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NCAA Tournament Day 4

If you are returning to work on Monday and missed what was written over the weekend, I want to direct your attention to two things I wrote:

First, here was my running diary of Friday’s historic games. That day was so fun, you have to read about it again.

Second, here was my breakdown of the Syracuse lineup in the five games without Fab Melo this season.

This column for Sunday's games can’t quite top the juicy goodness of those two columns, but here are 1,000 words anyway.

Surprise

Twelve of the 16 teams in the Sweet Sixteen were in the preseason AP Top 25, and Michigan St. was among the first teams in the “others receiving votes” category. But Indiana, Ohio, and NC State have all exceeded expectations this season by making it this far.

Fourteen months ago I attended the Charleston Classic and saw NC State in person. The Wolfpack seemed like they had some nice pieces. Scott Wood was one of the best pure shooters in the country. And NC State had plenty of athleticism. But the fundamentals were all wrong for the team. No one boxed out. No one made a priority of getting back in transition. And with a team of freshmen on the floor, everyone wanted to take the first available shot instead of working for a good shot. NC State advanced to the championship game of the Charleston Classic, but was blown out by Georgetown.

Now, flash forward to December of 2011. NC State hosted Syracuse, another tall Big East team that also plays a lot of zone defense. The Wolfpack had an eFG% of 64% in that game, but because their fundamentals were so poor, particularly their turnover rate, they still lost.

If you had told me in December that NC State would have to play Georgetown on one day’s preparation, with no time to prepare for the back-cuts of Georgetown’s offense, and the length of Georgetown’s zone defense, I would have said the Wolfpack had no chance. But a funny thing happened over the course of the season. NC State rediscovered the importance of fundamentals. Against the zone defense on Sunday, NC State took care of the ball. And the Wolfpack rebounded like champions. Richard Howell and CJ Leslie were unstoppable on the offensive glass.

But more than fundamentals, NC State discovered the importance of team basketball. They played a lot of zone, which shut down Georgetown’s back-cuts. But the Hoyas have run great offense against the zone this year. It isn’t Princeton stuff, but it is based on great passing out of the high post. And NC State stopped all of it. They moved their feet defensively and got Henry Sims to commit multiple offensive fouls. And with Sims out of the game, they severely limited Georgetown’s offensive sets against the zone.

And on the other end of the court, NC State was patient. They rarely settled for threes against the zone, and when they took threes, it was the right players taking those shots. Scott Wood, in particular, lived up to his billing as an elite three point shooter. But more importantly, NC State didn’t panic when forced to play half-court basketball. A year ago, NC State could only win when they were forcing turnovers and moving up and down the court. But Georgetown only turned the ball over twice in the second half, and NC State still opened up a lead. They executed in the half-court even better than the Hoyas. NC State might not be a truly elite team this year. But there can be no mistake that Mark Gottfried has changed the team’s culture. NC State basketball is back.

Other Notes

- Cincinnati vs Florida St. was a phenomenal basketball game with more lead changes than just about any game this season. But as I predicted last Monday, Cincinnati was able to win it by forcing key turnovers near the end of the game.

- I was shocked that Bill Self tried to use a triangle and two with the season on the line, but either it disrupted Purdue, or the Boilermakers just got tired. Bill Self has long been an advocate that when the season is on the line you have to play man-to-man, but his team came back from double digits in part because of the confusion his novel defense caused.

- It gets a little old praising Michigan St.’s Draymond Green, but it is impossible not to love what he does on the basketball court. The final 3 minutes against St. Louis were a classic highlight reel. First Green hit a tough leaning jump shot in the lane. Then he blocked a shot on the other end. Then he had a great drive and assist to Keith Appling for three. And then he followed it up with a hard-fought defensive rebound. He is the pure definition of a complete (and elite) basketball player.

