Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 7:00 PM
The much feared “Region of Doom” in the NCAA Tournament brackets, the loaded Midwest regional, has seen the top two seeds advance to Sunday’s finals in Indianapolis. It’s #1 seed Louisville facing #2 seed Duke for a trip to Atlanta and the Final Four.
That’s certainly a killer game. One could make the case that it could be a NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP game because Duke not getting a #1 seed was controversial in some circles. The fact that #1’s Indiana, Kansas, and Gonzaga all failed to reach the Elite Eight makes Duke’s case even stronger. These could be the best two teams in the tournament!
On the other hand, “Group of Death” or the “Region of Doom” turned out to be not so powerful after all.
#3 seed Michigan State went out meekly Friday Night, amidst a disappointing postseason for the Big 10 (they almost got NOBODY to the Elite Eight!).
#4 seed Saint Louis turned out to be overhyped and overrated
#5 seed Oklahoma State was part of a catastrophic tourney for the overrated Big 12
#6 seed Memphis was a media creation rather than an actual team. They were a bubble team wearing a disguise
We could go on…but you get the point. There turned out to be a few pretenders in the mix. Nobody can say now that either Louisville or Duke is a pretender though…the way they’ve played in dispatching their challenges. Let’s see what our gauntlet of indicator stats has to say about Sunday’s showdown…
Duke: 30-5 (14-4 in the ACC)
Louisville: 32-5 (14-4 in the Big East)
That’s a combined 72-10 for the season…with Louisville being the perceived “best team left in the tournament” right now…and Duke still having that “they’re awesome when Ryan Kelly is healthy” set or results in their favor. In handicapping the game, you have to determine which is the stronger of the two conferences. Both teams went 14-4 in their leagues. How many points better than Duke’s ACC is Louisville’s Big East? Note that Louisville will try to be the second Big East team to qualify for the Final Four this year. While, Duke was one of just two ACC teams to reach the Sweet 16, where disappointing Miami was dispatched immediately.
Duke: #4 with Sagarin, #4 with Pomeroy
Louisville: #1 with Sagarin, #2 with Pomeroy
Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy are very fond of both teams. Each sees this as a Final Four caliber game rather than an Elite Eight matchup. Louisville gets the slight nod from both, as the Cardinals do in the legal betting markets. Clearly the single biggest matchup of the whole tournament so far based on those computer rankings.
COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
Duke: #7 with Sagarin, #7 with Pomeroy
Louisville: #12 with Sagarin, #12 with Pomeroy
Both teams played very tough schedules. Neither is afraid to challenge themselves early in the season. Duke obviously played the fiercer non-conference slate to rank higher, given that the Big East is the better of the two leagues. Each are battle tested. Louisville is undefeated in tournament play this year, while Duke lost their first game in the ACC event to Maryland before finding much better form in wins over Creighton and Michigan State here in the Dance.
WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN’S TOP 50
Wow…27-10 vs. top 50 opposition for the two teams combined! That’s a great full season record even if you’re got some cupcakes in the mix. No cupcakes! That’s 18 and 19 games vs. quality opposition for the two teams individually, which means there won’t be a single player on the court Sunday who’s afraid or intimidated by the surroundings. These guys are as battle tested as can be. No matter what you personally think of the two head coaches, you have to respect how they repeatedly test their teams through the course of a long season.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
Moving to the chess match…Duke gets the nod in Pomeroy’s numbers which are adjusted for strength of schedule and tempo. As we’ve pointed out in the past…Duke has a history of padding this stat with great home results that are strongly influenced by three-point success and friendly officiating. They haven’t played like a top 10 offense so far in the Dance, outside of good free throw shooting when the whistles are blowing. Louisville can pollute this stat with cheap points off of turnovers. If Duke can avoid committing turnovers, Louisville’s offensive efficiency will take a hit.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
Louisville has the best defense in the nation by quite a good bit. They’re the only team that combines very strong inside play (guarding the basket) with the ability to force a lot of turnovers. Some teams can do one very well. It’s something special when a group can do BOTH very well. Duke must protect the ball and make a bunch of treys if they’re going to spring the upset here. Note that Duke did play well defensively in the second half vs. Michigan State Friday, but has a history of playing soft when they run into talented physicality in this event.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
These are very similar teams in terms of pace when you consider the full scale has over 340 teams. Duke is a bit faster. Both prefer attacking the basket. Both like hurrying opponents into mistakes. Both believe that playing faster magnifies their edge because it gives them more chances to show off their per-possession advantages. This should make for a very exciting game to watch for viewers.
The numbers make it very clear that Louisville is the slightly better team because they play fantastic defense…and that Duke will have to hit a bunch of treys if they’re going to win. Duke will typically get in the 7-8 range (they settled at seven vs. Michigan State even though Seth Curry hit six by himself in the first half). Solve that riddle, and you’ve probably got the pointspread winner.
JIM HURLEY has been studying game film and running through his computer simulation program to get the best read possible on the areas that will matter most in this epic battle. The final word for Sunday basketball (including Michigan/Florida in the other Elite Eight game and the NBA) can be purchased right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about college or NBA hoops, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. If you prefer talking to a live human, try to do that before tipoff Sunday, or during regular business hours on Monday.
Back with you tomorrow for the first big day of Major League Baseball action. We’ll summarize the final “Regular Season Win Total” estimates in the market to get you ready for TV showcases like Boston/NY Yankees, San Francisco/LA Dodgers, Philadelphia/Atlanta, and St. Louis/Arizona. Tuesday we’ll have big game previews for the NIT Final Four from Madison Square Garden in New York. The championship finals in that event will be Thursday…which almost takes us right up to the NCAA Final Four that begins Saturday.
What a week in the world of sports! Baseball begins…the NBA’s stretch run continues…and two storied college basketball tournaments take their Final Four down to the net-cutting ceremony. BIG GAMES…BIG MONEY…so link up with THE BIGGEST NAME IN HANDICAPPING…JIM HURLEY!