The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 17, 2013

Bracketnomics 2013–A statistical look at bracket selection

Bracketnomics 505—2013 Edition

The best way to describe our PiRate Ratings NCAA Tournament Bracket-Picking formula is to call it the Past Performances of the teams.  If you are familiar with the Daily Racing Form or other thoroughbred horse racing publications, you probably know how to read the PPS of the horses in each race.

Think of the criteria in this tutorial as the equivalent of those past performances.  The R+T rating is akin to the Beyer Speed Figure Rating.  If a team has a negative R+T rating, they are like a horse with a 60 Speed Fig in a race where the other horses all have multiple 100+ Figs.

Here is a general explanation of our past performance criteria.  Don’t worry about compiling all these statistics yourself.  All you need to do is check back with the PiRate Ratings Tuesday morning for an in-depth look at the Field of 68.

 1. Scoring Margin

For general bracket picking, look for teams that outscored their opponents by an average of 8 or more points per game.  Over 85% of the Final Four teams since the 1950’s outscored their opponents by an average of 8 or more points per game. 

Make a separate list of teams that outscored their opponents by an average of 10 or more points per game and a third list of teams that outscored opponents by an average of 15 or more points per game.  More than 80% of the final four teams in the last 50 years outscored their opponents by double digit points per game.  When you find a team with an average scoring margin in excess of 15 points per game, and said team is in one of the six power conferences, then you have a team that will advance deep into the tournament.

This is an obvious statistic here.  If team A outscores opponents by an average of 85-70 and their team B opponent outscores similar opposition by an average of 75-70, team A figures to be better than team B before you look at any other statistics. 

In the days of the 64-68-team field, this statistic has become even more valuable.  It’s very difficult and close to impossible for a team accustomed to winning games by one to seven points to win four times in a row, much less six consecutive games. 

This statistic gives the same significance and weighting to a team that outscores its opposition 100-90 as it does to a team that outscores its opposition 60-50.

2. Field Goal Percentage Differential

Take each team’s field goal percentage minus their defensive field goal percentage to calculate this statistic.  Look for teams that have a +7.5% or better showing.  50% to 42% is no better or no worse than 45% to 37%.  A difference of 7.5% or better is all that matters.  Teams that have a large field goal percentage margin are consistently good teams.  Sure, a team can win a game with a negative field goal percentage difference, but in the Big Dance, they certainly are not going to win six games, and they have no real chance to win four games. Two games are about the maximum for these teams. 

This statistic holds strong in back-tests of 50 years.  Even when teams won the tournament with less than 7.5% field goal percentage margins, for the most part, these teams just barely missed (usually in the 5.5 to 7.5% range).  In the years of the 64-68-team tournament, this stat has become a more accurate predictor.  In the 21st Century, the teams with field goal percentage margins in the double digits have dominated the field.  For example, if you see a team that shoots better than 48% and allows 38% or less, that team is going to be very hard to beat in large arenas with weird sight lines.

3. Rebound Margin

This statistic holds up all the way back to the early days of basketball, in fact as far back to the days when rebounds were first recorded.  The teams that consistently control the boards are the ones that advance past the first week in the tournament.  What we’re looking for here are teams that out-rebound their opposition by five or more per game.  In the opening two rounds, a difference of three or more is just as important.

The reason this statistic becomes even more important in mid-March is that teams do not always shoot as well in the NCAA Tournament for a variety of reasons (better defense, abnormal sight lines and unfamiliar gymnasiums, nerves, new rims and nets, more physical play with the refs allowing it, etc.).  The teams that can consistently get offensive put-backs are the teams that go on scoring runs in these games.  The teams that prevent the opposition from getting offensive rebounds, holding them to one shot per possession, have a huge advantage.  Again, there will be some teams that advance that were beaten on the boards, but as the number of teams drop from 64 to 32 to 16 to eight, it is rare for one of these teams to continue to advance.  West Virginia in 2005 made it to the Elite Eight without being able to rebound, but not many other teams have been able to do so.  There have been years where all four Final Four participants were in the top 20 in rebounding margin, and there have been many years where the champion was in the top 5 in rebounding margin.

4. Turnover Margin & Steals Per Game

Turnover margin can give a weaker rebounding team a chance to advance.  Any positive turnover margin is good here.  If a team cannot meet the rebounding margin listed above, they can get by if they have an excellent turnover margin.  Not all turnover margins are the same though.  A team that forces a high number of turnovers by way of steals is better than a team that forces the same amount of turnovers without steals.  A steal is better than a defensive rebound, because most of the time, a steal leads to a fast-break basket or foul.  When a team steals the ball, they are already facing their basket, and the defense must turn around and chase.  Many steals occur on the perimeter where the ball-hawking team has a numbers advantage.  So, this system counts a steal as being worth 1.33 rebounds.

The criteria to look for here is a positive turnover margin if the team out-rebounds its opposition by three or more; a turnover margin of three or better if the team out-rebounds its opposition by less than three; and a turnover margin of five or more if the team does not out-rebound its opponents.  Give more weight to teams that average 7.5 or more steals per game, and give much more weight to teams that average double figure steals per game.  A team that averages more than 10 steals per game will get a lot of fast-break baskets and foul shots.  In NCAA Tournament play, one quick spurt can be like a three-run homer in the World Series, and teams that either steal the ball or control the boards are the ones who will get that spurt.

5. The All-Important R+T Margin: Consider this the basketball equivalent of baseball’s OPS (On Base % + Slugging %) or even better, the “Moneyball Formula.”  The formula has undergone a couple of changes in recent years, including this season, and we think it will be slightly adjusted in the future based on changes in how the game is played.

The current R+T Formula for 2013 is: (R * 1.5) + (6.0 – S) + (0.2 * S) + (1.8 * T), where R is rebounding margin, S is average steals per game, and T is turnover margin.  The numbers are all rounded to one digit.

 

Look for teams with R+T ratings at 10 or above.  These are the teams that will get several additional opportunities to score points and go on scoring runs that put opponents away.

When this stat is 5 to 9, you have a team that can overcome a few other liabilities to win. 

When this stat is 3 to 5, you have a team good enough to win early and get to the Sweet 16 but not advance past that round, unless said team has a large field goal percentage difference margin. 

When this stat is 0 to 3, you have a team that better enjoy a large field goal margin advantage, or they will be one and done or two and out.

When this stat is negative, you have a team that will be eliminated quickly, even if they are playing a lower seed.  We have isolated many early round upsets due to this statistic, and we have eliminated many teams expected to perform well that bombed in the opening round.

A few years ago, Georgetown had a negative R+T rating but was a prohibitive favorite against Ohio U.  The Bobcats had a positive R+T rating and decent numbers in the other PiRate factors.  We called for Ohio to upset Georgetown in the first round, and Ohio won by double digits.

6. Power Conference Plus Schedule Strength

Up to this point you might have been thinking that it is much easier for Albany or Northwestern State to own these gaudy statistics than it is for Louisville or Ohio State.  And, of course, that is correct.  We have to adjust this procedure so that teams that play tougher schedules get rewarded and teams that play softer schedules get punished.  Here is how we do it.  Look at the Strength of schedule for every team in the Field.  You can find SOS on many websites, such as the RPI at CBS Sports.  Take the decimal difference for each team in the Field and multiply that by 100.  For example, if Team A’s SOS is .6044 and Team B’s is .5777, the difference times 100 is 2.67.  So, Team A’s schedule was 2.67 points (or round it to 3) per game tougher than Team B’s.  Use this in head-to-head contests for every game in your bracket.

7. Won-Loss percentage Away From Home Floor

This should be obvious.  Except in the rarest of instances, all NCAA Tournament games are played on neutral courts.  Some teams play like titans on their home floor but become pansies when playing away from home.  It is one thing to accumulate great statistics by scheduling 19 home games, three neutral site games, and eight away games and then going 18-1 at home, 1-2 on the neutral site, and 3-5 on the road to finish 22-8.  However, we need to locate the teams that continue to dominate away from home.  Combine the road and neutral games played and look at that percentage.  When you find a team with a 75% or better win percentage away from home, this team is a legitimate contender in the Big Dance.  When this number tops 85%, you have a tough team capable of winning four consecutive games and advancing to the Final Four.

These are the seven basic PiRate criteria.  You might be shocked to see that there are some key statistics that are not included.  Let’s look at some of these stats not to rely upon.

1. Assists and Assists to Turnover Ratio

While assists can reveal an excellent passing team (and we love great passing teams), they also can hide a problem.  Let’s say a team gets 28 field goals and has 21 assists.  That may very well indicate this team can pass better than most others. However, it may also mean two other things.  First, this team may not have players who can create their own offense and must get by on exceptional passing.  That may not work against the best defensive teams in the nation (like the type that get into the Dance).  Second, and even more importantly, it may indicate that this team cannot get offensive put-backs.  As explained earlier, the offensive rebound is about as important as any stat can be.  So, consider this stat only if you must decide on a toss-up after looking at the big seven stats.

2. Free Throw Shooting

Of course, free throw shooting in the clutch decides many ball games.  However, history shows a long line of teams making it deep into the tournament with poor free throw shooting percentages, and teams that overly rely on free throws may find it tough getting to the line with the liberalized officiating in the tournament.

Let’s say a team shoots a paltry 60% at the foul line while their opponent hits a great 75% of their foul shots.  Let’s say each team gets to the foul line 15 times in the game, with five of those chances being 1&1, three being one shot after made baskets, and seven being two shot fouls.  For the 60% shooting team, they can be expected to hit 3 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 1.8 of the 3 bonus shots; they can be expected to hit 1.8 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to hit 8.4 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 15 out of 25.  The 75% shooting team can be expected to connect on 3.75 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 2.8 of 3.75 on the bonus shot; they can be expected to hit 2.3 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to connect on 10.5 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 19.35 out of 25.75. 

A team with one of the top FT% only scores 4.35 more points at the foul line than a team with one of the worst.  That is not a lot of points to make up, and when you consider that this is about the maximum possible difference, this stat is not all that important.  Also consider that teams that shoot 60% of their foul shots and make the NCAA Tournament are almost always the teams that have the top R+T ratings, which is vitally important after the Ides of March. 

Teams that make the NCAA Tournament with gaudy free throw percentages frequently get there by winning close games at the line.  In the NCAA Tournament, fouls just don’t get called as frequently as in the regular season.  The referees let the teams play.  So, looking at superior free throw percentage can almost lead you down the wrong path. 

Ponder this:  The 1973 UCLA Bruins are considered to be the best college basketball team ever.  That team connected on just 63% of its free throws.  They had a rebounding margin of 15.2, and they forced many turnovers via steals thanks to their vaunted 2-2-1 zone press.  In the great UCLA dynasty from 1964 through 1973 when the Bruins won nine titles in 10 years, they never once connected on 70% of their free throws and averaged just 66% during that stretch.

3. 3-point shooting

You have to look at this statistic two different ways and consider that it is already part of field goal percentage and defensive field goal percentage.  Contrary to popular belief, you do not count the difference in made three-pointers and multiply by three to see the difference in points scored.  If Team A hits eight treys, while their Team B opponents hit three, that is not a difference of 15 points; it’s a difference of five points.  Consider made three-pointers as one extra point because they are already figured as made field goals.  A team with 26 made field goals and eight treys has only one more point than a team with 26 made field goals and seven treys.

The only time to give three-point shots any weight in this criteria is when you are looking at a toss-up game, and when you do look at this stat, look for the team that does not rely on them to win, but instead uses a credible percentage that prevents defenses from sagging into the 10-12-foot area around the basket.  If a team cannot throw it in the ocean from behind the arc, defenses can sag inside and take away the inside game.  It doesn’t play much of a role in the NCAA Tournament.  A team that must hit 10 threes per game in order to win is not going to be around after the first weekend.

4. One Big Star or Two Really Good Players

Teams that get to the Dance by riding one big star or a majority of scoring from two players are not solid enough to advance very far.  Now, this does not apply to a team with one big star and four really good players.  I’m referring to a team with one big star and four lemons or two big scorers with three guys who are allergic to the ball.  Many times a team may have one big scorer or two guys who score 85% of the points, but the other three starters are capable of scoring 20 points if they are called on to do so.  If you have a team with five double figure scorers, they will be harder to defend and will be more consistent on the attack side.  It is hard for all five players to slump at once.

We hope this primer will help you when you fill out your brackets this year. 

 

Putting It All Together

If you know us here at the PiRate Ratings, we are all about putting stats into a mathematical formula to try to pick winners.  That is what we have done for the last decade, and we have isolated the top teams in the tournament more than half the time.  In the last 12 years, our top-rated team has won the championship seven times,  our second highest-rated team won the title three times, and our third-highest rated team won it once.  The only miss was with Connecticut in 2011.

 

Check back at this site Monday night, March 18, after 10 PM Eastern Daylight Time, and we will have our ratings for all 68 teams in the Dance.

 

Enjoy!

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March 10, 2012

Bracketnomics 505–2012 Edition

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — piratings @ 3:35 pm

Bracketnomics 505—2012 Edition

The best way to describe our PiRate Ratings NCAA Tournament Bracket-Picking formula is to call it the Past Performances of the teams.  If you are familiar with the Daily Racing Form or other thoroughbred horse racing publications, you probably know how to read the PPS of the horses in each race.

Think of the criteria in this tutorial as the equivalent of those past performances.  The R+T rating is akin to the Beyer Speed Figure Rating.  If a team has a negative R+T rating, they are like a horse with a 60 Speed Fig in a race where the other horses all have multiple 100+ Figs.

Here is a general explanation of our past performance criteria.  Don’t worry about compiling all these statistics yourself.  All you need to do is check back with the PiRate Ratings Tuesday morning for an in-depth look at the Field of 68.

 1. Scoring Margin

For general bracket picking, look for teams that outscored their opponents by an average of 8 or more points per game.  Over 85% of the Final Four teams since the 1950’s outscored their opponents by an average of 8 or more points per game. 

Make a separate list of teams that outscored their opponents by an average of 10 or more points per game and a third list of teams that outscored opponents by an average of 15 or more points per game.  More than 80% of the final four teams in the last 50 years outscored their opponents by double digit points per game.  When you find a team with an average scoring margin in excess of 15 points per game, and said team is in one of the six power conferences, then you have a team that will advance deep into the tournament.

This is an obvious statistic here.  If team A outscores opponents by an average of 85-70 and their team B opponent outscores similar opposition by an average of 75-70, team A figures to be better than team B before you look at any other statistics. 

In the days of the 64-68-team field, this statistic has become even more valuable.  It’s very difficult and close to impossible for a team accustomed to winning games by one to seven points to win four times in a row, much less six consecutive games. 

This statistic gives the same significance and weighting to a team that outscores its opposition 100-90 as it does to a team that outscores its opposition 60-50.

2. Field Goal Percentage Differential

Take each team’s field goal percentage minus their defensive field goal percentage to calculate this statistic.  Look for teams that have a +7.5% or better showing.  50% to 42% is no better or no worse than 45% to 37%.  A difference of 7.5% or better is all that matters.  Teams that have a large field goal percentage margin are consistently good teams.  Sure, a team can win a game with a negative field goal percentage difference, but in the Big Dance, they certainly are not going to win six games, and they have no real chance to win four games. Two games are about the maximum for these teams. 

This statistic holds strong in back-tests of 50 years.  Even when teams won the tournament with less than 7.5% field goal percentage margins, for the most part, these teams just barely missed (usually in the 5.5 to 7.5% range).  In the years of the 64-68-team tournament, this stat has become a more accurate predictor.  In the 21st Century, the teams with field goal percentage margins in the double digits have dominated the field.  For example, if you see a team that shoots better than 48% and allows 38% or less, that team is going to be very hard to beat in large arenas with weird sight lines.

3. Rebound Margin

This statistic holds up all the way back to the early days of basketball, in fact as far back to the days when rebounds were first recorded.  The teams that consistently control the boards are the ones that advance past the first week into the tournament.  What we’re looking for here are teams that out-rebound their opposition by five or more per game.  In the opening two rounds, a difference of three or more can be used.

The reason this statistic becomes even more important in mid-March is that teams do not always shoot as well in the NCAA Tournament for a variety of reasons (better defense, abnormal sight lines and unfamiliar gymnasiums, nerves, new rims and nets, more physical play with the refs allowing it, etc.).  The teams that can consistently get offensive put-backs are the teams that go on scoring runs in these games.  The teams that prevent the opposition from getting offensive rebounds, holding them to one shot per possession, have a huge advantage.  Again, there will be some teams that advance that were beaten on the boards, but as the number of teams drop from 64 to 32 to 16 to eight, it is rare for one of these teams to continue to advance.  West Virginia in 2005 made it to the Elite Eight without being able to rebound, but not many other teams have been able to do so.  There have been years where all four Final Four participants were in the top 20 in rebounding margin, and there have been many years where the champion was in the top 5 in rebounding margin.

4. Turnover Margin & Steals Per Game

Turnover margin can give a weaker rebounding team a chance to advance.  Any positive turnover margin is good here.  If a team cannot meet the rebounding margin listed above, they can get by if they have an excellent turnover margin.  Not all turnover margins are the same though.  A team that forces a high number of turnovers by way of steals is better than a team that forces the same amount of turnovers without steals.  A steal is better than a defensive rebound, because most of the time, a steal leads to a fast-break basket or foul.  When a team steals the ball, they are already facing their basket, and the defense must turn around and chase.  Many steals occur on the perimeter where the ball-hawking team has a numbers advantage.  So, this system counts a steal as being worth 1.33 rebounds.

The criteria to look for here is a positive turnover margin if the team out-rebounds its opposition by three or more; a turnover margin of three or better if the team out-rebounds its opposition by less than three; and a turnover margin of five or more if the team does not out-rebound its opponents.  Give more weight to teams that average 7.5 or more steals per game, and give much more weight to teams that average double figure steals per game.  A team that averages more than 10 steals per game will get a lot of fast-break baskets and foul shots.  In NCAA Tournament play, one quick spurt can be like a three-run homer in the World Series, and teams that either steal the ball or control the boards are the ones who will get that spurt.

