The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 25, 2009

A PiRate Look At The 2009 NCAA Tournament: The Sweet 16

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament

The Sweet 16

 March 26-27, 2009

 

As the Sweet 16 prepares to begin play tomorrow night, our PiRate Formula for picking teams that display the necessary statistics similar to the historical Final Four participants and National Champions are once again proving to be quite accurate.  We consider it the SABRmetrics of college basketball.

 

We originally told you about our list of the 12 Super Teams in this tournament.  We apologize for our not being able to count.  We only listed 11 teams.  Of those 11 teams, eight advanced to the Sweet 16.  One of the three teams, UCLA, lost to Villanova.  Villanova just barely missed out on qualifying for the Super Team list, and they basically got to host their first two games at the Spectrum.  Only Wake Forest and West Virginia’s losses can really be listed as misses.

 

On Sunday, our picks ran the table, going 8-0.  Combined with Saturday’s games, our second round success rate was 14-2.  For the tournament to date, we are now 38-10.

 

Without further adieu, here are the eight games for the third round.  The criteria scores and Strengths of Schedule have been updated to reflect the two games in the tournament.

 

(numbers in parentheses are PiRate Criteria scores)

[number in brackets is Strength of Schedule advantage]

 

East Region @ Boston

 

Pittsburgh (14) vs. Xavier (10) [Pitt 3]

Game Time: Thursday, 7:27 PM EDT

This is an interesting match if only because Xavier coach Sean Miller was once a starter on a great Pitt team. 

 

The way to beat Pitt is to force them to commit turnovers and play transition defense.  The Musketeers are more like Pitt than like the type of team needed to beat the Panthers.  Xavier cannot match up inside with the more muscular Pitt inside, and the Panthers will advance to the Elite 8.  Xavier’s only chance is to take 30 three-point shots and hit 40%.

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 74 Xavier 64

 

Villanova (9) vs. Duke (14) [Duke 4]

Game Time: Thursday, approximately 9:42 PM EDT

Villanova missed out on being rated at 13 by just a hair.  This game is being touted as one in which the 3-seed Wildcats should be favored over the 2-seed Blue Devils. 

 

This game provides an excellent study in contrast.  VU has a great deal of talent inside with a surprising outside presence.  Duke has a great deal of talent on the perimeter with a surprising inside presence.

 

This should be a close game throughout the first half and a good deal of the second half.  Then, we believe the Duke defense will begin to force Villanova into mistakes and take advantage of those errors.  It should lead to a nice Blue Devil run in the last 10 minutes to move Coach K to the Elite 8.

 

Prediction: Duke 77 Villanova 70

 

South Region @ Memphis

 

Syracuse (4) vs. Oklahoma (9) [Syracuse 2]

Game Time: Friday, 7:27 PM EDT

This is the only Sweet 16 game in which neither team owns a double digit criteria score.  What it means to us is that the winner of this game will lose in the Elite 8 game Sunday.

 

This one should be a tight contest.  Syracuse’s zone defense should reduce the number of looks for Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin.  The Sooners have an ample trio of outside shooters, and they will have to step it up a notch to beat the Orangemen.  If Tony Crocker, Willie Warren, and Austin Johnson are hot, the Sooners will continue to play on Sunday.

 

Syracuse will have to pack in their zone to keep Griffin from killing them inside.  They will score points on offense, but they may give up points just even quicker if they cannot cover the perimeter when the ball is kicked out from the posts.

 

Prediction: Oklahoma 82 Syracuse 75

 

 

North Carolina (17) vs. Gonzaga (17) [N. Carolina 5]

Game Time: Friday, approximately 9:42 PM EDT

Gonzaga shares the second best PiRate criteria score with their opponent, but the Bulldogs compiled their stats against an inferior schedule.  Even though they played some big time teams, including Memphis and Connecticut, they played too many teams well beneath the average. 

 

North Carolina will not be able to just walk all over the Zags.  We expect GU to stay within striking distance for at least 30-32 minutes, and we wouldn’t be shocked if they led at any point of that time.

