Stuckey: 5 Key Stats to Consider Before Betting on the NCAA Tournament

Stuckey: 5 Key Stats to Consider Before Betting on the NCAA Tournament article feature image
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Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Baylor guard Makai Mason

  • Stuckey offers five key statistical categories he uses to find value when betting on the NCAA Tournament.
  • Based on these crucial stats, Stuckey pinpoints some of the biggest upcoming mismatches for March Madness.

As I did last year, I shared my five favorite statistical measures that I use to identify key mismatches in either the first round of the NCAA tournament or further down the line. Those include:

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

I have compiled an overall summary of the 2019 NCAA Tournament field for each of the five categories above in order to identify the most glaring mismatches. Let’s get right into it, starting with knowing your zones.

In The Zone

Zone defenses can be tricky to prepare for on short notice and can cause nightmare matchup issues for specific teams, especially for those that haven’t seen a similar one all season. Just look at some of the runs Baylor and Syracuse have made in the NCAA Tournament.

Eight teams in this year’s field have run zone on at least 30% of their possessions:

Now, which teams have the best zone offenses in the country, as measured by Points Per Possession? Marquette, Purdue, Tennessee, Iowa, Saint Mary’s, Wofford, Bradley, Iowa State, Belmont and Gonzaga are the 10 best zone offenses in the field. Each of those 10 also ranks in the top 20 nationally, per Synergy.

The sample size isn’t enormous for some, but teams on the West Coast tend to see a lot more zone. So, a team like Gonzaga has faced more zones than a team like Purdue. That’s especially noteworthy since Gonzaga will face either Baylor’s or Syracuse’s zone in the second round.

(Also, keep in mind that if Washington advances to face North Carolina, the Heels would have already seen that same exact 2-3 zone against Syracuse.)

Now, you might be asking who are the worst zone offenses in the field? That list starts with Louisville, which has struggled mightily against zone defenses this year. NC Central and Saint Louis are also abysmal vs. zones, but the most noteworthy team is Syracuse.

The Orange are one of the worst zone offenses in the field and have seen zones on almost 20% off their possessions this year. Jim Boeheim’s bunch ranks in the 17th percentile nationally in PPP against zones.

That speaks to their shooting woes, which could end up costing them in a battle of two zone teams in the first round against Baylor. Meanwhile, the Bears have actually fared pretty well against zones this year.

Eating Glass

Second-chance points become even more critical at a neutral site in a tournament setting. Make sure you are familiar with which teams dominate the boards.

As you might expect, a few of the zone teams we just covered are among the worst rebounding teams in the tournament. Unfortunately for those teams, they are facing some of the best rebounding teams in the dance.

We actually have four first-round matchups involving one of the 10 best rebounding teams against one of the 10 worst, including:

  • North Carolina (56.2) vs. Iona (48.5)
  • Houston (54.9) vs. Georgia State (45.6)
  • New Mexico State (56.7) vs. Auburn (49.1)
  • Baylor (54.5) vs. Syracuse (48.4)

Charity Work

I’m already excited for the Twitter reaction to the first epic backdoor cover of the tournament. Those (as well as buzzer beaters) generally come as the result of free throw misses.

Know which favorites can and can’t shoot free throws. This could also make a difference in your bracket, as one off-shooting night could send a team packing.

  • The game with the biggest free throw discrepancy involves Louisville (77.5%) and Minnesota (67.9%). That’s the only only first-round game featuring one team from the best list and one from the worst.
  • Saint Louis is by bar the worst in the tournament from the line. The Billikens actually rank 352 out of 353 D1 teams from the stripe.
  • VCU’s pressure defense naturally fouls at a high clip (almost 25% of defensive possessions), which means we could see an abundance of UCF (64.5%) misses from the line.
  • As you can see, Kansas State (66.4%) struggles from the stripe. And that’s including Dean Wade’s numbers. Wade, who will likely miss the tournament, leads the team in FT% at just under 80% on the season.
  • Wisconsin (64.9%) is mainly dragged down by Ethan Happ’s historic struggles at the line. Happ is shooting 46.5% this year and Hack-a-Happ at the end of games could force him to the bench.

From Trenton

The 3-point shot will be a huge storyline throughout the tourney. Let’s take a look at which teams in the tourney field can shoot it and which can defend it:

  • Prairie View’s perimeter defense could be key against FDU — one of three teams in the field that shoots more than 40% from deep.
  • While you won’t find Liberty in the above chart, the Flames are an excellent shooting team (65th nationally from 3) and Mississippi State has struggled to defend the perimeter.  Put the Bulldogs on upset alert.
  • Strength on strength when Marquette’s outside shooting prowess takes on Murray State’s elite 3P% defense.
  • Virginia is the only team you will find on both top lists, as the Cavaliers own the field’s second-best 3P% and actually lead the nation in three point defense.

Sloppy Joes

Will a team that can’t handle pressure run into a full-court press? Understanding who can and can’t take care of the ball in a tournament setting on quick turnarounds is vital (especially on the second game of the weekend after only one day of prep).

  • Here are the teams that have pressed on at least 15% of their defensive possessions this season: VCU, Florida State, Oregon, Florida, NC Central and Cincinnati. Each of their first-round opponents has actually fared well in press offense except for NC Central’s opponent North Dakota State, which did not handle the press well this year.
  • Auburn and Prairie View rank first and second, respectively, in the nation in defensive turnover percentage.
  • Maryland is the only team that sits on both worst turnover lists. The Terps’ struggles with turnovers on the offensive end are well-documented, but not many realize they also have the second-lowest defensive turnover percentage in the entire country.
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