|Kentucky has all the pieces to win the title; Louisville|
should feel lucky to be at the big boys' party. (AP)
Kentucky and Ohio State were the two teams Las Vegas penned in the Finals before the tournament, as did many stat gurus. A North Carolina-Kansas regional final was expected to be a 50/50 game, so it's not much of a surprise - especially with Kendall Marshall's injury - that the Jayhawks will be spending time in New Orleans.
Louisville? Now, that's the big surprise. It isn't that the Cardinals are a bad team (you don't win the Big East Tournament, garner a No. 4 seed, and reach the Final Four if you are), it's that Louisville was, in reality, the at-best fourth-best team in the West Region. Michigan State and Missouri both had phenomenal seasons, capped off with Conference Tournament Championships. Marquette, despite losing to Louisville twice during the season including a loss in the Big East Tournament Quarterfinals, still had better matchups in the tournament as well as a more well-rounded team.
Heck, some would argue No. 7 seed Florida, No. 8 seed Memphis and No. 9 seed St. Louis were all biggest threats to reach the Final Four than Louisville. That would be the exact case if you put a high emphasis on Ken Pomeroy's rankings. In the West Region. Here are the West Region's KenPom rankings: Michigan State (3rd), Memphis (8th), Missouri (10th), Florida (12th), St. Louis (14th). Louisville comes in 15th -- and that rankings likely has been inflated with the team's Final Four run. Marquette (18th) and New Mexico (19th) were also in the Top 20. Needless to say, expecting Louisville to come out of the region would have been a shocker in every since of the word. Nevertheless, the Cardinals played superb basketball the past two weekends and now have a date with the Wildcats at the Superdome.
In projecting what might happen, one of the best tools is a list of a team's "Four Factors," which include a team's shooting percentage, turnover percentage, rebounding percentage and free throw rate. Typically, a team that wins the majority of those "Four Factors" in a game wins. And, in using a team's season-long data, it is easier to decipher who has the edge.
Take a look at a table with this year's final foursome, compliments of Ken Pomeroy's rankings.
- AdjO - The adjusted offensive measurement of a team's efficiency. It's how many points per 100 possessions a team scores. (Anything 100+ is good; 110+ is very efficient; 120+ is historically elite).
- AdjD - The adjsuted defense, so opposite of AdjO. (Anything 95- is good, 90- is very efficient, 85- is elite.
- eFG% - This is an altered version of field goal percentage that gives extra weight to 3-pointers (just like the scoreboard). So, eFG% gives 50 percent extra weight to a 3-point attempt than a 2-point attempt, just like the scoreboard does.
- TO% - The percentage of possessions a team turns the ball over. (With TO D%, how often a team turns its opponent over). Because teams play at different tempos, turnovers per game is an extremely misleading statistic.
- FT Rate - This is free-throw rate, as in how often a team is going to the foul line, how many points they are scoring there in relation to the opposition.
Taking it a step further, this table not only look at a team's "Four Factors" on offense, but also calculates those same numbers on the defensive end. Ignoring the first four columns for a second, it should be pretty clear why the Wildcats are overwhelming favorites: Kentucky has the best numbers in six of the eight "Four Factor" categories. Ohio State takes the prize in one while Louisville takes the blue ribbon in the other. Kansas is more well-rounded than most teams, but in this foursome it tends to be second or third in every category.
Now, including the adjusted offensive efficiency (AdjO) and adjusted defensive efficiency (ADJD), you can see how Kentucky's offense is super efficient while Louisville's defense is disgustingly sick. While there are some differences in the defensive efficiencies one thing should be noted: all four teams are very, very good defensively.
The same can't be said for the offensive end.
Louisville's offense is pathetic for a Final Four team. Comparing the Cardinals to other teams this season, the numbers are similar to Alabama and Seton Hall. Most would agree the Crimson Tide and Pirates have been described over and over again as "struggling offensive teams" this season. Louisville is in that group. With it's superior defense, the Cardinals haven't needed great offense in the tournament. That, however, doesn't mean they should expect that trend to continue against Kentucky.
If I had to choose two columns to focus on, it would be the eFG% and eFGD%. Because 3-pointers are worth more than 2-pointers (and harder to make), the eFG% help adjust for those numbers. Kentucky takes the top spot in both, with an eFG% of nearly 54 percent and an eFGD% of just more than 42 percent. That 12 percent is significant, especially when compared to the other teams that range from less than 5 percent (Louisville) to 6 percent (Ohio State) to 9 percent (Kansas).
When they need to score, the Wildcats score.
When they need a defensive stop, the Wildcats get a stop.
When they need to get John Calipari his first NCAA Championship... The Wildcats have all the skills (and numbers) necessary to make it happen.
Now go prove me right.