Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Previewing the Sweet 16 - Thursday

Calm down I'm here. Sorry. Unfortunately, the day after Selection Sunday we found out Mrs' W's grandpa died out in Utah, so it was a whirlwind of activity figuring out how to get out there, how to get the kids taken care of, and actually being there and seeing family and going from function to function and what not so I haven't been able to post anything about the Tournament. Luckily, however, the games were always on in the background and I'm really good at tuning out mindless conversation, so I know everything that happened. And, as a compulsive gambler, I probably know even more than you. Here's what's going on Thursday:

Wichita State vs. Notre Dame: Here we have that age old classic matchup of offense vs. offense, with Notre Dame averaging 1.21 points per possession (3rd in NCAA) and Wichita averaging 1.14 (16th). At first glance, Wichita seems more likely to be able to hold the Irish down than vice versa since their defense ranks much better, but playing in a weaker conference like the Missouri Valley can sometimes prop that up.  In the Shockers first two tournament games they allowed 76 points (1.1ppp) and 65 points (0.94), higher numbers than the 0.92 on the season - though the Kansas game was mighty impressive.

Notre Dame was pointed out by many as an upset prone type of team because of their reliance on the three pointer and suspect defense, and though they've shown a little better profile in the games so far (only 6 threes attempted against Northeastern, a good defensive effort vs. Butler) two three point wins, one in OT, don't have me convinced they're any less vulnerable.  Wichita is vulnerable to the three, but you have to work hard to get open shots against that defense, and they do an excellent job defending inside.  The Irish don't get offensive rebounds and don't create turnovers so they're going to have to hit open shots to score - which they are certainly capable of.

One of the most impressive things about the Shockers is they are super balanced in their inside/outside scoring.  They aren't dependent on the 3, but they can hit a ton of them if you leave it open - they beat Indiana hitting just two threes, they beat Kansas hitting ten.  The Shockers are an incredibly balanced team with no major weaknesses and a lot of strengths.  I mentioned before how a team's stats can be inflated going against inferior competition, and that's certainly a possibility here, but I think Wichita's results in the tournament the last two seasons show they aren't some overrated mid-major.  

Bet:  Wichita State -1.5 (2 UNITS), Over 137 (2 UNITS)

Wisconsin vs. North Carolina: This is a horrible matchup for the Heels. This is a team that can’t shoot, but thrives in transition and creates second chances for itself by absolutely owning the offensive boards (5th in the country). They don’t create rurnovers either, so they absolutey need those boards to score if they can’t get out and run. Now Kennedy Meeks, one of their two big time rebounders could be hurt or at least limited, and they’re about to go up against Frank Kaminsky. Yikes.

Seems pretty straight forward on the Badger end of things. Offensively they’re pretty much content to go one shot and be done, but always get that one shot. They won’t turn it over and the UNC defense doesn’t force turnovers, so most likely the Badgers will finish in single digits. They shoot the ball well enough that they won’t have to worry about creating second shot opportunities, and I expect to see four, if not five, Badgers sprinting to get back on defense as soon as a shot goes up. With everyone back and no or limited turnovers, the transition chances for the Tar Heels are going to be close to nil.

Generally the Badgers try to limit their opponents three point chances, but unfortunately Bo Ryan is smart enough to know that’s the exact opposite tact to take against North Carolina. The Badgers will likely pack the defense in and go under all screens (possible exception against Marcus Paige), forcing Carolina to make outside shots, something they’ve been horrible at this year. With Meeks status up in the air they’ll be even more limited in the paint anyway, so for them to have a chance someone like Justin Jackson or Nate Britt is going to have to suddenly learn how to shoot the lights out, or Brice Johnson will have to have the game of his life - seems unlikely. The Badgers, who hate to fast break like a fat kids hates asparagus, will send all five defensive players to the boards as well to take away as many second chance points from UNC as possible.

What does this all add up to? A slow it down, one shot each time down the court for each team kind of game. Does that sound more like a North Carolina kind of game, or a Wisconsin kind of game? I’ll give you a hint: Meeks leads the Heels in eFG% at 56.6% - four of the Badger starters are better than that, and Bronson Koenig would be if his 2-point % wasn’t so awful.

