By the Numbers: NCITBI, Round 1

Fortunately the conference hasn't expanded yet, otherwise I'd be a day late with this. (What? You didn't realize that Maryland's already advanced in the NIT?) If you happen to be one of those people who watches every available tournament game, here's a few stats on each of the nine games involving Big Ten teams in the first* round of the CBI, NIT, and NCAA tournaments.

Wednesday

7 PM, #6 Indiana State at #3 Iowa (-11)**, NIT

  • Expect a low-scoring game featuring two of the better defenses in the country: Iowa's is significantly better (89.5 vs. 94.6), and that plus ISU's average offense (100.8 - the average is 100.6) will make it hard for the Sycamores to make up ground, especially given their preferred tempo (65.4, right around average, which is 65.8 possessions). 
  • Threes? We don't need no stinkin' threes. ISU's bad, at 32.2%; Iowa's worse, at 30.0%. The Hawkeyes also allow only 29.0% on defense, fifth in the country. (Magic wands? Loud noises from the sidelines?) Again, a factor conducive to an insurmountable halftime lead for the Hawkeyes.
  • Both teams draw a lot of fouls: ISU 42.7 FTA/FGA, Iowa 42.5. If it's a close game, expect the second half to take about two hours.
  • Iowa's the highest-rated team in kenpom's ratings (27th) not to make the NCAA tournament.

7 PM, Western Illinois at Purdue (-10), CBI

  • Obviously you're watching this to support the Good Guys and not because you expect an enjoyable game. For all the struggles Purdue's had on offense, the Leathernecks have had them in spades: 94.0, which makes Purdue's look like a well-oiled cliche. (Actually, for the year, Purdue's offense is above average, 104.6. That's mostly offensive rebounding and partly strength of schedule.) WIU's preferred tempo is 1930s-style basketball: they are the slowest team in the country, averaging 57.8 possessions per game. Wisconsin, by comparison, averages 61.9. I wouldn't be surprised if these teams fail to combine for 100 points.
  • Accordingly, Western does not crash the boards on offense (24.8%, 336th) and packs it in on defense (27.2% allowed, 28th). Between that and not fouling (28.5 FTA/FGA allowed, also 28th), Purdue needs to make the most of the shots they'll get. 
  • If Purdue falls behind, they should feel free to foul. WIU shoots 64.8% from the line, only a few points better than the Boilers (64.1%). The two Leathernecks with the most possessions shoot under 50%; Terell Parks, a 6-8 rebounding machine (27.6% DReb, 4th in NCAA), shoots .439 from the line. He's been out for nearly a month with a foot injury, so even if he does play, I doubt he'll be shooting any better.

Thursday

12:15 PM, #3 Michigan State (-9) vs. #14 Valparaiso, NCAA

  • What's the opposite of Purdue-Western Illinois? This game. Valpo's offense can hang with MSU's (109.9 vs. 112.8), but at a slightly higher tempo (65.9 to 64.4) and with a much more accurate touch. Valparaiso shoots 56.1% from two, 4th in the country; 37.5% from three, 38th; and 73.7% from the line, 45th. They don't get second looks much, but they don't need them. If MSU can't force turnovers (the Crusaders turn it over like the Spartans, 22.0% vs. 20.5%), they can't be giving up open looks.
  • You know how basketball brains like to talk about experience? Who's got the most experienced team in the country? Valparaiso, 2.72 years of experience per player. That's nearly 1.5 seasons more than MSU averages. No hidden-ball tricks in this game.
  • The Horizon League champions don't have any quality wins, but two of their losses were at tournament teams (13 at St. Louis and New Mexico), and two of their bad losses were by a single bucket. This kind of team is hard to judge. Did they shoot so well because their opponents aren't good, or are they good enough to put a scare into Sparty? Don't be surprised if the first half proves the latter to be true.
  • Pacer.

7:15 PM, #4 Michigan (-13) vs. #13 South Dakota State, NCAA

  • So Michigan's freshmen suddenly remembered they were freshmen and got knocked around the last month of the season ... in the Big Ten, which will never be mistaken for the Summit League, which is probably best known for a coach diving on the floor to celebrate a tournament bid. (Did I remember that correctly?) The Jackrabbits are experienced – 2.18 years, 43rd – but that shouldn't be Michigan's concern ...
  • ... instead, it should be their shooting touch. Take Valparaiso and level them up: 39.4% from three (9th), 50.3% from two (60th), 77.3% from the line (5th). In other words, do not sag off your man. If Nate Wolters (124.8 ORtg, 29th) beats Trey Burke, let him.
  • Sadly for the upset-minded, SDSU does not boast the same kind of defense. Like Michigan, they don't foul much (24.6 FTA/FGA, 4th, to Michigan's NCAA-leading 22.9), but their eFG is 50.9%, well worse than average. The Jackrabbits may run out to a lead, but the Wolverines are more than likely to run them down and shred them: Michigan's eFG is better (54.4% to 53.5% for SDSU's offense) and came largely against a much better conference. Don't be surprised if this one looks close at the half before UM pulls away late.

