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What was that about West Coast basketball?

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

oregon
Dana Altman gets doused for coaching Oregon to the Final Four in an upset over Kansas.
© USA Today Sports Images

UCLA and Arizona may have disappointed, but Gonzaga and Oregon will proudly carry the banner for West Coast basketball into next week’s Final Four. The Zags and Ducks won their Elite 8 matchups Saturday by a combined 38 points, and covered by a combined 37 points.

As the dust begins to settle on the 2017 Big Dance brackets, VSiN City reviews Saturday’s results and previews Sunday’s final two entries in the Elite Eight. Stick around for bonus coverage featuring Final Four golf odds from the World Match Play Championships.

We start with Saturday’s point-spread stunners…

Gonzaga (-8) wins the West with trey barrage
Within the first few minutes of action in San Jose, it was clear that Xavier was at least a step too slow when rotating defensively to guard Gonzaga’s shooters. And, it was clear that Gonzaga was going to make its open shots! A 10-point Gonzaga halftime lead was keyed by a 21-point edge from behind the arc (8 of 13 to 1 of 5).

Xavier’s not the kind of team that’s going to rally from way down with treys. Moot point when Gonzaga kept shooting well.

Gonzaga (-8) 83, Xavier 59

  • Two-Point Emphasis: Gonzaga 61%, Xavier 74%
  • Two-Point Shooting: Gonzaga 46%, Xavier 43%
  • Rebound Rate: Gonzaga 50%, Xavier 50%

Ultimately, Gonzaga won three-pointers by 30 points (12 of 24 to 2 of 16). A credit to their ability to withstand the rigors of the Big Dance challenge. And, a sign that Xavier ran out of gas after its big upset of Arizona two nights earlier. Tired legs are a step slow, and short on long jumpers.

Gonzaga’s great regular season rebounding seems to have disappeared in the Dance. The Zags are a net -1 vs. the combined efforts of Northwestern, West Virginia, and Xavier. But, their tall inside defense was an important factor here. Xavier attacks the basket. Gonzaga held them to just 43% inside the arc.

Gonzaga advances to Glendale, Ariz., and the Final Four to face the winner of Sunday’s Florida/South Carolina showdown. The Zags will be a clear market favorite over either entry. Probably a few points over Florida, a bucket more over what would still be a red hot South Carolina Cinderella side.

Oregon (plus 7) wins the Midwest with complete control of Kansas
This was the Oregon Ducks squad Pac 12 fans were waiting to see. Not the one that barely got past Rhode Island, nor the one that won a coin flip against Michigan. THIS is what Oregon is capable of doing when hitting on all cylinders.

Oregon (plus 7) 74, Kansas 60

  • Two-Point Emphasis: Kansas 58%, Oregon 56%
  • Two-Point Shooting: Kansas 46%, Oregon 56%
  • Rebound Rate: Kansas 47%, Oregon 53%

Let’s start with questions we asked Saturday in VSiN City…
Can the Ducks make enough treys (39% of their shots were on treys this season) to play another thriller? That’s the category that pushed them over the top vs. Michigan (8 of 17 from long range). Pace could prove important here. Kansas will get easy baskets if you let them run. Oregon plays at a below average tempo, and absolutely has to prevent cheap points on fast breaks. Can the Ducks do that in what will feel like a road game in Kansas City?

The answers:

Yes! Oregon was 11 of 25 on treys, for 44%. That’s the equivalent of 66% on two-pointers. Oregon was plus 18 points from behind the arc because Kansas was an erratic 5 of 25.

Yes! Oregon slowed things down and prevented cheap points. The possession count ended in the mid 60’s, below the full season average for both. Oregon slowed themselves down, and slowed Kansas down even more.

With all the talk about Kansas getting to play in Kansas City, the Jayhawks finished the postseason 1-2 on this court. They also lost to TCU in the Big 12 opener.

