Madness Looms (HV Weekly: 3/6/2019)

March Momentum: Is a dominant February predictive of a deep March run?

Welcome back to the Hoop Vision Weekly.

We are now just 9 days away from Selection Sunday.

Now that conference tournaments are in full swing, this is the final regular season edition of the Hoop Vision Weekly. After 19 weeks, we finally have reached single-elimination college basketball.

In today’s Weekly, Jordan examines whether teams who get white-hot in February — this year, UCLA and Providence come to mind — make deep runs in March, or whether those late-season surges run out of fuel once teams enter the field of 68. We also have a guest contribution from Matt Giles on the Southern Conference and the potential of a two-bid SoCon.

And as always, we look back on the week that was, take a brief look at the weekend slate ahead, and provide the X’s and O’s junkies with some inspiration from around the country (big X’s and O’s list this week!).

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Focus now turns to tournament play, and if you missed our email on Wednesday, the Hoop Vision NCAA Tournament Bible is BACK for 2020.

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(Note: if you’re a Hoop Vision plus subscriber, you received an email with your special HV+ discount opportunity on Wednesday.)

Looking for some more information? Check out more details + the full announcement here.


Onto the Weekly. Let’s go!


[HV WEEKLY-EXCLUSIVE ANALYSIS]

Do February surprise teams last in March?

By Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68)

As we do at the end of each month, we tweeted out our monthly adjusted efficiency rankings once the calendar turned to March. The story of February was the handful of unexpected teams making the jump into the top 25.

In total, four teams made the February top 25 despite being outside of the top 50 in each of the first three months of the season. Those four teams: Providence, Oklahoma, Davidson, and UCLA.

It’s tempting to write this off as evidence for the “everyone stinks!” narrative in college basketball this season. A weaker overall national outlook does, in theory, make it easier for an individual team to make a surprising jump in a given month.

But this is the Hoop Vision Weekly, a place where writing off evidence — and using the word “stinks” — is strictly prohibited.

To begin examining what’s really going on here, we went back to our data from the seasons between 2002 and 2018.

Overall, there were 25 instances of a team finishing in the top 25 in adjusted efficiency in February despite being outside the top 50 in each of the first three months — on average, right around 1.5 teams per years. The previous highs came in 2003 and 2014, when three teams made the jump.

One of the more recent examples — whether coincidental or not — is another Ed Cooley team. During the 2017 season, Providence finished 64/93/73 in adjusted efficiency during the first three months of the season. In February of 2017, Providence won their last five games of the month in a row and cracked the monthly top 25.

However, that very same “hot” Providence team would go on to lose in the first round of the Big East tournament. They were selected for the First Four in Dayton, ultimately blowing a second half lead to USC. And that, of course, begs the question…

How well do unexpectedly “hot” February teams perform in March?

To answer that question, we used our 2002-2018 data set to identify teams that:

  1. Performed over 20 points per 100 possessions above the national average in February (adjusted for competition)

  2. Performed over 10 points per 100 possessions better in February than their individual average in the first three months of the season

In other words, teams that played at a top 25 (or so) level in February after not playing at that level the first three months of the season. Overall, 54 teams fit the criteria and are plotted in the graph below.

The x-axis is February performance, the y-axis is March performance. As you can see, the overwhelming majority of teams fall below the diagonal line — meaning they had a drop in performance in March.

There were only three teams that parlayed their hot February into an even hotter March: Stephen F. Austin (2016), Creighton (2005), and Milwaukee (2003).

It should be noted that the sample size of games in March, depending on schedule, can often be tiny. Indiana (2018) is the team on the graph that performed the “worst” in March, but in reality they only played one time in the entire month — losing to Rutgers in their opening game of the Big Ten tournament.

Regardless, it makes sense that we should expect regression back to the overall season mean after one hot month. It’s unlikely that March will be as kind as February was to Providence, Oklahoma, Davidson, and UCLA — but the question is just how cruel the single-elimination environment will be.


New Kids On The Block: The SoCon Has Arrived

By Matt Giles (@hudsongiles)

Patrick Good took one quick dribble to his left and launched into the air, an abrupt enough shift in the East Tennessee State guard's momentum to shake free of his Western Carolina defender; the resulting three-point field goal splashed the net for Good's 26th—and final—point of the night.

