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
While we’re spending so much time down memory lane, then it must be remembered that a double-digit Play-In team has gone to the Final Four! Neither USC nor Providence is going to the Final Four. The beauty of this mayhem is that there is anecdotal evidence of nearly every possible scenario for your team’s success or failure. Alas, returning to tonight, the Friars have a coach who is well respected in the industry, Ed Cooley, who’s now coaching in his fourth consecutive NCAA tournament. He no longer has a Kris Dunn but does tout something of a “modern” basketball team, playing four guys between 6’6″ and 6’8″ in each of their five most frequently used lineups. This combination keeps the Friars versatile but also small. They’re not a great rebounding team (124th defensively, 271st offensively) while they connect on just 49% of their shots inside the arc (61% at the rim, 34% mid-range). Of course the Trojans themselves aren’t particularly adept rebounders but do have one of the nation’s better paint controllers in Chimezie Metu. Of note, the Trojans have also not defended the three point line particularly well this season, allowing 37% 3FG shooting against. Interestingly enough, this almost mirrors the Friars’ 3FG%, an auspicious sign for Cooley and company. All-in-all, this is an intriguing matchup as both teams do a little bit well of what the other does poorly and vice-versa. Classic play-in.
The Others – #6 SMU
Let’s get one thing very clear: Larry Brown does not coach at SMU. He quit (per usual) in July and was shortly thereafter linked to a high school job. Following that clarification, we’re free to discuss Tim Jankovich’s team. They’re pretty good, a tournament darling pick because they’re adored by computers (#11 in KenPom). Of course one of their four losses was to USC in November. Conversely, the Mustangs haven’t dropped a game since January 12th. They also have the 3rd worst SoS amongst single-digit seeds (a nuanced stat I dug up for us; the next worst single-digit SoS’ belong to Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga). Anyhow, no one should soon take Semi Ojeleye lightly. He’s a scoring terror, 6’7″ with an 8.4% offensive rebounding rate and 43% 3FG%. As mandated by non-Power-5-plus-the-Big-East stereotyping, the Mustangs don’t tout tremendous height, never working anyone into the rotation over 6’8″. But what they lack in size they make up for in shot making and grit (that’s what we’ll call offensive rebounding). They slow the game down (330th in tempo) while collecting extra possessions (8th nationally in OR%) and extra points (5th best 3FG% in the nation). On the flip side of the ball, the Mustangs are seemingly hell bent on making you shoot your way to victory (no one really has). They led the nation in percentage of offense coming from distance (aka 3) yielding 40% of their points against as threes (30% was the national average). Thus, it should come as no surprise that when USC won in November, the Trojans made 12 threes. Last week, USC made 9 in nearly knocking off UCLA. It’s real.
The Others – #3 Baylor
Fresh off a convo about offensive rebounds, let’s talk about more greater-Dallas-region- Universities-that-collect-its-own-misses. Hi Baylor! Scott Drew’s squad has ranked as a top-4 offensive rebounding team for the past four seasons (3rd this season). The Bears grab 40% of their misses. This is critical as one considers they rank – per Synergy Sports – as the 150th best (aka very average) spot up shooting team in the nation. They did, however, score the 18th most points (volume not rate) on putbacks. As a reminder, USC ranks 257th in the nation as a defensive rebounding team. That’s bad and doesn’t bode well. Neither does the general prospect of playing Johnathan Motley. He’s another voracious rebounder for Drew, similar past Bears Rico Gathers, Quincy Acy, or Ekpe Udoh. A reminder of how it works:
The Others – #14 New Mexico State
New Mexico State is down a combined 38 to the West Region’s top two teams (Gonzaga and Arizona) so the Aggies really dodged a bullet by garnering this invitation to the East, right? Probably wrong. Alas, this is a school that’s been to six of the past eight NCAA tournaments. That’s got to count for something if not just a tremendously impressive fact! Their team, however, isn’t soon to make a splash. Eli Chuha has a terrific name and a really solid game, but it’s ultimately not going to be enough for the Aggies. One thing to take note of, however, would be NMSU’s ability to get to the free throw line. Wait. USC, SMU, and Baylor each rank in the top 70 of lowest defensive FT rate. Specifically, USC and SMU are top-10. And in calling back all those NCAA tournaments, the Aggies still haven’t knocked anyone off in the Dance.
I’ve long liked the Trojans’ talent. Elijah Stewart and Chimezie Metu were my breakout guys and Jordan McLaughlin has always been pretty solid. In making back-to-back NCAA tournaments, they’ve proven a capable core and program (kudos, Andy). It’s worth wondering and hoping that this team could pull something off. A really impressive little run. I ultimately think they bow out to SMU, just not quite enough on the defensive end to punch through to Andy’s second Sweet Sixteen.