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Holy Cow!

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

The wacky half of the bracket just got WACKIER! Loyola-Chicago and Kansas State will play for a berth in the Final Four after scoring Thursday upsets. Florida State grinds up Gonzaga. Stat recaps plus “Holy Trinity” previews for Friday coming up right now in VSiN City. 

Sweet 16-Atlanta: The night the favorites went out in Georgia

Cinderella may still be a 98-year old nun…but Dorothy ain’t in Kansas any more as a storm of upsets will send either a #11 seed or a #9 seed to the Final Four from the South regional. 

Loyola (plus 1.5) 69, Nevada 68

Two-point Pct: Loyola 62%, Nevada 55%

Three Pointers: Loyola 5/13, Nevada 7/27

Free Throws: Loyola 6/8, Nevada 13/14

Rebounds: Loyola 32, Nevada 24

Turnovers: Loyola 16, Nevada 10

Estimated Possessions: Loyola 66, Nevada 68

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Loyola 35-60-48, Nevada 23-29-29

Market Watch: The opener of Nevada -2.5 was bet down early in the week. It sat at 1.5 for days…with any variance off that line being bet pretty quickly back to 1.5. The Over Under opened at 143.5, and saw a very late surge up to 144.5 or 145.

Nevada jumped to an early 20-8 lead just in time for viewers to switch to Michigan/Texas A&M. They’d be switching back within an hour because Loyola would go on an amazing 32-8 run that spanned halftime to take a double-digit lead. Of course…down by a dozen…Nevada now had Loyola right where it wanted them! The Wolfpack would close hard to make it a thriller. Loyola would make a late three-pointer to take a four-point lead, before Nevada hit a last second trey to lock in the final margin. 

Stats largely went as expected in our “Holy Trinity” categories of defense, rebounding, and turnover avoidance. Loyola won inside defense (or at least was less disappointing), then was plus 8 in rebound differential. Nevada wasn’t as pure with the ball Thursday as it had been in the first two games. But, still a plus six differential there brought them back within striking distance. Ultimately, missing 20 three-pointers as the inferior rebounding team created some extra “virtual” turnovers. 

We talked about the Over/Under possibly dropping during the day given the low sums from earlier games with these teams. Went the other way very late for some reason. Took those two late treys to keep the game from staying Under by double digits. On an Under pace once Nevada went through that dry spell. Just 28-24 at the half. 

Pace was slightly below average, but not glacial. We use shots…minus offensive rebounds…plus one-half free throws…plus turnovers to make a rudimentary ballpark estimate. Widgets that turn boxscores into advanced boxscores were showing 66.7. Closer to slow Loyola’s preferred pace. 

Loyola is 3-0 in the Dance, beating Miami, Tennessee, and Nevada by a combined total of four points. 

Kansas State (plus 5.5) 61, Kentucky 58

Two-point Pct: Kansas State 31%, Kentucky 43%

Three Pointers: Kansas State 9/22, Kentucky 3/12

Free Throws: Kansas State 14/22, Kentucky 23/37

Rebounds: Kansas State 29, Kentucky 38

Turnovers: Kansas State 10, Kentucky 15

Estimated Possessions: Kansas State 64, Kentucky 65

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Kansas State 39-37-43, Kentucky 17-13-19

Market Watch: An opener of Kentucky -5 rose to a peak of -6.5 offshore earlier in the week before dropping back down. Game day action saw a mix of -5 and -5.5. The opening total of 138.5 was bet down to 136.5

Amazing set of stats there. Kentucky won defense and rebounding as expected, and enjoyed some friendly officiating to attempt 15 more free throws. But Coach Calipari’s team couldn’t take advantage of that because of 14 missed free throws…and because Kansas State shot well from behind the arc. 

K-State, who was 1 of 12 on treys vs. UMBC won that category 9-3 here…winning scoring behind the arc by 18 points in a game it only won by three. Kentucky attacked the basket in its typical fashion, winning scoring on “1’s and 2’s” by a count of 49-34. 

When the whistles weren’t blowing (which wasn’t often), the game was played at a very slow pace. We finish in the mid-60’s in possessions even with the refs shortening a lot of those to put somebody on the free throw line. That played to Kansas State’s strength, one of the slowest major conference teams in the nation this season. 

For months, we talked about the relative parity in this sport. The South has seen everybody seeded 1-8 sent home! A #9 will take on a #11 for a spot in San Antonio Saturday when Loyola takes on Kansas State. The West regional also saw a #9 seed advance. More on that in a moment. 

Sweet 16-Los Angeles: Michigan regains its championship form, suddenly formidable Florida State up next

After playing great ball in the Big 10 tournament a few weeks ago, Michigan is now the sole remaining power in its HALF of the full Big Dance bracket. Amazing performance Thursday in a rout of Texas A&M. 

