Sweet 16 Betting Prep: Refocusing on Five Key Statistical Areas

Sweet 16 Betting Prep: Refocusing on Five Key Statistical Areas article feature image

Happy Second Weekend! While today doesn’t have the same Christmas like-feel as the opening Thursday of the tournament, I still consider it a quasi holiday. In honor of the Sweet 16, I decided to rehash the five key statistics pre-tourney story specifically for the remaining field. As a reminder, the five areas I looked at were:

  • Zone defense schematics
  • Rebounding differential
  • Free throw percentage
  • 3-point shooting splits
  • Turnovers per possession

Below, I will point out some of the most glaring mismatches in either this round or potential future mismatches later in the tourney. Let’s get to it.

Know Your Zones

It wouldn’t be an NCAA tournament analysis this decade without a look at zone defenses. Just look at Syracuse, which finds itself in the Sweet 16 again as a double digit seed. Its zone sent Michigan State packing in a shocking upset last weekend. As a result, we get a battle of 2-3 zones on Friday between Duke and Syracuse.

Zone metrics are especially important in the tournament, when there is less familiarity with teams and quick turnarounds. A unique scheme can carry a team far in a tourney setting. The first column in the chart below lists the tournament teams that spent the most time in zone during the 2017-18 regular season. Each of the four were among the top 15 teams in the entire field. The second column lists the type of base zone defense each respective team plays. I also included a list of the four most efficient zones left in the Sweet 16.

  • Of the fifteen worst zone offenses that made the tournament, only Syracuse remains in the field. In fact, Syracuse had the second worst zone offense in the entire field (305th nationally). That spells disaster against the length of Duke’s zone defense.
  • Keep in mind that Villanova had the No. 1 zone offense during the regular season. That could play a huge role in a potential Final Four showdown with Duke (or Syracuse).
  • Kentucky ranked in the top 10 among all tournament teams in regards to percentage of time spent playing zone defense. Given the makeup of its team, Nevada (a potential opponent next round if Kentucky advances) had a zone offense ranked in the top 20 during the regular season.

Battle of the Boards

Second-chance points will always matter in a tournament setting, especially as the pressure rises later in the tournament. In terms of overall rebounding percentage, the two glaring mismatches in the Sweet 16 are:

  1. Kentucky (35th) vs. Kansas State (289th)

  2. Texas A&M (19th) vs. Michigan (143rd)

Duke, Gonzaga, and Texas A&M are best equipped to handle an off shooting night, as all currently rank in the top 20 nationally in rebound rate.

Free Throws Matter

You have to know which teams excel at the line and which teams you can’t rely on to get you a late cover as a favorite. This can also matter for live betting if you see a certain officiating crew calling a game very tight from the jump.

  • Michigan ranks 329th in D1 free throw shooting percentage at 65.8. That could end up costing them a shot at a National Title, but probably won’t matter in its next game against Texas A&M. The Aggies are the second-worst free throw shooting team left in the field at 66.4% (320th nationally).
  • Not only do the two worst free throw shooting teams remaining meet in the Sweet 16, but so do the two best. Villanova and West Virginia both rank in the top 30 nationally from the stripe. Nova could end up securing a cover or two as a favorite the rest of the way in the final minutes from the line.

The Great Equalizer

Anybody can go down in college basketball on any given night, thanks to the 3-point line. We saw that play a part in the first ever victory by a No. 16 seed, when UMBC took out Virginia.

  • It’s no coincidence that five of the the teams that ranked in the top 10 of all 68 tournament teams are still alive. Purdue, Kansas, Villanova, Loyola and Nevada all rank in the top 18 nationally in 3-point shooting.
  • The most glaring mismatch in the Sweet 16 involves Villanova’s 3-point shooting (11th in the country) against West Virginia’s 3-point defense (301st nationally).
  • Purdue leads the tournament (second in the country) in 3-point shooting percentage. However, a lot of its open looks throughout the season came from working inside-out through big man Isaac Haas. Given his recent injury, don’t expect a similar clip moving forward.
  • Duke shoots the deep ball at 38.3% (top 40 nationally), but who knows how that will translate against the voodoo of the Syracuse postseason zone.
  • Kentucky ranks No. 2 nationally in 3-point defense. That won’t matter much against Kansas State, but it will if the Cats advance to the Elite Eight against either Loyola or Nevada, both of which are outstanding perimeter shooting teams.

Value Every Possession

Turnovers will be a specific focus as long as Press Virginia is still alive in the tournament. As the games get tighter and the stakes get higher, taking care of the ball in pressure situations becomes even more critical. This is especially important with limited prep for the second game in a three-day stretch, which we will see this weekend and for the National Championship.

  • Not surprisingly, West Virginia leads the remaining field in forcing turnovers (second nationally). Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, they will face a Villanova team that turns it over at the eighth-lowest rate in the country. Additionally, if they get by Nova, they could then potentially face a Purdue team that takes care of the ball at a top 25 rate nationally. (Purdue will also benefit from this against Texas Tech, which forced turnovers at a top 20 rate.)
  • Updated with all stats through yesterday, Nevada now leads the country in lowest turnover percentage per possession. That helped the Pack in both of their epic comebacks and will be a valuable skill against a Loyola team that sits in the first quartile of the remaining field in regards to turnovers forced.
  • Interestingly, Texas A&M ranks dead last among the remaining 16 teams in turnover rate on both sides of the ball. While Michigan doesn’t create a ton of turnovers, the Wolverines do value the ball as well as any team. A few extra possessions could decide what should be a tight game.
  • Kentucky turns the ball over on 18.0% of its possessions (172nd nationally), which looks like an issue on the surface against a Kansas State defense that ranks in the top 25 in turnover percentage rate. However, they have been much better of late, due to the development of point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. In fact, over its last three games, UK has only turned it over on 15.7% of its possessions. That would put it in the top 40 nationally for the season.

Top photo: Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans; credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports