Sean Miller’s first major NCAA tournament break (an 11-seed in the Sweet Sixteen is a treasure) naturally must be against his ex-girlfriend (wife?). Because if we’re to take Chris Mack at his word, there’s a few things at play here: 1) He and Miller have already agreed that Xavier will win this one, 2) That it really stinks to battle your mentor. We have to imagine the former is a joke and the latter a sharp reality and the converse – playing your mentee – is no more fun.
Alas, let’s learn a little bit more about playing this particular 11 seed tomorrow:
Sweet Sixteen – #11 Xavier
It is my humble as well as braggadocios belief that Arizona is one of the four best teams in this tournament.
Of course this has sent me into something of an identity crisis. As you’ve loyally followed these pages, I have a clear and – once again – braggadocios stance on the power of KenPom and other metrics to explain a team’s chances to win a basketball game. As it were, I do not love Arizona by its advanced metrics. They do a little bit of everything well, nothing particularly great. They’ve also had one of the more unique roster situations of recent memory lending itself to a lack of performance continuity outside of one of the game’s most critical stats: WINNING. A wholistic view of the metrics, as aggregated by Five Thirty Eight tells us that the Wildcats have the eighth best odds to win the whole damn thing. Crisis averted?
I’m still just moderately satisfied. Saint Mary’s is a higher rated KenPom team with higher odds of reaching the Elite Eight than the West’s 3 seed, Florida State. The Gaels, in fact, have higher Final Four odds than UCLA and Oregon. We can get to Randy Bennett and the challenge the Gaels pose later. And no matter the case, no one said winning this thing was easy. Arizona, as an intact roster including Trier et. al. was KenPom’s 10th rated team. The 538 aggregate accounts for that and other preseason measures, a means to keep us all honest. Yet if the WCC (Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s) is providing Arizona’s greatest hurdles to making its first Final Four since 2001, then I’ll take those chances. Furthermore, Arizona was rewarded with just a 16-seed in the Name of the Year Bracket (s/o Chance Comanche). Does all this mean I’m an eye test guy?
First Round – #15 North Dakota
In their last three games, the UCLA Bruins, owner’s of the nation’s sexiest offense, have posted efficiencies of 109, 102, and 99 points per 100 possessions. That accounts for three of the Bruins’ six worst 2016-17 performances. Trend or slump? I believe it’s the latter as the Bruins were a little banged up and had perhaps lost the element of surprise. Consider, UCLA’s lackluster performance in the Pac-12 tournament came against two teams it was playing for the third time each. Disinterest? An excuse Steve Alford in fact danced with. Nevertheless, Bryce Alford is 5 for his last 25 from distance (during the aforementioned three games) while Aaron Holiday was 5-19 in Vegas.
And here’s a little food for thought. In ignoring the adjusted metrics (the default KenPom numbers I generally cite and that you’re most used to), I wanted to see just how “bad” UCLA’s defense has performed. By even the adjusted numbers, their defense has most certainly improved, it’s currently sitting at 99.8 points per 100 ranking 78th nationally. The last team to make a Final Four outside the top-60 in adjusted defensive efficiency was VCU (fun fact #23). But I needed some additional perspective. So looking at the raw data, the Bruins indeed rate worse, 101.3 points per 100 (113th nationally), but what of their peers in that 100 PPP range? Kansas, Duke, and Creighton all rank greater than 80th nationally with raw defensive efficiencies of 100 or higher. This is a distinction that, of course, is directly addressed by the the adjusted metrics (most notably impacted by opponent and location). But in trying to contextualize some parts of the UCLA dilemma, I thought this might be helpful. To some extent, it suggests that the Pac-12 was so abysmal it cost what many of us saw as a poor UCLA defense an adjustment into mediocrity (Kansas 28th, Duke 39th, Creighton 40th). Thus, as you sort your brackets, remember all those shots UCLA made and perhaps ignore some punditry.
Furthermore, the Bruins are just fine as a half-court offense, rating in the 72nd percentile nationally. Let’s not mistake it for elite but it’s not poor. It in fact ranks 100th nationally with Florida State just twelve spots better at 88th (0.854 PPP vs. 0.841 PPP, respectively – and note that Synergy PPP data calculates possessions differently. We can disccuss offline if you please). The issue rises in UCLA’s poor ability in transition. They rank “below average” according to Synergy, the nation’s 269th worst transition defense. Here’s Isaac Hamilton attempting to use his foot:
First Round – #14 Kent State
For USC’s sake, let’s hope Andy Enfield’s lasting tournament memory/moment isn’t the Dunk City run. That team captured our attention at lasting levels such that we’re still calling Florida Gulf Coast University, “Dunk City.”
But when we pause to consider that the Eagles’ program is still touted as Dunk City, has anyone bothered to check if they’re actually are dunking? I got us. FGCU gets 45% of its offense at the rim, 12th highest rate nationally, suggesting that they’re either dunking or tremendous layer-uppers. Conversely, Andy Enfield’s new team sits way down the list at 39th (ok not that far), while also touting a 6’10” kid who takes 64% of his shots from beyond the arc. As it were: MADNESS.
First Round (Play-in) – #11 Providence
The Pac-12 Player of the Year hasn’t won the Pac-12 Tournament since 2008 (Kevin Love). Was the Ducks’ loss Saturday night a foregone conclusion? If so, the tournament committee made it relatively clear that the loss of Chris Boucher – and perhaps not to the Wildcats – would determine their fate. Their fate, of course, is off to the Midwest as the #3 seed out there.
First Round – #14 Iona
You might’ve read my Pac-12 preseason predictions. If not some of them here then if you were traveling in the early November time frame you might’ve seen them featured in USA Today’s College Basketball Special Edition/leaflet. My friend bought me a copy en route to a wedding in Mexico and left it in the hotel shuttle. I have the best friends!
If you didn’t click the above link, here’s how I had things shaking out: Continue reading