Michigan (-2.5) 99, Texas A&M 72

Two-point Pct: Texas A&M 56%, Michigan 64%

Three Pointers: Texas A&M 3/15, Michigan 14/24

Free Throws: Texas A&M 5/10, Michigan 7/8

Rebounds: Texas A&M 33, Michigan 28

Turnovers: Texas A&M 14, Michigan 7

Estimated Possessions: Texas A&M 74, Michigan 70

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Texas A&M 25-21-31, Michigan 10-11-12

Market Watch: The opener of Michigan -3.5 was bet down to -2.5 early in the week. It hopped between 2.5 and 3 during the day Thursday as different constituencies jumped in at preferred numbers. Aggies backers would regret that moments into the game. The Over/Under opened at 134, rose to an apex of 137 before being bet down to 136 before tipoff. 

Not a game (or an evening) where you ask “how do those oddsmakers do it?” Michigan beat the market by 24 points and the total went Over by 35. Felt already like Michigan was going to coast when it was 9-2 just a few minutes in. The Wolverines would push that to 19-6, 27-10, 37-14, and 52-23 before halftime. 

Ultimately, the blowout was triggered by lights out three-point shooting. Michigan kept working for wide-open looks and draining them. A 14-3 edge in made treys is plus 33 points right there. But, Michigan also worked inside for easy buckets, as made clear by that 64% mark on deuces. And, turnover avoidance was still a strength with just seven despite garbage time that lasted almost the whole game. 

Holy Trinity tendencies held up, but were largely moot when “peak” Michigan (even better than we saw in the Big 10 tournament) rolled flat A&M (unprepared in a letdown spot off the blowout of North Carolina). Though the Wolverines will be in a letdown spot Saturday…THIS is the version of the team that’s capable of going the distance. The one that dominated Michigan State and Purdue in New York, not the one that skipped much of the first Dance weekend vs. Montana (a cover anyway) and Houston. 

Congrats to friend of VSiN Derek Stevens, who’s million-dollar ticket on Michigan to win it all is still live. 

Florida State (plus 6) 75, Gonzaga 60

Two-point Pct: Florida State 55%, Gonzaga 38%

Three Pointers: Florida State 6/20, Gonzaga 5/20

Free Throws: Florida State 15/22, Gonzaga 15/24

Rebounds: Florida State 40, Gonzaga 42

Turnovers: Florida State 13, Gonzaga 13

Estimated Possessions: Florida State 72, Gonzaga 70

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Florida State 29-24-32, Gonzaga 7-9-10

Market Watch: Gonzaga opened at -5.5 or -6 depending on the store. Most spots closed at -6. The total opened at 154…dropped to as low as 152…before settling back at 153 or 153.5 as a closer

The big surprise here was obviously two-point shooting. Gonzaga had the better defensive numbers coming in. But, FSU owned the paint on both sides of the floor. Everything else cancelled out (which is also a compliment to the dog, because it wasn’t supposed to). The Seminoles made 21 deuces on 55% shooting, Gonzaga just 15 on 38%. 

Everybody had to beat somebody to get here. Florida State’s string of somebody’s (#8 Missouri, #1 Xavier, and #4 Gonzaga) stacks up with anybody’s. FSU forced 16 turnovers from Missouri, 18 from Xavier, and 13 from normally careful Gonzaga. Michigan is GREAT at turnover avoidance, so that could be the linchpin stat on Saturday. 

NCAA Tournament: Friday previews using the Holy Trinity

Four Sweet 16 games down. Four more to get to. We’ll go in tipoff order at each site. Because Boston is listed first before Omaha in the official Nevada rotation, we’ll start there even though your TV evening will technically begin with Kansas/Clemson. 

FRIDAY’S GAMES IN BOSTON

Villanova (-5/152.5) vs. West Virginia (7:25 p.m. ET on TBS)

West Virginia #39 defense, #54 rebounding, #34 TO avoidance

Villanova #22 defense, #64 rebounding, #7 TO avoidance

These are both elite teams that grade out well in our three key categories. Why is the line so high? Why would Villanova be -5 over a team that was -1 over Kansas in Kansas City in the Big 12 finals. It doesn’t have much to do with the Holy Trinity. 

Sharps know that West Virginia runs a full court press, and its fortunes are strongly influenced by the ability of opposing guards to break that press. Against crappy guards, West Virginia will run away and hide thanks to cheap points off opposition turnovers. Against great guards, those opponents are just as capable of running away and hiding from West Virginia. 

Villanova has great guards! Oddsmakers know they’d get pounded with Villanova money at lower, more vulnerable lines. The five at least has a chance to discourage any auto-bets on the guards of Villanova. 

We have to assume West Virginia won’t play like the #39 defense in the nation against this opponent. And, the domino effect of that will be that the Mountaineers’ offense will look mortal against Villanova’s stout defense because there won’t be many cheapies off takeaways. 

