NCAA Tournament: Championship Notes

3 Apr

SEASON PREDICTIONS: 2053-1858-89, 403-339-19

NCAA TOURNAMENT: 33-27-2, 13-10-1

Before we get to tonight’s title game, I want to thank everyone for reading and generally being positive and constructive with the feedback. It’s been another fun year talking hoops here. On to the game…

This is the first time this tournament UNC has had to play a team that’s bigger than they are, and can match or out physical them pound for pound in the frontcourt. Roy Williams plays almost exclusively a two big lineup, and Mark Few’s frontcourt with Karno, Collins, and Williams can more than matchup, and Few won’t hesitate to go jumbo just as often. Against the Heels, there are three areas you want to be able to check off 1) Can you limit their frontcourt in the post? 2) Can you limit transition opportunities? 3) Can you rebound the ball defensively? For the Zags, the answer to all three is a general yes. Per hoop-math.com, no one is tougher to score against at the rim than Gonzaga, and with such a big lineup they rebound well defensively (and they’ve already faced three of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country in WVU, XU, and USC, and limited all but WVU to below their typical offensive board rate). The real issue for Few tonight will be guarding Justin Jackson. He can’t match his height at the 3, but NWG, Perkins, and Melson can all stay in front of him. If Jackson’s jump shots are falling, it could be good night early for the Zags, as there’s essentially nothing they can do to keep him from cleaning looks over the top.

For the Zags offensively, they really have to make Meeks and Hicks guard in pnr away from the rim (Collins and Williams can accomplish this), and I think you’ll see Few test the post defense of those two against the athleticism of Collins and the pure heft of Karno. We know Roy won’t double the post and won’t adjust to that even if Collins/Karno are scoring/drawing fouls. Roy is Roy. He’s going to continue to extend his outstanding perimeter defense led by Pinson and Berry and let his bigs work alone. That was an outstanding plan against Oregon’s four out penetrate and kick, as Oregon’s motion stagnated against the extended UNC perimeter and with Bell not really being a true post scorer, the Ducks had no recourse other than a million contested jumpers over the length of Pinson and Jackson. That won’t be the case tonight against Gonzaga, who has dual posr threats and two bigs who are fluid in pnr.

The transition battle will be the game within the game. As I mentioned, UNC’s extended perimeter defense has been suffocating guards this tournament, as Pinson, Berry, and Jackson have frustrated the hell out of some of the best scorers in the country like Brooks, Dorsey, Monk, and Fox. NWG has shown he can get frustrated as well when you bottle him and get in his jersey. Few made a clearly conscious effort to avoid that against a suffocating USC defense and pushex in transition whenever the opportunity arose, and NWG is a locomotive with outstanding vision in transition. That’s why limiting UNC on the glass is of mega huge importance tonight. It’s hard to run on the Heels because they typically grab all their misses. However, if you rebound consistently, you can beat their heft down the floor. UK did it in the regular season, and even IU did too, and Collins runs the floor so well in transition for a seven footer. Of course Few on the other end has to basically send everyone back off misses because you want UNC to have to operate in the halfcourt against the best set defense in the country. UNC is lethal in transition, but their big lineup jumbles up the floor in the halfcourt, and they don’t have a spacer in that regard (unless Luke Maye has a “Kentucky game”). That said, it’s all easier said than done, and UNC’s often irrepressible transition game has found opportunities against even the best transition defenses in the country (see Oregon on Saturday). In short, UNC’s game plan is out there in bold print. It takes a minor miracle for Roy to adjust (although the switch to zone late against UK was inspired), and if you’re not able to take advantage of single post coverage, limit second chance points, and limit transition opportunities, you will lose. I think Gonzaga is more than capable of doing those three aspects (deep x factor: the ankle health of each PG as both Berry and NWG have some issues there and you hope it doesn’t have any consequence on this game).

