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2019 Final Four
As a bonus for my subscribers, I thought I’d provide some thoughts on the 2019 Final Four matchups. I won’t be going as deep on these matchups as I usually do for UofL or UK, but I do have a few interesting thoughts on the teams.

Auburn’s style can beat Virginia, but they can’t forget the little things 

Auburn plays a style unlike almost anyone else in college basketball, constantly in search of opportunities for threes. Auburn ranks in the top 10 nationally in frequency of 3 pointers, but are on a 12 game win streak in which they’ve shot threes more frequently than the NBA’s Houston Rockets. In fact, Auburn’s frequency of threes in their win streak would be the 3rd highest NCAA mark of all time at over 55%. 

That can can cause problems for Auburn, who allow threes at a high rate. They rank 286th in that category, although teams only hit 29% against them (which ranks 3rd nationally). Looking at some of Virginia’s tough games shows a pattern of teams shooting threes at a high rate. In their last 2 NCAA games, Virginia has been tested as Oregon and Purdue combined to take over half of their shots from deep and hit 40%. Virginia did gets wins over Notre Dame and Louisville this season when those teams took over half of their shots from three, but Notre Dame only hit 27% of their threes and Louisville only hit 29% of their twos. Auburn will test Virginia if they shoot threes frequently, and can hit at a normal rate (35% or more).

Auburn probably won’t get many free throws from Virginia , but they didn’t need them to beat Kansas or UNC. Auburn’s most likely Achilles heel against Virginia is going to be defensive rebounding. The Tigers are among the 25 worst teams in defensive rebounding, and Virginia is fairly solid at 99th in offensive rebounding. Earlier this year Duke was able to beat Virginia despite giving up a lot of offensive rebounds. That took Duke shooting 60% on threes, and Virginia having their fourth highest turnover rate of the season.

Auburn is very likely to turbo-charge their threee point attack against UVA. However, unless Auburn can hold their own on the defensive glass, it’s going to take a superb offensive night for Auburn  to win. A good rule of thumb would be to compare Auburn’s three point shooting percentage to Virginia’s offensive rebounding percentage; whichever team’s is higher will
probably in the game.

The Spartans need to hit threes to overcome Texas Tech’s defense

Texas Tech has an elite defense, ranked #1 in the nation by KenPom.com.  That’s not going to be unusual for Michigan State, who have played 9 games against 6 teams who rank in the top 20 in defense and are 8-1 in those games. Their only loss in those games was the season opener to Kansas. What is a bit unusual is the way Texas Tech is elite. Most great defensive teams limit shooting and foul very little. The Red Raiders, however, limit shooting and force turnovers, but are prone to giving up free throws. Only Florida is close to meeting this profile among Michigan State’s strongest defensive opponents. The Spartans won that game by 4, and shot well but committed a lot of turnovers and could not draw free throws. Given that teams tend to draw fewer feee throws during the NCAA Tournament, the biggest weakness in a Texas Tech’s defense may not be a huge issue.

This is will likely be a battle to see if Texas Tech’s defense can shut down Michigan State’s shooting. Against strong defensive teams, Michigan State has tended to shoot well, but committed turnovers and drew few free throws. The Spartans were able to have an eFG% of 52% or greater in these games, but Texas Tech has only given up an eFG% above 52% 6 times this season. Only Kansas exceeded 55%, although they managed to do that twice. Of these 6 games in which Texas Tech gave up an eFG% above 52%, 5 of the opponents did so by hitting 40% or greater on 3s.

Can Michigan State accomplish this? Recent games suggest they may be able to. In 6 of their last 10 games, Michigan State has exceeded 40% on 3s. In 1 other game, they were at 39.1%. These include games against Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota, Indiana, and Michigan, who are all in the top 50 in defensive efficiency.

if Michigan State can keep up their recent strong shooting from three, they may be able to overcome the defensive juggernaut of Texas Tech. 
I want to thank you for subscribing to my newsletter. At Hoops Insight, I hope to use data to find insights that reveal things you didn't realize about college basketball. I'm using play-by-play data to track what's happening, who's doing it, and who is in the game, in order to show you things the box score can't. Check out my past newsletters in the Hoops Insight Archive, and read about the stats I like to use in my stats glossary.

If you have any questions about things I'm saying, the data behind it, or if you just want to debate a point, feel free to contact me on Twitter at @hoopsinsights or email at sean@hoopsinsight.com. I'd love your feedback on the newsletter and how I can improve. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy my work.
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