Games of Thursday, March 20
All games on CBS
Verizon Center (Washington, D.C.)
Matchup: #14 Seed Georgia (17-16, 4-12 Southeastern) vs. #3 Xavier (27-6, 14-2 Atlantic 10), 12:20
Rankings: Georgia, #81 in Pomeroy Ratings (9th of 12 in SEC); Xavier, #18 (1st of 14 in A-10)
Pomeroy Prediction: Xavier, 69-60 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 17%
Prospectus: If you subscribe to the theory of momentum when filling out the bracket, you likely have pegged this game as a possible first-round upset. The Bulldogs pulled off one of the most remarkable conference tournament runs in college history to make it into the Big Dance, winning four games in a row over favored opponents, including three in two days, to capture their second SEC championship. Consider that to close the regular season, Georgia lost 11 of 13 conference games, with its two wins coming over Southeastern lowlights South Carolina and Auburn, and the 'Dogs run looks even more miraculous. Xavier, meanwhile, could not figure out how to beat Saint Joseph's down the stretch, losing to the Hawks in the second-to-last game of the regular season and then again in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
No amount of momentum, however, can overcome the fact that Georgia ranks dead last of the 35 teams from BCS conferences + the Missouri Valley in regular season in-conference efficiency margin, at -0.07 (0.96 points scored per possession, and 1.03 allowed). The Musketeers, meanwhile, scored 1.14 points per possession and allowed 0.99 in their 16 regular season Atlantic 10 games, a conference that was just a couple of notches below a weak SEC this season. The three-point line will be key in this one--Georgia's best trait is its three-point percentage defense (30.8, 16th in the country), while the Musketeers shoot 39.1 percent from deep, and have four players who have hit 40 or more threes at a 40 percent or better clip, led by junior B.J. Raymond's 71-of-168 seasonal three-point performance. Of course, Xavier also shoots 52.9 percent on two-pointers, and the Bulldogs have allowed opponents to make nearly half their shots from inside the arc. One other thing to note is that Georgia has gotten quite fortunate with regard to the free throw percentage of its foes this season, which has been the third-worst in the country, at 63.9 percent. The Musketeers aren't likely to stoop to that level, as they have shot 75 percent from the line on the season, which ranks 17th among Division I teams.
Matchup: #11 Seed Baylor (21-10, 9-7 Big 12) vs. #6 Purdue (24-8, 15-3 Big Ten), 2:50
Rankings: Baylor, #39 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 12 in Big 12); Purdue, #25 (4th of 11 in Big Ten)
Pomeroy Prediction: Purdue, 77-74 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 38%
Prospectus: Baylor had to watch Sunday's NCAA tournament selection show uncertain of its postseason fate, as the Bears' loss to Colorado, the worst team in the Big 12, in the opening round of the conference tournament was reason enough to exclude Baylor from its first NCAA appearance since 1988. But Baylor was admitted, providing a fitting bonus to add to the end of the team's first 20-win season since that 1988 campaign, and the culmination of an outstanding job rebuilding a team that three years ago went 1-15 in the Big 12. Like Baylor, Purdue also lost to a bottom-dwelling team to end its chance for a championship, falling to No. 10 seed Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. That was the second straight game that the Boilermakers had dropped in overtime, after previously losing at Ohio St.
Purdue, a very young team whose top two players are freshmen E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel, seems to have gotten a tough matchup in the first round. The Boilermakers' excellent defense, ranked 13th in the country in adjusted efficiency, is powered for the most part by generating steals and turnovers. In a February article, Ken Pomeroy explained that "ball security is more under the control of the offense than the defense," which means that a good ball-handling team will be able to neutralize a good turnover-inducing team more often than not. Baylor is 12th best in Division I at protecting the ball, averaging a turnover on just 17 percent of possessions, and has three players in the top 300 in that category in junior point guard Curtis Jerrells, junior forward Kevin Rogers, and freshman LaceDarius Dunn.
Even more interesting than the turnover battle, however, will be to watch if Baylor can get to the line against the Boilermakers. Purdue has allowed opponents to shoot 42.4 free throws per 100 possessions, the highest total in the Big Ten. Not only that, but its defense has been badly damaged by opponent's trips to the free throw line--opponent free throw rate has a correlation of +0.74 to the worsening of Purdue's defensive efficiency (a value of 1.00 would indicate defensive efficiency was completely explained by opponent free throw rate). It is very rare that any factor has a higher correlation to defensive efficiency than eFG%, but such is the case with Purdue. Here's a look at the Boilermakers' worst defensive efficiencies of the season, and the free throw rate that their opponent put up in those games:
Date Opponent Result DE FTR
12/8 @ Missouri L 1.04 60.8
3/14 Illinois L 1.04 40.8
2/2 @ Illinois W 1.05 97.6
2/19 @ Indiana L 1.07 81
3/4 @ Ohio St. L 1.10 61.5
12/22 Iowa St. L 1.15 74
1/8 @ Michigan St. L 1.16 80.5
Unfortunately for the Bears, however, they are not particularly strong at getting to the line, ranking 119th overall in free throw rate, without a single qualifying player in the top 500. Baylor therefore might not be able to take advantage of Purdue's Achilles' heel.
