Preview: Kansas vs. UCLA (West Regional Final)

Cross-posted from HackTheBracket. This should look a whole lot like the previous round games for these teams. UCLA is playing the best defense in the tourney, and will try to slow down Kansas, just like Southern Illinois did.

The efficiency predictions look quite sensible. UCLA has played slightly better in the three NCAA Tournament games but Kansas was playing slightly better at the end of the regular season/during the conference tournament.

If Kansas can return to their normal levels of turnovers committed and defensive rebounds garnered, they'll be dangerous for UCLA. Despite an outstanding defensive performance overall from Southern Illinois, Kansas did shoot 60.7 eFG% and that was their worst shooting performance of the tournament so far. UCLA (70.4 DR% on the season) should, however, be able to keep Kansas off the offensive glass when the Jayhawks do miss a shot.

The biggest problem UCLA will pose for Kansas is deciding which of Arron Afflalo or Josh Shipp Brandon Rush will guard down the stretch. Shipp's numbers are certainly helped by the attention Afflalo draws from opposing defenses, but they aren't really that different.

Name %Min eFG% FT% PPWS Pts A TO BS S OR% DR%
Afflalo 83.2 54.0 80.0 1.16 30.7 3.7 3.2 0.5 1.2 1.5 8.9
Shipp 72.5 53.3 77.0 1.15 27.4 5.1 3.7 0.5 2.4 4.9 11.0

If it comes down to free throw shooting, expect both fan bases to be covering their eyes. Kansas and UCLA both shoot 66.3% from the line on the year.

FIRST 3 GAMES ADJ. EFFICIENCY

Tempo Offense Defense Overall
Kansas 71.3 127.5 87.0 .9831
UCLA 61.7 110.6 73.0 .9903

EFFICIENCY PREDICTIONS

  • Full Season Prediction ... Kansas 65, UCLA 63
  • Last 10 Prediction ... Kansas 68, UCLA 63
  • Vs. Good Prediction ... Kansas 67, UCLA 66
  • Trendline Prediction ... Kansas 66, UCLA 61
  • Tourney So Far Prediction ... UCLA 62, Kansas 60

UPDATED GRAPHS

Kansas team capsule UCLA team capsule

KU Now The Favorite

According to Ken Pomeroy and Mr. Picklesimer (anybody else read "Picklemiester" every time?).  UNC is still slightly favored in a head-to-head matchup, but Kansas has an easier path.  Of course, I suspect this doesn't include UCLA's home state advantage should they meet the Jayhawks in the Elite 8.  I might be rooting for Pittsburgh next round.

Preview: Kansas vs. Kentucky (2nd Round--NCAA Tournament)

Contrary to popular perception (or at least my perception of popular perception), Tubby Smith's 2006-07 Kentucky team is an excellent shooting team that struggles to guard their opponents. Of course, Kentucky went out and beat Villanova in atypical fashion last night. A solid defensive performance made up for their field goal shooting being merely adequate rather than outstanding. The 0.94 points per possession Kentucky allowed last night marked the first good defensive performance (less than one point allowed per possession) from the Wildcats since they held Florida to 0.95 points per possession in Rupp Arena ten games ago. Extending Kentucky's defensive slump, in the two games preceding that Florida game, the Wildcats allowed 1.24 points per possession to South Carolina, and 1.09 points per possession @Arkansas. (It should also be noted that when Kentucky visited Florida, the Gators shot 73 eFG% and rebounded half of their misses en route to scoring 1.29 points per possession.)

KENTUCKY DEFENSE v. KANSAS OFFENSE

(at-risk games only)

Team eFG% OR% TO% FT Rate FT% PPP
UK def 48.2 32.8 18.9 31.2 64.7 1.01
KU off 51.5 38.6 21.1 24.0 65.1 1.07

Kentucky's at-risk profile includes home wins over Miami, OH, Eastern Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee (without Chris Lofton), neutral court wins over DePaul, Chattanooga, Alabama, and Villanova, road wins over Louisville, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Arkansas, home losses to Vanderbilt and Florida, neutral court losses to UCLA, Memphis, and Mississippi State, and road losses to North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Vanderbilt, and Florida.

