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Sweet 16 Preview

Tom Izzo

The RotoViz March Madness app had the hot hand during the first weekend of the tournament. Sure, no such thing exists, but you couldn’t prove it here. Unlike most hyperconfident gunners, our shot selection is going to actually improve. The updated app is better than ever due to some home/away and schedule strength tweaks.

In my original swing through the bracket I called it straight, explaining what the app saw and making statistically savvy projections. I’m going to follow the same protocol here until I get to my actual pick. That will be based purely on emotion and having watched almost every second of the first 48 games. (Having two DVRs is almost as good as having a genie, although perhaps not as good as having the genie.)  And since we all know tape grinding is more predictive anyway, my projections should improve.

The Midwest

The previous iteration of the app liked Duke’s chances to win the whole thing but improvements to the schedule strength metric should dampen enthusiasm. In many ways, our confidence in the Blue Devils harkens back to tight November victories over Louisville and Ohio State. Their more recent accomplishments are overstated, although anyone who watched Ryan Kelly’s defense against Doug McDermott knows how important he is to Duke’s prospects.

Louisville’s draw makes them the huge favorite in this region and in the tournament. It’s possible they’ll be heavily favored in two of the three contests that separate them from a title game appearance. While the galvanizing return of Dominic Artis may be more fiction than fact, it’s at least based on a true story. The Ducks have regained the demeanor that made them the Pac-12’s best team at mid-season. Oregon ranks 234th in assist-to-turnover ratio – an apparently bad fit against a Louisville squad that ranks second in the nation with 11 steals per game – but they play fast and have multiple talented ball handlers.

My pick: Michigan State

The Spartans’ blend of size and speed should prove too much for a Duke squad that will collapse if they suffer the same foul trouble that plagued them against Creighton. I expect Tom Izzo’s troops to dominate both opponents on the glass and reach another Final Four.

The South

The South is loaded. While the Jayhawks entered as the worst No. 1 seed in terms of per possession efficiency, Florida was the top team in the entire tournament and Michigan was the best 4-seed.

Jayhawks v. Wolverines should be a fun contrast in styles. Both teams shoot 48% from the field, but the similarities end there. Michigan is entirely perimeter-oriented while Kansas often plays like the final outcome is unimportant as long as they dominate points in the paint.

Michigan State seems a pretty good proxy for Kansas, and the app agrees. Their games against John Beilein’s club are among the contests that factor into the similarity score. The Wolverines’ small lineup got crushed by Michigan State in Lansing, but they prevailed in the home rematch.

After a blazing start that saw them reach No. 1 in the country, Michigan went into a protracted swoon when nagging injuries swamped their post players. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford have returned, but the emergence of Mitch McGary almost makes that irrelevant.

Michigan’s elite guard combo of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. eschewed the difficult 2-pointer for the high percentage three against S. Dakota State and VCU. It will be crucial they don’t fall back into bad habits against KU’s elite perimeter defenders. Shooting contested 15-footers will be tempting with Jeff Withey looming.

Florida was the favorite in this bracket going in and becomes the overwhelming favorite now that they get a 15-seed in the Sweet 16. On the other hand, it’s easy to think Gulf Coast represents a trickier and more pressurized matchup than Georgetown would have.

Of course, everyone knows Florida is going to choke against the Jayhawks. They haven’t won a close game all season, while Kansas is 3-0 in overtime alone.

My Pick: Kansas

With apologies to Burke, KU’s Withey is the most dominant player in the region and the tournament. He holds every relevant blocked shot record in the Big 12 and swatted more balls in last year’s NCAA tournament than Anthony Davis. Ben McLemore will go in the top three picks of the NBA draft, the other three starters are seniors, and the Jayhawks’ best point guard and most natural low post scorer actually come off the bench. Plus, they don’t have to face TCU.

The East

Nobody should be surprised the top four seeds advanced in this region since the 5-16 seeds were very weak. This allowed Indiana, Miami, and Marquette to escape close matchups with theoretically overmatched foes. Marquette should already be gone after getting handled by Davidson. Fortunately for Buzz Williams, serendipity intervened and he was able to hold his own against Butler’s coaching savant.

Indiana and Miami are both expected to win fairly easily in the Sweet 16, although the Hoosiers won’t be excited to face Syracuse’s zone after shooting 4-for-13 from three in the Round of 32. Somewhat counterintuitively, if Indiana takes care of business this weekend, they’ll want to root against non-FGCU upsets in the South. They’re heavily favored against Kansas but would be underdogs against Florida.

My Pick: Miami

Anybody who wasn’t a Miami fan already probably joined the congregation after Jim Larranaga’s awesome post game fight-dance.

The West

While the previous iteration of the app liked Arizona by the slimmest of margins, the updated version takes Ohio State in a close game. The Buckeyes are a pretty consistent unit due to the unbelievably gritty play of Aaron Craft and the scoring of DeShaun Thomas. Arizona fields a high variance squad. The Wildcats take more three-pointers and get more rebounds than Ohio State.

While the narrative will almost certainly focus on toughness or ballhandling or intangibles, the game figures to be close enough that the outcome should come down to Arizona’s 3-point field goal percentage. Which is to say randomness. In a lot of ways, this is a nightmare matchup for the Buckeyes.

LaSalle v. Wichita State isn’t one of the combinations I put into the calculator last week, but it’s not as surprising as it sounds. Both the A-10 and MVC were underrated as conferences this season. The Explorers defeated Butler during the season and won at Virginia Commonwealth. If either of those teams were facing the Shockers nobody would be picking Wichita State. Nothing particularly stands out about Gregg Marshall’s team, but they’re solid everywhere and rank above Marquette in Pomeroy’s ratings. The return of Ron Baker may be the catalyst for a Final Four run.

My Pick: Arizona

Two years ago, Sean Miller was a Derrick Williams 3-pointer from the Final Four. Even after an uneven swing through the Pac-12, this team is better. The Wildcats are 2-0 against single digit seeds still alive in the tournament and should create matchup problems for any team they face the rest of the way.

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