Are teams shooting too many 3s in the NCAA Tournament?

No wonder they miss. They're wearing Nikes.

No wonder they miss. They’re wearing Nikes.

A stat I keep seeing over and over in the NCAA Tournament is the sheer volume of 3-pointers some teams are taking. I used to see the three-pointer as an equalizer for the smaller schools. A way for schools lacking in size to stay competitive against the basketball elite. Yet it’s the basketball elite that are launching the 3s in this tournament. And the underdogs start a dance circle every time those 3s go up. Literally.

Oklahoma shot 30 3s against North Dakota State and made 12 of them. The Bison only took 14 and made six for a higher percentage. Why would a Big-12 team good enough to make the tournament settle for so many jumpers against a mid-major?

Ivy League schools like Harvard are expected to be filled with finesse jump shooters. Yet in its upset vs. Cincinnati, Harvard shot 12 more free throws because it attacked the rim more.

Manhattan nearly pulled off the upset over Louisville even though it only attempted five 3s. In comparison, Louisville went 4-13 from deep.

And then of course there’s Duke, a member of basketball’s royalty. Yet against underdog Mercer, Duke attempted 37 3s! Duke even made 15 of them and still lost. That’s because it gave away 22 free possessions to Mercer with all those misses from deep. The Bears went to the free throw line 15 more times the Blue Devils. Two days later against Tennessee, Mercer only attempted nine foul shots. The correlation is evident.

Even the best 3-point shooting teams in the country are clanking left and right. Creighton, the No. 1 3-point field-goal percentage team in the country, shot 5-24 from behind the arc in its embarrassing 85-55 defeat to Baylor.

Gonzaga, a top 10 3-point percentage team, shot 6-16 in its loss to Arizona in a game that was never competitive.

One team even won last week while not hitting a single 3 at all. Stanford defeated Kansas 60-57, despite going 0-9 from 3. It helped that Kansas went 5-16.

Dayton defeated Ohio State but only went 3-13 from 3. The Buckeyes didn’t do any better going 3-12.

Syracuse went 0-10 in its loss to Dayton. After a 0-7 start you would think the Orange would get the hint to attack the basket.

St. Louis was the worse among all of them against Louisville, going 0-15 from 3. Might as well have been 15 turnovers.

The first weekend of the tournament validated all the people who say you must attack the basket. In six games against above average defenses, no team is going to be hot from 3 all the time. You have to have multiple ways to score.

Now the pressure falls to schools like Michigan, Michigan State, UCLA, Baylor, UConn, and Dayton. All are top-50 teams in 3-point field goal percentage but will now be shooting in large NBA and even NFL venues this weekend. These larger venues are not to kind to shooters who are trying to gauge their range.

We’ll see if the feast and famine trend from the 3-point line continues. For those who rely on the 3, I sure hope they have a contingency plan.

A Bracket to Make Fun of

Since I’ve grown accustomed to being wrong on many things in life, I decided to go ahead and post my bracket. Maybe it will help you out with yours or just give you a good laugh. If you missed my upset specials you can find a detailed look at them here.

I’m picking Florida to win it all mainly because of their stellar defense.

I have Wichita State meeting them in the title game as the Shockers have played quality teams this year. Don’t believe the lies of Digger Phelps.

Now it’s time for you guys to laugh at me. Enjoy!

Bracket Florida 2014Bracket Virginia 2014Bracket WisconsinBracket WSU 2014

Upset picks that are not for the faint of heart

Hey they have the same record! Hint, hint.

Hey they have the same record! Hint, hint.

While winning an office pool is nice but the real test of a March Madness “expert” is calling for a massive upset and getting it right. Picking upsets all over the place is not going to work and is cheating. But if you have the stones to pick an occasional 15 over a 2, then this post is for you.

5. 12 seed North Dakota State over 5 seed Oklahoma

Some people are even picking North Dakota State to go to the sweet 16. I can see why as the Bison are a spark in a munitions factory in terms of offense. NDSU is No. 1 in the nation in field-goal percentage shooting 50.9 percent. Oklahoma is nothing special on defense so it should be a coin-flip game. Take the little guy in those situations.

4. Dayton goes to the sweet 16

Ohio State and Syracuse are not perfect, opening the door for a Cinderella there. How about Dayton as it should be fired up to play Ohio State. The Buckeyes have been afraid to put the in-state foe on their schedule, but they can’t be avoided now. Dayton is a top-50 team in both rebounding and 3-point shooting. As long as the Flyers don’t turn the ball over, both Ohio State and Syracuse are in trouble.

