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Last week I wrote about the teams sure to be overrated and underrated in the NCAA tournament, using Four Factors data as the basis for my analysis. Here’s what I wrote in that piece:
The fact that Ken Pom’s predicted margin of victory and the betting market are so closely aligned is very interesting given what goes into the AdjEm metric. Again, it’s just offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency, and then you can adjust the game for pace of play and projected number of possessions. That means that there are a ton of metrics not factored into the spread — the most famous of them being the Four Factors. These four metrics have shown to be incredibly important to team success:
- Shooting: eFG%
- Turnover rate
- Rebounding (O vs. D)
- Free-throw rate
Not all teams playing today in their respective conference tourneys are going to make the big dance, but we can still use Four Factors and offensive/defensive data to find edges in the spreads. Here are a couple that are standing out in today’s slate.
Grand Canyon (-12) vs. UMKC
3 p.m. ET
The Antelopes — yes, Grand Canyon’s mascot is the Antelopes — have one of the best defenses in the nation. They rank fourth nationally in effective field goal percentage allowed, which Four Factors pioneer Dean Oliver said was the most important of the Four Factors. UMKC is hot garbage offensively (302nd in adjusted offensive efficiency). The Kangaroos’ only chance of scoring is jacking up 3-pointers — they rank 27th in percentage of shots from behind the arc — but that’s problematic against the Antelopes, who rank first in the country in 3-point percentage allowed. Grand Canyon doesn’t even give up a ton of attempts, ranking sixth in percentage of shots allowed behind the arc. Want to attack them at the rim or in transition? Nope — GCU ranks ninth in rim defense and 14th in transition defense. This 12-point spread is in line with their overall Ken Pom numbers but doesn’t account for how brutal Grand Canyon is of a matchup for UMKC. The Antelopes won by 17 in each of the two previous games this year.
Duquesne (+2) vs. Richmond
6 p.m. ET
This one is pretty straightforward: Duquesne is excellent at pounding the offensive glass, ranking 42nd in the nation, and Richmond is pretty average on the defensive glass. These squads met just once this year, and Richmond took it by four points in overtime, but the rebounding edge was significant in that one: The Dukes (Duquesne) grabbed 24 offensive boards (versus just seven for the Spiders). Duquesne shot very poorly, going just 38.2 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from the 3-point line, and the game still went to OT. Richmond’s defense ranks an atrocious 324th in effective field goal percentage allowed, so I’m not predicting another terrible shooting performance from the Dukes. If that reverts to the mean and the offensive rebounding advantage is here to stay, I think this line should probably be a pick’em.
Hawaii (+4) vs. UC Irvine
9 p.m. ET
This game is truly fascinating. Both teams have significant strengths and weaknesses in their Four Factors data. UC Irvine is fantastic defensively, ranking fifth in effective field goal percentage allowed. And that’s incredibly important. But Hawaii is perhaps an underrated matchup: The Anteaters (Irvine) mostly survive on offense by hitting the glass, ranking 55th in that regard, but the Rainbow Warriors — I swear I’m not making these mascot names up — rank 33rd cleaning up the defensive glass. So, that’s basically a wash. But the Warriors could have a potentially sizable advantage getting to the line, as they rank 18th in offensive foul rate. Irvine has one of the most foul-prone defenses in the nation. Looking back at the two previous games between these teams this season (which they split at each other’s courts), Hawaii took 24 and 28 free throws. For reference, Rider ranks first in the nation with 26.7 free throw attempts per game. If the Warriors slow things down and hit their free throws, they could cover this spread.
Miami (+6.5) vs. North Carolina
9 p.m. ET
If I had known that UNC would be the most overrated team in the nation according to this Four Factors study, I probably wouldn’t have even started it. (As a UNC fan, I’m only partially kidding.) The Tar Heels have elite strengths, most notably on the offensive glass, where they rank second in the nation. Still, the Heels have some very stark weaknesses on defense. They rank just 154th in effective field goal percentage allowed, and they’re especially atrocious from the 3-point line — 298th in frequency of shots from deep and 333rd in 3-point percentage allowed. Their transition defense is just as bad (308th overall), which is especially problematic vs. Miami, which ranks sixth in transition offensive efficiency. UNC allowed 91 points in the first meeting between these two teams and even found itself down 16 before a second-half comeback. For those reasons, I don’t mind fading UNC against the spread over the next month. (No, I’m not crying.)
Editor’s note: The opinion on these games is from the individual writer and is based on his research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights
Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports