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Sweet 16 (03/25)

March 24, 2009
Bracket Breakdown
The Super 16

by Ken Pomeroy

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What a wild first week! Kind of reminds you of 2006 with all of those messed-up brackets out there, right?

I honestly thought we'd be discussing something crazy this week. But look at it this way: it was a major upset to have the best seeded Sweet 16 in 25-year history of the 64/65 team field. I know that's not the kind of upset that provides good footage for "One Shining Moment," but it's worth something in my mind. I assure you that it's still anybody's tournament. I swear! The log5 analysis of the Sweet 16 based on the Monday morning Pomeroy Ratings tells us so.

Seed             Elite8 Final4 Final  Champ
2W   Memphis      67.7   40.8   28.3   18.9
1W   UConn        72.8   37.4   24.5   15.4
1MW  Louisville   77.5   47.6   26.0   12.4
1S   UNC          55.6   35.4   20.9   10.4
1E   Pitt         68.3   40.1   17.0    9.1
4S   Gonzaga      44.4   25.8   13.9    6.2
2E   Duke         59.2   30.2   11.4    5.5
3MW  Kansas       55.3   26.3   12.0    4.7
3S   Syracuse     52.2   20.8    9.7    3.7
3W   Missouri     32.3   13.9    7.2    3.6
2S   Oklahoma     47.8   18.0    8.0    2.9
2MW  Michigan St. 44.7   19.0    7.7    2.6
3E   Villanova    40.8   17.2    5.1    2.0
5W   Purdue       27.2    7.9    3.3    1.3
4E   Xavier       31.7   12.6    3.3    1.1
12MW Arizona      22.5    7.1    1.9    0.4

For reference, last year at this time, log5 gave Kansas the best shot to win the title, at 34%. There were three teams then that had a worse theoretical chance than Arizona has now. A second consecutive Doomsday Scenario is still in play, but because all of the two- and three-seeds are alive the chances of all of the ones getting to Detroit are surprisingly remote--just 2.5%. It was estimated at 7% at this time last season.

Seriously, this is going to get better. It has to; every matchup is competitive from here on in. With that in mind, I'll attempt to provide you with something interesting about each team remaining in the Sweet 16.

Arizona: I realize a team that has appeared in the toruney 25 consecutive times is not viewed as David by most. However, you do have a team coached by someone who got the job under fairly unusual circumstances; a team that unexpectedly lost a few players in the off-season that would have made significant contributions; and a team left for dead on Selection Sunday morning. To top it off, they have a junk defense that seems to be totally dependent on opponents missing open threes. So far, Utah (8-for-32) and Cleveland State (3-for-23) have obliged. I'm telling you, if they get to the Final Four, it's a story for the ages.

Xavier: Muskies' center Jason Love actually had a better offensive rebounding percentage than DeJuan Blair did last season. Getting a few more minutes against opposing starters, Love's numbers have regressed somewhat this season. He'll get to meet the master on Thursday, which could be a problem because Blair is the far superior defensive rebounder.

Purdue: The Boilermakers find themselves in the wrong region at this point. A win over UConn would be the moment of a tourney that is missing Goliath-slaying moments thus far. It's hard to believe a five-seed (and a strong one at that) is the second least-likely team in this group to advance to the Final Four.

Villanova: Beating UCLA in Philly wasn't shocking, but the nature of the victory was. Kudos to the Wildcats for exposing UCLA's defense for all the country to see. It was the Bruins' downfall all season, and allowing 89 points in 73 possessions should have made it clear to everyone: defense and Ben Howland need not be synonymous. Points should be a little more difficult to come by against Duke, but only a little--Duke's defensive efficiency is a bit below the median among the remaining squads.

Michigan State: The Spartans' chances don't include a home-court boost for any potential Final Four games. Though I wonder if one would really be necessary. The Spartans routine would be quite a bit different than for a typical home game (or even the UNC game at Ford Field) and at a 1-in-5 shot to get there, local fans would be making a risky investment snapping up tickets now.

