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

"Bubble" means "Relying on the Kindness of Strangers"

From Jason Whitlock in this morning's K.C. Star:

Just in Division I college football and basketball, despite two vastly different systems, we manage to produce a handful of seemingly tortured, reparation-worthy victims each year. March Madness, with its playoff format, is supposed to be the sports utopia - unless you're one of a dozen teams sitting on the "bubble" with an impeccable resume.

First, Jason, there is no such thing as a "bubble team" with an impeccable resume. If there were, they wouldn't be a bubble team.

Second, when you leave an undefeated team, or any major conference champion, out of the BCS "championship" game in football, you don't have a true national champion. What you have is a two-conference "champion"--barring the situation we almost had this year in which we could have had Ohio St and Michigan playing for the post-season Big 11 championship.

When you leave a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, or even ninth place team out of the NCAA basketball tournament, Big Freakin' Deal. You are leaving out losers. If they don't want to be left out, they need to win more games. They have no gripe. They deserve no sympathy. They merit no reparation. Their resume is eminently peccable.

In fact, unlike football, where more teams (6 more would do it) must be included to have a true national champion, you could have a true basketball national champion with fewer teams.

Won't happen. A 64 team field (65 if you include the meaningless play-in game) makes the tournament a national event: all areas of the country are represented; everyone with a pulse makes out a bracket for money or fun or both; and the drama and excitement in the first two rounds is unmatched anywhere else in the world of sports.

And that's all right. The tournament might not be well designed to determine the best team; but, unlike football, whoever the best team is gets a chance to win a national championship on the field of play. As long as everyone who might be the best team is included, we have a legitimate national champion, best team or not.

As for teams like k-state, Texas Tech, Florida State, Alabama, Drexel, Illinois, etc., their absence from the field means nothing. So they don't get their participation trophy. So they cannot win the tournament. The tournament will be fine without them. They have no gripe. Enjoy the NIT. It is what you have earned. And you might even have a chance to win.

But you are not a victim. You are simply a Blance DuBois team--i.e., one that has to rely on the kindness of strangers in, of all places, Indianapolis.

--Mark

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