Oregon wasn’t perfect. The Ducks lost the turnover category 13-8. And, they went to their “prevent” offense about two minutes too early. Didn’t matter. They advance to Glendale, where they will likely be a short dog to the winner of NC/Kentucky.

Moving now to Sunday’s previews. Will we have one or two SEC teams in the Final Four? Will we have one or two #1 seeds in the Final Four?!

Florida (-3) tries to cool off sizzling South Carolina at 2:20 p.m. ET on CBS
Yesterday we showed you the amazing point-spread margins that Kansas and Xavier had been covering by heading into Elite 8 weekend. A lot of good that did them. Now, it’s South Carolina’s turn. This “peaking at the right time” group has been on fire in the Dance.

  • South Carolina (pick-em) beat Marquette 93-73 (covered by 20)
  • South Carolina (plus 6.5) beat Duke 88-81 (covered by 13.5)
  • South Carolina (plus 3) beat Baylor 70-50 (covered by 23)

That’s a combined 56.5-point cover. Slightly higher than what we saw through three games with Kansas and Xavier. All of SC’s performances have come against opponents representing Power 6 conferences. And, this sampling is less prone to illusions because Duke was one of the hottest teams in the nation entering the Dance (even if they did represent the overrated ACC), and Baylor was a respected team in analytics circles even if their head coach struggles at X’s and O’s. South Carolina just bullied #2 and #3 seeds.

Bullied is the right word. In an event where many defenses are backing away from opposing ballhandlers and shooters to avoid foul trouble….

  • South Carolina allowed 54% on two-pointers and forced 18 turnovers against Marquette
  • South Carolina allowed 46% on two-pointers and forced 18 turnovers against Duke
  • South Carolina allowed 33% on two-pointers and forced 16 turnovers against Baylor

That Marquette mark is a bit misleading, because Marquette took more than half its shots from long range. So, the opponent was more prone to kick it out if nothing was there than to force up a bad shot. Anyway, HUGE totals in turnovers forced from Frank Martin’s bunch. That’s knocking someone down and taking their lunch money. Over and over again.

Can they bully Florida? Here’s what happened in their two regular season meetings…

  • South Carolina (-2) won at home over Florida 57-53
  • Florida (-7.5) won at home over South Carolina 81-66

Of course, South Carolina wasn’t playing nearly as well back then. Those results were keyed very much by Florida’s three-point shooting. Check this out:

  • Florida was 0 of 17 on treys in its loss at South Carolina
  • Florida was 9 of 19 on treys in its home win over South Carolina

The Gamecocks were basically the same in both games…4 of 13 from long range in their win, 3 of 14 at home. It’s not a good sign for SC that they needed Florida to shoot 0 for 17 on treys just to barely win at home by four points!

Here are the full season rankings in the stat categories we’ve been studying this weekend. (Rankings gathered from teamrankings.com and kenpom.com)

  • Florida: 63% two-point emphasis vs. S. Carolina’s #40 ranked two-point defense
  • S. Carolina: 66% two-point emphasis vs. Florida’s #32 ranked two-point defense
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: Florida #98, S. Carolina #138
  • Turnover Avoidance: Florida #48, S. Carolina #141
  • Forcing Turnovers: Florida #34, S. Carolina #4
  • Kenpom’s Adjusted Pace Ranking: Florida #116, S. Carolina #138

South Carolina is great at two-point defense and forcing turnovers in those numbers…and the Gamecocks are obviously at peak intensity lately. It’s also worth noting though that Florida is right there with them. Both of these teams play aggressive defense. Both of these teams like playing at a pace that’s slightly faster than the national average (SC isn’t a slow defensive team like Virginia, they’re a fast defensive team like West Virginia). Of the two, Florida’s offense is better at avoiding turnovers.

Handicapping this one would seem to come down to these keys:

The case for South Carolina: the Gamecocks are playing their best ball of the year right now, and are much fresher coming into the game because they had an easy win Friday while Florida had to go overtime before surviving Wisconsin well past midnight local time. In terms of “current form,” SC is playing better at the moment. Being fresher could make this a surprisingly easy win for the dog if Florida doesn’t have its legs.