With the exception of the game against Tennessee (again, without Lofton) at home, Kentucky's outstanding defensive performances (less than 0.9 points per possession allowed) in at-risk games all occurred in mid-January or earlier: Miami, OH, vs. Chattanooga, Indiana, @Louisville, and @South Carolina.

Kentucky's defensive numbers have been helped by their opponents' poor free throw shooting. They allowed 1.04 points per possession in SEC play despite their conference opponents shooting just 62.7% from the free throw line. This is the rare instance where a typical performance at the free throw line from the Jayhawks could hurt their opponent.

It may not matter, though, as Kentucky's performance in the other three factors are what have kept them slightly below average defensively. Kansas's penchant for making a good percentage of their field goal attempts and rebounding a high percentage of their missed shots should trouble a Kentucky team who isn't very good at forcing misses and just adequate at protecting their defensive glass. Against Kansas these tendencies may be magnified if Kentucky continues to struggle to force turnovers.

KENTUCKY OFFENSE v. KANSAS DEFENSE

(at-risk games only)

Team eFG% OR% TO% FT Rate FT% PPP
UK off 54.0 33.8 22.2 24.2 69.6 1.08
KU def 44.6 31.7 23.0 35.3 67.6 0.93

Kentucky's offense performed quite similarly to Kansas's in at-risk games. The Wildcats make a few more shots and rebound a lower percentage of their misses. The frequency with which they turn the ball over will necessitate that they make a typical percentage of their field goals. That's extremely difficult to do against Kansas. Kentucky has a shot at doing so, though, as Sheray Thomas is the only player in the Wildcat rotation to shoot less than 50 eFG% or score less than 1.07 PPWS.

There's littel doubt that NBA free agent Randolph Morris will test Sasha Kaun defensively. If Kaun continues to establish good defensive position and let the double-teamer harass the opposition's best post scorer, Kansas can be expected to limit Morris's effectiveness. Though he's Kentucky's best scorer (both in terms of volume and efficiency) Morris is not a particularly good passer (2.4 A/100 against 4.7 TO/100) so effective double-teams in the post could cause Kentucky's offense to stagnate.

On the perimeter, Kansas's guards will need to refrain from gambling for turnovers against Kentucky's guards, instead forcing them into the heart of the KU defense for difficult field goal attempts. Ramel Bradley (5.0 TO/100) and Derrick Jasper (6.0 TO/100), especially, will probably turn the ball over often enough due to the basic ball pressure and swarming interior defense Kansas typically musters.

Bradley, Joe Crawford, and Jodie Meeks combine to take half their shots from beyond the three-point arc, making 37.2, 35.3, and 36.5% of those shots respectively. The guard trio troubles defenses because they are quite good at converting the two-point shots they attempt as well. Crawford shoots 52.6% inside the arc, Meeks makes 50.5% of his two-point shots, and Bradley converts on 49% of his attempts.

Kentucky's balanced and efficient offense will test Kansas's outstanding defense. The Wildcats are capable of getting hot enough that the opposing defense can effectively cease to be relevant for stretches of a game. What should encourage Kansas fans is that the Jayhawks have survived such performances from Texas each of the last two weekends. For all Kevin Durant did in the first halves of those games, Kansas held Texas 2% below their season average offensive efficiency in Lawrence, and 8% below their season average offensive efficiency in Oklahoma City.

Kentucky isn't as good offensively as Texas (though they're probably an equal amount better defensively than the Longhorns) so supressing their offense by 6-8% would put them far enough behind Kansas's expected offensive efficiency against a mediocre defense to keep the game from coming down to the final possessions.

Prediction: Kansas 73 Kentucky 62

Preview: Kansas vs. Niagara (1st Round--NCAA Tournament)

David's excellent efficiency preview available here and at HackTheBracket (along with 31 other previews of equal quality). Niagara is better than a typical 16-seed and their offensive efficiency is their clear strength. Unfortunately for the Purple Eagles, their offensive efficiency is a clear strength in part due to their defensive efficiency being a clear weakness.

