College Basketball: Tuesday Night's Viewing Guide
Think tonight is a random Tuesday in December?
If you’re a college basketball fan, get in front of a TV by 7 o’clock, because you’ll be treated to three games featuring five teams in the top 25 in our power ratings.
Things get started at 7 pm, with a dandy of a matchup at Madison Square Garden between Virginia (12th in our nERD ratings, 10th in the AP Poll) and West Virginia (nERD 10th, AP 14th).
Tipping off at the same time is a Sunshine State showdown between host Miami (nERD 14th, AP 17th and Florida (nERD 11th).
The second game of the doubleheader at the Garden will feature Maryland (nERD 36th, AP 6th...yes, we’ll get to that) and Connecticut (nERD 23rd).
Here is what the numbers say about these matchups.
Virginia vs. West Virginia
For the last two seasons, Virginia has used a stifling defense and efficient, yet slow, offense to become one of the best teams in the nation.
This season, the offensive efficiency and slow pace remain, while the defense has not been as dominant.
The Cavaliers (7-1) rank sixth-nationally in our offensive efficiency metrics (putting them near the 99th percentile), while playing at the nation’s four-slowest pace.
Defensively, however, they are 75th, ranking in the 77th percentile.
Last season, Virginia was second nationally in raw defensive rating, and ranked fourth in DIvision I in effective field goal percentage (42.3%), 22nd in free throws attempts per field goal attempt allowed, and fifth in defensive rebounding rate.
Tony Bennett's club is still excelling on the defensive glass (ranking sixth in defensive rebound rate), but is 115th in effective field goal percentage allowed (47.5%) and 145th in free throw attempts per field goal attempt allowed.
The best defense that will feature in this game will belong instead to West Virginia (7-0), which is tied for 12th in the nation in defensive efficiency (97th percentile).
The Mountaineers’ battle against Virginia’s offense will be an interesting strength-versus-strength matchup, as while West Virginia’s pressure-based defense leads the nation in turnover rate and steal percentage, the Cavaliers have the second-lowest turnover rate on offense.
With VIrginia’s offense playing at such a slow pace, half-court execution will be key, and this is another even match. Virginia is tied for 36th-nationally in non-transition eFG% (54.1%) on offense, while West Virginia’s defense is ninth in half-court eFG% (38.4%), according to Hoop-Math.
Opponents are only shooting 22.0% from three-point range against West Virginia, but since we are only a few weeks into the season, it would be wise to chalk this up to random variation rather than a skill the Mountaineers possess. As Ken Pomeroy has written, defenses tend to have very little control over three-point shooting percentage, as it is no more consistent over time than free throw percentage allowed.
This is also probably not a function of the WVU defense’s high-pressure scheme, as the Mountaineers defense was below average in three point percentage last season.
Virginia has shot well from three this season (38.1%), but done so infrequently (ranking 307th in percentage of field goals from three-point range), so it is unclear how much this will affect the matchup (adding a layer of uncertainty is the fact that three-point shooting on offense is prone to a high degree of variance itself).
At the other end, West Virginia ranks in the 93rd percentile in offensive efficiency thanks to an ability to get high-percentage looks and second chances.
Only five teams have gotten a smaller percentage of their points on three pointers per KenPom, as WVU is 315th nationally in three-point attempt rate and 310th in three-point percentage (28.5).
The Mountaineers compensate by ranking 20th in two-point shooting percentage, and are fifth in percentage shots at the rim (52.4%), where they are shooting 67.0%, according to Hoop-Math.
Virginia is allowing opponents to shoot 56.2% at the rim, which is tied for 142nd nationally, so this should continue to be an area West Virginia looks to attack.
West Virginia is also second nationally in offensive rebound rate, so it will be a good test for Virginia’s strong defensive rebounders.
Florida vs. Miami
While WVU-Virginia will have of plenty of intrigue regardless of who has the ball, Florida-Miami will be immensely more interesting at one end of the court than the other.
The Hurricanes are third nationally in offensive efficiency, while the Gators defense is in the 89th percentile. This matchup alone is worth the price of admission.
The other half of the game...well, Florida ranks 77th in offensive efficiency, while Miami is 190th on defense.
So let’s start with the more compelling battle.
