Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Wow…what a Final Four! Last year when both Butler and Virginia Commonwealth snuck in as Cinderella’s, there were concerns that college basketball was trending away from the power teams who focused on “one and done” stars, and toward lesser known teams who might take luster away from what had always been one of the most exciting events in all of sports.
That didn’t last long. The last four teams standing are all big time programs with big time athletes who have respected head coaches and stars with legitimate dreams of NBA stardom.
What’s important to US as handicappers is that they all also play great defense! That’s been a mantra of ours ever since the NOTEBOOK started online many years ago. We’ll run our standard preview data for you in just a minute. First, let’s celebrate these defenses. Here’s where the four remaining teams rank in “adjusted defensive efficiency” as tabulated by college hoops guru Ken Pomeroy (points allowed, adjusted for pace and strength of opposition).
ADJUSTED DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCIES
Louisville: #1 in the nation
Ohio State: #2 in the nation
Kansas: #4 in the nation
Kentucky: #11 in the nation
Wow…there are well over 300 teams that are measured in this stat. Three of the top four are still playing, and Kentucky grades out extremely well nationally even if they’re just a smidge behind the other three teams. And, frankly, that could be due to the fact that the SEC wasn’t getting much respect this year. The SEC looked better in the Big Dance than expected (particularly Florida), so Kentucky may be closer to the trio than it seems above.
Okay, let’s get to the matchups. If this is your first visit to the NOTEBOOK, this year we’ve been using the computer rankings of Jeff Sagarin (USA Today) and Pomeroy to show where teams stand in the big picture, and including Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency data on both sides of the ball. Our own numbers are proprietary. We believe Sagarin and Pomeroy represent what’s best in the public domain at the moment.
LOUISVILLE VS. KENTUCKY
Louisville: 11 in Sagarin, 15 in Pomeroy, 101 on offense, 1 on defense
Kentucky: 1 in Sagarin, 1 in Pomeroy, 2 on offense, 11 on defense
Vegas Line: Kentucky by 8.5, total of 136.5
Funny how the national rankings for Sagarin exactly reverse the adjusted defensive numbers for Pomeroy. Kentucky grades out as the best team in the country with both guys overall. If you believe that defense determines what happens in playoff style basketball, then suddenly Louisville looks a bit better and Kentucky takes a short step backwards.
The most glaring number in that sampling is obviously the 101 ranking for Louisville’s offense. This just isn’t a great offense by tournament standards. Louisville is a defense first team that tries to beat you in a wrestling match. If they happened to hit a few treys, then it gets easier. They can’t count on hitting treys though…which makes trusting them dicey. They did win the Big East Tournament and their regional (dispatching with Michigan State surprisingly easily) with this style. Defense doesn’t blow hot and cold, so that will give them a puncher’s chance to pull off an outright upset if the treys are falling, and a real chance to cover this high spread if they can enforce a wrestling match on Kentucky.
To us, this game doesn’t really get more complicated than that. You can count on both defenses showing up. You can count on Kentucky having the better offense (they have the best efficiency offense of any team left in the Dance). Louisville must win the battle of treys to score the upset…and they have to at least hit a few to cover the spread. If the Cards are ice cold (which has happened in the postseason for some stretches), then Kentucky can force a replay of their recent wins over Baylor, Indiana, and Iowa State.
We will have to think about the Under because of the great defenses on the floor, the potential that Louisville’s offense is the Achilles Heel that brings them down, the fact that the first meeting in the regular season stayed under, and because domes can have confusing shooting lines. But, we understand the line has already moved a couple of points in that direction, taking away some of the line value.
OHIO STATE VS.KANSAS
Ohio State: 2 in Sagarin, 2 in Pomeroy, 7 on offense, 2 on defense
Kansas: 3 in Sagarin, 4 in Pomeroy, 16 on offense, 4 on defense
Vegas Line: Ohio State by 2.5, total of 137
Wow…talk about evenly matched teams!
Even though Kansas really hasn’t impressed much in this tournament…struggling to get past Purdue…shooting poorly most of the night vs. NC State…then surviving a track meet with shorthanded North Carolina…the Jayhawks still grade out as a top four team nationally with both Sagarin and Pomeroy. Even though only one #1 seed reached the Final Four (Kentucky). The CURRENT rankings are saying that three of the last four teams are the caliber of #1 seeds at the moment.
Again, great defenses for both teams here. Kansas is a step behind on offense, but nothing at all like what we see with Louisville in the first game. Ohio State is a small favorite largely because of that difference in scoring ability and consistency. Little else separates these teams. Well, let’s say a 1.5 points of that line reflects the stat differences, and we believe there’s an extra point in play because the market has been fond of Ohio State all season. We believe the market overrated the Buckeyes against the likes of Michigan State in the best of the Big Ten wars.
Is that the case here? Or, is Kansas a pretender from an overrated conference? Given how the Jayhawks struggled on their way to the Final Four…and how Baylor couldn’t hang with Kentucky…and how Iowa State and Kansas State both lost to #1 seeds…and how Missouri couldn’t even beat Norfolk State(!), we have to consider the possibility that Kansas isn’t as good as their computer rankings and stat profile. Most of the Big 12 has failed to play to their profiles when facing quality opposition in this event.
You regulars know we can’t post our official plays here in the NOTEBOOK. That wouldn’t be fair to paying clients. JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK will have the full Saturday slate up by mid-morning here at this website for credit card purchase. We can promise you at least one true MONSTER from New Orleans thanks to a mix of fundamental handicapping and on-site information from our sources. We’re likely to have something from both games given side and total possibilities. And, there’s also an eight-game NBA card with interesting matchups like Indiana/San Antonio, Cleveland/New York, and Atlanta/Philadelphia that may trigger a play or two.
If you have any questions about the weekend offers, or if you want to sign up for extended service in the NBA or MLB, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. Don’t forget that full-on baseball gets started this week!
Today is the last day of March…and we’re moving very closely to determining the national champion of college basketball. One of the four teams you’ll be watching Saturday will be cutting down the nets on Monday Night. When championships are on the line, you need WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!