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Yet Another College Basketball Column (The Final Four Is Set)

Butler

Today, I look at how individual players have performed in the NCAA tournament. For example, the next table shows that in four NCAA tournament games, Shelvin Mack has used the highest percentage of Butler’s possessions when on the floor, has played virtually the entire game, and still has one of the highest ORtgs on the team.

Looking at Butler’s data, I am reminded that when Dean Oliver developed his ORtg (and possession use) formulas, the hardest part was assigning a value for assists and offensive rebounds. As he concluded, the value is not the same for all offenses. Assists will be more valuable based on the quality of the shots, and offensive rebounds will be more valuable depending on how often the offense can covert.

And as we look at the NCAA tournament performance of Butler, Oliver’s formula concludes that Khyle Marshall has been unbelievably valuable. The reason is his incredible offensive rebounding. Marshall has 17 offensive rebounds in 63 minutes of playing time, or one offensive rebound every 3.7 minutes. And Marshall had seven offensive rebounds in the win against Florida.

It is true that when Butler goes to the bench behind Matt Howard and Andrew Smith, they do not have a lot of size. And that lack of size can hurt on the defensive end. Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus were simply dominant in the Elite Eight match-up. But if you are going to be undersized, you have to make up for it with positioning and quickness. By being in the right place at the right time, Marshall has contributed.  Except for Marshall’s offensive rebound and buzzer beater to end the first half of the Florida game, most of his offensive rebounds were not flashy. But by keeping possessions alive, he has been a star for his team. 

On the flip side, Ronald Nored has been starting, but has not been effective. He is just 2-for-10 from the floor with six assists and 10 turnovers in four tournament games. His tempo free numbers were not great in the regular season either, but they were certainly better than this. Unfortunately, Chase Stigall and Zach Hahn have not been much better. 

Performance in 2011 NCAA Tournament Games

Player

Ortg

PctPoss

PctMin

OReb%

Matt Howard

117.0

23.2%

89.7%

4.1%

Shelvin Mack

115.7

32.9%

84.8%

0.9%

Shawn Vanzant

114.6

14.2%

81.2%

1.8%

Ronald Nored

58.8

13.3%

61.8%

1.2%

Andrew Smith

102.7

19.8%

59.4%

12.4%

Chase Stigall

62.1

8.8%

40.6%

0.0%

Khyle Marshall

130.5

22.3%

38.2%

32.7%

Zach Hahn

74.1

14.4%

28.5%

0.0%

Garrett Butcher

127.8

20.5%

13.3%

33.1%

A few other notes on Butler’s win over Florida:

- After Wisconsin was highly successful using full court pressure, Florida again decided to pull it out against the Bulldogs. And while Brad Stevens remains one of the calmest coaches in the NCAA tournament, you could tell from his facial expressions that he was not happy with how Butler was lining up to beat the press. Florida forced a couple of turnovers using this strategy, and Butler was never really able to beat the press for any easy points. Overall, this will certainly be an area for focus this week as Butler prepares for a VCU team that loves to press.

- One of the themes I have been picking up on this season is how to get a good shot in end game situations. It seems to me that smart coaches avoid using screens to get the final shot. The reason is that the use of the screen allows a double-team of the ball-handler. If a team is going to use a screen effectively, the screener at least needs to be a shooter. At the end of regulation, Erving Walker should have used Chandler Parsons as the screener instead of one of his big guys. That way, when the double team came, he could have passed the ball back to Parsons for an open three. Regardless, Florida was not able to get a clean look at the end of regulation or overtime.

Connecticut

As many people have noted, Jeremy Lamb has been incredibly efficient in the NCAA tournament. He has made 11 of 15 three point tries, and his eFG% is over 70%. But do not underrate Kemba Walker’s performance. To maintain a 125 ORtg while playing virtually every minute and using almost 37% of his team’s possessions is simply phenomenal. Kemba Walker may not have been the regular season MVP, but right now he is the tournament MVP.

Don’t read too much into Niles Giffey’s numbers as he has barely touched the ball. He has taken only one shot from the field, but he has chipped in three offensive rebounds in limited minutes.

The most popular story regarding the Arizona game was how Connecticut went on a 22-7 run in the first half when Derrick Williams got in foul trouble. But if you talk to UConn fans, they will point out the big run Arizona went on when Alex Oriahki got in foul trouble in the second half.