Down ten points with just under ten minutes remaining in the regular season finale for both teams, ETSU (27-4 || #66 kenpom) appeared destined to drop its third Southern Conference game, but Good's shot capped a comeback anchored on threes and layups, a resoundingly efficient 1.66 points per possession during those final minutes. The Buccaneers are the presumptive favorite for the conference's auto-bid, a tournament which begins this weekend, but if ETSU drops a game, don't be surprised when #2bidSoCon starts trending around college hoops Twitter.

Over the past few years, the SoCon has transformed into one of the nation's top mid-major conferences (and subjectively, this writer’s favorite mid-major conference to watch); 2020 is just the pinnacle.

Three teams—ETSU, Western Carolina, and Furman—all rank within the top 50 of Synergy Sports's points per play (only three other Division I conferences — WCC, A-10, CAA— can say the same), and according to BartTorvik.com, the only other conference to post a higher effective field goal percentage than the SoCon (51.5 percent) in 2020 is the WCC (52.1 percent).

The league is a paradigm of modern college basketball—no other league attempts as many threes as the ten SoCon squads, and only six conferences collectively convert more from deep. And while the SoCon's top three squads, an interchangeable list that currently is ranked ETSU, Furman, and UNC Greensboro, have only gone 3-7 in Quad 1 games, that trio is 33-9 in Quad 2 and 3 contests.

At the moment, Steve Forbes's ETSU squad — ranked 39th in the NET — is the SoCon tourney favorite, and is on the verge its second NCAA tournament in five seasons. But if the Bucs falter against the Paladins or the Spartans, the rankings appear rosy for a bid theft; it would be the first time that one of the nation's oldest leagues sends two teams dancing in the modern era.


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LOOKING AHEAD

(*Reminder: Team rankings and score projections via kenpom.com)

This is only based on SCHEDULED games. There will likely be 2-4 more Top 100 matchups, and at least one additional Top 48 matchup if conference tournaments play out as expected.

  • 32+ games between teams ranked in the kenpom Top 100

  • 18+ games between teams in Top 68

  • 12+ games between Top 48 teams

  • games between Top 32

  • 3 games between Top 16

…and some of the fun ones:

Highest-ranked matchups…

Baylor (#3) at West Virginia (#12)
Ohio State (#8) at Michigan State (#7)

Biggest Projected Blowout…

Dayton 83, George Washington 59

Projected Highest-Scoring Game…

LSU 85, Georgia 76

Projected Lowest-Scoring Game…

Louisville 56, Virginia 55


LOOKING BACK

THE STUFF YOU MISSED WHILE PRE-ORDERING THE TOURNAMENT BIBLE


In this week’s Starting Five post for Hoop Vision PLUS subscribers, Jordan took a statistical look at all things ball screens, particularly around usage and efficiency. We broke it down into five categories — including a couple outliers:

  1. High efficiency mid-majors

  2. High volume high-majors (excerpted below)

  3. Good offenses without ball screens

  4. Princeton-style offense

  5. George Washington and FIU

High volume high-majors

The high-major offense that uses the most ball screens per game is N.C. State. The Wokfpack have been dedicated to spreading the floor and running ball screen after ball screen since Kevin Keatts took the job prior to the 2017-18 season.

Right behind the Wolfpack are Marquette and Michigan — both featuring ball dominant senior point guards who handle the majority of the ball screens. But Markus Howard and Zavier Simpson use those ball screens in very different manners.

Markus Howard takes a shot on 72% of his used ball screens, while Zavier Simspon takes a shot on just 31% of his used ball screens. They are two players with very different skill sets, but producing fairly similar bottom line results for their respective teams.

CLICK/TAP TO VIEW FULL POST (HV+)

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Sticking with ball screens, we head to the ACC, where Duke tried to slip ball screens against Virginia’s hedging; UVA said “NOPE.”

Staying with Virginia, the Hoos have made an impressive late-season run, solidifying their place in the NCAA Tournament field, and actually going into this final weekend with a mathematical chance at an ACC regular season title. Tony Bennett’s bunch rallied last Saturday for a pivotal home win over Duke; Jay Huff made his presence known:

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The conversation at Hoop Vision HQ this time of year…

Hey Jordan - let’s investigate a March cliché!

Jordan:

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A few more X’s and O’s + tactical nuggets from the week:


Thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered the 2020 NCAA Tournament Bible thus far.

Some more kind words for the 2020 NCAA Tournament Bible…

PRE-ORDER NOW.

PRE-ORDER NOW.


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That’s it for this week!

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