Archive | April, 2017

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