Breaking Down the NCAA Tournament's 8/9 Games

Is Pitt a lock to win in their first game?

Ah, the dreaded 8/9 matchups. These games typically seem to be toss-ups between evenly matched squads, but can sometimes make or break your bracket - at least after the first round is over.

As you will see, don’t let the 8/9 seeding fool you, as there are a couple of games here that should be ‘freebies’ with proper research. Luckily, some of our metrics can do that research for you. I've broken down the four matchups, looking at our fancy analytics for all eight teams involved.

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Glossary of Terms

DRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions, measures defensive efficiency.
ORtg: Points scored per 100 possessions, measures offensive efficiency.
SRS: Simple Rating System which take into account average point differential and schedule strength
Pace: The speed that the teams like to play
nERD: Our standard statistic. Measures the amount of points you'd expect a team to win by against an average team on a neutral court.

Colorado (8) vs. Pittsburgh (9)

TeamnERD scorenERD rankORtgORtg rankDRtgDRtg rankSRS rankPace rank

Usually 8/9 matchups are pretty even and stressful to pick. This is not one of those contests.

Our numbers indicate that Pitt is the vastly superior team, and one that should be able to advance against a Colorado squad that is extremely over-seeded. Pitt has been playing well as of late, beating UNC in the ACC Tournament for their biggest win of the season, before falling by three to number one-seeded Virginia. The Buffs, on the other hand, haven’t hit their scoring average (70) in over a month, and have won just a little over half of their games since losing their top player to an ACL injury in January.

Colorado does tend to play at a much faster tempo than the Panthers, and speeding up the game may be their only realistic shot to win, since our numbers would suggest an easy Pitt win if Colorado fails to impose their style - Pitts’ nERD score comes in at five points higher than that of Colorado.

One of the biggest concerns here is Pittsburgh's lack of success in the postseason, or at least inability to play to their seed. But typically Pitt's been able to get by their first game, failing to really make noise in the later rounds.

Gonzaga (8) vs. Oklahoma State (9)

TeamnERD scorenERD rankORtgORtg rankDRtgDRtg rankSRS rankPace rank
Oklahoma St.14.913113.23197.442957

If nERD score determined seeding, the Zags would be a five seed to the Cowboys’ four. Both teams rank in the nERD top 20, which should help make this one of the best games in the round of 64.

As you can see, the two teams are even to the first decimal place when it comes to defensive rating, with the Pokes getting the nod as the higher rated defensive team. Both rank in the SRS top 25, but the Cowboys would be expected to win by roughly one point thanks to a higher nERD score, without factoring in matchup.

The ‘Zags have the advantage down low, with 7’1” Przemek Karnowski and 6’9” Sam Dower, but the Cowboys have Marcus Smart who could will or flop this team to victory. The Cowboys play a faster style of play to take advantage of their small lineup, but Gonzaga’s probable dominance outside could disrupt their game.

In general, one shouldn’t doubt a Mark Few-coached team in its first game (he’s won at least once in the tournament every year since 2009), but its hard to imagine Smart going 0-2 in his NCAA Tournament career. The way Oklahoma State has been clicking since Smart’s return from suspension should help their cause, but this contest should come down to who wins the battle between the Zags’ big men and OK State’s guards.

Kentucky (8) vs. Kansas State (9)

TeamnERD scorenERD rankORtgORtg rankDRtgDRtg rankSRS rankPace rank
Kansas State9.5746104.818498.86343196

Kentucky enters the tournament under-seeded from our perspective, and are the 17th-nERDiest team in the country, which means we think they should be a borderline four or five seed. Though the Wildcats have struggled to live up to their preseason hype, they nearly came from behind to beat Florida in the SEC Tournament Championship less than a week ago. And Coach Calipari also hasn’t been bounced from the round of 64 since 2003, the first time he made the tournament at Memphis.

Kansas State, on the other hand, has been stellar at times, though they’ve only played particularly well at the ‘Octagon of Doom’, going 1-7 against NCAA Tournament teams away from home. Bruce Weber hasn’t coached one team to the next round since 2007, and they limp into the tournament having lost three straight contests. It's hard to conceive them bucking the trend against a talented Kentucky squad.

In fact, Kentucky could be the 8/9 seed to get a win in the round of 32 as well, as they are only just over a point inferior to Wichita State in nERD. Calipari coached squads have made it to the second weekend in his last seven tournament appearances, and since 2010, three number one seeds have been bounced from the first weekend, which is the same as the amount that made the Final Four. Oklahoma State is another team that could make a run, but they will likely take on the nERDiest team in the country (‘Zona) in the next round if they get that far.

Memphis (8) vs. George Washington (9)

TeamnERD scorenERD rankORtgORtg rankDRtgDRtg rankSRS rankPace rank
George Washington9.4647107.313397.74855102

Memphis enters the tournament 41st in nERD while GW is 48th, but less than a point separates the two spots. Experience in the tournament could play a key role in this contest, as GW hasn’t made the Big Dance since 2007, whereas the Tigers’ senior class has received a bid every year.

Led by senior Joe Jackson, Memphis plays one of the fastest styles in the country, which has helped them scored roughly 78 points per game. However, the Colonials haven’t given up that many points in 2014, and they’ve had the better defense on the season.

This game should be very evenly matched and come down to the wire, in a contest that could go either way. George Washington is better on defense, while Memphis has the better offense, though neither team is great at either. This one could should decided by the flow of the game.

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