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Tuesday Truths (03/08)

March 8, 2010
This Week at the Garden
Can Syracuse Bounce Back?

by Ken Pomeroy


Big East: March 9-13, all games in NYC

Seed                Rd1     Qtrs    Semis    Final    Champ
  3  West Virginia  100      100     75.1     52.9     29.1
  1  Syracuse       100      100     69.7     46.0     28.9
  4  Villanova      100      100     59.8     25.4     12.8
  2  Pittsburgh     100      100     64.1     25.4      9.8
  8  Georgetown     100      80.9    27.9     14.1      6.8
  5  Marquette      100      66.7    30.1     11.4      5.2
  6  Louisville     100      73.0    21.0     10.4      3.5
  7  Notre Dame     100      61.4    24.2      7.4      2.2
  12 UConn          66.0     25.2     8.5      2.3      0.8
  10 Seton Hall     63.6     27.6     9.2      2.3      0.6
  11 Cincinnati     78.1     24.6     3.8      1.2      0.2
  9  South Florida  78.6     17.6     2.3      0.5      0.1
  13 St. John's     34.0      8.2     1.7      0.3      0.06
  15 Providence     36.4     11.1     2.5      0.4      0.06  
  14 Rutgers        21.9      2.5     0.1      0.01     0.0009
  16 DePaul         21.4      1.6     0.06     0.005    0.0003

This is a log5 table, and it's explained here.

When the Big East altered its tournament to include all 16 teams last season, it was hailed as a victory for inclusion. I liked the change as well, but not for the same reason. DePaul, with a one-in-a-quarter-million chance, is not going to win the Big East tournament, even though they have indeed been included. The benefit of the 16-team field and the Big East tournament's structure is that it gives more incentive to finish in the top eight. Of the bottom eight teams, UConn stands the best chance of winning the event, but with only a 1-in-100 chance of doing so. And that doesn't factor in the effects of five consecutive days of basketball.

The theme for the Big East this season has been offense. The conference is loaded with teams that can score but not defend so well. This has led to many games being played in the 80's and a few in the 90's. (If points are your thing, check out Seton Hall and Providence in a first-round game on Tuesday night.) And I think this explains why there's such a disparity between the public opinion of the conference and the computerized analysis of it. The Big East has teams that can score, while the ACC has teams that prevent scores. The public prefers points over a lack of them, and thus the Big East is viewed as the significantly better conference.

As for the tournament itself, Syracuse and West Virginia are roughly co-favorites. While Syracuse's offense may not be viewed as spectacular, keep in mind two things: First, in a conference with a many great offenses, it's easy for the Orange to get lost. Second, they've only been held below a point per possession four times this season.

For those that think the Orange has some sort of mental or match-up block against beating Louisville, the Cards are tucked safely away in the opposite half of the bracket. However, the Orange face the unpleasant task of dealing with Georgetown in their opening game. Outside of Villanova and West Virginia, there may not be a more difficult opponent in the league than the Hoyas, especially if Austin Freeman's health is no longer an issue.

The most likely challenger to Syracuse is West Virginia, a team that themselves have been held below a point per possession just twice, barely so in a game at Purdue and (oddly) by Villanova in the regular-season finale. The Mountaineers can be schizophrenic and may not look the part of a Final Four contender, but most of that behavior resides on the defensive side where they have put in some awful performances mixed in with some very good ones.

Villanova is the third choice and another team with a great offense. However, they own a worse defense than the top two teams. While this limits the Wildcats' chances for NCAA tournament advancement, it doesn't mean they can't get to Indianapolis. In 2003 Marquette had an even worse defense and managed to get to the Final Four. And it's not necessary that Villanova even improve its defense. The goal is to outscore your opponent. It is possible that if 'Nova ends up in the Final Four it will be because their offense improved and was better able to cover up the weakness of preventing scores.

The rest of the bracket is full of potential spoilers. Pitt, Marquette, and Georgetown are all threats to win multiple games. However, the most interesting story outside the big three is Notre Dame. Four games is not a large sample, but it's large enough to start wondering just how valuable Luke Harangody is to the Irish. In those last four games without Harangody or with him getting limited minutes, the Irish have allowed 227 points in 231 possessions against elite teams. (To be fair, the last six games have been played without Luke in the starting lineup and the first two of those did not produce good defensive numbers.)

For a team that has been the model of an all-offense/no-defense squad under Mike Brey, that's quite a turn of events. When Harangody arrived as a freshman, I quickly urged Brey to play him more. At the end of his senior year, I find myself wondering if Carleton Scott is the guy that makes Notre Dame a more complete team.

The log5 table at the top of this article was corrected on Monday night, March 8.

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

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