First Round Game Analysis: Friday Afternoon

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Friday afternoon games.

12:15 pm – #2 West Virginia vs. #15 Morgan State  (Buffalo pod)

West Virginia enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation. They squeaked out an enormous road win at Villanova to end the regular season then swept through Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Georgetown en route to a Big East championship riding the heroics of Da’Sean Butler. The Mountaineers are an extremely gifted rebounding team; in fact, sometimes their best offense comes after a missed shot. They feature multiple weapons that can step out and shoot a mid-range jumper or three from Wellington Smith to Kevin Jones to the all-around dynamo Butler. Also, few teams can match West Virginia’s intensity in the halfcourt defensively. Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman will need a gigantic scoring output from their own star, Baltimore native Reggie Holmes. Holmes scored 25 or more points fifteen times this season, averaging 21.3 PPG and ranking in the top-50 in percentage of shots taken. The Bears also feature a rugged forward named Kevin Thompson who comes in at fifth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. In fact, Morgan State ranks 11th in the country as a team in that very category. Unfortunately for the underdogs, West Virginia is never outworked on the glass, not with Jones, Devin Ebanks and Bob Huggins prominently involved.

The Skinny: This one shouldn’t be close from the tip. Morgan State dominated the MEAC all season, but West Virginia is flying high at this point. Expect the Mountaineers to dominate by 25-30 points.

12:25 pm – #6 Xavier vs. #11 Minnesota  (Milwaukee pod)

The answer to which team will win this game depends entirely on which Gopher team shows up to play in Milwaukee.  Will it be the defensive juggernaut that held Purdue to 11 first  half points last Saturday, or will it be the team that got obliterated by Ohio State 52-29 in the second half on Sunday?  Tubby Smith’s team has been schizophrenic like that all year, following up strong wins with disastrous performances (two losses to Michigan?  really?), which probably explains why they were a bubble team up until Sunday evening.  Xavier comes into this one with the stronger resume, but it’s difficult to say if the Musketeers are the better team.  When he plays under control, XU’s Jordan Crawford is a talent, and his supporting case of Jason Love on the interior and Terrell Holloway running the show makes for nice balance throughout the Xavier lineup.  The question we have is who will win the defensive battle, though.  Xavier defends the three really well, while Minnesota behind Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook both shoot it equally as well.  This game is essentially a tossup (Vegas agrees, setting Minny as a one-point favorite), and we really liked the first seven halves of basketball that the Gophers put up in Indianapolis on a neutral floor last week, so we’re going with the extremely mild 6/11 upset here, in a close game that comes down to the last possession. 

The Skinny: Despite the seedings, this is a tossup game and we like the Gophers to win it on the last possession. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Profiling Elite Eight and Beyond With Pomeroy

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

This is an idea we’ve had bouncing around in the dome for a while now, and since we’re not smart enough to actually do a bunch of number-crunching analysis with regression formulas and all that other statistical nonsense, we’re going to do what we know how to do — eyeball it.  (note: if you want a more data-driven analysis, visit Vegas Watch for a region-by-region breakdown)  We’ve taken a look at the Pomeroy numbers for the last five seasons (2005-09) to get a sense as to the type of offensive and defensive efficiency numbers that constitute your typical Elite Eight/Final Four/Runner-Up/Championship team.  We know that all of these teams are pretty darn good — but can we draw any conclusions based on the past five years of historical data that might give us a clue as to how we should be looking at this year’s bracket?

Here’s the list of roughly thirty or so teams with the strongest efficiency differentials in the 2009-10 season (sorted as such): that far right column is the key number for our purposes.  The greater the efficiency differential, the more dominant a team tends to be.  Remember that both the offensive and defensive efficiency statistics represent the number of points a team scores over 100 possessions of basketball.  +120 is really good for offense, while less than 90 is really good on defense.  Anytime a team’s differential approaches +30 points or more, we’re reaching rarefied air in college basketball.  (note – Pomeroy doesn’t provide historical data prior to past years’ tournaments, but we still think there is some value in looking at his final ratings because the likelihood that a team significantly improves or regresses during the snapshot window of the NCAA Tournament is small).  If you don’t follow Pomeroy regularly, you might be a little surprised at the placement of certain teams versus some others.  Have a look…

So what, right?  Well, let’s see if we can use the historical data that we have from Pomeroy to make assessments of this year’s batch of teams and their prospects. 

National Champions

Let’s first take a look at the last five national championship teams.  What jumps out at us immediately is that they’re all offensive juggernauts.  Every one of them is ranked first or second in offensive efficiency.  These teams know how to score the ball.  Defensive efficiency is a little more spotty, but they’re all pretty good (<90 and ranking in the top twenty).  The average differential is really high at 37.4 points per 100 possessions, and all of them easily reach the +30 threshold in that regard.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Obama Bracket 2010: Feeling Selfish?

