Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Upon Further Review: NCAA Tourney preview part 2

I don't agree with everything they set out, but I tend to agree with the brackets by SI's Seth Davis and Tim Layden. George Dohrmann and Andy Staples need new meds.

That said, let's look at some trends and some actual analysis. First, here's some analysis I wrote last year, which is still good (and updated based on the '09 Tourney):

So here are some keys to consider.

(1) More than one team from the same conference will make the Final Four. This is a 72% bet -- 18 times since the field expanded to 64 teams (25 years), there have been two (or more) teams from the same conference in the Final Four. Only five times in those 18 years have two teams from the same conference played in the national semifinals: 1985, 1987, 1989, 2000, 2001. On four of those occasions, the better seeded team won. Double entries for a conference in the Final Four occurred every year from 1999-2006 and happened again last year, as the two Big East teams were churned into mud by the two finalists. In the 13 years that the two teams from the same conference made the Final Four and didn't play in the national semis, only ONCE has there been an intra-conference national title game -- 1988, when Danny and the Miracles upset Oklahoma. By contrast, on five occasions, the national champion had to beat the double entries: 1990, UNLV beat Ga. Tech and Duke; 1992, Duke beat IU and Michigan; 2003, Syracuse beat Texas and Kansas; 2004, UConn beat Duke and Ga. Tech; 2005, UNC beat Mich. State and Illinois.

So who will have two Final Four teams this year? Either the Big East or the Big 12. It all depends on the Kentucky/Wisco game in the Sweet 16 and the potential KState/Syracuse game in the Elite Eight. You heard it here first.

(2) Don't be stupid. Only three teams seeded lower than a 2 have won the Tournament since 1990 - Arizona ('97), Syracuse ('03) and Florida ('06). And I had SU winning its regional that year (in my head, not on paper because I never do that). So go with the major trends -- top schools win NCAA titles. The selection committee may screw up seedings in the middle, but rarely does so at the top (*cough*1996 Purdue*cough*).

(3) Don't ignore efficiency statistics -- teams in the top 25 in offensive and defensive efficiency (basically, points per possession) win the tournament. See previous post from Monday. The Monk will also follow the ASM stats ESPN uses -- adjusted scoring margin, which measures a team's performance relative to the average performance of its opponents. Thus, Syracuse's offensive quotient of 13.2 means it averages scoring 13.2 more ppg than its opponents allow, and its defensive quotient of 4.9 means it limits its opponents to nearly 5 points below their average.

Now some additional notes:

(a) Since it won its national title in 2001, Duke has NOT defeated a team seeded higher than #5 in the NCAAs. In the eight Tournaments from 2002-2009, Duke has been a 1, 3, 1, 1, 1, 6, 2, and 2 seed. In the last eight Tournaments, Duke's elimination has come against a lower seeded team SEVEN times (exception: '03, when second-seed KU beat 3-seed Duke). A couple of the losses have been pure choke jobs where Duke should have won ('02 loss to Indiana, '04 loss to UConn), but most just occurred because Duke got beat by a team that could run, jump and defend better than it even though the opponent had a lower seed ('05 Mich. State, '06 LSU, '08 WVa, '09 'Nova).

Its preferred lineup has consistently been one power forward who can play facing the basket, not just a post player, surrounded by three wing players, and a point guard. Often, the power forward wasn't that powerful (Ferry, McRoberts, Randolph, Newton, Singler). The combination of speed, skill, Coach K's coaching and the fear factor of other ACC teams has allowed Duke to continue its conference success even as it falters in the NCAA.

Here are the reasons to pick Duke to go to the Final Four. First, Duke doesn't lose Final Eight games (Coach K's record = 10-1), if the Dookies get beat, it happens in the Sweet 16. That means it needs a challenge from the #4 and #5 seeds. The #4 is Purdue -- the WORST of the #4 seeds and a team too much like Duke to beat Duke. The #5 is Texas A&M and it can beat the Blue Devils (but likely won't) but is an even money bet to lose to any team in its quarter of the bracket -- Utah St., Siena, or Purdue.

