The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 27, 2019

Bracketnomics 2019: Picking The Sweet 16

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 8:32 am

What a Sweet 16 we have!  My experience in watching the NCAA Tournament goes back to the 1964 season as UCLA went 30-0 using a small lineup with no starter over 6 foot 5.  The 16-0 run in 2 1/2 minutes made me a Bruin fan on the spot, especially because one of the catalysts was small,left-handed guard Gail Goodrich; I was also a small, left-handed guard.

On the whole, my memory now includes 56 different NCAA Tournaments.  I had a difficult time finding a Sweet 16 as strong as this one.  I had to go back to the 1970 season to find the equivalent in power teams still in the Dance.  Of course, in 1970,  there were just 25 teams invited to the Tournament, so 18 teams competed in the opening round, while another seven received express bids to the Sweet 16.

Among that talented group of 1970 teams, there were:

  1. UCLA was not supposed to win the 1970 tournament, as Kareem Abdul Jabbar and his fantastic class of 1969 graduated.  Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe, and Henry Bibby gave John Wooden an incredibly talented trio to build around as he went back to his high post offense.

  2. Jacksonville had Artis Gilmore and Rex Morgan as an incredible inside-outside attack.  The Dolphins averaged close to 100 points per game and had a second starter in their lineup, Pembroke Burrows, who was over 7 feet tall.

  3. St. Bonaventure had the best player in college basketball not named Maravich in Bob Lanier.  Lanier led the Bonnies to the top of the Eastern Elite, and SBU made it to the Final Four.  However, Lanier was injured in the East Regional Final and SBU had no chance in the Final Four against Jacksonville.

  4. New Mexico State was in the top 5 all year long with future NBA stars Charlie Criss and Sam Lacey as well as hot shooting Jimmy Collins.  The Aggies were picked by many as capable of beating UCLA in the national semifinals.  Wicks and Rowe put NMSU out of their misery early in the second half.

  5. Kentucky might have had the best team in the nation in 1970 had star guard Mike Casey not have suffered season-ending injuries in a car wreck the summer before.  With Dan Issel, Mike Pratt, Tom Parker, and Larry Steele, the Wildcats might have gone 30-0 had Casey not hurt his leg.

  6. Niagara had the incomparable 5 foot 9 inch Calvin Murphy who was the total package on the hardwoods.  Murphy averaged well over 30 ppg for his career with the Purple Eagles and enjoyed a lengthy pro career.  He once scored 68 points against Syracuse.  He was a lot more than a scorer.  His defensive pressure broke down opposing teams.  He could drive quickly through defenses and pass to open teammates under the basket, and he was the best baton twirler in the college ranks.

  7. Villanova had two future NBA All-Stars in Howard Porter and Chris Ford, as well as Fran O’Hanlon, who played in the ABA.  It was Ford that tripped Lanier in the Eastern Regional Championship Game that doomed St. Bonaventure.

  8. Notre Dame had the best offensive player in the tournament in Austin Carr.  Carr was unstoppable on offense with the way officials called fouls in 1970.  He averaged over 38 points per game, but he made history in this tournament by scoring 61 points in the opening round win over Ohio U.  He hit for more than 50 in the Sweet 16 against Kentucky.

  9. Iowa set the Big Ten record for points per game in 1970, almost averaging 100 points per night.  Among their stars was Downtown Freddie Brown, who would become one of the best 6th men in NBA history.  Before he became known as “Instant Offense” off the Seattle Supersonics’ bench, he was a dynamic starter for the Hawkeyes along with John Johnson, who averaged close to 30 ppg.

14 of the 16 teams in that tournament were what I consider strong teams according to today’s statistical standards, and 14 of this year’s 16 remaining teams fit that same description.

It’s no coincidence that of the 16 teams left, the Bracketnomics correctly picked 14 of the 16.

NOTE: The data that follows may be a little different than the original Bracketnomics’ posting at the beginning of the tournament.  Stats have been altered, especially the Strengths of Schedule (SOS) for some of the teams.

If you get to re-select your brackets at this point, ignore the original predictions and use these updated stats.  The originals predictions are still our “official bracket-picks,” but in this round, there is new and improved analytics.

NOTE 2: Do not confuse the Bracketnomics’ selections with the PiRate Ratings, which may contradict these picks in a couple of games.  The PiRate Ratings are strictly mechanical with no objective reasoning applied.  Bracketnomics are more subjective based on back-tested data usable only in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Team

SOS

TS Marg

OReb%

DReb%

TOV%

DTOV%

R+T

Gonzaga

56.14

17.6

31.1

73.2

12.8

16.5

15.1

Florida St.

59.85

3.7

33.0

73.5

16.2

18.0

9.1

After two rounds in this tournament, Gonzaga still owns the best criteria in the field, and nothing has changed in our beliefs that they have the best chance to run the table.  The Bulldogs only potential weakness is schedule strength, but at 56%+, it is more than adequate for a national champion.  The True Shooting % Margin combined with the R+T make The Zags the much better team here.  Florida State relies on offensive rebounding and forcing turnovers, but Gonzaga is not the team that the Seminoles can exploit enough times to come up with the win.  Gonzaga gets revenge for last year’s Sweet 16.

