By the Numbers: Final Fours

So the men's season is mercifully over, the women lost a road game to a team that's currently in the Final Four after knocking off one of the best teams in women's tournament history, and the CIT is going to crown East Carolina or Weber State champions, which means either 20 minutes of pirate jokes or a discussion of pronunciation (it's a long e).

In the meantime, two Big Ten teams keep chugging along, trying to pull off the first NCAA-NIT double in the conference since 1979 (and the first overall since Florida and South Carolina won the tournaments in 2006).

Thursday

9:00 PM, #3 Iowa (-3) vs. #2 Baylor, NIT Championship

  • Iowa's recorded four consecutive double-digit victories, the most recent being their 71-60 semifinal win over Maryland Tuesday night in New York. Baylor has had much more varied results, from a 46-point blowout of Long Beach State in their opener to a 3-point win over Arizona State in the round of 16. (Baylor was home for the first three rounds; Iowa had two home games and a road game at Virginia.)
  • The Bears' strength is not their defense, as evidenced by the 86 points they gave up to the Sun Devils. They don't force turnovers (18.8%, 241st) and don't box out particularly well (32.6% OReb allowed, 201st), but do a reasonable job of lowering opponents' eFG (46.3%, 77th), partly from defending twos at a passable rate (45.2%, 82nd). This is kind of important, given Iowa's general inability to hit from outside.
  • Iowa beat Maryland by forcing turnovers (17 to 8 of their own) and hitting free throws (19-24 vs. 9-16 for the Terrapins), but defensive rebounding was a problem (17 offensive rebounds for Maryland, .425). Baylor's not nearly as good at hitting the offensive glass (33.7 OReb%, 101st), and they don't hit twos as well (50.8%, 47th), but with turnovers not being nearly as much of a problem for the Bears (17.2%, 31st), Iowa may have to hope that someone gets hot from outside to build the Hawkeyes a lead; Baylor doesn't have weaknesses that match up particularly well with Iowa's strengths.

Saturday

8:49 PM, #4 Michigan (-1) vs. #4 Syracuse, NCAA semifinal

  • After destroying Florida in the South Regional final, the Wolverines draw the matchup challenge that is the Syracuse zone, the same defense that turned Indiana and Marquette into intramural offenses. Marquette hadn't even allowed as few as 39 points since before Buzz Williams arrived (did you know Tom Crean's Eagles scheduled Florida Gulf Coast in 2008 and beat them 67-37? Insert joke here), and Indiana hadn't scored as few as 50 since last year's loss at Wisconsin (of course).
  • The Orange are very efficient on offense, at least as non-Michigan teams go (113.2, 21st), primarily from attacking the offensive boards (39.0%, 8th). They aren't particularly accurate, though, so if Michigan continues to control the defensive glass (SDSU had the highest OReb against them in tournament play, .276), Syracuse will struggle to keep pace with Michigan ...
  • ... assuming their offense continues to thrive. Now with the top offense in basketball (121.9), Michigan's strengths line up with Syracuse's defensive strengths: eFG% (Michigan 54.6%, 11th; Syracuse 42.5% allowed, 4th) and turnovers (Michigan 14.5%, 1st; Syracuse 23.6% forced, 19th). The Orange do not rebound well (34.3% OReb allowed, 279th), a problem you'd expect a zone to have, so expect Mitch McGary to continue to put up MVP-like numbers (16.1 OReb%, 9th).
  • Rakeem Christmas is barely a contributor at the offensive end (13.9% of shots taken, hasn't hit double digits since Feb 4 against Notre Dame), so McGary should win this post matchup as he has the last four (most recent: Florida's Erik Murphy, 0 points, 8 rebounds in 22 minutes), but it won't mean much.
  • Syracuse's last loss came at the hands of Louisville, mostly thanks to Michael Carter-Williams fouling out and to 20 turnovers forced by the Cardinals. Michigan's defense isn't anything like Louisville's, so the Wolverines likely won't win that way ...
  • ... but before that, Georgetown beat Syracuse in the regular-season finale by 22, holding the Orange to 1-11 from three-point range and hitting 9-22 themselves. Given Nik Stauskas' reunion with accuracy, this is a much more likely recipe for a Michigan meeting with Wichita State or Louisville on Monday.

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