Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Preview: Kansas vs. Bradley

Bradley got the rawest of the several raw deals teams in the top half of the Oakland received from the Selection Committee. In drawing Kansas as their first round opponent, Bradley has a far slimmer chance of pulling an upset than inferior teams (San Diego State, Montana, Wisconsin-Mailwaukee, Pacific) with equivalent or higher seeds.

From Kansas' perspective, Bradley is a far better team than they would hope to meet in a 13-seed, but still, Kansas hasthe solace of being a better team than Bradley and should win the game.

Bradley relies heavily on two scorers (Marcus Sommerville (6-7, 225) and Patrick O'Bryant (7-0, 260)) neither of whom shoot very well from the floor or get to the free throw line often. That both Sommerville and O'Bryant are far more likely to shoot than pass further complicates matters. Kansas has generally done a fine job of suppressing the field goal percentages of their opponents' primary offensive options. Guards Tony Bennett (6-0, 175) and Daniel Ruffin (5-10, 165) are more likely to be open than Sommerville or O'Bryant but relatively unlikely to have the ball in their hands. That's not even taking into account the possessions Bradley will lose to a Kansas steal. It's a nice comfort to have the bigger, quicker guards in a matchup.

Bradley's greatest liability on offense may be defensive specialist JJ Tauai (6-3, 215). In 375 minutes this season Tauai attempted just 35 shots and 11 free throws. In the 5 games he played against the Missouri Valley's NCAA tournament teams, he attempted only 7 shots and no free throws in 86 minutes. Tauai passes the ball much better than Marcus Dove, but he doesn't provide the offensive rebounding that the taller Dove gives Oklahoma State. It will be interesting to see the extent to which the 6-3 Tauai can trouble Brandon Rush.

Bradley doesn't shoot many threes, less than 30% of their field goal attempts on the year, and they make less than a third of those they take. Kansas still leads the nation in two-point field goal percentage defense.

Forwards Zach Andrews (6-8, 225) and Lawrence Wright (6-4, 198) give Patrick O'Bryant some help on the offensive glass, but, as a team, Bradley's offensive rebounding falls off against better competition. Southern Illinois, the Valley's most athletic team, dominated Bradley on the glass in their last two meetings. Should O'Bryant get into foul trouble, the only other big men on the Bradley roster, Brandyn Heemskerk (7-1, 260) and Sam Singh (6-9, 260), have played a combined 124 minutes this year.

Bradley's defensive numbers may be deceivingly strong. There wasn't a lot of offensive talent in the Missouri Valley Conference this year. Wichita State and Missouri State were the only top-50 offenses in the league and Northern Iowa, ranked 71st, was the only other Valley team in the top-90 nationally. As a point of reference, Kansas State would have been an upper division offensive team in the MVC.

The numbers show that Bradley limits their opponents' field goal shooting (though not to the extent that Kansas does), forces a decent amount of turnovers, and (usually) controls the defensive glass. Sommerville, in particular, is a fine defensive rebounder. I assume his paltry offensive rebounding numbers are due to the volume and length of his shot attempts.

The numbers also show that Bradley's strong defensive performances have come in the slowest-paced games they've played. It's no secret that Kansas is far more effective offensively in high-possession games (unless Oklahoma State is involved). Bradley allowed 1.03 points per possession in at-risk games (road, neutral, home games against NCAA tournament teams) with at least 70 possessions per team. Kansas averages just under 70 possessions per game.

In all likelihood Bradley can't allow 1.03 points per Kansas possession. Only three teams (Nevada, St. Joseph's, and Texas) and Thomas Gardner have scored more than 1.03 points per possession in a game against Kansas this year. Bradley averages just 1.03 points per possession on the season. Looking at either at-risk games or just games against NCAA tournament teams, Bradley's offense shrinks to 0.97 points per possession. There are, as I said, some good defensive teams in the Valley. None of them are as good as Kansas.

Prediction: Kansas 71 Bradley 62

Friday, March 03, 2006

Preview: Kansas at Kansas State

Nobody in the Big 12 has guarded Kansas better than Kansas State did in Lawrence. The Wildcats held the Jayhawks to 0.81 points per possession. That was the second of four consecutive games that Kansas State held their opponents under a point per possession. The Wildcats haven’t been able to sustain that stinginess. Eight of their last ten opponents have scored over a point per possession. The two teams Kansas State held below a point per possession, Iowa State and Colorado, still averaged over a point per possession on the season against the Wildcats.

