For part two of this deeper dive into some of the stats for the teams in the Eastern region, youngBUCK and I will be taking a look at the four other teams with the best chance of emerging from the East - Virginia, Oklahoma, Louisville, and UNI.
We begin with Virginia and Louisville.
Virginia Cavaliers, per Corollary
The main knock on Virginia this year has been their slow, grind-it-out style of play. They typically ride their stifling defense and snail pace crawl (they currently play at the 341st quickest offensive pace in the country) to shockingly low scoring (winning) affairs. And, their offense has clearly taken a step down during and after the injury to Justin Anderson, their best offensive player and 3 point shooter (he has hit 46.3% of his 3s on the season, the only high volume shooter on the team hitting more than 35% from deep).
But this style shouldn't be mistaken for a bad offense; Virginia actually has an excellent offensive team. While they're obviously not the best shooters, they're good enough to land around the top 100 for each of the zones - rim, midrange, and 3 point range. Where they really make their bones on offensive efficiency is avoiding turnovers (only turning it over on 16.10% of possessions, 26th lowest rate in the country) and hitting the offensive boards, vacuuming up their misses at a 34.0% clip. They thrive on the easy shot attempts generated from offensive rebounding; nearly 20% of their total rim attempts have come on shots taken within 4 seconds of gathering an offensive rebound (or: a putback). Mike Tobey, Anthony Gill, and Darion Atkins are the main culprits, combining for over 100 putback attempts on their own.
True to their slow pace, they very rarely run with the ball, taking just over 10% of their total shots in transition. They much prefer to bleed the clock, searching for the best possible shot later in the shot clock.
The combination of ok shooting, excellent ball protection, and competent offensive boarding in a tough ACC has allowed them to score at the 25th most efficient rate (adjusted for opponent strength) in college basketball, to go along with their true calling card - the defense.
Their defense has been just incredible this year. Look at all that blue! Jump shooters, beware - unless you're taking all of them from the right corner. And those rim numbers! That 45.79% number is good for the 2nd best in Division 1 basketball - and they also play 3 point defense (in terms of restricting how many their opponents hit - they actually allow a ton of shots, though) at a top 20 level. The 'pack the paint-ness' of their defense may be a bit overstated; they obviously pay more than a little attention to the perimeter, with such numbers.
And, while they don't force many turnovers, they force their opponents to miss a ton of shots (the 41.7% eFG allowed on defense is just crazy), and collect all of the rebounds (they only let opponents grab 24.3% of available offensive rebounds, a top 5 number). They're simply a sound, fundamental team that plays great defense and forces the other team to hit difficult shots to beat them - there's really just not another way.
Hating this team is hating much of what makes Villanova great; teamwork, balanced scoring, and outstanding team defense. While minor stylistic differences are obviously there, basketball purists should love this team, in spite of the crawling pace they like to play at.
They're a legitimately scary defensive force, and if Justin Anderson finds his groove again, they could be one of the toughest outs in the bracket.
Louisville (24-8), per youngBUCK
Notable wins after Chris Jones was dismissed: UVA (59-57)
Notable losses: Kentucky (58-50), @ UNC (72-71), Duke (63-52), @ Virginia (52-47), NCSU (74-65), @ Syracuse (69-59), Notre Dame (71-59), UNC (70-60)
The Louisville Cardinals' shot chart looks like you’d expect from a team that really struggles to score points. They’re 314th in the country in 3P% (30.4), and are horribly inefficient everywhere except the left corner. For a team with so much size, Louisville is only slightly above average around the rim (61.9%), and horrible within 10 feet. At least they are exceptional at straightaway long twos!
It’s important to consider the transition offense of a team like Louisville that causes so many turnovers. Per hoop-math.com, 27.4% of their shots come in transition, but they have an average-at-best 49.2% eFG% when they get out and run. They take a little over a quarter of their transition shots on 2 point jump shots, and shoot 32.4% on these. That is equal parts terrible shot selection and return. Their 3P% is even worse, at 25.9%. It’s not surprising to see such a high energy defense lead to such flaccid offense, as they are a borderline terrible team in transition.