5. The All-Important R+T Margin: Consider this the basketball equivalent of baseball’s OPS (On Base % + Slugging %) or even better, the “Moneyball Formula.”  We have made a small change to this  number this year, going back to just one formula instead of two.

The R+T Formula is: [R + ({.2S} + {1.2T})], where R is rebounding margin, S is average steals per game, and T is turnover margin.

When this stat is 5 or more, you have a team that can overcome a few other liabilities to win.  When the result is 10 or more, you have a team that has a great chance of getting enough additional scoring opportunities to make it to the later rounds.  When this stat is negative, you have a team that will be eliminated before the Sweet 16.  We have isolated many early round upsets due to this statistic, and we have eliminated many teams expected to perform well that bombed in the opening round.

6. Power Conference Plus Schedule Strength

Up to this point you might have been thinking that it is much easier for South Dakota State or Long Island to own these gaudy statistics than it is for Louisville or Michigan.  Of course, that’s correct.  We have to adjust this procedure so that teams that play tougher schedules get rewarded and teams that play softer schedules get punished.  Here is how we do it.  Look at the Strength of schedule for every team in the Field.  You can find SOS on many websites, such as the RPI at cbs.sportsline.com.  Take the decimal difference for each team in the Field and multiply that by 100.  For example, if Team A’s SOS is .6044 and Team B’s is .5777, the difference times 100 is 2.67.  So, Team A’s schedule was 2.67 points (or round it to 3) per game tougher than Team B’s.  Use this in head-to-head contests for every game in your bracket.

7. Won-Loss percentage Away From Home Floor

This should be obvious.  Except in the rarest of instances, all NCAA Tournament games are played on neutral courts.  Some teams play like titans on their home floor and wilt like roses in January when playing away from home.  It is one thing to accumulate great statistics by scheduling 19 home games, three neutral site games, and eight away games.  However, we need to locate the teams that continue to dominate away from home.  Combine the road and neutral games played and look at that percentage.  When you find a team with a 75% or better win percentage away from home, this team is a legitimate contender in the Big Dance.

These are the seven basic PiRate criteria.  You might be shocked to see that there are some key statistics that are not included.  Let’s look at some of these stats not to rely upon.

1. Assists and Assists to Turnover Ratio

While assists can reveal an excellent passing team, they also can hide a problem.  Let’s say a team gets 28 field goals and has 21 assists.  That may very well indicate this team can pass better than most others. However, it may also mean two other things.  First, this team may not have players who can create their own offense and must get by on exceptional passing.  That may not work against the best defensive teams in the nation (the type that get into the Dance).  Second, and even more importantly, it may indicate that this team cannot get offensive put-backs.  As explained earlier, the offensive rebound is about as important as any stat can be.  So, consider this stat only if you must decide on a toss-up after looking at the big seven stats.

2. Free Throw Shooting

Of course, free throw shooting in the clutch decides many ball games.  However, history shows a long line of teams making it deep into the tournament with poor free throw shooting percentages, and teams that overly rely on free throws may find it tough getting to the line with the liberalized officiating in the tournament.

Let’s say a team shoots a paltry 60% at the foul line while their opponent hits a great 75% of their foul shots.  Let’s say each team gets to the foul line 15 times in the game, with five of those chances being 1&1, three being one shot after made baskets, and seven being two shot fouls.  For the 60% shooting team, they can be expected to hit 3 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 1.8 of the 3 bonus shots; they can be expected to hit 1.8 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to hit 8.4 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 15 out of 25.  The 75% shooting team can be expected to connect on 3.75 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 2.8 of 3.75 on the bonus shot; they can be expected to hit 2.3 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to connect on 10.5 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 19.35 out of 25.75. 

A team with one of the top FT% only scores 4.35 more points at the foul line than a team with one of the worst.  That is not a lot of points to make up, and when you consider that this is about the maximum possible difference, this stat is not all that important.  Also consider that teams that shoot 60% of their foul shots and make the NCAA Tournament are almost always the teams that have the top R+T ratings, which is vitally important after the Ides of March. 

Teams that make the NCAA Tournament with gaudy free throw percentages frequently get there by winning close games at the line.  In the NCAA Tournament, fouls just don’t get called as frequently as in the regular season.  The referees let the teams play.  So, looking at superior free throw percentage can almost lead you down the wrong path. 

Ponder this:  The 1973 UCLA Bruins are considered to be the best college basketball team ever.  That team connected on just 63% of its free throws.  They had a rebounding margin of 15.2, and they forced many turnovers via steals thanks to their vaunted 2-2-1 zone press.  In the great UCLA dynasty from 1964 through 1973 when the Bruins won nine titles in 10 years, they never once connected on 70% of their free throws and averaged just 66% during that stretch.

3. 3-point shooting

You have to look at this statistic two different ways and consider that it is already part of field goal percentage and defensive field goal percentage.  Contrary to popular belief you do not count the difference in made three-pointers and multiply by three to see the difference in points scored.  If Team A hits eight treys, while their Team B opponents hit three, that is not a difference of 15 points; it’s a difference of five points.  Consider made three-pointers as one extra point because they are already figured as made field goals.  A team with 26 made field goals and eight treys has only one more point than a team with 26 made field goals and seven treys.

The only time to give three-point shots any weight in this criteria is when you are looking at a toss-up game, and when you do look at this stat, look for the team that does not rely on them to win, but instead uses a credible percentage that prevents defenses from sagging into the 10-12-foot area around the basket.  If a team cannot throw it in the ocean from behind the arc, defenses can sag inside and take away the inside game.  It doesn’t play much of a role in the NCAA Tournament.  A team that must hit 10 threes per game in order to win is not going to be around after the first weekend.

4. One Big Star or Two Really Good Players

Teams that get to the Dance by riding one big star or a majority of scoring from two players are not solid enough to advance very far.  Now, this does not apply to a team with one big star and four really good players.  I’m referring to a team with one big star and four lemons or two big scorers with three guys who are allergic to the ball.  Many times a team may have one big scorer or two guys who score 85% of the points, but the other three starters are capable of scoring 20 points if they are called on to do so.  If you have a team with five double figure scorers, they will be harder to defend and will be more consistent on the attack side.  It is hard for all five players to slump at once.

We hope this primer will help you when you fill out your brackets this year. 

In past years, we had a set system of scoring each facet of the Bracketnomics’ data.  We have tweaked it this year to make it even more accurate.   

1. Scoring Margin

Multiply scoring margin by 0.5 (or divide by 2).  Round to one decimal place.

 

Example: A team that averages 74.5 points and gives up 68.9 points has a scoring margin of 5.6 points.  5.6 divided by 2 equals 2.8.

 

2. Field Goal % Margin

This is the same formula (fg% margin * .5) as scoring margin in #1, but we round to nearest 2 decimal places.

Example: Team A shoots .484 from the field, while they allow opponents to shoot .397 from the field.  .484 minus .397 equals .087.  We then multiply by 0.5 (divide the result by 2) to get .0435.  Multiply that by 100 to change it to a percentage and the result is 4.35.

 

3. Rebound Margin

Multiply rebound margin by 0.6 and round to 1 decimal place.

Example: Team A averages 38.7 rebounds per game and gives up 34.2 rebounds per game.  The difference is 4.5.  Multiply 4.5 by 0.6, and the result is 2.7.

 

4. Turnover Margin

Divide turnover margin by 2 and round to one decimal place

Example: Team A averages 12.3 turnovers per game and forces 14.1 turnovers per game.  The difference is 1.8.  Divide 1.8 by 2, and the result is 0.9.  Had Team A committed 14.1 turnovers and forced 12.3, their result would be -0.9.

 

5. PiRate R+T Formula

Once again, the formula for R+T is [R + (.2*S) + (1.2*T)], Where R is rebounding margin, S is avg. steals per game, and T is turnover margin.

Divide R+T by 2.5 or simply alter the formula to R+T = {0.4*[R + (.2*S) + (1.2*T)]} 

6. Schedule Strength

Take the difference in the Strength of Schedule as given by cbs.sportsline.com and multiply it by 100. 

The Average SOS for teams in the top 40 is about .5880.  When you factor in the automatic bids from teams outside of the top 40, that number falls to about .5500.  So, find each teams’ SOS rating and take 100 times the difference from .5500 as the number for this rating.

Example: Team A has a SOS of .5743; the difference from .5500 is .0243; multiply .0243 by 100, and the result is 2.43. 

Team B has a SOS of .4878, the difference is -.0622; multiply by 100, and the result is -6.22.

 

7. Record Away From Home (road + neutral)

 100% = 5

87.5-99.9% = 4.5

80.0-87.4 = 4

75.0-79.9 = 3

70.0-74.9 = 2.5

66.6-69.9 = 2

62.5-66.5 = 1.5

60.0-62.4 = 1

55.0-59.9 = 0.5

50.0-54.9 = 0

0-49.9 = -2

 

April 4, 2011

The 2011 NCAA Basketball Championship Game Preview

Tip Time:  Approximately 9:23 PM EDT (but expect it to be a couple minutes late)

Location: Reliant Stadium, Houston (Home of the Houston Astros)

Television: CBS

Radio: Westwood One

 

It has happened before.  A team that lost in the National Championship Game one year has returned to the title game a year later.  It has happened thrice.  Two times, the team in question lost again.  In 1983 and 1984, Houston lost to North Carolina State and Georgetown.  In 1992 and 1993, Michigan lost to Duke and North Carolina. 

 

In 1990, Duke was embarrassed by UNLV in the biggest Championship Game loss in history, but the Blue Devils came back in 1991 to beat Kansas for all the marbles.

 

Butler Bulldogs

Location: Indianapolis, IN

Conference: Horizon League

Record: 28-9

 

Butler Bulldogs–Starters in Bold  
No. Name Pos. Class Ht Wt PPG RPG Other  
1 Shelvin Mack G Jr 6-03 215 16.1 4.4 3.5 Ast  
2 Shawn Vanzant G Sr 6-00 172 8.2 3.2 41.7% 3-pt, 1.7 Ast  
3 Zach Hahn G Sr 6-01 176 5.1 1.2 85.7% FT  
4 Erik Fromm F Fr 6-09 220 0.8 0.5 26 G, 3.4 min  
5 Ronald Nored G Jr 6-00 174 5.1 3.1 2.4 Ast, 1.1 Stl, A+ defender  
11 Alex Anglin G/F Sr 6-05 177 0.7 0.7 18 G, 4.3 min  
20 Chrishawn Hopkins G Fr 6-01 165 1.6 0.5 20 G, 6.1 min  
22 Grant Leiendecker G Sr 6-05 182 1.2 0.3 15 G, 2.3 min  
23 Khyle Marshall F Fr 6-07 210 5.9 3.9 51.7% FG, 15.4 min  
30 Emerson Kampen C So 6-09 189 0 0.1 15 G, 1.9 min  
32 Garrett Butcher F Jr 6-07 209 1.6 1.3 29 G, 7.4 min  
33 Chase Stigall G So 6-04 195 3.8 1.7 16.2 min  
44 Andrew Smith C So 6-11 239 8.6 5.5 61% FG  
54 Matt Howard F Sr 6-08 230 16.7 7.8 1.5 Ast, 1.1 Stl  
       
Head Coach Brad Stevens    
Assistant Matthew Graves    
Assistant Terry Johnson    
Assistant Micah Shrewsberry    
       
Team Stats Butler Opp    
Points Per Game 72.1 64.4    
Field Goal % 44.1 42.6    
3-point % 35.5 32.8    
FT % 72.9 66.8    
Rebounds Per Game 35.0 31.5    
Turnovers Per Game 11.1 12.5    
Steals Per Game 5.9      
R + T (*) 5.48          
SOS 55      
Road Win % 70      
PiRate Criteria # 6      
 

(*) R+T= [R+({.2S}*{1.2T})], where R is reb. margin, T=Turnover margin, S=Steals per game

If turnover margin is negative, then adjust it to: R+T= [R+({.2S}+{1.2T})]

 

Connecticut Huskies

Location: Storrs, CT

Conference: Big East

Record: 31-9

 

Connecticut Huskies–Starters in Bold
No. Name Pos. Class Ht Wt PPG RPG Other
1 Enosch Wolf C Fr 7-01 260 1.0 0.9 7 G, 3.7 min
2 Donnell Beverly G Sr 6-04 190 1.7 1.3 8.6 min
3 Jeremy Lamb G/F Fr 6-05 185 11.1 4.4 1.6 Ast
4 Jamal Coombs-McDaniel F So 6-07 210 5.8 2.7 80% FT
5 Niels Giffey G/F Fr 6-07 210 2.2 1.3 9.5 min
10 Tyler Olander F Fr 6-09 225 1.5 1.8 9.7 min
13 Shabazz Napier G Fr 6-00 170 7.9 2.4 3.1 Ast, 1.6 Stl
15 Kemba Walker G Jr 6-01 172 23.7 5.4 81.8% FT, 4.6 Ast, 1.9 Stl
21 Kyle Bailey G Sr 6-03 170 0.0 0.0 6 G, 1.0 min
22 Roscoe Smith F Fr 6-08 205 6.5 5.2 1.2 Blk
23 Benjamin Stewart F Jr 6-05 205 0.5 0.5 4 G, 1.0 min
34 Alex Oriakhi F/C So 6-09 240 9.6 8.7 1.6 Blk
35 Charles Okwandu C Sr 7-00 255 2.9 2.7 1.3 Blk
                 
     
Head Coach Jim Calhoun  
Assistant George Blaney  
Assistant Andre LaFleur  
Assistant Kevin Ollie  
     
Team Stats U Conn Opp  
Points Per Game 72.8 65.4  
Field Goal % 43.6 39.8  
3-point % 33.3 32.9  
FT % 76.1 68.2  
Rebounds Per Game 39.3 35.2  
Turnovers Per Game 11.4 11.7  
Steals Per Game 6.4    
R + T (*) 4.56        
SOS 61    
Road Win % 78    
PiRate Criteria # 11    

 

Player Matchups

5: Butler—Andrew Smith vs. Connecticut—Charles Okwandu

Smith is quicker and more agile than Okwandu.  Smith can force Okawandu outside of the low post, while Okwandu does not have to be guarded when he is more than 10 feet away from the hoop.  In the paint, Okwandu has a strength advantage, but much of this advantage can be neutralized by Smith’s superior mobility.

 

Advantage: Smith by a little

 

4: Butler—Matt Howard vs. Connecticut—Alex Oriakhi

This is one of two keys to the game.  Howard can turn the tide of this game if he is on target from outside.  Oriakhi is a key rebounder for UConn, and if he is forced to stay outside to keep Howard from getting open looks, much of Connecticut’s rebounding advantage will dissipate.  Oriakhi can dominate Howard inside, and he has a chance to be a surprise hero in this game. 

 

When UCLA was dominating the Championship Game, the Bruins always had a surprise showing from a player that had not been expected to shine.  Memories of Steve Patterson almost single-handedly defeating Villanova in 1971 come to mind.  Ironically, that game was played next door at the Astrodome.

 

Advantage: Howard, but it needs to be a decided advantage and it may not

 

3: Butler—Chase Stigall vs. Connecticut—Roscoe Smith

Smith has a big size advantage, but he is not a major contributor.  Stigall starts, but he does not play half the time.  He will split minutes with Khyle Marshall and others. 

 

Look for Smith to win this positional battle for the Huskies, but it shouldn’t be what swings this game.

 

Advantage: Smith, but by an inconsequential amount.

 

2. Butler—Shawn Vanzant vs. Connecticut—Jeremy Lamb

Lamb has the potential to be the game-decider if Butler forgets he is capable of scoring 15-18 points in a game where 60 points might win the title.  He has a size and quickness advantage  over Vanzant. 

 

Vanzant is a better outside shooter, and if he could drain a couple of threes in the first half, it could mean a lot for Butler.

 

Advantage: Lamb, and the amount of advantage could be the difference in this game

 

1. Butler—Shelvin Mack vs. Connecticut—Kemba Walker

Walker would have the advantage over every other guard in the nation, so this is not really up for discussion.  However, if Mack could force Walker to take a few more shots to get his average and force his passes wide, Butler could in essence win this positional battle.

 

Walker absolutely must have a typical or better than typical game.  He will lead the Huskies in scoring; he will dish out four or five assists, and he will come up with a couple of steals.

 

Mack could match Walker point-for-point in this game, but if that happens, Butler will not win this game.  Mack’s ability to get the ball in low for easy shots is more important than his scoring ability.  We do not mean to say that he should forego shooting; we refer to Mack’s trying to score 25 points to match Walker.  If he scores 15 points and dishes out an equal amount of assists to Walker, then he will have done his job.

 

Advantage: Walker, but will it be enough?

 

Bench: Butler—Zach Hahn, Ronald Nored, Khyle Marshall vs. Connecticut—Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, Niels Giffey, Tyler Olander, Shabazz Napier

 

Butler’s three bench players each brings something different to the table.  Hahn is probably the best shooter in this game.  He is a rhythm shooter.  If he hits his first three, the opponent has to change its defense to keep from being shot out of the gym.

 

Nored is the best defender in this game, and he will be called on to temper Walker.  Going back to our 1971 UCLA comparison, he is the Kenny Heitz of Butler.

 

Marshall can come in and produce instant inside offense, and he plays tough defense in the lane.  He will see as much playing time as Stigall.

 

Connecticut goes nine-deep, but there is not more quality in their additional quantity.  The Husky bench is rather weak, with Napier and Coombs-McDaniel the two best reserves.  Neither should be much of a factor in this game.

 

Advantage: Butler by enough to matter if the game is strenuous.

 

Our Prediction:  We see this game playing out in a similar manner to last year’s Championship Game.  Connecticut has the talent to win this game by double digits, but Butler plays so intelligently and can keep this game close with a chance to win at the end.

 

If Walker has a big night, we do not believe Mack and Nored can come up with enough stops to prevent him from scoring 20-25 points in a limited possession game.  If Walker tries to be a superhero and commits five turnovers while shooting too many off-balance shots, then he could still score 20 points but give up more than 20 points to Butler.