Prediction:  Gonzaga by 10-15 points

 

Team

SOS

TS Marg

OReb%

DReb%

TOV%

DTOV%

R+T

Tennessee

59.50

5.3

31.1

70.5

13.9

15.8

5.5

Purdue

60.82

3.5

34.3

74.0

13.6

16.9

11.6

Purdue hasn’t been in the Elite 8 since 2000, and they have not made it to the Final Four since 1980.  The Boilermakers have historically been unable to get scoring spurts in the Gene Keady-Matt Painter years.  They played excellent half-court offense and defense defense, but their style did not allow them to be overpowering on the boards or to gamble for steals on defense.  Like Money Ball does not work in the Major League Playoffs, possession basketball doesn’t work well in the Big Dance.  Teams need to have that spurtability, which is what the R+T rating shows, and Purdue has rarely had a great R+T rating.  That was the past; this Boilermaker squad has a very good R+T rating, and it comes from both an excellent rebounding strength combined with an adequate ability to force turnovers and not cough the ball up enough times to matter.

Tennessee is more like the old Purdue teams.  The Volunteers have excellent half-court presence on both sides of the ball, but they cannot dominate on the glass, and they do not force enough turnovers.  In this game, I look for Purdue to get numerous second chance scoring opportunities, and eventually, the Boilermakers will go for the kill shot with a scoring run that gives them the victory.

Prediction: Purdue by 6 to 11 points

 

Team

SOS

TS Marg

OReb%

DReb%

TOV%

DTOV%

R+T

Michigan

59.87

8.8

24.0

75.6

12.1

15.9

4.0

Texas Tech

58.42

10.1

28.1

71.7

16.1

20.0

4.4

 

This has the chance to be a classic game that will generate headlines for a long time.  This is the closest thing to a 50-50 tossup there can be.  If you had to choose one game to go to triple overtime, this is the one I’d pick (I just gave it the kiss of death and it will be a blowout now).

With Michigan’s 1 1/2 point SOS advantage, it basically makes all the criteria dead even.  Two teams with excellent defensive efficiency should lead to the game being decided on rebounding and turnovers.  The Red Raiders are better on the offensive glass, but the Wolverines are better on the defensive glass.  Texas Tech is considerably better forcing turnovers, but Michigan is considerably better holding onto the ball.  The R+T is dead even.  The only tiny little stat where there is a difference is TS% Margin, where even with the better SOS, Michigan comes up just a tad short, but not enough to matter more than one point on the scoreboard.

I have to go to extracurricular statistics here to select a winner in this game.  Texas Tech has been more consistent with their production, while Michigan’s standard deviation of statistics has been greater.  The Wolverines have been up for five consecutive games, while Texas Tech has been on an even keel since January.  Michigan has experience from making it to the Championship Game last year, while Texas Tech made it to the Elite 8 last year, so once again this washes.  Michigan is 7-3 against ranked teams this year.  TTU is 3-2.  Maybe, this is the only stat I can use to pick a winner, and it is still a total guess.  I’ll have my eyes glued to this game.

Prediction: Michigan by 1 to 5 points, possibly in overtime

 

Team

SOS

TS Marg

OReb%

DReb%

TOV%

DTOV%

R+T

Virginia

59.95

12.9

29.9

74.8

13.0

15.7

10.4

Oregon

55.83

4.5

29.4

71.7

15.4

18.3

4.3

Oregon coach Dana Altman deserves a ton of credit.  If you don’t think losing a 5-star McDonald’s All-American freshman phenom when you have another one on the roster  hurts, look at what happened to Bryce Drew at Vanderbilt.  Drew lost Darius Garland early in the year but still had another 5-star freshman phenom in Simi Shittu.  Vanderbilt lost their final 20 games in a row, and Drew was dismissed.  Altman lost superstar Bol Bol early in the year, and the Ducks were counted out.  Altman rallied Oregon and won the Pac-12 Tournament.  Then, they knocked out mid-major darling UC-Irvine to make it back to the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years.

Virginia survived a scare against Gardner-Webb, but the Cavaliers righted the ship and stormed back to win by 15, and then the Cavs ousted Oklahoma much more easily in the Round of 32.  On the surface, some may believe that UVA is strictly a half-court possession wonder, the type that usually disappoints in the Big Dance.  This is not so.  The Cavaliers have a double-digit R+T rating, which makes them capable of benefiting from scoring spurts, like they did in 2016, when they made it to the Elite 8 and watched a second half double-digit lead against Syracuse turn into a loss when the Orangemen went on a huge scoring run.

