Month: February 2016

Picks of the Day: CBB and NBA 2/29

Yesterday was an absolute dream between the basketball, golf, and Oscar plays. We’re now back in the black in all phases. Let’s keep it going.

CBB

IOWA STATE (-14) over Oklahoma State

OSU’s leading scorer Jawun Evans was officially ruled out for the season this past week. Since he’s been gone, the Cowboys are 1-6 with their only win being in overtime over Kansas State at home and they’ve fallen 33 spots in the KenPom rankings. Their first game after the injury was a loss at home to the Cyclones by five. Jameel McKay didn’t play in that one for ISU either. The Cowboys have lost four straight by double digits. Their last two on the road have been by 27 and 22 to Kansas and Oklahoma. The team doesn’t have any hopes for making any sort of postseason and there’s a lot of talk about Travis Ford being fired.

Iowa State has won six straight in the series and covered seven of eight. It’s senior night in Hilton for Niang, Nader, McKay, and the injured Naz Long. They Cyclones have won five straight on senior night and covered six straight. They’ve gone 12-1-1 ATS on senior night since 2001.

NBA

Nets (+7.5) over CLIPPERS – First Half

Nets first half margin: -2.5
Nets second half margin: -4

Clippers first half margin: 1.8
Clippers second half margin: 2.5

I liked the game line, but after looking at it deeper there’s more value in the first half line. The Clippers are so bad (relatively) in the second quarter because their bench stinks and it’s been worse since Austin Rivers has been out. He’s not supposed to be back until Wednesday.


CBB YTD: 236-214-14 (52.4%)

NBA YTD: 83-75-1 (52.5%)

Total YTD: 319-289-15 (52.5%)

Above .500 days: 30

.500 days: 18

Below .500 days: 21

Picks of the Day: CBB and NBA 2/28

CBB

MICHIGAN STATE (-10) over Penn State – 1st Half
MICHIGAN STATE-Penn State over 64 – 1st Half

UCONN (-5.5) over Houston – 1st Half

UNC GREENSBORO (-2) over Mercer – 1st Half
UNC GREENSBORO (-3.5) over Mercer – 3 units

GREEN BAY (+5.5) over Valparaiso

Iowa (-4) over OHIO STATE

IONA (-12) over Canisius

COLORADO (-6) over Arizona State – 2 units

Niagara (+17) over MONMOUTH

NBA

WIZARDS (+6.5) over Cavaliers


CBB YTD: 226-210-14 (51.8%)

NBA YTD: 81-75-1 (51.9%)

Total YTD: 307-285-15 (51.9%)

Above .500 days: 29

.500 days: 18

Below .500 days: 21

Picks of the Day: 2/27 CBB

CBB

Cincinnati (-10.5) over EAST CAROLINA

MIAMI (FL) (-3) over Louisville

LA SALLE (+2) over George Mason

SYRACUSE (-5) over NC State

NORTHWESTERN-Rutgers under 137

FIU (-2) over FLORIDA ATLANTIC

Bradley (+14) over INDIANA STATE – 2 units

Illinois State (+16) over WICHITA STATE – 3 units

EVANSVILLE (-4) over Northern Iowa

WESTERN CAROLINA (-1) over Furman – 2 units

PURDUE-Maryland under 137.5

EAST TENNESSEE ST. (-4) over Wofford

VIRGINIA (-3) over North Carolina

LONG BEACH ST. (-6.5) over UC Riverside – 1st Half

ARKANSAS LITTLE ROCK (-13) over Texas State

Florida (+2.5) over LSU

UC Santa Barbara (-6) over CS FULLERTON

NBA

CELTICS-Heat over 211

PELICANS (-5) over Timberwolves

Spurs (-5.5) over ROCKETS
Spurs-ROCKETS over 212.5

Grizzlies (-6.5) over SUNS


CBB YTD: 217-201-11 (51.9%)

NBA YTD: 79-71-1 (52.6%)

Total YTD: 296-272-11 (52.1%)

Above .500 days: 29

.500 days: 18

Below .500 days: 20

Honda Classic Picks

Picks from last week:

Justin Rose –/+1800

Jimmy Walker –/+2400

J.B. Holmes –/+2800

Charl Schwartzel –/+2800

Harris English –/+5000

Matt Jones +600/+9000

William McGirt +750/+10000

John Huh +800/+11000

K.J. Choi +950/+12500

Aaron Baddeley +1100/+15000

Ben Crane +1700/–

K.J. was the only one who cashed, making it a 1.1 unit loss on the week. Which now puts me back in the red at -0.73 on the year.

This week’s the Honda Classic, which means the tour is finally out of California. Rory leads the pack at +550. No, thanks.

Picks this week:

Patrick Reed –/+2000

Adam Scott –/+2000

Russell Knox –/+4000

Freddie Jacobson +550/+6600

Luke Donald +500/+6000

Jason Dufner +700/+8500

Gary Woodland +700/+8500

Brian Harman +1000/+12500

William McGirt +1200/+15000

Tyrone Van Aswegen +1800/–

 

Other guys I like for DFS throw-in purposes:

Ben Crane

Sean O’Hair

Colt Knost

Mark Hubbard

George McNeill

Stewart Cink

Tom Gillis

Steve Marino

Sung Kang

Jamie Donaldson

John Huh

Scott Piercy

Charles Howell III

 

 

 

Picks of the Day: CBB and NBA 2/24

Ended up 6-6 for the day. 8-9 for the week. Originally I had given myself an extra loss in the blog yesterday. None of you dickheads helped me out, so thanks for nothing.

