Saturday, March 29, 2014

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan State 61, Virginia 59

If you love hard-nosed basketball that isn't marred with whistles then the Michigan State/Virginia Sweet 16 game was glorious.

It was exactly what the informed college basketball fan expected: a physical, slow-paced game with minimal possession but also one that included a handful of highlights and suspense until the final buzzer.

Here's the defensive score sheet from the Spartans' victory, putting Michigan State in the Elite Eight for the eighth time in the last 16 seasons:


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan State 80, Harvard 73

The first Tom Izzo-Tommy Amaker battle since 1997 was just that - a battle until the bitter end.

For the second-straight tournament game the Spartans allowed more than 1 PPP to their opponent, something I'm sure Tom Izzo was not happy with. Still, for the second-straight game the Spartans survived and advanced.

Here's MSU's defensive score sheet from Saturday's 80-73 MSU victory:


Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan State 93, Delaware 78

It wasn't quite the defensive effort Tom Izzo was hoping for - 78 points in a 75-possession never is - but it was good enough to compliment an unstoppable offense. 

Here's MSU's defensive score sheet from its Round of 64 game against CAA Champion Delware:


NOTES
  • There isn't much to take from this game defensively, but a small side note might be the solid defensive game by Kenny Kaminski. No, he wasn't all-worldly or anything, but the guy who is used specifically as an offensive sharpshooter was not a liability. In fact, in 12 minutes he didn't allow a field goal and he forced both a miss and a turnover. That's more than a bonus from a guy like Kaminski. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Deuce2Sports Bracket Picks: Florida, Arizona, Michigan State in Title Game

While there are varying opinions here at Deuce2Sports about which team will cut down the nets both of us agree on one thing: Arizona should be playing on the final Monday this season.

For much of the season I've said Michigan State and Arizona, when at full strength, would provide a NCAA Championship game classic if the world was privy to such a game.

The way the bracket lays out means a Spartans-Wildcats title bout is a very real possibility.

Sure, both teams would have to win five games - against stiff competition no doubt - to reach the Monday night finale but Sean Miller's Wildcats and Tom Izzo's Spartans are more than up to the task.


I love the Spartans as a national title threat but Michigan State's road to the Final Four and national title game is much stiffer than Arizona's. Therefore, and it's somewhat of a cop-out, I took Arizona to win this matchup because I think it's more likely the Wildcats are one of two teams standing than the Spartans. That said, however, this would be a juicy matchup that either team could win. (It's why my 3-year-old son Liam's bracket has Michigan State beating Arizona in the title game).

For the rest of the bracket there really aren't any strange or outlandish picks. The Big Ten is really, really good and that's one reason I have two Big Ten teams in the Final Four (MSU and Michigan) as well as another in the Elite Eight (Wisconsin).

Our other writer, Mike Harkins, likes Arizona as well, but not as much as he like Florida to stay unbeaten in 2014. Mike has Florida knocking off Arizona in the title game. However, before you think his bracket is full of chalk notice that he has a six seed (Baylor), seven seed (UConn) and eight seed (Kentucky) in his Sweet 16 along with Iowa State and Kentucky rounding out his Final Four. So no, this is not a chalk bracket by any stretch of the imagination.


Like any bracket (or pool for that matter) the strength is in the Final Four and title game. Having a great first weekend might help you top the standings on the first Sunday but ending up with only a pair of Elite Eight teams and one Final Four team is a recipe for finishing in the middle or bottom of your pool. 