3. The winner of Iowa and Tennessee goes to the sweet 16

Since these “opening round” games have come about at least one of those teams makes it to the sweet 16. VCU and LaSalle are the ones that really come to mind. Iowa is a top-50 team in rebounds, turnovers and offense. Tennessee is a top-50 team in defense. UMass will have a fight on its hands for sure. And some crazy thing might happen to Duke.

2. No. 14 seed Mercer over 3 seed Duke

Mercer matches up well with Duke as both like to shoot the 3. Mercer defeated last year’s Cinderella in Florida Gulf Coast to get here and almost won at Texas. The Bears should hang around in this one and get Duke unhinged. They lost to 15 seeded Lehigh not too long ago so another Duke collapse is not a stunner anymore. Mercer is also a top-50 rebounding team so Duke must dominate the turnover battle. If the Bears protect the ball they could pull it off.

1. No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky over 2 seed Kansas

And boom goes the dynamite. Eastern Kentucky is No. 2 in the nation in turnover margin. Just behind Louisville. Kansas is dead last in the Big-12 in turnovers. That’s a problem. Plus, if center Joel Embiid is out like we think he is for this game than Kansas will take a hit to its biggest advantages on the floor. That being blocks, rebounds and interior defense.

Will Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins be able to handle the pressure that comes in the NCAA tournament if a 15 seed is ahead with 2 minutes to go? Eastern Kentucky is also a top-50 3-point shooting team so it should not be gun-shy. If the Colonels connect from deep I truly think they’ll win. Better get ready Jayhawks. You’re on upset alert.

Honorable mentions
Stephen F Austin over VCU, Harvard over Cincinnati, Baylor to sweet 16, New Mexico to elite eight.

Two Sides of the Bubble

In a night where the brackets were released and ESPN complained for hours (seriously, even the 30 for 30 on the Big East was two hours of whining) it was great seeing how schools responded. Particularly the bubble teams.

First the good news, a bubble team that did receive a spot was North Carolina State. The reaction from the Wolfpack is simple and priceless.

Before the announcement was this gem. A photo of the of the team and the phrase “No matter what.” Love it.

Whether the Wolfpack deserved a spot is not the story here. It was a great display of the pure emotion of just getting into the NCAA tournament.

The team that did not get into field but still had a great response was Southern Mississippi. I thought the Golden Eagles deserved a bid and was the highest ranked team in the RPI that was left out. To make its case, the athletic department went to the media.

I like it. Bubble teams should be doing everything it can to promote themselves. Especially the schools from the smaller conferences. Plus the stats it gave were convincing.

The bad news goes to SMU, the team many feel were robbed. Meet the new depressing tweet of the year candidate.

Being on the wrong side of the bubble really stinks but it shows how quickly teams must turn things around. SMU will be playing a home game in the NIT Wednesday night against UC-Irvine. Now is not the time to sulk.

Coach Larry Brown went through in the classic cliché of “It is what it is” at the 11:30 mark in this press conference video. Let’s just say it’s not a press conference anyone would want to be a part off.

Better refocus soon SMU. UC-Irvine wants to win the NIT. Do you?

Under the radar conference tournaments to watch

Conference tournaments are in full swing with the power conferences but here are some other tournaments with interesting story lines.

1. WAC

Remember when New Mexico State played at Utah Valley?

These two teams might meet up for the conference championship game Saturday night. Talk about bad blood and intrigue. Be sure to keep an eye on the WAC in case these teams square off again.

2. Conference USA

This is a deep league with five teams in or flirting with the RPI top-100. Southern Miss, the school we like to make fun of for its videos, is the story here. The Golden Eagles are on the bubble and will probably miss the tournament because it plays in Conference USA. Southern Miss has a No. 39 RPI but Middle Tennessee State is the favorite to get the automatic bid. If Southern Miss loses to MTSU in the title game, it could go 28-6 and still miss the tournament. That would be a travesty and the Golden Eagles will be the snub we all talk about Sunday Night.Obscurity Report new

3. MAC

The MAC is in the same boat with Toledo. The Rockets have a No. 36 RPI but could fail to get an at-large bid because they play in the MAC.

Yes, it would be another travesty but Toledo is the favorite to win. Problem is, the MAC is also deep with five teams in the RPI top-100. It will not be easy for Toledo.

