It’s the most efficient offense in the nation against the most efficient defense Saturday in Anaheim when #1 seed Gonzaga takes on #3 seed Texas Tech in the West Regional finals of the NCAA Tournament.
The winner earns a spot in the Final Four in Indianapolis.
Many of you may be new to the term “efficiency” from basketball analytics. Stat heads consider it a big improvement over traditional points-per-game averages because it adjusts for pace. Simple efficiency is points scored or allowed on a per-possession basis.
Slow teams aren’t given credit for defensive skill sets just because they hold onto the ball a long time on offense. Fast teams aren’t given credit for offensive skill sets if their scoring also comes with a lot of missed shots and turnovers.
In other words, you have to get stops to grade out well on defense. You have to score while not wasting possessions to grade out well on offense. It took the mainstream media way too long to grasp the importance of this concept. Sharps (professional bettors) were calculating possession totals even before they came more readily available in the internet age.
Further pinning down real quality, college basketball stat guru Ken Pomeroy (kenpom.com) also adjusts for strength of opponents. His “adjusted efficiency” rankings (which can be reviewed for all college teams on his free home page) represent state of the art.
Entering the Sweet 16, Gonzaga was #1 in the country in Pomeroy’s offensive data, better on a per-possession basis than any other well-publicized attack. Texas Tech was #1 on defense, in a season featuring several truly fantastic defenses. You saw Thursday vs. Michigan how stingy this Tech defense can be. The Wolverines turned the ball over 14 times in a slow-paced game while trying to penetrate Tech’s protective shield…then bricked 18 of 19 three-point attempts.
Because the public loves betting on offense (it’s more fun to root for points), and sharps respect “defensive dogs,” it’s likely that wagering in Gonzaga/Texas Tech will provide the traditional “Pro’s vs. Joe’s” tug of war.
One of those other stingy defenses will also be in action Saturday in the South Regional Final in Louisville. Top seed Virginia, elite on both sides of the floor this season, will face #3 seed Purdue for a trip to Indy.
The Cavaliers caught a break when Purdue had to battle through overtime to take out #2 seed Tennessee Thursday. That game finished with about 76 possessions per team. Though Virginia/Oregon went down to the wire, it was at a slow-as-molasses pace of just 55 possessions per team.
Purdue shot a fantastic 15 of 31 on treys (a great percentage at volume) to advance. Can the Boilermakers come anywhere near that with tired legs against an elite defense?
Market dynamics will be fascinating here. The public is less keen on laying points with ugly offenses like Virginia’s (efficient, but not high scoring). Sharps who respect defense will be naturally drawn to the favored Cavaliers.