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March Madness Through The NBA Lens (Round Of 64)

While the NCAA Tournament has cachet all its own, one way of looking at the Tournament is through the lens of the NBA. While the lottery guys get plenty of buzz leading into the Tourney, I like to spend more time on the players on more middling teams for the first few days since it is less likely that their teams survive long enough to evaluate them further.

On that note, here is the day-by-day:

Thursday

Headline games:

Pittsburgh vs. Wichita State (1:40 PM Eastern)- This game makes the list primarily because of Steven Adams. The big man from New Zealand has not produced as much as many of us hoped during the season but has the chance to show his potential this weekend. The Shockers rebound well enough to challenge him and I am intrigued by Carl Hall.

Memphis vs. St. Mary’s (2:45 PM Eastern)- While Memphis has a slew of intriguing athletic question marks (Adonis Thomas, Joe Johnson and DJ Stephens are just three of them), St. Mary’s has Matthew Dellavedova. Matthew stands out as an unusual draft prospect because of his age (22) and subpar athleticism for his position but has the shooting stroke and basketball IQ to stick in the league longer than expected. We will learn a ton about everyone in this game. 

Other games to watch:

Syracuse vs. Montana (9:57 PM Eastern)- Michael Carter-Williams vs. Will Cherry. My bet is that one of them will massively help his draft stock in this game.

Oklahoma State vs. Oregon (4:40 PM Eastern)- Marcus Smart will have his hands full with future prospect Dominic Artis. We’ll see how Le’Bryan Nash handles the spotlight as well.

Michigan vs. South Dakota State (7:15 PM Eastern)- Senior sensation Nate Wolters gets the chance to show his value against a Michigan team full of potential NBA players (Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, and Tim Hardaway Jr among them).

UNLV vs. Cal (7:27 PM Eastern)- Anthony Bennett and Allen Crabbe will be the headliners but I am focused on how UNLV matches up on defense.

Friday

Headline game:

UCLA vs. Minnesota (9:57 PM Eastern)- After the injury to Jordan Adams, this could be our only chance to see lottery pick Shabazz Muhammad in the Tourney. Kyle Anderson, Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams are three other likely pros worth keeping an eye on.

Other games to watch:

Wisconsin vs. Ole Miss (12:40 PM Eastern)- Marshall Henderson. That is all.

North Carolina vs. Villanova (7:20 PM Eastern)- Despite deeply disappointing this season, UNC has plenty of NBA talent in the form of James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and PJ Hariston. Each of those guys needs to make an impression over the next few weeks in order to rehabilitate their stock.

Creighton vs. Cincinnati (2:45 PM Eastern)- One of the best potential tests for Doug McDermott makes this one particularly fascinating.

San Diego State vs. Oklahoma (9:20 PM Eastern)- Jamaal Franklin has been underappreciated by the national college hoops media but has a chance to make his own statement on the opening weekend. If the Aztecs can get past Oklahoma, a potentially star-making meeting with Georgetown looms.

Comparing The Conferences

The Pac-12 has been suffering through a long dark period. The Big Ten has been dominant (at least in the pre-conference schedule) for the last few years. Should we expect a change this year? Is the Pac-12’s slump over? Is the Big Ten’s boom about to come to an end? Let’s take a quick look at some basic roster data and see if we can uncover any trends.

Part of predicting the season is noting the number of elite high school prospects on each roster. Not only are these players more likely to play well as freshmen, but they are also more likely to breakout later in their career. Recall, for example, Michael Snaer of Florida St. Snaer was a former Top 20 recruit, and while it took him three seasons, he broke out in a big way in 2011-12. After adding up the numbers…

- The Big East has the most former RSCI Top 100 prospects on rosters heading into the season with 58.

- But the Big East has more teams, and the Big East has only 3.9 elite recruits per team. The ACC has the most former Top 100 recruits per team with 4.6 per team.

- But James McAdoo is the only former Top 10 prospect in the ACC this season. That seems like an unprecedented lack of super-elite talent for the conference. If you want super elite talent, you probably want to watch the SEC, assuming everyone is declared academically eligible. John Calipari never lets us down on the recruiting trail.

- The SEC, however, is only welcoming ten Top 100 freshmen this year as a whole. Even the Big Ten, the land of typically poor recruiting, is welcoming more Top 100 freshmen than the SEC this season. And yes, the slumping Pac-12 brings in quite a few elite recruits this year.

