Final Four Stat Previews
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
EXPANDED STAT PREVIEWS FOR TODAY'S NATIONAL SEMIFINALS
It's one of the craziest Final Fours ever. For years, it was almost unthinkable that a mid-major would make it all the way to the last weekend. This year, we have TWO...including one that many pundits didn't think should have been invited to the Dance to begin with. And, one of those mid majors is guaranteed to play in the finals because they're matched up with each other today.
We don't have any of the #1 seeds, even though this was supposed to be the year that the #1's were way above the field in terms of their Power Ratings and dominant records. Regular season champs from the Big East, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, SEC, and Pac 10 all failed to survive. In fact, none of the four teams left won their conferences outright during the regular season. Butler was a tri-champion in the Horizon League, after what was seen as a disappointing regular season when compared to expectations.
And, we have to admit that our stat indicators were in for a rude awakening this year too. Even though Phantom Score (two-point scoring plus rebounding) was basically invented so we could show you several years ago why teams like Connecticut were so good in a tournament format, teams who are weak inside and overly reliant on treys have managed to string together some victories. If you make your treys you win. If you don't, you go home. You can get away with crappy inside defense if you make you're treys.
Frankly, that sets the stage for an "ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN" weekend!
Let's crunch the numbers, and outline the possibilities...
BUTLER vs. VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH
VCU: +3.4 margin average, 49% two-point defense
Butler: +6.2 margin average, 49% two-point defense
Conference Adjustment: Even
Vegas Line: Butler by 2.5, total of 133
Notebook: It should be impossible for two 49% defenses inside the arc to survive this long. That just shows you how powerful production from long range can be. It's also inconsistent, so either team could lay an enormous egg here. George Mason fell to Florida on its trip to the Final Four a few years ago from a mid major conference. Butler won a 52-50 naibliter last season over a Michigan State team that peaked at the right time after a disappointing regular season (much like VCU).
The raw math is very close to the Vegas line. Butler is +2.8 in conference margin differential. The Horizon League and Colonial Conference were seen as dead even by computer analysis this year. Each VCU and Butler has played better than their full season averages would have suggested in the tournament. We think the line captures at least the numerical differences between the teams.
VCU: 66.1 possessions per game
Butler: 64.6 possessions per game
An average college pace is about 66 possessions per game. So, VCU is average, while Butler is more methodical. Given the pressure and the stakes, we expect a slow-paced game where whoever shoots best from the perimeter out of a set offensive structure will get the win and the cover. Note that most of the stats you see today come from Ken Pomeroy's great college basketball site (kenpom.com). He adjusts tempo for the tempo of the opponents to try and pin down a true read on a team's pace preference.
VCU: 35.4% of points on treys
Butler: 31.5% of points on treys
No team has won a national championship at higher than 30% since this stat has been in the public domain. One will get a shot Monday Night because somebody has to win here! We should point out that both of today's teams have only won four games so far. We've always said it's tough to win six in a row against good competition when you rely THIS much on three-pointers. This winner will test that theory.
In terms of the math, there's not much to go on here. Vegas has posted a good line...and whoever shoots best from long range is going to win and cover. That feels more like roulette than basketball. But, the Final Four weekend is about a lot more than math. That's why our on site sources will play such a huge role this weekend. Experience could prove to be HUGE in a game like this because Butler knows what it's like to reach the Final Four...while VCU is likely to have stars in their eyes at the scope and spectacle. They may have made their point by getting here (did you see the "Eat Crow" posters in Richmond aimed at Dick Vitale?). Butler did that last year, and now wants to go the distance.
If our sources see that VCU is being overwhelmed by the moment, they could have us on Butler for a big play. If our sources see that VCU still believes...and still has that "us against the world" mentality, an underdog play could well be in the cards. Butler can't blow out good teams on command unless the opponent is having an off day.
CONNECTICUT vs. KENTUCKY
Kentucky: +7.8 margin average, 42% two-point defense
Connecticut: +0.5 margin average, 43% two-point defense
Conference Adjustment: Connecticut by 5
Vegas Line: Kentucky by 2, total of 140
Notebook: Once again the math is on the number. Kentucky grades out at +7.3 in margin average, but Connecticut played in a league that was five points better according to computer estimates. Of course, the Big East may have been greatly overrated by the computers. The danger in painting Connecticut with that brush is that Connecticut dominated the Big East tournament, then played great all the way through the Dance. Connecticut HASN'T been overrated even if Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, Syracuse, St. John's, and a few others were.
Here we see classic two-point defense teams. Connecticut is historically very strong in this stat under Jim Calhoun. John Calipari takes great two-point defense with him wherever he goes. Memphis was great at the stat when he was there. Kentucky immediately became a defensive force inside as soon as Calipari was on the sideline.
So, in one half of the bracket, we have a classic "inside defense, Phantom Score, traditional basketball" matchup. In the other half, we have a "make up for your poor inside defense by hoping your treys go in" matchup.
Kentucky: 66.0 possessions per game
Connecticut: 65.7 possessions per game
Both are very close to average. Either will take fast break points if the opportunity presents itself. But, both have offensive weaponry that actually enjoy the halfcourt game because it gives the stars a chance to work for a good look. Will they get those good looks against these great two-point defenses? It's shaping up as a fascinating battle.
Kentucky: 29.2% of points on treys
Connecticut: 24.2% of points on treys
Kentucky has more versatility because they can hit some treys. Connecticut's inside focus usually puts them in good position in a tournament format. They can score more consistently than others. And, they had a nice draw that got them softer West Coast teams in Arizona and San Diego State in their two toughest challenge games. SDSU had a good defense for a mid major. Arizona had a stunningly bad inside defense for a conference champion. Connecticut will be tested significantly today with a two-heavy offense against a great two-point defense.
Once again our Houston sources will be helpful here. We do have experienced Final Four head coaches...but many of the key players are in uncharted territory. Our scouts AND our statheads have our eyes on one certain player who we think will determine who gets the money.
You can purchase JIM HURLEY'S FINAL FOUR PARLAY here at the website with your credit card. It's part of a huge weekend of action that also includes the NBA, Major League Baseball, and Monday Night's NCAA Championship game. If you have any questions about combination packages or full season service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.
We're down to only four teams who can win the college basketball championship. When championships are on the line, you need WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!
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