PREDICTION: Gonzaga +1.5

NCAA Tournament: Final Four Notes

1 Apr

Season Predictions: 2052-1857-89, 403-339-19

NCAA Tournament: 32-26-2, 13-10-1

#1 Gonzaga vs #7 South Carolina

South Carolina’s defense is outstanding (and these are the top two defenses in the country by KenPom’s metrics), there’s no questioning that. They deny, literally, everything. A simple perimeter pass becomes a Herculean effort against South Carolina’s physical man, and downright impossible extended Frank Martin’s extended 3-2 matchup zone. That said, the Gamecocks’ offensive explosion in this tournament is why they’re here. At no point in the regular season did they string together three straight +1ppp OE games, a feat they’ve accomplished four straight times in this tournament run, mostly thanks to the heroics of Sindarius Thornwell (who reportedly has been battling an illness this week). So while South Carolina’s ultra physical and aggressive defense gets the headlines in this matchup, I actually think it’s Gonzaga’s defense that’s going to be the difference tonight, a defense that allows the lowest FG% at the rim in the country (where South Carolina really has to score off penetration/FTs, turnovers, and Kotsar post ups to be effective), they defend without fouling, and they’re an excellent defensive rebounding team, a necessity against USC (although they’ve been routinely challenged on the glass in this tournament). Scoring efficiently in the halfcourt against Gonzaga is next to impossible (per hoop-math, they’re limiting opponents to a sub 40% eFG in the halfcourt), but I’m not quite willing to count out Lord Sindarius. Frank Martin has been really creative in how he uses Thornwell, and will almost certainly try to go small for extended periods with Thornwell at the 4 rather than try to match up straight up against the Gonzaga height in the frontcourt. Martin will use a lot of Al Skinneresque flex action when Thornwell is lined up at the 4, and the idea will be to try to get the Gonzaga bigs on him in space, where he can attack and cause some foul trouble (although I think Williams is capable of guarding him outside the paint if that match up arises on pnr/flex action). If, and it’s a big IF, Thornwell and Dozier can get Gonzaga in foul trouble, Mark Few will likely go to the 2-3 he’s shown when Karno is getting exposed in pnr or they’re having foul issues (see WVU). However, there’s a pervading myth that USC is terrible against zones, when in actuality, they’ve been just as good as anyone else, if not slightly better against zones (and they’ve seen everything from the Boeheim zone to Ole Miss’ 1-3-1 to Baylor’s morphing 1-1-3). If Gonzaga does get in foul trouble, they’ll start to run into some matchup issues, if the Gamecocks aren’t getting the whistles, they’ll likely really struggle to score in the halfcourt. As for Gonzaga offensively, my major concern is Williams-Goss against the physical aggression of the South Carolina guards. He really seemed rattled by WVU (but who doesn’t?), and while USC doesn’t really extend full court, the pressure and trapping borne from the 3-2 is virtually impossible to deal with in the halfcourt if NWG is tentative again, and it will lead to transition points/USC not having to score against a set Gonzaga defense. That said, Few has had a week to prepare for this, and his offensive sets against Xavier’s morphing zones (albeit far less aggressive and active at the top) on short prep were outstanding. Look for a lot of backdoor action tonight against the zone, which plays so far up on the floor. In short, keys for Gonzaga: solid guard play against extended 3-2 zone, keeping Karno/Williams/Collins out of foul trouble so South Carolina is forced to “play big” with Kotsar and Silva. For USC: continue to utilize a hopefully healthy Thornwell at the 4, which forces Gonzaga to try to guard him in space, force TOs against shaky Gonzaga backcourt.