Matchup: #15 Seed Belmont (25-8, 14-2 Atlantic Sun) vs. #2 Duke (27-5, 13-3 Atlantic Coast), 7:10
Rankings: Belmont, #160 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in A-Sun); Duke, #6 (2nd of 12 in ACC)
Pomeroy Prediction: Duke, 95-70 in 77 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 3%
Prospectus: Belmont, located in Nashville, is headed to its third consecutive NCAA tournament. The Bruins have begun a dynasty in the Atlantic Sun, winning three straight conference tournament title, and adding regular season crowns this season and in 2006. Belmont will be looking for a better showing than it had in its first two appearances on the national stage--in 2006, it lost to its namsake from UCLA, 78-44, and last year fell to Georgetown 80-55. Both those losses came as a No. 15 seed, a position the Bruins earned again this season.
The key stat to watch in this game will be how many three-pointers Belmont takes. The Bruins launched threes on 47.6 percent of their field goal attempts this season, which is the seventh highest ratio in the nation, and hit on 36.2 percent (118th best). Under Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke's defensive philosophy has been to limit opponent three-point attempts, and the Blue Devils are habitually at the very top of Division I in this category--first overall this year with 24.8 percent of opponents' field goal attempts from three, second last year, and first again in 2006 and 2005. The Blue Devils are also solid at forcing misses when teams do find space to fire, with a 32.8 three-point field goal percentage defense allowed (2nd in the ACC). Will the Bruins continue to hoist a large amount of threes, or will they change their offensive approach? If Belmont goes inside more often, it might have some success. Duke is a short team on the frontline--11th in the ACC in Effective Height--and has allowed opponents to shoot 47.1 percent on two pointers, while Belmont has hit on 52.4 of its shots inside the arc, which ranks in the top 50 nationally. The Bruins are led in that department by 6'4 junior Shane Dansby, who has hit 59 percent of his two-pointers (113-of-192). Both of these teams play at a fast pace, so while it might not take long for Duke's offense to start shredding the Bruins, the game has the potential to be entertaining.
Matchup: #10 Seed Arizona (19-14, 8-10 Pacific 10) vs. #7 West Virginia (24-10, 11-7 Big East), 9:40
Rankings: Arizona, #22 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 10 in Pac 10); West Virginia, #23 (5th of 16 in Big East)
Pomeroy Prediction: Arizona, 68-67 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 50%
Prospectus: A classic NCAA tournament first-round coin-flip contest. Arizona's at-large candidacy was debated at much length, but the Wildcats ended up getting in on the strength of their early season work and No. 1 strength of schedule (per the Pomeroy Ratings), despite the fact that they lost eight of their last 12 games. Sophomore point guard Nic Wise has returned to play the last four games after knee surgery forced him out for seven games, and although he has performed reasonably well--27/9 assist/turnover ratio, 13.3 points per game on 50 eFG% shooting--Arizona has gone just 2-2 in those games, with the two wins both coming over lowly Oregon St. Meanwhile, freshman shooting guard Jerryd Bayless appears to be wearing down a bit late in the season, as he has shot just 40.6 eFG% from the floor over the past four, as compared to his seasonal mark of 55.8.
Bayless, Wise, sophomore forward Chase Budinger, and senior guard Jawann McClellan might be able to pick up the team's offense from beyond the three-point line against West Virginia, however. Although they don't shoot often from deep, the Wildcats convert at a 39.6 percentage from beyond the arc, 19th best in the country, and West Virginia's three-point percentage allowed (35.6) ranks just 12th in the Big East. The Mountaineers rely to a large extent on generating turnovers, as their opponents' turnover percentage has a -0.73 correlation to defensive efficiency, a figure significant with 99 percent confidence, meaning they could struggle against an Arizona team that is strong at protecting the ball. West Virginia should however be able to control the boards against the Wildcats, who are not a strong defensive rebounding team and who have purposely eschewed offensive boards in favor of getting back to help their transition defense. West Virginia will also get a shot off the vast majority of the time, as they are the best at protecting the ball in the Big East and Arizona is 292nd nationally at taking it away.
Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)
Matchup: #9 Seed Texas A&M (24-10, 8-8 Big 12) vs. #8 Brigham Young (27-7, 14-2 Mountain West), 7:25
Rankings: Texas A&M, #16 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in Big 12); Brigham Young, #44 (2nd of 9 in Mountain West)
Pomeroy Prediction: Texas A&M, 66-61 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: As John Gasaway recently detailed through use of his new Winehouse Factor, the cringe-worthy sports cliche "it depends on which team shows up" really does apply to the Aggies, and in particular their offense. To quote from that piece:
Over the past three seasons, no major-conference team has exhibited as much inconsistency on offense or defense in-conference as have the offenses of Texas A&M and Michigan State this year.
That article was written on March 7, and in the four games since then, the Aggies have continued to display their inconsistency. They were not surprisingly shut down by Kansas to the tune of 0.83 points per possession in the regular season finale, and then in the Big 12 tournament opener beat an Iowa St. team that had allowed 1.02 PPP in the conference season by scoring just 0.94. The offense awoke in Texas A&M's final two games, putting up 1.09 PPP against a strong Kansas St. defense and then tallying 1.18 in another loss to the Jayhawks, the second most points per possession Kansas's superb defense has allowed this year. It's anyone's guess as to how the Aggies' offense will perform against Brigham Young, which has a defense that is very good--18th in the nation in adjusted efficiency, at 0.89 points per possession allowed--but obviously not on the level of Kansas.
Even should Texas A&M's offense not show up, the Aggies could still win the game with their defense, which has been much more consistent than the offense. That makes sense, because their defense does not rely on turnover percentage, the factor that is more dependent on the opposing offense than on the defense. Texas A&M ranks last in the Big 12 at turning opponents over, but, thanks to its great size down low (14th in the nation in Effective Height, at 3.7 inches above average on the frontline) is first in eFG% defense (44.7) and defensive rebounding percentage (71.8). Brigham Young subscribes to virtually the same defensive blueprint--the Cougars also don't turn teams over, but they rank fourth in defensive rebounding percentage (73.2) and fifth in eFG% defense (43). While Texas A&M is best stopping the two-point shot thanks to its trees down low, Brigham Young is best at shutting down the three-pointer, ranking fourth with a 29.5 three-point percentage allowed. Assuming Texas A&M's freshman 7'0 center DeAndre Jordan is recovered from the sickness that knocked him out of the Big 12 tournament, it will enjoyable to watch him battle with Brigham Young's big man, 6'11 junior Trent Plaisted, who has shot 54 percent on his 333 two-point attempts.
Matchup: #16 Seed Mississippi Valley St. (17-15, 12-6 Southwestern) vs. #1 UCLA (31-3, 16-2 Pacific 10), 9:55
Rankings: Mississippi Valley St., #318 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 10 in SWAC); UCLA, #2 (1st of 10 in Pac 10)
Pomeroy Prediction: UCLA, 81-46 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 0.4%
Prospectus: Not only would a Mississippi Valley St. victory be the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament, it might just be the greatest upset in the history of sports. When you factor in the semi-home advantage for UCLA, playing in Southern California at Anaheim's Honda Center, the Delta Devils' chances register at just one tenth of one percent. Mississippi Valley St. made a late run in the regular season to finish second in the SWAC standings, winning six in a row to close its schedule, and then extended that with three wins in four days in the conference tournament to capture the championship and advance to its fourth NCAA tournament. The Delta Devils, however, will have a tough time hanging with UCLA, which has been to two straight Final Fours. The Bruins possess the nation's fourth best defense by adjusted efficiency, while the attack of the Delta Devils scores less than 0.9 points per possession after adjustment. Mississippi Valley St. has just one player, junior guard Michael Clark, with an offensive rating above 100, or average. If an experienced team is what you look for when filling out your bracket, however, then Mississippi Valley St. is your team--the Delta Devils are first in Division I in experience, with a weighted average of 2.6 seasons. The top seven in percentage of minutes played for Mississippi Valley St. consists of four seniors and three juniors, and the team's starters are ridden hard, playing 76.8 percent of the minutes. UCLA also leans on its starters to a greater extent than most teams; its bench plays a low 24 percent of the minutes.