- John Henson announced he was back for North Carolina by hitting a long jumper 50 seconds into Sunday’s game against Creighton. Then he got called for a technical after a Creighton player took a cheap shot at his wrist. But it wasn’t the only contact he got in the game. With 3 minutes left in the first half, Creighton again slapped for the ball and pounded his injured wrist. Henson did not look happy as he headed to the sideline. He can obviously still play basketball at a high level, but I do believe his wrist will bother him the rest of the tournament. Meanwhile Kendall Marshall apparently fractured a bone in his wrist late in the game as well. Obviously if Marshall is out, that is devastating to North Carolina’s odds of winning it all. But he was back on the floor late in the game, and I suspect he may be able to play through this injury.

- USF seemed to be in control against Ohio, but two dumb fouls swung the rare 12/13 matchup. Up 5 with 15:52 to go, a USF player held the jersey of an Ohio player, leading to a flagrant foul. Ohio made both free throws and swished a three to tie the game. Then minutes later, USF was up 5 again when USF got a technical for hanging on the rim. Again Ohio hit both free throws and sunk a three. The second time was finally enough. Ohio had momentum and put the game away.

- When Lehigh went up 15 points, they looked like they might become the first 15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, but Xavier eventually gutted it out. After watching center Kenny Frease score a career high 25 points for Xavier, I am very curious to see how his power matches up with Baylor’s interior talent in the next round.

Expected NCAA Tournament Wins (Excluding Opening Round)

Own: If you lose in the round of 32, your expected wins go to one. If you win, your expected wins go up.

Other: Other team’s outcomes can also impact your expected wins.

Marg: The margin of victory for all tournament teams can impact your probability. This essentially reflects the daily change in the Pomeroy Rankings.

Team

Seed

StartSun

Own

Other

Marg

EndSun

NC State

11

1.38

0.97

-0.09

0.02

2.29

Kansas

2

2.77

0.64

0.20

-0.05

3.56

Michigan St.

1

2.97

0.82

0.00

-0.03

3.75

Cincinnati

6

1.58

0.67

0.00

0.01

2.26

Ohio

13

1.53

0.73

-0.07

0.01

2.21

N.Carolina

1

2.96

0.59

0.01

0.01

3.57

Xavier

10

1.74

0.58

0.00

0.02

2.35

Florida

7

2.66

0.13

-0.04

0.08

2.83

Kentucky

1

3.82

0.00

-0.03

0.03

3.81

Ohio St.

2

3.85

0.00

0.00

-0.01

3.84

Wisconsin

4

2.95

0.00

-0.02

0.01

2.94

Indiana

4

2.60

0.00

-0.01

-0.01

2.58

Syracuse

1

2.86

0.00

-0.01

0.00

2.84

Baylor

3

3.13

0.00

-0.04

-0.03

3.05

Norfolk St.

15

1.08

-0.08

0.00

0.00

1.00

Louisville

4

2.51

0.00

-0.10

0.00

2.41

Marquette

3

2.86

0.00

-0.09

-0.05

2.72

Creighton

8

1.41

-0.41

0.00

0.00

1.00

Purdue

10

1.44

-0.44

0.00

0.00

1.00

Lehigh

15

1.55

-0.55

0.00

0.00

1.00

St. Louis

9

1.58

-0.58

0.00

0.00

1.00

Florida St.

3

1.70

0.00

-0.70

0.00

1.00

USF

12

1.78

-0.78

0.00

0.00

1.00

Georgetown

3

2.30

-1.30

0.00

0.00

1.00

Though Kentucky has a higher probability of winning it all, Ohio St. has a higher probability of winning in the next round, so OSU’s expected wins are trivially higher at this point.

- Florida’s “Own” win over Norfolk St. was not a surprise, so it did little to improve their expectations, but Michigan St.’s “Own” win over St. Louis was critical to their tournament odds.

- Georgetown’s loss was a huge gift to Kansas. The Jayhawks saw their odds increase significantly because of that “Other” game.

- Florida’s impressive margin of victory in the Round of 32 (see Marg) has further enhanced their expectation of advancing.

 

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