NCAA Tournament: Know Your East Regional

OK... here are the goofy looking mascots.

Once again, this column will take a statistical look at the four teams that emerged from the Rounds of 64 and 32 to converge in Boston in the East Regional. The fact that this Syracuse Orange blog is looking at the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cincinnati Bearcats does not presume that our team will be skating past the Wisconsin Badgers.

If the precipitous downturn in the Orange Fan Confidence Poll is to be believed, a fair amount of our readers are at least a little surprised that there's a Know Your Regional this week. I do know that 18.4% of Yahoo! Tourney Pick 'Em users are disappointed, if not surprised.

But we're here, after an opening round scare of nigh-historic proportions against UNC-Asheville, Syracuse rebounded with a thoroughly convincing ten minutes of basketball (and thirty minutes of good enough basketball) against Kansas State. Syracuse finds itself in the East Regional Semi-Final with considerably more high-profile company. Wisonsin was ranked in the Top 25 all but two weeks in January. Ohio State, noted by many a preseason magazine as a superior team, has been in the Top 10 all season, and Cincinnati is one of two teams in the country that can claim to have beaten us. We know a lot about these teams, but let's look a little closer at what got them here.

Next stop: Regionals!

The #1 Seed Syracuse Orange

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I'm not going to talk about SU much. We know how they got here, we know what they need to do to win, we don't know if they will actually do what they need to win.

The games this weekend don't offer much insight. If SU plays like it did against UNC-Asheville, they will lose... badly. There are no Big South teams in our bracket. I'm looking here specifically at you, 5-23 from three-point range. If they play like they did against Kansas State in the first half, they will lose...not as badly, but still lose. They're going to have to play, consistently, like they did in the second half of the K-State game or better from here on out or the season ends.

Oh, and 14 turnovers against Wisconsin will absolutely kill us. Don't do that.

The #4 Seed Wisconsin Badgers

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Everyone knows what we're going to get from Wisconsin. Slow, deliberate possessions. Tough man-to-man defense. A lot of threes. Not surprisingly, the stats bear that out. They have the fewest possessions per 40 minutes of any team in the country. They're the just off the pace in TO%, holding on to the ball even better than we do. Their Defensive Efficiency is 6th in the country, allowing three points fewer per 100 possessions than SU. And 36.3% of their points come from three... Florida, BC, and Michigan rely on the three-ball more than Wisconsin for their points among the Big 6 conferences.

Obviously they're beatable... it's happened nine times this year. Their steal and block percentages are lower than ours, their opponents' TO% is lower than ours, their opposition's shooting percentages are only slightly better than ours. For a team that relies so heavily on the three, they don't shoot it extraordinarily well, and while they don't give up many turnovers, they also don't grab many offensive boards or convert at a very high rate.

But what a low possession style does is magnify everything. Every FGA, every rebound, every turnover becomes important. A low possession game is almost always a close game. Wisconsin is essentially tossing a coin up in the air and using their care of the ball to help it land on their side.

I will have a more in-depth look at how Wisconsin's defense and slow-down style of play affects teams, focusing on their games against tournament teams, later in the week.

The #2 Seed Ohio State Buckeyes

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The good news: Ohio State is not deep. They don't shoot the three ball incredibly well.

The bad news: Everything else.

Ohio State is one of the only teams in the country with an efficiency margin greater than ours... the fact that this is the case despite having six losses to our two, and against the schedule they did, speaks volumes. They're the third most efficient team on defense in the country, 18th most efficient on offense. While they shoot a paltry 32.9% from three, they take it to the hoop and Jared Sullinger is a beast of a post player for any one to handle.

Any team that plays OSU needs to get a couple of their key players (Sullinger, Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, William Buford) into foul trouble. They just do not play the bench, and when they're in, the bench does not contribute offensively.

I can't stress enough how not deep they are. Here's a per game statline:

Minutes FGA FGM 3FGA 3FGM FT FTA OR DR Reb A St Bk TO PF Pts
27.4 1.1 2.9 0 .5 .7 1.6 .9 2.8 3.7 1.4 .5 .5 2.5 4.2 2.9

That is the statline for the ENTIRE BENCH over the Buckeyes last 10 games decided by less than 10 points. If whoever plays them gets a couple of their stars in foul trouble (they won't foul out... only three DQs on the year), and uses their lauded and storied two-three zone to prevent penetration, this is a winnable game. (The inverse of the not-deep thing is that those five starters... really good).

The #6 Seed Cincinnati Bearcats

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*Has been known to shoot over 70% from three in one half. If this should persist for more than one half, please consult a doctor.

(Cincinnati's stats do not include their game against Florida State... stupid 9:40 start time)

We know Cincinnati. We know what we did to them in their house, and what they did to us in ours. Four guards and the Yancy Street Gang in the middle. I don't feel compelled to write any more.

(Also, the blurb I had written for Florida State was a lot more in depth)

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