"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Another perspective on UNC's 19-2 mark since Marshall took over the point

Yesterday we laid out the reasons Marquette–UNC looked like it could now be a toss-up based on the formula that has correctly predicted enough bracket games this year to have me in the 97th percentile on ESPN and winning the only separate bracket I entered (1st of 219 entrees in a Washington DC bracket).

Basically, looking at the 5 factors that determine NCAA tournament winners, MU is now the hotter team since the regular season ended and UNC is coming up to Big East country after enjoying the entire ACC and NCAA tourney games in their home state. That leaves MU as now having the upper hand in three of five predictors (hotter team, venue and experience), which is almost enough to balance out UNC’s bigger advantages in the other two (TALENT with 4 guys who will be in the NBA within two years, a BETTER TEAM based on Sagarin).

While ultimately reaching the same conclusion, I believe Jim Bianco (Business 84) did a nice job of laying out another perspective on who UNC is and the edge they have in going 19-2 since freshman Kendall Marshall replaced Larry Drew at the point – a time span during which MU went just 10-8. So from Jim …

Who Is UNC?
On January 16 UNC lost to Georgia Tech. After that game Freshman Kendall Marshall replaced Larry Drew at the point (Drew has since left the program ... the fourth UNC transfer in the last six months). UNC went on a 19-2 run to go from a bubble team to a #2 seed.

Who Did UNC Beat?
Below uses KenPom stats as they are the easiest to work with.

UNC Current Top 25 wins since Jan 16 (Marshall)
Jan 18 #22 Clemson, home
Feb 12 #22 Clemson, away
Mar 5 #2 Duke, home
Mar 12 #22 Clemson (OT), Semi-home
Mar 20, Washington, Semi-home
Total = 5

To be fair ....
Feb 6 #27 FSU, away
Mar 2 #27 FSU, home

UNC Current Top 25 losses since Jan 16 (Marshall)
Feb 9 #2 Duke, away
Mar 13 #2 Duke away
Total = 2

5 and 2 against top 25 sounds impressive (7 - 2 if you include FSU). However, since January 16, UNC has largely shown an ability to beat Clemson (3 times) and FSU (twice). Clemson won a play-in game against UAB and was handled easily by WVU. FSU beat ND to advance to the Sweet 16. I did not know the ability to win the National Championship rests of the ability to beat Clemson on all surfaces?

Sure UNC beat a lot of top 100 teams to amass a 19-2 record since Marshall started at the point. But top 100 are not left. Only top 25 are left, including #21 MU.

Who Did MU Beat?
What about MU over the same period? January 16 is also a good starting point as it is the day after the Louisville debacle. MU is 10-8 over the same period.

MU Current Top 25 wins since Jan 16 (Louisville Debacle)
Jan 29 # 11 Cuse, Home
Feb 24 #13 UConn, Away
Mar 9, #21 WVU, Neutral
Mar 11 #11 Cuse, Neutral
Total = 4

And to be fair …
Mar 18 #42 Xavier, Neutral

MU Current Top 25 losses since Jan 16 (Louisville Debacle)
Jan 22 #15 ND, Away
Jan 25, #13 Uconn, Home
Mar 2 #24 Cincy, Home
Mar 10 #14 Louisville, Neutral
Total = 4

At first blush MU's 4 and 4 record (5 and 4 with Xavier) is not as impressive as UNC's 5 - 2. But MU has also beaten 3 different teams, like UNC.

MU has shown an ability to throttle a top guard in Xavier's Tu Hollaway (A-10 POY) and Syracuse’s Center Rick Jackson (projected NBA first round pick).

Louisville Debacle Part 2??

If you take the names off the two teams above, then it really looks like a 3 point UNC game like the statisticians Pomeroy and Sagarin have it. In other words, a 1 or 2 possession game as Buzz Williams likes to say.

Attach the names and then the emotions like to fly. How else could one rationalize CBS analyst Wally Sczerbiak (a former Miami of Ohio Player, and also a MU rejected recruit) saying; Congratulations to Buzz Williams and Marquette. Enjoy it, because North Carolina is going to squash you like a bug.

Or ESPN’s barcketologist Joe Lundari saying; I don't think there's a guy on Marquette who could crack the top on UNC. I think this is an easy win for the Tar Heels.

They said it based on UNC’s well deserved reputation. In a close game they expect UNC’s opponent to wilt from the pressure. Who can blame them for thinking this?

See what Miami (“The U”) did on March 10 when The U led or was tied for 39:59 of the game (and led by 19 at one point). UNC’s only lead, and only when it mattered, came from a Tyler Zeller lay-up in the game’s final second. This followed an epic collapse by Miami complete with dribbling off their own leg, throwing the ball out of bounds and missing bunnies down the stretch.

Or yesterday’s Washington game that featured poor play by Huskies down the stretch giving UNC opportunity after opportunity to win, which they did.

Time and again teams look up at the clock and see a close game with little time. Then they look at the Carolina Blue, get intimidated and choke. Will this happen to MU?

My answer is no. Lundari and Sczerbiak may think all #11 and #12 seeds are alike, Cinderella teams just happy to be in the mix. However, what they are not accounting for is MU plays in the Big East, in an NBA Arena (and frequently with NBA stars in attendance) and has played 15 games against the current top 25 (Sagarin data) including Sweet 16 teams Wisconsin, Duke and Uconn (twice). By contract UNC has played only 9 of the current top 25 teams including sweet 16 members Duke (twice) and Florida State (twice).

What To Expect

If Sagarin and Pomeroy are correct, look for a 1 to 2 possession game. What Lundari and Sczerbiak then expect is MU to act like Washington or The U and give the game to UNC.

UNC should be favored and they should not expect MU to give them the game. They will not. They did this already against Louisville on national TV and learned from it. Recent games at Uconn, Xavier, WVU and Syracuse (twice) prove this. What UNC has to do is not come with a Miami, Duke or Washington effort (3 or their last 5 games) because they will lose. What MU has to do is coming with a WVU, Xavier or Syracuse effort (three of their last four). If they do, they can win.

Can’t wait for Friday.

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