ADVANCE: Gonzaga

ATS PREDICTION: Gonzaga -6.5

#1 North Carolina vs #3 Oregon

I would love Oregon in this matchup if they had one more Jordan Bell (well, they did when Chris Boucher was healthy). As it is, I still think Oregon can really challenge the Heels here because of Altman’s switching zone defenses and some mismatches they’ll create with their 4 out spread pnr offense. The bigger UNC defense with their more traditional 4/5 men have had issues when they’re forced to defend a ball handler at the 4, which Oregon sets up in often with Brooks. Miami exposed the Heels that way with four interchangeable parts on the perimeter that can all penetrate and kick within the motion offense, as did IU and Duke twice. Hicks can’t guard Brooks outside and Jackson can’t guard him when Brooks wants to back him down if Roy wants to go small to match. It seems rather obvious and banal analysis, but Brooks really is the key, as UNC’s best perimeter defender, Pinson, will be on Dorsey (who has been out of his mind this tournament). That said, UNC of course has some inherent advantages offensively with their size, and this game actually should play out quite a bit like last year’s outstanding title game between the Heels and Villanova. With Hicks, Bradley, and Meeks (and now apparently Luke Maye out there spacing defenses), the UNC frontline is too much for Oregon, even with the otherworldly play of Jordan Bell. Bell is a physical phenom, but unless he sweats off into a second Jordan Bell (and Altman has shown he’s not going to simply plug in Bigby-Williams in Boucher’s spot/minutes), and there’s just too much size in the UNC frontcourt. Simply put, Altman probably can’t use much, if any man to man. Jackson is too big for Brooks/Dorsey, and with the one man frontcourt, the soft zone press and switching 2-3 have to be the defenses of choice tonight. The problem is that UNC can actually shoot from outside this year, and if Luke Maye is going to continue to be the best player on the court out of nowhere, he provides Roy with that frontcourt spacer he’s been missing. Additionally, Oregon can’t really keep UNC off the offensive glass, especially when they’re in zone. However, since Oregon really only sends Bell to the offensive glass, they’re solid in limiting transition opps off misses, and keeping the Heels from running is always a top priority.

ADVANCE: North Carolina

ATS PREDICTION: Oregon +5

3/31 CIT/CBI Finals Notes

31 Mar

Season Predictions: 2051-1856-89, 403-339-19

NCAA Tournament: 32-26-2, 13-10-1

Wyoming really took advantage of shorthanded Coastal on a quick turnaround in the altitude, and game 2 got way out of hand. Wyoming’s shots were falling, tired Coastal’s weren’t, and when you have two jump shot dependent teams with that disparity, you end up with a final score like that. The good news for Coastal is that science tells us your body acclimates to the altitude after 48 hours, but this is still an uphill climb for the Chants given the travel, short rest, and injuries. Coastal’s looks against the Wyoming 3-2 zone weren’t terrible in game 2 however, and if their legs are more acclimated, they could certainly be more competitive tonight, but it’s all about the jump shots falling. If they’re not, Wyoming can run off misses and this series will end in a blowout.

The CIT final has St. Peter’s being shipped right back to southern Texas, but at least Corpus had to go east to the burbs of Baltimore for thr semis, so they’re on the same travel schedule. To put it simply, John Dunne is a defensive mastermind, and Welton can guard Thomas in space, and while Wyche and Patterson are smaller, they can lock down on the perimeter, even against Amin and Kilgore. If not for bad luck, the Peacocks could have been one of the most celebrated midmajors on the country. 5 of their 6 MAAC losses were by a single possession, and two came in OT. Corpus is going to have to execute in the halfcourt efficiently, and Thomas runs into a defender who can check him inside and out.

PREDICTIONS: Wyoming -8.5, St. Peter’s -3.5

3/30 NIT Finals Notes

30 Mar

I don’t really have a strong opinion on this game. Georgia Tech got here with a combination of a highly effective extended, morphing 1-3-1 defense (while still protecting the rim at one of the best rates in the country) and punching above their weight offensively. That’s not to say Pastner hasn’t done a good job offensively with this team, because he has. The Wreck is pushing hard off misses before defenses get set, and he added some Princeton motion wrinkles in the halfcourt. TCU meanwhile has tons of height to contend with Tech at the rim (both of these offenses are predicated on working inside first and foremost), but their bigs are mobile, which really stretched out an excellent UCF zone thanks to the ball skills of zone busting, triple double threat Kenrich Williams and the pick n pop game of Vlad Brodziansky. Robinson at the point has had his issues against extended defenses, and that’s really my biggest concern with TCU tonight. X-factor? The Frogs on the offensive glass. They’re good at it and Tech has their struggles rebounding when they’re in the zone, a double edged sword because it’s their most effective defense. 

PREDICTION: TCU -4

3/29 CIT/CBI Notes

29 Mar

Just a few quick lunchtime notes on tonight’s CIT/CBI games. Sorry for stream of consciousness style, but don’t really have time to organize into cohesive paragraphs.

CIT Semis: UMBC’s bigs can’t guard Rashawn Thomas for TAMU Corpus. Thomas moves all around the floor, is lethal in pick and pop situations, is an adept passer out of the high post, and runs the floor well. Will Darley is a mobile stretch 5 for the Retrievers, but he’s a total liability defensively, especially in pnr situations. Thomas will predictably get his. On the flip side, the Islanders are a poorly disciplined transition defense (especially if you can rebound defensively), and UMBC is an explosive transition offense. Both teams really look to attack the rim foremost, but UMBC also loves to spread the floor in transition with Jairus Lyles and KJ Maura as dual PGs that are impossible to stay in front of and Darley and Joe Sherburne as big shooters who space the floor and are lethal from outside. The Islanders are excessively long in the backcourt since 6’5 Kilgore moved to the point, and 6’4 Amin is an absolute menace defensively, but they’re not as quick as the smaller Lyles and Maura. So in the backcourt we have an intriguing length vs speed matchup. The travel has to be a concern for Corpus, as they’ve not been anywhere near the east coast and they haven’t left Corpus Christi during this tournament until now. Should be plenty of points, as UMBC can’t guard Thomas or the bigger Corpus guards, but TAMUCC’s pressure defensively will backfire against Lyles and Maura and they’re so poor in transition defense.

St. Peter’s has had to endure some tough travel on fairly short rest, but at least they’re returning home to the Yanitelli Center ( although I’m not sure SPU really wants people to see the YC on national TV tbh) from San Marcos this time. The Peacocks got off to an expected slow start at Texas St, but recovered thanks to their lock down defense. The Peacocks will host Furman, a similarly structured solid defensive team, and they’re also a four out offense, but more efficient than SPU in that regard. You basically have to beat either of these defenses by shooting the three, as they both really wall off the paint, and opposing offenses have gone 21-89 combined against these two teams in this tournament. Hence the reason both are in the semis. If you can’t hit jump shots against these two defenses, you’re probably not going to win. Both of these teams are very good jump shooting teams, so each stands a chance tonight. The Paladins are a little more consistent from outside with Sibley, Davis, and Brown (who I’ve been on record as saying has the best form in D1), but Quadir Welton is capable of guarding Kris Acox in pnr (which was why SPU was able to shut down KGT and thus Texas St in San Marcos), a major key tonight for SPU in the frontcourt battle. Offensively you really want to take advantage of the injury ravaged Furman frontcourt, but Welton, as good as he’s been defensively in this tournament, hasn’t matched that on the other end. Coaching wise we have a mismatch, as Furman’s Niko Medved has left for Drake, leaving recruiting specialist Bob Richey in charge tonight, while SPU of course has defensive mastermind John Dunne roaming the sidelines. However, Richey has been at Furman longer than Medved, and recruited all of these guys, and is definitely a candidate for the full time job. The Paladins aren’t going to quit on him. Interesting game between two very similar teams, but the Furman offense is a few tics more efficient.

CBI Game 2: I wrote a few hundred words on how these two matchup scheme wise for Game 1, and nothing really changes on that front, but Coastal lost Colton Ray-St. Cyr for the rest of the series in game 1, which is a fairly substantial blow. Wyoming simply didn’t show up defensively after the long trip to Conway, as they were toasted routinely in transition and provided zero help side defense on penetration. They looked sluggish and Labinowicz was throwing down dunks all over them (including an ill advised windmill attempt instead of running out clock, which riled up Wyoming up a bit I’m sure). The quick turnaround back to Laramie is tough, but I expect a much more thorough defensive effort tonight against short handed Coastal, who at least does have some experience out west and in altitude this year, as I mentioned in the game 1 preview.

PREDICTIONS: Wyoming -8, UMBC -2, Furman +3

 