One in-game yesterday: Nuggets-Kings O107 2H

Thanks to both of them for being bad at defense.

CBB

Northwestern (+7) over MICHIGAN

Something like 90% of the tickets have been on the Michigan side and the line hasn’t moved. Outside of that, Michigan’s a little overvalued. They haven’t played very good basketball in February. They’re 2-4. They got blown out twice at home and they weren’t all that competitive last week playing Ohio State – an NIT team that has one quality win in nine tries all year. They got a win over Purdue at home that the Boilers basically gifted to them by blowing shots at the rim and carelessly turning the ball over late. They live and die by the three and they’ve been dying a lot lately. Northwestern isn’t great, but they’ve played pretty well over the last few games. They’re still pushing for an NIT spot – which is important if you’re Northwestern. Last year these teams split the series and the Wildcats only lost by two in Ann Arbor and that was before Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton were lost for the year and their season went completely off the rails.

Villanova (-1) over XAVIER

I don’t love Nova long-term, but it’s hard for me to stare the history of their series with X in the face and not jump on basically a pick ’em game. Since X joined the Big East a couple of years ago, Nova’s beaten them six straight times and five of those have been by double digits. They won earlier this year by 31. One of the reasons I don’t like Nova when it comes to the tournament is how often they shoot it from deep. But the games between these two have often turned into a three-point contest and Nova has knocked down more at a higher percentage every time. Xavier’s good, but the best team they’ve beaten all year is someone in the Dayton, Providence, USC realm. Nova’s resume isn’t much better in terms of big wins, but their biggest was this X team by a million. X has been good at home, but certainly not unbeatable. And yes, I know Sumner went down early in the last game. That whole thing is a bit overplayed. Sorry I don’t think losing a guy who shoots a worse percentage from the field, three, and free throw line than the team as a whole does is going to make THAT much of a difference. The team has a better O-Rating when he’s not on the floor and he’s a point guard that doesn’t lead his team in assists. Sue me.

Siena (-3.5) over FAIRFIELD

I bet on the Fighting Patsos to take down Iona on Monday and laid out my case for the Saints then. They got down 25 early before coming all the way back to take the lead late and ultimately dropping it.  I still like them here against a Fairfield team that’s gotten a five game win streak against the bottom half of the MAAC.

NORTHERN IOWA (-10) over Indiana State

UNI has reestablished their dominance at home lately and ISU has lost five straight and gotten trucked the last two games. Their offense has hit the skids with 0.74 and 0.72 ppp in those last two games. The Panthers have held opponents under 60 in five of their last eight games.

WAKE FOREST (+7.5) over Notre Dame

Wake hasn’t quit on their season. They lost three hard fought games on the road at GT, NC State, and Pitt before being rewarded by drubbing BC at home over the weekend. Notre Dame’s just been okay on the road. Their defense is pretty poor and they’re going against a Wake team that has started to shoot well the last couple of games from the outside, which is where the Irish are vulnerable. They can be rebounded against and the Deacs have the horses inside to do so.

IOWA-Wisconsin under 138

The Badgers live for a good slugfest and they’re going to want to make this game the same way. Iowa’s a team that scores a lot of their points from the outside and Wisky is as good as anyone at taking those opportunities away. Teams hit a high percentage, but that’s because they typically only get them in scramble or transition opportunities and not as many in the flow of an offense.

NBA

PACERS (-7) over Knicks

HEAT-Warriors under 216.5

MAVERICKS-Thunder over 214.5

CLIPPERS-Nuggets over 213.5


CBB YTD: 213-197-10 (52.0%)

NBA YTD: 74-64-1 (53.6%)

Total YTD: 287-261-10 (52.4%)

Above .500 days: 29

.500 days: 17

Below .500 days: 19

Picks of the Day: CBB and NBA 2/23

2-3 yesterday.

CBB

GEORGIA SOUTHERN-Georgia State under 134.5

These two always grind it out against each other. Last year in the Sun Belt title game they had a total of 74. Not a misprint. Southern’s second leading scorer Mike Hughes might not play and even if he does, he’ll be hobbled. The first matchup this year was totaled at 110 before it hit overtime. State just really struggles to score, but they can guard with the best of them.

Clemson (+2.5) over GEORGIA TECH
Clemson-GEORGIA TECH under 135

The Tigers absolutely locked up the Yellow Jackets in the first matchup just recently. Turnovers and fouling were a problem for GT. Clemson shot the ball horribly from outside and still won by 14.

ARKANSAS (-4) over LSU

Just a fade of the Tigers here. Maybe you remember earlier in the year when LSU got off to a rough start and they went on a nice little run when they got fully healthy. One of those guys they needed to get healthy was Keith Hornsby. He’s their best shooter. He averages 13 points per game, which is second on the team. Well, he got injured last game and LSU got beat by 16 at Tennessee. He’s out again tonight. Plus, there’s all of this Ben Simmons stuff going on right now. I wouldn’t worry about that as much if the Tigers actually had a good coach, but they don’t. They have Johnny Jones.

FLORIDA (-3) over Vanderbilt
FLORIDA-Vanderbilt under 138.5

It’s a matchup of two teams fighting for their tournament lives. I always like the home team in these spots. The Gators are coming off an overtime loss at South Carolina. The Commodores are coming off a relatively easy win over Georgia and have Kentucky coming in this weekend. Vandy has won once in their last 13 tries in Gainesville. There’s been one over in that stretch as well. They won the first matchup this year in Nashville by one point on the back of shooting 23 more free throws than the Gators. I like Florida to take this one with a few home calls of their own and to do it in a relatively low scoring fashion.

BRADLEY (+15.5) over Evansville

Evansville had a nice win over the weekend over Southern Illinois, but they haven’t been great on the road lately. Bradley stinks, but they’re playing a lot better than they were when they got murdered at Evansville earlier this year. The Braves are the youngest team in the country and they’re starting to gain a little confidence. They’ve covered six of their last seven.

NBA

76ERS (+6) over Magic
76ERS-Magic over 207

JAZZ-Rockets under 204

TRAIL BLAZERS-Nets under 213


CBB YTD: 209-194-10 (51.9%)

NBA YTD: 72-61-1 (54.1%)

Total YTD: 281-255-10 (52.4%)

Above .500 days: 29

.500 days: 16

Below .500 days: 19

Big Ten Bracketology Update: Week 9


Stars of the Past Week:

Jordan Murphy, Minnesota – 17 points and 11 rebounds in win over Maryland

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State – 24 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds in win over Wisconsin

Troy Williams, Indiana – averaged 18.5 points in wins over Nebraska and Purdue

Marc Loving, Ohio State  – averaged 14 points and 7 rebounds in wins over Michigan and Nebraska

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – averaged 19 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4 steals in two games this week

Brandon Taylor, Penn State – averaged 17.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in wins over Iowa and Rutgers

Five Best Games to Watch This Week:

Michigan State at Ohio State – Tuesday, 9:00 pm EST, ESPN

Wisconsin at Iowa – Wednesday, 9:00 pm EST, BTN

Maryland at Purdue – Saturday, 4:00 pm EST, ESPN

Iowa at Ohio State – Sunday, 4:00 pm EST, CBS

Michigan at Wisconsin – Sunday, 6:00 pm EST, BTN


As always, the seeding numbers come from BracketMatrix.com.

Solidly In

Michigan State – 2 seed (2.41 average; 99/99 brackets)

The Spartans rolled over Wisconsin in their only outing of the week. They also moved up a seed line in BracketMatrix world and are one step closer to avoiding having to play on Thursday of conference tournament week. In other words, it’s beginning to look a lot like March in East Lansing.

Denzel Valentine was awesome again in the win over the Badgers. At this point, I think it’s a toss-up between him and Jarrod Uthoff for the player of the year award. Uthoff was the leader halfway through the Big Ten season. A big part of that was Valentine missing a few games, but also due to Iowa running through the league. Uthoff is still playing well, but his efficiency is waning a bit and his team has hit a bit of a slump. Meanwhile, it seems as though Valentine will have the benefit of finishing stronger – both him and his team. Although, Uthoff can flip that script down the stretch because the Hawkeyes have much tougher games to play than the Spartans. It’s an interesting race.

This week: Ohio State on the road and Penn State at home

Iowa – 2 seed (2.55; 99/99)

About that slump for the Hawkeyes. The loss at Indiana wasn’t surprising given that the Hoosiers still haven’t lost in Assembly Hall this season. Their performance at home against Minnesota was a little more concerning. They ultimately won, but it was much more difficult than you would’ve hoped for as an Iowa fan.

Then in their only game this week, they lose at Penn State. They’re the second victim of the Bryce Jordan Center this year. It’s a weird place to play, no doubt. It’s one of the 30 largest D-1 arenas and it’s horribly attended, even for the big-time opponents. The Hawkeyes shot poorly from the outside, turned the ball over, and made Donovon Jack look like an All-American.

In addition, they played the Nittany Lions to a wash on the glass. Iowa isn’t a great rebounding team as it is, but it hasn’t mattered as much this year because they don’t turn the ball over. They can’t rebound like they do AND turn the ball over like they did at Penn State and expect to go far in March.

This week: home for Wisconsin and at Ohio State

Maryland – 3 seed (3.21; 99/99)

It was the second straight week of non-encouraging play from the Terps. First, they lost at Minnesota, the Gophers first win of the Big Ten season. Over the weekend Maryland built a 16-point lead over Michigan at home before watching that lead completely evaporate before ultimately closing out another close win at home.

Probably the worst part about it was Melo Trimble’s performance. He combined to go 6-21 from the floor and had 13 turnovers in the two games. There’s been some talk that Melo’s not fully healthy. Maybe that’s the case. But either way, he’s still playing 35+ minutes per game right now and he’s not playing very well. If he isn’t full healthy, I don’t really see the benefit of playing him all these minutes every game.

Winning the conference title – which doesn’t seem likely with their remaining schedule – isn’t nearly as important as being locked and loaded for the NCAA tournament. Right now, it just kind of seems like people trying to make an excuse for his poor play. There’s been talk about his hamstring since early January. That has nothing to do with making poor decisions and turning the ball over. I don’t know if he’s injured or not, but if he’s going to play this many minutes every game, I can only judge him on his performance. And his performance hasn’t been an offensive rating over 96 in his last four Big Ten games.

This week: Purdue on the road

Purdue – 5 seed (5.45; 99/99)

The Boilermakers played two games this week. One of them they shot 38.3% from the field. The other one they shot 58.7% from the floor. Guess which game they won? As expected, they won the first one!

It was a weird week for Purdue. They won one of the ugliest games I’ve seen in a while against Northwestern. They then shot that near 59% mark at Indiana and were blown out for much of the game. The reason for that was a common issue for the Boilers: turnovers. They had 13 compared to the Hoosiers’ 4. They were down by 19 at one point in the second half before crawling all the way back. Purdue was down two with under a minute to go before A.J. Hammons was called for a controversial goaltending with just a few seconds to play.