Friday

12:40 PM, #5 Wisconsin (-5) vs. #12 Mississippi, NCAA

  • These teams are more alike than you might think: good offense, good defense, rare turnovers (5th and 7th in offensive turnover %). Where they differ is in tempo: Ole Miss likes to run (70.8 possessions, 11th-fastest) and Wisconsin likes to sit and watch paint dry (61.9, as mentioned above).
  • Mississippi probably needs to run, though. They don't shoot well from three (33.0%, 218th) or from the line (68.4%, although that's way better than Wisconsin's brick-like 63.3%). 
  • Expect a lot of shots to end up anywhere but the rim: both teams block quite a few shots (Mississippi 7.5%, Wisconsin 7.0%). 
  • One last thing: if there is a prop bet*** on Mississippi assists, take the under. They average an assist on less than half their made baskets (46.1%, 318th), and Wisconsin allows an assist on just 40.4%, 2nd-best in the country.

4:10 PM, #1 Forces of Evil (-22) vs. #16 James Madison, NCAA

  • OK, OK, I'll update this once we know who the opponent is, as if it matters. While a #16 will eventually knock off a #1, as a famous actor once said, today is not that day.
  • So ... this is your traditional 16 vs. 1. If IU isn't up by 10 at the first commercial break, it'll be a disappointment. JMU doesn't have an average offense (97.6) ... their defense isn't bad (98.2), but this is Indiana offense. 
  • The Dukes don't turn the ball over much (17.3%, 35th). That's probably all we want to say about them.
  • One of the tallest teams in the country (effective height +3.1" per position, 19th) faces one of the shortest (-1.9", 290th). I think Cody Zeller already has three rebounds.

4:40 PM, #7 Illinois (-1) vs. #10 Colorado, NCAA

  • You know 7/10 games are usually tossups, right? Sure you do. Illinois has a slight edge in offensive efficiency (109.7 to 105.7), but Colorado has the advantage on defense (90.9 to 93.3). 
  • The teams have weaknesses that match their opponents' strengths, too, but that's not good for the Illini: Illinois doesn't draw fouls on offense (31.2 FTA/FGA, 290th), and Colorado doesn't commit fouls (24.7, 6th). The Buffaloes do draw fouls well (41.4, 41st), and Illinois is happy to comply (36.9 defensively, 201st). 
  • Illinois shoots a ton of threes, but shoots them poorly (32.3%, 244th) ... and Colorado doesn't allow accuracy (also 32.3%, 93rd), although they do allow frequency (31.7% of opponents' points come from outside, 38th, well above the NCAA average of 27.5%). If someone gets hot from outside, that could cause Colorado problems.

7:15 PM, #2 Ohio State (-16) vs. #15 Iona, NCAA

  • I laughed at the people picking OSU to win the conference tournament. Whatever.
  • Iona actually has a pretty good offense, 113.1 (22nd) vs. OSU's 114.6 (14th). They don't turn it over much (16.9% to 16.6%) and shoot well (52.5% eFG to 50.8% for OSU). Also, they hit free throws (77.8%, 4th). Which means ...
  • nothing. They will run (70.6 possessions, 18th) and jack up threes (37.3% accuracy, 41st), and it won't matter, because their below-average defense (105.5, 255th) will get them crushed. Poor two-point defense (49.1%, 232nd) and defensive rebounding (33.4 OReb% on defense, 246th) will ensure that Deshaun Thomas has a monster game. 

9:57 PM,  #11 Minnesota (-3) vs. #6 UCLA, NCAA

  • How is it that a team that's lost 7 of their last 10 is favored against a #6 seed? Well, two of their wins came against kenpom top-10 teams (Wisconsin and Indiana), plus the Pac-12 is ... not so strong. Arizona and Arizona State are the only teams favored to win their tournament games; UCLA and Arizona are the only teams with NCAA bids seeded higher than 10th. 
  • Who's going to stop Minnesota's NCAA-leading offensive rebound game (44.3%)? No one. UCLA gives up an offensive rebound about one time in three (34.0%, 267th). The Bruins swept Arizona in conference play, but gave up 19 offensive rebounds in the game in Tucson. Missouri had 20 in an overtime loss at Pauley. Washington State had 21 in a win at UCLA (in a game they led 21-4 at the 10-minute mark in the first half).
  • While the Bruins do like to run (69.3 possessions, 35th), their advantage may be on turnovers. Minnesota turns it over a lot (21.7%, 266th) and UCLA gets a lot of steals (11.6%, 53rd). If UCLA pulls off the "upset", look to their transition game as a possible factor.

I would totally put pictures and stuff in here, but my new laptop just arrived, so I got to go. (If it helps any, it's got an Old Gold cover.)

    *Opening-round games are opening-round games. The first round has 64 teams. The NCAA's insistence on calling a red pencil yellow does not make the pencil yellow.
    **All lines from kenpom.com and for informational purposes only. Betting on NIT games? That's a problem, my friend.
    ***What's a prop bet? I don't know. It's probably illegal. Everything's illegal. What was the question again?

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