Second, Duke has used an actual post player of some moderate ability this year -- Brian Zoubek. He has provided Duke with the rebounding and low post presence most Duke teams have lacked in recent years.

Third, Duke is highly competent on defense -- these Dookies can actually rebound, a skill set that has been lacking in Durham for about five years.

That said, Duke is still highly beatable -- it has only THREE players who score more than merely six points per game -- but with the best coach in the country, a gaggle of Parade All-Americans in its uniform and an easy draw, I wouldn't bet against the Dookies.

(b) 2009 was the third straight year that all four #1 seeds survived to the Final Eight. That also happened in 2003 and 2001. But don't bet the straight #1 seed line for the Final Four in the future. In 2001, '03, '07 and '09, only 7 of the 16 #1-seeds won their regional final and those #1 seeds are just 5-9 against teams seeded #3 or #2. Add in2008's all #1 Final Four, and the #1 seeds are 11-9 in those seasons, but 8-9 against teams seeded #3 or #2 (in '01, Mich. State beat a #11; in '03, Texas beat a #7; in '08 KU beat a #10).

The question for this season is whether the four #1 seeds are clearly better than the field, as was the case in 2008, or if there are legitimate challengers. The Monk thinks that the answer is yes -- both Kansas and Duke are clearly better than the field, SU and UK have legitimate challengers. The KState-BYU matchup in round two will likely determine half the West regional final; UK will have to beat Wisconsin (#3 in Kenpom rating) and WVU to win its region. That said, over the course of the season in college basketball, it seems clear that the four best teams were KU, UK, SU and Dook.

I think that the 8/9 winners to face Duke and Syracuse could be tougher matchups than the potential 4/5 seeds they would face in the Sweet 16.

(c) First major bonk: Villanova. In 2007, Georgetown (a #2 seed) won the Big East tourney, shocked UNC in the Final Eight and made the Final Four, losing to runner-up Ohio State. In 2008, it made the Big East tourney final, obtained a #2 seed, and honked in round two. That Georgetown team was missing something from the previous year's team. In 2009, Villanova rolled to the Final Four after whomping Duke and winning a stunner over Pitt and lost to UNC in the Final Four. This year, VU is an overseeded #2, has defensive problems, and is missing some toughness that the '09 team had. Villanova is in a weak region, but is a really weak team.

(d) Here's the Sweet 16:

Midwest = Kansas, Michigan State, Ohio State, Georgetown; with KU to beat OSU.

West = Syracuse, Butler, KState, Xavier; with the KSU/SU winner to lose to Kansas in the Final Four. Stat of the day: SU is 3-1 in regional finals under Boeheim, but 4-8 in the Sweet 16. This is the first time since the expansion to 64+ teams that SU has been a #1 seed. Also remember that NO team that lost in its conference tournament quarterfinals has ever won the NCAA.

East = Kentucky, Wisconsin, West Va., Marquette. One of two outcomes here -- Kentucky beats WVU in the regional final or WVU beats Wisco. I trend to the first. And I don't think that WVU can beat Kentucky -- lack of good point guard play, lack of shooting prowess, the UK advantage in the Huggy-Calipari matchup (Calipari can coach offense far better than Huggins). As good as WVU is, I think it is ripe for an upset, but the Selection Committee gave it a favorable half of the bracket (New Mexico as the #3).

South = Duke, TAMU, Baylor, Richmond. Whoever wins the 7/10 game will clip Villanova, I just feel it. And the A-10 likes nothing better than beating Big East teams in the Tourney, so Richmond will be well-motivated. Duke should be able to handle the two Texans even in Houston to advance. It won't handle Kentucky. That's where talent wins out.

My Final Game - Kansas over Kentucky.

Hmmm, seems like I think the 4 and 5 seeds should have been switched in nearly every region.

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