Conf

T10

T100

T100 Fr

ACC

1

55

22

BE

1

58

17

SEC

4

49

10

B10

1

40

15

B12

3

33

11

P12

3

37

15

MWC

1

15

5

A10

0

11

3

The next table isn’t really roster data, but it does reflect some of my preliminary projections about playing time.

- The ACC is going to be the youngest conference in the nation this year, according to my projections.

- The Big East has a startlingly low number of key seniors on rosters this year.

- As usual, the MWC and A10 have more mature rosters. They lose fewer players to the NBA and that helps the top MWC and A10 teams compete, even without a plethora of blue chip talent.

Class

Sr%

Jr%

So%

Fr%

MWC

35%

30%

17%

17%

A10

33%

27%

19%

21%

P12

28%

32%

18%

22%

B12

32%

19%

26%

23%

BE

22%

32%

27%

19%

B10

27%

26%

23%

24%

SEC

25%

28%

24%

22%

ACC

25%

22%

23%

31%

The Pac-12 is getting older in a hurry, thanks in no small part to an influx of transfers. Note that your transfer numbers may vary slightly. I’m excluding transfer walk-ons and a few JUCOs who seem unlikely to play in the next table.

Incoming Transfers

D1

JUCO+

P12

15

8

SEC

10

11

BE

14

6

MWC

7

5

B12

7

5

A10

8

3

ACC

3

3

B10

5

1

The transfer table doesn’t mean the Pac-12 has suddenly become the conference of transfers. This is all a natural consequence of recent league history. The Pac-12 teams have struggled the last few years making those teams particularly attractive places for transfers to matriculate. If you want to transfer and PLAY in an elite league, you would have chosen the Pac-12 too.  On the other hand, the Big Ten has been on an upswing and few coaches have needed to dip into the JUCO ranks as a quick fix. Deverell Biggs of Nebraska is currently the only incoming JUCO player projected for the Big Ten this year.

Overall, the Pac-12 was a depleted league, but it is adding a number of impact freshmen and key transfers this year. The days of the league failing to field a Top 25 team are over. As for the Big Ten, the jury is still out. The teams at the top still have plenty of talent, but programs like Purdue could be in for a bit of a slip without an influx of can’t miss players coming in.

Sweet Sixteen Day 1

The Versatility of Louisville, and the Homogeneity of the Big Ten

I wasn’t shocked that Michigan St. lost to Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen, but I was shocked that the game wasn’t competitive. It was somewhat predictable that Michigan St. would struggle with Louisville’s pressure and turn the ball over, but it was very surprising that the Spartans were unable to exert their will on the interior. Michigan St. forwards Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix have improved dramatically this season, and I fully expected one of them to be the most physical player on the floor. Instead, they combined for 3 of 10 shooting, and were a non-factor. As I noted when the tournament started, Michigan St. had played better against NCAA tournament teams than anyone in the country. But on this night, they looked unprepared for what Louisville threw at them.

There were a number of stories this week about how Michigan St. studies more game-tape than anyone in the NCAA tournament. (I’m not sure whether that’s true. I have also heard that Buzz Williams is relentless in his game preparation.) But as the game unfolded, I began to ask myself what Michigan St. would have learned in their film study. Who are the Louisville Cardinal this year? Were they a team that depended on Peyton Siva? He struggled and they played well anyway. Which lineup should you expect? Louisville players have been in and out of the lineup this year due to injury.  For example, Wayne Blackshear has been back from injury and while he has been playing minimal minutes, you had to prepare like he would be a factor in the game. Plus who do you guard on the perimeter? Louisville players aren’t afraid to take deep shots, even if they aren’t great shooters. Pitino has coached his players to never be afraid to take an open three. And right on cue the enigmatic Jared Swopshire, who had made just three 3’s on the season, made two buckets from beyond the arc. Kyle Kuric was shut down, but Swopshire’s shots were daggers. Sometimes all the film study in the world can’t prepare you for a team that has an amoeba of an identity.

