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VSiN City: Which Sweet teams emerge from key handicapping stats?

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

Alonzo Trier and the Arizona Wildcats face the biggest Cinderella left in the tournament, Xavier.
© USA Today Sports Images

We go back to the Dance as music begins to play for the Sweet 16. Let’s look at key handicapping stats that will help paint the picture in all four Thursday matchups.

If you were with us yesterday, you saw our review of rebounding rankings for all 16 remaining NCAA Championship hopefuls. We build on that today with more depth and context. That will include these dynamics:

Attacking the basket: the percentage of total shots from each team that are 2-point attempts

Protecting the rim: shooting percentage allowed by each defense on 2-point attempts

Pace: the tempo each team prefers

So you don’t get buried in numbers, we’ll go with the national rankings in each of those areas. You’ll see at a glance which teams emphasize inside attacks rather than passing around the arc for three-pointers . . . you’ll see which defenses are stingy or soft in the paint . . . you’ll see how rebounding might magnify an inside edge…and you’ll gain a sense of whether to expect a track meet or a slow wrestling match. 

We’ll go in tipoff order. Rankings were gathered from Ken Pomeroy’s great stat site, and from comprehensive statistical resource

Streaking Michigan (-1.5) faces Oregon at 7:05 p.m. ET on CBS

Michigan has been absolutely on fire in recent weeks. Their rampage through the Big Ten tournament looks even better since the league has performed so well to this point in the 2017 Dance. The Wolverines shot lights out from long range in a win over Oklahoma State (16 of 29), then upset No. 2 seed Louisville despite not shooting lights out from long range (6 of 17).

Michigan is the most trey-heavy team remaining in the brackets. Fully 45% of their shots from the field this season have come from outside the arc. Nobody else is even in the 40’s. If 45% of their shots are on treys, that means 55% are on deuces. That’s what we mean by “two-point emphasis” in today’s charts.

  • Michigan: 55% two-point emphasis vs. Oregon’s 63rd-ranked two-point defense.
  • Oregon: 61% two-point emphasis vs. Michigan’s 213th-ranked two-point defense.
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: Michigan No. 276, Oregon No. 57.
  • Kenpom’s Adjusted Pace Ranking: Michigan No. 340, Oregon No. 241.

You can see that the game will be played at a very slow pace. Michigan may have to get hot from long range again to advance. Oregon has the stronger inside defense of the two--and a huge edge in rebounding (as discussed yesterday). Of course, Oregon may not play as well as those rankings suggest because forward Chris Boucher was lost for the season to an injury in the Pac 12 tournament.

Handicappers must try to anticipate how much of an impact Boucher’s absence will have inside the arc and on the boards. Bettors who have fallen in love with Michigan of late must be sure the Wolverines can continue to overcome a soft inside defense and poor rebounding.

Don’t forget the “Yes/No” betting options available at the South Point…

Michigan is plus 1200 to win the tourney, you can lay -2000 that they won’t

Oregon is plus 2200 to win the tourney, you can lay -3600 that they won’t

Gonzaga (-3.5) to be tested by West Virginia at 7:35 p.m. ET on TBS

This showdown presents a big challenge to handicappers. Gonzaga compiled fantastic statistics this season against a very soft schedule. Will they continue to play like a juggernaut now that they’re stepping up in class?

  • Gonzaga: 67% two-point emphasis vs. W. Virginia’s 66th-ranked two-point defense.
  • W. Virginia: 68% two-point emphasis vs. Gonzaga’s 2nd-ranked two-point defense.
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: Gonzaga No. 7, W. Virginia No. 74.
  • Kenpom’s Adjusted Pace Ranking: Gonzaga No. 72, W. Virginia No. 75.

Along with the importance of point guard play, you’ve often heard from college basketball analysts that “defense and rebounding wins championships.” Gonzaga is a great example of that in the West Coast Conference. If they had played West Virginia’s much tougher schedule, might their rankings have fallen down to where West Virginia’s are? What rankings should you mentally “pencil in” that represents Gonzaga’s expected performance vs. quality?

We know it’s going to be a fast-paced game, as both teams are in the top 25 percent in adjusted tempo of the teams Pomeroy measures. We know both teams will attack the rim at almost the same rate. Your assessment of Gonzaga’s “tournament level” inside defense and rebounding will likely determine your selection.

And, that assessment will probably also determine your assessment of their title hopes…

Gonzaga is plus 600 to win the tourney, you can lay -900 that they won’t

W. Virginia is plus 1800 to win the tourney, you can lay -3000 that they won’t

Kansas (-5) enjoys home cookin’ vs. Purdue at 9:35 p.m. ET on CBS

Kansas has a great history when playing in Kansas City. But, Purdue is going to travel well, and has nothing to lose against the Midwest region’s top seed.

  • Kansas: 65% two-point emphasis vs. Purdue’s 60th-ranked two-point defense.
  • Purdue: 62% two-point emphasis vs. Kansas’s 25th-ranked two-point defense.
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: Kansas No. 38, Purdue No. 8.
  • Kenpom’s Adjusted Pace Ranking: Kansas No. 63, Purdue No. 109.

Purdue is tied for third as the most trey-heavy offense remaining (Michigan and Oregon from the first game are the two most trey-heavy teams left). That’s probably for the best because Kansas is so great at inside defense.

We have a pair of teams that really emphasize (and execute) two-point defense and rebounding. We have a pair of teams that don’t mind playing at a brisk pace. That suggests officiating style could play a huge role. If the refs call a lot of fouls at speed, then the deeper team is going to have an edge. If the refs swallow their whistles, that historically will allow an underdog to hang around.