 

Upon reviewing all the players’ abilities and tendencies, we believe this game will be decided at the four position.  If Howard goes out with a career night, Butler will cut down the nets.  If he has a typical night, this game will still be in doubt after the final TV timeout.  If he has an off night, Connecticut will win by eight to 12 points.

 

We tend to believe this will be just as memorable as last year’s game with the strong possibility that the team that scores the last points will win the game.  We believe there is a good chance this game could still be undecided after 40 minutes.  There have been few overtime games in the championship. 

 

The first OT title game came in 1944 when Utah edged Dartmouth 42-40 at Madison Square Garden.  In 1957, North Carolina defeated Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain in triple OT 54-53.  Cincinnati appeared in two OT title games; the first was a happy ending with a 70-65 OT thriller over in-state rival and defending national champ Ohio State.  In 1963, Loyola of Chicago upset Bearcats 60-58 in OT.  Michigan edged Seton Hall in OT 80-79 in the 1989 title game. In 1997, Arizona pulled off a big upset over defending national champ Kentucky by a score of 84-79  , and Kansas defeated Memphis in OT in 2008 by a score of 75-68.

 

Predicted Score: Connecticut 69  Butler 66 in double OT!

 

April 1, 2011

PiRate Ratings Final Four Viewing Guide and Preview, Saturday, April 2, 2011

UNCLE!!!  Yes, we cry uncle.  Our PiRate Criteria failed to predict a Final Four team for the first time since we began predicting for the media six years ago.  In backtests, it isolated at least one Final Four every year back to the advent of the 64-team tournament.

 

PiRate Criteria Rating in (parentheses)

All Games on CBS Television and Westwood One Radio

 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Final Four Site: Reliant Stadium, Houston

 

6:09 PM EDT—Virginia Commonwealth 28-11 (1) vs. Butler 27-9 (6)

 

Virginia Commonwealth Rams–Starters in Bold

No. Name Pos. Class Ht Wt PPG RPG Other
5 Juvonte Reddic F Fr 6-09 225 3.5 1.9 0.5 Stl, 11.2 min
10 Darius Theus G So 6-03 190 3.1 1.5 2.1 Ast, 1.1 Stl, 15.4 min
12 Joey Rodriguez G Sr 5-10 175 10.5 3.3 81.6% FT, 5.1 Ast, 1.5 Stl
20 Bradford Burgess G Jr 6-06 225 14.3 6.2 42.8% 3pt, 1.1 Stl
21 Jamie Skeen F Sr 6-09 240 15.4 7.4 51.6% FG, 1.6 Ast
23 Rob Brandenberg G Fr 6-02 170 5.1 1.7 13.9 min
30 Troy Daniels G So 6-04 195 2.1 0.8 26 G, 4.8 min
31 Toby Veal F Jr 6-08 235 2.4 2.2 29 G, 9.9 min
32 Brandon Rozzell G Sr 6-02 185 11.8 2.3 40.4% 3pt, 1.5 Ast. 1.4 Stl
33 D. J. Haley C Fr 7-00 250 1.1 1.6 53.1% FG, 7.8 min
34 David Hinton F So 6-09 235 0.7 0.2 18 G, 3.7 min
50 Ed Nixon G Sr 6-04 210 7.1 2.6 1.9 Ast, 1.2 Stl
     
Head Coach Shaka Smart  
Assistant Will Wade  
Assistant Mike Rhoades  
Assistant Mike Jones  
     
Team Stats VCU Opp  
Points Per Game 71.8 66.7  
Field Goal % 43.6 44.4  
3-point % 37.0 33.5  
FT % 71.6 67.4  
Rebounds Per Game 32.3 36.1  
Turnovers Per Game 11.3 14.7  
Steals Per Game 8.3    
R + T (*) 2.97        
SOS 55    
Road Win % 68    
PiRate Criteria # 1    
 

(*) R+T= [R+({.2S}*{1.2T})], where R is reb. margin, T=Turnover margin, S=Steals per game

If turnover margin is negative, then adjust it to: R+T= [R+({.2S}+{1.2T})]

 

Butler Bulldogs–Starters in Bold
No. Name Pos. Class Ht Wt PPG RPG Other
1 Shelvin Mack G Jr 6-03 215 15.9 4.3 3.6 Ast
2 Shawn Vanzant G Sr 6-00 172 8.1 3.2 42.0% 3-pt, 1.7 Ast
3 Zach Hahn G Sr 6-01 176 5.0 1.1 85.7% FT
4 Erik Fromm F Fr 6-09 220 0.8 0.5 26 G, 3.4 min
5 Ronald Nored G Jr 6-00 174 5.3 3.1 2.5 Ast, 1.2 Stl, A+ defender
11 Alex Anglin G/F Sr 6-05 177 0.7 0.7 18 G, 4.3 min
20 Chrishawn Hopkins G Fr 6-01 165 1.6 0.5 20 G, 6.1 min
22 Grant Leiendecker G Sr 6-05 182 1.2 0.3 15 G, 2.3 min
23 Khyle Marshall F Fr 6-07 210 5.9 3.8 52.4% FG, 15.2 min
30 Emerson Kampen C So 6-09 189 0.0 0.1 15 G, 1.9 min
32 Garrett Butcher F Jr 6-07 209 1.6 1.3 29 G, 7.4 min
33 Chase Stigall G So 6-04 195 3.9 1.7 16.3 min
44 Andrew Smith C So 6-11 239 8.8 5.4 62.1% FG
54 Matt Howard F Sr 6-08 230 16.7 7.7 1.5 Ast, 1.1 Stl
     
Head Coach Brad Stevens  
Assistant Matthew Graves  
Assistant Terry Johnson  
Assistant Micah Shrewsberry  
     
Team Stats Butler Opp  
Points Per Game 72.1 64.5  
Field Goal % 44.3 42.7  
3-point % 35.5 32.6  
FT % 72.7 66.8  
Rebounds Per Game 34.7 31.5  
Turnovers Per Game 11.1 12.6  
Steals Per Game 5.9    
R + T (*) 5.32        
SOS 55    
Road Win % 68    
PiRate Criteria # 6    
 
 

Virginia Commonwealth is the first team with a negative PiRate Criteria rating to win an Elite Eight round game.  The results of that game elevated their number into positive territory, but we still wonder about their rebounding difficulties.  VCU has won five games in this tournament, and four were not all that close.  The Rams have maintained a hot shooting touch from outside, and their 3-point percentage has been much higher in the postseason than it was during the regular season.

 

The VCU press has had its moments during the Big Dance as well, as a couple of opponents had trouble with it.  Can the Rams survive to the final round?  It is possible, but we tend to believe that their shooting prowess will eventually regress to the norm.  The Rams are overdue for a bad outside shooting game, and in a baseball domed stadium, the sightlines will not be like anything they have seen before.

 

Butler has the experience here.  They are the most seasoned of the teams left, and the Bulldogs can no longer be considered a Cinderella team.  In fact, we tend to see Butler very much like a 21st Century version of Marquette during the Al McGuire years.  This team can continue to be a serious player in the national tournament scene. 

 

Butler will be able to handle the VCU press.  They will inbound the ball quickly and return it quickly to the inbound passer who will have an opening to break the press with numbers.  The Bulldogs can run when they need to, and a couple of easy baskets and/or fouls early could force VCU to panic.  The Butler perimeter defense will cover the VCU shooters tightly, and Nored will make life miserable for any opponent trying to shoot from outside.

 

This is a must-see game.  It should be close, and we do not see Butler pulling away to win by a big margin.  VCU could still have a chance to win with one quick spurt, and the Rams are capable of going on a quick spurt.  Ask Kansas about that.

 

Prediction: Butler 65  VCU 61

 

Approximately 8:49 PM—Kentucky 29-8 (18) vs. Connecticut 30-9 (11)

 

Kentucky Wildcats–Starters in Bold
No. Name Pos. Class Ht Wt PPG RPG Other
1 Darius Miller G Jr 6-07 225 11.1 4.6 44.9% 3-pt, 86.4% FT, 1.7 Ast
2 Stacey Poole G Fr 6-04 195 0.3 0.5 16 G, 2.8 min
3 Terrence Jones F Fr 6-08 244 15.8 8.7 1.9 Blk, 1.1 Stl
4 Jon Hood G So 6-07 202 0.8 0.7 33 G, 4.8 min
5 Jarrod Polson G Fr 6-02 185 0.4 0.1 17 G, 1.8 min
12 Brandon Knight G Fr 6-03 185 17.3 3.9 4.2 Ast
20 Doron Lamb G Fr 6-04 195 12.3 2.0 48.1% 3-pt, 1.7 Ast
30 Eloy Vargas F Jr 6-11 250 1.5 1.9 7.7 min
34 DeAndre Liggins G Jr 6-06 210 8.8 4.1 40.2% 3-pt, 2.5 Ast, 1.2 Stl
55 Josh Harrellson F Sr 6-10 275 7.6 8.8 61.4% FG, 1.5 Blk
                 
                 
                 
                 
     
Head Coach John Calipari  
Assistant John Robic  
Assistant Orlando Antigua  
Assistant Kenny Payne  
     
Team Stats UK Opp  
Points Per Game 75.4 63.7  
Field Goal % 46.3 39.3  
3-point % 40.0 32.8  
FT % 71.6 72.2  
Rebounds Per Game 37.4 33.7  
Turnovers Per Game 10.7 12.0  
Steals Per Game 5.4    
R + T (*) 5.38        
SOS 61    
Road Win % 64    
PiRate Criteria # 18    

 

Connecticut Huskies–Starters in Bold
No. Name Pos. Class Ht Wt PPG RPG Other
1 Enosch Wolf C Fr 7-01 260 1.0 0.9 7 G, 3.7 min
2 Donnell Beverly G Sr 6-04 190 1.8 1.3 8.8 min
3 Jeremy Lamb G/F Fr 6-05 185 11.1 4.3 1.5 Ast
4 Jamal Coombs-McDaniel F So 6-07 210 5.8 2.7 81.5% FT
5 Niels Giffey G/F Fr 6-07 210 2.2 1.3 9.5 min
10 Tyler Olander F Fr 6-09 225 1.5 1.8 9.8 min
13 Shabazz Napier G Fr 6-00 170 8.0 2.4 3.0 Ast, 1.6 Stl
15 Kemba Walker G Jr 6-01 172 23.9 5.3 81.8% FT, 4.5 Ast, 1.9 Stl
21 Kyle Bailey G Sr 6-03 170 0.0 0.0 6 G, 1.0 min
22 Roscoe Smith F Fr 6-08 205 6.5 5.2 1.2 Blk
23 Benjamin Stewart F Jr 6-05 205 0.5 0.5 4 G, 1.0 min
34 Alex Oriakhi F/C So 6-09 240 9.6 8.6 1.6 Blk
35 Charles Okwandu C Sr 7-00 255 2.9 2.7 1.3 Blk
                 
     
Head Coach Jim Calhoun  
Assistant George Blaney  
Assistant Andre LaFleur  
Assistant Kevin Ollie  
     
Team Stats U Conn Opp  
Points Per Game 73.3 65.7  
Field Goal % 43.5 40.0  
3-point % 33.7 32.9  
FT % 76.0 68.9  
Rebounds Per Game 39.4 35.1  
Turnovers Per Game 11.3 11.7  
Steals Per Game 6.4    
R + T (*) 4.91        
SOS 61    
Road Win % 77    
PiRate Criteria # 11    

 

Connecticut won five games in five days at the Big East Tournament and parlayed that into four more wins in the NCAA Tournament.  The Huskies have a chance to begin and end the season with separate double-digit game winning streaks.  In Kemba Walker, U Conn has the best player in the Final Four, but one player cannot do it alone.  The Huskies are anything but a one person team.  They can pound it inside with Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu, and when Walker drives the lane, Jeremy Lamb is frequently open outside.  This Connecticut team is not as strong as the two national championship teams from Calhoun’s past, but the Huskies have enough talent to win a third for Calhoun.

 

Kentucky is the one team left in the tournament with a PiRate Criteria rating similar of past national champions.  Their 18 rating is actually better than Indiana in 1981, North Carolina State in 1983, Villanova in 1985, Kansas in 1988, and Arizona in 1997.  The Wildcats have very little depth with only seven players used unless the game is a major blowout.  With the extra long timeout lengths, this should not be a factor at all this weekend.  Although none of the players have Final Four experience, every game Kentucky plays is about as pressure-packed as a Final Four game.  We believe the Wildcats will not be affected or intimidated in this game.  However, the weird sightlines could make their outside shooting game suffer. 

 

These two teams met in Hawaii in November, and Connecticut won 84-67.  In that game, the Huskies quickly opened a 20-point lead in the first half and went to the locker room at the half up 50-29.  Connecticut couldn’t miss, while Kentucky couldn’t buy a basket.  Knight and Liggins were a combined 0-10 from three-point land, and Josh Harrellson did not score.  Walker scored 29 points for the winners, while Oriakhi recorded a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

 

This game will have a much different look.  This season, Kentucky has dominated teams that they have already played during the season.  They are 7-0 against teams that they played a second or third time.  We see this trend continuing.

 

Prediction: Kentucky 72  Connecticut 66

March 26, 2011

PiRate Ratings Elite Eight Preview For Saturday-Sunday, March 26-27, 2011

It hasn’t been pretty for our PiRate Criteria Ratings this year.  We are down to one team left in our Final Four bracket, but at least it is the team we picked to win it all.  Kansas is our last hope, but if the Jayhawks can get by Virginia Commonwealth, they will be two wins away from keeping our successful record of picking the national champion before the tournament begins intact.

 

We are shocked that a team with a negative PiRate Criteria score is still around, and even more surprised that the team has had to win one extra game to get to this point.  We are almost as shocked to see Arizona in the Elite Eight with a score of just four points, and we are semi-surprised to see Butler back in the Elite Eight with a rating of four.  The Bulldogs’ 2010 PiRate Criteria score was 10 points higher than it is today, and they were actually favored to beat Syracuse in the Sweet 16 by our ratings.

 

PiRate Criteria Rating in (parentheses)

All Games on CBS

 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

4:30 PM EDT—Southeast Regional Final @ New Orleans

#2 Florida 29-7 (15) vs. #8 Butler 26-9 (4)

Position Florida Butler
Coach Billy Donovan Brad Stevens
Center (32) Vernon Macklin 6-10 Sr.–11.2/5.4  58.4% FG (44) Andrew Smith 6-11 So.–8.9/5.4  62.2% FG ***Probable***
Forward (23) Alex Tyus 6-8 Sr.–8.9/6.1 (54) Matt Howard 6-8 Sr.–16.8/7.8  44.4%  3pt
Forward (25) Chandler Parsons 6-10 Sr.–11.5/7.8  3.8 ast (33) Chase Stigall 6-4 So.–4.0/1.8
Guard (1) Kenny Boynton 6-2 So.–14.1/1.4  82.1% FT (1) Shelvin Mack 6-3 Sr.–15.6/4.3  3.6 ast
Guard (11) Erving Walker  5-8 Jr.–14.8/3.0  3.4 ast (2) Shawn Vanzant 6-0 Sr.–8.1/3.1  42.3% 3 pt
6th (4) Patric Young 6-9 Fr. F/C–3.4/3.8  56.8% FG (23) Khyle Marshall 6-7 Fr. F–5.8/3.7
7th (5) Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Fr. G–2.5/1.5  1.7 ast (5) Ronald Nored 6-0 Jr.–5.3/3.0  2.5 ast

 

PiRate Criteria Stats

 

Team Florida Butler
Pts 9.1 7.8
FG% 4.2 1.5
Reb 6.0 2.9
TO 0.3 1.7
Stl 5.9 6.0
R+T 6.42 5.35
SOS 60 54
Road% 79 67
PiRate # 15 4

 

Can Butler do it again?  It does not appear highly probable, but then the Bulldogs have made a science out of making the improbable probable. 

 

If the Bulldogs are to have any chance in this game, big man Andrew Smith must be able to play at close to 100%.  Smith sprained his ankle in the Sweet 16 win over Wisconsin, and after he exited the game, Butler almost blew a 20-point lead.  It is the emergence of Smith as a key player that has fueled Butler’s long winning streak.  He has led the team in both steals and blocked shots in the winning streak.

 

When Smith is patrolling under the basket, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack get more open looks.  The duo will need to combine for 40+ points in this game, and they will need to connect on better than 50% of their two-point shots and better than 40% of their three-point shots for Butler to advance to the Final Four for the second consecutive year.

 

When Florida won the National Championship in 2007, their toughest game may have been their Sweet 16 game against Butler.  That Gator team benefitted from having five starters that could score 20 points in a game.  Coach Donovan’s club moves the ball quickly and the players without the ball keep their defender occupied.  Not the most consistent team defensively, the Gators tend to play in spurts.  At times, they are tough on opponents, and at times, opponents get a lot of open looks. 

 

To beat Florida, the key is to penetrate the perimeter defense and take a lot of shots in the 5-10 foot range.  Butler may lack the quickness to get into that inside zone, especially if Smith is not able to occupy 1 ½ defenders.

 

The Southeastern Conference was supposed to be down again this year, and the early NCAA Tournament exits of Tennessee, Georgia, and Vanderbilt supposedly proved this point.  However, the SEC could very well place two teams in the Final Four this year.