The comeback was certainly admirable, but a lot of the same concerns remain with this team. Sometimes their offense gets so bogged down, their spacing is often poor, their guards go quiet, and they struggle to guard perimeter-oriented teams.

I’m not totally sure how they’re going to fare in the tournament. It’s often a guard-dominated time of year, but Purdue also isn’t very reliant on outside shooting, which is a problem for teams who are constructed that way. They still defend really well, in general. But I was thinking about who Matt Painter would go to with under 10 seconds to go and needing a score if they wouldn’t have gotten that goaltending call and that’s a question that still doesn’t have an answer 28 games into the season. It just takes too long to set up one of their big guys in the post. They don’t have one guy on the team who’s consistently shot well from the outside or consistently driven the ball well.

Ultimately, it’s a team that’s success when it matters most is heavily dependent on its matchup. They’re at the mercy of the committee.

This week: Maryland at home

Indiana – 6 seed (5.79; 99/99)

It was a great week for the Hoosiers. They got an easy win over Nebraska and defeated their rival for the first time in three years. Last week I complimented their balance as a team and that continued in to this week. It wasn’t quite the same, but it seemed like every Hoosier that played against Purdue hit a three-pointer (it was actually seven of them).

We know they’re awesome at home. I worry about their dependency on outside shooting when they have to play on neutral floors in the postseason. History doesn’t favor teams whose offense thrives on that type of play. Troy Williams is such an X-factor for this team and the difference in his play depending on the venue is especially significant. He hasn’t been good away from Assembly Hall, to put it bluntly. With that said, if they ultimately do end up a 6 seed there’s certainly no 3 seed out there who would be excited to be in the same bracket.

This week: at Illinois

Likely In

Wisconsin – 9 seed (9.38; 96/99)

The Badgers didn’t stand much of a chance on the road against the Spartans. They followed that loss up by getting into a 13-point deficit at home in the second half against Illinois. That would’ve been a really detrimental loss to Wisconsin’s tourney hopes, but they did a great job of responding and pulling the game out somewhat comfortably. Did they benefit from some classic Kohl Center calls? Probably, but this team has been great at getting to the line all year.

There’s no time to let up for Greg Gard’s crew. They dug themselves a hole in non-conference and they’re still trying to play their way out of it. They don’t have to win at Iowa this week – IT WOULD HELP, THOUGH – but they can’t lose to Michigan at home. That would be somewhat of a back-breaker before going on the road for their final week against a pesky Minnesota team and Purdue.

But that’s just life on the bubble. Just keep winning and you’ll be fine. Don’t, and there will be a lot of sweaty palms at the Badger watch party on Selection Sunday.

This week: at Iowa and home for Michigan

Michigan – 10 seed (9.95; 92/99)

This would be the team that would most prefer Wisconsin stop winning this week. It wasn’t a great week for the Wolverines. They weren’t really close to winning at Ohio State and they had a huge opportunity slip away from them at Maryland.

Caris LeVert sat out both games this week and it just seems to me from an outsider perspective that he may never be back. The experiment with him coming back against Purdue was a bad one. At this point it seems like the team would be better off moving forward with the thought that he won’t be coming back.

In positive news from Ann Arbor, Mark Donnal was awesome this week. If he can continue to be a major scoring threat, it’ll make the Wolverines a very difficult team to guard. Of course that won’t matter if they played as poor of defense as they did this week.

Northwestern at home this week is a must win.

This week: Northwestern at home and at Wisconsin

Lingering

Ohio State – Others Receiving Votes (11.00; 1/99)

Did you know Ohio State is fourth in the Big Ten standings? It’s true.

Do you remember a few weeks ago when I pointed out just how weak Indiana’s Big Ten schedule was at that time? Well, at this point Indiana’s conference schedule is now more difficult than Ohio State’s. That’s why you still see the Buckeyes on the outside looking in when it comes to the tournament discussion. They’re still 1-7 against the RPI top-50 and have three bad losses.

Good news, bad news time. Good news: They have three opportunities to get wins over the RPI top-50 in the rest of the regular season. Bad news: they all come against Michigan State and Iowa. More good news: two of them are at home. Even more good news: they avoided another bad loss by winning at Nebraska in overtime.

That’s why they’re still lingering. Do I think they’ll make it to the tournament? Probably not, but it’s still very possible. As long as they believe, they have the talent to make a run. And I’d like them to because I appreciate any outcome that makes me look like a genius.

This week: home for Michigan State and Iowa

Everyone Else Except For Rutgers

Penn State

The Nittany Lions had a great week beating Iowa at home and Rutgers on the road. I guess at this point they’ve got a chance to make the NIT, which would be cool, I guess.

This week: home for Nebraska and at Michigan State

Nebraska

Life without Shavon Shields hasn’t been kind to the Huskers, which is far from surprising. Last week they were still in the “Lingering” section, but at this point their only hope is winning the conference tournament.

This week: at Penn State and home for Purdue

Northwestern

Another former lingerer (shout out to James Franco) that missed an opportunity at Purdue. Purdue didn’t play particularly well to beat them, but the Wildcats just couldn’t stop fouling.

This week: at Michigan and home for Rutgers

Illinois

Their loss at Wisconsin was detailed in the Badgers’ section. It was another Hill-Nunn performance that wasn’t supported by much else besides Michael Finke’s 8 points. Apparently Leron Black is spending time on the injured list by pulling knives on bouncers, so there’s some more good news for John Groce.