 

The Tar Heels will supposedly have Ty Lawson near 100% ready for this game.  Their bench is much more potent than Gonzaga’s, and we think they will eventually wear down the Bulldogs.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 85 Gonzaga 74

 

Midwest Region @ Indianapolis

 

Louisville (10) vs. Arizona (-2) [Louisville 2]

Game Time: Friday, 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona is the one team in the Sweet 16 that we feel doesn’t have the talent of the other 15 teams.  We didn’t think the Wildcats would make it this far, and we honestly felt that Penn State deserved to be here in their place.

 

The players heard for days that they didn’t deserve to be in the Dance, and that motivated them to play great ball last weekend.  We think this weekend will be different.

 

Louisville has not played like a number one seed of the entire tournament.  They got a virtual bye in the first round against Morehead State, and they could have easily lost to Siena in round two.  The Cardinals might stumble through for a third time and win only because their opponent is the weakest of the Sweet 16 teams.  It may be UL’s last win of the season if they don’t play more consistently.

 

Prediction: Louisville 69 Arizona 64

 

Kansas (10) vs. Michigan State (7) [Mich. St. 1]

Game Time: Approximately 9:22 PM EDT

This game should be a rugged, jaw-to-jaw contest of teams that like to bang it.  Both teams control the boards in their games, and it will be interesting to see if either can dominate the other.  We’ll call it a standoff in this stat.

 

Both teams’ weakness is their ability to take advantage of turnover margin.  If either team were playing somebody like Missouri this week, we would feel inclined to pick them to lose.  Since neither team will be able to force a bunch of mistakes and capitalize with a great fast break, we will call this a standoff as well.

 

We think the game will be decided by KU’s defense.  The Jayhawks will force MSU to shoot a lower percentage of shots and not receive their usual amount of offensive rebounds to hold the Spartans well below their points per game average.  We’re not sure MSU can do the same to the Jayhawks, so we’re picking the defending champions to return to the Elite 8.

 

Prediction: Kansas 72 Michigan State 67

 

West Region @ Glendale, AZ

 

Connecticut (14) vs. Purdue (6) [Even Strength]

Game Time: Thursday, 7:07 PM EDT

This looks like a potential mismatch, but some late developments may have the UConn players not ready mentally for this game.  A report by Yahoo Sports that the Huskies broke several NCAA rules when it recruited a former player may make it difficult for the players to properly prepare for this game.

 

Purdue doesn’t have the tools needed to beat Connecticut.  It takes a team with solid strength in the paint, and the Boilermakers don’t have the inside firepower.  Only a poorly played game by the top seed would make this one close.

 

We think the Huskies will start out a little bit off their game, but after a couple of TV timeouts, they should settle down and start playing well.  As long as Hasheem Thabeet stays out of foul trouble and plays about 25 minutes in this game, UConn should win by double digits.

 

Prediction: Connecticut 73 Purdue 60

 

Missouri (12) vs. Memphis (19) [Even Strength]

Game Time: Thursday, Approximately 9:22 PM EDT

This is the can’t miss game of the Sweet 16.  Both teams are strong in every aspect of the game.  Nary of foot of the court will be free parking for either team.  It will be a fast-paced game with the players on both teams trying to show up their opponents.

 

Yes, we picked Memphis to make it to the Championship Game and win it all, but we are not so sure they are the true favorite in this game.  Missouri won’t be intimidated, and if the Memphians come out flat like they did in the first round, Mizzou’s fast break game will quickly run out to a double-digit game.

 

All in all, we think Memphis will be pumped to play the Big 12 Tournament Champions.  This is a border war game, and neither team should be flat.  We’re going with Memphis only because we picked them to win the title.  In reality, we think this is a 50-50 contest.

 

Prediction: Memphis 77 Missouri 75

 

Come back Friday for a look at Saturday’s games and Saturday for a look at Sunday’s games.

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