Considering that Niagara's three toughest games consisted of (with efficiency margins in the parentheses) hosting Akron (-25), hosting St. John's (-33), and playing Holy Cross (+13) at neutral site, their performance in at-risk games (admittedly impacted by leading scorer Charron Fisher missing 7 of Niagara's 25 at-risk games, including the losses to Akron and St. John's) doesn't suggest they can expect to compete with Kansas for 40 minutes.

NIAGARA OFFENSE v. KANSAS DEFENSE

(at-risk games only)

Team eFG% OR% TO% FT Rate FT% PPP
NIA off 47.6 38.6 19.6 27.7 74.1 1.07
KU def 45.2 31.8 22.9 34.4 67.6 0.93

Niagara will likely shoot even worse than normal from the field against Kansas's defense and it's even more unlikely that Niagara will be able to match their usual offensive rebounding rate. Even with his outstanding shooting performance Tuesday night in Dayton, Clif Brown is just a 46.4 eFG% shooter on the season. Charron Fisher (50.9 eFG%), Tyrone Lewis (50.2 eFG%), and JR Duffey (51.4 eFG%) all shoot better than Brown, but none of them would rank higher than 7th in eFG% on Kansas's stat sheet. If they're struggling to create easy shots against the 288th rated defensive schedule in the country, then Kansas should cause them fits.

Let me make this clear: Kansas is an oustanding defensive team. There are other important factors for the team entering the NCAA Tournament: pace of play (Niagara should cooperate with that in the first round), field goal shooting (just 49.1 eFG% in the Big 12 Tournament), and health (I'd rather they not have to try and win six games in a row without one or more members of the eight-man rotation) but any prolonged success they have in this tournament will be due first and foremost to their defense.

In Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, Kansas is 2.8 points per 100 possessions better than the second-placed team. The difference between first and second is greater than the difference between the second- and twelfth-ranked teams.

Kansas emerged as a national title contender because their offense improved over the course of the season but the underlying, constant reason for Kansas's recent success has been the team's defensive play. (Again, David represents this excellently in graph form.)

NIAGARA DEFENSE v. KANSAS OFFENSE

(at-risk games only)

Team eFG% OR% TO% FT Rate FT% PPP
NIA def 52.1 32.3 20.1 32.5 69.7 1.06
KU off 50.8 39.0 21.5 24.3 65.7 1.06

That Kansas's offensive improvement coincided with them playing mostly mediocre-to-poor Big 12 teams shouldn't hide the very real improvements they've made offensively over the course of the season.

This team couldn't get more than a point per possession against Oral Roberts, Ball State, DePaul, USC, or Toledo in their first ten games. What felt like an offensive explosion against Boston College right before Christmas (1.12 points per possession) was bettered ten times in Big 12 play including the Big 12 Tournament Championship game against Texas, wherein the Jayhawks created far more good shots than they converted.

While I agree that Niagara got a raw deal in having to win the play-in game to make the bracket proper (and probably got a raw deal in being seeding 16th to begin with--the committee clearly did not take Charron Fisher's 8-game absence into account), I can't foresee them giving Kansas too much trouble tomorrow night. Kansas is not just good at more things than Niagara, they're better than they Niagara is the things Niagara are good at.

Prediction: Kansas 84 Niagara 64

Rankings tomorrow

This post will be good for about 15 hours, so get while the getting is good. A quick and dirty projection of next week's rankings.

1. Wisconsin - Lost...twice...and lost a player. Next week: 6th

2. Ohio State - Nearly peed the bed against Penn State...again...beat a Wisconsin team missing its leading rebounder by a point at home. Next week: moving to their rightful position as the greatest team in all of basketball.

