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VSiN City: Doubts around West Coast basketball

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

Xavier was the biggest surprise on the first night of the Sweet 16.
© USA Today Sports Images

Four down, four to go. Oregon, Kansas, Gonzaga, and Xavier advanced to the Elite 8 Thursday. We provide a stat recap to help you handicap Saturday’s survivor showdowns. Still a Sweet 16 Friday foursome to preview as well.  Welcome to VSiN City!

Oregon and Kansas Advance to Midwest Finals

A thriller and a yawner. We start with the thriller…

Oregon (pk) 69, Michigan 68

Two-Point Emphasis: Michigan 47%, Oregon 59%

Two-Point Shooting: Michigan 52%, Oregon 44%

Rebound Rate: Michigan 46%, Oregon 54%

You can see that Michigan was trying to win the game from long range. Less than half of their shots were inside the arc. The Wolverines were just 11 of 31 on their bombs…which ended up being one fewer than needed. Oregon focused more on attacking the basket, avoiding turnovers (just 5 giveaways the whole night for the Ducks) and rebounding.

It was a coin-flip game through much of the second half, and really could have gone either way in the final seconds. Two very evenly matched teams with different styles. Both had active betting constituencies Thursday afternoon. South Point sports book director Chris Andrews discussed how the line kept hopping between pick-em and Michigan -1 on Brent Musburger’s “My Guys in the Desert” show less than an hour before tip.

Unsurprisingly, it was a tight half-court battle with the estimated final possession count in the mid-60s. That and low free throw totals helped the game stay Under the closing market total of 148 by double digits.

Kansas (-5) 98, Purdue 66

Two-Point Emphasis: Kansas 55%, Purdue 52%

Two-Point Shooting: Kansas 56%, Purdue 48%

Rebound Rate: Kansas 55%, Purdue 45%

Kansas isn’t seen as a team of giants in the paint. But, they sure have a way of discouraging opponents from getting good looks inside the arc. Purdue’s shot distribution was almost split evenly between treys and deuces. The Boilermakers often found themselves launching treys in frustration because they couldn’t even crack the arc when the game was still competitive.

It wasn’t competitive through much of the second half. Kansas owned every stat category, while also nailing a fantastic 15 of 28 on three-pointers. The Jayhawks closed the game on a 73-33 run! When Kansas plays like this, they’re the best team in the country. Can they play like this against somebody outside of the Big 10? Can they play like this against a power seed outside of Kansas City should they survive Saturday’s encounter with Oregon?

We’ll take a closer look at Oregon vs. Kansas in a special Saturday edition of VSiN City. Kansas was priced in the -5 to -6 range vs. Purdue (it was as high as -6 at Caesar’s Palace much of Thursday). Oregon has been power-rated superior to Purdue even after a key injury. But, Kansas is in such good form that the Jayhawks/Ducks point spread may settle in the same neighborhood.

Now let’s head West for the other Thursday results:

Gonzaga survives, but Arizona gets X'd out of West Finals

X marked the spot for the only major upset of Friday night's action, as Xavier stunned Arizona 73-71. Both games in San Jose raised some doubts about how West Coast basketball measures up this year with the rest of the country. Let's run the numbers in the order the games were played...

Gonzaga (-3) 61, West Virginia 58

Two-Point Emphasis: W. Virginia 62%, Gonzaga 77%

Two-Point Shooting: W. Virginia 30%, Gonzaga 41%

Rebound Rate: W. Virginia 55%, Gonzaga 45%

The game was a “push” in most of Nevada for betting purposes. Though, the South Point went to Gonzaga -2.5 for much of the afternoon because of an early influx of Mountaineer money. Those lucky Gonzaga bettors (including Brent Musburger and Ron Flatter) got the cash by half a point. Gonzaga -3 was the almost-universal closer.

Truly a defensive struggle. West Virginia was just 16 of 60 from the floor…but led by a point in the final minute! Those aggressive defenses kept the scoreboard total 31 points under the market price of 150.

You can see from the numbers that Gonzaga emphasized inside play. They were much more likely to shoot from inside the arc (ironic since the game winner came on a trey). Their inside defense was stellar all night long. Though, Gonzaga’s size didn’t help as much as expected on the boards. West Virginia snared 20 offensive rebounds! Gonzaga’s defense is for real…but rebounding vs. quality may become a concern going forward. Xavier was a much better rebounding team that West Virginia this season (ranking #13 nationally in “rebound rate” entering the Sweet 16, compared to #74 for West Virginia).