This game looks like the most lopsided in this round.  Virginia has the advantage across the board, and Oregon has not beaten a team this good all year.  The Ducks only played one ranked team in the regular season.  Think of Bol Bol as twice the player Tacko Fall is for Central Florida.  That’s why  Oregon should be happy they made the Sweet 16.

Prediction: Virginia by 12-17 points

 

Team

SOS

TS Marg

OReb%

DReb%

TOV%

DTOV%

R+T

Michigan St.

61.11

14.0

33.8

74.1

16.4

12.7

12.3

LSU

58.71

3.4

36.5

69.8

15.2

17.6

9.4

The fact that four SEC teams made the Sweet 16, and LSU won the conference championship shows that the Tigers are good enough to keep playing into April, even with acting coach Tony Benford taking over for Will Wade.

On the other side, Michigan State is almost perfect when you look at the resume of a Final Four team.  The Spartans do not force turnovers like most Final Four teams in the past, and they are vulnerable to a team that can pressure them into turnovers.

LSU has the personnel to force MSU out of their normal offense and negate any potential rebounding advantage Sparty has.  This game still looks favorable to Michigan State due to a great difference in True Shooting Percentage Margin.  LSU might not get enough open looks and second chance points to match the inside scoring of Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman combined with the three-point shooting of Cassius Winston.

Prediction: Michigan State by 4 to 9 points

 

Team

SOS

TS Marg

OReb%

DReb%

TOV%

DTOV%

R+T

North Carolina

62.05

5.4

34.8

77.7

14.6

16.5

18.9

Auburn

59.91

1.9

32.2

67.8

14.6

21.8

2.7

 

This game should be played at a tempo of 75 possessions per team.  Auburn was the best up-tempo team in the SEC this year, but North Carolina was the best up-tempo team in the ACC.

Can Auburn force North Carolina, namely point guard Coby White to make enough mistakes to keep this game close?  White has been prone to force the issue a bit at times, but in the games against the best pressure man-to-man teams, he did not make enough mistakes to cost Carolina the win, and in several games, his deft handling of the ball was the reason the Tar Heels won.

North Carolina remains the second best team in the tournament according to Bracketnomics, and this game has the potential to get out of hand.  The Tar Heels have a huge advantage on the offensive glass, and this should be the deciding factor.  UNC will score on several consecutive possessions at some point in this game and take a commanding lead that forces Auburn to panic on offense and commit some mistakes of their own.

Prediction: North Carolina by 10-15 points

Team

SOS

TS Marg

OReb%

DReb%

TOV%

DTOV%

R+T

Duke

62.61

9.8

35.5

71.0

14.7

17.0

12.1

Virginia Tech

58.20

8.5

29.0

72.9

15.3

19.1

6.1

 

Virginia Tech’s home court advantage in a game with Duke was three points and change, but let’s round it back to 3.  They beat Duke in Blacksburg by five points.  Duke didn’t have Zion Williamson.  Is Zion worth three points more for Duke than his backup?  Of course, he is; he’s worth a lot more than three extra points in Duke’s overall production.

Duke has an exploitable liability, and Central Florida exposed it.  Buzz Williams will do everything to try to force the Blue Devils to beat his squad by not being weak in their perimeter shooting.  UCF had two big guys inside that could force Duke to shoot from the perimeter.  Virginia Tech has one big guy, Kerry Blackshear, who probably cannot stop the Duke inside game.

In my opinion, there are a couple teams that can force Duke to have a better than average perimeter shooting night to beat them, but Virginia Tech is not one of them.

Prediction: Duke by 8 to 13 points

Team

SOS

TS Marg

OReb%

DReb%

TOV%

DTOV%

R+T

Kentucky

60.44

9.8

36.6

74.7

15.8

16.0

16.2

Houston

55.45

8.3

34.2

74.8

14.0

15.8

14.6

This game could be very interesting in a different way than the Michigan and Texas Tech game.  You get contrasting styles in this contest, and there are many variables, some of which favor the underdog Cougars in this cat fight.

There is a giant variable here, one that is enough to take this game from a relatively safe victory for Kentucky to a toss-up.  Star forward P.J. Washington might play in this game, and he might not be healthy enough.  Even if he plays, he cannot possibly be all that effective.  What bothers me is that he went from a protective boot to a cast, which means the injury was worse than first thought.  He’s going to one of the top foot specialists in the nation, and I think the goal here is to make sure Washington is ready for the NBA Draft.

If Washington does not play in this game, it becomes one where Houston has a 40-45% chance of winning.  If Washington plays sparingly, Kentucky’s chances increase by another 5-10%.  If miraculously Washington can play near full strength for 25 minutes, then the Big Blue win this game going away.

I will select this game based on the assumption that Washington will play but at much less than full strength.  Reid Travis is ready to have a big game for Kentucky now that he is basically 100% at full strength following his injury, and I look for John Calipari to direct his team to play intelligently and take advantage of their muscle advantage.

Prediction: Kentucky but 5-10 points

 

 

 

 

 

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