[NOTE: This will be cross posted over at UFR, hence the duplication of some info from previous AOH posts.]
Time for the last preview of the season (*sniff*). In the last two games, I told you that Butler was slightly favored to win a defensive struggle, because they’d take away Michigan State’s main offensive strength of rebounding and force a lot of Spartan turnovers; and that Duke was slightly favored against WVU, but whichever team could hit their jumpers and/or dominate the boards would win. Well, the Butler-MSU prediction was spot on, as the Bulldogs held Michigan State to their 2nd lowest offensive rebounding % of the season, and got 19 points off turnovers (according to CBS). The Duke forecast was spot off, as Duke blew out the Mountaineers. But a look at the Four Factors box score shows that the teams were fairly even, except for eFG% - which the Blue Devils dominated largely due to an abnormally strong shooting night, making 13 of 25 from 3-pt range.
I won’t go into as much detail for the championship game, partly because I covered both teams pretty extensively in the semifinal previews. Check those out if you’re looking for the offensive/defensive key traits and similarity scores. By now we all know that Butler wins by playing a smothering man-to-man defense, controlling the defensive boards, forcing turnovers, and hoping they can scrape together enough points via transition opportunities, Matt Howard’s post play, Shelvin Mack’s drives and jumpers, and Gordon Heyward’s versatility – those three combine to take 75% of Butler’s shots while they’re in the game. Meanwhile, Duke wins by playing the best perimeter defense in the country, doing a bit better than average at limiting opponents’ offensive rebounds, and using what John Gasaway calls the “barrage factor” on offense – limiting turnovers and grabbing tons of offensive rebounds, so they get a lot of extra chances to make up for their usually non-elite shooting.
So what will happen when these two teams clash on Monday? Butler has been winning almost entirely due to their defensive rebounding and forced turnovers, but Duke is both the best offensive rebounding team and the least turnover-prone team that Butler has faced – not only so far in the tournament, but all season. However, Duke usually relies on those two factors to score – last night’s jump shot barrage notwithstanding. This is one of the clearest examples there is of a game where a couple of key areas will decide who wins. There’s always a chance that one team will get hot and make all the analysis moot, but it sure looks to me like Duke’s turnovers and offensive rebounds will be hugely important.
This weekend, I put together an Excel spreadsheet that adjusts Ken Pomeroy’s Game Plan data to account for opponent strength. If you want details, check out my last post here on Audacity Of Hoops. I used these adjusted numbers to predict the Four Factors numbers for the championship game, to give us an idea of what to expect:
You can see that Duke is expected to significantly outshoot Butler, and out-rebound them. Both teams should be able to limit their turnovers, and both may be able to get to the line more than average, with Butler having a slight advantage there. But the advantage in eFG% for Duke is huge, and Butler will need to do something to counteract that. Given the way they’ve been playing lately, they may be able to limit Duke’s offensive rebounding, and force more turnovers than predicted by the numbers. They must if they want to have any shot of winning, because it’s unlikely they’ll be able to outshoot the Blue Devils.
Now let’s take a look at the similar-opponent prediction:
The Vegas line is Duke by 7 as I write this, and both Pomeroy and the Similarity system have Duke as an even slightly larger favorite. All the signs point to a comfortable Duke victory. The only thing I can see that would make me second guess these numbers is the fact that Butler has done even better than predicted on the defensive glass, and in terms of forcing turnovers, during the NCAA tournament. They need to continue that in a big way to have any shot against Duke.