Monday, April 3, 2017

Gonzaga-UNC Preview

North Carolina - Team Profile
  • 84.3 points per game (8th in the country)
  • 43.3 rebounds per game (1st)
  • 18.1 assists per game (3rd)
Using basic per-game stats, UNC looks like a juggernaut. They score a ton, they outrebound literally everybody and they seem to have a balanced offense that can move the ball. But is that assists stat just a product of playing high-pace, high-event basketball?
  • 0.592 assists per field goal made (37th in the country)
  • 1.511 assists per turnover (7th)
Maybe not. They're in the top ten percent in assist rate and even better at maintaining possession. The other way UNC can maintain possession, in addition to not turning the ball over, is controlling the glass. And oh boy do they ever do that:
  • 40.6% offensive rebounding (1st in the country)
  • 76.7% defensive rebounding (32nd)
Generating tons of second-chance opportunities while limiting them for your opponent is almost always a recipe for success. 

But if we are to look for a "flaw" in UNC ("flaw" in quotations because they're one game away from winning the national championship), it's their shooting metrics:
  • 51.1% on two-point shots (99th in the country)
  • 36.2% on three-point shots (113th)
  • 70.6% on free throws (163rd)
  • 0.343 free throw attempts per field goal attempt (209th)
  • 52.0% effective field goal percentage (102nd)
That certainly paints a picture more along the lines of "they score so much because of their pace" - they don't really do anything particularly great, but they attempt (and make) more field goals than just about everybody else. 

Gonzaga - Team Profile
  • 83.1 points per game (11th in the country)
  • 40.5 rebounds per game (6th)
  • 15.4 assists per game (49th)
Gonzaga isn't far behind UNC in the "juggernaut" discussion based on basic stats. They score, they rebounds, and they assist (though all at less impressive rates that UNC). However, let's start with shot rates to see how their offense compares to Carolina's:
  • 58.4 field goals attempted per game (138th in the country)
  • 29.7 field goals made per game (8th)
  • 57.1% effective field goal percentage (6th)
  • 57.1% on two-point shots (5th)
  • 38.1% on three-point shots (44th)
  • 71.9% on free throws (117th)
  • 0.389 free throws attempted per field goal attempt (76th)
The enormous elephant in the room here is strength of schedule - Gonzaga played seven games against "tournament" and/or "power five" teams during their entire regular season. And during their tournament run they beat a 16 seed, an 8 seed, a 4 seed, an 11 seed, and a 7 seed. You can only play the teams in front of you, but the toughest team they've played during this stretch finished 12-6 in the Big 12. 

Four Questions

The way I interpret this matchup, four points of emphasis will determine who we should bet on. We need to look at four matchups (two on each side) to see how these teams have played against teams who exhibit similar traits to their opponent. Let's start with Carolina. 

UNC against teams whose defenses are strong against two-point shots
  • Relevant Gonzaga stats: 41.2% opponent effective FG% (1st), 39.8% opponent two-point FG% (1st)
  • Teams with similar opp eFG%: Louisville (45.7%/17th, Georgia Tech (46.0%/20th, Virginia (46.1%/24th). Duke (47.5%/41st), Maryland (47.5%/42nd), Kentucky (47.5%/44th), Wisconsin (47.6%/47th)
  • Teams with similar opp 2FG%: Wisconsin (43.1%/11th), Georgia Tech (43.9%/17th), Louisville (44.8%/23rd), Virginia (45.1%/27th), Maryland (45.6%/41st), Oregon (46.1%/55th), Tennessee (46.2%/56th)
So how did UNC fair in their games against Louisville, Ga Tech, UVA, Duke, Maryland, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Tennessee? They played 12 games total against those teams.

As expected, UNC did not fare quite against this group as they did against the rest of the college basketball world. They shot an average of 43.4% from the field - below their average of 46.6% - and they weren't quite as dominant on the offensive glass either - 35.8% compared to 40.6%, even with the decreased shooting percentage.

Point: Gonzaga

UNC against teams who shoot the ball efficiently
  • Relevant Gonzaga stat: 57.1% effective FG% (6th), 57.1% two-point FG% (5th)
  • Teams with similar eFG%: Oregon (55.5%/17th), Duke (54.8%/28th), Butler (54.6%/32nd), Wake Forest (54.1%/38th), Oklahoma State (54.0%/40th), Florida State (53.7%, 46th), Syracuse (53.5%/52nd)
  • Teams with similar 2FG%: Virginia Tech (54.6%/20th), Oregon (54.5%/21st), Butler (54.5%/22nd), Florida State (54.4%/23rd), Indiana (54.1%/26th), Duke (53.6%/32nd), Kentucky (52.9%/42nd), NC State (52.4%/51st)

The Tar Heels fared a bit better here than they did against the teams who are solid on defense, but this is still a bright spot for Gonzaga. UNC allowed these teams to average more than 80 points per game despite the fact that this list includes:

  • Oklahoma State, the 5-seed in the Big 12
  • Indiana, the 11-seed in the Big Ten
  • Syracuse, the 9-seed in the ACC
  • Virgina Tech, the 7-seed in the ACC
  • NC State, the 14-seed in the ACC
I'd say the Gonzaga team total of 76.5 might be an attractive option. Point: Gonzaga

Gonzaga against teams that attempt and allow a lot of field goal attempts
  • Relevant UNC stats: 65.7 FGA for per game (4th), 59.5 FGA against per game (250th), total 125.2 FGA per game
  • WCC teams that push the pace: BYU (60.5 FGA for/64.0 FGA against), Pepperdine (58.3/60.0)
  • Non-conference teams that push the pace: Iowa State (62.5/62.2), Washington (62.9/62.1), Tennessee (59.2/57.1)

UNC is going to grab like 30 offensive rebounds tonight. That 67.9% defensive rebounding rate would be 328th out of 351 teams in the country. And if you factor out Pepperdine it drops to 64.3%, and if you drop BYU to just look at the three power conference schools it drops all the way down to 59.2%. That would be far and away the worst mark in Divison 1, It's fucking atrocious and given how much talk there is about Gonzaga's big men, I almost can't even believe it.

Point: UNC

Gonzaga against teams that rebound well (especially offensively) 
  • Relevant UNC stats: 58.2% rebounding rate (1st), 40.6% offensive rebounding rate (1st)
  • Teams with similar reb rate: St. Mary's (57.2%/2nd), Arizona (55.1%/9th), Xavier (54.4%/18th), BYU (53.5%/31st),  
  • Teams with similar o-reb rate: West Virginia (37.1%/5th), Washington (33.6%/25th), Xavier (32.6%, 37th), St. Mary's (31.3%/51st)
This is the big one. Essentially, if we accept the fact that UNC is going to crush the offensive glass, how goes Gonzaga fare in situations where they give up a lot of second chance points?

All you can do is beat the teams in front of you. Sure, SMC and BYU aren't the ideal competition to gauge a game against UNC, but we know two things about Gonzaga: (1) they're going to get KILLED on the glass tonight and (2) they know that, and they've still got a good chance to win. 

Point: Inconclusive

That's two points for Gonzaga, one point for UNC, a point split between them. 

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