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Bucks look to unlock Greek Freak's potential

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

January 23, 2018 12:01 AM

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© USA Today Sports Images

Jason Kidd was fired as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks Monday. Will that inspire a point spread surge? Basketball notes including upsets of #7 West Virginia and #10 North Carolina plus an NFL Power Rating update coming up in VSiN City.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks fire head coach Jason Kidd
If you’ve been so busy following football that the NBA has been on the backburner, you may not have been aware that the Milwaukee Bucks had been a disappointment through the first half of the season. After the weekend…

*The Bucks were sitting in the #8 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They were expected to be a few spots higher as one of the potential up-and-coming powers. Many in analytics thought the team had a shot to be several spots higher. 

*The Bucks were sixth worst in the NBA in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession). This was hidden from casual followers because Milwaukee plays the eighth slowest pace. You don’t see a lot of high scoring losses…but a roster deep in length and athleticism wasn’t getting stops. 

*The Bucks were fourth worst in the NBA in rebound rate, which is absurd for this roster. 

Defensive efficiency and rebound rate are good proxies for “effort and hustle.” Few good teams are bad in those areas (teams below the Bucks in DE are mostly dregs except for collapsing Cleveland). With talented teams, poor rankings can also be a red flag that the players have tuned out the head coach. 

A stumbling 1-6 stretch ATS the last seven games also included other warning signs…

Milwaukee (plus 1.5) lost at Indiana 109-96 (missed by 11.5)
Milwaukee (-10.5) beat Orlando 110-103 (missed by 3.5)
Milwaukee (plus 4.5) lost to Golden State 108-94 (missed by 9.5)
Milwaukee (plus 2) lost at Miami 97-79 (missed by 16)
Milwaukee (plus 5.5) won at Washington 104-95 (only recent cover!)
Milwaukee (-4.5) lost to Miami 106-101 (missed by 9.5)
Milwaukee (plus 7.5) lost at Philadelphia 116-94 (missed by 14.5)

You can see the Bucks were swept by Miami, a team they’re chasing in the East. Miami is currently the #4 seed. Market pricing suggests that informed influences see the Bucks as superior to Miami (only plus 2 on the road, -4.5 at home, in a league where home court is worth about three). Milwaukee also lost to current #6 seed Indiana, while being priced as superior (only plus 1.5 on the road). Milwaukee was routed by current #7 Philadelphia, though did have injury issues. 

Milwaukee management is thought to be forward-thinking and analytically savvy. It sure didn’t want to waste a year of The Greek Freak shuffling around the .500 mark. With so many double-digit misses against Eastern rivals up close in the rearview mirror, a change was clearly justified. 

Let’s see how the players responded to the news at home Monday night vs. Phoenix (note that Giannis Antetokounmpo was out with an injury). 

Milwaukee (-5.5) 109, Phoenix 105 
Two-point Pct: Phoenix 57%, Milwaukee 61%
Three Pointers: Phoenix 9/26, Milwaukee 5/17
Free Throws: Phoenix 18/20, Milwaukee 28/37
Rebounds: Phoenix 34, Milwaukee 32
Turnovers: Phoenix 21, Milwaukee 17

Well, disappointing inside defense, and poor rebounding considering the opponent. But at least the Bucks forced a lot of turnovers. Not a good sign for ball movement that Khris Middleton took 19 shots with only 3 assists, while Malcolm Brogdon took 14 with two assists. Only 20 of 38 buckets from the floor had assists. 

Milwaukee is now off until Friday, when the Bucks host Brooklyn. We’ll keep an eye on how the market deals with the Kidd firing moving forward. 

One other quick NBA note. The Chicago Bulls covered their sixth straight game Monday night, (now 20-5 ATS their last 25) with a tight 132-128 double overtime loss in New Orleans as seven-point underdogs. Of course, Bulls bettors had to cover at the end of regulation, the end of the first overtime, and the end of the second overtime! 

Big 12 Basketball: #7 West Virginia falls apart in Fort Worth 
While West Virginia can be a true terror on its home floor against opponents who don’t have good guards (looking at you, Texas), the Mountaineers become mortal away from home against teams who stay composed against a full court press. Another reminder of that Monday when TCU won comfortably as a short home dog. 

