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February 15, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Breaking Down Marquette/Pittsburgh

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: Pittsburgh (19-5, 7-4 Big East) at Marquette (17-6, 7-5), 9:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Rankings: Pittsburgh, #26 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 16 in Big East); Marquette, #14 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Marquette, 71-65 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 24%
Prospectus: The key to this game could be Marquette's offensive rebounding percentage, as evidenced by the Game Plan correlation data for both teams. Before examining that data, however, several caveats need to be listed, as the effectiveness of the Game Plan correlations are limited by two major factors. On one hand, every college basketball season,especially an incomplete one, is a small statistical sample, and one therefore must be cautious before putting too much meaning or validity into statistical relationships that might emerge in such a limited number of games. On the other hand, each team's season is broken up into two major components--non-conference and conference play--and in the Big East the non-conference schedule is generally much easier than the conference schedule. The Game Plan correlations don't take this schism into account, and because they represent the season as a whole, can potentially misrepresent how a team is scoring or defending against its conference foes.

Having said all that, the most interesting correlation on Pittsburgh's Game Plan is the +0.59 between opponents' offensive rebounding percentage and Pittsburgh's defensive efficiency. This figure means that as the offensive rebounding percentage of its opponent has gone up, Pittsburgh's defensive efficiency has also gone up--i.e., gotten worse (a correlation of 1 would mean that all the variation in defensive efficiency was explained by the change in opponent offensive rebounding percentage). You'd expect this relationship between offensive rebounding and a loss of defensive efficiency, of course, but the correlation between the two factors for Pittsburgh is a good deal stronger than for most teams, and is statistically significant with 99 percent confidence. Therefore, one can reasonably conclude that Pittsburgh has been hurt well more than most teams by second-chance opportunities this season. Besides a rise in opponents' eFG%, rising opponent offensive rebounding percentage has been the second most important factor in explaining why Pittsburgh has struggled on defense when it has.

Marquette is just the sort of team that could hurt the Panthers on the offensive glass. The Golden Eagles are a strong offensive rebounding squad, ranking 25th in the nation with a 37.9 percentage. Not only that, but in looking at Marquette's Game Plan, one finds that offensive rebounding percentage has a correlation of +0.51 to Marquette's offensive efficiency, a positive relationship that is significant with 95 percent confidence. The correlations reveal that hitting the glass on offense has been the second most important factor contributing to Marquette's offensive efficiency, behind eFG%. This relationship is the exact inverse of Pittsburgh's defensive profile. Based on these figures, it can be concluded that Marquette should be able to seriously impact the game if it can rebound well on offense, as that factor will contribute more to its own offense than most teams get from offensive boards, and hurt Pittsburgh's defense more than most teams are hurt by offensive boards.

One of the most important individual matchups in the game, then, could very well be the battle for rebounds between Marquette's 6'10" Ousmane Barro (11.4 offensive rebounding percentage) and Pittsburgh's 6'7" DeJuan Blair (24.7 defensive rebounding percentage). The Panthers are an even stronger offensive rebounding team than Marquette, however, with Blair ranking fifth in the nation in that category, so Pittsburgh might also be able to turn the tables on a weak defensive rebounding Golden Eagles team. The other important story from this game is the probable return of Panthers point guard Levance Fields from a broken left foot. In 12 games before he got hurt, the 5'10" junior had a strong 115.7 offensive rating and led the team with a 35.4 assist rate, which would rank in the top 30 nationally if he had enough minutes to qualify.

Friday's Other Games:

Matchup: Brown (12-8, 4-2 Ivy League) at Pennsylvania (8-14, 3-2), 7:00
Rankings: Brown, #149 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 8 in Ivy); Pennsylvania, #308 (nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Brown, 72-62 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 14%
Prospectus: The Quakers, at 71 possessions/40 minutes, are the fastest team in the Ivy League, and are coming off a victory over arch-rival Princeton at home on Tuesday. Brown, which has an offense predicated on three-pointers and foul shots, has won three straight in the Ivy League to move into second place.

Matchup: Columbia (10-11, 3-3 Ivy League) at Dartmouth (8-12, 1-5), 7:00
Rankings: Columbia, #236 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 8 in Ivy); Dartmouth, #329 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Columbia, 66-59 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: The Dartmouth Big Green has lost four games in a row--all on the road--and now begins a four game homestand. Columbia beat the Killer P's at home last weekend to move to .500 in the league.

Matchup: Cornell (14-5, 6-0 Ivy League) at Harvard (6-16, 1-5), 7:00
Rankings: Cornell, #130 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 8 in Ivy); Harvard, #277 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Cornell, 81-72 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 19%
Prospectus: The Big Red, two games up in the Ivy standings, are a deadly shooting team--Cornell ranks fourth in the nation in three-point field goal percentage and third in free throw percentage. After beating Dartmouth to open its league schedule, the Crimson has lost five games in a row to fall into a tie for last in the Ivy with Dartmouth.

Matchup: Yale (9-11, 3-3 Ivy League) at Princeton (5-15, 2-3), 7:30
Rankings: Yale, #213 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 8 in Ivy); Princeton, #290 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Yale, 61-58 in 59 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 39%
Prospectus: The Bulldogs need to sweep this weekend's road trip at Princeton and Pennsylvania in order to make their big matchup at first place Cornell a week from today a meaningful game. The Tigers, who were swept by Yale last season, have lost three straight road games leading into tonight's return to Jadwin Gym.

Matchup: North Florida (2-22, 0-11 Atlantic Sun) at Jacksonville (12-11, 8-3), 7:30
Rankings: North Florida, #336 in Pomeroy Ratings (12th of 12 in Atlantic Sun); Jacksonville, #220 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Jacksonville, 74-56 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 4%
Prospectus: The North Florida Ospreys have won just one game this year against Division I competition--and that came in its most recent outing, last Saturday at home over Savannah St. North Florida didn't just eke it out, either, but won by a solid 10 points. The Ospreys' previous victory came way back on November 16 in their third game of the year, over division II Concordia (NY) College. The Dolphins, on the other hand, are fighting to regain first place in the Atlantic Sun, as two straight losses have dropped Jacksonville a game and a half behind Belmont.

Matchup: Marist (15-10, 9-5 Metro Atlantic) at Manhattan (9-15, 3-11), 8:00
Rankings: Marist, #143 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 10 in MAAC); Manhattan, #255 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Marist, 73-67 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 30%
Prospectus: Marist is two games behind both Siena and Rider with just four conference games left to play, so the Red Foxes have to win out and hope for some help in order to have a chance at the MAAC title. The Jaspers, one of the youngest squads in the country, broke an eight-game conference losing streak on Sunday with a win over Canisius.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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