The case for Florida: the more you see an aggressive opposing defense, the more able you are to deal with it. This is their third look at SC’s approach, and they probably would have swept the regular season meetings if not for a horrible 0 for 17 performance on treys at Columbia. This is a #4 seed vs. a #7 seed for a reason. And, it’s a #4 seed who’s much better prepared to deal with SC’s defense than Frank Martin’s other opponents have been in the Dance. And, of course, entering the weekend on fire didn’t mean a thing for Xavier and Kansas.

Good luck with your pick.

North Carolina (-2.5) collides with Kentucky at 5:05 p.m. ET on CBS
This is surely a dream matchup for college basketball fans. But, it helps if you only imagine these teams at their best instead of remembering that they didn’t exactly sparkle back in the Round of 32.

Kentucky was life and death with Wichita State in the final moments, ultimately surviving 65-62 in a non-cover as a favorite of 3.5 points. And that came on the heels of a fairly lethargic 9-point win as a 20-point favorite over Northern Kentucky in their opener. North Carolina trailed in the second half vs. Arkansas, and needed some friendly officiating to pull away to 72-65 win as an 11-point favorite.

This may not be a showcase worthy of the basketball gods after all. At least three-fourths of Kentucky/UCLA delivered the goods before the Bruins ran out of defensive gas. Let’s see what the stat box is showing for Kentucky/Carolina…

  • N. Carolina: 70% two-point emphasis vs. Kentucky’s #115 ranked two-point defense
  • Kentucky: 68% two-point emphasis vs. North Carolina’s #70 ranked two-point defense
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: N. Carolina #1, Kentucky #32
  • Turnover Avoidance: N. Carolina #19, Kentucky #20
  • Forcing Turnovers: N. Carolina #154, Kentucky #140
  • Kenpom’s Adjusted Pace Ranking: N. Carolina #45, Kentucky #26

Both of these teams love to attack the basket. Trey-heavy offenses at other schools are around 60% at two-point emphasis. Kentucky and NC use their athletes to fly at the basket and challenge opposing defenses. That can lead to an easy bucket…a trip to the free throw line…or even a kick out to an open-look trey. Similar philosophies (near 70% two-point emphasis), which is natural for head coaches trying to recruit NBA caliber talent. And, we should note, similarly excellent abilities from both programs to avoid turnovers in up-tempo attacking basketball.

What’s the main difference? North Carolina is better at two-point defense because Kentucky tends to back away from contact more often (as we discussed after the UCLA game). Will the Wildcats be flat off the big-game atmosphere Friday night? This is an even bigger game. But, if the short dog is a step slow early…fast starting North Carolina might be able to get some early scoreboard distance.

We’re all looking forward to this one. Early sharp money was on Kentucky at the opener of 3. It will be fun to watch the money move throughout the afternoon on VSiN programming.

Clippers power up, Cavs’ defense takes another powder in Saturday NBA
Just a five-game NBA slate Saturday. Here’s a quick review of results in Nevada rotation order…

The LA Clippers (-5) beat Utah 108-95 Saturday afternoon, out-powering a power team. The Clippers won points in the paint 58-46, and free throws 25-13. Backup guard Jamal Crawford scored 28 points with just 12 shots from the field to lead the way for LAC. These teams are currently well-positioned to be the #4 and #5 seeds in the Western brackets. Their pairing is more than six games behind #3 seed Houston, and a few games ahead of #6 seed Oklahoma City. Utah currently has a half game lead over LAC for home court in that projected 4-5 matchup. 