As we’ve discussed often in recent weeks…Villanova either wins blowouts, or plays nailbiters against quality opponents who don’t blink. It’s up to West Virginia not to blink.

Purdue (-2/137.5) vs. Texas Tech (9:55 p.m. ET on TBS)

Texas Tech #3 defense, #47 rebounding, #149 TO avoidance

Purdue #28 defense, #74 rebounding, #25 TO avoidance

If you assume Purdue’s key injury will hurt both defense and rebounding (the Boilermakers allowed 60% shooting on two-pointers to Butler, only winning rebounding 30-28), then Texas Tech gets the nod in both of those categories by an even more meaningful margin. That puts us back into a situation we’ve seen a few times. Purdue has to use turnover avoidance and sharp three-point shooting to make up for the first two categories. The straight up win and cover (and Over/Under for that matter) will likely swing on its ability to do so. 

Worth remembering that Texas Tech won’t enjoy a home state crowd this week, as it did in last Saturday’s nailbiter win over Florida in Dallas. Tech’s coming off that bit of good fortune. Purdue is coming off an 11-6 edge in made treys over Butler. Tough to sink your teeth confidently into either side in that light. If you trust “defense and rebounding” over other stats because they have the most consistent predictive value, slight nod toward Tech as a short dog.  

FRIDAY’S GAMES IN OMAHA

Kansas (-5/142.5) vs. Clemson (7:05 p.m. ET on CBS)

Clemson #8 defense, #86 rebounding, #139 TO avoidance

Kansas #46 defense, #174 rebounding, #55 TO avoidance

Very interesting situation here…as the “defense and rebounding” team is getting FIVE points from a favorite that’s prone to disappoint its fans in this event. That said, Clemson is coming off a huge win over Auburn…putting them into a similar emotional letdown spot to the one that felled Texas A&M Thursday. 

Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike played 22 minutes Saturday on his injured knee. He was able to grab 7 rebounds, but Kansas as a whole was still out-boarded 39-32 by Seton Hall. Gotta be helpful to get a break from Saturday to Friday. But, you can’t just assume he’s going to be a bigger factor.

Would have been easier to like Clemson if the Tigers had just squeaked by Auburn. Would have been easier to dislike Kansas if it hadn’t been performing better than its Holy Trinity composite through the Big 12 tournament and two wins in the Dance (the half-point non-cover vs. Seton Hall lost on a trey at the buzzer). 

Bottom line…Clemson is another “defense and rebounding” dog, but without any nice kickers beyond the history of Kansas stubbing its toe when you think the Jayhawks are safe. 

Duke (-11.5/133.5) vs. Syracuse (9:35 p.m. ET on CBS)

Syracuse: #11 defense, #43 rebounding, #224 TO avoidance

Duke #7 defense, #5 rebounding, #120 TO avoidance

The good news from a handicapping perspective is that we have our first (and only) harmonic convergence of the night, with Duke getting the nod in all three categories. The bad news is that the huge line of -11.5 clearly takes that into account already. 

If you buy the premise that Syracuse gains a big edge in the Dance because opponents haven’t seen it’s difficult zone before, you have to accept that this advantage disappears against Duke…who just faced this zone on February 24 in a 60-44 win in Durham. 

Neither team could hit a trey in that game. Syracuse was 3 of 21, Duke 2 of 17. Duke was able to score inside when it got the ball into the paint, shooting 17 of 31 for 55%. Let it sink in that Duke won that game by 16 despite only shooting 2 of 17 on treys! Blue Devils were doing a lot of other things right. Syracuse, not so much. 

Tough to confidently lay this high a price in what should be a slow-tempo game that will emphasize three-point shooting at a site the players haven’t seen before. Maybe the Under deserves some thought. Syracuse has played to 116, 109, and 108 in the Dance. You already know that earlier meeting with Duke landed on 104. Plenty of room for better shooting but still an Under with a total of 133.5.

We’ll be back with you Saturday morning with game summaries from Friday and Holy Trinity previews for the first two Elite Eight matchups. We’re running seven-days-a-week through the month of March in VSiN City!

NCAA Elite 8: Early Lines for Saturday

First numbers up for Saturday’s two Elite Eight games were in line with our estimated “market” Power Ratings from earlier in the week.

Kansas State (78) was -1 over Loyola-Chicago (77)

Michigan (83) was -4.5 over Florida State (78)

There was a quick move toward pick-em in K-State/Loyola, which means we’ll have to lift Loyola to 78 if that holds. For now, we’ll let things settle more before tweaking. Here’s how we have the final dozen.

NCAA Tournament Estimated “Market” Power Ratings

88: Villanova, Duke

84: Kansas, Purdue

83: West Virginia, Michigan, Texas Tech

80: Clemson

78: Florida State, Kansas State

77: Syracuse, Loyola-Chicago

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