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TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL FINAL FOUR
Sixty-four games have been played…leaving us with #1 seeds Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke, and then a mis-seeded #7 Michigan State left to battle for the 2015 National Championship this weekend in Indianapolis.
When handicapping the Final Four, it’s very important to focus on the classic fundamentals. That’s a key factor in why all four of these programs (and all four of these veteran head coaches) are still alive in the brackets. Fundamentals will likely determine who cuts down the nets Monday night. That’s what matters most when championships are on the line!
Let’s take a quick look at each matchup.
KENTUCKY VS. WISCONSIN
Better offense: Too close to call, slight edge to Wisconsin
Better defense: Kentucky by a lot
More meaningful depth: Kentucky
Some may be surprised that I’m giving such a large edge to Kentucky on the defensive side of the floor. The media has spent a lot of time this postseason raving about the Wisconsin defense. They were even doing that while all Wisconsin could do was grab and foul Arizona down the stretch last Saturday because the Badgers couldn’t guard the Wildcats!
Wisconsin creates the illusion of great defense by holding onto the ball so long on offense. That creates lower scoring games. But, holding onto the ball isn’t the same as stealing the ball, blocking shots, or forcing opponents into bad looks. When you adjust for pace and strength of schedule, Wisconsin doesn’t even have one of the best 50 defenses in the nation on a per-possession basis (according to Ken Pomeroy’s trusted statistical website). Kentucky is best in the nation after making those adjustments. Bottom line: Kentucky’s defensive fundamentals and skill sets are significantly better.
Who’s going to make more plays on offense because of their mastery of fundamentals? Wisconsin has a shot to do that. Though they are likely to cool off from that crazy second half shooting performance on treys they enjoyed in the Elite 8. Both of these teams have multiple threats and are able to score from all over the floor (and the free throw line). Both work the ball to high percentage spots on the floor.
Kentucky was posted as a 6-point favorite out of the gate because of that superior defense, and because their roster is so deep that they can handle fatigue, foul trouble, and most anything except red hot three-point shooting from an opponent.
DUKE VS. MICHIGAN STATE
Better offense: Duke
Better defense: Very close
More meaningful depth: Michigan State
Duke joins Wisconsin and Kentucky on the list of most efficient offenses in the nation because they can beat you inside and outside while protecting the ball. This year’s team has more athleticism than past Duke entries, while maintaining a high basketball IQ and a sense of movement. Michigan State is better than its reputation offensively. The Spartans “plod” their way to effectiveness in a way that doesn’t always please the eye. But, they are a top 20 team in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Michigan State has a better defensive reputation than Duke. That’s once again an illusion created by pace. Duke likes to push tempo when they can. Michigan State is much more methodical, only taking fast break opportunities in the most obvious situations. Once you adjust for pace, these defenses are fairly similar in their effectiveness.
Whether or not depth will be a factor in this one will depend on officiating. You saw Michigan State handle a pair of players fouling out vs. Louisville. Duke doesn’t have that luxury. A tightly called game favors Michigan State, because Duke will have to back off inside. If the refs let them play, Duke’s most dynamic talent will be able to stay on the floor the whole way.
(Quick note on our theme of fundamentals: Duke only suffered three offensive turnovers the whole game against Gonzaga!)
Duke is a market favorite (about 4-5 points on the early line) because of their superior seed, and their superior form in this event. But note that Michigan State beat Virginia in the Round of 32…the team that won Duke’s conference during the regular season.
Of course Saturday’s winners play Monday night. If Kentucky advances as a favorite, they will have a clear defensive edge over either Duke or Michigan State. But, the game they had to sweat with Notre Dame shows that any talented opponent has a chance to hang with or beat Kentucky in a 40-minute war on a neutral court. Odds favor the coronation of an undefeated champ. Fans and bettors just might be in for a very interesting weekend.
Be sure to check out my MLB team previews. I’ll have more on Monday!
BOL in the Final Four! – Scott Spreitzer
- Scott’s FREE Monday Report (3/30/15) (3/30/2015)
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Meet Scott Spreitzer
Scott Spreitzer grew up in a horse racing family. Scott’s Uncle, Robert Mundorf was Jockey of the Year at several tracks throughout the 1960′s. Besides having a jockey in the family, Scott was also surrounded from birth by trainers and starters. “Growing up around relatives who were all about winning to make a living, showed me the type of attitude, desire, and work ethic it takes to get the job done, year-after-year. You want to eat? You better know how to win.” … Read More