Saturday's Elite 8 Stat Previews



The networks were assuming today would be the day that #1 seeds Pittsburgh in the Southeast, and Duke in the West faced still challenges before advancing to the Final Four.

Pittsburgh didn't make it out of the second round, joining eight other Big East schools in the opening week carnage. Duke was so badly outclassed by Arizona Thursday Night in the second half that you could imagine Dick Vitale, Billy Packer, and three-fourths of the nation's media hiding under a desk so they wouldn't have to congratulate Charles Barkley for explaining IN ADVANCE why Arizona was going to win because they had more athletic personnel and more depth.

The top seeds may be gone from today's regionals...but some very good teams will be battling for Final Four berths. Florida was the regular season champion of the SEC. Butler was the tournament champion of the Horizon, and made it all the way to the final game last year. Connecticut was the Big East tournament champion, and may be playing the best ball in the nation the past few weeks when you consider both offense and defense. Arizona caught fire at the right time, and certainly has the kind of talent that would scare anyone in the postseason.

Let's see what our indicator stats say about today's games. We'll also review Thursday's boxscores for additional guidance...



BUTLER (8) vs. FLORIDA (2)

Butler: +6.2 margin average, 48% two-point defense
Florida: +7.7 margin average, 47% two-point defense
Conference Adjustment: Florida 5 points
Vegas Line: Florida by 3, total of 132
Notebook: As we've been saying for awhile now, Butler's been playing better than they're regular season margin average would suggest. They were clearly a match for Pittsburgh in a coin flip game, and they were in control of the Wisconsin game almost the whole night too. The math above would show Florida by 6.5 on a neutral court after making the conference adjustment. Recent form would bring that right back to the Vegas number in our view. Not much separating these teams defensively right now. Butler is playing better than that 48% mark would suggest too. This well-coached team knows how to disrupt opposing offenses in games that matter.

Butler: 64.7 possessions per game
Florida: 64.2 possessions per game

Both teams are slower than average, so we expect a halfcourt game. Florida might try to pick up the pace because they have better athletes. They did that some against fast-paced BYU, but it really didn't get them anywhere until the opposing dog wore down in overtime.

Butler: 31.4% of points on treys
Florida: 26.6% of points on treys

Butler was actually more of a two-point team than Wisconsin, even though they grade out as a three-point team in the big picture. This stat generally favors the team with less reliance on treys in big games. Butler plays so smart though that we won't put as much weight on it here as we would with other teams. They were only 5 of 18 from long range vs. Wisconsin yet still controlled the evening. Butler doesn't need treys to win.

FLORIDA 83, BYU 74 (in overtime)
Shooting Percentage: BYU 35%, Florida 48%
Three-Pointers: BYU 10/37, Florida 11/34
Free Throws: BYU 14/16, Florida 10/22
Rebounds: BYU 39, Florida 42
Turnovers: BYU 12, Florida 15
Phantom Score: BYU 69, Florida 82
Vegas Line: Florida by 2, total of 148
Notebook: The intensity was enjoyable. But, watching two teams combine to go 21 of 71 on three-pointers wasn't. That's 50 clanks! Jimmer Fredette was 3 of 15...with one of the makes coming on a very long trey before the defense approached him. The Gators did a good job of stifling BYU's best threat, yet still had to sweat the ending anyway. Not a great sign. Obviously Florida was very strong on two-pointers...because 11 of 34 only dropped them down to 48% from the floor for the game. For you newcomers, Phantom Score is two-point scoring plus rebounding, which we use as a "secondary" score. No surprise that Florida won it in this matchup. It only got them an overtime finish though.

Shooting Percentage: Butler 42%, Wisconsin 30%
Three-Pointers: Butler 5/18, Wisconsin 7/29
Free Throws: Butler 18/26, Wisconsin 13/19
Rebounds: Butler 35, Wisconsin 28
Turnovers: Butler 14, Wisconsin 11
Phantom Score: Butler 63, Wisconsin 48
Vegas Line: Wisconsin by 4.5, total of 124
Notebook: So, 21 of 71 on treys was followed up by 12 of 47. This is why some handicappers don't like asking three-point teams to win in domes! The backdrops can be odd. It doesn't always work out that way, but did Thursday in the Super Dome. That hurt Wisconsin more in this matchup because the Badgers are such an extreme three-point team. You can see that Butler won Phantom Score in a rout. If you watched the end of the game, you know that Butler had inexplicable troubles with Wisconsin's full court press. We expect Florida to do something about that to see if they can force some easy points.

Our on site sources always play a big role in our Elite 8 handicapping because physical recovery and emotional mindset are so important in a second game in three days. We'll be working with our guys very closely to find you a strong side and/or total winner from the Big Easy. This may be a hard game for YOU to handicap. BIG plays always come EASY to JIM HURLEY!