Leading scorers Angel Rodriguez (15.9 points per game) and Sheldon McClellan (12.4) lead a dynamic Hurricanes backcourt; Rodriguez has a 25.3% assist rate and 56.7% true shooting percentage, while McClellan is sixth in the country in offensive rating (145.6).
The Hurricanes (7-1) are ninth in the country in effective field goal percentage, and are efficient inside and on the perimeter. They are tied for 28th in shooting percentage at the rim (68.9%), led by seven-foot center Tonye Jekiri (9.3 points per game, 76.9% field goal percentage at the rim).
Miami is shooting 42.5% from beyond the arc led by Ivan Cruz Uceda (53.3% from three-point range), McClellan (51.9%), and Davon Reed (39.1%).
Florida (6-1), though, will present a tough test, as the Gators are 13th in effective field goal percentage allowed (41.8%). They are stout at the rim (28th in fg% inside) and against two-pointers (12th), though they are only marginally above average in three-point attempt rate allowed (32.8% which ranks 105th; the national average is 35.3%).
6-11 center John Egbunu leads the way for Florida, as the sophomore ranks ninth in the country in individual defensive rating, and is averaging 2.5 blocks per game with a 21.7% defensive rebounding rate.
Florida is a poor jump shooting team (263rd in shooting percentage on two-point jumpers, 267th in three-point shooting percentage [30.4%]), and only ranks 194th in effective field goal percentage (48.2%). The Gators are still above average on offense though, thanks to taking care of the ball (34th in turnover rate) and grabbing offensive rebounds (22nd).
Miami is 191st in eFG% and doesn’t force many turnovers (230th in turnover rate), but is above average in defensive rebounding rate (73rd).
Maryland vs. UConn
The second game of the Jimmy V Classic at MSG involves the sixth-best team in the country...according to the AP voters at least.
This is probably a good place to start: why do our numbers have Maryland ranked so low?
To be clear, it is not just the ratings at numberFire that have the Terrapins ranked lower than the national polls. Maryland is 21st at KenPom, 24th in the Sagarin Predictive Points ratings, and 32nd in Sports-Reference’s SRS.
This is nothing new for Terps fans, as the computer models had Maryland lower than their 28-7 record might indicate, as a 10-0 record in games decided by five points or less inflated their record relative to their point differential.
This season, Maryland has outscored opponents by 14.9 points per game, which ranks 31st, but its schedule ranks 165th according to Sports-Reference. The Terps have played North Carolina and Georgetown, but also Mount St. Mary’s (259th in our rankings), Rider (276th), Illinois State (232nd), Cleveland State (237th) and St. Francis (290th).
That said, Maryland’s roster is loaded, so it’s probable Mark Turgeon’s squad ends the season ranked somewhere between where the humans and computers currently have his team ranked.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s look at the Terrapin’s matchup with UConn.
Maryland is in the 83rd percentile in offensive efficiency, while the Huskies are in the 67th percentile on defense.
The matchup may be closer than it looks though, as the Terrapins are third in eFG% (62.0%) and UConn is 16th in eFG% allowed (42.9%).
Maryland (7-1) features five players in its rotation with an individual offensive rating greater than 120, including starters Melo Trimble (125.2), Rasheed Sulaimon (128.2), Jake Layman (125.1), and Robert Carter (122.3).
The Terps do not get to the rim often (315th in percentage of attempts at the rim), but they lead the nation when they do get there (81.0%). UConn will challenge them when they drive, as the Huskies are 18th in field goal percentage allowed at the rim (47.9%; thank seven-footer Amida Brimah and his NCAA-best 17.1% block rate).
Maryland also excels at two-point jumpers (48.1%, eighth in the nation), but UConn excels at defending them (26.3%, 15th).
The matchup could swing, then, behind the arc. Maryland shoots 39.6% from three-point range, while Connecticut is 331st in three-point attempt rate.
At the other end, UConn ranks 18th in offensive efficiency (95th percentile), while Maryland’s defense is in the 72nd percentile.
The Huskies are a roughly average three-point shooting team, but are 23rd inside the arc (56.1%). They take 45.5% of their shots at the rim, the 30th-highest rate in the country, led the by the front court duo of Brimah and Shonn Miller.
Maryland’s defense hasn’t been as tough inside, ranking 210th in shot defense inside, so expect UConn to look to pound it inside.