Friday, March 25, 2011

Sweet 16 Recap (Day 1)

If you read my picks yesterday, then you'll already know I only went two-for-two: got the first two games right, got the second two games wrong. Someone commented on the preview post after I said that Duke beating Arizona was the "easiest pick" of the first round, and came to the conclusion that I know absolutely nothing about college basketball. To that person, I say--if you know anything about college basketball, you'll know that anything is also possible. For those of you who've read several of our pieces, you'll notice a theme that links them--the idea that people don't always understand what statistics mean, what they tell us, and how we can use them.

The idea here is to use previous data to try and guess what will happen. Duke was the 8th-best defensive team in the country this season, but they still let Arizona dominate them on the offensive side of the ball en route to scoring 93 happens. Not that it makes the Cameron Crazies any happier, but this sport is so great because variation can run so high, and dealing with 18-22 year old kids playing basketball in such a pressure situation can always foul up even the most educated guessers. If you're looking for someone who makes the right picks every time, well then I wish you the best of luck. If you're looking for some information about the games that'll give you some fact-based  (and number-based) knowledge of what happened in those games, then hit the jump!

#2 San Diego State vs. #3 Connecticut
What we said: This edition of the Kemba Walker show could spell the end of the season for the San Diego State Aztecs. Neither team comes into this game shooting the ball incredibly well, with UConn at a 46.4% clip and San Diego shooting only around 42.0%, both under the average of all Sweet-16 squads. Both teams, however, have been great from the line, shooting 84% and 82% for UConn and SDSU, respectively--both well over the tournament average of 73%. Because neither team has proven better at stopping opposing shooters, with both teams having a DFG% of 36.2%, I would expect UConn to have a slightly better day shooting the ball.

Kemba brings his game back to the Elite 8
What Happened: The Kemba Walker show, indeed. Along with some help from Jeremy Lamb (24 points, 9-11 shooting), #15 for the Connecticut Huskies led his team to the Elite 8 for the first time since 2009. Kemba scored 36 points on 12 of 25 shooting to lead all scorers, including 12 straight at one point for UConn late in the second half. UConn did indeed outshoot the Aztects 47% to 42%, just about how they'd been doing in the tournament, and made as many shots as SDSU (27) despite taking 7 fewer shots. The difference in this one came in the free throws, where SDSU took their good tournament average and tried to get it back down to their regular season average, going only 6-13 from the line. Combine that with UConn shooting 50% from three and the turnovers equal at nine, and a Connecticut victory it was, 74-67.

#2 Florida vs. #3 BYU
What We Said: Unfortunately for BYU, I think this is where their lack of depth in the frontcourt could be their downfall. Throughout the first two rounds of the tournament, the Cougars were only rebounding 18.5% of their misses, which is a problem when you're only shooting 45% from the field. Florida, meanwhile, has been shooting  52.3% from the field, and grabbing 31.4% of their offensive rebounds. Brigham Young does shoot better from the FT line, but considering they've out-fouled Florida thus far in the tournament, I think the Gators take this one and end Jimmer's fantastic collegiate career.

Florida didn't allow Jimmer an easy drive all night
What Happened: While one superstar willed his team on, another one was unable to continue his fantastic college career. Jimmer Fredette played his last game in a BYU uniform, shooting 11-29 from the floor, and only 3-15 from beyond the arc, for his 32 points. Brigham Young as a team shot only 35.2% from the floor, and though they actually grabbed offense rebounds on a pace equal to Florida's (both right around 24%), Florida was able to make 6 more shots despite taking 6 fewer, for a 47% clip (31-65, 11-34 from three). The Gators indeed struggled at the line, going 10-22, but benefitted from only committing 12 team fouls, so even BYU's 14-of-16 day from the line wasn't that big of an equalizing factor. If The Jimmer had been on, then maybe this game goes different. But as he was, the best he could do was make Florida beat him in overtime.

#1 Duke vs. #5 Arizona 
What we said: Duke already shoots the ball at a higher percentage (52% to 45%), collects more offensive rebounds (34.6% to 29.8%), and holds their opponents to a much lower shooting percentage (42.6% to 47.2%), than Arizona, so this is the easiest pick of the night. Arizona had a good season under Sean Miller, but this is the fully-loaded Duke team everybody expected to steamroll through the earlier rounds of March Madness straight to a national championship.

What Williams did to Duke as well
What Happened: Whoops. When Duke announced the return of Kyrie Irving for the tournament, many people ended up changing their brackets to accommodate the change, myself included--I originally had Texas over Duke in the Sweet 16. Unfortunately for those of us who did, we forgot about Derrick Williams. The ultra-athletic sophomore who former 'Zona coach Lute Olsen compared to Andre Iguodala but with a "better jump shot" dominated the Duke front line, scoring 32 points and grabbing 13 boards--6 alone on the offensive end. Duke came into the game with the 8th-best defense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy, but they allowed Arizona to shoot 54% from the field.  When you're allowing the other team to shoot that well PLUS rebound 44% of their misses, in addition to having your star guard (Nolan Smith) shoot 3-14 from the field and turn the ball over 6 times? Well, that's never going to be a recipe from success. Not to take anything away from Arizona--they played well, but Duke missed quite a few open shots, exactly the kind the Wildcats were knocking down. Though the way Derrick Williams was playing, I'm not sure what Duke could have done to stop him.

#4 Wisconsin vs. #8 Butler
What We Said: Can The Butler really do it again? Wisconsin shoots the ball much better from deep, going 50% (21-42) thus far in the tournament. As amazing as Sheldon Mack was for Butler against Pitt, the Bulldogs still are only shooting 35.2% from deep, and despite taking 12 additional 3s this tournament, they have still made two fewer than the Badgers. In addition, the percentage at which Butler lets their opponents shoot the ball (they ranked 204th in the country in 2-point defense this season) should give Wisconsin a big advantage, and Butler just doesn't have the athletes they need to get past the molasses-paced Badgers. Jordan Taylor will cover Mack, and with Jon Leuer on Matt Howard, the Badgers advance to the Elite 8.

What Happened: Remember that thing about Wisconsin shooting the ball really well from behind the arc, and Butler allowing their opponents to shoot high-percentage from inside of it? Well, that season-long trend reversed itself last night--Wisconsin went 7-29 (24.1%) from beyond the arc, and 17-56 (30.4%) overall, and lost by 6 points. Leuer (1-12) and Taylor (6-19) both had off nights shooting the ball, partly from missing the open opportunities they were given but also partly because Butler did a great job slowing down Wisconsin's offense by really preventing the Badgers from swinging the ball around the arc too easily, something they utilize to find open shots. It's not that Wisconsin didn't do other things well--turnovers were basically even (11-13 in favor of UW), and held Butler to shooting only 5-18 (27.8%) from beyond the arc. But, the Bulldogs shot well enough from inside of it (14-27, 51%) that they were able to pull away for a double-digit lead much of the second half, helped out by a 9-0 run to begin it as Wisconsin missed their first 10 shots of the latter half. Wisconsin finally started making shots at the end of the game, turning a 13-point deficit with 3:30 to go into just a 4-point one with 37 seconds to go,  helped by three straight Butler turnovers, but it was a classic case of "too little, too late."

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