Washington (plus 5.5) beat Cleveland 127-115. Both teams were on night two of a back to back. Pauly Howard outlined the recent horrible decline of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defense to Mitch Moss on Saturday’s edition of “Follow the Money” during a comprehensive NBA discussion (check our home page for a replay of yesterday’s shows!). Then Cleveland went out and allowed 71 points to Washington in the first half. LeBron James was playing with a scratched cornea. Maybe it was best he didn’t have clear vision for this ugly defensive non-performance. Cleveland let Washington shoot a stunning 41 of 64 on two-point shots (64%). Vision issues may have influenced LeBron’s long range shooting. James was 0-4 on three pointers. Kyrie Irving was 1 of 7 on treys with normal eyesight. Cleveland’s lead over Boston is now just a half-game pending the Celtics’ home challenge vs. the Heat Sunday. Washington is now only 2.5 games behind that top spot, two games behind the Celtics.

San Antonio (-15) beat New York 106-98. The Spurs sleep-walked through the third quarter as an 18-point halftime lead evaporated. They woke up long enough to get the win and get home to bed.

Toronto (pick-em) beat Dallas 94-86. The Raptors won two-point shooting 50% to 44%, and caught a break when Dallas was just 7 of 28 on treys. Toronto is now 4-1 ATS its last five games amidst the jockeying for playoff position in the East. Dallas is 3-6 ATS its last nine.

Portland (-6) beat Minnesota 112-100. The Timberwolves were playing in a back-to-back spot the night after overtime. No-show! At least for three quarters. Portland carried a 20-point lead into the final stanza before the T-wolves staged a garbage time rally. Even with a dead fourth quarter, Portland shot 68% on two-pointers (34 of 50) and 50% on treys (11 of 22). Minnesota has failed to cover six in a row. Portland is now 5-1 ATS its last six games.

Are Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm on a collision course at the World Match Play Championships?
It’s always dangerous to assume that favorites are going to keep winning in this event. But, top seed Dustin Johnson continues to dominate as we head into Sunday’s Final Four. Red hot Jon Rahm has been priced like a top five world player all week, even though he’s only seeded #21. Rahm has lived up to his pricing with consistently stellar play.

Golf fans are BEGGING for DJ vs. Rahm for the title.

This event has a history of breaking hearts with championship matchups that more resemble Hideto Tanihara vs. Bill Haas. Here’s a review of Saturday’s results, and a quick look at Sunday morning’s semifinal odds.

Saturday morning’s Sweet 16
Dustin Johnson (1) -230 beat Zach Johnson (44) 5 & 4
Alex Noren (8) plus 105 beat Brooks Koepka (20) 3 & 1
Hideto Tanihara (54) plus 200 beat Paul Casey (12) 2 & 1
Ross Fisher (48) plus 115 beat Bubba Watson (13) 4 & 3
Soren Kjeldsen (62) pick-em beat William McGirt (48) 5 & 4
Jon Rahm (21) -200 beat Charles Howell III (60) 6 & 4
Bill Haas (42) -130 vs. Kevin Na (46) 1 up
Phil Mickelson (14) -140 vs. Marc Leishman (28) 4 & 3

Saturday afternoon’s Elite 8
Dustin Johnson (1) -220 beat Alex Noren (8) 3 & 2
Hideto Tanihara (54) plus 125 beat Ross Fisher (47) 4 & 2
Jon Rahm (21) -200 beat Soren Kjeldsen (62) 7 & 5
Bill Haas (42) plus 130 Phil Mickelson (14) 2 & 1

Sunday morning’s semifinal early odds
(composite from a variety of Nevada and offshore sportsbooks)
Dustin Johnson (1) -330 vs. Hideto Tanihara (54) plus 270
Jon Rahm (21) -175 vs. Bill Haas (42) plus 155

Those two semifinals will be held in the morning. The winners advance to face each other in the afternoon finals. DJ would be a favorite over either Rahm or Haas (over -200 vs. Haas). Rahm would be a pricey favorite over relative unknown (in betting circles) Tanihara.

Thanks for spending some time with us this morning. We appreciate all the comments and suggestions that have been coming in. If you haven’t had a chance to provide any feedback yet, drop us an email.

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