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March 16, 2010
Tournament Preview
Duke in the South

by Ken Pomeroy

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South Regional
I canít imagine too many brackets are going to pick a champion that comes from the South. Thereís the obvious issue of tourney favorites Kansas and Kentucky not being here, and Duke generally has a poor public perception due to recent tourney flame-outs. Villanova and Baylor havenít exactly captured the nationís attention this season, and while fourth-seeded Purdue did at one time, the loss of Robbie Hummel would seem to make them a long shot. Though it should be noted that my computer has largely forgot that Hummel existed due to two ugly losses suffered in the last three weeks. Their true chances to play in their home state in April may actually be around six percent, especially considering that Duke is clearly somewhat overrated by my system.

The log5 analysis has Duke as the top choice to escape to Indy with Baylor and Villanova as distant second and third options. The Blue Devils road out of the south has been characterized as easy, so much so that conspiracy theories are flying. They are fortunate to have the weakest of the two seeds in their region, but some of their cushy draw is offset by a second round game against Cal or Louisville which should be a game that is close late. In addition, if Duke advances, they could face Texas A&M and Baylor in the regionals, both of whom would be close to home in Houston. This could have been scripted a little better.

Seed                  Rd2    Sweet16   Elite8   Final4   Final     Champ
  1   Duke            99.1     80.4     64.4     51.2     37.4     24.3
  3   Baylor          88.5     59.1     36.2     13.4      6.6      2.7
  2   Villanova       94.6     62.1     32.4     10.5      4.6      1.6
  4   Purdue          74.4     40.9     11.8      6.3      2.9      1.1
  8   California      63.6     14.3      7.7      4.0      1.8      0.6
  12  Utah St.        51.8     27.1      7.0      3.5      1.4      0.5
  5   Texas A&M       48.2     24.4      6.0      2.9      1.1      0.4
  11  Old Dominion    52.9     21.0      9.6      2.4      0.8      0.2
  6   Notre Dame      47.1     17.5      7.6      1.7      0.5      0.1
  10  St. Mary's      53.0     20.4      7.8      1.7      0.5      0.1
  7   Richmond        47.0     16.9      6.0      1.2      0.3      0.07
  9   Louisville      36.4      5.3      2.1      0.8      0.3      0.06
  13  Siena           25.6      7.6      1.0      0.3      0.07     0.01
  14  Sam Houston St. 11.5      2.4      0.4      0.03     0.004    0.0004
  15  Robert Morris    5.4      0.5      0.03     0.001    0.00005  0.000002
  16  Play in winner   0.9      0.04     0.002    0.00006  0.000002 0.00000004

This is a log5 table. It's explained here.

(16) Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. (16) Winthrop (Dayton: Tonight, 7:30)
Play-in action at UD Arena doesnít get any better than this. If you like free throws, youíll love Pine Bluff. They foul and get fouled like no other team in the country outside the Little Apple. And if you love missed field goal attempts, then Winthrop is your team. Only five teams posted a worse eFG mark than the Eaglesí 41.9 percent. Those five teams went a combined 22-115 against Division I opponents. This will be low-scoring and last two hours and 20 minutes. Enjoy!

(16) Play-in winner vs. (1) Duke (Jacksonville: Friday, 7:25)
I like dreaming up crazy upset scenarios as much as the next guy, but this isnít worth talking about. Letís instead discuss Dukeís absurdly low two-point percentage, which dropped to 46.9 percent after ACC tournament play. (The D-I average is 47.7 percent.) This is Coach Kís worst two-point shooting team at Duke since, well, ever. (My research indicates this is Dukeís worst two-point percentage since the 1974 season.) Why the decline? We can put much of it on Kyle Singlerís change in role. Last season Singler made 48 percent of his twos and this season heís down to 42 percent. A dip like that is almost always attributable to shot selection, and indeed, the conventional front-line Duke plays this season has caused Singler to take more long 2ís. According to data Iíve collected from shot charts at cbssports.com, 36 percent of Singlerís field goal attempts have been mid-range 2ís this season compared to just 22 percent last season.

(15) Robert Morris vs. (2) Villanova (Providence: Thursday, 12:30)
The Wildcats are widely viewed as "struggling" or "fading," to which I respond with: Look at the context. Theyíve lost six of their last ten, but none were disgraceful (although a home loss to UConn wasnít the prettiest thing). While ĎNova may be a seed line too high, I give the committee credit in this respect: If you thought Nova was a one-seed on February 3 when they were sitting at 20-1, then a two-seed on March 14 is reasonable. They performed to expectation over their past ten games based on their level of play over the first 21. The Wildcats shouldnít have trouble with Robert Morris, but how spooky would it be if the Colonials beat a Philly team on a last second shot by starting forward Dallas Green? (Yay, baseball reference.)

