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March 15, 2011
Tournament Preview
Ohio State in the East

by John Gasaway


Ohio State is the 2011 tournament's overall No. 1 seed. Ohio State is so doomed.

Last year the overall No. 1 seed was Kansas, and the Jayhawks didn't even make it out of the round of 32. Two years ago the honor fell to Louisville, and the Cardinals fell to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. And three years ago it was North Carolina that was the No. 1 overall seed, and the Tar Heels lost to eventual champion Kansas in a national semifinal that Billy Packer famously proclaimed "over" before halftime. No doubt about it, the Buckeyes are goners.

Then again Florida was the overall No. 1 seed four years ago and they managed to actually win the national title anyway. (By beating Ohio State in the championship game.) Maybe it's possible. These numbers sure look good -- Thad Matta's team has better than a one in five chance of winning it all.

Log5 odds by Ken Pomeroy

Seed                   Rd3   Sweet16  Elite8  Final4  Final   Champ
 1    Ohio St.         98.9    83.2    62.0    47.7    30.9    21.6
 4    Kentucky         88.7    61.0    23.1    13.9     6.5     3.4
 3    Syracuse         90.1    62.2    35.2    12.9     5.4     2.5
 2    North Carolina   89.7    52.4    28.6     9.7     3.8     1.6
 7    Washington       72.7    37.7    19.7     6.3     2.3     1.0
 5    West Virginia    57.6    22.3     5.5     2.4     0.7     0.3
11    Marquette        52.5    19.4     7.5     1.7     0.4     0.1
 8    George Mason     50.5     8.5     3.2     1.3     0.4     0.1
12    Clemson          30.9    11.3     2.6     1.1     0.3     0.1
 9    Villanova        49.5     8.2     3.1     1.2     0.3     0.1
 6    Xavier           47.5    16.5     6.0     1.3     0.3     0.09
10    Georgia          27.3     8.4     2.5     0.4     0.08    0.02
12    UAB              11.5     2.9     0.4     0.1     0.02    0.005
13    Princeton        11.3     2.5     0.2     0.04    0.004   0.0005
14    Indiana St.       9.9     1.9     0.3     0.02    0.001   0.0001
15    Long Island      10.3     1.5     0.2     0.01    0.001   0.00008
16    Texas San Antonio 0.9     0.06    0.002   0.0001  0.000003 0.00000010
16    Alabama St.       0.1     0.003   0.00004 0.0000007 0.000000007 0.00000000009

Is the East the toughest region? Not according to Kevin Pelton's analysis, which found that the Buckeyes actually have the second-easiest path of any 1 seed (after Pitt).

(12) UAB vs. (12) Clemson (Dayton: Tuesday, 9:10 on truTV)
The Blazers' presence in the field raised some eyebrows, and even elicited some suggestions that they and their partner in mid-major crime VCU had somehow gamed an RPI-based system with savvy scheduling. It's true that UAB's RPI is better than UAB's basketball performance, but the conspiracy theories are a bit rich. Surely the material point is that the selection committee has but two blunt instruments at its disposal when it comes to selection: a big rubber stamp marked "IN," and another one that says "OUT." And those tools were doomed to be of doubtful utility when confronted with the historically flat and incorrigibly undifferentiated conference known as C-USA in 2011. Throw a stick at the league and you'll hit half a dozen teams of essentially equal strength.

Be that as it may UTEP ain't walking through that door. It's UAB that's here, facing log5-favored Clemson. The Blazers were indeed playing better offense late in the year, thanks to a near-Wisconsin like ability to take care of the ball. Mike Davis has his team attempting a lot of threes -- they don't go in very often, but the spaced floor has proven effective at getting looks close to the rim. Big man Clarence Moore is the best defensive rebounder on a very good defensive rebounding team, while leading scorer Jamarr Sanders is hitting 38 percent of his threes. They'll face a Tiger team that limited ACC opponents to just 0.96 points per trip this season. In his first year at the helm Brad Brownell continued Clemson's traditional predilection for forcing turnovers. That may not come into play against the Blazers, but the excellent interior FG defense that the Tigers displayed this year will always come in handy. Give a lot of the credit there to 6-8 senior Jerai Grant, who blocks one in every 10 opponent twos during his minutes, and alters many more. In a game that doesn't figure to be a thing of beauty the Tiger D could make the difference.

