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March 17, 2010
65 Teams, 65 Thoughts
Part Two (now, of Three)

by Joe Sheehan

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The next 16 teams of the field, at least by my lights. This is not the intended structure of this series, but I wanted to get something up.

I apparently underestimated the demand for this material, and I do appreciate the feedback and encouragement. The last 16…well, first 16…teams will be up between midnight and 2 a.m. ET.

Texas: It's not so much that Texas was underseeded--they weren't--but that they underperformed into their seed, which means that they make, should they beat Wake as expected, a more talented second-round opponent than a #1 seed usually gets. Two months ago Texas was 17-0 and about to assume the #1 spot in the polls. A wretched stretch of defensive basketball--allowing more than a point per possession in 11 of 16 games--led to a 7-9 mark from then until now. Backcourt issues have plagued them, and which bodes ill for facing John Wall in the second round. Still, their frontcourt is legitimately scary, and the boards battle could be won by Dexter Pittman (sixth in nation at cleaning offensive glass) and Damion James (31st on defensive glass), which would be an equalizer. They should beat Wake and play a memorable--if ultimately unsuccessful--second-round game.

Oklahoma State: Travis Ford slowed the pace this year, playing more half court to take advantage of a team loaded with strong one-on-one players. The Cowboys record an assist on less than half their field goals, preferring instead to let James Anderson, Obi Muonelo and even Keiton Page create off the dribble. Their undersized front line makes for a bad matchup against Georgia Tech--they already tend to get beat on the offensive glass, so they'll have to hit first shots--and maybe bring in that pressure from 2009 to force some turnovers-to win. Not sure they have the speed to stay with Ohio State in round two if they can get past the Yellow Jackets.

Northern Iowa: The Panthers' strong defense got stronger in the Valley tournament, allowing around .8 points per possession. If there's any concern, it's that they might not have the quickness to stay in front of UNLV's Tre'von Willis, but Willis might be the only threat. They will dominate the defensive glass and Jordan Eglseder could have a field day inside. Like many teams, the Panthers may simply be overmatched physically by Kansas in the second round, but their commitment to a half-court game (sixth-slowest pace in DI), defense and shooting give them a chance to win a close contest. Eglseder versus Cole Aldrich will be an excellent matchup to watch.

Notre Dame: Their seasonal stats aren't very useful, as they shifted from a fast-paced team to a slow-paced one about four weeks ago. Notre Dame has averaged just 56 possessions per game in their last nine contests, which would be the slowest in the nation if sustained over a full season. Their defense has been better in that time, especially at forcing turnovers, but not by as much as the scores of their games would indicate. The Irish protect the ball and make shots as well as any team in the country, and their first-round matchup with ODU is a classic strength-against-strength contest, and despite the seeds, a coin flip. A second-round matchup with Baylor would be interesting for the battle of two highly-efficient offenses; ND would have significant trouble defending the Bears.

Clemson: The Tigers aren't a bad road team, just a very good home one, as their press scrambles the game, forces turnovers and mistakes, and that stuff just works better when you can get the crowd involved. You can say all of that about their opponent, Missouri, as well. On a neutral court, with both teams trying to create turnovers, it may come down to what happens when they don't. Clemson isn't good in the half court; the Tigers don't shoot well and they're awful at the line, relying mostly on crashing the offensive boards for points. Missouri's ability to protect a lead at the line may be the difference in a close game.

Gonzaga: The Zags can shoot, with all five starters making at least half their twos. It's just not clear how good this team is against better defenses. Off a team eFG% of 54.4, they shot 50% eFG against Wisconsin, 28.7% against Duke and 38.6% against Michigan State. This is by way of wondering whether Matt Bouldin and company can score against the best defensive team in the country in Florida State, which blocks one out of every six two-point attempts they see and gets turnovers on nearly one in four possessions. The catch is that the Zags are pretty good in the half court, and can pack the lane in front of their big back line and force Florida State to make jumpers. They'll win a low-scoring game. The Bulldogs are a threat to Syracuse after that because of their size and ability to get to the line against a 'cuse team that isn't deep. This is another of the 1/8 matchups that more closely resembles a Sweet 16 game, and could produce an upset. Remember 2000, when two #8s got two #1s? It could happen again.

Florida State: Hey, look, it's an ACC team that forces turnovers, coughs up the ball and can't shoot free throws. Florida State kills teams inside with the combination of Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton, wiping away shots at nearly the best rate in the country. If they can frustrate Robert Sacre and Elias Harris inside they can give the Seminoles a strong chance at the win. The game has to be played in the 50s, though. Florida State can't shoot from the outside at all and only Alabi and Derwin Kitchen are adept from the line. To beat Gonzaga they have to hold them under 40% eFG, dominate the boards and hit foul shots.

Xavier: Usually the standard-bearer in the Atlantic 10, Xavier comes in as the third-best team from the conference, the only one seeded within a line of what they deserved. This wasn't your typical X year; their only nonconference scalp was of Florida, and while they had lots of wins over NIT teams, they lost twice in an Orlando tournament and got hammered at Kansas State. The playing-up win wasn't there, maybe appropriate for a team that has just one senior and is clearly a year from their peak. The Musketeers lack defining strengths and weaknesses-they don't force many turnovers, and they get a lot shots blocked. Minnesota could exploit the latter with their size, but this game will come down to which team's guards beat the other team's guards off the dribble. Like Minnesota, it feels like Xavier will win zero or two games.