TCU (plus 2) 82, #7 West Virginia 71
Two-point Pct: West Virginia 38%, TCU 46% 
Three Pointers: West Virginia 7/27, TCU 9/24
Free Throws: West Virginia 16/22, TCU 23/33
Rebounds: West Virginia 40, TCU 46
Turnovers: West Virginia 12, TCU 16
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: West Virginia 9-7-10, TCU 25-19-19

While TCU did have some turnover issues in this fast-paced game, it was composed when getting into a set offense. For the night, 20 of its 25 baskets were assisted. And, charging the rim earned the Frogs 11 extra free throw attempts. 

West Virginia doesn’t shoot well when not getting cheapies off steals. Not much of a game. TCU led by 20 with just over five minutes to go. 

Big 12 estimated “market” Power Ratings: West Virginia 87 at home…84 on the road, Kansas 86 at home…85 on the road, Texas Tech 84 at home…83 on the road, Oklahoma 83, TCU 79, Texas 79, Baylor 79, Kansas State 78 at home…77 on the road, Oklahoma State 77, Iowa State 75.

Also in the Big 12 Monday night, Texas (-7) beat Iowa State 73-57, and Kansas State (plus 5) beat Baylor 90-83.

ACC Basketball: #10 North Carolina surprisingly no match for Virginia Tech
Neither leg of ESPN’s Big Monday provided much drama. An early hint that March will provide A LOT of drama because so many big-name teams are inconsistent this season. 

Virginia Tech (plus 3.5) 80, #10 North Carolina 69
Two-point Pct: North Carolina 53%, Virginia Tech 55% 
Three Pointers: North Carolina 10/31, Virginia Tech 12/30
Free Throws: North Carolina 5/5, Virginia Tech 8/12
Rebounds: North Carolina 35, Virginia Tech 36
Turnovers: North Carolina 13, Virginia Tech 9
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: North Carolina 8-8-9, Virginia Tech 54-47-35

North Carolina somehow launched 31 treys and only five free throws, meaning the team either lost its mind or lost its composure. This is a program that typically emphasizes inside play. Few would have expected the Tar Heels launching more treys than Virginia Tech, even if there had been advance knowledge they’d trail the whole second half. 

Carolina is still well-respected in the computers. The Heels fall to 16-5 with this loss. Big win for Virginia Tech’s resume, as the Hokies try to climb onto the Dance bubble in this loaded conference. Virginia Tech is 14-6, though they had been just 1-5 ATS in ACC play prior to this cover. 

ACC estimated “market” Power Ratings: Duke 87, Virginia 86, North Carolina 83, Florida State 80, Clemson 80, Miami 79, Louisville 79 at home, 77 on the road, Syracuse 78, Virginia Tech 77, Notre Dame 77, NC State 76, Wake Forest 74, Georgia Tech 73, Boston College 72, Pittsburgh 62.

As of now, everybody at 77 or higher on that scale above is in Joe Lunardi’s brackets except for Virginia Tech. The Hokies aren’t even in the first eight out. Maybe Monday’s win will change that. 

Big Ten Basketball: #13 Ohio State and #7 Michigan State score Monday wins
It wasn’t pretty, as you’ll see in Ohio State’s three-point shooting and Michigan State’s turnover count. But, two dance-bound teams from the top of the Big 10 managed Monday victories. 

#13 Ohio State (-12) 64, Nebraska 59
Two-point Pct: Nebraska 52%, Ohio State 55% 
Three Pointers: Nebraska 8/29, Ohio State 2/14
Free Throws: Nebraska 9/11, Ohio State 16/23
Rebounds: Nebraska 31, Ohio State 36
Turnovers: Nebraska 10, Ohio State 6
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Nebraska 67-69-77, Ohio State 11-15-14

It can be tough for double-digit favorites to cover slow games. This one was slow as molasses. Just 24-22 Buckeyes at the half. Almost a clean upset for VSiN’s Greg Peterson from this past Saturday’s “March to Madness” show with Matt Youmans and Jonathan Von Tobel. Huskers led by one with 4:36 to go before running out of gas. 