Monday, March 17, 2014

2014's "Sweet 16" Tips for Picking a Winning Bracket


 There is no telling what will happen this March. There's a reason it's called March Madness, folks. That said, if you want some advice, here are "Sweet 16" Tips to help you win your pool.
1) The team with the most individual talent does not always win the national championship. In fact, in recent Tournament history, it only seems to happen about half the time. Louisville took home the crown last season without a for-sure NBA player (Russ Smith seems like a NBA second rounder, no?). Kentucky's 2012 title team was loaded with top recruits and NBA-bound players and it was the national champ. Duke won with teamwork in 2010 despite teams like Kansas and Kentucky having more talent. The Tar Heels were called a "NBA team" by Michigan State's Tom Izzo -- and that was before North Carolina whipped MSU in the title game. Kansas won in '08 with the likes of Cole Aldrich, Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins and Brandon Rush. North Carolina won in ’05 with Sean May, Ray Felton, and Rashad McCants. The Huskies won in ’04, led by Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon, but Syracuse upset Kansas to win in ’03. Two balanced teams made the final in ’02, with Maryland winning the battle with Indiana after the Hoosiers had knocked off a loaded Duke team in the Sweet 16. The Blue Devils won in ’01 behind NBA-level stars Shane Battier, Jayson Williams, and Mike Dunleavy, but Michigan State won behind its teamwork in 2000, while more talented Duke and Arizona made early exits. Last year, Ohio State and Kansas were loaded but it was UConn who won the title thanks to a Kembian performance from Kemba Walker. This year Arizona (No. 1), Michigan State (No. 4), Louisville (No. 4) and Kentucky (No. 8) seem to have the most NBA talent. The No.1 overall seed Florida, however, doesn't seem to have any for-sure NBA players but might be the best team.
2) Don’t pick all four #1 seeds to reach the Final Four. 2008 was the only year this has happened in the modern era (since 1985) and history is not likely to repeat itself anytime soon. Advancing all the #1 seeds to the Sweet 16 isn't a bad idea (it's much more of a risky gamble to pick a top seed to be upset by an 8/9 seed than to just pencil the top seeds into the second weekend). Wichita State is starting at a Round of 32 matchup with preseason No. 1 Kentucky while Arizona could potentially face Oklahoma State - an early-season Top 10 team - in the same round. Virginia has Michigan State awaiting in the Sweet 16 while Florida might have to go through UCLA (Sweet 16) and Kansas (Elite Eight) to reach the Final Four. Someone will get knocked off before Dallas.
3) Historically, 7-10 affairs have been almost as evenly matched as 8-9 games. It isn't uncommon for there to be more #10 seeds in the second, errr, third round than #7 seeds. New Mexico-Stanford, Oregon-BYU, Texas-Arizona State, UConn-St. Joseph are all toss-ups.
4) #10 seeds make great sleepers. While everyone else looks for the 5-12 upset, just find the vulnerable #2 seed; that's where your #10 seed can do a lot of damage. In fact, 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2013 are the only times since 1996 that at least one #10 seed didn’t reach the Sweet 16. Kent State (2002) and Davidson (2008) have even made the Elite Eight as a #10 in relatively recent memory. Best chances for a #10 sleeper this year are Stanford (decent matchups with New Mexico and interior-depleted Kansas) and Arizona State (Texas game a toss-up but shot-blocking presence down low would allow the Sun Devils to stay out on Michigan's shooters in the Round of 32).
5) It’s not just mid-major Cinderellas that do well with double-digit seeds. Like their little brothers, major-conference schools among the last at-large teams selected also have an uncanny record of winning at least one game in the NCAA Tournament. Examples: Texas A&M 2006, NC State 2005, Auburn 2003, Missouri 2002, Georgetown 2001, to name a few. Villanova and Arizona made nice Sweet 16 runs 2008 and 2009, respectively.  Oregon was drastically underseeded as a No. 12 seed last year and the Ducks proved that with a Sweet 16 berth. Teams that fit the profile in this year’s Tournament could be No. 11 Tennessee, No. 11 Iowa or No. 11 Providence. 
6) Free throw percentages matter. A team like No. 11 Providence has the second-best FT% in the country (78.2%) while No. 7 Oregon is fifth-highest (77.3%). That comes into play in a tight game. Teams like No. 1 Arizona (316th in the country, 65.5%), No. 8 Memphis (328th, 64.7%) and No. 6 North Carolina (343rd, 62.6%) could be brutal in late-game situations.
