Wednesday, March 16, 2011

PIcking the Perfect Bracket: Southwest Region

This is a sandwich post, since I didn't give myself enough days to pick each bracket before the tourney started. If you're reading this between 8am and 10am, another post is coming. Let's get right to bidness.


FIRST ROUND

Kansas over Boston U.

Yup.

Illinois over UNLV

Here, we're faced with another Big 10 team with a high defensive efficiency rating but a very low turnover percentage. They play great D, but they do it without aggression, and without stealing the ball. UNLV has the 15th-highest defensive efficiency rating in the country, but I'd hazard a guess that Illinois' 23rd rating is more impressive, coming as it does from the Big 10. The Illini offense is solid, too, with a high overall field goal rate and great numbers from 3. So the critical question here is, can UNLV score? They're decent inside, but they can't shoot 3s, and Illinois will be able to collapse on the bigs without fear of being burned from deep. The answer, then, is no.

Vanderbilt over Richmond

Sorry, no way in hell I'm picking a team can't get an offensive board to save its life and isn't much better at keeping the other guys from doing so. Add in Richmond's total inability to get to the line, and you're looking at a team that can shoot the three (10th in the country), defend the three (12th), and not much else. Vanderbilt is 19th at defending the three, so they'll be well prepared to knock out that strength. Their offense is 13th in D-1, and Richmond's defense will probably be worse than most teams they've seen in the SEC. A lot of people are pegging this one as an upset, but I can't see why.

Louisville over Morehead State

Don't even have to look at the numbers for this one. The Cardinals are a very good team, and Rick Pitino always seems to coach well in the tourney. The 5th ranked defense in the country is not going to lose to a team that turns the ball over an abysmal 23.3% of the time. Blowout city.

Georgetown over USC

Editor's Note: I wrote this assuming USC would beat VCU. No biggie, my prediction doesn't change.

Georgetown's strength is scoring inside. They're 5th in the country in 2-point field goal percentage, and 10th in overall field goal percentage. Here's the problem; they get blocked a lot, they give up a lot of steals, and they don't get to the line very well. A slightly-better-than-average defense does everything okay except force turnovers, but as we've seen with the Big 10 schools, that's not necessarily a weakness. A team that can force turnovers, protect the defensive glass, and get second chance points could be trouble. USC does one of things very well (protect the glass) and two very poorly. They're capable of beating so-so teams like Washington, but I'm not convinced that they can be counted on to bring it under pressure.

This is actually a very tough game for me to pick. I'll take Georgetown because of their efficient offense (28th), but I'm not overly confident.

Purdue over St. Peter's

St. Pete's offensive numbers are so bad they're hilarious. It starts with their efficiency, 277th best in the country, and just gets worse from there. They play great D, but that's not going to cut the mustard against Purdue and their 10th-ranked D, even considering all the Boilermaker suspensions and injuries. By all rights, St. Peter's should be a 16-seed.

Florida State over Texas A&M

I'm going with the second-best defense in the country almost always in the first round. A&M has some strong numbers, but they didn't beat a very good Big-12 team all year. Here were their point totals in 4 games against Kansas and Texas this season: 60, 49, 51, 58. Florida State will bring that same excellent defense to bear, and the only question is whether they can score enough edge the Aggies out. Maybe it's my ACC bias, but I think they can. At least I hope they can. Please return, Singleton. PLEASE. I expect this to be very close.

Notre Dame over Akron

Not even a prayer for the Zips.


SECOND ROUND

Kansas over Illinois

This could be way, way closer than people expect. KenPom has Illinois ranked 20th overall based solely on their metrics, and that's a hell of a ranking for a 9-seed. We're talking about a team that lost to Texas in overtime this year, beat Gonzaga by 12 on the road, and only lost to Ohio State by 5 at home. Of course, they've lost their share of bad games, too. But Kansas, you know...they're pretty awesome. 4th-ranked offense, best field goal percentage, 12th-ranked defense, and only two losses all year. Yeah, that'll do.

Louisville over Vanderbilt

Pitino's boys, as usual, force a lot of turnovers. Vandy gives up steals at an alarming rate (240th). That's not good. On the other hand, Louisville's aggressive style sends other teams to the line at a high rate, and Vandy's already good at that. It's essentially a match-up of a very good defense (UL) and a pretty good offense (Vandy). Going the other way, though, Louisville has a distinct advantage. And in the pressure of the tournament, turnovers seem to happen at a much higher rate. All signs are pointing to the Cards here.

Purdue over Georgetown

The Hoyas have to be loving this recent Purdue drama. Losing Barlow isn't going to kill Purdue, but it certainly might disrupt their flow. Their last two games, both losses, don't bode well for their first real test of the tournament. But recent action has been even less kind to Georgetown, who managed to score more than 51 points just once in their final four games. That offensive stagnation, along with a proclivity for turnovers, won't stand up well against Purdue's staunch defense. When they're at their best, Purdue can compete with the best teams in the country. They won't be at that level without Barlow, but they'll be good enough. The way Georgetown gives up blocks and steals (300th and 291st, respectively) is enough to know how this one should play out.

Notre Dame over FSU

Even at their defensive best, the Noles don't have nearly enough firepower to contend with Notre Dame.


SWEET 16

Kansas over Louisville

I really wanted to pick Kansas to lose here; I really did. But they just have no weaknesses as a team. There's just no compelling reason I could give as to why I think Louisville would beat them. And unfortunately, the Wildcats do have weaknesses. They can't keep teams off the offensive glass or away from the line, and they can't get to the line themselves. Those are two of KenPom's Four Factors that influence a game, and it's almost a sure bet they'll go to Kansas. In fact, there are no facets of the game where Louisville has a discernible advantage. GOD. I can't pick this any other way. I can't.

Notre Dame over Purdue

This is the kind of game that could be a real grind for Notre Dame. Their offense is impeccable, but they've had trouble at times against teams with big, brutal defenses. If they get off to a slow start shooting, it's highly possible that Purdue can make their sweet 16 game a living hell. KenPom actually has Purdue ranked higher overall (their offense is better than Notre Dame's defense, efficiency-wise), though it's probably a wash considering the Boilermakers' recent trouble. When I watched Notre Dame play at Connecticut recently, though, I was incredibly impressed by how the team reacted to Hansbrough fouling out with 8 minutes remaining. After they lost the lead, among a rabid UConn crowd, they showed some resilience to push back and win the game by 3. Notre Dame, to put it mildly, has not been known for their toughness. But this year seems to mark a turning point, and I think this is exactly the kind of game they'll grind out and win.


Elite 8

Kansas over Notre Dame

If those Sweet 16 match-ups materialize, both Kansas and Notre Dame will be run ragged by their foes. There'll be some element of mental and physical exhaustion for both, and in cases like those, you have to ask: which team relies less on shooting? In this case, it's an easy answer. The Jayhawks have the better all-around game. They're better on D, and they're way better on the boards. Hate to say it, but I don't think anyone can stop them in this region.

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