Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ESPN Doesn't Like a Montana Upset

If you have read a lot about the NCAA Tournament over the past few years, you have probably read something from Peter Keating. He writes for ESPN leading up to the tourney, and has a series on Giant Killers, and teams chances for an upset. He does not like Montana's odds.

No. 4 Syracuse Orange (92.1) No. 13 Montana Grizzlies (4.6)

Upset chance: 4.6 percent

What's this? Montana has already become something of a trendy upset pick? How many ways do you want us to take apart that silly idea? First, while Syracuse isn't quite as strong as the squad that earned a No. 1 seed last season, it's built according to the same basic blueprint. Offensively, the Orange are highly efficient, scoring 114.2 points per 100 possessions, because they're monsters on the offensive glass (ORs on 39.8 percent of missed shots, fifth-most in the NCAA) and their 2-point shooting and turnover rate rank in the top third of the country.

On defense, Syracuse doesn't collect many rebounds, but who cares? The 2-3 zone has enabled the Orange to rank 10th in the country in steals (13.5 percent of opponent possessions) and 24th in turnovers (23.4 percent). They don't rely on free throws, and they've played Killer-like nonconference opponents for target practice. They're not only a very good team, they're a Giant wearing a bulletproof vest.

As for Montana, if you don't even attempt to grab offensive rebounds (25.1 OR percentage, 335th in the NCAA), you had better be trying to cook up some other recipe for adding possessions to your column, but the Grizzlies also force very few turnovers (18.5 TO percentage, ranking 253rd). Maybe you don't need extra possessions when you're playing the 283rd-strongest schedule in the country -- quick, where is Minot State? What about Carroll College? -- but trust us, a few more balls in hand would be handy in the NCAA tournament.

We will stipulate that Kareem Jamar is an exciting player who can post up or shoot from behind the arc, and that the Grizzlies have no fewer than four players shooting 40 percent or better on 3-pointers (in 55 to 93 attempts apiece). But come on. Syracuse outscored opponents by nearly 25 points per 100 possessions while playing in the second-strongest conference in the country. Montana outscored opponents by 1.9 points per 100 possessions while playing in the 27th-strongest conference in the country. (Read those last two sentences again.) They're not just a Killer lacking a second shot, they're a mediocre team.

P.S.: Including "secret sauce" points gained or lost for playing like past Killers and Giants, the average gap in overall strength between 4-seeds and 13-seeds is 19.8 points per 100 possessions this year, according to our spreadsheets. That's actually higher than the average for 2-15, 3-14, 12-5 and 11-6 matchups. Which means that even though a few 13-seeds have popped through in recent years, 2013 is precisely the wrong spring to be hunting for upsets on the 4-13 line.
Hopefully they can prove him wrong!

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