Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, April 2, 2012 at 12:13 AM
We’re hours away from a coronation as the National Champion of the 2011-12 college basketball season will be determined Monday evening in New Orleans. Kentucky has been the class of the tournament so far. But, Kansas has found a way to keep winning even though they rarely have a game where it looks like they’ve put everything together.
We’ve seen the best of Kentucky…and that represents an extremely high level of play not only for this year but in terms of recent memory. The Wildcats are a great team on both sides of the ball…and they deserve more credit for great defense than they’ve been getting. Defense is more than just shot blocking. Kentucky took Louisville so far out of its game that the only Cardinals hope to score was on offensive rebounds after a miss.
We haven’t seen the best of Kansas. They have a disturbing habit of falling behind early before rallying late. They can’t make a three-pointer to save their lives. And, just when you think they’ve got things figured out they throw a boneheaded pass or two that makes you marvel at the whims of inexperience. Yet, here they are after surviving two Big Ten teams (Ohio State and Purdue), and two ACC teams (North Carolina and NC State) in their last four games.
If you’re reading this article, it’s extremely likely that you watched both Final Four games this past Saturday. Let’s see if we can find you a few keys in the boxscore numbers that you may have missed. First, let’s take our preview numbers from Saturday and stack together the winners…
KANSAS VS. KENTUCKY
Kansas: 3 in Sagarin, 4 in Pomeroy, 16 on offense, 4 on defense
Kentucky: 1 in Sagarin, 1 in Pomeroy, 2 on offense, 11 on defense
Vegas Line: Kentucky by 6.5, total of 138
Those were the rankings entering Final Four weekend. We’ve been using the respected public domain computer rankings of Jeff Sagarin (USA Today) and college hoop guru Ken Pomeroy all through the college season this year (our proprietary rankings have to stay in house). The numbers you see for offense and defense represent their rankings, as tabulated by Pomeroy, in adjusted efficiency (points scored and allowed adjusted for pace and schedule strength).
Clearly the right teams are still alive! Kentucky is the best team in the country beyond any reasonable doubt. Kansas can’t seem to play as streamlined for 40 full minutes in this event…but their full season stats are still fantastic. We arguably had about 6-7 teams this year who were legitimate #1 seeds. Kansas was a #2 who should have been a #1 based on how the event has played out.
Both teams have great defenses. Kentucky’s was scarier this past Saturday, but that’s because Louisville doesn’t have any consistent weaponry from long range. Kentucky grades out slightly below Kansas for the year because you can shoot over them and hit some treys. Louisville couldn’t, and was shorter at every position. That turned the Kentucky defense into an even scarier monster.
The Kansas defense is also a scary monster. Ohio State took a lead early by shooting over them for some treys. You’ll see in a moment that Kentucky and Kansas had similar defensive outings…almost identical beyond the fact that one opponent made some treys and the other couldn’t.
Let’s get to those boxscores now and see what they show…
KENTUCKY 69, LOUISVILLE 61
Field Goal Pct: Louisville 35%, Kentucky 57%
Three-Pointers: Louisville 4/11, Kentucky 2/7
Free Throws: Louisville 9/13, Kentucky 11/20
Rebounds: Louisville 37, Kentucky 32
Turnovers: Louisville 12, Kentucky 14
Phantom Score: Louisville 77, Kentucky 84
Vegas Line: Kentucky by 8.5, total of 136.5
Phantom Score is two-point scoring plus rebounding, and is typically a very representative “secondary” score in a college game. Here, the margin is close to the final spread, but suggest a much higher scoring game. What happened? There were only six made treys in the game, and only 20 made free throws. It’s tough to have a high scoring game when the refs swallow their whistles and nobody’s in the mood to launch treys. Kentucky won shooting percentage huge, and would have won a blowout if they could have added some production on 1’s and 3’s.
Louisville’s strength was rebounding…as their work on the offensive glass is all that kept this from being a laugher. First look shots virtually never went in. The Cards were able to get dunks and layups off of misses when Kentucky’s defense took themselves out of position to box out. That’s something Kansas will have to think about as a strategy too…because they’ve been similar to Louisville in this tournament in terms of how they’ve scored (or gone long stretches without scoring).
Kentucky was 35 of 37 on free throws vs. Indiana, so that 11 of 20 probably won’t repeat. Kansas will have virtually no chance Monday if Kentucky is able to pop 6-8 treys instead of just two, and find a way to get to the free throw line. Kentucky’s ceiling is way above everyone else’s ceilings this year.
KANSAS 64, OHIO STATE 62
Field Goal Pct: Ohio State 34%, Kansas 45%
Three-Pointers: Ohio State 8/22, Kansas 3/11
Free Throws: Ohio State 14/15, Kansas 11/14
Rebounds: Ohio State 30, Kansas 41
Turnovers: Ohio State 12, Kansas 17
Phantom Score: Ohio State 54, Kansas 85
Vegas Line: Ohio State by 2.5, total of 137
Wow, look at Phantom Score! You probably weren’t thinking this was a one-sided rout inside. But, Ohio State’s best weapon was the trey. They lived by it early as they built a big lead. But, when the treys stopped falling in the second half…the Buckeyes just didn’t have any workable options. They shot horribly inside the arc against the great Kansas defense. Jared Sullinger had a nightmare flashback to his performances against Michigan State. He can bully certain types of teams…but he has big troubles against physical defenses that stand up to him. That’s been true for Ohio State as a team the past few seasons as well.
The good news for Kansas is that they won rebounding big…which gives them a chance to win that stat vs. Kentucky. The bad news is that a tournament long slump on three-pointers continued…and it’s very hard to get anything against Kentucky if you’re not making some bombs. Kansas is playing too much like Louisville to stay the course and hope to win. The Jayhawks must keep up their high level of defensive intensity AND make some treys to have a chance to win.
Of course, covering the Vegas spread isn’t quite the same as winning. And, Louisville did cover vs. Kentucky on Saturday even if there were only a few moments where they seemed like they might have a shot for the shocker. Who’s going to cover Monday Night?
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