 

Prediction: Florida 69  Butler 60

 

7:05 PM EDT—West Regional Final @ Anaheim

#3 Connecticut 29-9 (11)  vs. #5 Arizona 30-7 (4)

Position Connecticut Arizona
Coach Jim Calhoun Sean Miller
Center (35) Charles Okwandu 7-0 Sr.–2.9/2.8 (23) Derrick Williams 6-8 So.–19.5/8.4  60.2% FG/60.3% 3pt
Forward (34) Alex Oriakhi 6-9 So.–9.7/8.7  1.6 Blk (33) Jesse Perry 6-7 Jr.–6.4/4.4
Forward (22) Roscoe Smith 6-8 Fr.–6.5/5.2  1.2 Blk (44) Solomon Hill 6-6 So.–8.1/4.6  78.0% FT
Guard (3) Jeremy Lamb 6-5 Fr.–10.9/4.3  79.6% FT (21) Kyle Fogg 6-3 Jr.–8.1/1.8  2.6 Ast
Guard (15) Kemba Walker 6-1 Jr.–24.0/5.4  4.5 ast/1.9 stl (12) Lamont Jones 6-0 So.–9.7/1.6  2.5 Ast/82.8% FT
6th (13) Shabazz Napier 6-0 Fr. G–7.9/2.3  3.1 Ast (3) Kevin Parrom 6-6 So. G/F–7.8/3.4  2.0 Ast/42.2% 3pt
7th (4) Jamal Coombs-McDaniel 6-7 So. F–6.0/2.7  81.5% FT (42) Jamelle Horne 6-7 Sr. F–6.2/3.3  40.8% 3pt

PiRate Criteria Stats

 

Team Connecticut Arizona
Pts 7.7 8.7
FG% 3.5 2.5
Reb 4.8 3.6
TO 0.3 -0.1
Stl 6.5 5.2
R+T 5.27 4.52
SOS 60 55
Road% 76 67
PiRate # 11 4

 

Two teams with one dominant player and a host of above-average complimentary players should make for an interesting game.  Unfortunately, the teams’ key players will not face off against each other, as Walker is the play-maker for UConn, and Williams is the big man for ‘Zona.

 

On closer inspection, we took a look at Connecticut’s season in three parts.  The Huskies looked like a Final Four team in two of those three parts.  They began the season 10-0, including a blowout win over Kentucky in Hawaii.  They had a lackluster 11-9 middle.  Then, they caught lightning in a bottle, winning five games in five days to take the Big East Tournament title and won three games in the Big Dance to come into this game riding an eight-game winning streak.  Once again, they have looked like a Final Four team.

 

Arizona entered this tournament with a 4-3 mark in its final seven games.  The Wildcats narrowly escaped with wins over Memphis and Texas in the first week, but then they blew defending champion Duke off the floor Thursday night.  They dominated the Blue Devils inside and forced Duke to beat them from over the top.  Duke could not get enough good outside shots in the second half, and Arizona cruised to an easy win.

 

We believe that Connecticut’s backcourt is not that far from Duke’s in total talent, but the Huskies are much stronger inside where it counts.  Connecticut should win the battle of the boards in this game and pound on Derrick Williams enough to throw him off his game.  Arizona has overachieved getting to this point.  The Wildcats will be back in 2011-12 as a top contender for the Final Four, but they will have to settle for Elite Eight this year.

 

Prediction: Connecticut 74  Arizona 66

 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

2:20 PM EDT—Southwest Regional Final @ San Antonio

#1 Kansas 35-2 (23) vs. #11 Virginia Commonwealth 27-11 (-1)

Position Kansas Virginia Commonwealth
Coach Bill Self Shaka Smart
Center (21) Markieff Morris 6-10 Jr.–13.6/8.2  59.6% FG/42.1% 3pt (21) Jamie Skeen 6-9 Sr.–15.1/7.3  1.1 Blk
Forward (22) Marcus Morris 6-9 Jr.–17.1/7.4  57.7% FG (20) Bradford Burgess 6-6 Jr.–14.4/6.2  42.3% 3pt
Forward (14) Tyrel Reed 6-3 Sr.–9.7/3.1  80.2% FT (50) Ed Nixon 6-4 Sr.–7.2/2.6  1.9 Ast
Guard (12) Brady Morningstar 6-4 Sr.–7.3/2.2  3.3 Ast/42.2% 3pt (32) Brandon Rozzell 6-2 Sr.–11.8/2.3  1.4 Stl
Guard (10) Tyshawn Taylor 6-3 Jr.–9.1/1.9  4.6 Ast (12) Joey Rodriguez 5-10 Sr.–10.6/3.2  5.1 Ast/81.8% FT
6th (32) Josh Selby 6-2 Fr. G–8.2/2.3  2.2 Ast (23) Rob Brandenburg 6-2 Fr. G–5.2/1.8
7th (00) Thomas Robinson 6-9 So.–7.8/6.6  60.1% FG (10) Darius Theus 6-3 So. G–3.1/1.6  2.1 Ast

PiRate Criteria Stats

 

Team Kansas V C U
Pts 17.1 3.9
FG% 11.8 2
Reb 7.9 2.1
TO 0.8 -0.6
Stl 7.8 8.3
R+T 9.4 0.9
SOS 59 54
Road% 95 66
PiRate # 23

-1

 

This looks like an even bigger mismatch than Kansas’s Sweet 16 game, but VCU plays a feisty brand of basketball and can pull games out at the end with their pressure and herky-jerky style of play.

 

We anointed Kansas as our pick for the National Champion when the brackets came out two weeks ago, and the Jayhawks are the final power team we have left in the tournament.  KU possesses the same criteria as most of the past national champions.  The last team not to meet our minimum criteria that eventually won the national championship was this very same Kansas team in 1988.  We believe that on Sunday, the Jayhawks will restore some normalcy to this season’s Big Dance and prove to be the one Fred Astaire among a bunch of wannabes.

 

Kansas will not wilt under the pressure defense applied by VCU.  In fact, it will lead to a bunch of easy looks and a high shooting percentage.  The Jayhawks pass the ball like teams from the past, and they know how to hit open shots.  With Josh Selby possibly coming out of his shooting slump, we just cannot see another team defeating them this season.

 

For VCU, their real challenge will begin after the season ends.  Shaka Smart is certain to be in the mix in a number of vacant coaching jobs.  Tennessee, Missouri, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, and others will be interested.

 

Prediction: Kansas 77  VCU 62

 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

5:05 PM EDT—East Regional Final @ Newark

#2 North Carolina 29-7 (16) vs. #4 Kentucky 28-8 (16)

Position North Carolina Kentucky
Coach Roy Williams John Calipari
Center (44) Tyler Zeller 7-0 Jr.–15.6/7.2  54.0% FG (55) Josh Harrellson 6-10 Sr.–7.5/8.8  1.6 Blk/61.2% FG
Forward (31) John Henson 6-10 So.–11.9/10.1  3.3 Blk (3) Terrence Jones 6-8 Fr.–15.9/8.7  1.9 Blk/1.6 Ast/1.1 Stl
Forward (40) Harrison Barnes 6-8 Fr.–15.6/5.8  1.4 Ast (34) DeAndre Liggins 6-6 Jr.–8.7/4.2  2.5 Ast/1.1 Stl
Guard (1) Dexter Strickland 6-3 So.–7.4/3.1  2.2 Ast (1) Darius Miller 6-7 Jr.–11.1/4.6  1.7 Ast
Guard (5) Kendall Marshall 6-3 Fr.–6.2/2.1  6.2 Ast (12) Brandon Knight 6-3 Fr.–17.2/3.8  4.2 Ast/79.9% FT
6th (2) Leslie McDonald 6-4 So. G–7.1/2.2  (20) Doron Lamb 6-4 Fr. G–12.4/2.0  1.7 Ast
7th (25) Justin Knox 6-9 Sr. F–4.5/3.2  (30) Eloy Vargas 6-10 Fr. F/C–1.6/2.0

 

PiRate Criteria Stats

Team N. Carolina Kentucky
Pts 9 12.2
FG% 4.7 6.9
Reb 6.5 4
TO 0.7 1.5
Stl 6.1 5.3
R+T 7.52 5.91
SOS 60 60
Road% 66 61
PiRate # 16 16

 

What we have here is the basketball equivalent of the Dodgers versus the Yankees.  Two of the top programs of all time face off for the second time this season.  In December, North Carolina edged the Wildcats by a deuce in Chapel Hill.

 

The Criteria score shows this game to be a tossup, but all five of us at the PiRate Ratings believe Kentucky is the clear-cut choice in this game.  John Calipari is on the verge of getting his third different school into the Final Four.  His teams always play better against an opponent once they have faced that opponent.  Against Florida, they learned after the first game how to slow down the Gators.  They learned how to stop them cold after the second game, and in the event they see them a fourth time, they will repeat it again.  That is getting a bit too far ahead.

 

North Carolina lacks the quickness to stop the Kentucky penetration, and if the Blue Mist hits at least 35% of their three-pointers in this game, they will advance to the Final Four.

 

North Carolina has a decided depth advantage, but the Tar Heels are not as deep as they once were.  With the longer time outs in this tournament, Kentucky can get by with six key players.

 

We see this game as one of spurts.  The Tar Heels will have two or three spurts, but Kentucky will have three or four.  We believe that UK will take the lead for good with five or six minutes left in the game.

 

Prediction: Kentucky 78  North Carolina 72

March 21, 2011

PiRate Ratings Sweet 16 Preview

Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament PiRate Criteria Ratings

Team W – L Pts FG% Reb TO Stl R+T SOS Road% PiRate #
Arizona 29-7 8.7 2.5 3.6 -0.1 5.2 4.52 55 63 4
Brigham Young 32-4 14.1 4.0 3.0 3.5 8.0 9.72 58 86 18
Butler 25-9 7.8 1.5 2.9 1.7 6.0 5.35 54 65 4
Connecticut 28-9 7.7 3.5 4.8 0.3 6.5 5.27 60 75 11
Duke 32-4 17.1 7.1 3.1 2.7 7.3 7.83 58 79 17
Florida 28-7 9.1 4.2 6.0 0.3 5.9 6.42 60 78 15
Florida State 23-10 7.3 7.7 4.6 -0.8 8.5 5.34 54 61 5
Kansas 34-2 17.1 11.8 7.9 0.8 7.8 9.40 59 95 23
Kentucky 27-8 12.2 6.9 4.0 1.5 5.3 5.91 60 60 16
Marquette 22-14 7.0 2.9 2.7 2.1 7.3 6.38 57 44 3
North Carolina 28-7 9.0 4.7 6.5 0.7 6.1 7.52 60 65 16
Ohio State 34-2 18.0 7.6 4.9 4.8 7.1 13.08 58 88 23
Richmond 28-7 9.2 6.0 -1.9 2.1 6.0 1.12 52 81 3
San Diego State 34-2 13.2 7.1 6.9 1.6 6.2 9.28 58 95 19
V C U 25-11 3.9 2.0 2.1 -0.6 8.3 0.90 54 65 -1
Wisconsin 25-8 9.9 1.8 3.8 2.1 3.5 5.56 57 53 9

 All Times EDT

Number in (Parentheses) indicates PiRate Criteria Rating

For a detailed explanation of the PiRate Criteria Rating, click on the following link:

https://piratings.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/bracketnomics-505-2011-edition/

PiRate Criteria Numbers Updated To Reflect 1st Three Round Results

Thursday, March 24, 2011

7:15 PM on CBS 

West Regional @ Anaheim

#2 San Diego State 34-2 (19) vs. #3 Connecticut 28-9 (11)

Connecticut faces the first team in the tournament that has the defensive capacity to slow down Kemba Walker.  If Walker has a below-average game, the Huskies’ shooting percentage will head too far south, because UConn does not shoot all that well.

 

The Aztecs can make life miserable on opposing shooters, so if they contain Walker, SDSU has the advantage at the other four positions on the floor.  Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas remind us somewhat of former UCLA greats Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe.

 

The Aztecs’ eventual downfall may come when they are exploited by a defense that forces them to beat them from outside.  Connecticut just may be able to pull that off, so this game cannot be considered a slam dunk for the #2 seed Aztecs.

 

Prediction: San Diego State 67  Connecticut 61

 

7:27 PM on TBS 

Southeast Regional @ New Orleans

#2 Florida 28-7 (15) vs. #3 Brigham Young 32-4 (18)

This one should be interesting, as Florida tries to get revenge for a first round overtime loss to BYU last year.

 

We did not have much faith in the Cougars after Brandon Davies was dismissed for the season.  BYU recovered in the second and third rounds, and the 22-point win over Gonzaga was quite impressive.

 

Still, we discount the Cougars by three points with the absence of Davies.  This makes this game a tossup in our eyes. 

 

Florida is playing inspired ball, but we still do not believe the Gators are on par with their prior two national champion teams.  Offensively, the Gators spread the ball around, and all five starters typically score double figure points.  Defensively, they are underneath, and they frequently find ways to pressure the ball out front.  However, the top defender, Kenny Boynton, may not be 100% in this game.  He has an important assignment.

 

That assignment happens to be guarding Jimmer Fredette.  If Fredette tops 30 points without taking 30 shots to do so, the Cougars could easily give the Mountain West Conference a second team in the Elite Eight.

 

We are split on this game, and we did not come to a conclusion which way to go.  So, we will stick with the higher-rated PiRate Criteria score and go with the Cougars.

 

Prediction: B Y U 82  Florida 78

 

9:45 PM on CBS

West Regional @ Anaheim

#1 Duke 32-4 (17) vs. #5 Arizona 29-7 (4)

With Kyrie Irving back in the fold, Duke has the best eight-deep roster in the nation.  We believe the Blue Devils are the third best team in the Sweet 16 with Irving back.  He scored 25 points in the two games in Charlotte in just 41 minutes, and he picked up some rebounds as well.

 

The Blue Devils’ only thing close to a liability is their defense at forward.  Kyle Singler, Miles Plumlee, and Ryan Kelly have trouble against sneaky fast opponents.

 

Arizona’s forwards have that quickness.  Derrick Williams is as important to the Wildcats as Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette are to their teams.  Jesse Perry only averages seven points per game, but he can take it to the basket against a slower defender.

 

Arizona’s weakness is their defense against power offense.  Duke’s slower forwards as well as center Mason Plumlee can take advantage of the Wildcats’ defensive deficiencies. 

 

Coach K deserves to be compared with John Wooden.  Wooden’s UCLA teams won four games in the NCAA Tournament to win the championship in a field of 22-25 teams.  Krzyzewski’s have been forced to win six in a field of 64, 65, and 68.  We believe he is worth an extra five to 10 points, and we will select Duke to make it to the Elite Eight.

 

Prediction: Duke 77  Arizona 68

 

9:57 PM on TBS

Southeast Regional @ New Orleans

#4 Wisconsin 25-8 (9) vs. #8 Butler 25-9 (4)

Pick against Butler at your own risk.  If the Bulldogs can beat Pittsburgh, there is no reason to believe they cannot return to the Final Four.

 

We did not believe Wisconsin could make it to the Sweet 16 either.  As many readers know, we have ties to U Dub, and this group of Badgers did not look strong enough to us to make it to the second week of the tournament.

 

The PiRate Criteria indicates that Wisconsin is the favorite, but with our internal numbers that we do not advertise, we rate this game as a 50-50 affair.

 

Butler has the experience in close games.  They keep finding a way to win.  However, Wisconsin is one of those tough teams that can neutralize what has been working for Coach Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs.

 

This game could very well come down to the final few possessions, and the winner may struggle to top 55 points.  We do not see any more than 100 field goal attempts, and as few as eight players could score points in this game.

 

Matt Howard can force Wisconsin to bring a big man outside, and that will allow Andrew Smith to work with a little more clearance inside.  If Shelvin Mack keeps his hot streak going, Butler can win this one.

 

If Howard is not on target, and the Badgers do not have to respect his outside shooting ability, Coach Bo Ryan’s team will pack it in, control the boards, and then work patiently to set up Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer.  The tandem could score 40 points with the rest of the team adding just 15, and it could be enough to win this game.

 

Prediction: Wisconsin 55  Butler 54

 

Friday, March 25, 2011

 

7:15 PM on CBS

East Regional @ Newark

#2 North Carolina 28-7 (16) vs. #11 Marquette 22-14 (3)

We do not believe the Tar Heels are Final Four candidates this season.  No matter which team wins the game in the adjacent bracket, we see the Tar Heels losing in the Elite Eight.  However, the margin should be slim.

 

This is the Sweet 16 game, and Coach Roy Williams’ team is more than talented enough to advance to Sunday.  With the outside shooting of Kendall Marshall and Leslie McDonald combined with the take-it-to-the-hoop skills of Harrison Barnes and John Henson and the mandatory doubling down on big center Tyler Zeller, North Carolina will score a lot of points in this game.

 

Marquette’s only hope is for three players to be hot from the field, because Buzz Williams’ Golden Eagles will have to outscore North Carolina to win this game.

 

Marquette cannot go head-to-head inside and win this game.  They will have to hit 50% from the field to keep this game close.  From among Jimmy Butler, Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder, and Dwight Buycks three of these players will need to score 15-25 points each.  We see the Golden Eagles coming up short in this one.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 82  Marquette 79

 

7:27 PM on TBS

Southwest Regional @ San Antonio

#1 Kansas 34-2 (23) vs. #12 Richmond 29-7 (3)

Richmond apparently was seeded a few spots to low.  The Spiders have shown that the Atlantic 10 Conference is just below the top six or seven conferences in the nation and well above the average mid-major league.

 

Chris Mooney’s team can shoot the ball and prevent the opponent from shooting the ball.  With an inside-outside punch in big forward Justin Harper and sharpshooting guard Kevin Anderson, Richmond can score points consistently, albeit at a slower pace. 

 

Two things will do the Spiders in Friday night.  They are vulnerable against power teams and teams that can get on the boards for offensive rebounds.  Xavier and Old Dominion showed the blueprint for beating Richmond.

 

Kansas can take that blueprint and build a super foundation.  The Jayhawks are the best passing team in the tournament, and Coach Bill Self’s big men know how to move and get open to receive those passes.  Marcus and Markieff Morris can hit the boards at both ends, and Brady Morningstar and Tyshawn Taylor know how to get the ball to them.  KU will advance to play for a spot in the Final Four on Sunday.

 

Prediction: Kansas 73  Richmond 62

 

9:45 PM on CBS

East Regional @ Newark

#1 Ohio State 34-2 (23) vs. #4 Kentucky 27-8 (16)

This is the first contest in the tournament where both teams are rated worthy of making the Elite Eight. 

 

Ohio State has actually moved a couple of percentage points ahead of Kansas for the top overall Criteria score.  The Buckeyes are strong where Kentucky is strong, but Coach Thad Matta’s team also has strength were Kentucky has been vulnerable.  Tough perimeter defense forced George Mason to wilt in the Round of 32, and in William Buford, Jon Diebler, and David Lighty, Ohio State can cut off the perimeter game of most teams. 