This week: home for Indiana and Minnesota

Minnesota

THE GOPHERS GOT A WIN! AND THEY DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO WAIT TO PLAY RUTGERS!

In all seriousness, you have to respect the Gophers’ refusal to quit this season. They’ve battled all year without seeing any wins and they finally broke through against one of the conference’s elite teams.

If you missed it, Joey King’s interview after the game was all kinds of awesome.

If you didn’t get some feels during that interview, check your pulse.

This week: home for Rutgers and at Illinois

Lower-Tier Ohio Valley Conference Team That Gets To Play In The Big Ten

Rutgers

10 of the OVC’s 12 teams are ranked higher than Rutgers on KenPom. I really need to see the numbers of the BTN in the NYC market post-Rutgers addition. Hope it was worth it, Jim.

This week: at Minnesota and Northwestern

What Makes a Final Four Team?

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If you’re a college hoops junkie like myself, you spend all year watching basketball for hours nearly every night from mid-November all the way up until Selection Sunday in the middle of March. Watching every team at least twice. Scouring the country for that sleeper team in one of the mid-major conferences that’s going to make the difference.

What difference, you ask? The difference in your bracket pool of course. Whether it’s a big pot of cash or just good old-fashioned pride on the line, you want to be the smartest guy in the room.

Maybe you spend all of Sunday night through Thursday morning poring over every match-up. Fine-tuning here, tweaking there until that noon tip arrives. Or maybe you’re one of those first instinct people just going off the top of the dome.

Me? I’m a fine-tuner. I have to analyze every detail until I feel comfortable. And by the time that first tip-off happens, you can’t convince me that there’s a single flaw in my bracket. It’s perfect every year. Dream big. Shoot for the stars. Bet on yourself, man. “Warren Buffett’s gonna be so mad when he has to give you a billion dollars,” I think to myself.

And guess what? By about 2:45 P.M. EST on Thursday last year, I had already lost one of my teams in the national championship. That’s right, I had the Iowa State Cyclones in my final game. Absolutely loved their path to the championship. Paste this 14-seed UAB, take care of SMU or UCLA in the second round – didn’t really matter, neither of them were near the Cyclones’ level – and then beat Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 because it’s Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. Basically a triple bye to the Elite 8. Sure, Duke was talented, but ISU would beat them with experience and all of a sudden I’m one win away.

But before you knew it the Cyclones were getting pounded on the boards by that pesky Blazer team that was decent on the glass, but certainly not the group of Dennis Rodmans Iowa State made them out to be. Just like that my bracket was worth more as a fire-starter than a retirement plan. So long private island. The private jet will have to wait another year.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, though,  and you can’t put a price tag on this lesson. Much like a big man trying to guard the post, you’ve got to do your work early. So that’s what I did.

As my good friend George Santayana once said, “Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.” If I just would’ve looked into the history of it all, I would’ve seen a couple of big flaws with my belief that Iowa State was a good bet to make the Final Four.

About that history. I wanted to know what the statistics said about the teams that did reach that third and final weekend. What common traits do they share? What areas do the most successful teams do well? Was VCU just a hidden gem in 2011 that we should’ve seen coming?

The answer to that last question is no. Of all the stats I gathered from KenPom.com dating back to 2002, VCU is the biggest outlier. They are the worst defensive team (out of 56) to make it to the Final Four and they were only better offensively than five other teams. They just got extraordinarily hot at the right time. But it was the right year for a team like that to make a run (we’ll get to that later).

I’m sure at this point you’d just like me to give you the damn data already so you can take all of your friends’ money next month. I’m not much for small talk myself. Shall we?

Common Traits

I’ll get to the overall offensive and defensive efficiency stats later (SPOILER ALERT: Final Four teams typically rank pretty high in both categories), but in this section I want to address more of the specifics. Once again, all these stats are courtesy of KenPom.

Something to keep in mind here: for practically all of the 46 areas I evaluated, you’ll find a team ranked in the top five in the country and you’ll also find at least one ranked in the high-200s or 300s. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. I’m just looking for the biggest trends.

One last quick note: there will be a lot of references to national rankings. For a reference point there are 351 teams currently, up from 327 in 2002, which is the first year of data.

Three-Point Shooting

The three-point shot seems to become a bigger part of basketball every year. The best team in the NBA basically lives and dies by it (they live most of the time). The leader in the clubhouse for player of the year in college – Buddy Hield – puts up 8.5 of them per game. The guy nipping at his heels down the stretch – Denzel Valentine – throws up 7.6 shots from the outside on an average day.

But while the attempts nationwide continue to increase every year, most of the teams you see playing in April are below the national average in the rate that they shoot from outside the arc compared to their total field goal attempts. Put simply: the best teams typically don’t shoot that many threes. The average rank of Final Four teams is 204th. Only 2 of the 56 have ranked in the top-10 percentile.

While teams typically shoot above average from outside, it’s not an overwhelming number. In fact, it’s much more important that teams complete a high percentage of their shots on the inside. Besides overall offensive efficiency, 2P% is the biggest indicator of success on that end, along with Effective FG%.

That’s not to say that 3P% doesn’t matter, though. There’s only been six teams that have ranked in the 200s in that category and none that have ranked in the 300s. Teams have to be a threat, but the data shows that it’s not a good sign if a team relies on the deep ball.

I’m saving my final analysis on teams for another day, but I’ll tell you right now who this section is a bad omen for: the #1 KenPom rated Villanova Wildcats. They’re 21st in 3PA/FGA and they’re 263rd in 3P%. Last year, they had a nearly identical 22nd attempt ranking, except they hit them at a much higher rate and they still lost in the second round to an 8 seed.