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Andy Katz once again had the privilege of visiting President Obama this year to go through his bracket step by step.  We like that he didn’t end up with all chalk, slotting Villanova and Kansas State as #2 seeds into the Final Four this year (along with favorites Kansas and Kentucky).  You recall that he picked the champion (UNC) in 2009, but he missed on his other three F4 teams — Louisville, Pittsburgh and Memphis, and his first round was pretty much a disaster.  One out of four is a pretty good success rate on Capitol Hill, but what was palpable in this year’s version of the unveiling was how much more stressed the environment (and Obama) seemed at the White House.  It was almost a little uncomfortable, a painful reminder of the mental and physical rigors of running the country in the midst of  a recession.  Here’s the clip.

Share this story

First Round Game Analysis: Thursday Evening

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Thursday evening games.

7:10 pm – #8 Northern Iowa vs. #9 UNLV  (Oklahoma City pod)

The Midwest Region’s first game of the tournament features two teams battling for the privilege of going up against Kansas in the next round. What press there is about Northern Iowa, Jordan Eglseder gets most of it. UNLV will also have to watch out for senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh, a streaky three-point shooter who’s had five straight games in single figures and is due for a run. It was thought at the beginning of the year that UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield would do a little more sharing of the scoring burden for the Runnin Rebels this year, but it’s been Willis who’s shouldered most of the load. At 17.5 PPG, he averages a full seven points more than the Rebels’ next leading scorer, sophomore forward Chace Stanback. Both of these teams take good care of the basketball and, even though neither of them is going to give the scoreboard operator much of a workout, the game itself should be a good one between two teams of similar talent. We hope all these guys get to enjoy the trappings of the tournament… because it won’t last long, sorry to say.

The Skinny: In a game played in the mid-50s (both in tempo and era), look for UNI to make the key plays down the stretch to win this one by four.

7:15 pm – #1 Kentucky vs. #16 ETSU  (New Orleans pod)

If any #16 seed is going to be the first to topple a top seed in this bracket, here’s your best shot. East Tennessee State was in this exact position one March ago and took #1 Pittsburgh to the wire. In fact, the Buccaneers trailed by just three points with 2:47 left in a contest usually reserved for monumental blowouts. ETSU was expected to rebuild after losing four starters from the Atlantic Sun champion of 2008-09, but the Bucs pulled off two upsets in the A-Sun Tournament and toppled Mercer in a true road game, meaning ETSU and former UAB headman Murry Bartow are dancing for the second straight campaign. One player who may give the top seed Wildcats some trouble is a 6’4 wing named Tommy Hubbard that has finally harnessed his talent and is one of the most improved players in the nation. Let’s be honest here, though: Kentucky should roll over the underdog Bucs. The Big Blue has more athleticism and pure ability than any team in the field, never mind the A-Sun champion that finished the season with 14 losses. No guard can come close to contain the blazing speed of John Wall. DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson should have their way on the boards. Even a few breathtaking alley-oops could be in store for the ESPN folks to feast on. Last year Cal State Northridge gave John Calipari’s Memphis team a real scare in the first round. Expect the Kentucky head coach to learn from that game and have his squad prepared to blow the doors off ETSU from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

The Skinny: Kentucky will spend most of the game up 20+ before calling off the dogs Cats to win by fifteen or so.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

First Round Game Analysis: Thursday Afternoon

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Thursday afternoon games.

Thursday, March 18 (all times ET)

12:20 pm – #7 BYU vs. #10 Florida  (Oklahoma City pod)

The NCAA Tournament kicks off in style this year with a good first round game from Oklahoma City.  BYU enters the postseason riding the wave of one of its most successful regular seasons in decades, but it won’t matter much if the Cougars can’t slay their old bugaboo of winning a first round game on Thursday afternoon.  The last time BYU won an NCAA opener in 1993, Grant Hill’s high fade was in style and the internet was something employees wore in their hair at fast food joints.  Eight trips later, BYU has by far its best team and chance to end that losing streak.  Jimmer Fredette is the best player casual fans haven’t yet heard of, but his 21/3/5 assts per game and 45% three-point shooting allow for the occasional explosion, as in the cases where he dropped 49 points at Arizona or 45 against TCU just last week in the Mountain West Tournament.  The Cougs’ opponent, Florida, limped into the postseason, having lost four of five games and is a questionable entrant (especially as a #10 seed).  But the Gators are still dangerous, boasting five players who average double figures with an ability to go off at any time.  The most difficult problem Florida will face, though, is how to stop the highly efficient offense that BYU brings to the dusty plains.  Dave Rose’s team shoots well from everywhere on the floor, and the Gator defense has been appropriately described as soft throughout the season, so UF will have to get into a high-scoring shootout to have a chance to outscore the Cougars in this one.