7) Teams that defend the 3-point shot well can avoid those killer upsets. When you think of great March Madness moments, you usually see those mid-major Cinderella's hitting game-winning triples. Even before it gets to that point, comebacks usually begin with a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers. Louisville is the second best team in the country at defending the trey, allowing makes at just 28.6%. Teams like Ohio State (5th in the country, 29.3%), Kansas State (6th, 29.3%) and St. Louis (7th, 29.6%) are in the best positions to stave off crazy comebacks. Baylor, on the other hand, allows 3-pointers at a 35.5% clip, 244nd in the country. A potential third-round game against 3-happy Creighton could get ugly, right?
8) Pick Duke to reach the Sweet 16—at least. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Blue Devils have made the third round of the Tournament 13 years in the last 16 (though they’ve missed three of the past seven). Nevertheless, Coach K is a terrific in-game coach, and Duke's high seed and Raleigh placement makes this an easy "rule." While this goes against a potentially hot No. 11 seed in Tennessee or Iowa (assuming a win over overseeded UMass) the safe bet is to put Duke into the Sweet 16.
9) Look for teams with clutch players. UConn's Shabazz Napier, Michigan's Nik Stauskas, Arizona's Nick Johnson, Creighton's Doug McDermott, and Kansas' Andrew Wiggins make up my “All-Clutch” Starting Five. And don’t forget that mid-majors can have these guys, too.
10) Remember that the West, South and Midwest Regional Finals, as well as the Final Four, are played in massive domes. After playing in traditional college gyms all season, it’s often difficult for players to adjust their depth perception when shooting in a supersized arena that seats 40,000+. The team with the most experience playing in domes might be Syracuse…so if the Orange make it to Dallas they might have an edge.
11) The Big Ten's Top 3 are really, really good. Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin are all Final Four caliber teams. Heck, even Ohio State can get hot and make a run. The conference has been able to play at various speeds and should be well equipped to handle all types of opponents. This could be the first Final Four with multiple Big Ten teams since 2005.
12) Don’t drive yourself crazy picking the early-round games—it’s far more important to get the Final Four correct. In a traditional bracket pool, you’ll earn the same number of points for picking two Final Four members than for predicting all of the first-round games combined. (In the annual Deuce2Sports pool, picking the entire Final Four is worth 20 points, compared to 32 for picking the entire second round). Spend most of your time analyzing who’s going to make an extended run rather than obsessing about those pesky 8-9 and 5-12 matchups.
13) Look at your predicted national champion’s schedule to see if it has won six-plus games in a row during the regular season. As an addendum to this rule, I prefer to look at in-conference games only. Why conference-only games, you ask? Because rarely will you ever see a six-game stretch in a nonconference schedule that features NCAA Tournament caliber of competition. Major conference will provide that opportunity. So, while a team like Ohio State started the year 15-0 the Buckeyes didn't win more than three Big Ten games in a row at any point. Michigan won its first eight Big Ten games as well as its final five plus another two in the Big Ten Tournament showing its more than capable of winning six games in a row. Louisville won seven straight AAC games in February. Surprisingly, Duke's biggest ACC winning streak was five games. Iowa State's was four in the Big 12. 
14) Defense doesn’t always win championships in college hoops, but it can certainly win you a couple of games. Arizona, Florida, Louisville, Ohio State, Virginia, VCU, San Diego State, St. Louis, Cincinnati and UConn are all in the Top 10 of defensive efficiency via KenPom.com.
15) The final score of the championship game is often lower than you might expect. Because this is typically a pool tiebreaker you should really think about it. Remember the 2011 title game's tiebreaker was 94 thanks to UConn's 53-41 win over Butler. In 2012 Kentucky's 67-59 win over Kansas was just 126 combined points. 
16) If all else fails, ask your spouse or significant other who he/she would pick. (That is, unless you’re in the same pool.)