Marquette: The official NCAA team of the vertically-challenged, Marquette is the smallest team above a 13 seed in the tournament. You can see this is the stats--they protect the basketball, get their shots blocked, don't block shots, and are lousy on the boards. In the run-up to their first-round matchup against Washington, there's a focus on tempo, but I think it will come down more to rebounding. The Huskies don't shoot well, but they could just start throwing balls up on the glass and going after them, riding second-chance points to a win. Marquette has to hit threes and be at least passable on the defensive glass to win. This game is one of the real highlights on the first-round schedule.

Butler: Get the "Butler image" out of your head. This team still shoots threes (two of every five shots), but they don't make them (34.2%, 168th in the nation). They win by getting inside with penetration and ball movement, making their twos and getting to the line frequently, where they shoot well. The defense might not be as good as it looks statistically: in six games against teams in this field, Butler allowed at least a point per possession five times, dominating only Siena. It's an open question whether they can handle UTEP's bigs, especially given their problems playing defense without fouling. This is the most likely 5/12 upset, but really, it's hardly an upset at all, just two good teams facing off with one having a matchup advantage.

Brigham Young: If your Pomeroy rating equals your seed, you're underseeded. Not only is BYU a joke at seven, but they get the seed-inflated Florida Gators in their first-round matchup. If there's a question about them, it's the same as with Butler: good teams did a number on their defense. Florida isn't likely to exploit that; Kansas State will, creating a second-round matchup that could push into the 80s or even 90s. You do not want to have to come back against them: they're the best foul-shooting team in the country, with Jimmer Fredette and Tyler Haws both around 90%.

Michigan State: The lesson is, don't argue with Tom Izzo if your team's next game isn't really that important. Chris Allen, suspended for the Big 11 quarterfinal contest with Minnesota that didn't mean much to the Spartans (but did help the conference make money), will be allowed back after State laid an egg offensively without him. I don't mean to sound overly cynical, but really, when was the last time a good college player was suspended for bad behavior from a game that mattered? With Allen, The Spartans can score from outside and break down New Mexico State's guards, and likely pull out a win. I don't think they can handle Maryland's pressure in the second round, given their ACC-like carelessness with basketballs. One and done. And I'm not completely convinced of "one."

Richmond: It is entirely possible I'm overrating Richmond after watching all 80 minutes of their games last weekend. The data doesn't support the idea that they're underseeded. They're weak on the boards and they don't shoot notably well from anywhere and they're very thin. They play very strong defense in the half court, they have size and they have an experienced backcourt that does a little bit of everything. If they were just better shooters--they're 35% from three, 50% from two--you could see a run to the second weekend coming. As it is, they're going up against a great offensive team with a similar structure. Richmond has to rely on Kevin Anderson penetrating and getting good looks for himself, Justin Harper and Dan Geriot, and find some way to keep the game in the 50s. Win this one, and they could give Villanova fits in the second round, in a much different way than the Gaels would. Another "zero or two" candidate.

Wisconsin: I made a comment on the Rotowire Fantasy Sports Hour that all the #4 seeds were overseeded. No, they're not. Wisconsin, quite simply, is a fantastic team whose efficiency is well hidden due to a slow pace, a distinct lack of flair, and, frankly, a schedule that was frontloaded so much that no one has seen them beat a tournament team since Feb. 2. They are the best team in the country on the defensive glass and the third-best at not turning the ball over. Unlike some other versions, this Badgers team does not shoot particularly well, another contributing factor to their perception. In fact, when they lose it will be in a game where they don't hit shots, because their lack of offensive rebounding and getting to the line leaves them reliant on knocking down jumpers. Beating Wofford will just be a matter of dominating the defensive end, and if Temple should beat Cornell, Wisconsin might reach the second weekend without seeing a good offensive team. If they face the Big Red, though, the primary Wisconsin weakness--perimeter defense--will send them home.

Vanderbilt: I did it, too. When the matchups were announced, I looked at Vanderbilt/Murray State and the "upset" bell went off. Three days later, the oddsmakers have this as one of the closest 4/13s I can remember. The running away from the Commodores isn't warranted--they have a top-25 offense thanks to above-average shooting from the field and their success at getting to the line and converting. Defensively, they're strongest inside, where A.J. Ogilvy and Andre Walker defend the rim. They have a huge size difference over the Racers, one of ten tallest teams in the field against one of the ten shortest. This edge should help neutralize Ivan Aska and Tony Easley inside, taking away a key part of Murray State's offense. The other key will be turnovers-Vandy is prone to them, and Murray State forces them as well as any team in the country. There's an upset chance here, but it's a lot less likely than the rush to judgment--or the guys in the green visors--have made it appear. Both these teams would be dogs to Butler or UTEP in the second round.

Maryland: Maryland will have their hands full trying to turn Houston over, as the Cougars protect the ball better than any team in the country. How well they protect against Houston's pressure, in fact, may be the bigger concern, as they have ACC-itis with the ball-if not to the extent of their peers. Houston's offense isn't very good, as they shoot twos poorly and threes not that effectively for a team that needs them to fall, and their lack of size gives them problems defensively. The Terps should win easily, and their second-round matchup with Michigan State sets up nicely for them. They'd have no answer for Kansas' size the next weekend, however.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Joe by clicking here or click here to see Joe's other articles.

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Is it Duke or Cameron ... (03/17)
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Around the Rim (03/18)

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