(12) UAB/Clemson vs. (5) West Virginia (Tampa: Thursday, 12:15 on CBS)
I'm going to be really interested to see which way the discussion breaks after the two at-large entrants who emerge victorious from Dayton have played their games in the round of 64. On the one hand there will be a ready-made explanation if a 12 knocks off a 5 or an 11 beats a 6: they had momentum because they'd already played a game. On the other hand, looking specifically at UAB, Clemson, and West Virginia, I note the following: Tampa's a thousand miles from Dayton, give or take. The winner of UAB-Clemson will have a little over 36 hours from the time they finish their first game to tip-off of their second game. It's the thousand miles part that should have an impact. In the tornado-disrupted 2008 SEC tournament Georgia famously proved a team can play two games in the same day and win. But the Dawgs didn't have to navigate any airports in between games.

The winner of UAB-Clemson will play a West Virginia team that has had a terrible time getting the ball in the basket.

Shooting and dancing are two different things
Lowest effective FG percentages, NCAA tournament teams
Major-conference games only

West Virginia   45.9
Connecticut     46.4
Tennessee       47.2
Michigan State  47.3
North Carolina  47.4

DePaul shot better from the field in Big East play than did the Mountaineers. Bob Huggins' team has managed to overcome this deficiency thanks to unbelievable offensive rebounding and tenacious D, particularly on the perimeter. Kevin Jones has seen his efficiency on offense dip without his former running mates Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks, but one thing Jones still does is crash the glass. That being said the numbers above give the Mountaineers only slightly better than a coin-toss chance of winning their first game.

(13) Princeton vs. (4) Kentucky (Tampa: Thursday, 2:45 on CBS)
The Ivy League doesn't have a conference tournament, but this year they did have a playoff. When both Princeton and Harvard finished the regular season with 12-2 records, a tiebreaker was held on neutral turf. (New Haven.) And thanks to a picture-perfect buzzer-beater by Douglas Davis (it was skillful and important to people!), the Tigers prevailed 63-62.

Alas in the brutal Hobbesian dystopia that is March Madness, beating Harvard in thrilling fashion in front of a bunch of delighted Yalies means you get to play Kentucky. I've been yelling and waving my arms as best I can for a few weeks now in an attempt to convince the world that this group of Wildcats is surprisingly close in quality to last year's oh-so-feared bunch. It had nothing to do with the yelling or the waving, but at last the world appears to have come around to this same view. Seeing a team thrash Florida by 16 in the SEC title game will do that. Terrence Jones isn't the last word in efficiency on paper, but keep in mind his imposing and possession-gobbling presence has a lot to do with all those open looks that Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller keep getting. UK takes care of the ball, knocks down their threes, and defends the paint. They are more mighty than the "4" next to their name would suggest.

(9) Villanova vs. (8) George Mason (Cleveland: Friday, 2:10 on TNT)
The last time we saw Villanova they were losing to South Florida, and in that very sequence of words -- "losing to South Florida" -- we encounter the full miasmic depth of the Wildcats' present despair. Nova notwithstanding, the Bulls didn't beat any team in calendar 2011 that was not either: a) DePaul, or b) about to fire its coach. Apparently the only people who think Villanova's good are the Syracuse fans who inexplicably keep showing up in massive numbers annually to see these otherwise unprepossessing Cats take the floor at the Carrier Dome. Starting with a one-point loss at Rutgers on February 9, Nova's been outscored by 0.10 points for every possession they play against the Big East.

An opponent presenting that profile should pose little threat to a team as strong as George Mason, but of course the Patriots have their own "last time we saw them" issues. It's not in the same ballpark as losing by a point to South Florida, but being dissected 79-63 by VCU in the CAA tournament was not Mason's finest hour. If Jim Larranaga's team can recapture that pre-March-6 magic, you'll see a group that beats opponents about the head and shoulders with a rather quixotic combination of threes and free throws. (Those don't usually coincide.) But can the Patriots turn that clock back? Log5 rates this game a tossup, and I'm inclined to agree.

(16) UT-San Antonio/Alabama State vs. (1) Ohio State (Cleveland: Friday, 4:40 on TNT)
By now my colleague Ken Pomeroy has received the annual quota of outraged "What? The Buckeyes have only a 99 percent chance of winning this game? You're crazy!" emails, tweets, and postcards. This year I was tempted to replace the applicable log5 numbers with some words in Courier sagely assessing a snowball's chances in certain nether regions, but my editor said I couldn't.