Qwest Center (Omaha, NE)
Matchup: #16 Seed Portland St. (23-9, 14-2 Big Sky) vs. #1 Kansas (31-3, 13-3 Big 12), 12:25
Rankings: Portland St., #126 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 9 in Big Sky); Kansas, #1 (1st of 12 in Big 12)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas, 88-61 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 1%
Prospectus: Ken Pomeroy gave a special shout-out to Portland St. in Tuesday's Midwest Region bracket breakdown, because the Vikings were deserving of a higher seed than the No. 16 slot, which in this region is occupied by the team to be offered to Kansas for ritual slaughter. Portland St. has a Pomeroy Rating that is a good deal better than the No. 15 seed in the Midwest, MD Baltimore County, and in fact Portland St.'s #126 ranking puts it ahead of all the other No. 16 and 15 seeds, as well as the No. 14 seeds in the East and South regions, Boise St. and Cornell. The Vikings were the clear best team in the Big Sky conference this season, finishing three games ahead of Northern Arizona, and they proved that again with a 67-51 victory over the second place finishers in the conference tournament championship game, which sealed their first conference championship and trip to the NCAA tournament ever. The Vikings are led by the remarkable Jeremiah Dominguez, their 5'6 point guard who sports a 61.4 eFG% on 77-of-173 from three-point range (45 percent) and 62-of-116 from two (53). Led by Dominguez, the Vikings have shot 40 percent from three-point range on the season, the 10th highest percentage of any Division I team, which poses a problem--or at least a mild concern--for the Jayhawks. Opponents shot threes against Kansas on 38 percent of field goal attempts, the 61st highest total in the nation, and hit on a decent 34 percent, making the perimeter the one semi-vulnerable area of a Jayhawks defense that ranks third in the nation in adjusted efficiency. The Vikings get 37 percent of their points from beyond the arc, and that number might well rise in this game, as Portland St. is sure to recognize that hitting a ton of long balls is its likeliest path to an historic upset. If Dominguez is swallowed up by Kansas' 6'1 guards Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson, the Vikings will have to look to 6'8 sophomore Kyle Coston (32-of-81 from three) and 6'2 junior Andre Murray (34-of-92) for their deep punch.
Matchup: #9 Seed Kent St. (28-6, 13-3 Mid-American) vs. #8 Nevada Las Vegas (26-7, 12-4 Mountain West), 2:55
Rankings: Kent St., #66 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in MAC); Nevada Las Vegas, #53 (3rd of 9 in Mountain West)
Pomeroy Prediction: Nevada Las Vegas, 65-63 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 43%
Prospectus: Two non-BCS powerhouses square off in one of the seven matchups between non-BCS schools in the middle of the bracket, a number that, as Joe Sheehan wrote, should be much lower for the good of college basketball and the enjoyment of its fans. The committee has allowed the best non-BCS teams in the country to pair off and beat the daylight out of each other, and that is exactly what is likely to happen in this game between evenly matched squads. Both teams enter the tournament on a high note after convincing wins in their conference championship games--the Runnin' Rebels took out Brigham Young 76-61 at home, defeating the Cougars for the Mountain West title for the second straight year, while the Golden Flashes dispatched Akron on a neutral court in Cleveland, sending the Zips to their second straight loss while on the brink of an NCAA tourney berth.
This game will be another battle between conflicting strengths. The Golden Flashes rank 15th in the country in steal percentage, led by 6'4 sophomore Chris Singletary and 6'8 defensive wizard Haminn Quaintance, while Nevada Las Vegas is sixth in the country in taking care of the ball, having committed turnovers on just 15.8 percent of its possessions. The leader for the Rebels in this department is 6'7 junior Joe Darger, who has given it away on 7.9 percent of his possessions used, which is the second lowest figure in the nation behind that of Indiana's Lance Stemler. This is an especially impressive mark, because Darger is no role player--he handles the ball frequently, with a healthy 21.1 percentage of team possessions used, much more than Stemler, for example, who uses just 10.6 percent of possessions while on the court. Darger, thanks in large part to his protective abilities, has an offensive rating of 113.0, the highest on the team. Darger makes up one of the most balanced teams in the country, as UNLV ranks 59th in adjusted offensive efficiency (1.11 points per possession) and 58th in adjusted defensive (0.94 PPP allowed). Kent St., thanks to Quaintance, Singletary, and the rest, is a team swung more towards the defensive end.
Matchup: #11 Seed Kansas St. (20-11, 10-6 Big 12) vs. #6 Southern California (21-11, 11-7 Pacific 10), 7:10
Rankings: Kansas St., #15 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in Big 12); Southern California, #20 (4th of 10 in Pac 10)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas St., 72-70 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 44%
Prospectus: Kansas St. faded down the stretch to the tune of five losses in its last seven games, but Michael Beasley's squad still did enough before that for the Wildcats to make their first NCAA tournament since 1996. As discussed in a preview last week, Kansas St. has been one of the most inconsistent teams in the country this year--the 13th most inconsistent by the Pomeroy calculations, in fact. What this means is that the Wildcats have a much larger standard deviation of scoring difference than most teams in the country. In other words, they tend to look beatable more often, in between playing extremely well, which overrates them in the Pomeroy Ratings calculation. Unfortunately for Kansas St.'s chances, and for those who want to see freshman standout Michael Beasley play deep into the tournament, the Wildcats haven't played well in nearly a month. You can point to their 100-63 drubbing of Missouri on February 16 as the last time the team really flexed its muscle.
Kansas St.'s defense has fallen apart, as the Wildcats haven't held an opponent below a point per possession in any of their past seven games, five of which the team has lost; Kansas St. opponents scored less than 0.92 points per possession in six of the team's 10 conference games before that point. One of the reasons for their poor defense of late seems to be a lack of turnovers. The Wildcats forced opponents to turn it over on 22.5 percent of possessions or more in seven of their first 10 Big 12 games (a stretch in which they went 8-2), including two 30+ performances, but in their recent 2-5 run, the team's defense has failed to hit that 22.5 percent mark once, and has not even hit 20 in four of the games.
Kansas St. needs to generate turnovers for its defense to operate smoothly, for the Wildcats aren't particularly good at forcing missed shots, especially when it comes to attempts from deep (36.8 three-point percentage allowed, 270th in the country). USC, on the other hand, doesn't need to worry about turnovers, because its defense ranks 13th in eFG% allowed, and because the squad is also excellent at keeping opponents off the line. As a result, the Trojans rank 11th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, despite the fact they don't force turnovers or rebound well. Part of the credit for that strong defense belongs to O.J. Mayo, who plays 90.5 percent of USC's minutes. Mayo has lived up to the hype of late after an up-and-down rookie campaign. Since scoring 4 points in a February 17 loss to UCLA, Mayo has shot 57 eFG% from the floor while scoring 24 points per game in eight contests. Although Beasley has been even better for the entire season, Mayo has a greater supporting cast, including fellow freshman Davon Jefferson and sophomore point guard Daniel Hackett. Since hurting his back on January 31, however, Hackett has not been scoring as efficiently. In the six games he has played since sitting out for three games, Hackett has averaged 5.5 points on 33 eFG% shooting; in 18 games before getting hurt, his numbers were 11.5 points per game on 54 eFG%.
Further complicating the projection of this matchup is the fact that USC, like Kansas St., has been very inconsistent. In addition, the committee did not protect the Trojans geographically, despite their higher seed and the fact that they are playing better basketball. Kansas St. will be aided by a partisan crowd of Kansans making the trip up to Omaha to cheer on the Wildcats.
Matchup: #14 Seed Cal St. Fullerton (24-8, 12-4 Big West) vs. #3 Wisconsin (29-4, 16-2 Big Ten), 9:40
Rankings: Cal St. Fullerton, #110 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 9 in Big West); Wisconsin, #4 (1st of 11 in Big Ten)
Pomeroy Prediction: Wisconsin, 80-60 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 4%
Prospectus: Cal St. Fullerton, a school more well known for its baseball program, won its second Big West title by beating UC Irvine 81-66 last Saturday to earn a spot in the NCAA field for the first time since its initial title year, 1978. The Badgers, who have quietly been built into the best team in the Big Ten by coach Bo Ryan, won their second Big Ten tournament championship with a 61-48 victory over upstart Illinois on Sunday. A No. 2 seed last year, this year the Big Ten got no respect from the selection committee, which ranked the best team in the conference as a No. 3 seed. Wisconsin was bounced in the second round by No. 7 seed UNLV last year, and will try to avoid an even more ignominious distinction today by getting past Fullerton in the first round.
Thanks to its performance in the conference tournament--Wisconsin dismantled Michigan in the quarterfinals 51-34 in 57 possessions, a game in which the Badgers held the Wolverines to a hideous 0.59 points per possession, and then limited the Illinois offense to 0.88 PPP in the final--Wisconsin has moved up to second in the country in raw defensive efficiency, and first in adjusted efficiency (0.82 PPP allowed). The Titans' strength is its offense, which is 11th in the country in raw efficiency (1.14 PPP) and 19th in eFG% (54.5). Wisconsin has held opponents to 43 eFG% shooting. With 6'11 senior Brian Butch, as well as less-used big men Greg Stiemsma and Jon Leuer, the Badgers have three players who tower over Fullerton, which plays nobody over 6'6, and has no one over 6'5 amongst its top seven in percentage of minutes played. Fullerton is in fact the fourth shortest team in Division I by Average Minutes-Weighted Height. The Titans, however, do have experience--an average of 2.5 years of it, making them the fourth oldest team in the nation. They also like to play very quickly, averaging 72.6 possessions per 40 minutes, the 18th fastest pace in the nation. Wisconsin, of course, has become famous for its slow-down, grind-it-out defensive style of play--it averages 62.1 posssessions/40--so this one will be a complete clash of styles. The Titans' best player is 5'11 junior shooting guard Josh Akognon, who has a 120.1 offensive rating and 57 eFG% while taking a team-leading 29.4 percent of shots while on the floor. The Badgers best player is...well, that's exactly what some pundits think is the problem with Wisconsin--it has no clear-cut go-to man on offense, besides Butch, who dominates the ball but has a sub-50 eFG% and plays just the sixth most minutes on the team.
Pepsi Center (Denver, CO)
Matchup: #12 Seed Temple (21-12, 11-5 Atlantic 10) vs. #5 Michigan St. (25-8, 12-6 Big Ten), 12:30
Rankings: Temple, #65 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 14 in A-10); Michigan St., #17 (2nd of 11 in Big Ten)
Pomeroy Prediction: Michigan St., 71-63 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 21%
Prospectus: Temple won its last four regular season games, then beat La Salle, Charlotte, and Saint Joseph's at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City to win its first Atlantic 10 tournament championship since 2001 in Fran Dunphy's second season as head coach after moving over from Penn. The Owls play an eight man rotation and get less than a quarter of their minutes off the bench, while Tom Izzo's Spartans use nine men and get 30 percent of their minutes off the bench. The Spartans had a huge problem with turnovers throughout most of the season, a problem that lately they have fixed--Michigan St. has turned it over on less than 18 percent of possessions in seven of its past eight games, with the lone exception a 30 percent hiccup in a loss at Ohio St. to close the regular season. That has helped the team produce its two highest offensive efficiencies of the season, 1.46 points per possession against Penn St. and 1.45 against Indiana, both home wins. The Spartans' offense has still been inconsistent in that stretch--even, in fact, historically inconsistent--thanks mainly to some up-and-down shooting performances. Temple will likely need either the Spartans' old turnover-prone tendencies to recur, or the team to suffer one of its poor shooting nights, or both, in order to have a shot at the upset, for defense is not the Owls' strong suit. Temple, however, is quite strong on offense, particularly inside the arc. It has three players, in junior Dionte Christmas, senior Mark Tyndale, and freshman Lavoy Allen, who have combined to make 321 two-pointers on 54 percent shooting. The Owls are led by Christmas, who tops the squad in percentage of minutes played, possessions used, and shots taken, and who has a 109.8 offensive rating and 56 eFG%.
Matchup: #13 Seed Oral Roberts (24-8, 16-2 Summit League) vs. #4 Pittsburgh (26-9, 10-8 Big East), 3:00
Rankings: Oral Roberts, #79 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 10 in Summit); Pittsburgh, #26 (6th of 16 in Big East)
Pomeroy Prediction: Pittsburgh, 68-60 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 21%
Prospectus: Pittsburgh is hotter than any team in the country, having beaten Louisville, Marquette, and Georgetown on consecutive nights at Madison Square Garden last week to capture the Big East championship, the seventh time in eight seasons they made it to the final game and the second time they won in that final game. The Panthers got a rough draw in the first round in Oral Roberts, however, which is by far the toughest of the 13 seeds in this year's tournament. The Golden Eagles beat a tough IUPUI squad to win the Summit League championship and earn a spot in their third straight NCAA tournament. Oral Roberts is slowly advancing--in 2006 it earned a No. 16 seed, and last year a 14. This season it hopes to add a tournament victory, which would be the Golden Eagles' first since 1974, when they went to the Elite Eight. While it is a tough squad to play in the first round, Oral Roberts also got a tough draw in Pittsburgh, whose offensive rebounding could really hurt the Golden Eagles, according to the correlation between opponent offensive rebounding and rising defensive efficiency for Oral Roberts. The Panthers rank 10th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and have two bruising board crashers in freshman DeJuan Blair (sixth in D-I in OR%) and junior Tyrell Biggs (88th). Pittsburgh out-rebounded just two of its four opponents in New York City, but the common element in its four-game sweep was that the team got to the free throw line far more frequently than each of its foes, which was surprising considering that the Panthers were in the bottom half of the Big East at reaching the free throw line during the regular season.
Oral Roberts is led on offense by 5'11 junior guard Robert Jarvis, who is tops on the team in offensive efficiency and eFG%, and also leads in percentage of possessions used and shots taken. The team is a far better defensive team than offensive one, however, and its core strength is defending against two-pointers. With 6'10 senior Shawn King, as well as 6'9 senior Yemi Ogunoye and 6'8 junior Marcus Lewis, the Golden Eagles have a great deal more size down low than Pittsburgh, whose tallest player is the 6'8 Biggs. Despite their reputation as a physical defensive team, the Panthers' elite unit is its offense, not its defense--their attack ranks 10th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. Oral Roberts is a better fit for the popular perception of the Panthers than Pittsburgh itself, as the Golden Eagles have a better defense than the Panthers and play at a slower pace, as well.
Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)
Matchup: #11 Seed Kentucky (18-12, 12-4 Southeastern) vs. #6 Marquette (24-9, 11-7 Big East), 2:30
Rankings: Kentucky, #61 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 12 in SEC); Marquette, #12 (3rd of 16 in Big East)
Pomeroy Prediction: Marquette, 67-60 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 20%
Prospectus: This game appears to be more of a mismatch than an 11-6 game normally is. Kentucky was a bubble team that got in thanks to a strong record against a weak schedule in a weak conference, while the Pomeroy Ratings say that Marquette is an underrated and dangerous sleeper. Just like Kansas St., however, the Golden Eagles have been very inconsistent this season, which is probably inflating their rating somewhat. Kentucky will be playing without its best player, however, freshman forward Patrick Patterson, who went down five games ago with a stress fracture in his foot. Patterson's absence may have finally caught up with the Wildcats in their 60-56 overtime loss to Georgia in the SEC tournament, a game in which they scored just 0.88 points per possession. Marquette's defense ranks sixth in the nation in adjusted efficiency, and could cause serious problems for Kentucky in the turnover department. Marquette forces turnovers on 24 percent of opponent possessions, while Kentucky turns it over on 23.3 percent of its trips, the 291st lowest rate in the country. Making matters worse is the fact that Patterson had the team's lowest turnover rate.
One of the players seeing an uptick in minutes since Patterson's injury, 6'6 sophomore guard Derrick Jasper, has turned it over on a very high 37.5 percent of his possessions used on the season. In his second start of the season, against Tennessee the first game Patterson was out, Jasper committed five turnovers, but in his three starts since he has turned it over just once in 105 minutes. Jasper is not a scorer, however, so the pressure falls upon senior guards Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford to carry the team beyond the first round. Bradley will have to improve upon his 4-of-17 from the floor overall, 1-of-6 from three-point range performance in the team's loss to Georgia.
Matchup: #14 Seed Cornell (22-5, 14-0 Ivy League) vs. #3 Stanford (26-7, 13-5 Pacific 10), 5:00
Rankings: Cornell, #132 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 8 in Ivy); Stanford, #10 (2nd of 10 in Pac 10)
Pomeroy Prediction: Stanford, 79-62 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 6%
Prospectus: Cornell went undefeated in the Ivy League this year, becoming the first team other than Princeton or Penn to win the league and advance to the NCAA tournament since 1988, when Cornell also won. Cornell is one of the best shooting squads in the country, ranking sixth in three-point percentage, 22nd in two-point percentage, and 11th in free throw percentage. Sophomore Ryan Wittman leads the charge for the Big Red, having hit 71-of-151 three-pointers on the season (47 percent) and shot 61 eFG% from the floor. Stanford, like Duke, Morgan St., and St. Mary's, doesn't let teams shoot three-pointers, with opponents firing from deep on just 27 percent of their field goal attempts, the 10th lowest ratio in Division I. That number is especially impressive given the fact that teams don't have any incentive to venture inside the three-point line against the Cardinal because of its 7'0 twins Brook and Robin Lopez. The brothers Lopez are each in the national top 100 in block percentage, and Stanford not coincidentally has allowed a 41.6 percentage from two-point range, sixth lowest in the country. So, despite the fact that shooting from inside the arc against Stanford is such a low-percentage exercise, teams still continue to take 73 percent of their field goal attempts from two-point range because the Cardinal's perimeter defense is so geared to taking away the three-point shot. The Big Red does have a player in 7'0 center Jeff Foote who can match up--at least height-wise--with Stanford's gigantic frontcourt players.
While Stanford is great at shutting down opposing shooters, the Cardinal is the opposite of Cornell in that it is not a good shooting team, with a collective eFG% under 50 (the Big Red ranks eighth in the country with a 56 eFG%). Even Brook Lopez, the Cardinal's best offensive player, has failed to hit 50 percent of his two-pointers. Stanford also takes threes almost exactly as frequently as it allows its opponents to, so if you're a fan of watching games that are nearly devoid of the long ball, or if you're a purist who can't stand the paltry distance between the basket and the arc in the college game, than the Cardinal is your team.
