Pitt - Villanova Preview

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

ANOTHER POWER TO BE TESTED AS PITT VISITS VILLANOVA

A huge basketball is upon us. We've already previewed this afternoon's Ohio State/Wisconsin game for you here in the NOTEBOOK. Please check the archives for yesterday's entry. Today we're going to talk about the much anticipated Pittsburgh/Villanova game set for prime time on ESPN's"GameDay."

These big national powers can't ever relax!

Pittsburgh is a true national championship threat, on a short list with Ohio State, Duke, Kansas, and Texas as the"big five"in terms of best shots to go the distance based on what we've seen so far. There are certainly several legitimate darkhorses who could become big stories in the coming weeks. And, a few mid-majors have a shot to be this year's Butler. We look forward to previewing and summarizing events as they occur. We'll crunch some numbers from Saturday afternoon's marquee games for you here in our Sunday NOTEBOOK.

You avid fans know that Pittsburgh and Villanova are part of the deep and brutal big East. By definition, that means they've played competitive schedules this season. Each has an outing or two they'd rather forget. But, we are talking about elite teams...squaring off tonight in a very intense environment...in a game that will have a championship feel to it because of the prime time audience.

This could easily be a preview of a very important Big East tournament game in March. It could even be a Final Four preview. At the very least, we're looking at teams who will be a big part of the national landscape for weeks to come.

Let's crunch our favorite indicator data and see how they rate...

DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY (points allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for schedule)
Pittsburgh: 27th in the nation
Villanova: 37th in the nation

Kind of disappointing performances here. The best site for stats in all of cyberspace is Ken Pomeroy's college basketball locale (kenpom.com). He adjusts this stat for strength of schedule up front, so we can't say that Pitt and Villanova would grade out better in another conference. Pittsburgh is seen as having a great defense by the media. But, they're a very slow team that keeps scoring down with tempo. They're not as good as their press in this area. They're probably not as good as you've been thinking either.

Villanova is seen as more of an up-tempo team that tries to outscore you rather than outdefend you. If you had them pictured as a weak defense, they're better than you think! Pittsburgh still gets the edge here. Just be aware that these teams aren't as far apart defensively as you were imagining. Tempo creates illusions. Pittsburgh currently ranks 261st nationally in pace, Villanova ranks 156th. Villanova's not as fast as you thought, and plays better defense.

2-POINT DEFENSE
Pittsburgh: 44% (36th in the nation)
Villanova: 45% (69th in the nation)

We're in a range here that represents quality, but not greatness. More than 300 Division I teams are measured, so those rankings are far from embarrassing. But, those really aren't great numbers in terms of postseason success. Those of you who have been with us the past several years know that numbers in the low 40's are much more common for championship material...sometimes high 30's for the very strongest defensive teams. Pittsburgh's just there when it comes to guarding people amongst the Dance hopefuls. That may sound crazy to you newcomers. Tempo isn't defense.

Once again Pittsburgh has a slight edge in this matchup category for tonight's game. Once again, we're looking at numbers that suggest we should have some skepticism about March. Remember Villanova's struggles in the Dance last year? They had a 45.5% mark on two-point defense for the season. They barely got by Robert Morris before losing to St. Mary's. And, that came after a first round loss in the Big East tournament to Marquette. Pittsburgh had a 43.6% mark, yet couldn't get past a second round date with Xavier.

OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
Pittsburgh: 2nd in the nation
Villanova: 11th in the nation

Would you have guessed Pittsburgh would grade out this high on offense?! As we discussed with Ohio State and Wisconsin yesterday...the slower you play, the easier it is to accumulate a good efficiency number. You're making the most of every possession. It's funny how many in the media have it backwards. Pittsburgh's seen as a team having a great defense with an inconsistent offense. They're a slow team with an efficient offense but a defense that can be had inside, at least when compared to other superpowers.

Villanova shows up well, and is often a joy to watch offensively because they can remain productive at an average tempo rather than having to slow it down.

Pittsburgh gets the edge in this stat based on those rankings. But, remember that it's hard for that Pitt/Wisconsin style of offense to rally from deficits if they fall behind a top opponent. In a slow down game, Pittsburgh will be more efficient and productive. If Villanova can take Pitt out of their comfort zone (as home teams are wont to do), then we'd suggest it's the Wildcats who would have the edge in this stat.

What's the point difference between these two? They rank one and two in our Big East Margin Averages heading into the weekend. Let's run the numbers for the best 11 teams in the league to get some big picture context. The bracketology reports (which we'll get to in a second), show 11 teams currently on the Dance card. Here's how those 11 have fared thus far in Big East play.

BIG EAST CONTENDER MARGIN AVERAGES
Pittsburgh: +10.5
Villanova: +5.8
Marquette: +4.1
Notre Dame: +3.3
West Virginia: +3.1
Syracuse: +2.7
Louisville: +2.5
Georgetown: +2.3
Connecticut: +0.6
Cincinnati: +0.5
St. John's: -2.9

Pittsburgh is 4.7 points better than Villanova to this point. Home court advantage is usually worth 3-4 points in college basketball. So, we're looking at Pittsburgh grading out as a very small favorite here. You may want to make it pick-em because of the wild and crazy prime time crowd. Home teams have been faring well in"GameDay"action thus far.

You know it's quite a conference when you're 11th rated team in a proven indicator stat crushed Duke! That was a peak game for St. John's of course. But, they sure impressed the other night on the same court against Connecticut. Just amazing the depth and quality in this conference right now.

ESPN's Bracketology isn't lined up quite the same way. They have Notre Dame way up high as a #2 seed...in front of both Villanova and Marquette. Tonight's game could easily have bracket implications if Villanova is able to break through in impressive fashion. Or, if Pitt wins big, Villanova may start sliding down the ladder some.

ESPN BRACKETOLOGY
Pittsburgh: projected as a 1st seed
Notre Dame: projected as a 2nd seed
Villanova: projected as a 3rd seed
Georgetown: projected as a 3rd seed
Syracuse: projected as a 4th seed
Connecticut: projected as a 4th seed
Louisville: projected as a 5th seed
West Virginia projected as a 6th seed
Marquette projected as an 8th seed
St. John's: projected as an 9th seed
Cincinnati projected as a 10th seed

The danger spots for dropping out are down at #12 in the seedings, and maybe a couple of the 11's. This group of Big East teams are currently safely in, though there's still plenty of time for a late-season slump to derail St. John's or Cincinnati.

Pittsburgh looks like they'll be in a 5-way battle for the four #1 spots. Right now, ANY loss is going to loom large in that competition amongst Ohio State, Kansas, Texas, and Duke. You really don't want to be fourth or fifth because the brackets will give you a tougher Elite Eight game than the others will have to endure barring upsets (like the phrase"barring upsets"has any place in March Madness!).

Great game tonight...great day of basketball up and down the board. Among the matchups JIM HURLEY and the NETWORK TEAM are looking at for potential big play releases:

Ohio State at Wisconsin
Pittsburgh at Villanova
Syracuse at Louisville
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
San Diego State at UNLV
North Carolina at Clemson

That's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of winning potential. As we go to press, there are reports of a GAME OF THE YEAR caliber release in one of the mid-major conferences as well.

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Back tomorrow to run the numbers from marquee Saturday afternoon action. Don't forget that Sunday's NBA card features Miami-Boston and Lakers-Orlando. Tell your sweetie that Valentine's isn't until Monday...YOU'VE GOT SOME GAMES TO WATCH!

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22
Aug

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