Elite 8 Preview: Can Dayton And Wisconsin Pull The Upsets Over Florida And Arizona?

  • Matt Rudnitsky

Bo Ryan Stupid

The Sensual 16 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament is halfway done, which means it’s time to look ahead and preview the Ebullient 8. (Or Elite 8, if you’re a conformist.) The Fearsome Foursome is on the line.

Your bracket is busted. We know, asshole. But you can still bet on the games. Cheer up, guy I just called asshole!

(1) Florida -10.5 vs. (10) Dayton

6:09 pm ET, TBS

Betting line implies, basically: 84% chance Florida wins, 16% Dayton.

This game during the Elite 8 is equivalent to Breaking Bad throwing a “What was Walt like when he was 14?” episode into the end of the final season. Yeah, you’d probably watch, but theres’ about a 84% chance it’s gonna be boring as hell.

A Dayton win would be exciting, but it would be unlikely. And it would also lead to another expected blowout. We don’t want that. It would be great for Dayton and fun for like an hour on SportsCenter, but true fans should be rooting for the favorite, and that’s never fun.

It’s a pretty big mismatch.

Florida’s only real weakness is that they can go on extended scoring droughts, like Zona. But they still have the No. 16 offense in adjusted efficiency; I’m talking relative weaknesses, here. They aren’t crazily stingy in allowing 3-pointers, so I guess that’s Dayton’s strategy here. It’s what got them here. They can light it up from 3, and they’ll probably try to again. We’ll see what Billy Donovan can do with just a day to prepare.

Dayton is clearly worse on offense, and way, way worse on defense. They’ve gone 15-for-39 (.385) from 3-pointsville in their last two games, and they’ll probably have to top that to have a shot here. It’s possible. It’d be exciting.

Florida forces a ton of turnovers, and Dayton is just mediocre at protecting the ball (161st in turnover percentage; 18.2%). They turned the ball over more than their season average vs. both Ohio State and Syracuse. They’ll probably struggle with Florida.

I have no reason to bet on this game, but if you forced me to, I guess I’d take Florida. The number seems fair. They should roll.

But the Flyers have beaten Ohio State, Syracuse, Stanford and Gonzaga. And lost to Baylor by one. People have been counting them out all year. You never know. You’ll watch, even if you know it’s probably gonna be a boring blowout.

Pick: Florida
ATS Pick: Florida -10.5

(1) Arizona -3 vs. (2) Wisconsin

8:49 pm ET, TBS

Betting line implies, basically: 60% chance Arizona wins, 40% Wisconsin.

I’ve written about Wisconsin before.

Wisconsin seems to be flying under the radar despite a No. 7 KenPom ranking (UPDATE: No. 6 now) and wins over Florida, Virginia, Michigan State and Michigan. That’s two No. 1s, a No. 2 and America’s favorite championship pick.

I guess that’s what happens when you start four white dudes.

Wisconsin is very good; I shouldn’t have to tell you this. Frank Kaminsky is a matchup nightmare and the best college athlete named Frank since Frank Gore. And maybe the best Kaminsky ever. He is a 7-footer who can shoot and has skills and he is scary and going to be underrated and then overrated in the NBA.

Wisconsin is stereotypical Wisconsin, even though this year’s team plays nothing like last year’s. They play a bit faster than normal, though still extremely slow, jack up lots of threes (but shoot them well this year), and generally have a great offense. They struggle on defense but limit threes (and box out well — Bo Ryan stresses the fundamentals!). They play plodding shootouts. They manage to be mildly entertaining because of their defensive shortcomings and improved shooting. They keep teams off the free throw line. On my hate and unwatchability scale, this year’s Wisco is only like a 90 out of 100. Last year’s was a 750. Fuck that team.

Also, an NBA prospect dies every time Josh Gasser slingshots a 3-pointer and then gets beaten off the dribble.

I have also written about Arizona:

They are the best defensive team in the country and are good on offense, too. The best overall team, according to KenPom. They stifle 3-point shooters, allowing the 14th fewest 3-point attempts per field goal attempt in the nation. And their 2PT defense is second in the nation (40.5%). Sixth in defensive rebounding. They don’t give up free throws. They even force a decent amount of turnovers. Only five teams hold offenses to longer average possessions.

They’re fucking insane at defense and do not have a weakness.

On offense, they’re merely very good, but they have weaknesses. They’re not a great shooting team. They don’t shoot threes. A lot of their success is due to great offensive rebounding. They’re horrible at free throws (65.5%).

In three of their four losses, they just didn’t play well on offense, going really cold. In the other, they lost a close game to UCLA’s elite offense. Michigan nearly had them beat, but they’re a top-3 offense and still needed a great shooting day, at home, to almost pull the upset.

It’s tough to forecast their success. It would be a shock if they were blown out, but it wouldn’t be a shock if they went cold in a game, coinciding with a good offense shooting well. Or even a decent offense shooting well.

All of this holds true.

The simple questions are: Is Wisconsin’s offense so good that it can score on Arizona’s insane defense? And: Is Wisconsin’s shaky defense good enough to slow down a pretty good Arizona offense that can struggle at times?

If you can answer these questions, you are lying.

Arizona has played some Wisconsin-level offenses this year. Here’s how they fared:

Duke: Scored 0.99 points per possession on a neutral floor. Quite bad for them.

Michigan: 1.15, at home. Very impressive, but not their typical home dominance.

UCLA: 1.09 on neutral, 1.07 at home. Somewhat impressive, I guess, but not their typical output.

Oregon: 1.03 on the road, 0.97 at home. Well below typical outputs here.

Those are all top-12 offenses in adjusted efficiency.

Overall: Arizona was pretty damn good, as you’d expect.

Michigan needed an 8-for-17 (.471) performance on Trey (Burkes) to get their impressive number. (And they still lost.) Oregon needed a 10-for-19 (.526) performance from three to salvage their 0.97 performance. Bad.

You could argue that Wisconsin is the best offense they’ve faced (though the ratings, and my biased self, favor Michigan slightly). UCLA has a unique threat in Kyle Anderson, but Wisconsin has a unique threat in Frank Kaminsky (a non-Jew my basic research suggests, so don’t call him Frank Dirkowitz or something, by the way).

My pick really comes down to Wisconsin’s defense. Arizona can blow by them whenever, however, wherever, by whomever on whomever, whatsoever. Arizona is very athletic and a very good offense, overall. It’s just their relative weakness.

Duke is the most similiar defense to Wisconsin, probably, that Arizona has faced. Both hound the 3-point line but allow lots of 2s. Wisconsin is better, but we’re talking about the No. 7 defense in Big Ten play. Let’s not get carried away. Arizona didn’t go off on Duke (1.07 PPP)… but they turned the ball over WAY more than their season average. They shot well and fared well otherwise. And Bo Ryan teaches his players that stealing is bad and their players DO NOT WANT YOUR CHARITY (320th in TO%).

The Badgers’ adjusted defensive efficiency has jumped up quite a bit during the tourney… but I don’t buy it. They shut down American. Sick! A much, much worse version of themselves. They got torched by Oregon. Then Baylor, a schizophrenic team, couldn’t hit a shot against them and was chasing after going down early. Sick. They still were 7th in the Big 10 in defensive efficiency. They’re mediocre, at best.

There’s no huge edge here, but Arizona is definitely the pick to win, and my uneducated self likes the -3 just a bit, though I’m a bit hesitant in what should be a fairly slow-paced game.

Pick: Arizona
ATS Pick: Arizona -3