March Madness: Previewing This Year's 8/9 Matchups
No one likes guessing, especially when filling out your bracket the day before the games start. The 8/9 matchups can be some of the trickier ones to maneuver through, as they usually give us teams that are fairly even in quality -- that's why they're the closest matchup by seeding.
But don't stress -- we have some amazing math that we can use to figure out who you should pick in your brackets. We'll start with the easiest matchup to predict, but before we get into things, let's define some terms.
ORtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (using adjusted)
DRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (using adjusted)
Tempo: Possessions per 40 minutes
nERD: Our own metric, measuring the number of points a team would be expected to win by against an average opponent on a neutral court.
(8) Oregon versus (9) Oklahoma St.
Oklahoma State has been here before, receiving a 9 seed last year before losing to Gonzaga. And two years ago, the Cowboys were actually upset by the Ducks by 13 points in one of the 12/5 matchups that year.
But Oregon falls into our overrated category this season.
Oklahoma State comes into this matchup with the better defense and a slower tempo. And if they can control the tempo of this game, the Ducks' highly-ranked offense, led by Joseph Young, may not have their usual opportunities to put up points.
The Ducks have suffered seven of their nine losses when teams hold Young to below his season average of 20.2 points per game. Oklahoma State boasts two good defenders in Le'Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, completing a near top-50 defense in college hoops.
The Cowboys are favored within our nERD metric, and per our game simulator, Oklahoma State comes out as the favored team, winning three of our five strongest predictors, giving them an ideal chance to get out of the first round for the first time since 2009.
(8) North Carolina St. versus (9) LSU
The Wolfpack come into this matchup by making the tournament for the fourth straight year, while LSU hasn't been dancing since 2009. We believe both teams were seeded correctly, with North Carolina State being the "worst" team from one of the strongest conferences in the tournament, while LSU finished third in the SEC, getting upset early in their conference tournament.
In this matchup, though, we'll see strength versus strength, as the Wolfpack are a top 30 team on offense and the Tigers are just outside the top 30 on defense, per our efficiency metrics. LSU likes to play at a torrid pace, and both teams are prone to turnovers, ranking in the bottom 12 of teams in the tournament. Our nERD metric says that NC State has the edge by a full point, and our simulations back this up, giving the Wolfpack a 56.48% chance to move on.
(8) Cincinnati versus (9) Purdue
This could be one of the lower scoring games of the "second round" in the tournament, as neither Purdue nor Cincinnati has an offense that gets you excited. They are both below average teams in terms of nERD (the tourney average is 9.68), and both play at a slow pace, though Cincinnati does have an advantage on the defensive side of the ball.
However, our nERD indicates, again, that the better team here is the 9 seed. We don't want to count the Bearcats out, as they could really slow the pace down and limit Purdue's opportunities. Neither team is expected to go far in the tournament thanks to a second-round matchup against Kentucky, but our algorithms, while close, do give the Boilermakers a 53.7% chance to make it past the Round of 64.
(8) San Diego St. versus (9) St. John's
In seemingly another perfectly placed game, these two teams rank right behind each other in our nERD rankings, giving us our closest 8/9 matchup. San Diego State has a great advantage on defense, ranking as the fourth-best in the entire nation. They slow the game way down and force you to take advantage of every opportunity you get. And while St. John's does a lot of good things offensively, it's their own defense that could make the difference.
St. John's has two excellent shot blockers in Chris Obekpa and Sir'Dominic Pointer, as they combine to average over five blocks per game, however, Obekpa is suspended for the tournament due to violating team rules. The Red Storm don't shy away from being court thieves, either, as they pull off an average of 7.47 steals per game. If St. John's can limit their turnovers and survive the suspension of Obekpa, they could take one of the closest games of the tournament.
In the end, St. John's gets the slightest of advantages, as we give them just a 51.54% chance to move on to the Round of 32. This one is a complete toss up.