Purdue’s best hopes to spring an upset involve making some treys and keeping their top players on the floor. Kansas will likely pull away to another blowout of a Big 10 opponent if Purdue can’t do that. (Kansas just beat Michigan State 90-70 this past Sunday.)

Did those Kansas stats suggest to you that the Jayhawks can run the table?

Kansas is plus 400 to win the tourney, you can lay -500 that they won’t

Purdue is plus 2000 to win the tourney, you can lay -3200 that they won’t

Arizona (-7.5) anxious to attack Xavier at 10:05 p.m. ET on TBS

Brace yourself for some extremes in the Thursday nightcap.

  • Arizona: 70% two-point emphasis vs. Xavier’s 295th-ranked two-point defense.
  • Xavier: 63% two-point emphasis vs. Arizona’s 124th-ranked two-point defense.
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: Arizona No. 11, Xavier No. 13.
  • Kenpom’s Adjusted Pace Ranking: Arizona No. 272, Xavier No. 220.

Arizona’s 70% two-point emphasis ties North Carolina for the most extreme left in the tournament. Xavier’s horrible two-point defense is the worst left in the Dance by far. Xavier allowed 53% on two-pointers this season…against a schedule that didn’t feature a schedule full of Arizona’s!

Xavier can make up for soft defense vs. some opponents with their great rebounding. But, that just cancels out with Arizona. We should note that Arizona plays at a slow pace. Many of the two-point heavy teams like to fly at the basket. Arizona patiently works the ball around then pounds it inside. What can Xavier do to stop Arizona from imposing its will?

Tough matchup for the biggest Cinderella remaining. Xavier was 11 of 17 on treys in its upset of Florida State, and better hope for a replay just to stay competitive.

Our last look at some “Yes/No’s” for the day.

Arizona is plus 500 to win the tourney, you can lay -700 that they won’t

Xavier is plus 10000 to win the tourney, you can lay -20000 that they won’t

Only Cinderellas at the NIT ball

When Central Florida and Cal-Bakersfield won their NIT quarterfinals Wednesday night, it guaranteed an All-Cinderella ball at Madison Square Garden next week in this historic tournament’s Final Four.

No #1 seeds, as Syracuse, Illinois State, Iowa, and California are all out.

No #2 seeds, as Georgia, Illinois, Clemson, and Houston are all out.

No #3 seeds, as Indiana, Utah, Alabama, and BYU are all out.

#4 seeds Central Florida and TCU will play each other next Tuesday. #8 Bakersfield, the first #8 seed to ever reach New York, will take on #6 Georgia Tech.

Wednesday evening, Central Florida (-4) held off Illinois 68-58 to keep its season alive. Seven-foot six inch center Tacko Ball from Senegal was a true defensive force in the paint in his 29 minutes of action. UCF held Illinois to just 7 of 24 on two-point shots (29%), while winning the battle of the boards 43-26.

Cal Bakersfield (plus 4) blew most of a 20-point second half lead before surviving Texas Arlington 80-76. Hey, Roadrunners always find a way to escape! In the NIT, their formula has been pretty simple. Make three-pointers and play great defense.

Bakers(field) recipe:

Made 9 of 21 treys (43%), while allowing only 33% shooting at California

Made 11 of 19 treys (58%), while allowing only 35% shooting at Colorado State

Made 10 of 19 treys (53%), while allowing only 36% shooting at Arlington

Incredible numbers for three straight ROAD games against NIT caliber opposition. Going 30 of 59 on treys is the equivalent of shooting 76% on two-pointers.

We’ll talk more about the NIT “Garden Party” next week.

Wednesday wrap-up in the NBA

Charlotte (-4.5) beat Orlando 109-102, thanks to a big 32-20 edge in the fourth quarter. Orlando fell to 1-6 ATS its last seven games. Charlotte has covered three in a row.

Boston (-6.5) beat Indiana 109-100. Boston’s inside production was the difference-maker, with a 56% to 46% edge on two-point shooting. The Pacers are now 2-5 ATS their last seven games.

Chicago (plus 1) dominated Detroit 117-95. Both teams were on night two of a back-to-back, but only one played tired! Chicago is a perfect 4-0 ATS since Dwyane Wade was lost for the season to an elbow injury. The Pistons are 1-5 ATS their last six. Chicago shot a stellar 63% inside the arc against the rather non-existent Detroit defense. (Chicago’s starters were 26 of 35 on deuces)

Washington (-7) beat Atlanta 104-100, in a sloppy affair that never suggested the Wizards should have been that big a favorite. Washington only shot 40% from the field while committing 19 turnovers.

Oklahoma City (-11.5) routed Philadelphia 122-97. Russell Westbrook racked up another triple double in just 28 minutes of action (18 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds). OKC is 6-1 ATS its last seven games. The blowout ended a seven-game cover streak for the Sixers.

Denver (plus 2.5) clobbered Cleveland 126-113. The Cavaliers didn’t rest anybody, but played defense like they were resting everybody! The Nuggets shot 40 of 70 on two-pointers, for a sizzling 57%. Denver is now 6-1 ATS its last seven (with the only non-cover coming by a bucket), and 9-3 ATS its last 12.

Milwaukee (-5) won at Sacramento 116-98. An easy win for the Bucks even though this was a back-to-back spot against a fresh opponent, and also their fourth game in six nights. Milwaukee is 9-3 ATS its last 12. Sacramento has now failed to cover three straight. 

Utah (-11.5) beat New York 108-101. The Knicks are now 11-31 straight up their last 41 games.

Thanks for visiting VSiN City on Thursday. See you every weekday for lunch on the East coast, or a mid-morning brunch here in Las Vegas. We'd love to hear any feedback or suggestions for future editions. Drop us an email.

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