 

With the great Jared Sullinger roaming the low post and baseline areas, Kentucky has to dedicate a big man to roam with him.  That will be the Wildcats’ downfall Friday night.  If Terrence Jones is forced to guard Sullinger, expect Josh Harrellson to have a hard time defending the paint against Ohio State’s quicker forwards and slashing guards.  If Harrellson goes out to guard Sullinger, he will have a hard time guarding the nation’s top big man.  Coach John Calipari will have to pick his poison.

 

Kentucky will need a great night from Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb.  If the two players and Darius Miller do not combine for 50 points, Kentucky will be heading back to Lexington, and the sports fans in the Commonwealth can turn their attention to Uncle Mo and the first Saturday in May.

Prediction: Ohio State 76  Kentucky 69

 

9:57 PM on TBS

#10 Florida State 23-10 (5) vs. #12 Virginia Commonwealth 25-11 (-1)

This game guarantees that one double-digit seed will make it to the Elite Eight, and Kansas fans must be quite happy about it.

 

We have two teams that have found a new gear in their engine at the most opportune time.  VCU was not even supposed to be in this tournament after failing to win the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.  Instead, the Rams just became the first team to win three NCAA Tournament games in less than a week since Texas Western in 1966.  Texas Western went on to upset Kentucky and win the National Championship.  VCU is not Texas Western.  That TWU (Now UTEP) team was rated in the top five in the nation.

 

Florida State has not been to the Final Four since Hugh Durham took the Seminoles to the 1972 National Title game.  This team is not in that FSU team’s league.

 

So, what do we have here?  Florida State is a team that in most years would have been fortunate to win one game.  VCU is a team that in most years would probably be playing this week for a trip to Madison Square Garden and the NIT semi-finals.

 

VCU has a negative PiRate Criteria score, but it is moving close to zero.  Still, we cannot recall a negative criteria score making it to the Elite Eight.

 

Note: Both FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton and VCU Coach Shaka Smart are being mentioned as possible candidates for the vacant Tennessee job.

 

Prediction: Florida State 65  Virginia Commonwealth 60

 

Coming Saturday Morning: We will preview the Southeast and West Regional Final games.

March 20, 2011

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament PiRate Criteria Ratings

All Times EDT

Number in (Parentheses) indicates PiRate Criteria Rating

For a detailed explanation of the PiRate Criteria Rating, click on the following link:

https://piratings.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/bracketnomics-505-2011-edition/

 

12:15 PM on CBS

North Carolina (15) vs. Washington (13)

CBS gives you the most exciting 3rd round game to start off your Sunday.  These teams can get up and down the floor and score quickly.  We expect it to be more like the late 1960’s when North Carolina and Davidson met in the NCAA Tournament for a couple of historic games.

 

The Tar Heels are the slight favorite, but this game could go either way.  When you have two teams capable of topping 85 points, it comes down to which team can control the boards and force more turnovers.  North Carolina should win the battle on the boards, but Washington should win the turnover battle and force more steals.

 

We thought about taking the Huskies, but Coach Roy Williams has a long history of getting to the Sweet 16, while Coach Lorenzo Romar has a shorter history of doing so.

 

We think this will still be undecided with five minutes to go, but the Tar Heels have three go-to guys that can win this game (Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, while UW has two (Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning).  Three to two odds makes for a 60% chance that nothing will be finer in Carolina today.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 83  Washington 76

 

2:45 PM on CBS

Duke (15) vs. Michigan (Elim)

Shortly after we released the 68-team preview last week, the news that Kyrie Irving was ready to play once again changed Duke’s criteria score.  We have not set way to add points in cases like this; we have to make a semi-educated guess.  Before Irving went down to injury, Duke was 8-0, outscoring opponents by a score of 89-66.  He returned to play against Hampton, so in the nine games in which he has contributed, Duke’s average scoring margin is 89-64.  We figure Irving’s presence makes Duke seven to 10 points better.  That would place their PiRate Criteria score right there with Kansas for the top spot.

 

Michigan caught the biggest break in this tournament.  They played a Tennessee team that completely quit once a six-point Volunteer lead was wiped away.  The Wolverines outscored Tennessee 52-16 the final 24 minutes of their game.

 

Duke will not wilt if Michigan erases a six-point Blue Devil lead.  This team is better than last year’s national champion with Irving teaming up with Nolan Smith.  Last year’s champion was a little stronger inside, but with Irving, Smith, Kyle Singler, Mason and Miles Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry, and Andre Dawkins, Coach Mike Krzyzewski has too many weapons to completely stop.

 

Michigan relies on three-point shooting and great penetration.  Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway, Junior can take the maize and blue on their shoulders and make life miserable for opposing teams that are not overly aggressive defensively.  Duke is not one of those teams.

 

The Blue Devils will stifle the Michigan offense and score enough fast break points and second-chance points to win this one by double digits.

 

Prediction: Duke 76  Michigan 61

 

5:15 PM on CBS

Ohio State (21) vs. George Mason (8)

George Mason has done it before.  The Colonials knocked off Connecticut and North Carolina among others when they made their historic run to the Final Four in 2006.  This GMU team has more talent and almost as much experience, making the Colonials a legitimate contender to advance to the Sweet 16.

 

One problem for GMU: they are facing the team with the second best PiRate Criteria score.  Ohio State has too much firepower for Coach Jim Larranaga to pull magic out of a hat again.

 

Jared Sullinger is too strong and quick inside for the Colonials to stop, and Ryan Pearson will not be able to have a big game against the Buckeyes’ inside defense.  Jon Diebler and William Buford will see a lot of open looks from outside, and we cannot see both having an off day.

 

Prediction: Ohio State 74  George Mason 59

 

6:10 PM on TNT

Texas (18) vs. Arizona (3)

The Longhorns almost could not hold onto a big lead in their first game, while Arizona never could break away from Memphis in theirs.

 

We believe Texas will be more focused on this game and put together 40 minutes of total basketball.  The Longhorns present tough matchup problems with four starters that are great combo inside-outside players.  When they get their mind into the game, they can control a game at both ends of the floor.

 

Jordan Hamilton, Gary Johnson, Tristan Thompson, and Cory Joseph should be focused after watching a huge lead against Oakland almost evaporate entirely in the final minutes.

 

Arizona benefitted from playing a weak second-round opponent.  The Wildcats are not back to where they were in the Lute Olson days.  In Derrick Williams, they have an inside player that can dominate in the paint, but he can be neutralized by an opponent that gets the Wildcats into a running transition game.

 

Texas is not a pure running team, but the Longhorns can take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.  They will do so today.

 

Prediction: Texas 78  Arizona 65

 

7:10 PM on TBS

Purdue (16) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (-1)

Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart may be on the radar of two or three big-time coaching searches.  The second year coach has proven to be an excellent tournament tactician.

 

This Ram team does not figure to advance into the second week of the tournament, because in the past, teams with negative PiRate Critieria scores only made it to the Sweet 16 if their first two opponents had either negative scores or ELIM scores.

 

Purdue is only 11-6 since their 15-1 start.  If E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson do not combine for at least 35 points and 20 rebounds, the Boilermakers can be beaten.  We tend to believe that both stars will shine brightly today, and the lads from West Lafayette will be preparing for a mighty rivalry game later in the week.

 

Prediction: Purdue 73  V C U 64

 

7:45 PM on truTV

Syracuse (17) vs. Marquette (3)

When a conference places 11 teams in the Big Dance, it goes that there could be matchups of teams from that conference facing off in earlier rounds.  For the second time this weekend, the Big East has another “conference game” in the NCAA Tournament.

 

In the regular season, Marquette won a close game in Milwaukee, 76-70.  It was the fourth consecutive loss for the Orangemen following an 18-0 start.  Once the ‘Cuse got over their midseason swoon, they recovered to win six in a row before meeting the hot Huskies from Connecticut in the Big East Tournament.

 

Is a 14-loss team good enough to advance to the Sweet 16?  This is not your father’s Marquette teams.  Bo Ellis, Lloyd Walton, Dean Meminger, and Butch Lee are not walking through that door.  Al McGuire won’t be receiving a couple of technical fouls.

 

The Golden Eagles have one thing going for them; they know how to attack Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense.  They should get enough open looks to keep this game close, and if they can come close on the boards, they will be there at the end.

 

We expect a close game, but Syracuse will dictate the tempo.  Expect a lower-scoring game, with Syracuse’s Rick Jackson being just a little too much for Marquette’s interior defense to handle.

 

Prediction: Syracuse 68  Marquette 62

 

8:40 PM on TNT

Kansas (23) vs. Illinois (1)

Kansas remembers well what happened one year ago just down I-44 in OKC from where they are playing today.  The Jayhawks exited the tournament as one of the co-favorites to win it all, when Northern Iowa pulled off a major shocker.

 

We do not see KU meeting a similar fate in Tulsa today.  This team is loaded with talent, both inside and outside, and they have no major liabilities to be exploited.  Markieff and Marcus Morris are the best set of twins in college basketball since the Van Arsdale brothers (Dick and Tom) in the 1960’s. The two combine for 31 points and 15+ rebounds per game.  Off the bench, beefy Thomas Robinson provides extra inside punch.

 

The taller of the twins, Markieff can set up outside and bury the three-pointer or pass high-low to his brother.  It is hard to stop both, so opponents have to sell out to stop the inside threat first.

 

Illinois greatly underachieved this season.  The Illini should have contended for second place in the Big Ten and should have won five or six additional games.  A team talented enough to beat North Carolina by 12 points as well as Oakland, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, and Penn State handily also lost to Illinois-Chicago and Indiana.  For the Illini to have a chance in this game, they will have to penetrate the KU defense and force fouls.  For two reasons, we do not believe that will work today.  First, the officiating in this tournament has been very relaxed.  Second, we do not believe Illinois point guard Demetri McCamey can get through the front line of defense enough times to change the outcome of the game.

 

Prediction: Kansas 80  Illinois 68

 

9:45 PM on TBS

Notre Dame (11) vs. Florida State (2)

Too bad this one isn’t being played at the Fiesta Bowl.  These former football rivals will meet in Chicago where the St. Patrick’s Day celebrants should be back to normal today.  We consider Notre Dame to have a slight near-home court advantage, and the Irish really do not need anything extra to win this game.

 

Florida State gets extra points for Chris Singleton’s return from injury.  However, Singleton scored just five points and grabbed just two rebounds in 16 minutes of play in the win over Texas A&M; this was not very Kyrie Irving-like.  He is not ready to take the Seminoles on his shoulders and lead them into the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Notre Dame 65  Florida State 59

 

Coming Later This Week: We will update the PiRate Criteria Scores based on the two games each of the Sweet 16 teams playe

March 19, 2011

Saturday’s NCAA Tournament PiRate Criteria Ratings

All Times EDT

Number in (Parentheses) indicates PiRate Criteria Rating

For a detailed explanation of the PiRate Criteria Rating, click on the following link:

https://piratings.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/bracketnomics-505-2011-edition/

 

12:15 PM on CBS

Kentucky (14) vs. West Virginia (6)

The Wildcats seek revenge today for their regional final exit of last year.  This Kentucky team has what last year’s team lacked—consistent outside shooting to complement their more than decent dribble-drive.  While not as talented, Coach John Calipari’s squad is more complete this year.  The Blue Misters are jelling at the right time, and we believe they will advance to the Sweet 16.

 

West Virginia is not as dominating inside as they were last year, and they might be a little to slow and methodical to compete against the quicker Wildcats.  Coach Bob Huggins will have a great gameplan ready, and we believe the Mountaineers will keep it close.

 

We see this as a game of spurts.  Kentucky will enjoy one spurt in both halves, and WVU will attempt to creep back in the game both times.

 

Prediction: Kentucky 74  West Virginia 67

 

2:40 PM on CBS

Florida (15) vs. U C L A (-3)

The PiRate Criteria rates this game a giant mismatch, and we see no reason why not to agree. This would be a great game if all the former Bruins now playing in the NBA would have used their four years of eligibility.  However, this is more like the old Brubabes when schools fielded Freshmen and later Junior Varsity teams.  This UCLA team is better than Florida’s second team.  The Gators’ best players are still around, while UCLA’s best senior is the star of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

 

Florida has a large quickness advantage, and they will win the hustle points.  This one should be out of hand by halftime or five minutes into the second half.

 

Prediction: Florida 75  U C L A 62

 

5:15 PM on CBS

Morehead State (3) vs. Richmond (2)

This game will be one of the more interesting contests in the Round of 32.  Morehead State is an aggressive take-it-to-the-hoop and score or pass back for a three team.  The Racers have the closest thing to Elvin Hayes on their roster.  Kenneth Faried is much better than Dennis Rodman, but he is much thinner than Wes Unseld, and he has a better offensive game than both of those historically fantastic rebounders.  Faried can take it to the hoop, and he can pull up and fire from the foul line area, much like the great Hayes used to do with Houston and in the NBA.

 

Richmond will try to make this a game of the smart beating the strong, because the Spiders do not have much of an answer for Faried inside.  However, they enjoy a huge advantage on the perimeter.

 

This game will come down to this easy pointer: whichever team performs better at their strength and defends the other’s strength will win.  We think this one could end on a buzzer beater or go to overtime, but we will go with the chalk and take the higher PiRate score.

 

By the way, the last time an Ohio Valley Conference team advanced to the Sweet 16, it was Western Kentucky.  The Hilltoppers left the OVC more than two decades ago.

 

Prediction: Morehead State 64  Richmond 62

 

6:10 PM on TNT

San Diego State (19) vs. Temple (5)

If our criteria rating is going to be accurate this season, then we need to see the Aztecs play much better today than they did in a lackluster opening round win over Northern Colorado.  If San Diego State is firing on all cylinders, Temple has little or no chance in this game.

 

This Owl team is not quick enough or strong enough to battle this Aztec team if SDSU is playing just an average game.  If the Aztecs come out flat, Coach Fran Dunphy’s Owls could keep it close for 40 minutes and even be in striking distance.

 

Steve Fisher has been to the Final Four three times, and he knows how to prepare a team in tournament play.  He has enough talent to get there again, and we believe SDSU will play much better today against a much better opponent than Northern Colorado.  Remember this: Temple ran Duke of the Palestra floor less a month ago.  They have enough talent to win this game, but we do not see it happening.

 

Prediction: San Diego State 72  Temple 62

 

7:10 PM on TBS

Pittsburgh (18) vs. Butler (7)

We know better than to count out a team coached by Brad Stevens.  However, Butler’s bubble is going to burst today.

 

Pittsburgh is just too talented to lose this game, even if Coach Jamie Dixon sometimes loses control of that talent.  The Panthers know what Butler can do, and they will be fired up for this game just as much as if they were playing Ohio State, Duke, or Kansas.

 

Butler is playing its best ball at the right time, but they are plainly outmanned against a superior team.  We expect the Bulldogs to keep it close and still have a chance with 10 minutes to go, but the Panthers will wear them down and pull away to what looks like an easier win than it was.

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 71  Butler 59

 

7:45 PM on CBS

B Y U (18) vs. Gonzaga (13)

When you penalize BYU for the loss of Brandon Davies, their criteria score drops by about five points.  This ironically makes this game a complete tossup.

 

Jimmer Fredette may be able to score 40-50 points in this game, but Gonzaga could place five players in double figures.  We tend to like the odds of five scorers outscoring one.

 

Coach Mark Few deserves high accolades for turning this Bulldog team around in midseason.  The Zags appeared to be NIT-bound, before they turned it up a notch and began playing the best basketball seen in Spokane since the days of Adam Morrison.

 

We believe Gonzaga is Sweet 16-bound, and we would not be surprised if they give Florida a great game in a potential matchup.

 

Prediction: Gonzaga 84  B Y U 75

 

8:40 PM on TNT

Kansas State (9) vs. Wisconsin (7)

This one is the other great game of the day.  How about Jacob Pullen versus Jordan Taylor, and Jon Leuer versus Curtis Kelly?  If you like great player matchups, then this is the game of the day for you.

 

Kansas State is a tad stronger on the perimeter and a tad quicker, while Wisconsin is a tad stronger inside.  We expect the tempo to be controlled by the Badgers, so the score will be one of the lowest of the day, if not the lowest.

 

We have no real favorite in this game, so we will stick with the PiRate Criteria scores.  Two points is not much; it equates to about a 55% chance of the favorite winning.

 

Prediction: Kansas State 59  Wisconsin 55

 

9:40 PM on TBS

Connecticut (9) vs. Cincinnati (9)

Here we have our first game between teams from the same conference and teams that have already played against each other.  In their lone regular season contest in Cincinnati, the Huskies won on the road by eight points. 

 

Both teams play tenacious defense and rely on just a couple of players to lead on offense.  They know each other well, so it should be a high-spirited, tightly-fought game with a lot of excellent defensive possessions sprinkled with the occasional great offensive play.

 

Cincinnati will concentrate their efforts on stopping Kemba Walker, while the Huskies will try to keep the ball away from Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon.

 

This is the other game that could come down to a buzzer-beater, but we have a sneaky suspicion that Connecticut is about to explode and play like Husky teams of the past.

 

Prediction: Connecticut 69  Cincinnati 59

March 14, 2011

2011 PiRate NCAA Basketball Tournament Preview

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 7:01 pm

1. Which teams meet the upper range criteria in every category?  That means they outscored their opponents by eight or more per game; their field goal percentage was greater than 7.5% better than their opponents; they outrebounded their opponents by five or more per game; they forced at least three more turnovers per game than they committed; and they stole the ball 7.5 or more times per game.

 

ANSWER—No teams this year meet all the perfect criteria described above.  Six teams come close to meeting the perfect criteria, but all fall short in at least one statistic.  This means there is no clear-cut favorite—only six teams that most closely resemble the great champions of the past.  Of the six, three come from power conferences.  These three are Kansas, Ohio State, and Syracuse.