The Skinny: it’ll be difficult for Florida’s defense to slow the offensive talents of Fredette and his Cougars so we’re going with BYU by ten in a shootout.

12:25 pm – #6 Notre Dame vs. #11 Old Dominion  (New Orleans pod)

Everybody knows about the Irish and their response to what was believed to be a potential season-ending injury to their superstar Luke Harangody. After the injury (and during Harangody’s return), the Irish have rebuilt themselves into a better team. We’re not saying they are a better team without Harangody because that would be ridiculous, but the brand of basketball they play when they don’t dump it down to him and watch him go to work is producing better results. They will have their hands full with the CAA champion (both regular season and tournament) Old Dominion. While the Monarchs ended up losing many of the “resume-building” games they played this year, they were competitive in most of them (5-point loss versus Missouri and 9-point loss at Northern Iowa) they also managed to win the biggest game on their schedule at #3-seeded Georgetown. So we know they can hang with a Big East team. Now the question is whether senior Gerald Lee can put it together to lead Blaine Taylor’s squad to an upset in the first game of the NCAA Tournament.  It says here that they can, but the Irish are playing so well that they won’t.

The Skinny: Notre Dame gets enough production from each of its key scorers and is able to clamp down late on Lee and company to eke out a six-point victory.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by jstevrtc on March 15th, 2010

This is the fourth of our four quick-and-dirty region breakdowns. This will serve to help the quick triggers who like to fill out their brackets first thing on Monday morning. For the rest of you, we’ll be providing more detailed game-by-game analysis throughout the rest of the week.

Edward Jones Dome Hosts the Midwest Regional

Region: Midwest

Favorite: Kansas, #1-seed, 32-2. The overall #1 seed.  The experts say there are no dominant teams this year, but for our money this year’s Jayhawks are just as dominant as North Carolina was in 2008-09.  Top-flight weapons at every position.  A solid bench.  Excellent coaching.  Youth.  Experience.  Any way you prefer to be beaten, they’ll beat you.  That switch they flipped to put Texas A&M away in the Big 12 Tournament was scary, but that’s the sort of command of which they’re capable.

Should They Falter: Ohio State, #2-seed, 27-7. We all know how special Evan Turner is.  But teams seem to make the mistake of thinking that this team has no other weapons.  David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and William Buford are all capable of big games.  They defer to Turner, yet Turner enjoys sharing the wealth.  As a team, they almost never take a bad shot, a trait that will serve them well even more this time of year.

Grossly Overseeded: Northern Iowa, #9-seed, 28-4. Northern Iowa’s only win in the NCAA was 20 years ago.  I know that has nothing to do with now, but the last four times they’ve been to the Tournament, they’ve been a popular upset pick and have always come up short.  To be honest, based on their body of work, they’re probably seeded where they should be, it’s just that there are a few teams seeded lower than them that are playing a little better brand of basketball right now.  If UNI can give us some results in the Tournament, then we’ll be happy to put some chips on their square in the future.

Grossly Underseeded: Michigan State, #5-seed, 24-8. At this point, we should all be used to Tom Izzo overachieving in the NCAA Tournament.  This team went 14-4 in the extremely tough Big Ten.  After that stretch in which they dropped three straight (at Wisconsin, at Illinois, and Purdue), everyone forgot about them.  Then they won five of six to end the year before the conference tournament, the only loss coming against surging Ohio State.  Don’t ever sell the Spartans short in the Big Dance.

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper: Houston, #13-seed, 19-15. Aubrey Coleman is the nation’s leading scorer at 25.0 PPG, and it looks like he and Kelvin Lewis have finally started to put it together.  Honestly, we thought we’d see more out of the Cougars this year.  They’ll be a tougher out for Maryland than everyone thinks.  Houston is second in the nation in turnovers per game (8.8), and 12th in turnovers forced (16.8), nice numbers when you have a pair of guards who can scoop up those turnovers and score quickly.

Final Four Sleeper:  #5 Michigan State. They can own a game through their work on the boards.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Bracket Prep: West Region

Posted by rtmsf on March 15th, 2010

This is the third of our four quick-and-dirty region breakdowns. This will serve to help the quick triggers who like to fill out their brackets first thing on Monday morning. For the rest of you, we’ll be providing more detailed game-by-game analysis throughout the rest of the week.