Oklahoma – led by Hield – launches a ton of threes as well, but they also hit the highest percentage in the country. But in their four lowest marks percentage-wise this year, three of them have resulted in losses. Much like that Nova team of a year ago, one bad shooting game and this Sooner team could be toast in the first weekend.

Duke, Indiana, and Wichita State all put them up pretty frequently, as well.

Turnovers

One of the coaches I used to work under always used to say you can typically boil the game down to two stats (OTHER THAN POINTS, WISEACRES): turnovers and the following category in this list, rebounds. His belief was that if you win the turnover and rebounding battles, you’ll win 80% of the time. Not that I needed the data to support this claim, but it turns out he’s pretty smart.

The average Final Four team ranks 78th in offensive turnover percentage. Defensively, teams are right around average (167th) in forcing them, but that still results in a net gain.

It’s not rocket science. Basketball is about possessions, especially in, say, a close tournament game.

Who might this be an issue for of the contenders? Maryland. They rank 261 in turning it over and 283 in turning their opponents over. That issue has come up in three of their five losses this year. They had 22 against North Carolina, 15 against Minnesota and 12 against Michigan. 12 may not seem like much, but it was a low possession game and the Wolverines only turned it over 8 times in a one score game. That can be the difference between a first weekend exit and a deep run.

Rebounding

Once again, another element of a game that affects the number of opportunities you have to score. Not surprisingly, the best of the best have an average rank of 66 in offensive rebounding percentage and 100 on the defensive end.

I don’t have much else to add. Good teams rebound.

There’s actually quite a few teams at the top that are pretty average rebounders, but given that there’s a little more historical emphasis on offensive rebounding, Virginia and Iowa State are the ones that stick out. Virginia at least cleans it up on defense. ISU is bad at one end and average on the other.

Defending the Perimeter

While it’s not essential to shoot the three well, history shows that it’s pretty important to defend the three well.

The worst team defending the three in the past fourteen years was actually last year’s Wisconsin team, coming in at 309th in the nation. The average is 87. It almost cost the Badgers in the second round, too. They ran in to a hot shooting Oregon team, who was an 8 seed.

Who struggles in this area? Funny enough, Oregon does. It’s a big issue for North Carolina as well.

Defending the Interior

Guess what? The battle of the paint is more important defensively, as well. Outside of the overall efficiency numbers and effective FG percentages, it’s the lowest average of any other area at 48. In fact, there have only been two teams below the national average that have made the Final Four. They were both in 2011: VCU and Butler. I’ll get in to it later, but that was the most wide open year that the data covers.

That seems like a very telling stat, so who among the top 25 or so contenders doesn’t meet the criteria? Well, Iowa State ranks 159th and Baylor is 193rd. More bad news for the Cyclones. Baylor’s on the fringe of even being a contender, but their only losses outside of the brutal Big 12 schedule were on the road to Oregon and Texas A&M. So good news, bad news for Baylor fans: you might be a contender, but this stat does not bode well for your contender status.

Not Fouling

BREAKING NEWS: Fouling is bad. Teams who don’t send their opponents to the line and allow them to get an average percentage of points on free throws fare better in basketball games.

With that said, I don’t think this has that big of an impact in the long run, but it’s certainly a factor.

Teams that have some fouling issues: Kansas, Michigan State, West Virginia (par for the course for a pressing team), Kentucky, and Wichita State.

Short Bench

This one only has data through the 2006-07 season, but I found the data over that nine years kind of surprising. You always hear the talking heads talking about teams having enough depth and if they have a lack of depth, it’s a problem. The average Final Four team over those nine years ranks 244th in bench minutes.

There have been 15 teams in those nine years that have ranked in the 300s in bench minutes while there have been only three teams who ranked in the double-digits. One of those teams was Kentucky last year, which technically doesn’t count because most teams don’t have five McDonald’s All-Americans coming off the bench.

So who’s playing too many guys? Michigan State, West Virginia, North Carolina, Wichita State, Purdue, Indiana, Texas A&M, Texas, Valparaiso, and Dayton. Uh, that’s a lot of teams! It’s hard for me to imagine all of those teams missing the Final Four, just from a sheer numbers standpoint. I mean, Izzo’s team is in there. The Final Four is his second home.

I’m not sure what you do with teams like Duke and Iowa State this year, though. At this point, they’re both going about six-deep. They both fit in with playing a shorter number of minutes with their bench, but they’re also one more injury from playing five guys.

Tempo

This one I found interesting. The data is only for the last six years, but on average teams are about average on offense at a 177 pace and below average at a mean of 239. Any team that is ranked in the double-digits on one end is significantly slower on the other. There’s only 1 out of 24 teams that have been in the double-digits for defensive pace – Wisconsin 2013-14 – and they were 342nd in offensive tempo.

It’s obviously limited by the lack of years, but it seems kind of significant, no? It makes sense if you think about how games tend to slow down in the tournament. Teams that are comfortable winning games that way are more likely to succeed.

Take last year’s national champion, Duke, for example. They played a slightly above average pace all year. They played three games all regular season that were well-below average pace and they won all three – included in those were wins over Louisville and Virginia on the road.

They proved that they could win games that way and four of their eight games in the postseason were played well-below an average pace. They won all four.

Who doesn’t fit that mold this year? Xavier. That’s about it.

How Champions Become Champions

All of this analysis has been on the Final Four teams, but what do the actual national champions do differently? Nothing really, they just do everything a little bit better, on average. They turn the ball over even less, shoot less threes, rebound even more, and defend better. The bench minutes are about the same and champions have actually played slightly faster, but they still fit the same general mold.