(14) Sam Houston State vs. (3) Baylor (New Orleans: Thursday, 2:45)
This is what one might call an airport mismatch. Baylor leads the nation in effective height, while Sam State is the shortest team in the field. That size has helped the Bearsí defense improve on previous seasons, but itís still got some holes. They challenge shots at the rim as well as anyone, but opponents make enough threes, get enough second chances, and take care of the ball well enough to score a bit more regularly than one might think. The Bearkats will have to do all of that to have a chance because their two-point accuracy figures to be south of 40 percent.

(13) Siena vs. (4) Purdue (Spokane: Friday, 2:30)
Boilermaker fans have to hope that a five-game sample without Robbie Hummel is not significant. Hey, it is possible, though I wouldnít count on it. Games against two tourney entrants in Michigan State and Minnesota resulted in a total of 86 points scored by Purdue over 132 possessions (0.65 points per possession). However, games at Penn State and on a neutral floor over Northwestern are a reasonable simulation of facing Siena. And both were Purdue wins, if somewhat uninspiring ones. Despite popular opinion to the contrary, Siena is at least as good if not better than last yearís team that took out Ohio State. The possessions that Kenny Hasbrouck once ended have been used more efficiently by his returning teammates in 2010.

(12) Utah State vs. (5) Texas A&M (Spokane: Friday, 4:45)
On the one hand, A&M got a break by drawing the weakest four-seed in Purdue. On the other hand, they may not live to see that game. This has the potential to be a fabulous low-possession contest. Utah State brings a pass-and-cut offense built on close twos and open threes. A&M brings brute force. They donít necessarily shoot the ball well, but they draw enough whistles to make up for it. Problem: Utah State doesnít commit many fouls. However, those numbers occurred against WAC competition or worse. How will they fare against a burly Big 12 team? Thatís why you need to watch. (Although with this game tipping in the ghost time slot, youíll have to fire up your PC if you donít have DirecTV.) I have the Aggies in a tight one.

(11) Old Dominion vs. (6) Notre Dame (New Orleans: Thursday, 2:45)
This is another virtual toss-up and one I find more appealing than any other match-up in the region because thereís a bit of mystery here regarding who Notre Dame really is. One thing is certain--this will vie for slow game of the tourney. ODU likes to play slow and Notre Dame likes to play very slow. The predictor expects 60 possessions, but given Notre Dameís pace since implementing the burn offense, weíre looking at more like mid-50s. The Monarchs come from the CAA, but they play grown-up basketball, pounding the offensive glass to convert their frequent misses. They led the nation by retrieving 42.4 percent of their misses. They also play great defense. Even if Notre Dame is truly a changed team and worthy of a six-seed, the low possession count and beefy front-line of ODU should make for a close game.

(10) Saint Mary's vs. (7) Richmond (Providence: Thursday, 2:50)
The Spiders' offense is rooted in the Princeton system, but they can score off the dribble more than you might expect. Donít let their big front line fool you, though. True to coach Chris Mooneyís Princeton background, these guys donít rebound at either end. That was the singular weakness preventing Richmond from joining Temple and Xavier at the top the Atlantic 10. This game may have been more appealing to the casual fan if you replaced Saint Maryís with Gonzaga. Well, casual fan, the Gaels are pretty much on Gonzagaís level without all of that extra publicity. Statistical quirk alert: Watch Richmondís turnover total because it figures to be in the single-digits. The Spiders donít commit them and Saint Maryís doesnít force them.

(9) Louisville vs. (8) Cal (Jacksonville: Friday, 9:45)
Itís appropriate that Cal plays in the nightcap on Friday, because while toiling in late-night obscurity, the Bears have been scoring at per-possession rates matched by few over the past month. Cal has made a modest improvement on both sides of the ball over last season (when they were a actually seven-seed) but that means their defense is still a liability, thanks in large part to an opposing two-point percentage above the national average. Louisville has the horses to win here, but this is Rick Pitinoís worst defensive team since at least his second season as coach of the Cardinals (when we started tracking adjusted efficiency). Poor rebounding jumps out as the culprit, but opponents are making their fair share of shots from both sides of the arc as well. There should be a few points scored in this one.

Looking Toward the Second Round
Iíve heard a lot about the weak bubble, but if thatís so, how come thereís little to separate the four through 13 seeds here? If the last at-large in was Utah State and theyíre nearly as good as a five-seed, then I donít see what the big deal is.

The parity in the South leads to so many possible combinations for second round action that I hesitate to single out any one in particular. Villanova has to feel good about a relatively weak second round opponent in Richmond or Saint Maryís. Baylorís performance against the winner of Notre Dame or Old Dominion should tell us whether the Bears are worthy of being the second-most likely option to advance to Indy. Finally, one of the tourneyís best hopes for a double-digit seed to make the second week comes from the Utah State/Siena pair. Either one of those teams would have a relatively high chance to knock off a higher-seeded opponent if only one of them makes it to Sundayís play.

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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