3/28 NIT Semifinal Notes

28 Mar

Season Predictions: 2049-1854-89, 403-338-19

NCAA Tournament: 32-26-2, 13-10-1

CSUB and Georgia Tech should be a brutal slugfest. Per hoop-math.com, CSUB allows the third lowest FG% at the rim in the country, while Tech is tenth nationally in that category. Easy buckets are going to be few and far between against a CSUB team that swarms the post as well as anyone in the country, and will extend pressure as well, denying penetration. Meanwhile Tech denies points at the rim more traditionally with their superior length and one of the best rim protectors in the country in Ben Lammers. Offensively, both teams have been punching above their weight. Tech had posted over 1ppp just twice since Jan 18 before this tournament, but they’ve scored 220 points in 210 possessions during this run. That’s not Earth shattering, but a steep increase for the ACC’s worst offense nonetheless (caveat emptor, they’ve played three mediocre defenses, none of which are close to the level of team defense CSUB employs). CSUB meanwhile has posted their three most efficient offensive games since a stretch in early January, and they’ve done it by looking like last year’s Villanova team in March in every 1H. It’s uncanny. The Runners literally can’t miss from 3 in the 1H in this tournament (and they shot just under 31% from 3 in WAC play), they build a massive lead, and then basically just take the air out of the ball in the 1H. While they have played better defenses in this tournament than Tech, they caught a Cal team who couldn’t have cared any less without Rabb and Bird and a coach out the door, and a worn down CSU team. I’ve mentioned it before during this tournament, CSUB is one of the oldest teams in the country, and one of the most cohesive I’ve seen this year. Defensively they open and close like a hand making a fist, swarming the interior and extending back out on the perimeter. If they shoot even close to how they have been during this tournament, they’ll be playing for the title.

TCU’s offense has been absurdly efficient the past two games, but Jamie Dixon’s back screen, down screen motion should run into some issues against UCF for a few reasons. 1) UCF is massive. They’re the biggest team in the country and these big teams in their own right like Colorado, ISU, and Illinois (and TCU is also one of the biggest teams in the country) just wear down against a team that goes from 6’5 to 7’6 at the two through five. 2) UCF’s defense not only holds opposing offenses to the second lowest FG% at the rim in the country, but Johnny Dawkins’ amoeba zone doesn’t even let you get the ball to the rim. TCU beat up some incredibly weak interior defenses in Iowa and Richmond. UCF is a 180 from those teams defensively, and the Frogs have to hit jump shot tonight.

Both teams really struggle with ball pressure, which shouldn’t be an issue tonight for either side. UCF is also an outstanding rebounding team, especially defensively, and the offensive glass has been a key for TCU this tournament. All that said, TCU’s ball movement is outstanding, and Kenrich Williams and Vlad Brodziansky’s ability to stretch the UCF defense in pnr and Williams’ passing ability in the high post is a major key for the Frogs tonight. They’ll force Tacko to move. Teams that have great ball movement and a skilled passing big that can work away from the paint have been the teams that UCF has struggled with.

PREDICTIONS: CSUB +2.5, TCU -2.5

CBI Championship Series Notes

27 Mar

The best of three CBI series between Wyoming and Coastal Carolina probably comes down to two main factors: 1) Who hits their jump shots more efficiently (both are fairly reliant on the three offensively, particulary Wyoming, who attempts them at the 15the highest rate in the country) and 2) Who responds more effectively to the cross country travel. Coastal had been out west to Utah and Vegas this year (and played in altitude), and they had some extreme travel in their first year of SBC play. Wyoming meanwhile never ventured anywhere near east of the Mississippi. The Pokes will fly east to Conway, then both teams will spend their off day traveling to Laramie. So while Wyoming has the advantage of two games at home, they also have to make the cross country flight twice in two days. Outside of those factors, scheme wise Coastal has some issues. As I mentioned, Wyoming loves to jack up the 3, and they love to spread the floor in transition and shoot/slash off a heavy dose of drag screens. Coastal is a poor transition defense, especially getting back off misses, which is where Wyoming really attacks under first year coach Allen Edwards. Cliff Ellis willl throw out his ubequitous junk zones to slow Wyoming down, but once the Pokes figure out what they’re looking at, it’s just a matter of the jumpers falling or not. Wyoming defensively plays a no gamble man but extends into the backcourt with their guards, and they have a lot of length/athleticism 2-5, and are able to switch on ball screens effectively. The Chants will really miss Wiggins in this series, as he would likely be able to live in the lane off the dribble against Lieberman. With the versatility and length of Adams, Dalton, and James, Ellis’ small lineup used to create mismatches at the 3/4 with Wilson and Ray-St.Cyr really loses a lot of its effectiveness, and coud be the key to a Wyoming CBI title. We’ll see how Wyoming responds to the travel and Ellis’ shifting defense tonight, but this is a series they have more advantages in and should win. 

Prediction: Wyoming -1 

Season Predictions: 2049-1853-89, 403-338-19