4. Big West

No. 2 seed UC-Santa Barbara was blown out by No. 7 seed Cal-Poly 69-38 in the first round. I wanted Hawaii to win but it got knocked out in overtime last night. That means if No. 1 seed UC-Irvine doesn’t take care of business you might have a squad with a losing record represent the Big West. Hello total failure.

5. SWAC

Sadly a team from this league will get in.

With four ineligible teams and only three with winning records, this tourney is a joke. Still, somebody has to make it. For the SWAC’s stake, I hope Alabama State gets the automatic bid. It’s No. 257 RPI out of 349 is superior to the remaining teams. Yes, 257. Good grief.

Protecting the Swamp: Breaking Down the Florida Gator Defense

Looks like someone forgot about the team's "don't look back" rule.

Looks like someone forgot about the team’s “don’t look back” rule.

No. 1 Florida just wrapped up a perfect 18-0 stretch in SEC play and has emerged as a tournament favorite. The big reason for this success is how well the Gators play on the defensive side of the ball.

Prior to Saturday’s win over Kentucky, Florida was No. 5 in the nation in points allowed. The Gators hold their opponents to 58.2 a game. While that stat is impressive, it only tells a portion of why Florida is so tough to score on.

The Gators can be quite aggressive as they like to play a full-court defense that traps and forces turnovers. Guarding players 94 feet from the basket can be hazardous as the opposing team can leak out and score transition buckets. Florida, however, seems to have mastered it.

DSC_1548

Here, two Gators trapped a Wildcat underneath his own basket. The baseline acts as an additional defender and the Kentucky player is virtually triple-teamed.

A similar half-court trap can be seen here.

DSC_1552

The Kentucky ball handler can barely be seen up top as he is shadowed by two Florida players. He has to get rid of the ball in a desperation pass. In both cases the Kentucky player is forced to make a rash decision in an area of the court that could lead to easy points off turnovers.

It looks great on paper but these traps are difficult to execute. One, you must have the right personnel to pull these traps off. The Gators do with athletic guards. Two, you must have players with experience so they can keep containment of their man and not let the offense leak out. The right spacing and positioning is not something that can be learned as freshmen. See Kentucky as exhibit A. Florida has experience with four seniors making up the core of its rotation. Three, you need depth as a full-court defense is exhausting. Florida practically plays seven starters giving two players off the bench starter minutes. Patric Young, Florida’s best player, only sees 25 minutes a game. That is a big key to keeping your star center healthy and productive.

The result of all the traps and full-court pressure is an impressive turnover margin. The Gators are No. 29 in the nation (out of 349) in that category and force 14 turnovers a game. That’s exactly what Florida did to Kentucky Saturday forcing 14 while committing only 10 of its own.

If the Gators fail to turn you over they also create difficult shots in their half-court defense. Take a look at the spacing below.

DSC_1550

All five Gators are on the same side of the ball but are in position to close out on an open shooter should the Wildcats reverse the ball to the other side. Kentucky wants to pound the ball inside to their best player, Julius Randle, and look at all the white shirts ready to collapse on him should he touch the ball. Its aggressive zone defense built to take away what Kentucky wants to do.

Contrast this with what Kentucky did defensively when Florida gets deep into the paint.

DSC_1565

Look at the two blue jerseys just standing there as the shot goes up right in front of the hoop. The difference in team defense between the two schools is evident. Kentucky is a good defensive team but relies on their talent and athleticism. Arizona is in the same boat. Florida relies on a system its players have spent multiple seasons perfecting. The Gators are No. 29 in field-goal defense percentage as they keep offenses under 40 percent from the field.

In the second half, Kentucky began to figure some things out and made a run to get back in the game. Florida Coach Billy Donovan called off the dogs on his full-court press and went to what looked like a traditional 2-3 zone defense. Even in a traditional defensive set Florida maintained its aggressiveness. Look at the tight double-team that came towards Julius Randle despite the fact he was outside the paint.

DSC_1573

Randle is now in a tough spot as splitting the double team off the dribble would be tough for a big man. Kicking the ball out back to the perimeter is not a joy either as the offense would have to reset with a depleted shot-clock. Florida is in great shape in either option. The zone worked as the Kentucky’s comeback attempt stalled.

Where Florida’s experience really comes into play is in its ability to defend without fouling. The Gators are No. 15 in fewest fouls per game averaging only 16. The traps and double-teams only work if the Gators don’t bail out the opponent with a cheap foul.