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Matchup: #13 Seed Winthrop (22-11, 10-4 Big South) vs. #4 Washington St. (24-8, 11-7 Pacific 10), 7:20
Rankings: Winthrop, #109 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 8 in Big South); Washington St., #11 (3rd of 10 in Pac 10)
Pomeroy Prediction: Washington St., 58-47 in 56 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 9%
Prospectus: Winthrop ruined the nation's chance of seeing 7'7 Kenny George in action by beating NC Asheville in the Big South Championship game, 66-48, after Asheville had beaten the Eagles twice in the regular season. That win gave Winthrop its fourth straight Big South championship (the Eagles have won the regular season title each of those years, as well, sharing it this year with Asheville). Winthrop also took the Big South tourney four seasons in a row from 1999 to 2002, so the Eagles have built themselves a dynasty. In those seven trips to the NCAA tourney, Winthrop has just one win, which, however, came last year against Notre Dame. The Eagles face a more difficult task in this tournament--last year they went 14-0 in the Big South and got a No. 11 seed, but this year they are a No. 13 after putting up a 10-4 conference record.
The Eagles earned a date with Washington St., and the resulting game has the potential of being the slowest-paced, most defensive struggle in the tournament's first round. It is also a game between two senior-laden squads. Winthrop's top three players by percentage of minutes played are seniors Chris Gaynor, Michael Jenkins, and Taj McCullough, while spots two through four on the Washington St. minutes played list are occupied by seniors Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, and Robbie Cowgill. The Eagles average 63.7 possessions per 40 minutes, 291st fewest in the nation, and the Cougars are at 59.1, 336th out of 341 Division I teams. Washington St. has the 17th rated defense by adjusted efficiency, and Winthrop is the nation's most defense-dependent team in the nation, ranking 229th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 23rd in defensive. Winthrop does it with defensive rebounding--impressive considering it has no one taller than 6'7 senior forward McCullough among its top six in percentage of minutes played--and even more so through thievery. The Eagles generate steals on 13 percent of opponent possessions, the 18th highest rate in the country. Gaynor, the point guard, ranks fifth amongst all D-I players with a rate of 5.5, and also leads the club in assist rate, offensive rating, and eFG%. Gaynor and his mates will have a tough time picking the pockets of Washington St.'s players, however, because the Cougars have turned it over at the 10th lowest rate of any Division I team, and have had it stolen less frequently than all but seven other teams. Washington St. also has the potential to dominate the smaller Eagles down low thanks to the presence of 6'10 forwards Cowgill and Aron Baynes. Baynes, a junior, and arguably the team's best player, has shot 60 percent on his 189 two-point attempts, and has also gotten to the line 123 times.
Matchup: #12 Seed George Mason (23-10, 12-6 Colonial) vs. #5 Notre Dame (24-7, 14-4 Big East), 9:50
Rankings: George Mason, #93 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in CAA); Notre Dame, #27 (7th of 16 in Big East)
Pomeroy Prediction: Notre Dame, 78-68 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 18%
Prospectus: The Patriots, who made a shocking run to the Final Four in 2006 as a No. 11 seed, return to the NCAA tournament to attempt an encore performance after missing out last year. George Mason nearly didn't make it this year either after it dropped four of seven games to close the regular season, but the Patriots pulled it together to win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, taking down William & Mary 68-59 in the final for their first CAA title since 2001. George Mason has several players that were around for the dream tourney performance two years ago, most notably seniors Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas. The 6'7 Thomas is one of the nation's best defensive rebounders, and has shot 63 percent on his 290 two-point field goals. He is also fifth in the nation in offensive rating among players using at least 20 percent of possessions.
Notre Dame is trying to avoid a repeat of last season's early exit from the tournament, when the Fighting Irish lost to No. 11 seed Winthrop. This year's edition has a more mature Luke Harangody, the sophomore forward who has developed into one of the best players in the country and who earned this season's Big East Player of the Year award. Harangody does his work inside, having hit 51 percent of his whopping 449 two-point attempts, and faces a tremendous battle against Thomas in the paint. Despite Harangody's presence, the Irish are actually a far more efficient team from beyond the arc, as they rate fourth nationally in three-point percentage (41). Junior Kyle McAlarney is the leader in this department (97-of-215 from deep) with his classmate Ryan Ayers an able sidekick (51-of-108). George Mason has allowed opponents to shoot 32.8 percent from deep this season, but its defense has been held down by an inability to force turnovers. Notre Dame's opponents have turned it over at an even lower rate than have the Patriots' opponents, but the Fighting Irish still have a better defense, thanks in large part to their excellent ability to keep opponents off the free throw line (22.8 free throw rate allowed, third best in Division I).
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.