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March 30, 2010
Tournament Preview
West Virginia vs. Duke

by Ken Pomeroy

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West Virginia and Duke meet on Saturday night in a game that will be considered by some as the de-facto national title game. These are obviously the two best teams in Indianapolis, but the winner will have a reasonable chance of losing the title game. Nonetheless, there will be ample coverage of this game throughout the week as the two highest remaining seeds collide in the second game of the semifinal doubleheader. In an effort to provide a different angle from what you'll see elsewhere, I offer you the two most important points that will likely be overlooked in most of the coverage.

If ever rebounds deserved an adjective, itís for this game.
In Dukeís win over Baylor, fully half of all missed shots were rebounded by the offense. This may have seemed like an outlier, but it was only a slight aberration. The combined offensive rebounding percentage was just a bit higher that what you would expect when you pair two teams that are offensive rebounding titans and ordinary defensive rebounders.

And thatís exactly the combination we have again with Duke and WVU. To call either simply a ďgreat rebounding teamĒ is only half-correct. These teams are great at creating second-shot opportunities, and given that, they are each surprisingly close to the national average at preventing them. Each led its respective conference in offensive rebounding percentage with a figure just shy of 41 percent. And considering that both teams take more than the normal share of their shots from beyond the arc--shots which are normally more difficult for the offense to retrieve--that figure is even more impressive than it appears.

After Bob Huggins chose to play exclusively zone against Kentucky, I donít know what mix of defenses he'll use in this one. But he knows going in that the zone must force a bunch of missed shots, because itís going to allow a lot of offensive boards. We may not see a repeat of Duke vs. Baylor, but it would be a serious surprise if these offenses didnít get at least 40 percent of the missed shots in this contest, and another 50/50 game is not out of the question.

While to some extent a key to the game is who wins the rebounding battle, donít get carried away with the idea that either one of these teams will be denied its share of offensive rebounds. Offensive rebounding is a skill that both of these teams possess. It is no more correct to think that one team can keep the other off the offensive glass than it is to say that Duke can keep DaíSean Butler from scoring, for instance. Some things are not possible.

Neither team depends on its defense.
If you watch hoops through the four-factors prism, you may have noticed that people outside that world tend to ignore the impact of offensive rebounds on a teamís offensive effectiveness. Itís like offensive rebounds arenít real offense. Given that weíve established that each team is a monster on the offensive glass, you can imagine that each teamís scoring ability is also underrated in most circles.

This is primarily because most observers focus on field goal percentage and neither of these teams shoots the ball particularly well. West Virginia finished 13th in the Big East by making 43 percent of its shots from the field during conference play. Duke made just 42.1 percent of its shots in ACC play which ranked 6th. But each team gets a higher than average share of its points from three-pointers, shots which tend to be made less often than two-pointers. Considering effective field goal percentage, the Mountaineers and Blue Devils donít look quite as bad, ranking 9th and 5th respectively in conference play. Even with that statistical boost, neither ranking reveals a great offense.

However, combine average shooting with each teamís stellar ability to control the ball and dominate the offensive boards and you have a formula for an outstanding offense. Given the poor raw shooting percentage and the slower-than-average pace that each plays at (much slower than average in WVUís case), you also have a recipe for massive misunderstanding. Each team does have a great defense, but each teamís offense is just as good. These squads probably have seemingly done the impossible. Theyíve proven that you donít have to make two-point baskets on a regular basis to have a dominant offense.

That issue was illustrated in the extreme in each teamís regional final. Duke, which has struggled mightily to make two-point baskets all season, predictably experienced a disaster against Baylor, one of the best two-point defenses in the nation. The Blue Devils made 11-of-38 two-point attempts (28.9 percent) yet scored 1.25 points per possession, the highest figure posted against the Bears this season.

West Virginia accomplished a near-historic feat by missing all 16 of its two-point attempts in the first half against Kentucky, finishing 10-of-29 on twos (34.4 percent). The Mountaineers scored 1.03 points per possession. And while that doesnít look impressive, it was the fifth-highest total that the stiff Wildcat defense allowed in 38 games this season. Both of these Final Four teams turned in good offensive games by taking good care of the ball, getting to the free throw line a lot, making a high percentage three-pointers, and getting a bunch of offensive rebounds (more so in Dukeís case).

If you watch enough college hoops, you know that there are plenty of games that defy expectation. But it seems clear what the expectation for this game should be: A lot of two-point misses and offensive boards. One thing I wouldnít expect is for West Virginia to make 10-of-23 three-pointers as they did against Kentucky. They likely wonít attempt that many or be as accurate against Dukeís legendary three-point defense. In a similar vein, itís unlikely that Duke will make 48 percent of its three-point attempts as it did against Baylor. But regardless of how difficult it is for each offense to make shots, donít be surprised when accounting for the pace of game (which should be slow) if we see a pretty even battle between offense and defense on both ends.

Ken Pomeroy is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Ken by clicking here or click here to see Ken's other articles.

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