Kansas State isn’t good enough offensively to win consistently when their defensive performance is mediocre or worse. They shoot only 47.3 eFG% and turn the ball over more often than their opponents which negates their decent free throw shooting (fifth in the league in Free Throw Rate) and offensive rebounding (sixth in the league). Even though Kansas suffered a complete defensive collapse over the final thirteen minutes of the first meeting between the teams, Kansas State only managed 0.90 points per possession. Kansas played a mere 27 minutes of good defense and still held Kansas State ten percent below their average offensive efficiency in conference play.

The Jayhawks were much more successful at getting to the free throw line against Colorado than they had been in their previous three games. Unfortunately, the Jayhawks couldn’t convert even half of those chances. Kansas State allows conference opponents 36 free throw attempts per 100 field goal attempts. Kansas got 22 free throw attempts on 53 field goal attempts in the first meeting. By making even two-thirds of their free throw attempts, Kansas will put significant pressure on Kansas State’s offense.

The greatest danger for Kansas looms whenever Kansas State misses a shot. Both Texas and Colorado dominated the offensive glass. Kansas State gives a consistently strong effort on the offensive glass (the quality of their defensive rebounding performances is more variable) to compensate for their poor shooting. If Kansas can limit Kansas State to one shot 70% of the time it will be difficult for the Wildcats to score. Kansas State takes more than three-quarters of their shots from inside the three-point arc. Kansas still leads the nation in two-point FG% defense.

Kansas State is a perfectly average team. Having scored only four points fewer than their fifteen conference opponents have scored, they’re unlucky to be 6-9 in the league. It will take another huge upset for the Wildcats to get to 7-9.

Prediction: Kansas 69 Kansas State 59

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Preview: Colorado at Kansas

Here's Colorado's defensive performances on the road in conference play this year: at Texas, 1.22 PPP (loss); at Missouri, 1.15 PPP (win, but with a defense even more generous than the Jayhawks' in their loss in Columbia); at Oklahoma St, 1.09 PPP (win, but Oklahoma State's third most efficient offensive game in conference play); at Iowa State, 1.22 PPP (loss); at Texas A&M, 0.95 PPP (loss); at Kansas St, 1.02 PPP (loss); at Nebraska, 1.28 PPP (loss). That's an average of 1.13 PPP allowed and a median of 1.15 PPP allowed.

No conference visitor to the Fieldhouse has scored more than 0.95 PPP this season. A Colorado victory tonight will depend on seriously atypical play from both teams. Only Iowa State has appeared more willing than Colorado to play at Kansas' pace in conference play, which should further help the Jayhawks cause.

Looking back to the first meeting in Boulder, Kansas (50.0 OR%, 77.5 DR%) outrebounded Colorado essentially to the same degree that Texas (54.5 OR%, 72.7 DR%) outrebounded Kansas in Austin. The Jayhawks won rather handily behind 18 points in 30 minutes from Christian Moody. Jeff Hawkins played poorly (0 points, 4 turnovers, and five fouls) in 25 minutes. Julian Wright played only eight minutes. Granted, this was back when Darnell Jackson was playing well. Downs, Vinson, and Case combined for as many minutes as Mario Chalmers: 17. In their minutes, Downs, Vinson, and Case combined for no points and four turnovers.

Hawkins, Vinson, and Moody are sure to play some minutes on Senior Night, and deservedly so, but Colorado will be facing a somewhat different team than defeated them in Boulder.

Colorado doesn't seem to have a similar argument to expect a better performance in he re-match. They shot a mere 44.7 eFG% in Boulder, but they did make 40.9% of their three-point attempts. They attempted slightly fewer threes than normal (38.6% of FGA versus a season average of 39.7% of FGA), so they can't realistically hope for better perimeter shooting tonight in Lawrence. The Buffalos can hope to better their two-point shooting (34.3% in Boulder) and free throw shooting (52.2% in Boulder), though it took LaMarcus Aldridge to get the Big 12 collectively making more than 40% of the two-point shots attempted against Kansas this year.

Kansas, on the other hand, can certainly expect to shoot better than the 46 eFG% they managed in Boulder. They'll need to as it's unlikely they can replicate the extreme rebounding advantage they secured in Boulder. Colorado allows conference opponents to shoot 48.3 eFG% and the Jayhawks shoot 52.7 eFG% on average. Specifically, Kansas made only 2 of 13 three-point attempts in their first meeting with Colorado. Though not a good three-point shooting team, I think it's safe to assume the Jayhawks will make more than 20% of their three-pointers tonight.

Even after the game in Austin, Kansas has the third most efficient offense and the stingiest defense in Big 12 play. Kansas is 18 points per 100 possessions better than their conference opponents. Colorado is only 2 points per 100 possessions better than their conference opponents.

The Texas game demonstrated how far the Jayhawks have to go to compete with an excellent team. There is no reason to believe the blowout loss impaired their ability to dispense with mediocre teams.

Prediction: Kansas 81 Colorado 67