Thursday, March 29, 2007

National Semifinal #1

1 Ohio St. vs 2 Georgetown

This had been billed as Oden vs Hibbert, but that’s not really fair to either team. Normally, I would say to watch out for the weak side blocks, but Georgetown and Ohio St. have had the luxury of practicing against a 7 footer all year. Both teams know how to score over big men in the paint with bank shots and quick release floating rim shots, so neither team will be intimidated by the size of the opposing center. I also suspect that both centers will be good but not great offensively. So what are we all excited about? Well, here are the key stats for comparison purposes:

Oden 15.6 PPG, eFG 62%, 116.4 ORtg
Hibbert 12.7 PPG, eFG 67%, 131.6 ORtg

Oden 14.8 OffReb%, 23.4 DefReb%
Hibbert 14.7 OffReb%, 18.4 DefReb%

Oden 12.8 Block Percentage
Hibbert 11.6 Block Percentage

Ohio St. on Offense

To understand what I think is going to happen in the game, it helps to look at the style of play ranking for Georgetown and Ohio St. Georgetown’s defense almost never gives up two point baskets. They either foul you or let you have a three point attempt. Meanwhile, Ohio St.’s offense is very balanced, but can settle for more threes than the average team. Assuming Georgetown packs it in the paint, and Ohio St.’s settles for three point shots, how will they do?

Ohio St. Three Point shooting
Butler 38% (73 made)
Lewis 36% (64 made)
Harris 40% (55 made)
Cook 42% (54 made)
Conley 30% (19 made)

Five Ohio St. players can hit three pointers, but will they take them at the right time?

Just because Georgetown packs it in the paint, doesn’t necessarily mean that Georgetown is going to double team Oden. It may be more indicative of the fact that Georgetown will try to curtail Conley’s penetration. It will be interesting to see whether Conley draws fouls on Georgetown’s players or whether Georgetown’s size along all positions (not just Hibbert) and strategy forces Conley to take too many three point shots.

(Ohio St. also needs to take advantage of transition baskets. Georgetown likes to crash the offensive boards which means there will be some fast break opportunities available for Conley and Lewis.)

At least based on the styles of play, this side of the floor seems fairly predictable. The other side is more of a mystery. To understand why, let’s look at another question.

Was it Bad Luck?

Ohio St. had a great 3 point defense this year, allowing opponents to hit only 33.1% of their threes. But in the tournament, Tennessee hit 51.6% of their threes against Ohio St., and Memphis hit 45.5% of their threes against Ohio St. Was that bad luck?

Luck probably played a large role, but when you look at the data, there might be another explanation. The key is that Ohio St. opponents attempt more three pointers than just about any team in the nation. Ohio St. opponents attempt a three on 37.3% of their shots. In contrast, UCLA opponents attempt a three on only 27.0% of their shots. The reason Ohio St.’s opponents attempted all these threes was because they would take the ball to the basket, get rejected by Oden a couple of times, and then decide the long jump shot was the only way to score. (Tennessee’s Ramar Smith would probably agree with that logic right about now.) However, any time you take more threes than normal, that probably means you take worse threes than normal which probably means your three point percentage is much worse than normal. This need not indicate anything about Ohio St.’s tenacity at defending the three point shot, it could simply reflect a change in a team’s normal shot selection.

But now in the tournament you have players who are better at three point shots, and in Tennessee you had a team that was not unaccustomed to taking a ton of three point shots, so their three point percentage did not suffer from the change in style of play. Moreover, as I mentioned in my recap, Memphis was not intimidated despite Oden altering several shots in the first 4 minutes. Memphis continued to take the ball to the basket, and only two players who were hot from outside took threes (Hunt and Kemp). The other players were not forcing three point shots and so the three point percentage stayed high for Memphis.

Georgetown on Offense

Based on the regular season numbers, Ohio St. should force Georgetown to take a lot of threes and miss them, but I don’t see that happening. Georgetown will likely continue to force the ball inside just as Memphis did. And when Georgetown takes threes, they will probably make a high percentage.

The question will be what happens when Georgetown tries to force the ball in the paint. Does Hibbert settle for bad shots against Oden, or does he make the right decisions and pass to the open man? Hibbert has dominated other 7 footers in recent games (Gray, Thabeet), but has never faced a center as athletic as Oden.

The good news for Georgetown is that there are a lot of players to pass the ball into the paint. While Jesse Sapp and Jonathon Wallace are not traditional point guards, Jeff Green and Patrick Ewing Jr. use their size and athleticism to find open teammates in the post.

Assist Rate Guards
Sapp 20.1
Wallace 19.2
Rivers 13.1

Assist Rate Power Forwards
Green 21.0
Ewing 13.9

The bad news for Georgetown is that sometimes the tenacious desire to get the highest percentage shot results in a turnover. In fact, Georgetown has a much higher turnover percentage than Ohio St., 21.9% for Georgetown as compared to 17.7% for Ohio St.

(This all assumes that Ohio St. plays man-to-man which I expect. If Ohio St. is forced to play a 2-3 zone, watch out for Jeff Green because he’s a zone buster. His ability to make a jumper from the free throw line or pass to avoid the double team has shredded the zone in the second half of the season.)


Ohio St. will take too many threes, but might win because of it.

Georgetown will not take many threes, will shoot a high percentage on their threes, but cannot turn the ball over if they want to win.

And, if you've been following the teams all season long, you probably already knew that.