Monday, March 17, 2008

Midwest ACC Pod Preview

This year, with only four ACC teams, in the tournament, they're rather tidily divided among the four regions. First to get a look is the Midwest, where the recent finalist Clemson Tigers suit up as the 5 seed.

2nd Round Sweet 16
Vanderbilt 77.07% 23.98%
Clemson 76.97% 60.71%
Villanova 23.03% 12.44%
22.93% 2.87%

By the numbers, Clemson is a heavy favorite to come out of this region on top. To give you an idea of how far Clemson grades out ahead of Vanderbilt, consider the following - Clemson's winning percentage against Vanderbilt (75.2%) is just barely shy of Vanderbilt's winning percentage against Siena. So in layman's terms, the statistical gap between the Tigers and the 'Dores is as large as that between Vanderbilt and Siena.

As for the 4-13 matchup, Vanderbilt encounters, in Siena, one of the most extreme teams in college basketball. The Saints are in the top 10 nationally in 4 categories and the top 52 in 4 others, but rank below 200 in 8 separate categories. Siena is one of the hardest teams to turnover, one of the best in picking up steals, and one of the least likely to send an opponent to the line (oddly enough, opponent's also shoot just 64.5% from the line against Siena, 11th worst in the nation). However, they're a terrible rebounding team and very poor in field goal percentage defense. The Saints got lucky in one regard - Vanderbilt is also a poor rebounding team, and not likely to exploit Siena too heavily on the glass. But the 'Dores are in the top 25 in shooting percentage, and 7th nationally from beyond the arc. Moreover, Vanderbilt is reasonably stingy in terms of giving the ball away. For the Saints to win, they absolutely need to force turnovers and score in transition, and they need Edwin Ubiles to have a big game. But Shan Foster, AJ Ogilvy, and company will likely prove too talented to overcome. Shan Foster is having a ridiculous season - 67.7 efg%, coming from 61.8% from 2 and 47.5% from 3. Wow.

In the 5/12 matchup, Clemson gets a Villanova team that grades out very similarly to Vanderbilt in terms of overall efficiency, but not in style of play. While the Commodores are very lax on defense and rely heavily on the offense to carry the day, Villanova uses a generally stingy defense to carry a rather poor offense. No Wildcat shoots the ball well, particularly not Corey Fisher and Scottie Reynolds, who take the lion's share of the shots. The offense is somewhat vulnerable to the turnover, and extremely vulnerable to the blocked shot - only 14 teams in America had a higher percentage of shot attempts blocked. Clemson, of course, can exploit both of these areas well. The Tigers are 29th in the nation forcing turnovers and 30th blocking shots. If Clemson starts racking up the steals and blocks, it'll be look out below for Villanova.

The likely pod final is Clemson-Vanderbilt. Clemson is simply the better team, and their style of defense is designed to neutralize the Commodores' biggest threat - the 3-ball. Clemson, like Duke, forces teams to score inside the arc. Part of this comes from the full court press, which can result in lots of layups (or at least layup attempts) for a team that breaks it. But part of it also comes from harassing perimeter defense by Hammonds, Perry, and Rivers that is more than happy to feed guards into Booker and Gist, who block tons of shots, especially for their size. Clemson is simply a better team than Vanderbilt (and underrated on the whole - they score 13th in the pre-tournament Pomeroy Ratings), and should win this game.

Of course, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is free throw shooting. Memphis and Winthrop are the only tournament teams that shoot worse from the line than the Tigers. In a perverse way of demonstrating the law of averages, Clemson opponents are almost as good from the line as the Tigers are bad - they shoot 71.2% from the stripe, a full 7% better than Clemson and 68th best in the country. If either game comes down to a free throw shooting contest, Clemson is likely to have difficulty holding on. The key for the Tigers will be to get the ball to their best free throw shooters - Oglesby, Stitt, and Rivers - and then cross their fingers nonetheless.

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