Monday, March 21, 2011

March Madness Recap--First Weekend

They call it "Madness" for a reason, and this year's edition of the NCAA Division 1 men's basketball tournament has been crazy, indeed. The deepest and toughest conference in the country, the Big East, sent 11 teams to the Dance--only to see 9 of them depart within the first weekend, leaving only the 11th and 9th seeded teams. That doesn't mean, however, that Marquette and UConn aren't good and capable teams. It's just that if you had to guess who the final two Big East teams remaining would be, it wouldn't have been those two--and it certainly wouldn't have been this early.

The even bigger story was the advancement of four double-digit seeds: VCU, Richmond, Marquette, and Florida State, not to mention the 8-seed Butler Bulldogs unbelievable win over top-seeded Pittsburgh. Last year there were 3 (Cornell, Washington, and St. Mary's), but the trend the last few years has been for 1-2 double-digit seeds to make it through, not four. Lucky for all of our loyal SportStatistics readers, we've been keeping close tabs on every game thus far in the tournament, and there's plenty of interesting numbers to throw around. Hit the jump for more!

Kevin Anderson has 8 assists/1 turnover in Richmond's wins
It's no secret that #12 seeds upset #5 seeds at a much higher rate than the 13/4 upsets, and just about as often as an 11/6 upset. right around 34%. This year, the numbers don't lie--those 12 seeds played much better than their closely-seeded competition. In the five games played by 12-seeds, the four squads shot 46% from the field. That's slightly under the 47% shot by 11-seeds, but is a HUGE improvement over the 40% shot by 13-seeds and the 35% shot by 14 seeds. Three-pointers are a big step up from the 13-seed to the 12-seed, from 27% to 35%. Given an average this tournament of 18.3 three-pointers taken per team, that's a difference of an extra 1.5 made buckets over the course of a game--an additional four points.  Combined with the difference in FG%, it comes out to an extra 10 points per game scored by 12-seeds over 13-seeds. The 12-seeds have also done a great job of taking care of the ball, with a 1.74 assist-to-turnover ratio--the highest ratio of any group of seeds in the field, led by Richmond's 32 assists against only SEVEN turnovers.  It's clear that there's quite a dropoff from the 12-seeds to the rest of the field in numerous statistical categories.

OSU does all the little things, and it does them very well
From a conference standpoint, the Big 10 has done the best job taking care of the ball, with a 1.53 assist-to-turnover ratio, led by Ohio State's 2.23 and Wisconsin's 1.47. The teams that made it through that do the worst job taking care of the ball are Florida State, with a .94 ratio, and Marquette, with a .97 ratio. After Marquette, the lowest ratio belongs to Arizona's 1.12, which is still slightly below the tournament average of 1.18 assists-to-turnovers. The average for teams who've made it to the Sweet 16 is 1.55, however, so Arizona still falls quite short amongst their remaining competition. 

Another statistic that jumps out when comparing the entire field vs. the Sweet 16 is offensive rebounding percentage. The field averages 30.5 missed shots per game and 8.81 o-boards per game, for an average percentage of 29%. In other words, the average team, upon missing 30.5 shots, gives themselves 8 extra opportunities--slightly negated by the average of 11.26 turnovers per game. We can call this "possession loss"--the net value comes out to be about 3 possessions lost during a game. For teams that have moved on, the number is, as to be expected, about half of the tournament field. The average Sweet 16 team misses 28 shots a game but still gets about 8.66 o-boards, or 31%, while turning the ball over just over 10 times per game--only a 1.4 possession difference. The best offensive rebounding team remaining? That would again be the Ohio State Buckeyes, who pull in 45.7% of their misses.

Finally, there's a small but significant difference in free throw shooting. Teams that have not advanced to the Sweet 16 are 803/1111, or 72.2% of the 17.9 free throws per game: basically 13 points  per game from the charity stripe. The teams that have advanced made 76% of their 19.1 free throws per game, for just over 14 points a game.  If it wasn't for their below-par 57.7% free throw shooting (albeit on a sample of 26 free throws, of which they made 15), it would seem the Buckeyes are playing like an unbeatable team.

Now, all of these seem like small differences--and they are--but the point is that winning teams do everything well, not just one or two things. These numbers show us that it's not often one factor that decides a game, but a number of them that add up, each costing or gaining a team just a few precious points here and there. And if you think about it, just one point can make a huge difference in a game. Think about having the ball down 3 with 30 seconds left as opposed to having it down 4 at the same time period. In one, all you need is an open three and it's a tie game. In the other, you need a basket, a foul, another basket, and a whole lot of luck and good timing. It's something we love to preach here at SportStatistics...don't ignore the little things, they'll come back to haunt you.

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