Oklahoma: 2009 Oklahoma = 2006 Gonzaga. Discuss. Both teams played only enough defense to win. (Usually.) Both featured a scoring machine that got to the line a bunch. The Zags were better than their tempo-free numbers when they needed to be. We'll find out this week if the analogy holds for the Sooners.

Missouri: Most are anticipating a fast-paced game against Memphis. However, our best predictive methods say the game will be around a mere 70 possessions. Fun fact: The last time Mike Anderson coached against Memphis, the game featured all of 62 possessions and just 103 total points. Both sets of Tigers take great care of the basketball, so those expecting a high-flying dunk fest are doing so at their own peril.

Syracuse: I'm always disappointed in the lack of creativity in prop bets found in Vegas these days. For instance, I'd love to the see the over/under on total fouls combined for Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson in Friday night's game against Oklahoma. The number would have to be 8.5 or even 9.

Kansas: The Jayhawks had one of the most impressive defensive performances in tourney history against Dayton. I exaggerate, but if you ignore the quality of the opposing offense, only slightly. It almost makes you forget the four consecutive games before that where they surrendered more than a point per possession. So was it great Kansas defense or bad Dayton offense? A lot of both. The great thing about this Super 16 is that there are no more byes. The only remaining unit ranked outside the top 60 in adjusted efficiency is Arizona's defense.

Duke: The last time the Blue Devils were held below a point per possession was a February 4th game against Clemson. That's a run of 14 games against some pretty solid competition. Fun fact: the team leader in assist rate is...Gerald Henderson? Regardless of who plays the point, Duke is missing a player good at setting up his teammates and yet still has one of most reliable scoring offenses in the nation.

Gonzaga: Apparently, the only place that the Zags have a chance to beat UNC is in my computer. I have recollections of a similar situation involving UNC and a school an hour-and-a-half south of Gonzaga at this very time last season. Anyone remember how that turned out? It was a dominating Tar Heel win. Gonzaga's chances rest on playing defense like my computer claims they can and Mark Few putting a ban on Austin Daye taking any shots outside ten feet. Fun fact: The Zags lead the nation in 2-pt% defense.

Pittsburgh: I realize that it seems like a 16 can never beat a one, but I think Pitt's first-round adventure indicates that the potential is very real, and after 25 years, we are in overdue territory. East Tennessee State shot 19-of-53 on twos, 4-of-22 on threes, 12-of-24 from the line...and still lost by just 10. Close calls in the first round are historically an indicator of weakness for a one-seed. Granted, ETSU had no business being a 16.

North Carolina: UNC hasn't been held below a point per possession in a game this season, a feat unmatched in the annals of efficiency stats. The only hiccup in the scoring machinery has been Danny Green, who's posted a TS% of 36 in the last six games. Fun fact: Over the last three seasons, the Heels are 29-1 in games played in 71 possessions or fewer.

Louisville: Normally in these pieces, we like to talk about the draw each team has, but in the Super 16, there isn't much point to doing that. However, Louisville resides in that crazy Midwest Region, where something lower than a five-seed can make it to the second week. The mere presence of Arizona in this quarter of the bracket gives the Cards a modest boost to their title chances despite a lackluster performance in the first two rounds.

Connecticut: For my money, still the most mysterious team in the field. I would have thought they would be a little worse without Dyson, and the verdict is still inconclusive as to whether they are truly one-seed material. True, the Huskies were the only one-seed to avoid any second-half stress in rounds one and two. But they have the coin-flip with Syracuse and the somewhat convincing defeat at Pitt in the recent past. Purdue is a good test, but we may not know for sure what the Huskies are until a matchup with the M-Tigers on Saturday.

Memphis: The Tigers' odds take a hit on a combination of a shaky first-round game and a strengthening field. As John has pointed out, this isn't your granddaddy's Memphis team. These Tigers have taken some of the M out of the DDM and currently sport an average pace slightly below the nationwide average. As it is for every other team left, there are no more walkovers for Memphis. This week provides them with the opportunity to silence the naysayers who wondered if they could compete in a "real" conference. Two more wins would certainly do that.

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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Sweet 16 (03/25)

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