it comes to perimeter shooters. None of these things happen without one of the best coaches in the game pressing all the right buttons from the sideline, but Donovan has spent the last four months constructing a team poised for even greater things in the NCAA Tournament. And after winning 26 games in a row en route to a sweep of the SEC titles, that, my friends, is saying something.
Best Case Scenario: National Champion. A two-time National Championship winning coach takes a team on a 26-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament. You better believe that the Gators have but one goal – it’s National Title or bust in Gainesville.
- ACC Champion (28-6, 19-2)
- RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #12/5/#7
- Adjusted Scoring Margin = +14.1
- Likely NCAA Seed: #1-#2
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
- Apparently the program’s first outright ACC regular season title since 1981 wasn’t enough for Virginia. The Hoos validated their quiet regular season dominance with an equally impressive ACC Tournament run, dispatching Duke on Sunday to claim the title. Senior Joe Harris (11.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG) was named the Tournament MOP after averaging 15.7 PPG over the Cavaliers’ three days in Greensboro. Despite the impressive UVA season, Harris has gone relatively underappreciated all season as a result of a conventional stat-line that is less impressive than the one he posted a season ago, but his clutch shot-making on Sunday left no doubt that he was the star of all stars in this ACC Tournament.
- Harris hasn’t really taken a step backwards this year by most efficiency metrics, but it is true that he has both taken fewer shots and scored fewer points. The reason for the drop-off is simple: The emergence of Malcolm Brogdon (12.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.7 APG). Brogdon earned All-ACC honors after an efficient regular season in which he had shooting splits of 45/37/87 (2PT/3PT/FT). The sophomore point guard is also the Hoos’ best end-of-shot-clock playmaker, an important role in an offense that isn’t afraid to use every one of those 35 seconds. That slow-tempo Tony Bennett attack (345th nationally in possessions/game) doesn’t help his players rack up the conventional stats that breed name recognition, but look for Brogdon to become a household name if the Cavs continue their winning ways in the Tournament.
- Not shockingly, the Cavaliers are an efficiency darling. Both the offense and defense rank in the top-25 nationally in overall efficiency, and the rebounding percentages are equally impressive (the offensive rebounding percentage of 34.8% is quite impressive for an elite transition-defense unit). The Cavaliers biggest weakness is their free-throw shooting, but they may have a way of working around that. As a team, Virginia shoots just 66.3% from the charity stripe, even with Brogdon leading the ACC by making 87% of his attempts. Harris has been unusually bad in that area (64% FT), and senior Akil Mitchell (7.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG) has also really struggled from the stripe (43% FT). London Perrantes (5.1 PPG, 84% FT) is the only other regular with a trust-inspiring percentage, but he has only attempted 45 free throws all season. Having Brogdon around for late-game free-throw shooting is a possible way around this weakness, but that doesn’t mean that charity-stripe struggles won’t lead to tense times in the weeks ahead.
Best Case Scenario: National Championship. Trusting in a Virginia program with little recent Tournament history may be hard, and making it no easier is the fact that Tony Bennett-coached teams are the antithesis of sexy, but it’s time to accept Virginia for what they are: A legitimate national title contender.
- Big Ten Champion (26-8, 15-6)
- RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #26/#10/#8
- Adjusted Scoring Margin = +13.4
- Likely NCAA Seed: #4
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
- Finally! The Michigan State we have been waiting for all season –fully intact and firing on all cylinders — actually took to the floor this week in Indianapolis, and the results were impressive. Sparty felled Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan in succession to take the Big Ten crown, and will undoubtedly head to the NCAA Tournament with plenty of support among prognosticators. Regular season success is always nice, but for a team as focused and experienced as Tom Izzo’s bunch, the months leading up to March can be more of a means to an end than anything else. The important thing is to be healthy and playing your best basketball by the time the Tournament rolls around, and the Spartans appear to be doing just that.
- This may be the best three-point shooting team Tom Izzo has ever coached. For a concentrated example, there was that night in West Lafayette, IN when it was raining threes (MSU connected on 17-32 3PA in a win at Purdue), but Michigan State has really shot it well all year long. They’ve made 41% of their attempts in Big Ten play and 39% overall, the latter number ranking them 17th in the nation. Six different Spartans average a made three-point field goal a game, and each shoot better than 35% on them. Sparty doesn’t rely on the three in a live-by-it, die-by-it kind of way – especially with Branden Dawson (10.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG) back in the mix – but the long-range shot is a key component of the Spartan offensive arsenal.
- We all love to talk about those players that have been in school for seemingly forever, but how about a team that feels like they are working on a 5th year together? Michigan State has that kind of feel to it, as even sophomores Gary Harris (17.2 PPG, 1.9 SPG) and Denzel Valentine (8.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG) feel like they should be facing an eligibility expiration date sometime soon. A handful of freshman do see limited minutes, but the core of this team has been around for years. Appling, Payne, Trice and Dawson have grown together (along with Harris and Valentine), which has aided in the speedy return to a singular, cohesive entity after the string of injuries. Tom Izzo teams classically register very high on the basketball IQ scale, but the collective experience of this group has them off the charts when it comes to on-floor intelligence.
Best Case Scenario: National Champion. To a certain extent, nothing that happened between October and now matters for this team. They were built to win in March, stuck around to win in March, and to a man, fully believe they can win in March. The Big Ten Tournament was a reassuring warm-up, but finally, the time is now for Sparty.