Just as we all expected, the game of the night was Wisconsin/Florida rather than Kentucky/UCLA.
Of course, the media narrative on Kentucky/UCLA is all wrong:
Kentucky's massive defensive turnaround since early February is remarkable. Cats gave up 97 to UCLA on 12/3. Only 75 tonight. Elite Eight.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 25, 2017
The reality is that Kentucky allowed 1.15 PPP last night while allowing 1.17 PPP back on December 3rd. The difference was that there were 83 possessions on December 3rd compared to just 65 possessions last night. What Kentucky did was grind that game down to a halt, figuring that a half court game would benefit them more than UCLA, and it worked out.
To be fair, I'm not that sure we can expect long-time major television college basketball analysts to know the difference between what good defense and slow tempo looks like. But, sure, “the eye test” is a reliable metric, you guys.
Interestingly enough, this had been easily the highest tempo team that John Calipari has coached at Kentucky. Not only was 65 possessions the third slowest game that UCLA had played this season, but it was also the 3rd slowest game that Kentucky had played this season.
Yesterday ATS 2-2-0
2017 Tournament ATS: 29-28-3 (51%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)
Gonzaga (-8) over Xavier: This spread seems large, yet Sagarin has it at 9 points and Pomeroy has it as 10. And, of course, Xavier's games with Edmond Sumner are still inflating their rating. Xavier has looked great so far this NCAA Tournament, of course, but they've also benefited from some outside shooting luck. What about the match-ups? Xavier certainly has the size to match Gonzaga defensively, but I worry about their ability to score. A big reason they've been able to score efficiently without Sumner has been their ability to get easy baskets off of offensive rebounds and in and around the paint, but Gonzaga's length and defensive tenacity forces opponents further away from the basket. Xavier is only a 34.9% three-point shooting team.
Oregon (+6.5) over Kansas: Kansas has played out of their minds for their three NCAA Tournament games, including probably their best performance of the entire season in the Sweet 16 against Purdue. Is it worth it to believe that they have radically improved over the last two weeks? Probably not. In the end, I don't think either of these defenses really matches up particularly well with the opposing offenses. Both teams shoot well from beyond the arc and neither defends the perimeter particularly well. Even without Chris Boucher, Oregon's interior defense is still fairly strong, and Kansas's lack of a true post scorer could limit them in the paint. The reason I'm picking Oregon here is because I like their chances of grinding this into a low-scoring game, and keeping it close late.