Sunday Elite 8 Stat Previews

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

SUPERPOWER PROGRAMS...AND CINDERELLA
FIGHT FOR LAST TWO SPOTS IN FINAL FOUR

Three of the biggest names in college basketball are on the Sunday schedule, trying once again to make it to the Final Four...and ultimately cut down the nets next Monday Night as national champions.

At least one traditional superpower is guaranteed of making it, as Kentucky faces North Carolina in the East Regional finals today in Newark, New Jersey. Kansas is a heavy favorite to join that winner, laying double digits to this year's Cinderella.

Does Virginia Commonwealth have a chance to pull off the stunner of the year? Well, they've done a pretty good job so far on their SHOCK THE NATION tour through USC, Georgetown, Purdue, and Florida State. And, they're from the Colonial Conference...which sent George Mason to the Final Four back in 2006. But, George Mason was a power team that could match up physically with overrated opponents from major conferences. VCU needs to hit treys or they have no chance. Can they keep hitting treys?

Let's run through our indicator stats (many of which come from Ken Pomeroy's great stat site kenpom.com) and Friday Night's boxscores for guidance.

EAST FINAL (Newark)

KENTUCKY (4) vs. NORTH CAROLINA (2)

Kentucky: +7.8 margin average, 42% two-point defense
N. Carolina: +7.2 margin average, 44% two-point defense
Conference Adjustment: Even
Vegas Line: Kentucky by 1.5, total of 145.5
Notebook: Before the tournament started our computers had the ACC as the better conference. We've made an adjustment to that based on postseason performance. Kentucky and Florida have impressed in the Big Dance, and Alabama is still playing over in the NIT. North Carolina is the only ACC team still playing, despite having a #1 seed in the Dance and two #1 seeds in the NIT. That means Kentucky shows up as a half point better because of margin averages within their conferences. The market has them playing slightly better than that...and has created the odd visual of a #4 seed being favored over a #2 seed.

Two point defense goes to Kentucky. You had to be impressed with their defense against Ohio State Friday Night. The concern in that regard would be a letdown. If Kentucky relaxes after slaying the giant, they could fall behind quickly...which is not something you want to have happen against North Carolina. If the Wildcats still have their heads on straight, they bring the better defense into the game.

ADJUSTED TEMPO
Kentucky: 66.3 possessions per game
N. Carolina: 71.8 possessions per game

As the studio analysts kept pointing out the other night, Kentucky's comfortable at any tempo. They could go halfcourt with Ohio State. They have the athletes to deal with a track meet against North Carolina. The best approach is probably to try and slow down Carolina though rather than running with them. Kentucky has the defense that should allow them to do that if they can avoid temptation.

THREE-POINT RELIANCE
Kentucky: 28.7% of points on treys
N. Carolina: 20.1% of points on treys

Kentucky goes from being the two-point team that plays at a faster pace vs. Ohio State...to the three-point team that plays at a slower pace vs. North Carolina. That presents a very interesting challenge for coach John Calipari...particularly with only one day off in the middle to change gears.

This has a chance to be another great game. The key in our mind is Kentucky's preparation. If they're flat or overconfident, the game can get away from they early. If not...then they're facing a team that's played only one good game in the last six in terms of meeting expectations. We'll be working closely with our New York based sources who have done so well for us over the years.

NORTH CAROLINA 81, MARQUETTE 63
Shooting Percentage: Marquette 37%, North Carolina 42%
Three-Pointers: Marquette 2/16, North Carolina 5/15
Free Throws: Marquette 15/20, North Carolina 14/21
Rebounds: Marquette 38, North Carolina 44
Turnovers: Marquette 18, North Carolina 8
Phantom Score: Marquette 80, North Carolina 96
Vegas Line: North Carolina by 4, total of 150
Notebook: The stats don't really matter much here. North Carolina put the game out of reach early when Marquette kept throwing football passes at the rim on three pointers rather than beautifully arching shots. It was 40-15 at the half...and garbage time from that point forward. Phantom Score confirms the blowout...which it normally does when two-point based teams have a big game.

KENTUCKY 62, OHIO STATE 60
Shooting Percentage: Kentucky 46%, Ohio State 33%
Three-Pointers: Kentucky 6/17, Ohio State 6/16
Free Throws: Kentucky 12/14, Ohio State 16/22
Rebounds: Kentucky 31, Ohio State 30
Turnovers: Kentucky 11, Ohio State 7
Phantom Score: Kentucky 63, Ohio State 56
Vegas Line: Ohio State by 6, total of 141.5
Notebook: Amazing defense from Kentucky, holding a potent force to 33% shooting. Jared Sullinger played well for the Buckeyes, but few others were able to break through and have an impact. Kentucky had issues with turnovers, and couldn't get to the line as often as OSU...so a comfortable Phantom Win ended up being decided in the final seconds. Could have gone either way in the final seconds...which means the best in the Big Ten weren't really all that much better than anybody else. Wisconsin fell to Butler. Purdue fell to VCU. Those were mid majors! Ohio State fell to the first major conference team they ran into.