UConn’s season-long weakness has been defensive rebounding. Other than Alex Oriakhi, no one is a great defensive rebounder. Roscoe Smith’s defensive rebounding has been better in the tournament than in the regular season, but he struggled against the Wildcats.  And Connecticut simply could not corral the ball at times against Arizona. The real problem is Charles Okwandu. Despite his 7-foot frame, Okwandu continues be a terrible defensive rebounder, posting a pitiful 4.9% defensive rebounding rate in the tournament thus far.

Performance in 2011 NCAA Tournament Games

Player

Ortg

PctPoss

PctMin

DReb%

Kemba Walker

125.8

36.9%

96.3%

13.0%

Jeremy Lamb

145.6

18.7%

87.5%

8.3%

Alex Oriakhi

103.1

20.3%

65.6%

22.1%

Roscoe Smith

111.1

14.5%

64.4%

18.4%

Shabazz Napier

115.0

16.3%

63.1%

9.4%

Charles Okwandu

103.3

10.9%

40.0%

4.9%

Jamal Coombs-McDaniel

71.9

15.5%

38.8%

17.0%

Tyler Olander

96.1

8.6%

23.8%

11.1%

Niels Giffey

136.0

11.7%

10.0%

19.7%

One other note on Derrick Williams foul situation: UConn dominated at getting to the free throw line in the first half when Williams was mostly on the bench. But with Williams on the floor in the second half, Arizona flipped the script. For the game, the two teams were basically even in free throw opportunities.

VCU

This was a year when various tournament formats received the clear seal of approval. Because UConn won the Big East tournament, we learned that five games in five days was possible. And because VCU has advanced to the Final Four, the First Four now seems more legitimate.

At some point CBS put up a graphic on VCU’s three-point shooting in the tournament, and it is unbelievable. VCU had nine threes against USC, 12 against Georgetown, eight against Purdue, 12 against Florida St., and 12 more against Kansas. More impressively, several of those teams are elite defensive teams. Bradford Burgess, Jamie Skeen, and Brandon Rozzell are shooting a combined 38-for-73 or 52% from deep. And not surprisingly, all three players have great looking ORtgs in the five NCAA tournament games. In the ORtg formula, Joey Rodriguez also gets a lot of credit for setting up his teammates. Rodriguez is averaging 7.6 assists per game in the five NCAA tournament games.

Performance in 2011 NCAA Tournament Games (5 games)

Player

Ortg

PctPoss

PctMin

3PT%

Bradford Burgess

121.5

20.4%

90.7%

 (13 of 22) 59.1%

Jamie Skeen

111.9

23.7%

84.4%

(8 of 16) 50.0%

Joey Rodriguez

111.1

22.9%

83.4%

(8 of 23) 34.8%

Brandon Rozzell

135.0

21.0%

58.0%

 (17 of 35) 48.6%

Ed Nixon

98.8

15.8%

58.0%

 (3 of 9) 33.3%

Rob Brandenberg

100.2

12.3%

34.1%

(3 of 11) 27.3%

Darius Theus

79.7

21.1%

29.3%

(0 for 2) 0.0%

Juvonte Reddic

108.8

19.8%

28.3%

0.0%

DJ Haley

123.2

10.0%

18.5%

0.0%

Toby Veal

103.3

18.8%

13.7%

0.0%

A few other thoughts on the win over Kansas:

- One of my favorite plays that VCU uses to get three-point shots is when Joey Rodriguez drives into the paint and draws the defense, and then one of the VCU big men (Jamie Skeen or Bradford Burgess) flashes to the top of the three point line. The three-point shot from the top of the key is the easiest to make because of the square backdrop, and VCU has executed this play multiple times to get high percentage looks.

- Didn’t it seem like Shaka Smart was almost going to call a timeout when his team went down 6-0 to start the game? And yet VCU weathered the storm.

- Markieff Morris is going to regret those eight turnovers and multiple offensive fouls in the first half for a long time.

- Who didn’t think when Shaka Smart got a technical and Kansas subsequently pulled within two points that Kansas was not going to finish the comeback and win the game?

- I feel bad for the guy in the yellow-beaked bird costume who was cheering for Kansas. Here is my only consolation: Despite VCU making 10 more three-pointers, and despite Kansas missing 13 free throws, the Jayhawks had a chance to win in the final minutes. This was a very good Kansas team.