Bet: Wisconsin -5 (2 UNITS), Under 144 (5 UNITS).

West Virginia vs. Kentucky:  In order to beat Kentucky, several things have to happen and yes, all of them need to happen.  First, you have to be able to limit the monsters on the blocks.  Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles are huge, natural scoring machines, Willie Cauley-Stein is an athletic freak who's learning how to score, and Dakari Johnson is seven-feet tall and can jump over everyone's head.  Keeping them contained is no easy task, but it can be done with big, physical defenders and strategic double teams.  West Virginia doesn't defend the two well, has limited big men and only one shot blocker.  Not off to a great start.

Second, you have to hope the guards miss their outside shots and then rebound when they do.  Kentucky's one weakness is they don't have great perimeter shooting, and though they're usually smart enough to pound the ball inside the Harrison twins and Devin Booker can occasionally fall in love with the jumper shot. You'd much rather take your chances there than letting the big guys go to work in the paint, you just have to get the rebounds - easier said than done with UK rebounding 40% of their misses this season.  Kentucky's guards will have a significant size advantage over the Mountaineer guards so when they double and then close out the Wildcat shooters will be able to shoot over them, they'll just have to hope they miss and then rebound.  They're an average defensive rebounding team, so this could go either way.

Third, you have to be able to score.  Kentucky is a great, yes great, defensive team and they can shut teams down.  The good news for WVU is that they can score in some unconventional ways by excelling at getting themselves extra possessions.  The Mountaineers are #1 in the country at forcing turnovers and #4 in the country in offensive rebounding - that's a whole lot of extra shots.  They're a terrible shooting team, but they've gotten this far by creating extra scoring chances for themselves, something that will be the key to the game.  Kentucky doesn't turn the ball over much and they handled Arkansas pretty well, but they're surprisingly vulnerable to opponents' offensive rebounding. 

This will be an interesting game, because it's a team with an unconventional profile taking on Kentucky, a team they'll have to play against in a completely different way than they're used to.  Another wrinkle is Bob Huggins being involved, because no matter what you think of the guy as a person he's one hell of a coach.  Don't forget, the last time these teams matched up in the NCAA Tournament was when that John Wall/Demarcus Cousins Kentucky team looked unstoppable, and WVU won.  

Bet:  West Virginia +13.5 (2 UNITS), Under 136 (1 UNIT)

Xavier vs. Arizona:  Arizona is clearly the more talented team here.  The Wildcats have three or four future NBA draft picks on their team, one guaranteed in the lottery, and another guy who made the All Pac-12 First Team.  The Musketeers' best player is the guy everyone is making jokes about how he looks like a guy playing at the Y and is an Uber driver in his spare time.  In many ways this is your classic glitz and glamor vs. grit and hustle match-up, until you realize Arizona works its collective ass off and is one of the best defensive teams in the country so they're pretty damn gritty hustley too, just more talented.  So can Xavier keep this one close?

I think it's going to depend on if Arizona can hit threes.  Xavier tends to play a more packed in defense, giving up more three point attempts than average, and then hit the boards hard to limit second chances.  Arizona is not a great three point shooting team, although they do hit a good percentage.  The Wildcats prefer to get the ball inside, and then take threes when they're open.  Only Stanley Johnson and Gabe York took over 100 shots from behind the arc on the team this year, though they did hit each hit better than 37% so daring them to shoot is playing with fire.  There's no real easy way to stop Arizona, but keeping them out of the lane as much as possible is a good start.

Xavier is very well coached team, and as such I expect they'll realize they can't win an uptempo game against an Arizona team that thrives in transition.  This game will likely turn into a half court kind of affair, and with the Musketeers ability to keep Arizona off the offensive glass and their likely emphasis on getting back on defense rather than getting their own misses means the game will come down to Xavier not turning it over, and Xavier making enough shots to keep up with Arizona (X will likely not turn over Zona much).  The Musketeers played great offensively against both Ole Miss and Georgia State, and though Arizona is on a completely different level, Xavier so far has that look of a team that both knows it is not supposed to have gotten this far, and also knows it has nothing to lose.  Sounds kind of stupid, but it's also kind of a thing.

Bet:  Xavier +11 (1 UNIT), Under 136 (2 UNITS)

Back tomorrow for Friday's games.  

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