Friday, March 27, 2015

Previewing the Sweet 16 - Friday

Small loss yesterday pretty much because of the 5 unit loss on the Wis/UNC under.  I still feel like I read that game right as it was just a 60 possession game so I nailed the pace. Carolina hitting 8 of 13 three point attempts really sunk me.  I figured Wisconsin would are UNC to shoot and they'd miss a bunch, but they nailed them so what are you gonna do?  Even given that I still had a chance until that stupid UNC foul on the perimeter with less than a minute left took out the possibility of Bucky running the clock down.  Whatevs.  We move on.  Had most of the other stuff nailed.  Here's what I'm thinking for Friday.

UCLA vs. Gonzaga.  I really, really, really didn't expect UCLA to get here, so I'm at a bit of a loss. Bryce Alford, who was becoming more and more of a chucker as the year went on, has been white hot in the tournament, and after a lucky, grind it out win against SMU (with a questionable call to boot) they looked like an absolute offensive juggernaut against UAB.  That might not sound like much, but don't forget the Blazers pretty much completely shut down Iowa State.  Is UCLA a lucky team who snuck into the tournament undeservedly, lucked into a first round win, and then decimated a shoddy opponent in round 2?  Or are they a team worthy of inclusion who has won two games playing vastly different styles and is now peaking at the right time?

Nothing in these teams' profiles suggests the Bruins have a prayer of stopping Gonzaga.  The Bulldogs are a smoothly run offensive operation with plenty of firepower both inside and outside and other than some suspect free throw shooting from their big guys no real weaknesses.  UCLA is going to have to score to keep up with them, and the Zags defense is far superior to the Bruins so it won't be easy.  They're going to want to try to get down the court as soon as possible with their athletes and try to get moving towards the basket before Gonzaga can get their half court defense set up, but an uptempo game also suits the Bulldogs just fine.

These teams played earlier this year, with Gonzaga coming out ahead 87-74.  The Zags absolutely shredded the UCLA defense with the Bruins hanging as close as they did thanks to good 3-point shooting and a bunch of offensive rebounds.  I don't really see much of any reason to expect anything wildly different, though without question this is the game I feel I have the shakiest read on.

Bet:  Gonzaga -8.5 (1 UNIT), Over 146 (1 UNIT)

Louisville vs. North Carolina State: I’m such a horrible traitor. For years I've been a huge Rick Pitino fan, which helps to explain some of my enthusiasm at the Gophers’ hiring of his son, and have always backed them to overachieve in the NCAA Tournament. I won a 20-1 future bet three years ago when they won the title and won my NCAA pool the year he won with that awesome Tony Delk Kentucky team and that should have been enough to make me a believer for life, and I thought I was. So why did I pick Louisville to lose to UC-Irvine? Was I enthralled with that giant 7-6 guy? Did I think losing Chris Jones would make a chaotic, and sometimes limited, offensive team even more chaotic? Did I think a poor close to the season made the Cardinals a prime candidate to flame out early?  Yes to all of it.  I'm horrible.  It's Rick Pitino, you dummy.

Of course, we can't discount NC State seeing as they completely dismantled what I thought was a very good Villanova team, not to mention beating a very athletic LSU squad in round 1.  Both teams have played tremendous defense in the tournament thus far holding all opponents far under their points per possession average with both putting up an extremely impressive performance versus an elite offensive team (Northern Iowa and Villanova). Both teams do it with a hellacious half court defense, though Louisville holds an edge here because they also excel at causing turnovers whereas NC State never does.  Neither team shoots the ball particularly well, so if this turns into a half court game it could end up quite a slogfest.

It will most likely end up that way, at least on the NC State end since the Wolfpack like to take their time and the Louisville defense, despite the press, generally forces teams to take up quite a bit of the shot clock on each possession.  Louisville will probably get a few easy baskets in transition thanks to turnovers, though NC State is pretty good at taking care of the ball, and they'll need them since their tendency is take a lot of terrible long twos.  I have a feeling this is going to be a very ugly game, or a beautiful game if you like defense.  In that case I'd be crazy to pick against Rick Pitino again.

Bet:  Louisville -3 (2 UNITS), Under 130 (4 UNITS)

Utah vs. Duke.  The Blue Devil start and end with Jahlil Okafor, who is the key to everything they do on offense.  He has an incredibly polished game in the post, is an adept and smart enough passer to find open shooters when double-teamed, and is a terror on the offensive boards.  He struggles against defenders who can match his size, however, and I found a little factoid that he's averaged just 11.6 points per game against teams with a 7-footer they can throw at him.  Well guess what?  Utah has two in Jakob Poeltl and Dallin Bachynski, and neither are just a big body, both have skill.  This bodes well for the Utes.  Not that Okafor is all Duke has, especially with Justise Winslow really coming on in the tournament, but having the ability to potentially limit Okafor is a really good start.

Offensively Utah also matches up well against Duke.  The Blue Devils excel at perimeter defense giving up very few three pointers and they rarely foul, but over 60% of their points allowed this year came from 2-point shots, not a problem for Utah since they shot 53% from there this year.  They were a little more reliant on three pointers than you'd like to see in this spot, but shooting 41% from behind the line on the year can do that to a team.  At least you know that even if they get limited looks they should be able to knock them down.  Delon Wright is an underrated super star at guard for Utah and he should be able to get into the lane against Duke, which could create some of those open looks.

If this becomes a half court game, I really like the Utes' chances.  I think their size on defense and ability to pound the ball in the paint are huge issues for Duke.  Even if Duke tries to get up and run, and they will, Utah's offense should be good enough to keep pace.

Bet:  Utah +6 (3 UNITS), Over 134 (1 UNIT)

Michigan State vs. Oklahoma. Two inconsistent teams (MSU lost to Texas Southern and Nebraska this year, Oklahoma lost to Washington and was swept by Kansas State) who seem to be peaking at the right time, this should be a pretty entertaining game. Though both teams play great defense, both also enjoy running with much quicker average possession times on offense than on defense. The Spartans defense generally ends up with them playing games that look to be slower tempo but their opponents average time of possession was 20.1 seconds, the second slowest mark in the country. That’s against plodding big ten teams, not a team like Oklahoma who averages under 17 seconds per possession, one of the quickest in the nation. This reads like a potential track meet to me, so the question is: who wins a track meet?

The Sooners were 6-4 this year in games against the kenpom 100 that hit 70 possessions or more; the Spartans 1-2. Sparty is definitely a deeper squad, but with almost a week of rest at this point in the season that’s pretty meaningless outside of foul trouble and neither team draws many fouls, so that advantage is pretty much irrelevant. Michigan State is a better rebounding team by a little bit, but if this game goes as I’m picturing it that won’t matter all that much either. Same goes for Oklahoma’s advantage in the turnover department, which could come into play but it’s small enough and this game should be wide open enough I don’t think it matters all that much.

I guess, in my opinion, it’s all going to come down to making shots. Michigan State is a better shot making team, but Oklahoma is a better shot defending team. Oklahoma has the best offensive weapon in Buddy Hield, but Michigan State probably has the next three in Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, and Branden Dawson. Oklahoma is a great free throw shooting team, while Michigan State is terrible. How much is that going to matter in a game where neither team draws many fouls? I really don’t know. I don’t have a great read on the side here, but I think we’ll see points.

Bet: Oklahoma +2.5 (1 UNIT), OVER 134 (3 UNITS)

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