Arizona 71, Xavier (plus 7.5) 73

Two-Point Emphasis: Xavier 70%, Arizona 56%

Two-Point Shooting: Xavier 59%, Arizona 57%

Rebound Rate: Xavier 44%, Arizona 56%

Just amazing. Though Arizona graded out as a team of aggression, it was Xavier that took 70% of its shots inside the arc while hitting 59% of them. Arizona could score inside when they got there. But, the Wildcats inexplicably settled for way too many long jumpers. Arizona was 7 of 27 on three-pointers, compared to 6 of 16 for the Muscateers. Those extra misses were virtual turnovers, even if Arizona did grab some of their own misses.

The results in Sacramento raised some serious questions about West Coast basketball that handicappers will have to consider as they study UCLA/Kentucky Friday (more on that game in a  moment) and Gonzaga/Xavier Saturday. Gonzaga didn't impress vs. middling Northwestern from the Big Ten in a non-cover, and was trailing West Virginia of the Big 12 in the final minute. That's not really the pedigree of a #1 seed (ask Kansas!). Arizona got to play North Dakota and St. Mary's from it's own half of the map in the first weekend of the Dance. Their first matchup against another power conference team exposed a surprisingly soft inside defense and a lack of courage on offense. Oregon did do the Pac 12 proud earlier Thursday evening, but also trailed in the final minute.

Was the West overrated? We'll soon know more. Gonzaga is expected to open in the same price range as Arizona did over Xavier when that Elite 8 matchup goes up on the board in the morning.

Moving now to Friday’s Sweet 16 previews:

Tourney favorite North Carolina (-7.5) battles Butler at 7:05 p.m ET on CBS

If you were with us yesterday, you’ll immediately note the similarities between this game and Arizona/Xavier. Like Arizona, North Carolina is a talented team that attacks the basket very aggressively. Like Xavier, Butler is a vulnerable underdog that can be exposed inside defensively. Not a coincidence that the point spread in those games have mirrored each other.

Based on Thursday night action though, Arizona turned to paper in terms of attacking inside against a tough opponent from another part of the country. North Carolina is unlikely to take its foot off the gas and settle for 7 of 27 on treys!

  • N. Carolina: 70% two-point emphasis vs. Butler’s #231 ranked two-point defense
  • Butler: 63% two-point emphasis vs. N. Carolina’s #70 ranked two-point defense
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: N. Carolina #1, Butler #124
  • Kenpom’s Adjusted Pace Ranking: N. Carolina #52, Butler #289

You can expect a North Carolina onslaught inside. Coach Roy Williams knows his team can score off putbacks from strong rebounders even if they don’t nail that first shot. Butler will try to slow things down and frustrate the Tar Heels to keep the game within reach. They’ll likely have to win the battle of treys to steal the upset. On paper, Carolina controls its destiny. But the fact that their inside defense isn’t particularly stingy by championship standards might make things interesting.

Things could get ugly when South Carolina plays Baylor (-3.5) at 7:25 p.m. ET on TBS

Fans in New York are bemoaning upsets of Villanova and Duke last week. Their tickets at Madison Square Garden plummeted in value! But, the East’s regional final four of Florida, Baylor, Wisconsin, and South Carolina isn’t exactly chopped liver. Those are teams ranked #3, #10, #21, and #28 in Ken Pomeroy’s respected computer rankings. Both #21 Wisconsin and #28 South Carolina represent conferences who may have been misread by most computer approaches this season. Maybe there will be some great basketball anyway. Though, things could get ugly with four quality defenses on the floor.

  • Baylor: 67% two-point emphasis vs. S. Carolina’s #40 ranked two-point defense
  • S. Carolina: 66% two-point emphasis vs. Baylor’s #24 ranked two-point defense
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: Baylor #4, S. Carolina #138
  • Kenpom’s Adjusted Pace Ranking: Baylor # 329, S. Carolina #145

Another pace battle. Though, in this case, the favorite is a slow team that likes to work the ball inside. South Carolina has to speed things up to get easy baskets because they don’t score well out of sets. This game could become borderline unwatchable (except for purists) if it bogs down to a crawl with two top 40 defenses owning the paint. That still favors Baylor because of its big rebounding advantage.

Can South Carolina force a faster pace in a letdown spot off the Duke upset? Answer that question and your pick just might make itself.

Ultimate marquee matchup features UCLA (pick-em) and Kentucky at 9:35 p.m. ET on CBS

This is the game everyone’s been waiting for. Not only is it a showdown of all time historic superpowers. But, it’s a battle of legitimate championship threats…and a rematch of a great game that was played at Rupp Arena earlier this season. Frankly, for a Sweet 16 showcase, it just can’t get much better than this. Sweetening the pot…two of the fastest-paced teams in the country are likely to create a thrilling track meet on the hardwood.