The most dramatic differences between the mere semifinalists and those that win it all lies on the defensive end. “Defense wins championships” isn’t just a cliche every coach wants you to believe after all. The average rank of a national champion in effective FG% on D is 22nd. The worst ranking? 70th from Duke last year.

Which brings me to another important point: all these numbers so far have come from the post-tournament data. Overall efficiency numbers are available for before the tourney, but individual pieces would take a lot more work. Most teams’ numbers don’t change all that dramatically during the five or six games they played in the bracket.

I mention that because Duke’s overall defensive efficiency did change dramatically during their run last year. Going into the tournament they were 57th and they came out of it 12th after winning the national championship. They were an above average defense that became a great one when it mattered most. Recency matters and the Blue Devils held three of their last five opponents before the tournament under 55 points.

Shot blockers have proven to be a big help, as well. The average for a champion is 46th, compared to 87th for all Final Four teams.

One-Way Teams

Now we get to the overall numbers: offensive and defensive efficiency. Think of every other area I’ve touched on as an exam score. These numbers are the final grade.

Average OffEff for Final Four teams: 20
Average OffEff for national champions: 13

Average DeffEff for Final Four teams: 24
Average DefEff for national champions: 19

Those numbers are pre-tournament numbers.

It’s no surprise that those numbers are low, but I was more interested in how many teams were elite in both categories. In order to do this, I wanted to see how many teams ranked in the top-35 heading into the tournament in both categories. I chose the 35 number because it’s the top 10% of the country.

The answer? 68% (38 of 56) ranked 35 or better on both ends. There wasn’t a major difference in champions, interestingly enough. 71% (10 of 14) fit the bill and the last two winners – Duke and UConn – did not.

So, about that other 32%. Does it pay to be elite at offense and just okay at defense or vice versa? Not really. 84% (47 of 56) were elite offensively and 80% (45 of 56) were elite defensively.

But you have to be great at one of them. Only 2 of the 56 teams have made the final weekend without meeting either criteria. Guess who? Our 2011 friends: VCU and Butler.

Another important thing to note is that no team that’s made the Final Four in these last 14 years has been below average on one end. So while teams don’t have to be great on both sides of the ball, they have to at least be passable. The data tells you that if you were thinking you just might outsmart everybody and put Notre Dame in Houston this year because they have the best offense, don’t. They’re 232nd defensively.

How Number One Teams Fare

Speaking of teams that are the best in a category, how have the data-driven #1 teams heading into the tournament done?

The most efficient offenses heading into the tournament have made 3 of the last 14 Final Fours, as have the most efficient defenses. Two of those offenses have won the title – ’09 North Carolina and ’08 Kansas – and the ’13 Louisville team is the only number one defense to win it all.

The number one rated team overall on KenPom using his Pythagorean rating has reached the last weekend six times and won it all three times.

Here’s the breakdown of all 14 of the #1s in KenPom’s ratings:

2002: Duke – lost in Sweet 16
2003: Kentucky – lost in Elite Eight
2004: Duke – lost in Final Four
2005: Illinois – lost in National Championship
2006: Duke – lost in Sweet 16
2007: North Carolina – lost in Elite Eight
2008: Kansas – won National Championship
2009: Memphis (2 seed) – lost in Sweet 16
2010: Kansas – lost in Round of 32
2011: Ohio State – lost in Sweet 16
2012: Kentucky – won National Championship
2013: Louisville – won National Championship
2014: Arizona – lost in Elite Eight
2015: Kentucky – lost in Final Four

Speaking of the Pythagorean rating, the average Final Four team is ranked at 10.5 and the winner is right around a 7. There have only been three winners outside of the top-7 – ’03 Syracuse, ’11 UConn, and ’14 UConn.

Is It Actually Wide Open This Year?

History suggests that if you’re a chalk bracket player, you’re gonna have a bad time this season.

For one, maybe the biggest narrative of this collective college basketball season has been all of the upsets happening this year and top-5 teams falling left and right. I saw a stat on ESPN the other day that we were about to break the record this year for AP top-5 ranked teams losing. The current record-holder is the 1979-80 season. The 1980 Final Four was composed of a 2 seed, 5 seed, 6 seed, and 8 seed.

Another common narrative this season is the belief that there are truly no great teams. Numbers back that up. Going back to the Pythagorean rating, there are zero teams this year with a rating of at least 0.95. Compare that to last year’s field, which had five teams that met that standard.

The average is two teams per year that meet that 0.95 mark. So I wanted to see the difference in seed totals of teams that reached the Final Four during years with a few 0.95 teams and those with one or zero. Listed below is each year and in parentheses is the number of 0.95 teams and following is the seed total of the four semifinalists. Years with one or zero teams are in bold.

2002 (2) – 1, 1, 2, 5 = 9 seed total

2003 (1) – 1, 2, 3, 3 = 9 seed total

2004 (2) – 1, 2, 2, 3 = 8 seed total

2005 (2) – 1, 1, 4, 5 = 11 seed total

2006 (0) – 2, 3, 4, 11 = 20 seed total

2007 (2) – 1, 1, 2, 2 = 6 seed total

2008 (3) – 1, 1, 1, 1 = 4 seed total

2009 (1) – 1, 1, 2, 3 = 7 seed total

2010 (2) – 1, 2, 5, 5 = 13 seed total

2011 (1) – 3, 4, 8, 11 = 26 seed total

2012 (3) – 1, 2, 2, 4 = 9 seed total

2013 (2) – 1, 4, 4, 9 = 18 seed total

2014 (2) – 1, 2, 7, 8 = 18 seed total

2015 (5) – 1, 1, 1, 7 = 10 seed total

You can see that the two biggest seed totals happened in years like this, which was also the only two years that a 1 seed didn’t make it. At the same time, ’03 and ’09 indicate that it’s not a guarantee that it’s going to be absolute chaos in the brackets. 2009 was actually a pretty chalky year overall. Every team in the Elite Eight was at least a 3 seed and there was only two teams outside of the top-4 seeds that were in the Sweet 16.