So at 29-2 Florida appears destined to earn a No. 1 seed and make a deep tourney run, or is there a weakness to their vaunted defense. There is.

Florida is dependent on forcing turnovers to provide points offensively. In its two losses, the Gators played teams who could break through the traps. Wisconsin beat Florida on November 12 and is No. 1 in the country in fewest turnovers. Connecticut defeated Florida by a point on December 2. UConn has one of the nation’s best ball handlers in senior guard Shabazz Napier. A full-court press is a waste against him.

If a team has the personnel to protect the ball, there are two areas where Florida can be exploited defensively. The Gators are an average No. 181 in 3-point defense percentage. The aggressive traps can leave a guy open on the perimeter. Having multiple players who can shoot the three is pretty much a must against Florida.

If bombing treys is not enough, Florida also can be attacked on the glass as it’s ranked No. 173 in defensive rebounds. Problem is teams that rely on outside shooting typically do so because they don’t have a post presence to get offensive rebounds. It will take a team that has both and those are scarce.

People have compared March Madness to rock, paper, scissors as it is all about the right match-up. The Gators are a rock in a college basketball world that’s mostly scissors. Even if a paper is out there, it will still have its hands full with Florida.

How the Atlantic 10 rebranded itself

A-10 As a public relations/communications specialist, one of the things that caught my eye the past two weeks was a new marketing effort by the Atlantic 10 conference. Sure, I’ve seen conferences try to reinvent themselves in 30 second spots during a halftime break but this was different. It was not a cheesy promotion on how (insert conference name here) is proud of its (insert achievement here) and why its league is superior to everybody else. This marketing effort had an edge to it I rarely see.

The “Who Wants Next” campaign is a result of the A-10 contracting with a branding firm in Philadelphia called 160over90. While the video and pictures are well made the content is the real story here. The A-10 is doing everything it can to shatter the perception it is a mid-major conference.

That’s because it is not and there are stats to back it up. The A-10 currently has nine schools in the RPI Top-100. The American, a league the A-10 is often compared to, only has five. Many view the ACC and the Big Ten as the best conferences in basketball but they have nine teams in the Top-100 too. If the A-10 is inferior to those conferences it is not by much.

The perception that the A-10 is a mid-major is created by football, not basketball. Casual  fans believe every elite school has a football team competing in a BCS conference. It’s a stereotype ingrained in basketball fans too as undefeated Wichita State is getting hammered by a few experts as being unworthy of a No. 1 seed in the tournament. Smaller schools like this that thrive in basketball are mistakenly given a “Cinderella” label.

A-10 2

That is why I also like the “They’re work boots” poster. When the A-10 has tournament success it is not an “upset” or a “flash in the pan.” It is a win by a quality team like everyone else. Currently, four schools are a lock to be in the tournament with St. Joseph’s, Richmond, and Dayton on the bubble. That means the A-10 should earn roughly the same number of bids as all the other so-called “power conference” schools.

Another slogan used was “The rim offers blind justice.” 160over90 Chief Creative Officer Darryl Cilli explained how they came up with the slogan.

“Up on the scoreboard, skill and hard work count for more than name, legacy, or the number of stars in a recruiting class,” Cilli said.  “And there’s a fairness about the court.  This is the thinking that led to this line of the script, and more pieces that will follow in the coming months.”

As far as contracting with a public relations firm I can see why an athletic conference would do so. There are many bad examples of leagues trying to market themselves. Check out the photo below.

What... the... fudge

What… the… fudge

That is supposedly a promotion for the Big West Conference and its women’s basketball tournament. Now if you were able to tell that was about basketball then you deserve a gold medal from a figure skating judge.

I’m not suggesting every conference should consult with a PR firm as that is not an option for many mid-majors. For most of the large conferences it is not needed. But the A-10 is stuck in the middle, having large conference success with a mid-major perception. That’s where a PR firm can help.

“I’m not aware of many other instances like this,” Cilli said. “It’s not common to do it in the way the Atlantic 10 and 160over90 have with this project. The conference’s top-to-bottom depth and their consistent success over the years lent to pooling the teams’ collective accomplishments and positioning them together. Their shared values across programs and institutions, and the quality coaches and student-athletes made this effort possible.”

Now it’s up to the A-10 to back up its campaign on the court with another Final Four run by VCU or a Saint Louis. Maybe UMass and George Washington will bust everyone’s bracket.

For the Who Wants Next campaign, that would be a busted bracket worth celebrating.