As often happens when ranked teams underachieve, a lousy night on three-pointers hurt OSU’s cause. Ohio State won scoring on “1’s and 2’s” by an impressive 58-35 count. 

Buckeyes remain undefeated in Big 10 play (along with Purdue). But, a six-game cover streak comes to an end. Looks like the market has adjusted to OSU’s recent surge given that steep price Monday. Nebraska falls to 14-8, which isn’t Dance territory right now (as the computer ratings confirm). The good news is that the Huskers don’t have to face either of Purdue, Michigan State, or Ohio State the rest of the way (until the Big 10 tourney, anyway). That creates an opportunity to close strong and crash the bubble. Bettors should know Nebraska has covered nine of its last 10. 

#6 Michigan State (-12) 87, Illinois 74
Two-point Pct: Michigan State 74%, Illinois 54% 
Three Pointers: Michigan State 4/9, Illinois 8/29
Free Throws: Michigan State 23/28, Illinois 10/13
Rebounds: Michigan State 37, Illinois 15
Turnovers: Michigan State 25, Illinois 10
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Michigan State 5-5-5, Illinois 105-92-105

You can tell Michigan State relentlessly attacked the rim all night. The Spartans were an astounding 26 of 35 on two-point shots, while earning 28 free throw attempts. But, they turned the ball over TWENTY-FIVE times! Great to bully a bad team that way. But, versus quality…you’ll run into stronger rim defense, you won’t get that many calls, and you can’t be that reckless with the basketball! Two straight win/covers for Sparty after a recent speed bump. 

Big Ten estimated “market” Power Ratings: Purdue 86, Michigan State 86, Ohio State 82, Michigan 80, Penn State 76, Maryland 76, Wisconsin 75, Indiana 75, Northwestern 75, Nebraska 73, Iowa 73, Illinois 71, Rutgers 71, Minnesota (turmoil).

Tough to know what to do with Minnesota. The early line for Tuesday has the Gophers -3 at home over Northwestern (virtual equality), but they were just priced 12 points worse than Ohio State, and 5 points worse than both Maryland and Penn State. That’s obviously around 70-71. We’ll let that settle itself this week. 

In other Big 10 action Monday: Indiana (-2) beat Maryland 71-68. 

A couple of Tuesday night blockbusters on the college hoops schedule. Here’s Greg Peterson with stat previews before we call it a day with some early Super Bowl talk…

College Basketball: “Running the Floor” with Greg Peterson

#18 Clemson at #2 Virginia (7:00 p.m. ET on The ACC Network)
Early Line: Virginia -9
Offensive Efficiency: Clemson #50, Virginia #37
Defensive Efficiency: Clemson #18, Virginia #2
Rebound Rate: Clemson #77, Virginia #122
Percent of Shots are 3s: Clemson #136, Virginia #228
Free Throw Shooting Percentage: Clemson #43, Virginia #11
Pace: Clemson #236, Virginia #351

For those who enjoy teams that slow the game down, play sound defense, and make the extra pass to try to get a good shot, this one’s for you.

Virginia plays at the slowest pace of any team in the country. The Cavaliers typically use the full 30 second shot clock on offense and play the pack line defense. The pack line defense is a form of man-to-man defense in which every man except for the on-ball defender stays within 16 feet of the rim. It’s designed to discourage opponents from driving into the paint while also being effective at not allowing 3-point shooters to get loose. (Click here for more details.) It has clearly worked for Virginia as it has the second-most efficient defense in the country.

Clemson is somewhat of a poor man's Virginia in that the team is built around solid defense and keeping the pace of its games slower than its opponents are typically accustomed to. The Tigers don't play the pack line defense. But, they do a very good job of not allowing teams to get clean looks from beyond the arc.

The Tigers suffered a big blow on Sunday when starting forward Donte Grantham, who was second on the team in both points and rebounds, tore his ACL. Clemson's main three reserves are forwards, but none have not shown the ability to make 3s like Grantham has.

Clemson's biggest edge in this matchup is that the Tigers are the superior team in rebounding rate. They will need to get second chances on offense and prevent multiple opportunities for Virginia.

If the Cavaliers simply play their game and use their defense to put the clamps on Clemson, Virginia should be in great shape to cover. All but two of Virginia's opponents have been held to a season-low point total this season.