One of the refrain’s from Rick Pitino the last few years is how valuable it is to play in the Big East. A lot of people hate the mega-conference and its lack of repeated rivalries. Most of the time, you only play an opponent once on the season. But as Pitino has said on numerous occasions, by playing more teams, you see more differences in styles. And he truly believes those differences in styles prepare you for post-season play. Syracuse plays a dangerous zone and punishes you in transition. Marquette is relentless taking the ball to the basket and drawing fouls. Georgetown will punish you with back-cuts if you aren’t disciplined. But even if you are disciplined, Notre Dame will punish you by making shots late in the shot clock. West Virginia tries to crush you on the offensive glass with extreme physicality. Cincinnati uses defensive ball pressure to take you out of your half-court sets. Seton Hall is incredibly effective at grabbing steals. UConn is fantastic at blocking shots. DePaul plays at such a fast-pace that they hope you get rattled. South Florida plays at a snail’s pace and hopes you can’t get any momentum.

And as Louisville showed in the Big East tournament, they are quite content to play any of these styles. They ran with Marquette and won, and played a brutal defensive game with Cincinnati and won. After over 30 years, there isn’t a style Pitino is afraid to play. Yes, Michigan St. had a physical imposing front line. But Louisville had seen that before. And all Gorgui Dieng did was respond with 7 blocks on the interior.

Conversely Michigan St. has not exactly seen a lot of full-court pressure in the Big Ten this year. (And I’m not just talking about picking players up full-court, I’m talking about players jumping out on passes near half-court.) Louisville forced a couple of key turnovers halfway through the second half that brought the margin to 11 points and those full-court opportunities essentially sealed the game.

And this is exactly why the news that Shaka Smart is not coming to Illinois should be disappointing to Big Ten fans. For better or worse, an equilibrium has been reached in the Big Ten. To win, you have to play relentless man-to-man defense and always get back in transition. But since almost every team does that, the best offensive strategy is to conserve possessions and embrace a perimeter-oriented-attack.

Slow pace, man-to-man defense, lots of jump shots, few turnovers – almost every Big Ten team embraces a significant portion of that philosophy. It is a brilliant strategy. It helped the Big Ten to the top RPI in the nation this year, and when executed well, it is almost unstoppable.

But is there not value in variety? Would Michigan St. not benefit from seeing a Mike Anderson or Shaka Smart led team a couple of times a year? Would the Spartans not benefit from seeing a team employ a full-time zone defense? Thank goodness that Iowa and Indiana have embraced a faster pace, but the Big Ten desperately needs more variety.

You might assume that as an Illinois alumni, that I am sad that Shaka Smart passed on the Illini offer. I’m not sure that’s true. I’m not sure full-court pressure would work in a conference where Matt Painter, Bo Ryan, and Bill Carmody have taken turnover free basketball to another level. But basketball is at its best when there are differences in styles. And the Big Ten desperately needs a few different looks. It might not have swung the Michigan St. vs Louisville game.  Perhaps Louisville just played better. But in the long-run, I think it matters.

(For the record, my personal choice for the Illinois job would be BYU’s Dave Rose, but I haven’t heard him mentioned anywhere and I don’t believe he is a likely candidate.)

Badger Heartbreak

Wisconsin was clearly more prepared for Syracuse’s zone defense than Vanderbilt’s zone defense last week, but an elite zone defense will always throw surprises at you. At least twice the Badgers had the ball in the corner and thought they had an open post feed. But they weren’t aware that in that situation the Syracuse defender on the opposite side of the court cheats and jumps the post-man. Wisconsin didn’t have a ton of turnovers in the game, but the ones they had hurt.

Jim Boeheim clearly believes that no team can stay hot from three point range which is why you will never shoot Syracuse out of a zone. Once or twice a year it usually backfires, (I am recalling the Seton Hall game last year), but not very often. And even though Wisconsin hit 14 threes in the game, they didn’t exactly blow the game open with their hot shooting. You knew they would eventually need a few inside baskets to win, and those just weren’t forthcoming. Wisconsin had just 10 points in the paint in the game, and while they had a fabulous chance to win, Boeheim’s gamble paid off. You will rarely beat the Orange if you only score 10 points in the paint.

Syracuse had to welcome the return of CJ Fair’s offensive game in the victory. Fair had been struggling from the field, and if he did not key a first half run where Syracuse scored 7 FGs in a row, the Orange would not have advanced.

Ohio St. vs Cincinnati

Against Texas in the first round, Cincinnati attacked with its ball pressure immediately. They knew they could rattle the young Texas guards and they pounced. But sometimes Mick Cronin is hesitant to be aggressive early. Against Georgetown in the Big East tournament he was concerned about Georgetown’s passing ability and he laid back in the first half. But he dialed up his ball-pressure in the second half and Cincinnati rallied to beat the Hoyas in double overtime.

