The Horizon and Ohio Valley Conference tournaments get started TONIGHT in college basketball. I thought this would be a good time to review some of the key stats we played around with last year during the college postseason...so we can start the process of handicapping the upcoming tournaments.
Last year we focused on these key "indicators" stats because they were relatively easy to find on the internet, and because they carried a lot of weight in terms of helping you understand what makes a team tick:
*Defensive Field Goal Percentage in Conference Play: this stat almost by itself signaled success or failure in the postseason for many teams. It was also great for isolating "under" plays against the Vegas totals whenever two good defenses squared off. Put two good defenses on a neutral court in a playoff atmosphere, and you'll often get a low scoring first half and a low scoring game. We only used conference play to help eliminate the impact that easy or hard non-conference schedules could have on the stat.
*Three-point Attempts per Game: this stat helped you discern the inside teams from the perimeter teams. It's been clear in recent seasons that inside teams have an edge in playoff style basketball. Sure, there are some games where a perimeter team shoots lights out and advances. And, each year there seems to be one team that can string together some hot games. But if you keep track of what ALL the perimeter-heavy teams do in the postseason, they typically lose about 60-65% of the time straight up against inside teams. Last year we talked about the vulnerability of both Ohio State and Tennessee as #2 seeds in the NCAA tournament because they relied so much on long range shooting. Neither lived up to their seed, and they went 0-4 ATS in the Dance.
Access to stats has changed a bit this year, so I've made some minor adjustments. In tonight's games, and in as many tourneys as we have time/space for in the coming weeks, I'll be looking at these three factors:
*Defensive Field Goal Percentage in Conference Play: same as before.
*Percentage of field goal attempts that are treys: a slight adjustment, as we're now looking at the percentage role that three-pointers play in the big picture. In essence, we're adjusting the raw totals for context...a better way to go about it.
*Tempo: average number of possessions in that team's games.
These numbers floating around without context won't do you much good. Here's what the typical standards are in college hoops this year:
*Defensive Field Goal Percentage: the best defenses allow 41% or less from the floor. Pretty good defenses allow 42-43%. Once you get past 44%, it's a slippery slope into trouble.
*Trey Attempt Percentage: most teams will have about 33-36% of their offensive attempts come on three-pointers. What I'll be calling "inside" teams have less than that (Murray State of the Ohio Valley registers at 31%). What I'll be calling "perimeter" teams will register at 38% or higher (Murray's opponent tonight is Samford, which has a whopping 53% of its field goal attempts come on three pointers).
*Tempo: the national average is about 66-67 possessions per team per game. Slower teams will be in the low 60's or high 50's. Faster teams will be in the 70's.
Okay, with those in mind, let's look at the seven games on Tuesday night's tournament schedule.
OPENING ROUND: HORIZON CONFERENCE
(Note that the bottom team in each matchup is playing on its home floor)
Detroit: 42% defense, 62 tempo, 35% trey emphasis
Youngstown St.: 44% defense, 67 tempo, 29% trey emphasis
Regular Season Meetings: Detroit won 66-51 at home. Youngstown won 82-70 at home
Early Line: Youngstown State -3, total of 126
Detroit was actually the better team by most accounts this year. Youngstown State earned a better seed in the conference tournament though. Home court advantage by itself is worth about four points...so the number here reflects the consensus that Detroit's slightly better. You can see that the visitor has the better defense. We do respect the inside game of Youngstown though. A team that plays in the paint often gets some breaks from the officials because they keep attacking the basket. That means the visitor HAS to hit treys to get the win. Home teams swept the board last year in this round in the Horizon conference. Best to leave it alone, unless you just want to take all the superior defenses on one hand (Detroit), or all the home teams on the other (Youngstown).
Wisconsin-Milwaukee: 46% defense, 68 tempo, 38% trey emphasis
Illinois-Chicago: 42% defense, 67 tempo, 33% trey emphasis
Regular Season Meetings: Wisconsin Milwaukee won 76-65 at home. Illinois Chicago won 72-59 at home
Early Line: Illinois-Chicago by 8.5, total of 139
It's going to be clear after you read through a few of these that having the better defense, and attempting fewer three-pointers, are key characteristics of superior teams. Part of that theory is self-fulfilling. Teams that fall behind have to try more three's in order to catch up. Still, that's not the whole answer. If you can win by scoring inside, there's no reason to try the lower risk shots from long range. Winning and inside play go hand in hand. Teams who can't play inside have to hope for the best from long range. I'll always be skeptical of coaches who try to instill "run-and-gun" bombs away approaches. It sells tickets for awhile, and it can turn a bad program into an okay program. It's not going to do much in March unless a sharpshooter hits everything he puts up a few games in a row. Here, Illinois-Chicago has clear edges where it matters. But the line is awfully high, not a game for us to get involved with. Those of you playing the home-team trend from last year are paying a bit of a premium, but it didn't matter in 2006.