WEST FINAL (Anaheim)


UCONN: +0.5 margin average, 43% two-point defense
Arizona: +3.9 margin average, 51% two-point defense
Conference Adjustment: Connecticut 5 points
Vegas Line: Connecticut by 2.5, total of 145.5
Notebook: Mixed factors here. Connecticut would grade out by about 1.5 pionts based on the numbers above because of conference adjustment. But, UCONN is obviously playing A LOT better than that +0.5 would suggest. They've been in the best team in the Big East for two weeks now. They've played like a #1 seed should on both sides of the court. You have to treat them as more like a +5 or higher. That being said, the Big East as a conference has been so disappointing that the five point rub UCONN gets in the conference differential may be hot air. It's possible that the Big East and Pac 10 are close to even given what we've seen from Arizona and Washington (naibliter with North Carolina) in the Dance, and Washington State in the NIT. We'll say it this way. Connecticut has been playing so well that "recent form" would suggest this line is too low. Handicappers have to determine if they're about to fall back to earth...or if this new level is going to be sustained all the way through Houston.

UCONN: 66.0 possessions per game
Arizona: 66.5 possessions per game

Both teams are average in pace, which would suggest a solid well played game. They'll run if there's an opening, but walk-it-up if the break isn't there. You saw Thursday Night that both teams can score in their halfcourt offenses thanks to explosive scoring talent.

UCONN: 24.4% of points on treys
Arizona: 30.8% of points on treys

Historically this would favor Connecticut. They have more of an inside game, and an inside game is more trustworthy under pressure in a neutral court environment. But, you'll see in a moment that UCONN was 8 of 16 on treys vs. San Diego State, which means they may have been a bit over their heads. Note also that no team at 30% or higher has reached the Final Four the last five seasons. Arizona and Butler will both be trying to break through that barrier this year (Butler finished at 29.9% last year, just missing the 30.0 threshold).  

Shooting Percentage: UCONN 47%, SDSU 42%
Three-Pointers: UCONN 8/16, SDSU 7/22
Free Throws: UCONN 12/16, SDSU 6/13
Rebounds: UCONN 30, SDSU 32
Turnovers: UCONN 9, SDSU 9
Phantom Score: UCONN 68, SDSU 72
Vegas Line: San Diego State by 2, total of 130
Notebook: Fun game. Too bad it was such an early starting time in Anaheim for a late arriving crowd. Whenever Connecticut would make a run, SDSU would storm right back to make it close. You get the sense it would have been close again in a 42- minute game...then about 6-9 points for UCONN in a 45-minute game. The big news here for us is that Connecticut LOST Phantom Score. They were outrebounded. Ultimately their victory margin came from free throws (+6 points) and treys (+3 points). That's more than their victory margin. If San Diego State really is a #2 caliber seed, that's not too big a negative. If the Mountain West teams were overseeded by 3-4 spots (remember that SDSU went overtime with #7 Temple), then the Phantom loss is a sign of vulnerability.

Shooting Percentage: Arizona 54%, Duke 47%
Three-Pointers: Arizona 9/15, Duke 5/14
Free Throws: Arizona 16/21, Duke 18/22
Rebounds: Arizona 35, Duke 26
Turnovers: Arizona 12, Duke 12
Phantom Score: Arizona 85, Duke 70
Vegas Line: Duke by 10, total of 148.5
Notebook: We've blasted Duke enough over the years that you can probably guess what we'll say here. They shut us up last year when things clicked perfectly into place. Now they're back to playing way below their seed (which they've done for much of the decade). They barely got by #8 Michigan, and were absolutely throttled here by a #5 seed. Arizona outscored them 55-33 in the second half. Congrats to Charles Barkley for explaining to the TV audience what was going to happen. It's a shame it takes an NBA analyst to come in and explain reality on a college broadcast. Greg Anthony said he hadn't seen Duke fall apart like this in the tournament before. We'll direct him to Duke's 77-54 loss to Villanova in 2009 as a 3-point favorite. They were outscored 51-31 in the second half there. Sound familiar? YOU'VE NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE???!!!

How about the 1-point win over Belmont in 2008 as a 20-point favorite (getting outscored 35-29 in the second half by freaking Belmont!!!), followed by a 73-67 loss as a 4-point favorite to West Virginia (getting outscored 44-33 in the second half). They were a 6-point favorite when they lost to VCU in the first round in 2006.

Anyway, Arizona is now the story, not Duke. Can they maintain their intensity after scoring two big pointspread upsets? It's easy to lose your focus after taking out a #1 seed. That will be the biggest danger for the Wildcats. If you're flat footed against UCONN, they can run away and hide pretty quickly.

Obviously our sources will be working very hard on pinning down Arizona's mindset. Knowing that one element will probably determine who covers and by how much.

Our ELITE 8 MONSTERS will be ready here on the website by late Saturday morning. Have your credit card handy when you log in. Or, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. We'll be back with your Sunday at this time to preview the East Championship in Newark and the Southwest Championship in San Antonio.

Be sure you're with us in the NOTEBOOK every day so you know what's REALLY happening in the NCAA Tournament!


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