I hope you were listening when we told you to keep a fire extinguisher on hand to deal with explosive arcs! WTFDU? Amidst the chaos, here’s a game-by-game look at the potential for upsets in Sunday’s contests.
A few reminders: we’re considering opponents separated by at least five seeds. Our analysis adjusts teams’ core strengths according to how similar they are statistically to over-qualifications and long shots from previous tournaments and, where applicable, by matches in style. And we can’t tell you exactly how to bet – it depends on how rich your deck is in Deep Troubles bonuses and your tolerance for risk.
Second round matches – Sunday
No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 7 Michigan State
Chance of getting upset: 38.9%
Slingshot says that person will be close. These teams are separated by only about 3 points per 100 possessions in our Basic Strength Rankings. Marquette is full of excellent shooters who excel at forcing turnovers, but to reiterate our previous analysis, that doesn’t make the Golden Eagles a solid behemoth. Even while taking over easily against Vermont in the first round, for example, Marquette grabbed just 5 offensive rebounds. And while the Spartans don’t make it a point to press for turnovers or break down the offensive boards themselves, their slow-playing style, focus on limiting opponent’s shot quality and punctuated by occasional three-pointers could potentially frustrate the Golden Eagles.
This is most clearly seen in the analysis of similar games. Of the 10 games closest to this matchup in our database, five produced a surprise—more than any Giant vs. Killer match in the second round. One of those (Gonzaga vs. St. John’s in 2011) was a grotesque misseeding. The other four were dead ringers for each other, and what this game would look like if Michigan had a win: Ohio State over Iowa State in 2019, Rhode Island over Creighton in 2017, North Carolina State over Villanova in 2015 and Murray State over Vanderbilt in 2010. All of these nominees were among the best shooting teams in the country. But in these upsets, long shots have had them shooting about 30% on threes, limited them to grabbing about a third of their missed shots as offensive rebounds and driving unusually frequent turnovers.
Maybe you can think of more matches similar to these. In 2017, Middle Tennessee went 31-5, tried to play that disciplined style against Butler and held the Bulldogs to only two offensive rebounds, but collapsed on the perimeter. Last year, Michigan State was attacked by Duke. It is by no means infallible, just an effective way to create a fork where the chances are equal. Overall, the ten games most similar to Marquette-Michigan State had an average margin of victory in favor of the Giants, but only 3.02 points per 100 possessions. And that’s basically what our model is seeing here.
No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 11 Pittsburgh
Chance of getting upset: 27.8%
We struggled against Pitt in the first round of the Midwest game, but the Panthers played their season-best 10 minutes by opening up a 22-2 lead to start their game against Iowa State, becoming the only 11 seed to advance. .
Swinger still not all that impressive. Pittsburgh’s three-point shooting jacks bring his offensive efficiency to an adjusted 114.7 points per 100 possessions, the 27th best in the country. But the Panthers don’t add much possession through turnovers or rebounding, and they don’t have a top-100 defense. However, our model doesn’t see Xavier as a particular favorite either. Cavalry strength is also rooted in shooting efficiency, especially indoors. Their first-round win over Kennesaw State was their tenth win of the season by five points or fewer. To use an accurate statistical term, that’s a lot. Xavier is a good team. They are not as good as their record or their offspring.
Increase Pete’s Chances Slightly: Our research shows that when long shots force opponents to play very slowly, as the Panthers do, it particularly improves their chances of fumbles against runners who aren’t on dominant offensive returns. Xavier ranks 91st in OR%. Push them back: When shooting hitters like Pitt met championship giants who focus on defensive rebounding, like Xavier, only 19% of games resulted in upsets.
Put it all together, and we’ll end up pretty close to where we started, with a difference of about 8 points per 100 possessions between these teams.
No. 9 Florida Atlantic vs. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson
Chance of getting upset: 13.4%
“They limited touches in the post,” said Zach Eddy after Purdue took a slingshot in the face from FDU Friday night.
Yeah, well, they would be, right? The Eagles could have covered Eddie with a five-run if they knew that their pressure plus the lights plus anything in the water in Columbus would cripple the Kettlekeepers so much that Steve LaPass was ranting on national television about none of them wanting to punt. Getting down to the 16th seed takes a lot of work, and Purdue went all out, shooting just 19.2% from behind the arc, throwing the ball wide on one in every four of their possessions, and refusing to even try territory while Sean Moore was having the game of his life or the life of any. person. It all makes us want to say, Virginia, go home, all is forgiven. Well, not really.
After such a massive disruption, our statistical model faces two major questions for looking ahead. First, should you give FDU full credit for its style of play? Normally, we hesitate to compare 16-seeds with teams that scored much higher in a tournament, because favorites and long shots have to be fairly similar in quality for their giant and killer attributes to be important. Howard was 32nd in the nation this year in offensive rebounding, 34th in 3-point shooting and 56th in forced turnovers, and what did the Bison buy? Exploding 28 points to No. 1 Kansas.
But FDU clearly plays high risk/high reward in ways that can have a measurable impact on tournament matches. Our model credits the Knights for their killer characteristics—and for the fact that when teams like FDU played generic giants like Florida Atlantic, which have no particular statistical attributes indicating safeties from their underdogs, 29% of the games ended in a mess. And honestly, this is great stuff!
Another question is whether FDU was severely underrated enough that we or anyone else should have seen the Eagles coming. This can be a tough call when an underdog appears to be improving before our eyes, like last year’s St. Peter’s. But we cannot agree here. The Knights played the fourth-weakest schedule in DI losing 15 games, including contests that weren’t particularly close with the likes of Stonehill and Hartford. They gave up a whopping 118.4 adjusted points per 100 possessions in the regular season, which is the third worst in the country. That’s 10 points worse than Idaho, and 30 worse than Alabama.
FDU plays hard and smart and may have turned the corner in this tournament. But as far as we can tell, the best measure of a team’s core strength is the difference between its offensive efficiency over the course of the season and its defensive efficiency, which is adjusted according to the tempo and strength of the schedule. This we still use as the basis for grading riders.
FAU protects the ball. Owls have a deep spin, four of their members shooting 39% from long range. And they’re flying high, too, after their frantic last-second win over Memphis. None of this makes them particularly hyper, but it all points to a better fight Purdue has had. Slingshot don’t see them let lightning strike twice.
Thanks to John Harris, Kevin Hutson, and Liz Bouzarth of Furman University for research assistance.