Cleveland State: 45% defense, 64 tempo, 38% trey emphasis
Wisconsin-Green Bay: 42% defense, 65 tempo, 32% trey emphasis
Regular Season Meetings: Green bay won 65-63 at home, and 79-66 on the road
Early Line: Wisconsin Green Bay by 7.5, total of 129
Let's take a shot on Wisconsin Green Bay minus the points in the first half and for the game. Cleveland State is the worst team in the Horizon conference this year. They can't really imagine that running off some wins in this tournament is possible. The kids know they don't have a chance. And, we're talking about guys who don't play much defense in the best of times. In league play this year, Cleveland's average game was a 10-point loss. They'll have less motivation than "average" here. This looks like a double digit win for the hosts unless Green Bay just comes in overconfident because of the easy draw. In last year's games, the home teams jumped out to big first half leads. If Cleveland is going to lay down, then Green Bay will have the full game spread covered by halftime.
HORIZON SELECTIONS: Wisconsin Green Bay (-4) in the first half and for the full game (-7.5).
OPENING ROUND: OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE
(Note that the bottom team in each matchup is playing on its home floor)
Morehead State: 46% defense, 65 tempo, 36% trey emphasis
E. Kentucky: 45% defense, 63 tempo, 45% trey emphasis
Regular Season Meetings: Eastern Kentucky won 69-61 on the road, and 73-65 at home.
Early Line: Eastern Kentucky by 8, total of 125
Eastern Kentucky has the highest "trey emphasis" of any team we've looked at so far. Samford will top them in a moment. We're skeptical of this kind of team in a tournament. But, it has to be said that the trey-heavy approach can work on a team's home floor. The shooters are familiar with the surroundings. We've seen in past years that many of the March flops actually had strong home floor records, but were weak on the road. So, it makes more sense to go against a perimeter team like Eastern Kentucky on a neutral floor than at home. They do have an edge on defense. That high line is enough to scare us off. In a nutshell, if the treys are falling, Eastern could double the spread. If not, it's going down to the wire. Not a game to play for value, unless you just want to take all the home teams as a blanket strategy.
Tennessee State: 47% defense, 65 tempo, 38% trey emphasis
Austin Peay: 42% defense, 67 tempo, 33% trey emphasis
Regular Season Meetings: Austin Peay won 62-53 on the road, and 89-44 at home
Early Line: Austin Peay by 10.5, total of 134
Austin Peay is the best team in the Ohio Valley, and the top seed in the tournament. You can see that they play strong defense, and that they emphasize the inside game on offense. That's the kind of team we love to take normally. Throw in an 89-44 regular season meeting on this floor, and it's hard not to lay the points. Peay almost won by tonight's spread in the road meeting for goodness sake. There are clear head-to-head edges. The more you dig, the more you see Austin Peay naming the score. Only overconfidence could get in the way.
Austin Peay in the first half (-6) and the full game (-10.5).
Southeast Missouri: 47% defense, 72 tempo, 44% trey emphasis
Tennessee Tech: 41% defense, 71 tempo, 34% trey emphasis
Regular Season Meetings: Tennessee Tech won 87-80 on the road, and 91-76 at home
Early Line: Tennessee Tech by 11, total of 152
Almost anything you can say about Austin Peay you can also say about Tennessee Tech here. The edge on defense is actually a bit bigger. The differences in trey emphasis are more dramatic as well. The series history isn't quite as dramatic though. What jumped out at me were the tempo numbers. Both of these teams run and gun. With the season on the line, it's easy to see a crazy second half. Yes, I know, playoff atmospheres can condense scoring. What we're condensing from here are regular season scores of 87-80 and 91-76. That's 167 in both cases. And, this isn't a neutral site game with a weird backdrop. The host is a strong team that gets to face a lousy defense. The visitors launch treys like crazy. There's no guarantee the scoreboard will be any lower here unless Tech plays a lousy game. That means it might not be beneficial to play BOTH Tech and the Over. You're kind of doubling up on the same tendencies. Since we took Austin Peay in the other game, we'll phase in the total here. Let's do it this way. Tennessee Tech (-6.5) in the first half, assuming a fast start in a big game against a bad defense. Tech/SEMO Over 152 for the full game.
Samford: 44% defense, 55 tempo, 53% trey emphasis
Murray State: 40% defense, 66 tempo, 31% trey emphasis
Regular Season Meetings: Murray State won 57-51 on the road. Samford won 55-44 on the road
Early Line: Murray State by 7, total of 113
Samford is the most unique team we've looked at today. They basically play the Air Force, Princeton, West Virginia, Butler style that methodically works the ball around for an open look at a three-pointer. That's why the total is so low here. It may not be low enough. The regular season meetings landed on 108 and 99. If a playoff atmosphere is going to condense the total off those marks, then we could see a replay of Ohio State/Wisconsin. Both of the regular season meetings saw the first half total stay in the 40's. Let's ask that to happen here. A full game total of 113 is vulnerable to a crazy last five minutes in regulation. First halves are less likely to get crazy. Under 51.5 in the first half will be a formal play to wrap up the report.
OHIO VALLEY SELECTIONS: Austin Peay (-6) in the first half and (-10.5) full game vs. Tennessee State; Tennessee Tech (-6.5) in the first half vs. SEMO, Tennessee Tech/SEMO Over (152) for the full game; Samford/Murray State Under (50.5) in the first half.
Feel free to share your thoughts about these Tuesday night games in the MESS HALL at MajorWager.com. Maybe you see something in the numbers that didn't garner a mention here. Or, maybe you have some additional data you want to include. Let's put our heads together to see what the "power of the collective" can do this year in the college basketball tournaments!