#5 Kansas at #12 Oklahoma (7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN)
Early Line: Oklahoma -1
Offensive Efficiency: Kansas #10, Oklahoma #21
Defensive Efficiency: Kansas #56, Oklahoma #161
Rebound Rate: Kansas #149, Oklahoma #126
Percent of Shots are 3s: Kansas #88, Oklahoma #76
Free Throw Shooting Percentage: Kansas #179, Oklahoma #77
Pace: Kansas #108, Oklahoma #3

This Big XII showdown has all the makings of a shootout as both teams' strengths are on offense and Oklahoma has done a good job of making its games high scoring.

Oklahoma is unique in that the Sooners sink or swim with their point guard Trae Young. No other team in the country runs through one player the way Oklahoma does, and it shows as Young leads the nation in points, assists, and turnovers.

Kansas relies on contributions from all five of its starters and is more of a guard-oriented team. The Jayhawks leave something to be desired on the glass due to this lineup, but have a bunch of players on the roster that are very good at both driving to the basket and shooting 3-pointers.

Kansas has a faster than average pace, but does not register a pace quite as fast Oklahoma because the Jayhawks are a more effective defensive team. Kansas also has fewer turnovers in the early part of the shot clock, which has been a big bugaboo of Oklahoma's recently.

Both teams are more than willing to take a lot of 3s, so whichever team can hit a higher percentage of outside shots should have a very good chance at both winning and covering this contest.

The pace of this game will also be important. though Kansas can score points in a hurry and play fast on offense, the Jayhawks try to slow things down on defense. On the flip side, Oklahoma wants all 40 minutes of the game to be a sprint and would like its chances if each team attempted over 80 field goals. It is also paramount that Young gets back on track and takes better care of the ball for Oklahoma, as he has committed 28 turnovers in the team's last three games.

Super Bowl: Early “Market Watch” and estimated “market” Power Ratings
There’s a full fortnight to talk Super Bowl. So, just some brief notes today. First…early betting action…
 
Super Bowl 52: New England Patriots vs. the Philadelphia Eagles
Opening Line: New England -6, total of 47.5
Current Line: New England -5.5, total of 48

Some stores are down to Patriots -5. Mostly Philadelphia money so far as New England interests wait to make sure Rob Gronkowski is likely to play (concussion). On the total, some stores are up to 48.5 after the Eagles looked so good on offense vs. the elite defense of Minnesota. 

One of the tricky questions for all bettors right now involves getting a proper read on how good the Philadelphia Eagles really are. It can safely be said now that the market mis-priced them in their first two playoff games.

*Philadelphia was a 3-point dog to Atlanta, but won total yardage 334-281, yards-per-play 5.3 to 4.8, and third down conversions 46% to 31%. If you assume home field advantage is worth three points, “the market” was saying the Falcons were six points better on a neutral field. Game flow certainly didn’t bear that out. 

*Philadelphia was a 3-point dog to Minnesota, but won total yardage 456-333, yards-per-play 7.1 to 5.0, and third down conversions 71% to 46% despite extended garbage time that could have deflated stats. Now, that was a PEAK performance that isn’t likely to repeated. But, if you’re just trying to figure out “how good” Philadelphia is, we can be pretty confident that it’s not six points worse on a neutral field than Atlanta or Minnesota.

Are the Eagles six points worse than the Patriots on a neutral field? The market has it just below that with some floating questions about Gronkowski. That leaves us with this for our current estimated “market” Power Ratings.

89: New England
83: Philadelphia

The Eagles were at 80 last week. Now that Nick Foles seems more settled in with the first unit offense…and we’re guaranteed of having good scoring conditions in a dome on the first Sunday in February…could Philly be better than 83?

Though Power Ratings represent a numerical simplification of a complex reality, that’s basically the essence of what informed money is trying to figure out right now. If “Philadelphia with Foles in good conditions” is more like an 85 or even an 86 because this system offense still clicks with a brainy quarterback, then the Eagles make a lot of sense at plus 5 or better. If taking the Eagles away from a friendly home field throws a monkey wrench at Foles, the Pats could still offer value.

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See you Wednesday!

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