  • UCLA: 62% two-point emphasis vs. Kentucky’s #115 ranked two-point defense
  • Kentucky: 68% two-point emphasis vs. UCLA’s #29 ranked two-point defense
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: UCLA #59, Kentucky #32
  • Kenpom’s Adjusted Pace Ranking: UCLA #15, Kentucky #22

You can see what we mean by calling this a track meet. Pomeroy evaluates more than 350 teams…and both UCLA and Kentucky grade out in the top 25. You thought North Carolina/Arkansas got a bit out of control!

It’s interesting that Kentucky is seen as having a significantly better defense…and grades out in efficiency as being clearly superior…yet, when you only look at two-point denials, it’s UCLA that rates much better. Why? For one, Kentucky forces more turnovers, while UCLA doesn’t pester opponents very well (ranking #313 nationally in that skill). Also, Kentucky’s rebounding advantage shows up in an overall defensive grading because every defensive board is a virtual steal.

Teams who can get looks vs. Kentucky inside the arc make 48% of those shots. Teams more easily get looks inside the arc vs. UCLA, but only make 45% of those. This at least gives UCLA a chance to not be out-muscled to the degree some of their skeptics fear.

Dangerous darkhorses Wisconsin and Florida (-2) in Friday finale at 9:55 p.m. ET on TBS

If you dig deep into college hoop stats, it’s amazing how similar these teams are. That doesn’t strike the naked eye because Wisconsin is slow as molasses while Florida is above average in pace. But, the way they go about things is very similar.

  • Florida: 63% two-point emphasis vs. Wisconsin’s #10 ranked two-point defense
  • Wisconsin: 63% two-point emphasis vs. Florida’s #32 ranked two-point defense
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: Florida #98, Wisconsin #14
  • Kenpom’s Adjusted Pace Ranking: Florida #124, Wisconsin #334

Both take 37% of their shots on treys, and 63% on two’s. Both play elite defense inside the arc. Both rebound well, with Wisconsin one of the best in the nation and Florida in the top third. Both turn the ball over on 14% of their offensive possessions, both are good at forcing turnovers (the Gators are better, which helps counteract having the worse of the two rebounding rates). Florida is #26 in Pomeroy’s “adjusted offensive efficiency” and #3 on defense. Wisconsin is #36 and #7 in those categories. If you slowed Florida way down, they’d turn into Wisconsin. If you sped Wisconsin way up, they’d turn into Florida.

Miami Heat melt against a good team that cares!

We begin our review of Thursday night NBA with a one-sided loss by the previously red hot Miami Heat. Over the last 30 games, Miami had been 24-6 straight up, often taking advantage of disinterested opponents who were pacing themselves or going through the motions. Playoff bound Toronto was only 14-16 straight up during that stretch. But the Raptors weren’t likely to no-show against a potential playoff opponent. They didn’t.

Toronto (plus 4.5) beat Miami 101-84. Miami is still 8-2 ATS its last 10 games, and 24-6-1 ATS their last 31. Note that the market priced Miami as the superior team, which we know because they don’t have a home court advantage of 4.5 points! Good evidence here that Miami will likely go back to looking mortal once the playoffs begin (if they qualify for the Eastern brackets). Toronto won two-point shooting 52% to 44%, rebounding 51-36, and free throw attempts 25 of 32 to 14 of 23.

Brooklyn (-6) beat Phoenix 126-98. Yes, a team as bad as Brooklyn shouldn’t win that big. But, the cover result, at least, was consistent with recent form. Brooklyn is now 8-2 ATS over its last 10 outings, playing with some enthusiasm down the stretch. Phoenix is 0-6 ATS its last six games. The Nets won two-point shooting 53% to 40%, and rebounding 61-50. Phoenix started the youngest lineup in league history. The market may need to make an even larger adjustment for that going forward. Even putting Brooklyn at -6 wasn't nearly enough.

Dallas (plus 5) surprised the LA Clippers 97-95. Mostly even shooting stats in this tight affair. The Clippers owned the boards at 45-34, but lost the turnover category 17-9. LAC falls to 2-6 ATS its last eight games.

San Antonio (-8.5) beat Memphis 97-90. The textbook Spurs won two-point shooting 57% to 49%, and only turned the ball over six times. Not quite enough to top market expectations. Memphis moves to 5-1 ATS its last six with the cover.

Portland (-12) beat New York 110-95. The Knicks were on a back-to-back after playing in Utah, and sat both Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose. New York is now 11-32 straight up its last 43 games.

Since this is MARCH MADNESS, we’ll have bonus Saturday and Sunday reports this week in VSiN City. Appreciate you checking in with us every day. And, thanks to all of you who have been sending in comments and suggestions. If you haven’t had a chance to do that yet, drop us an email.

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