While signs seem to point to more of an open year, there are still some ways to narrow down contenders using the Pythagorean rating. 77% of teams that make the Final Four have a rating of at least 0.90. 93% have had a rating of at least 0.87. The four teams that didn’t make the 0.87 mark were ’06 George Mason, ’11 VCU, ’11 Butler, and ’13 Wichita State.

If you were to narrow this year’s field down to just the 0.87 teams, you’d have 20 to choose from. There are 22, but two of them – Louisville and SMU – are ineligible, which is another factor this year. The loss of Louisville removes another major contender from the field.

20 is on the lower side of number of teams at that 0.87 mark. The only other two years with 2 or less 0.95 teams and 20 or less 0.87 teams: 2006 and 2011. Once again, the two craziest years we’ve had in the past 14.

So, What Does This All Mean?

It means that it’s probably not in your best interest to wager heavily on too many aspects of this year’s tournament. There are a lot of indicators that things are going to get a little wonky in March.

At the same time, it’s impossible not to get in the mix with at least a couple of bracket pools. My best advice would be to rely on teams that fit the mold laid out in the “Common Traits” section and to pray (if you’re in to that kind of thing).

What teams most closely align with those “Common Traits” is a subject I’ll address in the coming weeks.

Picks of the Day: CBB and NBA 2/22

CBB

SIENA (-1) over Iona

Iona’s coming off their biggest win of the year over Monmouth on the road. Not only was it big to keep them in the conference title race, but there’s been a lot of bad blood between those two teams this year. So I’m going against them coming off such an emotional victory. Even if that wasn’t in play, Siena’s still a good team that just won at Iona a week and a half ago. The Saints have protected their home floor really well going 11-1 SU and 7-2-1 ATS. Their only loss was a six-pointer to Monmouth.

GREEN BAY (-12.5) over Cleveland State – 2 units

Feels like it’s about time for Cleveland State to just mail it in. They’re 3-12 in the Horizon and none of those wins have come against the top half of the league. Two days ago they played at Milwaukee and the game was over before halftime. Green Bay can make you a little nervous, but they’re pretty good at home. On Saturday, they were down 18 at one point to Youngstown and still won the game by 17 points. They play a fast pace, which makes the Vikings uncomfortable. In their first matchup in Cleveland, the home squad got out to a 15-2 lead before ultimately losing the game by 20.

NBA

CAVALIERS (-9) over Pistons

Two teams going in opposite directions. At one point it seemed like the Pistons would be competing for a 4 or 5 seed in the East, but they’ve dropped 8 of 10 including 5 straight. Anthony Davis was just one point away from a 60-20 yesterday against them. The Cavs just lit up the Thunder in OKC yesterday and they played most of the game without Kyrie. The All-Star Break might have been kindest to Kevin Love, who’s been great in their two games since. Detroit hasn’t been good ATS on the road all year.

HAWKS-Warriors over 225

The Hawks defense has been swiss cheese lately. They’ve given up 115 and 117 to the Heat and the Bucks since coming back from break and the Heat did that without Wade, Bosh, or Whiteside playing. Obviously, the Warriors are the highest scoring team in basketball. Atlanta is top-10 in scoring as well.


CBB YTD: 207-193-10 (51.8%)

NBA YTD: 72-59-1 (55.0%)

Total YTD: 279-252-10 (52.5%)

Above .500 days: 29

.500 days: 16

Below .500 days: 18

Northern Trust Open Picks

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Last week was not an incredibly successful one in the straight-up gambling department. I lost 3.9 units to bring me back to +.37 units on the year. Phil was a made six-footer away from a playoff for the win, which would’ve made the week quite different. Such is life.

The Draft Kings lineups were the saving grace though. Points, Cejka, and Herman were all rarely used players that put up pretty big numbers for me.

Anyway, we’re on to the Northern Trust Open this week. Spieth and Rory are both playing, so it should be a nice little weekend.

I’m changing up the strategy a bit this week. I’m not playing any more top-10s for guys with lower odds and I’m not playing the super longshots to win. It’s just not worth it.

As always, top 10 odds on the left, winning odds on the right. 0.2 units per play (we’ll see how long that lasts as well).

Justin Rose –/+1800

Jimmy Walker –/+2400

J.B. Holmes –/+2800

Charl Schwartzel –/+2800

Harris English –/+5000

Matt Jones +600/+9000

William McGirt +750/+10000

John Huh +800/+11000

K.J. Choi +950/+12500

Aaron Baddeley +1100/+15000

Ben Crane +1700/–


Additional guys for Draft Kings plays that are somewhat off the radar:

Tony Finau $7,400

Bryce Molder $7,200

Si Woo Kim $7,100

Cameron Tringale $7,000

Lucas Glover $7,000

Adam Hadwin $6,900

Pat Perez $6,900

Mark Hubbard $6,800

Seung-Yul Noh $6,700

Stewart Cink $6,700

Jason Gore $6,600

Kyle Reifers $6,500

Chad Campbell $6,500