Friday, March 30, 2012

Final Four Preview

Kentucky should grace the Sports Illustrated cover,
like it did in 1998, as NCAA National Champions.

It's no secret I'm a stat-a-holic and rely on numbers the same way I rely on the Bible with my Christian faith.

Typically, the numbers don't lie.

The tempo-free movement has captivated the nation by storm, and rightfully so. Only in a tempo-free world can we judge Wisconsin and North Carolina on the same level.

Below is a table I used in a previous post about the crucial "Four Factors" in this year's Final Four. Focusing on these numbers, it's easy to see why Kentucky is the class of the Final Four. And it's not even close.


Kentucky's adjusted offensive efficiency is 5.1 points per 100 possessions higher than any other team. That's an enormous difference. Defensively, while technically the "worst" of the bunch, the Wildcats' 88.6 adjusted defensive efficiency still is elite, meaning we're splitting hairs with that number.

The Wildcats shoot the best and defend shots the best while turning the ball over the least. Oh, and Kentucky rebounds its offensive misses, which tend to be few and far between, the best, too.

On those rare occasions when a shooting dry spell appears, Kentucky uses its ability - a Final Four-best - to get to the free throw line. When the opposition tries to do the same, Kentucky doesn't allow it with a Final Four-best defensive free throw rate.

In the eight "Four Factor" categories, going with both offense and defense, Kentucky is No. 1 in six. (It's No. 4 in forcing turnovers - which can be credited to not gambling for steals and playing solid man-to-man defense - and No. 3 in defensive rebounding). If it were the "Price is Right," Kentucky might not have won the showcase, but it would be taking home a car and some TV/entertainment center package with those numbers.

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The last time I will say there was this much talent at the Final Four was in 2008. That year was a modern-day Armageddon with all four No. 1 seeds reaching the final weekend. Even that year, eventual national champ Kansas wasn't exactly the favorite. In fact, most pundits felt North Carolina and UCLA were the best two teams in that year's Final Four, with Memphis and Kansas battling for third.

Naturally, I went with the numbers filling out my bracket that year. The numbers were heavily in favor of Kansas. The Jayhawks had the best adjusted offensive efficiency and second-best adjusted defensive efficiency. The combination of the numbers rejected the thinking of "experts" and really showed Kansas was the final foursome's best squad.


What happened in 2008? Kansas beat Final Four favorite North Carolina handily, 84-66, while Memphis throttled UCLA, 78-63 in what turned out to be two shockingly boring national semifinals.

Then, of course, Super Mario (and Memphis' free throw woes) bailed Kansas out in the title game where the Jayhawks won, 75-68, in overtime.

"Super" Mario Chalmers' big 3-pointer helped Kansas win the
2008 national championship and back up the numbers (AP).

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While all four teams were closer in strength than this year's group, especially when looking at Louisville's how-did-they-get-to-the-Final-Four-with-that-offense numbers, Kansas's offense was far superior to all others. The defense wasn't the best (it was second), but the 83.6 adjusted defensive efficiency would have been tops in this year's Final Four.

It all reiterates my point: Statistics rarely lie, especially ones in the "Four Factors" category that has proved so vital in determining wins and losses.

Kentucky reigns supreme in these vital areas and that is why, unless the 2012 Wildcats turn into the 2008 Wildcats, it would be a monumental upset (think Villanova upsetting Georgetown in 1985) if Kentucky didn't win the title.

Predictions: I'm sensing a little of a 2008 theme in New Orleans this year. There is so much build up for both national semifinals that the world expects two one-possession, buzzer-beater games, right? I picture a pair of "blowouts" disappointing the masses.

  • Kentucky 75, Louisville 59
  • Ohio State 71, Kansas 62

In Monday night's national title bout, the Buckeyes have enough talent to push the Wildcats to the brink on many occasions. The fact remains, however, Kentucky is too good and John Calipari has worked too hard with these young guns on the defensive end to go home with a red, second-place ribbon. It'll be a title game everyone will remember, especially in Lexington.

  • Kentucky 69, Ohio State 62

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