Kentucky

As emotional as the VCU win was, you cannot overlook how important it is for Kentucky to return to the Final Four. To say that Kentucky fans bleed blue and white would be a serious understatement. I’ve seen other obsessed fan-bases in the NCAA tournament, but nothing really compares to watching Kentucky fans worship their basketball team. From the guy in overalls and a straw hat wearing a Kentucky t-shirt, to the Kentucky cheerleaders and their spin routine, this is a fanbase that takes college basketball obsession to another level.

Kentucky fans were desperate to get back to the Final Four, and this year’s success is all the sweeter given that this year’s team was not favored to advance. Five fantastic players were lost to the NBA last spring. Enes Kanter was declared ineligible. Kentucky lost all sorts of games on the road this season. And yet the Wildcats end a 13-year drought and are headed back to the Final Four.

Before I show the Kentucky player stats for the NCAA tournament games, I have to mention one of my favorite Charles Barkley quotes. Prior to the Ohio St. game, Barkley said Kentucky’s depth would wear down Ohio St. Um, in the NCAA tournament, Kentucky has been using a six-player rotation. Eloy Vargas and Jon Hood have played a combined 13 minutes in four games. Kentucky really has been playing with no bench. 

Kentucky’s three-point shooting was huge in the win over North Carolina, as Kentucky made nine more threes than the Tar Heels. But despite Brandon Knight’s big three-pointers on Sunday, and game-winning two-pointer on Friday, Knight has been struggling in the tournament as a whole. Knight has made just 11 of his 30 two-point shots. And Knight also has almost as many turnovers (14) as assists (17) in the tournament.

Harrelson has been Kentucky’s most efficient player all season long, but in the tournament, he’s upped his usage rate from about 13% (a guy who never shoots unless wide open), to 19% (consistent with a real offensive threat).

Doron Lamb has seen a huge drop in his role as the tournament has progressed, and he did not start Sunday’s game. But if these numbers seem a little pedestrian for Kentucky, keep in mind that Kentucky has not really had any blowout games to pad their stats.

In the tempo free table, I also include Kentucky’s NCAA tournament block rates. Keep in mind that anything over 3% is great. And against elite opponents, four Kentucky players have been great at blocking shots. DeAndre Liggins, in particular, has taken his block game to the next level in the tournament. 

Performance in 2011 NCAA Tournament Games

Player

Ortg

PctPoss

PctMin

BlockRate

Josh Harrellson

136.1

19.2%

90.0%

4.2%

Brandon Knight

95.7

32.0%

88.8%

0.0%

Darius Miller

109.3

17.4%

86.9%

3.6%

DeAndre Liggins

115.0

16.1%

86.9%

5.0%

Terrence Jones

102.0

20.1%

74.4%

6.7%

Doron Lamb

96.2

14.5%

65.0%

1.0%

Final Thoughts on Kentucky:

I was listening to John Calipari in the pre-game radio show and he said this:

“Every coach sees his seed on selection Sunday and complains. Why do we have to face Princeton? And if we win that game we face West Virginia? And then probably Ohio St! And then maybe North Carolina! The committee does not want us to go the Final Four this year. But then the games start and you just play basketball.”

Interestingly, in the same interview, Calipari mentioned that even with a Final Four trip, he would not necessarily like this year’s team more than last year’s team. Last year’s team had more toughness, but this year’s team often shoots better. And in the game of basketball, sometimes it is that simple. The team that makes more shots wins.

Expected Wins

The margin-of-victory numbers continue to struggle predicting games in this tournament. Kentucky is now the “favorite” using Pomeroy or Sagarin’s Predictor, but the way favored teams have been falling, I am not sure that is a good thing. 

Expected Wins in Field of 64

Team

Start of Saturday

Own Game

Other Games

Performance

End of Sunday

Kentucky

4.09

0.82

0.12

0.00

5.03

Connecticut

4.00

0.64

0.09

-0.01

4.72

Butler

3.41

0.86

0.45

-0.03

4.70

VCU

3.17

1.21

0.13

0.04

4.55

Arizona

3.57

-0.57

 

 

3.00

North Carolina

3.76

-0.76

 

 

3.00

Florida

4.02

-1.02

 

 

3.00

Kansas

4.98

-1.98

 

 

3.00

VCU had the biggest win over the weekend (see Own Game). But VCU’s win also substantially improved Butler’s expectations (see Other Games). And VCU’s margin of victory over a dominant Kansas team was relatively more impressive (see Performance).

The net result is that each team left is expected to win between 4.55 and 5.03 games. If each game was a coin flip at this point, each team’s expectations would be 4.75. Connecticut’s expectations look a little worse because they have to play Kentucky right away.

 

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