 

Kansas fails to meet the turnover margin requirement, but the Jayhawks surpass all the other qualifications.  Ohio State comes up a tad bit short in field goal percentage margin, rebounding margin, and steals per game, but just misses in all three.  Syracuse misses in rebounding and turnover margin, but they Orangemen do not miss by much. 

 

2. Which teams can be immediately eliminated due to a negative R+T rating?  Which teams have an incredibly low R+T Rating (<2.0)?

 

ANSWER—Three teams can immediately be eliminated due to negative R+T Ratings.  It comes as no surprise that Alabama State and Texas-San Antonio, two teams facing off in the First Round in Dayton, have negative R+T ratings.  The third team is Michigan.  The Wolverines were outrebounded by 1.9 boards per game, and they only had a +1.4 turnover margin with just 4.7 steals per game.

 

Five other teams finished with R+T ratings less than 2.0.  This usually means one and done for these teams, unless they have outstanding FG% margins or cupcake opponents with worse criteria numbers.  Those five teams are: Penn State, Richmond, St. Peter’s, UCLA, and UCSB.

 

3. Which teams are capable of winning it all?

 

ANSWER—We separate the contenders from the pretenders by looking at the total PiRate Criteria score and then looking to see if the high criteria scoring teams receive merit on every individual statistic.

 

Last year, Duke was head and heels better than the other 64 teams.  The Blue Devils had the highest score overall, and they satisfactorily rated in every PiRate category.

 

No teams appear to be as strong this year as the Blue Devils were last year, but nine teams meet most of the minimum requirements to be considered Final Four contenders this year.

 

It should come as no surprise that the top two teams, Ohio State and Kansas, rank at the top in the Criteria.  Kansas actually has the highest score of the 68 teams, a score of 23.  The Jayhawks outscored their opposition by 17.2 points, shot 11.7% better from the field than their opponents, and outrebounded their opponents by 7.8 boards per game.  These stats are worthy of a powerhouse.  However, KU enjoyed just a 0.9 turnover margin and stole the ball 7.9 times per game, giving the Jayhawks an R+T Rating of 9.5.  We tend to look for teams with an R+T Rating in excess of 10, so KU is not a great favorite to go all the way. 

 

Ohio State’s total Criteria score is 21, good for second best.  However, the Buckeyes enjoy an R+T Rating of 13.2, which is a number we really like in a Final Four contender.  This number correlates to 13 extra scoring opportunities that their opposition does not receive.  OSU outscores their opponents by 17.3 points per game, shot 6.9% better from the field than they allows, outrebounded their opponents by 4.9 per game, had a turnover margin of +4.8, and stole the ball 7.2 times per game. 

 

San Diego State comes in third with 19 total criteria points.  BYU, Pittsburgh, and Texas come in next with 18 points; the Panthers have an R+T rating above 10.  The other three teams with PiRate Criteria scores showing themselves to be strong contenders for a Final Four berth are Syracuse, Purdue, and Duke

 

Florida, North Carolina, and UNLV are actually almost in a statistical tie with Duke, meaning those three are dark horse candidates for the Final Four.

 

Overall, this is the weakest field by far in the six tournaments where we have ranked the teams according to our criteria.  Looking back, this could be the weakest field since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. 

 

North Carolina State, Kansas, and Villanova won national titles in the past with less than stellar numbers.  We do not have all the statistics from those years, so we cannot really calculate criteria numbers for those three champions.  Could this be a season in which one team gets hot for six games and comes from out of the pack to win it all?  It could happen, but we are sticking with this mechanical system and going with its results.  Kansas, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Texas appear to be the best PiRate Criteria matches to past Final Four teams, and they are the quartet we officially pick to make it to Houston.  Syracuse becomes the wildcard team that could sneak into the mix.

 

Here is a look at the First Four Round One games and the 32 second round games.  The number in (parentheses) represents the PiRate Bracketnomics criteria number.

 

First Four Round

 

#16 Texas-San Antonio 19-13 (Elim) vs. #16 Alabama State 17-17 (Elim)

At first, we thought this was highly ironic, but upon further review, we consider it sort of a compliment.  These two teams both must be eliminated based on negative R+T ratings.  Of course, one of them must win this game so that they can advance to a 25-point or more loss in the next round.

 

Most of you filling out your brackets do not have to worry about these games in Dayton.  You get to turn in your choices after these games have been played.

 

UTSA has better criteria numbers after you factor out both teams’ R+T numbers. 

 

Prediction: Texas-San Antonio 64  Alabama State 55

 

 

#12 U A B 22-8 (2) vs. #12 Clemson 21-11 (1)

If you have been following the “experts” since the pairings were announced Sunday evening, then you know that these two teams do not belong in the tournament in their opinion.  It is not our mission statement to declare which teams should and should not have been included in the Big Dance, but we will tell you that Harvard and Saint Mary’s enjoyed Criteria scores several points better than these two teams, while Colorado and Virginia Tech had equal numbers to these two.

 

This game should be as close as the criteria scores show.  UAB has a one-point advantage in the criteria, but the Blazers just do not excel in any stage of the game.  Clemson’s strong point is forcing turnovers by way of steals, and that leads to a lot of cheap baskets.  Cheap baskets pay off big time in the NCAA Tournament, so we will take the Tigers in this one.

 

Prediction: Clemson 74  UAB 67

 

#11 Southern Cal 19-14 (-1) vs. #11 Virginia Commonwealth 23-11 (-1)

The winner of this game is going home two days later.  Neither team merits inclusion in the Big Dance this year. 

 

Southern Cal has no apparent weakness according to the PiRate Criteria.  In fact, they have a great resume—for an NIT team.

 

The Trojans outscore their opponents by four points per game, and they outshoot them by 3.3%.  They have a small rebounding margin of 1.2, and they have an even smaller turnover margin of 0.6.  They average six steals per game and have a R+T rating of 2.1.  On top of these modest numbers, their schedule was average.

 

VCU is much in the same boat as USC with two exceptions.  They have a negative turnover margin, but they also average 8.5 steals per game.

 

The only other difference in these teams is their records away from home.  USC won only 41% of their games, while VCU won 60%.

 

This one is quite tough to pick, but we will go with the Trojans due to their superior inside talent.  We expect USC to win the rebounding edge by at least five.

 

Prediction: Southern Cal  65  V C U  60

 

#16 UNC-Asheville 19-13 (-5) vs. #16 Arkansas-Little Rock 19-16 (-13)

Obviously, we have two teams that would not even merit NIT bids had they lost in the championship games of their conference tournaments.  UALR has one of the lowest Criteria Scores in the seven years we have been calculating this data.

 

UNC-Asheville actually has a couple of positive Criteria stats.  Their R+T is 5.5, which had it come against a more difficult schedule, would have made them worthy of becoming a possible team to watch in the Round of 64.

 

We will go with UNCA here, as schedule strength is about the same for both teams.

 

Prediction: UNC-Asheville 69  Arkansas-Little Rock 59

 

 

Second-Round Games

 

East Regional

 

#1 Ohio State 32-2 (21) vs. #16 UTSA (Elim)/Alabama State (Elim)

This game will be over quickly.  There will be no scare, not even for two TV timeouts.  The second highest Criteria score versus one of the teams with an R+T Rating of “Eliminate.”

 

The Buckeyes outscored their opponents by more than 17 points per game.  Their strength of schedule was 13 points better than UTSA and 16 points better than Alabama State. 

 

We will go under the theory that UTSA will be the opponent in this game.  Using our Criteria Rating, Ohio State figures to be 30-40 points better than UTSA.  Coach Thad Matta will definitely empty his bench early in this game, so the Buckeyes may “only win” by 25-30. 

 

Prediction: Ohio State 78  Texas-San Antonio 50

 

#8 George Mason 26-6 (8) vs. #9 Villanova 21-11 (5)

George Mason is the higher seed in this game, so if they win, it cannot really be considered an upset.

 

Villanova was on course to be a four-seed when the Wildcats were 16-5 and contending for the Big East Conference regular season title.  The Wildcats could not compete down low against the more physical teams in their league.

 

George Mason has a higher PiRate Criteria Score, but it is not an insurmountable advantage.  The key stat for this game is the R+T Rating.  For GMU, it is 6.8.  For VU, it is 4.9.  Considering that Villanova played a harder schedule, these numbers basically cancel each other out, thus making this a tossup game.

 

There are two variables to consider here.  George Mason performed much better on the road, and Villanova is banged up a bit.

 

Prediction: George Mason 66  Villanova 62

 

#5 West Virginia 20-11 (6) vs. #12 UAB (2)/Clemson (1)

We believe the Mountaineers will be facing Clemson in this game, but the prediction will hold up if they play UAB. 

 

West Virginia is not as good this season as last season, and the Mountaineers will not advance to the Final Four, or even the Elite Eight.  They are liable to be out by the end of the weekend.  However, they are strong enough to get into the Round of 32. 

 

The Mountaineers best attribute is that they put up decent numbers against one of the toughest schedules in the country.  Of the NCAA Tournament teams, only Georgetown played a tougher schedule.  They will have to limit turnovers, or else this game will be close and go down to the wire.  We believe Coach Bob Huggins will be able to keep the pace at a level he likes and not allow Clemson (or UAB) to force the Mountaineers into enough mistakes to turn the tide.

 

Prediction: West Virginia 69  Clemson 62 (Or UAB 58)

 

#4 Kentucky 25-8 (14) vs. #13 Princeton 25-6 (-2)

Princeton has pulled off the big upset in the past, and they came within a missed jumper at the buzzer of becoming the only #16 seed to beat a #1 seed.  However, that was two decades ago.  The Tigers have not been to the NCAA Tournament in seven years, and that big win over UCLA was 15 years ago. 

 

Kentucky is not the type of team that will allow Princeton’s style of play to affect their style of play.  The Wildcats should actually play better than their norm with fewer mistakes. 

 

We believe that Princeton will actually crumble under relentless man-to-man pressure and turn the ball over enough times in the opening minutes of the game to allow the Wildcats to open a quick double-digit lead.  This group of Cats tends to fiddle around a little once they get a quick double-digit lead and then play uninspired ball until the opponent makes a run.  Then, they go on the attack at the right time and put the game away.

 

Adolph Rupp had a team just like this in 1958.  They were called “The Fiddlin’ Five.”  They were also called National Champions.  We won’t go so far as to put UK into this category, but we will advance the Wildcats into the next round and then into the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Kentucky 72  Princeton 59

 

#6 Xavier 24-7 (8) vs. #11 Marquette 20-14 (3)

If you are looking for a tough, hard-fought game with two Midwestern teams, then tune into this game Friday evening.

 

If the Musketeers were a little more competent at forcing turnovers, they could be a dark horse candidate to advance to the Elite Eight.  XU shoots the ball well and plays well on defense when it comes to preventing a lot of easy shots.  They do well on the boards, and against a team that cannot exploit their ball-handling and ball-hawking deficiencies, they will hold their own inside.  The only other possible problem for the Musketeers is a lack of depth, but in the NCAA Tournaments, TV timeouts are longer.  It is hard to wear a team down with such long breaks every four or so minutes.

 

Marquette does not have enough depth to take advantage of Xavier’s lack of depth, so this factor will become a non-factor.  The Golden Eagles got to this tournament due to their ability to put the ball into the basket.  Marquette needs to shoot better than 46% to win, while Xavier is adept at holding teams under 45% as a rule.

 

Prediction: Xavier 71  Marquette 65

 

#3 Syracuse 26-7 (17) vs. #14 Indiana State 20-13 (-4)

Syracuse has been getting very little national exposure since their 18-0 start ended with an 8-7 finish.  The Orangemen are a team to watch in this tournament.  If not for a pedestrian 71% winning percentage away from the Carrier Dome, we would have them as one of the top four teams in this tournament.

 

Coach Jim Boeheim’s team outscores their opposition by 10.3 points per game; they outshoot them by 7.6%, and they outrebound them by 3.6 boards per game.  Their turnover margin is +1.9, and they averaged almost nine steals per game.  Their R+T Rating is 7.6, and their Strength of Schedule is somewhere between above-average and very good.  This is the Criteria Score of a team that will advance to the Sweet 16 and compete for an Elite Eight and Final Four berth.

 

Indiana State needs the return of Larry Bird to win this game.  They are too perimeter-oriented.  The Sycamores do not have the beef down low to contend in the paint, and even though Syracuse plays a 2-3 zone, teams rarely beat the Orangemen by firing up 25 long-range bombs.

 

This one smells like a blowout.

 

Prediction: Syracuse 81  Indiana State 62

 

#7 Washington 23-10 (13) vs. #10 Georgia 21-11 (2)

Washington is one of those teams that can play with anybody in this tournament—when they are playing up to their potential.  The Huskies could also exit in the first round if they play like they did the weekend they went to Oregon and Oregon State.

 

Georgia is much more consistent, but their best effort will not defeat the Huskies’ best effort.

 

Washington lacked the seasoned experience this season, and it showed when they ventured away from Seattle.  The Huskies lost to weaker opponents because they lacked the composure to win on foreign courts.  That changed when they arrived in Los Angeles for the Pac-10 Tournament.  Isaiah Thomas took over command of the team and led them to the tournament title.  This makes UW a scary and dangerous team capable of returning to the Sweet 16.

 

Georgia must really dominate the glass in this game, because we believe they will turn the ball over too many times against UW’s pressure man-to-man defense.  It is our opinion that the Bulldogs will play a little timidly at the start of this game and find themselves in a hole.

 

The Bulldogs had trouble against Alabama’s defense, and Washington is similar but with a much better offense.

 

Prediction: Washington 78  Georgia 70

 

#2 North Carolina 26-7 (15) vs. #15 Long Island 27-5 (-1)

 

Long Island is just the type of team that can forget that their opponent is a dynasty program that chews up and spits out little programs like this.

 

Teams from Brooklyn don’t intimidate easily, especially when they are led by a trio of Texans.  So, LIU will not be intimidated, but will they be talented enough to make a game of this contest?

 

That’s the rub.  They lack the defensive ability to slow down the Tar Heels, while Coach Roy Williams’ team will be able to hold the Blackbirds under their scoring average.  The big problem for LIU will be holding onto the ball, and we could see North Carolina forcing 20 turnovers in this game.  When the Tar Heels force more turnovers than they commit, they are almost unbeatable.  This game could be interesting for a short time, but it will eventually get out of hand.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 88  Long Island 70

 

West Regional

 

#1 Duke 30-4 (15) vs. #16 Hampton 24-8 (-8)

Duke has nothing to worry about here.  This will be like one of their November/December home games where they quickly put the cupcake away with a barrage of power and speed.  You know the type: a 37-point win over Princeton; a 34-point win over Miami of Ohio; a 52-point win over Colgate.

 

Hampton got to the Dance using an aggressive defense and three-point shooting barrage on offense.  Duke will not be affected by the defensive pressure, and they will cut off the open shots from the outside.  It will be a mercy killing, and it will be quick.  Look for the Blue Devils to be up by more than 15 points before the halfway point of the first half.  By the time Coach K empties the bench, the Blue Devils should be up by 25-30 points.

 

Prediction: Duke 81  Hampton 61

 

#8 Michigan 20-13 (Elim) vs. #9 Tennessee 19-14 (10)

Michigan is the highest-rated team that fails to meet our R+T Rating requirement, so the Wolverines are automatically tabbed as a first-round loser.

 

Coach Jim Beilein has been in a similar position before.  He guided a West Virginia team with not-so-flashy Criteria numbers to the Elite Eight, where they forced Louisville to come from 20 points down to rally for the victory.  That WVU team had one of the worst negative rebounding numbers of any team in Elite Eight history, but that team made few mistakes and had a nice turnover margin.

 

This Michigan team was only outrebounded by two a game, but they do not create enough extra possessions with their miniscule turnover margin of 1.4 and their average of just 4.7 steals per game.

 

Tennessee has been up and down, and the Volunteers are not going to make a repeat run to the Elite Eight this year.  However, Coach Bruce Pearl’s troops will control the boards in this game and maybe force more turnovers than they commit.  We figure that Tennessee will have 10 more opportunities to score in this game, and that is too many for the Wolverines to make up with their three-point shooting.

 

Prediction: Tennessee 74  Michigan 69

 

#5 Arizona 27-7 (3) vs. #12 Memphis 25-9 (-1)

Memphis was not going to earn an at-large bid this season had they failed to win the Conference USA Tournament.  They received an ideal first round opponent, and the Tigers actually have a fighting chance to pull off yet another classic #12-seed over #5-seed upset.

 

Arizona needs to pound the ball inside and rely on numerous offensive rebounds to win this game.  Other teams might be able to exploit Memphis’s poor ball-handling skills, but the Wildcats do not have the defensive acumen to take advantage here.

 

Memphis will try to make this an up-tempo game where they can neutralize Arizona’s height advantage inside.  It has a chance of working, but Arizona probably has too much power inside and just enough quickness to stop the Tigers’ transition game.

 

Prediction: Arizona 76  Memphis 69

 

#4 Texas 27-7 (18) vs. #13 Oakland 25-9 (3)

This has become a popular upset pick in the media.  Oakland has generated a lot of positive press, and many “experts” are calling for the upset in this game.  We are not one of them.  Not only do we believe the Longhorns will take care of Oakland with relative ease in this game, we believe Texas is a force to be reckoned with in the next two or three rounds. 

 

Let’s look at Texas’ Criteria Rating.  At 18, the ‘Horns rate as our sixth best team in the tournament.  They have a 13.5 point scoring margin, a 7.1% field goal margin, a 6.6 rebounding margin, and a 1.2 turnover margin.  Their only Achilles Heel is a low amount of steals resulting in a R+T Rating of 8.3.  Had that number been above 10, we would be selecting Coach Rick Barnes’ team for the Final Four.

 

Oakland won this year with strong rebounding and an excellent ability to force their opponents into bad shots.  Center Keith Benson is a future NBA player, but he is not enough to propel the Golden Grizzlies into the next round.

 

Prediction: Texas 77  Oakland 65

 

#6 Cincinnati 25-8 (9) vs. #11 Missouri 23-9 (10)

On paper, this looks like the best game of this round between a team with contrasting styles.

 

Cincinnati is one of the top defensive teams in the tournament.  The Bearcats are tough inside, and they have quality depth to continue playing hard in the paint. 

 

Missouri uses the “40 minutes of Hell” approach that Coach Mike Anderson learned under his mentor Nolan Richardson.  The Tigers press full court and run the fast break as often as they get the chance.  They are perimeter-oriented and can score a lot of points in a hurry.

 

When we try to decide tossup games, we look to the all-important defense and rebounding stats, since that is what wins close games in the Big Dance. 

 

Missouri is vulnerable in both of these crucial areas.  They have given up a lot of cheap baskets this year when teams solved their press.  The Tigers were outrebounded by 1.7 boards per game.

 

Cincinnati owns a +2.7 rebounding margin, and the Bearcats held onto the ball quite competently.  We believe Coach Mick Cronin’s crew will advance.

 

Prediction: Cincinnati 68  Missouri 65

 

#3 Connecticut 26-9 (9) vs. #14 Bucknell 25-8 (-4)

Ask Kansas Coach Bill Self if it is wise to underestimate Bucknell.  The Bison know how to hold onto the ball and work for intelligent shots.  Give them an opening, and they can bury you with a high field goal percentage.

 

Connecticut did the unthinkable by winning five games in five days.  Their defense does not get the merit it deserves, because Kemba Walker gets more attention for his offensive antics.  The Huskies actually held teams under 40% from the field.

 

Coach Jim Calhoun knows how to prepare a team for tournament action.  He will have UConn ready for this game, and the Huskies will not overlook the Bison.

 

Prediction: Connecticut 73  Bucknell 58

 

#7 Temple 25-7 (5) vs. #10 Penn State 19-14 (-1)

Temple’s score must be tempered by the fact that they are a wounded team coming into this tournament.  Two starters suffered injuries late in the season, and one is out for the remainder of the year, while the other may or may not be ready to play.  We must throw out Temple’s score of “5” in the PiRate Criteria, because 40% of the key players that produced that number will either not play or be greatly less effective.

 

Penn State is a lot like Southern Cal in this tournament.  The Nittany Lions have the look of a strong NIT team.  Aside from a so-so record against a strong schedule, they really have little to offer outside of one star player. 

 

We believe this Keystone State rivalry game will be close, and it could come down to the last shot.  Because the Owls are limping, we will go with the Big Ten representative.

 

Prediction: Penn State 59  Temple 56

 

#2 San Diego State 32-2 (19) vs. #15 Northern Colorado 21-10 (-6)

Most of you reading this probably cannot remember Texas Western University, but you may have scene the movie where the Miners were too quick for Kentucky and pulled off the big upset to win the 1966 National Championship.  Maybe some of you remember the Long Beach State 49ers ascension into the top 10 under Jerry Tarkanian and then Lute Olson.  Still more can remember when Tark the Shark moved to UNLV and turned the Runnin’ Rebels into a national power.

 

San Diego State is the next Western team to fit this bill.  The Aztecs are legitimate contenders to advance deep into this tournament.  They have few exploitable weaknesses, and they are the best team West of the Rockies.  Coach Steve Fisher knows how to get teams ready for tournament play, as he has three Final Fours on his resume and one National Championship.

 

SDSU’s PiRate Criteria numbers are flashy.  Their scoring margin is 13.3 points per game.  Their FG% margin is 7.1%.  They outrebound their opposition by almost seven per game, and they force 1.6 more turnovers than they commit.  Their one weak spot is a pedestrian 6.2 steals average.  If they run up against a more powerful team inside, they could have trouble getting enough extra scoring opportunities.

 

Northern Colorado will not be one of those teams that can cause trouble for the Aztecs.  The Bears are a good rebounding team, but their rebounding prowess came against a schedule that rates 10 points weaker than San Diego State’s schedule.

 

Prediction: San Diego State 73  Northern Colorado 51

 

Southwest Regional

#1 Kansas 32-2 (23) vs. #16 Boston U 21-13 (-11)

Kansas is a team on a mission.  The Jayhawks will not allow a repeat of what happened last year, and that extra incentive should be enough to send KU to Houston.

 

Kansas has the top PiRate Criteria Score this year.  They meet the basic requirements that most prior National Champions have met—scoring margin: 17.2; FG% margin: 11.7; Rebounding margin: 7.8; Turnover Margin: 0.9; Steals per game: 7.9; R+T Ratings: 9.5.

 

How do you beat this year’s KU team?  Kansas State and Texas pulled it off by matching up well inside and going head-to-head with them in the paint.

 

Boston U has the second lowest PiRate Criteria score of the 65 teams that have positive R+T Ratings.  The Terriers are way overmatched in this game, and they will have to be glad they just made it here.

 

Prediction: Kansas 90  Boston U 62

 

#8 U N L V 24-8 (15) vs. #9 Illinois 19-13 (1)

If our ratings are worth their salt, then this game should not be all that close.  UNLV may be just the third best team in the Mountain West, but the MWC was better overall this year than the Pac-10.  Third best in the MWC makes the Runnin’ Rebels one of the dozen or so teams capable of making a two weekend run.

 

Coach Lon Kruger has taken two different teams to the Elite Eight (Kansas State and Florida).  His teams play intelligently without being flashy.

 

UNLV went 24-3 against teams not named Brigham Young or San Diego State.  They are not particularly strong on the boards, and this will eventually be their downfall.  The Rebels shoot the ball brilliantly, and they alter enough opponent shots to force a lower field goal percentage.  They also take care of the ball and do not make a lot of floor mistakes.

 

Illinois is an inconsistent, underachieving team.  This can be dangerous for the prognosticator, because it is difficult if not impossible to predict which schizophrenic state will appear for each game.

 

The Illini are not particularly strong on the glass or at taking care of the ball, and that is a recipe for disaster when the opponent is as good as UNLV.  Even if Illinois comes out playing their best basketball, it may not be enough to beat UNLV playing their typical game.

 

Prediction: U N L V  72  Illinois 64

 

#5 Vanderbilt 23-10 (5) vs. #12 Richmond 26-7 (2)

Here is another game getting a lot of attention due to its upset potential.  Historically, the #12 seed produces the a lot of great upsets.

 

This game could go either way.  Both teams have exploitable weaknesses, and it just so happens that both teams’ have the assets capable of exploiting the other’s weaknesses.

 

Let’s start with Vanderbilt.  The Commodores are not particularly strong on the defensive perimeter.  Worthy opponents have been able to beat them off the drive and get a lot of open inside shots.  This weak perimeter defense has also led to frontcourt players having to help, thus leaving open holes near the basket.

 

Richmond’s offense is a modified version of the Princeton Offense.  The Spiders have the talent to get open shots inside and in the five to ten-foot range.

 

Richmond cannot rebound against more physical teams.  The Spiders make up for their rebounding liabilities by seldom throwing the ball away.

 

Vanderbilt has an excellent physical presence inside with three beefy players that can rebound the ball on offense and defense.

 

So, which team gets the edge in our PiRate Ratings?  We always look to defense in rebounding in tossup games.  Vanderbilt holds the rebounding edge, while Richmond holds the defensive edge.  It is basically a wash, so we have to look elsewhere.  While Richmond has been much better away from home, Vanderbilt’s schedule is seven points more difficult.  We’ll go with the power conference team, but not by much

 

Prediction: Vanderbilt 70  Richmond 67

 

#4 Louisville 25-9 (12) vs. #13 Morehead State 24-9 (3)

This should be an interesting game, but in the end the big brothers are going to defeat their little brothers in this battle of two Bluegrass State teams.

 

40 years ago this week, another little brother upset a big brother on their way to a surprise appearance in the Final Four (later vacated).  In 1971, Western Kentucky did not just upset Kentucky, the Hilltoppers ran the Wildcats off the floor.  Can there be a repeat two score later?  No!

 

Coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are vulnerable on the boards, and Morehead State has the nation’s best rebounder in the nation in Kenneth Faried.  However, the Eagles do not have enough talent or depth to keep up with Louisville.  They may emerge with a slight rebounding edge in this game, but it will not be enough to make up for all the open shots the Cardinals will get.

 

Louisville is going to run into trouble when they meet up with a team that can rebound and play credible defense.  That would be Kansas in the Sweet 16.  Until then, they have a relatively easy route to the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Louisville 78  Morehead State 62

 

#6 Georgetown 21-10 (8) vs. #11 Southern Cal (-1)/Va. Commonwealth (-1)

Last year, we discussed Georgetown’s vulnerabilities and the probability that they would fail to make it past the first weekend.  We expected the Hoyas to fall as a favorite in their second game, but they were a one and done team.

 

This year’s team is not much better than last year’s Hoya team, but they received a much more favorable draw.

 

Coach John Thompson III’s Hoyas once again have a rather low R+T Rating thanks to a turnover margin of -1.9 and a low amount of steals per game.  They will exit from the tournament in the next round unless there is a monumental upset in their pairing.

 

Neither USC nor VCU has the talent to take advantage of Georgetown’s deficiencies.  The three teams combined have a R+T rating below Purdue’s.

 

One additional note: The Hoyas will be a tad bit better than their Criteria Score in the tournament.  Chris Wright suffered a hand fracture in the middle of the schedule, and he is expected to be near 100% for the tournament.  You have to add maybe one point to their Criteria Score, but that is not enough to put them over the top in their second game.

 

Prediction: Georgetown 69  Southern Cal 61 (or VCU 60)

 

#3 Purdue 25-7 (16) vs. #14 St. Peter’s 20-13 (-7)

If only… Purdue fans will never know just how good their team might have been with Robbie Hummel joining JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore playing together.  This would have been the best Boilermaker team since Rick Mount led Purdue to the Championship Game against UCLA in 1969.

 

The Boilermakers no longer have that one glaring weakness that Gene Keady’s teams had and thus prevented Purdue from getting past the second round.  This team does well on the boards like most of those past Purdue teams, but they are particularly strong when it comes to forcing turnovers and taking advantage by converting steals into points.  It is the way many teams go on runs that put opponents out of commission.

 

St. Peter’s just barely avoided being immediately eliminated with a negative R+T Rating.  They squeaked by at 0.1.  It might as well be a negative number, as the Peacocks were outrebounded by 0.4 per game and had a turnover margin of -0.9 against a schedule that was four points below average and seven points weaker than the schedule Purdue faced.

 

Prediction: Purdue 73  St. Peter’s 56

 

#7 Texas A&M 24-8 (8) vs. #10 Florida State 21-10 (2)

The Big 12’s third best team has enough talent to challenge for a Sweet 16 berth.  We’ll leave the next round for another time and talk about this game.

 

The Aggies have no glaring weakness, and they have a few strengths, namely rebounding and defense (which wins games in the NCAA Tournament).  They are much like Kansas Lite.  A&M was not a team of surprises during the regular season.  They beat the teams they were supposed to beat and failed to upset the teams better than they were.  We expect the trend to continue.  They are better than the Seminoles.

 

Florida State does not take good care of the ball, and that costs them in confrontations against good opponents.  The Seminoles do not play particularly well away from Tallahassee, and they should be making a quick exit from the Dance.

 

Prediction: Texas A&M 73  Florida State 65

 

#2 Notre Dame 26-6 (11) vs. #15 Akron 23-12 (-9)

This is the best Irish team since Digger Phelps led Notre Dame in the late 1980’s.  Throw in the fact that this team has a chip on its shoulders following a first round exit last year, and the Irish have to be considered the Sweet 16 favorite in their four-team pairing this weekend.

 

The Irish finished the regular season with a scoring margin of 10.4 points per game.  Down the stretch, they went 7-2 against teams in this tournament.  The Selection Committee placed Notre Dame in a bracket that should provide a very memorable Sweet 16 contest against one of their most bitter arch-rivals.

 

Akron has a big seven-foot center, but the Zips do not rebound the ball all that well.  Zeke Marshall, the aforementioned big man, concentrates his efforts on blocking shots, and he frequently is not in position to rebound the ball.  So, the blocked shot frequently turns into a made basket off an offensive rebound.  The Zips did not fare well on the road this year, and with a considerably weaker schedule than average, this does not bode well.

 

Prediction:  Notre Dame 81  Akron 57

 

Southeast Regional

#1 Pittsburgh 27-5 (18) vs. #16 UNC-Asheville (-5)/U A L R (-13)

One of us here at the PiRate Ratings might be dating himself, but he sees a lot of the 1962 Cincinnati Bearcats in this year’s Pitt team.  The Panthers have a dominating inside power game that will pulverize any finesse team that cannot hit 10 three-pointers.  Neither UNCA nor UALR has a remote chance to make this game a close contest.

 

Pitt outscored their opposition by 13.1 points per game.  This stat looks even better when you factor in that they compiled this gaudy stat playing in a league that produced 11 NCAA Tournament teams.  The Panthers outshot their opponents by 7.6%, and they totally dominated the glass with a 10.4 rebounding advantage.  If you are thinking the way to beat them is to play a packed in zone, think again.  Ashton Gibbs can bury you from outside with his near 50% three-point accuracy, and Brad Wannamaker can still get the ball inside to one of the bruisers waiting to punish you with a thunder dunk.

 

Only a negative turnover margin prevents the Panthers from being there with Kansas as a co-favorite for winning all the marbles.

 

Pitt’s cupcake opponent will have to be happy with winning their First Four game, because they will be humiliated in this game.

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 78  UNC-Asheville 54 (or UALR 48)

 

#8 Butler 23-9 (7) vs. #9 Old Dominion 27-6 (10)

This is the second best matchup in this round, and the winner will put a scare into Pittsburgh in the next round and even have a decent shot at the upset.

 

Butler is now the hunted rather than the hunter.  The Bulldogs will not sneak up on anybody this year.  More importantly, they are not as talented as they were last year.  The Bulldogs fared much better on the road last year than this season.  However, down the stretch, Butler started to look like a team proficient enough to get past the first weekend once again.

 

Old Dominion has the talent to advance past the first weekend as well.  The Monarchs are a miniature version of Pittsburgh, the team they would face in the next round should they win this game.

 

ODU is the nation’s number one rebounding team with a +12.2 margin.  The Monarchs’ schedule was not outstanding, but it was on par with several teams from the so-called power conferences, and they finished 6-4 against teams in this tournament.  This is a better ODU team than the one that upset Notre Dame in the first round last year, and this game should be one you do not want to miss.

 

 

Prediction: Old Dominion 72  Butler 70 in overtime

 

#5 Kansas State 22-10 (9) vs. #12 Utah State 30-3 (14)

This is the one game where a number 12 seed winning would not really be all that much of an upset.  Utah State should have been a top eight seed in this tournament.  If we were conspiracy buffs, we would say that the Selection Committee searched for a team that the Aggies do not match up with all that well and placed them in this spot to verify their actions.

 

Kansas State does not take care of the ball well enough to advance very deep into this tournament, but their first game opponent cannot take advantage of that weakness.

 

Utah State has dominated their opponents by forcing them to play a patient half-court game with very little scoring in transition.  They prefer to work the ball patiently for a good shot and then force opponents to take a low-percentage shot.  Thus, the Aggies outrebound their opponents, but they do so by forcing more bad shots than by out-leaping their opponents.

 

Kansas State has the talent to force Utah State to play at a quicker tempo and force them to defend one-on-one.  Jacob Pullen is a poor man’s (and smaller) Derrick Rose.  He can break down most opponents off the dribble, and he should be able to force USU to resort to some type of combination defense to keep him from going wild.

 

What scares us most about Utah State is that they had two opportunities to show they are deserving of their lofty ranking.  They lost to BYU and to Georgetown, and they never really threatened to pull of the upset in either game.

 

This is one game where we are going to go against our own chalk.  Kansas State’s schedule was seven points tougher, and the Wildcats can exploit the Aggies’ weaknesses.

 

Prediction: Kansas State 70  Utah State 63

 

#4 Wisconsin 23-8 (7) vs. #13 Belmont 30-4 (9)

This game has become the most-picked upset special around the nation.  Belmont is being compared with Butler of last year.  The Bruins are lofty of all this attention-gathering admiration, but Wisconsin is not the Washington Generals.

 

Belmont has the highest scoring margin in the nation at 18.4 points per game.  The Bruins outshot their opposition by 5.7% per game, and they took a lot of three-point attempts.  They outrebounded their opponents by 3.9, and they had an eye-popping 5.3 turnover margin.  They share the top steals per game average in this tournament with Missouri at 9.7, and their R+T Rating is the best in the tournament at 16.2 (three better than number two Ohio State).

 

Of course, these statistics were compiled against inferior competition.  Belmont’s schedule strength is nine points below the national average and a dozen below their first round opponent.  Against the opponents that made it to this tournament, they were 1-3.  They beat Alabama State by 13.  The three losses were on the road to in-state rivals Tennessee (twice) and Vanderbilt, but they led in the second half of those games.

 

The last time Belmont was in the Big Dance, the Bruins came within a missed last shot of sending Duke home.   

 

Wisconsin was not expected to be this good in 2011.  This was supposed to be a minor rebuilding season for the Badgers.  The Badgers usually run Coach Bo Ryan’s Swing Offense with great efficiency, rarely turning the ball over.  They outscored their opponents by 9.9 points per game, and they outshot they outrebounded them by 3.8 boards per game. 

 

The Badgers have been a hot and cold team this year.  When they have been hot, they have been nearly unbeatable, because Ryan’s teams always limit possessions.  When they have been cold, they have been easily beatable, because Ryan’s teams always limit possessions.  They finished the season as cold as ice, so the Badgers must be considered a slight underdog in this game.

 

Prediction: Belmont 74  Wisconsin 70

 

#6 St. John’s 21-11 (9) vs. #11 Gonzaga 24-9 (13)

Here is a game where we believe the seedings should be switched.  Gonzaga has been here enough times to be considered a regular in the NCAA Tournament, like Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, and Connecticut.  This makes a baker’s dozen consecutive appearances in the Big Dance for the Bulldogs. 

 

In past years, Gonzaga had a big scorer that could take over games.  Adam Morrison comes to mind.  This year, the Zags are more difficult to prepare for, because they are more team-oriented.  There is not a big star on the roster, but all five starters are capable of taking the team on his shoulders with a hot night.