Previous "Sweet 16" Tips
2012

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan State 69, Michigan 55



The Spartans are coming. The Spartans are coming [sung to U2's "The Saints are Coming" remix].

Against one of the country's most prolific offenses the Spartans didn't just win the game but did so in suffocating fashion. It was impressive regardless of your allegiance. Michigan's 55 points were the second-lowest total this season (a 63-52 loss at Indiana was the lowest) and it came at a time when Michigan looked unbeatable. It was a complete team effort and one Michigan State's Tom Izzo is no doubt proud of.

There's a lot of pre-NCAA Tournament work on the docket so here's the defensive score sheet from Michigan State's win - the Spartans' fourth Big Ten Tournament championship - without any analysis. The numbers pretty much speak for themselves.


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The Defensive Score Sheet Project's initial explanation is here. More concise explanations are in this post, but here is a short rundown:
  • Min - Minutes played
  • DREB - Defensive Rebounds
  • FM - Forced field goal miss (includes blocks)
  • FTO - Forced Turnover (steals, charges taken)
  • FFTA - Forced missed Free Throw Attempt
  • DFGM - Allowed Defensive Field Goal Made
  • DFTM - Allowed Free Throw Made
  • DRtg - Defensive Rating (Gives players credit for stops and scoring possessions)
*The DRtg is most important part of a defensive score sheet as it is the analog of an offensive rating. If a player was on the floor for 100 of his team's defensive possessions, the DRtg calculates the number of points the opposition would score.

[NOTE: Deuce2Sports' defensive charting has been noted on Sports Illustrated's Web site twice this season by college basketball writer Luke Winn.]

FINAL 2014 BRACKETOLOGY

With only two championship games to play (Big Ten and SEC) the field, at least in my eyes, is set.

Florida looks to be the No. 1 overall seed regardless of its result vs. Kentucky and the Wildcats aren't going to jump any teams with a victory.

Michigan has the best resume of teams in consideration for that final No. 1 seed - albeit by a slight margin over Wisconsin and Villanova. Even with a loss to Michigan State I see the Wolverines taking the final No. 1 seed. Michigan State seems to have righted the ship and with a complete body of work that's particularly impressive in road and neutral sites, looks like it'll be on the No. 3 line.

Here's our final projection for the 2014 NCAA Tournament:


NOTES

  • After reviewing resumes and re-considering the injury to BYU's Kyle Collingsworth I believe the committee will have the Cougars as the first team out, opening up the final at-large spot for Dayton to play the First Four in its own building.
  • Michigan deserves the final No. 1 seed regardless of the Big Ten Tournament final result. A 69-55 loss to Michigan State was more indicative of a healthy MSU team and it shouldn't diminish what Michigan did from November until the Big Ten Tourney final.
  • Louisville, even though the Cardinals had climbed as high as a No. 2 seed yesterday, are on the No. 3 line because it's a 34-game regular season. The last five games have been awfully impressive but the Cardinals don't have a single win over an out-of-conference tournament team. Louisville's best nonconference win: vs. a NIT-bound Southern Miss. That'll bit the Cards.
  • Virginia takes the final No. 2 seed with the ACC regular season and tournament titles. Any talk of Virginia as a No. 1 seed is nuts to me if we look at complete bodies of work. Virginia is good but not one of four best resumes. 
  • I'll be pulling for Green Bay, mostly because I would love a perfect bracket and I think the Phoenix are the team that can deliver it but also because it's nice to see a team with a quality nonconference schedule (win over Virginia, losses to Harvard and Wisconsin) get rewarded despite an early-conference tournament loss.

[UPDATE]


  • We correctly predicted 66 of 68 teams this year. Not perfection and not a personal best but not much far off the national norm.
  • We did set a personal best with 60 of the 68 teams being seeded either perfect or within one seed line. (Just 27 were the exact seed but another 33 were within the one seed line).
  • We missed on BYU (that was our first team out) and NC State (puzzling to say the least). 
  • Green Bay didn't make the cut, which is sad for many reasons. SMU had an uphill climb with a nonconference schedule in the 300s. Had I realize it was that bad I might have flipped BYU and SMU, but I wouldn't have had NC State in the field regardless. Oh well...
  • Biggest "mistakes" were having New Mexico as a 4 (Lobos got a 7), and UMass a 10 (Minutemen got a 6). Although, most people seem to feel those seeds were absurd so I guess I'm not alone. 


Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan State 83, Wisconsin 75

Are the Spartans finally healthy? If Saturday's game against Wisconsin was any indication the answer is a scary, "Yes!" for all other NCAA Tournament teams.