Energy Solutions Arena Hosts the West Regional

Region: West

Favorite: Syracuse, #1 seed, 29-4.  Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange is the favorite in this region by a good margin.  His team has lost their last two games and there are whispers that center Arinze Onuaku may not be available for the first two rounds, but SU is talented enough to survive the first weekend without him (as a comparison, UNC didn’t have Ty Lawson at full strength for the first weekend last year).  K-State is realistically the only team in this region capable of standing toe-to-toe with Syracuse in terms of relative talent, but they play too loosey-goosey to actually beat the Orange.

Should They Falter: Kansas State, #2 seed, 26-7.  Should Syracuse get upset, K-State is in position to take advantage.  With a dynamite backcourt of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen capable of going off in bunches, the Wildcats could make a run to their first Final Four since the mid-60s.  The quality of talent in this region just isn’t very deep, so outside of Syracuse or K-State, who else could realistically win the requisite four games?

Grossly Overseeded: Vanderbilt, #4 seed, 24-8.  A team that lost to Western Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State, none of whom are Tourney teams, should not have gotten a protected seed with only a couple of marquee wins this year.

Grossly Underseeded:UTEP, #12 seed, 26-6.  The Miners really didn’t start rolling until they integrated Derrick Caracter into the lineup, but they’ve been fantastic since then.  At worst, this team should have been in the #8-#10 range.  Instead, they’ll get an opportunity to prove themselves against the annual public darling #5 Butler, where Vegas has UTEP as only a 2.5-point underdog.

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): UTEP.  For the same reasons as above, once UTEP beats Butler, they will also be able to get past #4 Vanderbilt who is probably overseeded, or #13 Murray State, a team they’re simply better than.

Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower): BYU, #7 seed, 29-5.  This is an easy one.  Everyone knows that BYU is murder to play at home, and if the Cougars can get past their first two opponents (Florida and K-State), then they will have as partisan a home crowd as possible in Salt Lake City to play two eastern teams,  either Pitt or Xavier and Syracuse.  The problem for BYU will be getting there.  They’ve had NCAA first round problems for the better part of two decades, and even though they’re much better than their initial opponent Florida, they’ll need to play really well to beat Kansas State.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by rtmsf on March 15th, 2010

This is the second of our four quick-and-dirty region breakdowns. This will serve to help the quick triggers who like to fill out their brackets first thing on Monday morning. For the rest of you, we’ll be providing more detailed game-by-game analysis throughout the rest of the week.

Carrier Dome Hosts the East Regional

Region: East

Favorite: Kentucky, #1 seed, 32-2.  No surprise here, as UK is considered one of the top two national title favorites along with Kansas.  The Cats have one of the most talented starting lineups in the country, but have made a living this year sneaking past teams in the last few minutes.  The team that thinks they can beat Kentucky will have to find a way to deal with a strong inside tandem of DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson in addition to the playmaking abilities of John Wall.  Can anyone in this region bring that kind of defense?

Should They Falter: West Virginia, #2 seed, 27-6.  WVU comes into the NCAA Tournament with momentum, having won six in a row against top-drawer competition in the Big East.  They rebound with almost as much ferocity as the Cats, while coming in much more battle-tested in terms of schedule.  As an added bonus, they may have the most dynamic player in the bracket with Da’Sean Butler whom no less an authority than Evan Turner predicted would hit the game-winning shot in the Big East Tournament final.

Grossly Overseeded: Marquette, #6 seed, 22-11.  The Golden Eagles have won seemingly every close game they’ve played this year, but they’re probably not as good as you’d expect an 11-7 Big East team to be.  They were 2-6 against the RPI top 25, and most simulations (including Vegas) we’ve seen so far have MU as a relative tossup against #11 Washington in the first round.

Grossly Underseeded: Temple, #5 seed, 29-5.  Temple should have been a protected seed.  The Owls were 6-3 against the RPI top 50 and their defense is stickier then day-old sweat.  In a very competitive A10 this year, they outlasted several other NCAA-quality teams to win the regular season title and won the conference tournament as well.

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): Cornell, #12 seed, 27-4.  Jay Bilas’ nuttiness aside, Cornell is an excellent team that could grind it out with #5 Temple and #4 Wisconsin long enough to steal a couple of wins here.  The Big Red arguably have more offensive options at the end of the game than either of those two higher-seeded teams.  The trick will be to ensure that the game is close in the last five minutes.

Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower): Wisconsin, #4 seed, 23-8.  Should Cornell not make a run, Wisconsin might be the team to get past Kentucky and Villanova to crash the Final Four.  With Jon Leuer back in the fold healthy, the Badgers have the inside/outside play along with Trevon Hughes to go along with their typically unbending defense to push the two sets of Wildcats to the brink.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by nvr1983 on March 15th, 2010

This is the first of our four quick-and-dirty region breakdowns. This will serve to help the quick triggers who like to fill out their brackets first thing on Monday morning. For the rest of you, we’ll be providing more detailed game-by-game analysis throughout the rest of the week.

Reliant Stadium Hosts the South Regional

Region: South

Favorite: Duke, #1 seed, 29-5. Yeah, I know it isn’t shocking that they are the favorites especially in what many are calling the weakest of the four regions, but the Blue Devils have a solid combination of perimeter talent (albeit limited in numbers) and interior players (quantity more than quality, but still something). With the way Jon Scheyer has been playing this season and the sudden re-emergence of Kyle Singler in the ACC Tournament, Coach K and the Blue Devils should have their sights set on Indianapolis.

Should They Falter: Villanova, #2 seed, 24-7. A Final Four team last year, the Wildcats had the appearance of a Final Four team a month ago (many will still pick them now), but after losing five of their last seven games to close the season some of that luster has worn off. Still we would be remiss not to list them here as all but one of those losses came on the road (neutral site in one case to a #6 seed) against a team that is in the NCAA, another team with a top-3 seed and another to a UConn team back when Jim Calhoun’s players still cared.

Grossly Overseeded: California, #8 seed, 23-10. I know they won the Pac-10 regular season, but as you may have heard the Pac-10 was awful this year. When we asked Mike Montgomery about the possibility that the Bears might miss the NCAA Tournament this year he was perturbed. While he might have made it into the NCAA Tournament it does not erase the fact that they did not beat a single team in the top 50 of the RPI ratings. The Bears might deserve a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but I think most people would agree that they have not earned a seed this high.

Grossly Underseeded: Siena, #13 seed, 27-6. This might be where they deserve to be seeded based on their resume this year, but this is the team with the most “growth potential.” The Saints struggled in their conference final, but they have won first round games as an underdog in each of the past two years. Last year they knocked off Ohio State as a #9 seed and the year before knocked off Vanderbilt as a #13 seed. With an experienced squad they would be a tough out as a #13 seed in any bracket.

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): Siena. Like we said they won their first round games each of the past two years and there might not be a team more set-up to be upset in the first round than the Robbie Hummel-less Purdue Boilermakers. If they get past Matt Painter’s crew, they will play the winner of the Texas A&M and Utah State. It won’t be an easy second round game, but since it is in Spokane, Washington, we can’t imagine that either team will have a huge following there (although Utah State could conceivably travel up there).

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Selection Sunday Initial Thoughts…

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2010

Here we go…  the brackets are out and we’ve had a little while to ferment, soak up, contemplate, and deliberate the beautiful symmetrical configuration of lines,  letters and numbers that makes our hearts skip a few extra beats each spring.  We’ll be analyzing the heck out of this thing all week long, but for now, here are some immediate post-reveal thoughts.

  • No problem with Duke as a #1 seed over Ohio State and West Virginia, but what we can’t understand is how the Devils drew #2 Villanova in their region, while overall #1 Kansas drew Big Ten regular season and tournament champion #2 Ohio State in theirs.  With Evan Turner out of the lineup, OSU lost three games; so what we’re looking at is a Buckeye team that would have likely been a #1 themselves without his injury.  Meanwhile, Villanova limps into the Tournament having lost five of their last seven games.
  • To that end, the Midwest Region is by far the toughest draw for a #1 seed.  KU will have to face last year’s national runner-up #5 Michigan State or surging #4 Maryland in the Sweet Sixteen, and #2 Ohio State or #3 Georgetown in the Elite Eight.  It wouldn’t shock us in any way if any of those other four teams made it to the Final Four.  No other region is as loaded.
  • The next toughest region is the East Region.  It doesn’t have the quality of depth that the Midwest has, but it has several dangerous teams that could give #1 Kentucky a lot of problems at each step of the way.  #8 Texas in the second round has the talent; can they play together?  #4 Wisconsin and #5 Temple are teams that play a style that doesn’t lend itself well to freshman mistakes.  And certainly #2 West Virginia is capable of a run, although we have issues with Bob Huggins’ history as a successful tournament coach (as in, he isn’t).
  • The most wide-open region is the South Region.  Does anyone believe in #1 Duke for the Final Four?  #2 Villanova, #3 Baylor and #5 Texas A&M are all interesting in this region.  It seems like any of those four teams could put together a run here.  We omit #4 Purdue because we just can’t get behind this team without Robbie Hummel.
Share this story