 

In their nine-game winning streak to close the season, Gonzaga eliminated Saint Mary’s from the Dance party with two victories.  The Bulldogs scoring margin in those nine games was 76-58.  This is a good team playing its best ball of the year, and we expect Coach Mark Few to win yet another NCAA Tournament game.

 

St. John’s comes into the tournament minus one of its stars.  Starting forward D. J. Kennedy went down for the season with a knee injury in the Big East Tournament, and the Red Storm is now suspect in the paint.  Their Criteria Score of nine should be discounted by two to three points.  It is enough to take this contest from tossup status to near-comfortable status for Gonzaga.

 

Prediction: Gonzaga 74  St. John’s 66

 

#3 Brigham Young 30-4 (18) vs. #14 Wofford 21-12 (-1)

So, you didn’t get a chance to see Pete Maravich play at LSU in 1968, 1969, or 1970, eh?  We must admit that nobody will ever be the collegiate equal for Maravich, but Jimmer Fredette may be the closest thing to him.

 

Throw out the floppy socks and floppy Beatles haircut and throw out some of the most unbelievable passes in the history of the game (so unbelievable that Maravich’s teammates frequently could not see them coming), and Fredette is not that far behind Maravich.

 

The sports nation will be turning its eyes to this game just to see if Fredette can make a run at a single game scoring mark.  If we remember correctly, Notre Dame’s Austin Carr set the mark back in 1970 with 61 points against Ohio U in a regional qualifier game.

 

BYU may have been a strong Final Four contender had Brandon Davies not loved his girlfriend so much.  The Cougars averaged 8.7 fewer points per game once Davies was suspended. 

 

Wofford will not be able to take much advantage of Davies’ absence.  The Terriers fared well in all PiRate Criteria categories, but they did not meet even the minimum “numbers to look for” in any category, and their schedule strength was five points below the norm. 

 

Prediction: Brigham Young 75  Wofford 63

 

#7 U C L A 22-10 (-3) vs. #10 Michigan State 19-14 (1)

If only this were a few years ago.  Neither of these historically dominating teams is going to make waves in this year’s tournament, and the winner will be around for just one more game.

 

UCLA would be a national title contender if Kevin Love had stuck around for four years.  Imagine Love as a senior on this team.  Can you say Bill Walton-like numbers?  Alas, the Bruins must get by with a couple of well above-average forwards instead of the best three-man tandem in the nation.

 

The Bruins have the worst turnover margin of any team in this tournament.  At -3.4, UCLA would need to dominate on the boards, and while they usually win that battle, it is anything but dominating.

 

Michigan State’s one asset year in and year out under Coach Tom Izzo has been their rebounding acumen.  For most teams, a +4.3 edge on the boards would be considered outstanding, but in East Lansing, this is considered a down year. 

 

Neither team has done all that well away from their home court this season, and there really is only one stat where one team stands out ahead of the other.  MSU’s schedule was four points tougher than UCLA’s schedule.  That’s our spread for this game.  

 

Prediction: Michigan State 64  UCLA 60

 

#2 Florida 26-7 (15) vs. #15 UC-Santa Barbara 18-13 (-10)

The Gators looked like a potential Final Four team in the last month, at least when they were not playing Kentucky.  UCSB is not Kentucky. 

 

Florida tends to commit too many floor mistakes to win four games in this year’s tournament.  They have enough talent to get through the first weekend, but we do not see the Gators extending their stay after that.

 

UCSB upset Long Beach State to get here, and the Gauchos are one of the weakest teams in the tournament according to our Criteria Score.  With negative rebounding and turnover margins, they just barely escape automatic elimination with a R+T rating of 0.3. 

 

Prediction: Florida 76  U C S B  54

 

 

 

Our Bracket

 

You have seen the 32 teams that we believe will win the second round games.  Here is how we fill out the rest of our bracket.

 

Third Round Winners

Ohio State over George Mason

Kentucky over West Virginia

Syracuse over Xavier

North Carolina over Washington

Duke over Tennessee

Texas over Arizona

Connecticut over Cincinnati

San Diego State over Penn State

Kansas over UNLV

Louisville over Vanderbilt

Purdue over Georgetown

Notre Dame over Texas A&M

Pittsburgh over Old Dominion

Kansas State over Belmont

Gonzaga over Brigham Young

Florida over Michigan State

 

Sweet 16 Winners

Ohio State over Kentucky

Syracuse over North Carolina

Texas over Duke

San Diego State over Connecticut

Kansas over Louisville

Purdue over Notre Dame

Pittsburgh over Kansas State

Florida over Gonzaga

 

Elite 8 Winners

Ohio State over Syracuse

Texas over San Diego State

Kansas over Purdue

Pittsburgh over Florida

 

Semifinal Winners

Ohio State over Texas

Kansas over Pittsburgh

 

National Championship

Kansas over Ohio State

March 13, 2011

Bracketnomics 505–2011 Edition

The Back-Tested Criteria That Isolates The Serious

National Title Contenders From The Pretenders

 

The best way to describe our PiRate Ratings NCAA Tournament Bracket-Picking formula is to call it the Past Performances of the teams.  If you are familiar with the Daily Racing Form or other thoroughbred horse racing publications, you probably know how to read the PPS of the horses in each race.

Think of the criteria in this tutorial as the equivalent of those past performances.  The R+T rating is akin to the Beyer Speed Figure Rating.  If a team has a negative R+T rating, they are like a horse with a 60 Speed Fig in a race where the other horses all have multiple 100+ Figs.

Here is a general explanation of our past performance criteria.  Don’t worry about compiling all these statistics yourself.  All you need to do is check back with the PiRatings Tuesday morning for an in-depth look at the Field of 68.

 

1. Scoring Margin

For general bracket picking, look for teams that outscored their opponents by an average of 8 or more points per game.  Over 85% of the Final Four teams since the 1950’s outscored their opponents by an average of 8 or more points per game. 

Make a separate list of teams that outscored their opponents by an average of 10 or more points per game and a third list of teams outscoring opponents by an average of 15 or more points per game.  More than 80% of the final four teams in the last 50 years outscored their opponents by double digit points per game.  When you find a team with an average scoring margin in excess of 15 points per game, and that team is in one of the six power conferences, then you have a team that will advance deep into the tournament.

This is an obvious statistic here.  If team A outscores opponents by an average of 85-70 and their team B opponent outscores their opposition by an average of 75-70, team A figures to be better than team B before you look at any other statistics. 

In the days of the 64/65-team field, this statistic has become even more valuable.  It’s very difficult and close to impossible for a team accustomed to winning games by one to seven points to win four times in a row, much less six consecutive games. 

This statistic gives the same significance and weighting to a team that outscores its opposition 100-90 as it does to a team that outscores its opposition 60-50.

2. Field Goal Percentage Differential

Take each team’s field goal percentage minus their defensive field goal percentage to calculate this statistic.  Look for teams that have a +7.5% or better showing.  50% to 42% is no better or no worse than 45% to 37%.  A difference of 7.5% or better is all that matters.  Teams that have a large field goal percentage margin are consistently good teams.  Sure, a team can win a game with a negative field goal percentage difference, but in the Big Dance, they certainly are not going to win six games, and they have no real chance to win four games. Two games is about the maximum for these teams. 

This statistic holds strong in back-tests of 50 years.  Even when teams won the tournament with less than 7.5% field goal percentage margins, for the most part, these teams just barely missed (usually in the 5.5 to 7.5% range).  In the years of the 64/65-team tournament, this stat has become a more accurate predictor.  In the 21st Century, the teams with field goal percentage margins in the double digits have dominated the field.  If you see a team that shoots better than 48% and allows 38% or less, that team is going to be very hard to beat in large arenas with weird sight lines.

3. Rebound Margin

This statistic holds up all the way back to the early days of basketball, in fact as far back to the days when rebounds were first recorded.  The teams that consistently control the boards are the ones that advance past the first week into the tournament.  What we’re looking for here are teams that out-rebound their opposition by five or more per game.  In the opening two rounds, a difference of three or more can be used.

The reason this statistic becomes even more important in mid-March is that teams do not always shoot as well in the NCAA Tournament for a variety of reasons (better defense, abnormal sight lines and unfamiliar gymnasiums, nerves, new rims and nets, more physical play with the refs allowing it, etc.).  The teams that can consistently get offensive putbacks are the teams that go on scoring runs in these games.  The teams that prevent the opposition from getting offensive rebounds, holding them to one shot per possession, have a huge advantage.  Again, there will be some teams that advance that were beaten on the boards, but as the number of teams drop from 64 to 32 to 16 to eight, it is rare for one of these teams to advance.  West Virginia in 2005 made it to the Elite Eight without being able to rebound, but not many other teams have been able to do so.  There have been years where all four Final Four participants were in the top 20 in rebounding margin, and there have been many years where the champion was in the top 5 in rebounding margin.

4. Turnover Margin & Steals Per Game

Turnover margin can give a weaker rebounding team a chance to advance.  Any positive turnover margin is good here.  If a team cannot meet the rebounding margin listed above, they can get by if they have an excellent turnover margin.  Not all turnover margins are the same though.  A team that forces a high number of turnovers by way of steals is better than a team that forces the same amount of turnovers without steals.  A steal is better than a defensive rebound, because most of the time, a steal leads to a fast-break basket or foul.  When a team steals the ball, they are already facing their basket, and the defense must turn around and chase.  Many steals occur on the perimeter where the ball-hawking team has a numbers advantage.  So, this system counts a steal as being worth 1.33 rebounds.

The criteria to look for here is a positive turnover margin if the team out-rebounds its opposition by three or more; a turnover margin of three or better if the team out-rebounds its opposition by less than three; and a turnover margin of five or more if the team does not out-rebound its opponents.  Give more weight to teams that average 7.5 or more steals per game, and give much more weight to teams that average double figure steals per game.  A team that averages more than 10 steals per game will get a lot of fast-break baskets and foul shots.  In NCAA Tournament play, one quick spurt can be like a three-run homer in the World Series, and teams that either steal the ball or control the boards are the ones who will get that spurt.

5. The All-Important R+T Margin: Consider this the basketball equivalent of baseball’s OPS (On Base % + Slugging %).  Here are the PiRate R+T formulas:

For teams with positive turnover margin: [R + ({.2S} * {1.2T})], where R is rebounding margin, S is average steals per game, and T is turnover margin.

If Turnover margin is 0 or is negative, then change the formula a little to this: [R + ({.2*S} + {1.2*T})] 

When this stat is 5 or more, you have a team that can overcome a few other liabilities to win.  When the result is 10 or more, you have a team that has a great chance of getting enough additional scoring opportunities to make it to the later rounds.  When this stat is negative, you have a team that will be eliminated before the Sweet 16.  We have isolated many early round upsets due to this statistic.

6. Power Conference Plus Schedule Strength

I’m sure up to this point you have been thinking that it is much easier for North Dakota State or Siena to own these gaudy statistics than it is for Pittsburgh or Michigan State.  Of course, that’s correct.  We have to adjust this procedure so that the top conferences get extra weight, while the bottom conferences get penalized.  Here is how we do it.  Look at the Strength of schedule for every team in the Field.  You can find SOS on many websites, such as the RPI at cbs.sportsline.com.  Take the decimal difference for each team in the Field and multiply that by 100.  For example, if Team A’s SOS is .6044 and Team B’s is .5777, the difference times 100 is 2.67.  So, Team A’s schedule was 2.67 points (or round it to 3) per game tougher than Team B’s.  Use this in head-to-head contests for every game in your bracket.

7. Won-Loss percentage Away From Home Floor

This should be obvious.  Except in the rarest of instances, all NCAA Tournament games are played on neutral courts.  Some teams play like titans on their home floor and wilt like roses in January when playing away from home.  It is one thing to accumulate great statistics by scheduling 19 home games, three neutral site games, and eight away games.  However, we need to locate the teams that continue to dominate away from home.  Combine the road and neutral games played and look at that percentage.  When you find a team with a 75% or better win percentage away from home, this team is a legitimate contender in the Big Dance.

These are the seven basic PiRate criteria.  You might be shocked to see that there are some key statistics that are not included.  Let’s look at some of these stats not to rely upon.

1. Assists and Assists to Turnover Ratio

While assists can reveal an excellent passing team, they also can hide a problem.  Let’s say a team gets 28 field goals and has 21 assists.  That may very well indicate this team can pass better than most others.  However, it may also mean two other things.  First, this team may not have players who can create their own offense and must get by on exceptional passing.  That may not work against the best defensive teams in the nation (the type that get into the Dance).  Second, and even more importantly, it may indicate that this team cannot get offensive putbacks.  As explained earlier, the offensive putback is about as important as any stat can be.  So, consider this stat only if you must decide on a toss-up after looking at the big seven stats.

2. Free Throw Shooting

Of course, free throw shooting in the clutch decides many ball games.  However, history shows a long line of teams making it deep into the tournament with poor free throw shooting percentages, and teams that overly rely on free throws may find it tough getting to the line with the liberalized officiating in the tournament.

Let’s say a team shoots a paltry 60% at the foul line while their opponent hits a great 75% of their foul shots.  Let’s say each team gets to the foul line 15 times in the game, with five of those chances being 1&1, three being one shot after made baskets, and seven being two shot fouls.  For the 60% shooting team, they can be expected to hit 3 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 1.8 of the 3 bonus shots; they can be expected to hit 1.8 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to hit 8.4 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 15 out of 25.  The 75% shooting team can be expected to connect on 3.75 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 2.8 of 3.75 on the bonus shot; they can be expected to hit 2.3 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to connect on 10.5 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 19.35 out of 25.75. 

A team with one of the top FT% only scores 4.35 more points at the foul line than a team with one of the worst.  That is not a lot of points to make up, and when you consider that this is about the maximum possible difference, this stat is not all that important.  Also consider that teams that shoot 60% of their foul shots and make the NCAA Tournament are almost always the teams that have the top R+T ratings, which is vitally important after the Ides of March. 

Teams that make the NCAA Tournament with gaudy free throw percentages frequently get there by winning close games at the line.  In the NCAA Tournament, fouls just don’t get called as frequently as in the regular season.  The referees let the teams play.  So, looking at superior free throw percentage can almost lead you down the wrong path. 

Ponder this:  The 1973 UCLA Bruins are considered to be the best college basketball team ever.  That team connected on just 63% of its free throws.  They had a rebounding margin of 15.2, and they forced many turnovers via steals thanks to their vaunted 2-2-1 zone press.  In the great UCLA dynasty from 1964 through 1973 when the Bruins won nine titles in 10 years, they never once connected on 70% of their free throws and averaged just 66% during that stretch.

3. 3-point shooting

You have to look at this statistic two different ways and consider that it is already part of field goal percentage and defensive field goal percentage.  Contrary to popular belief you do not count the difference in made three-pointers and multiply by three to see the difference in points scored.  If Team A hits eight treys, while their Team B opponents hit three, that is not a difference of 15 points; it’s a difference of five points.  Consider made three-pointers as one extra point because they are already figured as made field goals.  A team with 26 made field goals and eight treys has only one more point than a team with 26 made field goals and seven treys.

The only time to give three-point shots any weight in this criteria is when you are looking at a toss-up game, and when you do look at this stat, look for the team that does not rely on them to win, but instead uses a credible percentage that prevents defenses from sagging into the 10-12-foot area around the basket.  If a team cannot throw it in the ocean from behind the arc, defenses can sag inside and take away the inside game.  It doesn’t play much of a role in the NCAA Tournament.  A team that must hit 10 threes per game in order to win is not going to be around after the first weekend.

4. One Big Star or Two Really Good Players

Teams that get to the Dance by riding one big star or a majority of scoring from two players are not solid enough to advance very far.  Now, this does not apply to a team with one big star and four really good players.  I’m referring to a team with one big star and four lemons or two big scorers with three guys who are allergic to the ball.  Many times a team may have one big scorer or two guys who score 85% of the points, but the other three starters are capable of scoring 20 points if they are called on to do so.  If you have a team with five double figure scorers, they will harder to defend and will be more consistent on the attack side.  It is hard for all five players to slump at once.

We hope this primer will help you when you fill out your brackets this year. 

Now, here is a way to put numbers to this criteria listed above. 

1. Scoring Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 8.0-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a scoring margin difference of 5.0-7.9

Award 0 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a negative scoring margin

 

2. Field Goal % Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 10% or more

Award 3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 7.5 to 9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a FG% margin difference of 5.0-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 0.0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference below 0

 

3. Rebound Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 5 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 3.0-4.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 0-2.9

Award -2 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference below 0

 

4. Turnover Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 3 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 1.5-2.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 0-1.4

Award -2 points for every team with a Turnover margin below 0

 

5. PiRate R+T Formula

Once again, the formula for R+T is [R + ({.2*S}*{1.2*T})], Where R is rebounding margin, S is avg. steals per game, and T is turnover margin.

If Turnover margin is 0 or negative, then change the formula a little to this: [R + ({.2*S} + {1.2*T})] 

This is done so as not to penalize a team with negative turnover margin but a lot of steals per game.

Award 5 points for every team with an R+T of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with an R+T of 7.5-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with an R+T of 5-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with an R+T of 0-4.9

*** Completely eliminate *** from consideration all teams with a negative R+T

 

6. Schedule Strength

Take the difference in the Strength of Schedule as given by cbs.sportsline.com and multiply it by 100. 

The Average SOS for teams in the top 40 is about .5880.  When you factor in the automatic bids from teams outside of the top 40, that number is about .5500.  So, find each teams’ SOS rating and take 100 times the difference from .5500 as the number for this rating.

Example: if State U has a SOS of .5743, the difference from .5500 is .0243; multiply .0243 by 100, and the result is 2.43 which rounds to 2. 

If Tech has a SOS of .4878, the difference is -.0622; multiply by 100, and the result is  -6.22 which rounds to -6.

 

7. Record Away From Home (road + neutral)

3 points for 75%+ winning percentage

2 points for 60-74% winning percentage

1 point for 51-59% winning percentage

0 points for 50% winning percentage

-2 points for less than 50% winning percentage

 

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