And on Thursday, Cronin appeared to utilize that delayed pressure strategy again. Cincinnati came out fairly passive in the first half and fell behind. But the team started jumping passing lanes early in the second half and within moments an 8 point deficit was a 3 point lead.

But that’s when Aaron Craft took over. There has been some talk lately that Aaron Craft is a little over-rated. Big Ten coaches say there are other quality defenders and Craft somehow got this inflated defensive reputation. But with Cincinnati pressuring the ball, he showed he could do it as well as anyone in the country. Craft personally grabbed 6 steals, and the Buckeyes forced 18 turnovers while blowing the game open. The Buckeyes beat the Bearcats at their own game.

Marquette vs Florida

Marquette was not a great shooting team this year, but they have been fabulous at getting into the lane and drawing fouls. And as things worked out, Florida turned out to be a horrible matchup. First, the Gators had the quickness to keep Marquette’s best players in front of them. Marquette got a few inside looks, but the team was forced to take too many jump shots, and they simply couldn't make them.

Second, the Gators are rarely going to foul you and give you free throws. And the Golden Eagles got to the line just 18 times in the game. For a team that lives at the free throw line, that wasn’t enough. Marquette shot horribly and could not overcome the poor shooting by getting to the line.

Expected Wins in NCAA Tournament

Own: If you lose in the Sweet Sixteen, your expected wins go to two. If you win, your expected wins go up.

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

Team

Seed

EndSun

Own

Other

EndThur

Ohio St.

2

3.84

0.42

0.04

4.30

Kentucky

1

3.81

 

0.09

3.90

Florida

7

2.83

0.74

0.30

3.87

Syracuse

1

2.84

0.91

-0.10

3.64

Louisville

4

2.41

1.22

-0.02

3.62

North Carolina

1

3.57

 

-0.01

3.57

Kansas

2

3.56

 

-0.01

3.56

Baylor

3

3.05

 

0.03

3.08

Indiana

4

2.58

 

0.03

2.61

Xavier

10

2.35

 

0.00

2.35

NC State

11

2.29

 

0.00

2.29

Ohio

13

2.21

 

0.00

2.21

Cincinnati

6

2.26

-0.26

 

2.00

Marquette

3

2.72

-0.72

 

2.00

Wisconsin

4

2.94

-0.94

 

2.00

Michigan St.

1

3.75

-1.75

 

2.00

The big winner on Thursday might have been Kentucky.  Their potential Final Four opponent will now either be a Florida team that they’ve defeated three times this season or a Louisville team they beat in December. Michigan St. wasn’t unstoppable, but they seemed like a more likely candidate to give the Wildcats problems in New Orleans. But if Michigan St. really was dangerous, Florida gains the most from the “Other” games.

I actually find it fairly impressive that Kentucky still has the second most expected wins given that they are still in the Sweet Sixteen while a team like Syracuse has already advanced to the Elite Eight.  But Syracuse’s half (the right side of the bracket) is loaded with elite teams.

NCAA Tournament Day 4

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.

Major Conference Tournaments Day 3

Collapses by bubble teams, buzzer beaters, injuries, and neon yellow uniforms highlighted the busiest day of Championship Week.

2012 Big East Power Rankings

Syracuse finished the regular season with a 17-1 record and were predictably significantly better than any Big East rival.

Freshmen Bring Hope

Teams that play a lot of freshmen are the most likely to improve as the season goes on, while those with a lot of experience are more likely to plateau. In this piece, we examine freshmen minutes for every major school in the country.

Big East Prospect Watch

With Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, Khem Birch and Mouphtaou Yarou, the Big East once again has several high-quality NBA prospects.

Harry Potter And The 2011 NCAA Tournament

Unlike books and films, sports is always unscripted entertainment and the good guys don't win every time. Let's look at how that relates to the schools (beyond UConn) that should celebrate their March success.

Surprises And Flops, Part 2

Examining the surprises and flops this season in the Big East, ACC, Big 12 and Atlantic-10.

College Coaches On The Hot Seat

Is there an empirical model to predict when a coach will get fired? The short answer is no, but there is data to suggest who deserves scrutiny.

Conference Rankings (End Of Jan. Edition)

As we have commonly seen in recent seasons, the Big East has been the deepest conference in the country.

 

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