The winner in Kentucky/North Carolina will be available mid morning here at the website for credit card purchase...along with the rest of the Sunday slate and includes bonus plays on ESPN's prime-time NBA doubleheader of Portland-Oklahoma City and Dallas-Phoenix. Click here to get on board.  

SOUTHWEST FINAL (San Antonio)

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH (11) vs. KANSAS (1)

VCU: +3.4 margin average, 49% two-point defense
Kansas: +12.1 margin average, 45% two-point defense
Conference Adjustment: Kansas 8 points
Vegas Line: Kansas by 11, total of 146
Notebook: The math here shows Kansas by about 17 points...which is much higher than the Vegas line. That's because VCU has really lifted it's game in the postseason, and is playing much better than the +3.4 would suggest. Are they playing six points better? Well, let's say it this way. They're hitting three-pointers at a clip that makes them that much better. If they keep doing that, they'll keep playing that much better!

The two-point defense edge for Kansas is likely to be a huge factor if the treys aren't falling for VCU. Kansas has an easy way to score...with a lot of talented weaponry. VCU isn't going to get much inside...and may not even bother trying beyond hoping for putbacks off offensive rebounds.

ADJUSTED TEMPO
VCU: 66.1 possessions per game
Kansas: 69.3 possessions per game

VCU will try to keep things calm, then make a trey at the end of their possession. Kansas will try to create a track meet that forces VCU out of its comfort zone. VCU is very similar to Richmond (but faster). Kansas flew out to a big early lead and coasted past Richmond because they could impose their will on the game. Same story here...except VCU is more comfortable at a faster pace than Richmond is.

THREE-POINT RELIANCE
VCU: 34.6% of points on treys
Kansas: 26.5% of points on treys

Kansas is in the sweet spot for the kinds of teams that typically make it to the championship game (not last year, but before that). VCU is the kind of extreme team that has to hope the bombs fall to have any chance. Typically, the laws of math take out this kind of team before the Final Four.

The boxscores do a good job of outlining the dynamics.

KANSAS 77, RICHMOND 57
Shooting Percentage: Richmond 34%, Kansas 48%
Three-Pointers: Richmond 4/26, Kansas 9/19
Free Throws: Richmond 9/12, Kansas 8/10
Rebounds: Richmond 33, Kansas 41
Turnovers: Richmond 11, Kansas 9
Phantom Score: Richmond 69, Kansas 83
Vegas Line: Kansas by 10.5, total of 136
Notebook: Richmond was 4 of 26 on treys. They missed early, then kept missing in desperation mode. It was barely a ball game because the fundamentals took control right out of the gate. The second half was garbage time...so be careful putting too much weight on the other stats.

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH 72, FLORIDA STATE 71 (in overtime)
Shooting Percentage: VCU 45%, Florida State 37%
Three-Pointers: VCU 12/26, Florida State 7/19
Free Throws: VCU 12/20, Florida State 12/18
Rebounds: VCU 28, Florida State 45
Turnovers: VCU 16, Florida State 16
Phantom Score: VCU 52, Florida State 83
Vegas Line: Florida State by 4, total of 130
Notebook: VCU was routed in Phantom Score...but won three-pointers by 15 points in a game they only won by one point. VCU was killed on the boards...committed a bunch of turnovers...and didn't even shoot well from the free throw line when they got there. We should give them a lot of credit for defense. FSU shot only 37%, and VCU harassed them into misses and miscues. That's much tougher to do against one of the best teams in the nation than it is against the third best team in an overrated conference.

We'll definitely confer with our on site sources about game preparation. But, barring surprises, it's going to come down to whether or not VCU can make treys. They will probably need about 8-10 to cover, and 12-15 to make it a thriller. Kansas knows this and will be guarding the perimeter and boxing out.

Back with you Monday to run the boxscores from all four Elite 8 games. Then, on Tuesday, we'll post stat previews for the NIT semifinals that will be played that night in Madison Square Garden in New York. We'll do the same thing Thursday in the Finals (while running Tuesday's boxscores for additional guidance). With the tourneys winding down...we'll be able to include some NBA this week...and possibly some Major League Baseball with opening day set for Thursday this year instead of Sunday or Monday.

Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY in the NOTEBOOK so you know what's REALLY happening in the world of sports. And, link up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK to get THE BEST PLAYS ON THE BOARD!

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21
Aug

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