The size, length, and athleticism of Louisville is always an issue, and this year is no exception. They are 45th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, at 35.1%. Furthermore, Harrell (40), Mathiang (23), and Onuaku (21) all excel at offensive put-backs. This puts a band-aid on Louisville’s terrible jump shooting, as they are oftentimes able to turn bad shots into easy points. Weak side rebounding and boxing out are key to preventing these cheap buckets.
Overall, Louisville is not a horrible offensive team in terms of adjusted efficiency (98th in the nation), but they can’t outscore anyone. These issues have only grown with the departure of Chris Jones, whose poor decision making in life did not extend to the basketball court. They now rely almost entirely on quickness and size to generate points, and go through very long scoring droughts regularly. That is not a recipe for success in March. If they have any chance of advancing beyond the sweet 16, they need to solve their transition offense woes, and in a hurry.
The one constant on any Rick Pitino squad (besides bad suits and a few borderline racist quotes a year) is tenacious defense. Louisville once again has a top 10 defense in the country (89.4 adjusted efficiency, good for 6th) that relies on its length, quickness, and swift rotations. As you can see from the chart, good luck finding a place on the perimeter to get comfortable. A PSA to shooters: Don't. Overall, they hold opponents to 29.5% from 3, which is a top 5 rate nationally. They also are excellent at generating turnovers, with a 12.4% steal percentage (15th in the country).
Louisville's stable of big men are equally intimidating around the rim. Louisville blocks 14.8% of shots taken (12th nationally), and holds opponents to an otherworldly 52.87% around the rim. They block 31.4% of shots at the rim, and misdirect almost anything in the vicinity. This is an issue for any dribble-drive penetration, and they are an intimidating bunch at that.
The only region you see red is the one spot on the floor any premiere defense is willing to concede (see: roughly 15 articles by Corollary on this). Overall, Louisville holds teams to a 43.4 eFG%, and makes it impossible for any offense to get comfortable. They allowed 70+ points only 7 times this year, and are really just a pain in the ass to play against. Villanova knows this all too well. The only ‘holes’ to be found are early in the shot clock. In the first 10 seconds of a possession, Louisville allows teams to shoot 42.1% from three. This spike means quick ball movement before they can settle into their set gives you some chance to actually make a three (30.5% otherwise). In transition, they allow a 50.1 eFG%, which is relatively promising. A team has to get out and run if they want any chance to put points on the board against them. Turning good defense into offense is one of the few ways to really go on a run against Louisville.
Quick player peek:
Montrezl Harrell: Arguably the most overrated player in the country. He has managed to scare everyone in the country into thinking he is more than just another Patric Young. Solid player, but nothing more than that. He doesn't accomplish anything that is even close to being statistically elite, and his high usage percentage is not even remotely justified by his efficiency. His ORtg is 289th in the country, he doesn’t rebound particularly well, and he has seemingly bullied Pitino into letting him shoot threes (9-37 for a paltry 24.3%). He is a big body who makes a lot of noise but does not improve the complexion of their offense whatsoever. A founding member of the yB 'Growl less, Do more' All Stars.
Terry Rozier: The 6-1, 190 pound sophomore takes 29.5% of their shots yet has only a 46% eFG%. A team with this many offensive woes needs SOMEONE to shoot, but he certainly doesn’t do them any favors. He turns the ball over on 14% of his touches, shoots 45.7% from 2, and 31.0% from 3. Rozier shoots well only from the corners, and is horrible around the rim (72-139). To top it off, he also goes into hero mode at least once a game and becomes a black hole on offense. This is not a great attribute for a below average shoot-first point guard. Rozier generates points because Louisville needs someone to, but he does not do so efficiently whatsoever He is the perfect microcosm for Louisville as a team: incredible defender, lackluster offensive player. Below is his chart.
The formula to beat Louisville is easier said than done: don’t let them somehow get hot on offense, and generate points in transition. Beating their defense in the half court is a tall task that no team has accomplished this season. It should be noted that a lot of their numbers are inflated, considering they lost their best player Chris Jones late in the season (but we can’t remove his contributions, of course). The void he left on the team has been felt on both ends, and a bad offense only got worse. Regardless, any team coached by Rick Pitino that is based on defense can make noise in March. They will struggle to score points every game, but a team will need to foil one of the most effective defenses in the country to beat them.