Louisville vs Kentucky How the Game Will Play
This game is the ultimate “Immovable Object vs Irresistible Force as Kentucky’s Adjusted O comes in ranked 2nd against Louisville’s top-ranked Adjusted D. If you think Louisville can keep it close, maybe the game total goes UNDER the oddsmakers’ line. If you think Big Blue shows up in full, well, you know from their last two games how they can score.
Russ Smith (a man often discussed with my guy Tony Comas during my AlumKnight Live appearances) is 6th in minutes per game on this Louisville team. But when he’s on the floor, he is used a LOT. As I said with Tony and his co-host Kyle Israel this past Wednesday, Smith has yet to meet a shot he didn’t like. He is 8th in the nation is Usage Rate (% of possessions on which he is used).
Anthony Davis is the best player in the game and will be picked 1st overall in the NBA Draft. He isn’t known as much for his offense as he is for his defense though. But perhaps he should be. Davis is 2nd nationally in Offensive Rating – a formula developed by famous hoops statistician Dean Oliver that is so complicated, even KenPom doesn’t try to explain it. Strangely, though, Davis is 4th on his own team in Field Goals Attempted.
Matchup to Watch
Louisville’s Chane Behanan vs Kentucky’s Terrence Jones. Both power forwards are dual-threat players because of their ability to step outside and make jump shots. Jones has a reputation for not always appearing to be 100% invested, but if this tournament makes up all of your Terrence Jones viewing, you wouldn’t believe that for a second. He has played very hard and could have…
In an effort to stick with the theme of the weekend, let’s go over FOUR storylines as we head into College Basketball’s most powerful weekend. These are the hype/newspaper type of questions. A matchup-based game preview with picks that I’m sure to get wrong will come later in the week.
Where are the Cinderellas?
The NCAA Mens Basketball Championship is so great because it gives smaller teams an “equal” (albeit, disadvantaged due to low seeding) opportunity to win a National Championship. As recently as 13 days ago, we saw not one but TWO 15-seeds upset 2-seeds. It was a phenomenal day and one that will live on for a long time in the legacy and history of this event.
Aside from those rare first round instances, though, upsets make the “big picture” of each individual tournament less compelling. A Cinderella to the Sweet 16 is a great story. One going to the Elite 8 is a nice story that’s getting a bit old already. Making it all the way to the Final Four, however, actually hurts the tournament. For some facts to back up this opinion, let’s get in the old time machine. Here is a list of every team seeded 5th or worse to make the Final Four and the results of their games:
2005: (5) Michigan State – 87-71 loss to (1) North Carolina
2006: (11) George Mason – 73-58 loss to (3) Florida
2010: (5) Butler – 52-50 win over (5) Michigan State; 61-59 loss to (1) Duke
2011: (8) Butler – 70-62 win over (12) VCU; 53-41 loss to (3) UCONN (in one of the ugliest basketball games you’ll ever see)
The Cinderellas are nice, but they need to end before the Final Four. The only times they win is when facing another, and they take some of the shine off of the grandest weekend in the sport.
Just to keep this quick and easy-to-read, we’ll do a “Best and Worst” list from each round.
Best of the Sweet 16 – Defensive Performances in Phoenix and a Fireworks Show in Atlanta
Thursday was marked by two remarkable defensive efforts against strong offensive teams. Let’s consult our favorite mecca of tempo-free stats – KenPom.com – to gauge these performances. First, Florida held Marquette to just 58 points in a 67 possession game – 0.86 PPP. Florida was ranked just 70th in Defensive Efficiency at 0.96 PPP allowed while Marquette was 35th in Offensive Efficiency, so this performance wasn’t exactly expected.
Even better than Florida was Louisville’s defensive performance against Michigan State. The Spartans averaged 1.15 PPP on the season but were held to just 44 points in 60 possessions (0.73 PPP) by the Cardinals. This postseason, the Big East Championship and NCAA Championship, Rick Pitino’s bunch has held their opponents to 0.87 PPP.
Friday gave us a game in which offenses reigned supreme (finally)! This Championship needed this game – between these two teams. Indiana scored a phenomenal 1.23 PPP in this game. For reference, they averaged 1.21 and are the #4 team in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. That fantastic offensive display was secondary to Kentucky’s though. The Wildcats – who average 1.23 PPP – went for 1.40 (!) PPP. They shot 35-37 from the free throw stripe – a phenomenal team effort.
West Regional Final: (7) Florida vs (4) Louisville
Just taking a look at those seeds will tell you that the West has been the wildest region. Louisville has had the more difficult road of these teams. After dismissing Davidson, they defeated a talented New Mexico team and then handled the region’s top team, Michigan State.
Florida, meanwhile got an injury-riddled Virginia team and then a 15-seed in the Round of 32 before beating Marquette somewhat handily Thursday night. Despite being the higher seed, the Gators are a one-point favorite.
Kentucky isn’t just the class of the region. They’re the class of the whole Championship. On Friday, they get a rematch with a team responsible for one-half of their two losses this season. Many think that gives Indiana confidence to stay with the Wildcats, but let’s really look at what happened in that game before we go there.
Kentucky plays mostly freshman. They only had eight games under their belts, and the game against the Hoosiers was their first true road game. Along with that, Indiana had a rabid home crowd that they won’t have on Friday. Indiana shot 60% from behind the arc. They’re a great three-point shooting team, but not that good. Kentucky shot 10% below its average from the land of three. Will this entire confluence of events take place again? I don’t see it.