Fun activity for the tournament: Watch Ohio State and Kansas shoot from the field. Both teams make those shots with incredible and devastating frequency.

(15) LIU vs. (2) North Carolina (Charlotte: Friday, 7:15 on CBS)
In pairing Long Island with UNC, the selection committee has put an analytic banana peel on the floor for Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg to slip on if they're not careful. It's incumbent upon any announcers presented with a 2-15 match-up to say that the scrappy little 15 wants to slow the game down and "just keep it close." Au contraire! Thanks to the indefatigable Asher Fusco, Prospectus readers know that Julian Boyd, Jamal Olasewere and company want to speed things up. Prepare for consensus and a brisk pace in this one.

Carolina was drubbed by Duke in the ACC title game, but I still wonder if the Tar Heels might not be a smidge stronger than log5 thinks. For one thing Roy Williams' team hasn't lost to an opponent not named "Duke" for two months now. A front line comprised of Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and Harrison Barnes is formidable to say the very least, and with Kendall Marshall in the starting lineup the Heels outscored the ACC by more or less the same margin as those guys down the road in Durham. That being said if ever there were a team that demands maximum paint-packing on D (whether zone or not) it is UNC, which made just 29 percent of its threes in ACC play. If you're Long Island or any other opponent facing the Heels, every three you can make them shoot is a win for your team. In this respect North Carolina 2011 reminds me a little of Kentucky 2010: unbelievable talent, great D, open to question on the perimeter.

(10) Georgia vs. (7) Washington (Charlotte: Friday, 9:45 on CBS)
If you've been anywhere near any current or former Prospectus types this week you're well aware that Washington's an unusually strong 7. So let's talk about Georgia, who after all has better than a one-in-four shot against the Huskies. Trey Thompkins is projected as a borderline first-round pick this summer, Travis Leslie is shamefully underrated, and the Dawgs are outstanding at protecting their defensive glass and defending the perimeter.

Now the bad news if you're Mark Fox. Thompkins has injured every part of his body this year except his right elbow and one upper femoral condyle. And both of the Dawgs' strengths are about to receive a severe test from Washington, which, somewhat unusually, is an excellent offensive rebounding team that likes to shoot threes. Note additionally that the Huskies won the Pac-10 tournament without Venoy Overton, and the senior has now rejoined the team.

(11) Marquette vs. (6) Xavier (Cleveland: Friday, 7:27 on truTV)
In theory these are two very good offenses, so this game should be more or less the antithesis of that Penn State-Wisconsin, uh, event last week. Buzz Williams' team scores its points by minimizing the turnovers and maximizing free throws, and both tendencies are displayed admirably by leading scorers Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler.

"In theory"? Marquette was destroyed by Louisville 81-56 in the Big East tournament, a game in which the Golden Eagles shot 17-of-57 from the floor. Not to mention the Cardinals scored 45 points in 20 minutes against this D. That's not an encouraging omen, because Tu Holloway and the Musketeers lit up the Atlantic 10 to the tune of 1.17 points per trip this season. In conference play Xavier shot fewer threes than 12 other A-10 teams, and with good reason. Chris Mack's team was busy making a gaudy 55 percent of their twos. Log5 gives a very slight nod to Marquette in this one, but if the Musketeers taste early success in the paint against the moderately-sized Golden Eagles the sovereign probabilities could change in a hurry.

(14) Indiana State vs. (3) Syracuse (Cleveland: Friday, 9:57 on truTV)
Ah, the sweet paradox of the Friday nightcap: rested players, exhausted viewers. I'm glad ISU's Jake Kelly is dancing, and he should savor every moment of what, storied Valley precedents aside, projects to be a short stay by the Sycamores. Greg Lansing's team can really D it up, no doubt, but an offense that was right at the MVC average may struggle against the Orangemen and their vaunted schematic predilection.

If there's an inverted equivalent of the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award for players over, say, 6-7 who manage to log a ton of effective minutes, surely Rick Jackson is the hands-down winner. The big guy's always on the floor because he has to be. Where else is Jim Boeheim going to get 59 percent two-point shooting and demonic rebounding on both ends of the floor? In a post-Onuaku world, having Jackson in the game 88 percent of the time is simply how the Orange roll.

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

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