Thursday, March 31, 2011

NCAA Final Four Preview

6:09 Saturday, Houston63 possessions
What accounts for VCU's improbable run more than anything else is their torrid three-point shooting. Through their first 34 games, the Rams hit 35.9% of their three-point attempts. That's good--the national average is 34.4%--but it's not exactly anything spectacular. In their five NCAA Tournament games, though, VCU has hit 43.8% of their attempts from beyond the arc, which is insane. It's a full percentage point better than the best three-point shooting team shot over the course of the full season. The million-dollar question, then, is whether this is a function of luck or a hot-shooting streak, or whether there's something deeper at play.

The numbers indicate that there is. VCU's assist rate over the course of the regular season was, like their three-point shooting, pretty good but not great, with assists recorded on 58.5% of made baskets. In the Tournament, that number has spiked to 69.1%, which is a level usually only achieved by teams running Princeton offenses. That would indicate that VCU's shooters haven't been getting lucky. They've been getting open.

On defense, the trend has been reversed. In the regular season and the CAA Tournament, VCU's opponents recorded assists on 54.6% of their baskets; in the NCAA Tournament, that number has dropped to 46.9%. The Rams aren't getting any more steals or rebounding any better in the Tournament than they did in the regular season. They're simply denying the passing lanes and making their opponents beat them one-on-one.

There's a simple reason that no one could have predicted this run from Virginia Commonwealth: they've become a completely different team at both ends of the floor than they ever were at any point during the season.

8:49 Saturday, Houston63.9 possessions
The late game on Saturday may be the better game in terms of the quality of the teams involved, but it's sure not as interesting as the undercard. It's a little surprising to me that Kentucky is being treated as the underdog by the media despite being favored by Vegas and the computers.

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