There's a lot of pre-NCAA Tournament work on the docket so here's the defensive score sheet from the game that sets up the first-ever Michigan State-Michigan matchup in Big Ten Tournament history:



Notes

Bracketology - 3.16.14 (AM)

We're 30 hours away from a magical moment: The release of the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket!

The bubble has shrunk to the slimmest of margins and many Big Boys have punched their respective tickets to the Big Dance. There will be no stolen bids on Sunday so this is all about seeding. The SEC (Florida and Kentucky), Big Ten (Michigan and Michigan State), ACC (Duke and Virginia), Atlantic 10 (VCU and St. Joes) and the Big West (Weber State and Louisiana-Lafayette) are the only games tomorrow. The Big West is, obviously, a one-bid league and if St. Joes hasn't locked up an at-large bid yet then this bracket is going to be pretty screwy.

Here is the projected bracket through all of Saturday's results:



Here are a few notes:
  • My first team out is Dayton and while the Flyers have a decent argument to be in I believe this will all come down to how the committee views BYU's recent injury news. If there is a flop it will be due to Kyle Collinsworth's injury. He is BYU's second-leading scorer as well as top rebounder and assister. This will be the biggest thing to watch on Sunday. Of course, this would mean Dayton plays at home during the "First Four."
  • Louisville made their charge for a No. 1 seed, doing pretty much anything it wanted en route to the American Conference title. Now, I did say a few things had to happen for Louisville to overcome a weak nonconference schedule as well as a watered-down league that had five terrible teams. Michigan reached the Big Ten Tournament finals and will have a better profile even with a loss to rival Michigan State on Sunday. Even with Wisconsin's loss the Badgers' profile is much better than Louisville's. I think the final No. 2 seed is a best-case scenario, even though Rick Pitino believes his club will be a No. 1.
  • Keep watching "professional" bracketologists move UW-Green Bay closer and closer to inclusion (maybe even putting the Phoenix in the field) as the Selection Show nears. Just remember Deuce2Sports never had the Phoenix out. Green Bay has a win over Virginia. That, especially if the Cavaliers win the ACC Tournament, looks better and better.
  • While ESPN continues to insinuate the Duke/Virginia has a shot at the final No. 1 seed don't let the WWL fool you; Neither team has a No. 1 resume. Virginia is good and could complete the ACC title sweep but that didn't get Miami a No. 1 seed last year. Duke has two sub-100 losses - something no No. 1 seed has ever had. All of Duke's best wins came at home this year as well. The best road win was at Pitt. The ACC was not the ACC of old, especially with the unbalanced schedule. Both teams are looking at No. 2 seeds at best while potentially a pair of No. 3 seeds is possible regardless of Sunday's result.
  • Michigan is the leader in the clubhouse for the final No. 1 seed. Even with a loss to Michigan State tomorrow I think - especially with the timing being so close to the bracket unveiling - Michigan has locked up that seed. Villanova, in all honesty, is the only challenger. If it stays as is both will be in the East Region anyway and can sort it all out in the Elite Eight.
  • Welcome to the No. 4 line, Syracuse. Yesterday, Syracuse was a surprising three seed but the microscope continues to show just how flawed the Orange's resume is (especially as other teams rise and win - Iowa State - or are favored to win - Michigan State - their conference tournaments). 
  • The last team to win the NCAA Championship when not winning either a regular season conference title or the tournament title: 1997 Arizona. The then-Pac 10 didn't have a conference tournament that season and the Wildcats finished fifth (5th!!!) in their league that year. Keep that in mind on Selection Sunday.
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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan 72, Ohio State 69

Another botched pick-and-roll defensive sequence from Sam
Thompson (hidden) that allows a Nik Stauskas 3-pointer. (AP)

Led by efficient stretches that mirrored last year's first half in the national title game Michigan edged past Ohio State to reach its first Big Ten Tournament title game since 1998. That, if you've forgotten, was the inaugural Big Ten Tournament and the Wolverines took home the crown with Robert "Tractor" Traylor winning the MVP.

With more work to do this will be a bare-bones post. Here's the defensive score sheet from the game - Michigan's first win in seven tries over Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament:




Notes

Bracketology - 3.15.14

Some teams are playing themselves into the tournament while others are (already have) played themselves out. Here's the latest rundown as of 1 a.m. Saturday morning:


Here are a few notes:
  • As I said earlier in the week, Louisville is going to make a real charge at a No. 1 seed. While winning the AAC Tournament isn't terribly glamorous the Cardinals are clicking now. Seriously, winning back-to-back games 92-31 and 94-65 is impressive regardless of the competition. A win against UConn might propel Louisville to the final No. 1 seed if the following happen on Saturday: Ohio State beats Michigan, Michigan State beats Wisconsin and Duke loses to NC State. (If Duke doesn't win the ACC Tournament I believe the Cardinals will still have a shot at the final No. 1 seed).
  • I have a hunch UW-Green Bay gets into the field. It might feel like a 2011 VCU inclusion over teams with more victories but UW-GB was solid all season and has a win over Virginia (which will only look better the further Virginia goes in the ACC Tournament). The Phoenix will be the surprise of Selection Sunday. You heard it here first!
  • By losing its ninth games Kansas might actually fall to the 3 line - which I'm projecting here. That'll be brutal for a surging six seed.
  • If Michigan or Wisconsin wins the Big Ten Tournament, because the title-game opponent will be really good, should get the final No. 1 seed regardless of what happens with Duke, Louisville, et al. The Big Ten's top was that good and for Michigan to win both titles would be quite an accomplishment, seven total losses or not.
  • Welcome to the No. 3 line, Syracuse.
  • Villanova is on the No. 1 line right now because other teams haven't passed the Wildcats... yet. It will happen, but at the moment 'Nova's resume is better. Wisconsin, Michigan, Louisville and Duke - in order - are the two seeds fighting for that spot.
  • Remember, NO team that has lost its first conference tournament game has won the NCAA Championship. That is bad news for Syracuse, Villanova and North Carolina. 
  • The last team to win the NCAA Championship when not winning either a regular season conference title or the tournament title: 1997 Arizona. Keep that in mind on Selection Sunday.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bracketology - 3.10.14

I've said for a few weeks now that it would be a shock if Florida, Arizona and Wichita State, in some order, didn't occupy the first three No. 1 seeds.

Now, about that final No. 1 seed...

Right now it belongs to Villanova and a Big East Tournament title would cement that. The Wildcats aren't flashy but a three-loss team (with the only defeats coming to then-undefeated Syracuse and to Creighton, twice) 'Nova just keeps winning. Even with the gaudy record I don't believe Villanova is the fourth-best team. However, all other contenders for that spot seem to be faltering as of late.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Defensive Score Sheet: Duke 93, North Carolina 81

Rodney Hood (left) was as valuable defensively as he
was offensively against the Tar Heels. (AP)

Round II of Duke-UNC went the way most expected: North Carolina, winners of 12 straight, likely would finally cool down while the Blue Devils would protect home court on senior night and extend the Cameron winning streak to 33 games.

It was one of those rare, "things played out just as most figured they would" games.

Both offenses, as is typical Duke/UNC clash, excelled while defense took a backseat for much of the game.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bracketology: Battle for final No. 1 seed is heating up

It seems pretty clear Arizona and Florida are battling for the No. 1 overall seed while Wichita State, even with a loss in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, will be the third No. 1 seed with a 31-1 record in a worst-case scenario.

The battle for the final No. 1 seed is heating up with Kansas, Villanova and Wisconsin as the lead competitors. Michigan and Virginia are in the second tier of teams that could nab the No. 1 seed. I don't see any way Syracuse and Duke can climb back up to the top line. A team like Michigan State, when fully healthy - as it looked like against Iowa last night - plays like a No. 1 seed but it appears a best-case scenario that includes winning at Ohio State and claiming the Big Ten Tournament title would net a No. 2 seed.

The bottom of the bubble is ugly as usual and the final five to six spots will likely be determined by how teams fare in conference tournaments.

Here's our bracket projection (through Thursday night's games on March 6th):