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Can Batman and Robin Beat The Fab Five Redux?

April 7, 2014

What About DeAndre Daniels aka Albert The Butler? If you’re just tuning in, no, I’m not talking about the forthcoming “Justice League” movie, I’m posing a allegorical query as to whether Connecticut’s two fantastic guards will be able to overcome Kentucky and the best freshmen class in 21 years. If this were a movie trailer, the gravelly voice-over might intone  “Tonight, in Dallas, worlds collide as a seven (7) and an eight (8) seed meet to decide who will control the fate of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship™, cats and dogs playing together on the same court, mass hysteria!”

First, let’s look at some of the various prediction machines: Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEighty sees it a virtual coin flip, Connecticut calculated to have a 50.1% probability of winning to Kentucky’s 49.9%, and calls it a “true toss-up” due to the injury to Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein. Entering the Final Four, Power Rank had Kentucky with a 19.3% win probability, and Connecticut with a 14.5% chance. KenPom has Kentucky rated #9 overall, and Connecticut #10, while his “log5” predictor going into the Sweet 16 had Connecticut (ranked #11 of 16 teams) and Kentucky (#12) as having a 1 in 44 chance of winning the National Title. Then there is the prediction machine actually called “Prediction Machine”, a gambling-centric simulator for which you have to register to get their free pick (I won’t reveal who they select, but I will say they are more decisive in their straight up pick). Of course, there’s also the Las Vegas “prediction machines”, the oddsmakers, the consensus of which have Kentucky as a 2½ point favorite. Jeff Sagarin’s scoring based “Predictor” model has Kentucky as roughly a ½ point favorite (0.59 points difference between the two teams). ESPN’s college basketball “experts” favor Kentucky by an 8-4 margin, but all agree it will be a close game ultimately decided by five (5) points or less. Of course, what is a major sporting event without having an animal make a pick, Ron Burgundy’s dog Baxter, keeping it in the family and choosing the Huskies. Finally, we have BobbyTrue.

My “model” is much less mathematical, and yet slightly more scientific than a gut feeling, or picking mascots (in which case I would totally pick “wild cats”, assuming they are feral and appreciably larger than your average housecat, over a sled dog such as a “husky”). This game will boil down to a few central themes, based not only on what happened in Saturday’s games, but each team’s natural proclivities developed over 39 games.

  • Rebounding – Both teams won their respective total rebounding battles on Saturday, with Kentucky’s margin +5 and Connecticut’s margin +1. Connecticut’s chances will significantly depend on whether they can keep one of the top rebounding teams in the nation off the offensive boards better than they did against Florida (who had a 12-5 edge in offensive rebounds).
  • Tempo – Putting KenPom’s adjusted tempo stats aside (which show Kentucky plays at a slightly faster pace), Kentucky was able to get Wisconsin to play at their preferred pace and win a game played in the 70s. Meanwhile Connecticut – once they fell down 16-4 – were able to control the tempo with their defense (holding Florida to 36.1% from the field after the Gator’s opening run, and 0-9 from 3P over the final 39:50 of the game), often forcing Florida deep into the shot clock to initiate offense. Batman (Napier) and Robin (Boatright) will have to similarly disrupt Kentucky’s Wonder Twins from initiating offense in half court (the Harrisons combined for 17pts/6reb/6ast and only 2 TOs in 65 minutes) and prevent transition opportunities that the Wildcats’ athleticism thrives upon. If this game stays in the 60’s or below, I believe that will definitely favor Connecticut.
  • DeAndre Daniels – Connecticut’s “X-Factor” never left the court Saturday, igniting Connecticut’s first-half comeback with two (2) threes and putting up a 20/10 line in 40 minutes for which Florida had no answer. He’ll likely have to approach that level of production and impact for Connecticut to win tonight.
  • Kentucky in the Post – After the injury to Cauley-Stein against Louisville, Kentucky has had their own “X-Factors” step up in his absence, as the combination of Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, and Alex Poythress have more than held their own in the post. Kentucky outscored Wisconsin by 22 in the paint Saturday – Johnson, Lee and Poythress combining for 22 points and 15 rebounds – and according to ESPN Stats & Information have attempted almost three-quarters (74%) of their shots in the paint in each of their last two games. These three, along with the ever-steady Julius Randle, will have to provide more of the same tonight against an undersized Huskies’ frontline.

In the end, I think the preseason rankings had it right after all, as the length and athleticism of Kentucky’s talented freshmen – who, if they score 70 points combined tonight, will have collectively scored more in the NCAAs than 1992’s Michigan Fab Five did – will prove too much for the Huskies. Specifically, I think Kentucky’s length on the perimeter will bother Connecticut’s guard tandem, and force the game into a tempo Connecticut would not prefer. Then again, I’ve been only slightly better than a coin-flip myself, correctly predicting 37 of 62 (59.6%) potential team advancements in my bracket, which was in ashes as soon as Florida lost Saturday night. If you’re like me, don’t feel so bad though: only 0.016% of entrants in the ESPN Bracket Challenge picked a Kentucky-Connecticut final. Peter Tiernan’s various championship tests took a beating as well. I’m going with Kentucky 74, Connecticut 68, in a tight game that for once won’t require an Aaron Harrison three pointer in the final seconds.


From → Basketball, Sports

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  1. Connecticut’s Hungry Huskies Halt Harried Hatchlings of Kentucky | Bobby True

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