3. Florida - Lost to LSU, sans Glen Big Baby Davis. What's worse, they got only 23 rebounds. I guess they have an excuse because they have the SEC locked up and have for weeks now, it seems, but one must wonder whether the listless play will carry over into the tournament. If any future Florida foes are watching, here's how you beat them: zone them, get Joachim frustrated and hope that Humpty isn't hot. Next week: 4th

4. UCLA - Two solid wins this week, which is about all you can ask for. Next week: 2nd. The only true lock for a one seed, in my opinion, but this means very little. Next week: 2nd (but they'll get some more first place votes)

5. UNC - A pull-away victory over NCSU and a give-away loss at Maryland. If Maryland were a better team and if they hadn't had a 12 point lead with less than 10 to play, this wouldn't have been a bad loss. Still, they'll get a pass and probably stay a one seed without another slip-up. Next week: 6th

6. KU - A solid win at Huggyville in the biggest game in Manhattan in the last twenty years and another pasting of a conference foe in the Phog v. Iowa State. Next week: 3rd

7. Memphis - I don't know where to put these guys. I've got to think that it says something that KU is pounding better opponents by more. Next week: 7th. I think they've hit their ceiling. I said that a few weeks ago.

8. A&M - The Aggies got the job done...it just wasn't that tough of job. Next week: 8th.

So by the twisted crimson and blue reasoning above, KU should be in pretty good shape for a one seed. But in this coastally biased world in which we livin, I wouldn't be surprised to see them stuck at 6th.

Here's the Phog Blog projected top ten for next week.

1. An Ohio State University 2. UCLA 3. KU 4. Florida 5. UNC 6. Wisconsin 7. Memphis 8. A&M 9. Georgetown 10. Nevada (Idaho State Champions)

Placing 3, 4, 5 and 6 wasn't easy, so this is my vote people.

Using Pomeroy's Predictor to Project a Bracket

This is my first post, so I'll try not to embarass myself.

Last night David sent me a file that can be used to predict games using Ken Pomeroy's ratings. Using this Excel spreadsheet, you can predict the winner of each game, the score, and % of the time that either team will win. There are various uses for this, obviously. What I have done is take Joe Lunardi's current projected bracket (http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/bracketology) and figure out what percentage of the time each team will advance to each round. As this is fairly time consuming, I have only done the West region (where Kansas currently resides). Here's what I came up with:

Advances to 2nd Rd Sweet 16 Elite 8 Final Four

Wisconsin 98.7% 71.2% 51.6% 22.9%

Central Connecticut 1.2% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Jackson St. 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Kansas 98.9% 75.5% 52.0% 37.%

East Tennessee St. 1.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Georgetown 94.1% 79.6% 34.4% 21.0%

Pennsylvania 5.9% 1.6% 0.1% 0.0%

Air Force 94.7% 56.3% 20.2% 5.3%

Vermont 5.3% 0.5% 0.2% 0.0%

Virginia Tech 75.8% 37.2% 12.3% 2.9%

Santa Clara 24.2% 6.0% 1.1% 0.0%

Virginia 62.8% 13.4% 2.0% 0.5%

Winthrop 37.2% 5.4% 0.5% 0.1%

Southern California 30.6% 4.7% 1.4% 0.5%

Michigan St. 69.4% 19.8% 9.5% 4.9%

Notre Dame 67.6% 22.3% 12.4% 3.5%

Tennessee 32.4% 6.3% 2.1% 0.3%

Obviously, a lot of this depends on the draw, but Kansas will be the favorite to advance in just about any draw they have, as they are #2 in Pomeroy's ratings. What I found interesting was Wisconsin and Kansas reach the Elite 8 almost the exact same percentage of the time, although Kansas is clearly superior when they play head to head. This is a byproduct of Kansas having both Georgetown (Pomeroy #7) and Michigan St. (Pomeroy #11) in their half of the bracket. I would expect that in an average bracket, Kansas would have a greater chance of reaching the Elite 8, but if they were paired with a stronger #1 seed, their chances of winning their Regional Final game would decrease.

I'll probably do another one of these with a future Lunardi bracket, and compare the two.

-->