Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, March 29, 2013 at 7:00 AM
The Kansas Jayhawks and Michigan Wolverines are two of the more enigmatic college basketball powers this season. Michigan was seen as a likely #1 seed until a late slide dropped them to a #4 (the Wolverines only won five of their last 12 pre-Dance games in regulation). Kansas ended up with a #1 seed even though they had an ugly three-game slide that was lowlighted by a loss to horrible TCU…and even though they lost their regular season finale in blowout fashion to NIT-bound Baylor.
Are either of these teams really championship material? Are BOTH championship material who rediscovered their mojo last Saturday in blowout wins over VCU and North Carolina? Let’s run this very interesting Friday Night Sweet 16 encounter through our gauntlet of key indicators.
Michigan: 28-7 (12-6 in the Big 10)
Kansas: 31-5 (14-4 in the Big 12)
Kansas gets the best of it in those numbers. But, it’s an open debate as to how much those records would flip-flop if the teams changed conferences. Kansas could certainly hold its own in the Big 10. Would they still be perceived as a #1 seed alongside Indiana? Could Michigan have gone 15-3 or 16-2 in the Big 12? Given the high number of success stories from the Big 10 in the Dance this year from the best teams, and the high number of stunning disappointments from the Big 12 (Oklahoma State and Kansas State both falling early in embarrassing fashion), it’s possible that Michigan is the better team regardless of what the seeds say.
Michigan: #8 with Sagarin, #8 with Pomeroy
Kansas: #6 with Sagarin, #9 with Pomeroy
Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy have these teams very even. Both would slate Michigan as a #2 seed now…with Kansas slightly better with Sagarin, and slightly worse with Pomeroy. Given the margin for error in this sport, you might as well call that a dead heat. The computers aren’t sure which is better, though they are confident both are top 10 caliber.
COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
Michigan: #10 with Sagarin, #10 with Pomeroy
Kansas: #40 with Sagarin, #54 with Pomeroy
Big edge here to Michigan…and one that’s conceivably even BIGGER given how poorly the Big 12 has shown in the NCAA’s. Throw in Oklahoma as another early departure. Michigan was playing round robins with teams who reached the Sweet 16. Kansas was posting indifferent results against teams who were exposed as pretenders. NETWORK’S proprietary numbers have the difference larger than what you see above.
WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN’S TOP 50
What’s amazing about Kansas this year is that they’ve had some of their worst performances against teams outside the top 50. The loss to TCU doesn’t show up here. They almost lost in a 1-16 game vs. Western Kentucky for goodness sake! Yet, they’ve won 80% of their games vs. quality…which does speak well for their ability to meet challenges head on and prove victorious. Michigan State’s 10-6 record has to be respected because they were in so many coin flip games with elite teams. To us the strike against Michigan is that they peaked early, and generally got the worst of it in coin flips late in the season (suggesting they had lost a step or two).
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
We’ve run into a few teams in these game previews that were much better on offense than the media was giving them credit for. Michigan is another team that plays at a below average pace in a killer conference. Pomeroy’s methodology adjusts for that while the media just looks at final scores! We will note though that Michigan has had legitimate trouble getting points late in close games vs. good teams because they get overly conservative. That could matter here because Kansas has a great defense, and Las Vegas projects there to be a close finish.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
See what we mean! Kansas is a top five defense. Even if you think Pomeroy hasn’t punished them enough for playing in the Big 12, they still have a terrific defense that would grade out better than Michigan’s. Defense never slumps…which gives the Jayhawks a fighting chance to win even when their own shots aren’t falling.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
It’s become one of the underlying themes of the season thanks to our emphasis on this factor in our game previews. We have another fast team playing another slow team. Whoever forces their tempo on the game is going to have an advantage. In playoff style basketball, that generally favors the slow team because every possession gets magnified. In this case though…Michigan faded down the stretch because their soft inside defense (by elite standards) was still allowing buckets when the overly conservative offense stopped scoring. To win here, Michigan has to keep tempo in check AND guard the bucket with authority.
If you can shield your eyes and pretend that Kansas/Western Kentucky or Kansas/TCU never happened, then there’s a lot favoring the Jayhawks here. They have the better defense. They have a fantastic win rate vs. quality…and this Vegas spread is so small that whoever wins is probably going to cover. The problem is…those lemons DID happen because the offense is unreliable. It may be worth thinking about the Under if you want to bet on the Kansas defense (which held North Carolina to 30% shooting!) without worrying about the Kansas offense.
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