Thursday, April 3, 2014

Final Four: Throw the Stats Out

By Jean Neuberger

The NCAA website features a section devoted entirely to college basketball statistics; a feast for basketball geeks everywhere.

The problem is, for this year's Final Four, it means little.

Most NCAA tournaments are hard to predict ... it's why Warren Buffett threw down a billion-dollar challenge to the nation. This year's version, however, might've surpassed them all. Most all of ESPN guessed Michigan State would cut down the nets in Jerry World. They were wrong. Out of millions of brackets, very, very few picked the rarity of a seven seed (UConn) and an eight seed (Kentucky) reaching Arlington this weekend.

Statistic lovers have to be a little bit baffled. Not one of the four teams remaining is in the top 50 teams offensively. Not one is in the top 50 in field goal percentage. Defensive-oriented teams dominated this season but even then, only Florida has a top 25 defense.

It seems as, if anything, the stats are good for just a game or two. Had one seen that the top shooting team in the tournament was North Dakota State, maybe more would've picked that second round upset. Had one seen that Stephen F. Austin was one of the best teams in assist-to-turnover ratio, they'd have given the Lumberjacks better odds to take down the hectic havoc that is VCU (though no one would've guessed that four point play near the end of regulation).

Ken Pomeroy's ratings certainly weren't that bad this season. He had this year's Final Four ranked first (Florida), sixth (Wisconsin), eighth (Kentucky) and 15th (UConn). He also had Tennessee ranked seventh and, given the run the Vols made, that was a nice pick. However, if anything, Pomeroy proved his rankings would've made for much better seedings than the NCAA's committee rankings, which proved, if anything, to be out of sorts.

Still, the old adages remain as to how to pick a successful bracket. And this year's tournament seemed to break all the rules.

The sum of your Final Four seeds should add to 10 or below. This year, that sum is 18.

Pick teams with veteran point guards. Kentucky's band of freshmen are dancing in Dallas. Aaron Craft and Ohio State were knocked out in the very first round.

Assist to turnover ratio is a great indicator of tournament success. Only Wisconsin was ranked in among the top 50 teams in this category. The Badgers were sixth.

The only adage that seemed to hold true? The continued greatness of the 12 seed. Had NC State not epically collapsed, the five seeds could've all bowed out to the four 12 seeds.

So, as we approach this weekend, you can certainly pick your favorites and make guesses on statistics. Like a team that rebounds well? Kentucky led the nation. Like a team that goes to the foul line often? Kentucky led the nation in that, as well.

Like a team that doesn't beat itself? Wisconsin was fourth in the nation in fewest turnovers; none of the other teams were ranked remotely close.

Like a team that's just overall sound defensively? Florida's defense is third best nationally. Wisconsin's and UConn's barely crack the top 40. Kentucky is way down the list.

As for UConn? They aren't found often on the statistical side of things. However, they do have one statistic that demands recognition: a win over Florida. Wisconsin's got the other one.

It's educated guesses. It's fun to decipher and guess. But in the end, just throw the books out.

When the Harrisons go up against Frank Kaminsky, just sit back and enjoy. When Florida tries to avenge their loss to the scalding hot UConn Huskies, let the numbers fade. Four teams are going to slug it out. One will emerge champion. The rest will play out on its own.

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