Oregon–St. Louis Recap

March 24, 2013

As I mentioned in the game preview, the Ducks were the stronger rebounding team during the season, but the lesser team when it came to ball security.

True to form, the Ducks out-rebounded the Billikens any way you look at it. Oregon grabbed nine offensive rebounds to St. Louis’ three, and 28 defensive rebounds to just 20 for the Billikens. That’s especially impressive on the offensive end where, due to hot shooting, the Ducks had eight less misses to rebound.

Also true to form, the Ducks lost the turnover battle 18 – 12, though E.J. Singler had eight of them on his own. That didn’t matter this game, as Oregon eclipsed the six possessions it lost on turnovers with that six-rebound advantage on the offensive glass and that 52.8% field goal percentage, leading to a sizzling 1.21 points per shot.

The three-point barrage is not something that is true to form for the Ducks. During the season, Oregon was a terrible three-point shooting team, ranking worse than 200th in the country in three-point percentage. However, in the last five games—during the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments—Oregon has shot 34-74 from deep for a 46% average. I’m not sure this is something that will last, as it’s hard to ignore the first 30 games of the season.

If Oregon had shot something like  5-11 (45%) that game instead of 8-11 (72%) from three, and if the Billikens had shot even 7-21 (33%) instead of 3-21 (14%), it would have been a different game. That’s a 21-point swing. Oregon can continue to count on hot shooting, or it can give itself more possessions to get shots up by reducing the boneheaded turnovers. And hey, maybe if the Ducks can do both, they can even beat Louisville. But they shouldn’t count on such a three-point shooting discrepancy again.

Oregon (12) — Louisville (1) matchup preview to come!


What is a Billiken?

March 23, 2013

Wikipedia did some scouting on the Ducks’ opponent today, the St. Louis University Billikens:

The Billiken was a charm doll created by an American art teacher and illustrator, Florence Pretz of St. Louis, Missouri, who is said to have seen the mysterious figure in a dream. In 1908, she obtained a design patent on the ornamental design of the Billiken, who was elf-like with pointed ears, a mischievous smile and a tuft of hair on his pointed head. His arms were short and he was generally sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him. To buy a Billiken was said to give the purchaser luck, but to have one given would be better luck.

So, perhaps St. Louis has luck on its side, but didn’t get a lot else out of that scouting report. I read further:

Today, the Billiken is the official mascot of Saint Louis University and St. Louis University High School, both Jesuit institutions, and both located in St. Louis. The Billiken is also the official mascot of the Royal Order of Jesters, an invitation only Shriner group, affiliated with Freemasonry.

It turns out that “[t]he denomination with the longest history of objection to Freemasonry is the Roman Catholic Church,” and now I’m just confused. So, while Wikiepedia was quite helpful, I’m not about to put all my eggs into one scouting report. The seeding suggests that St. Louis is the better team, and Wikipedia suggests it might have more luck, but the Tournament has seen quite a few upsets, and Oregon has already directed and produced one of them. Let’s take a look at how Oregon might pull off a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Oregon is not a great scoring team. As usual, I’m not talking about totals, but rather, efficiency. The Ducks’ 44.5% field goal percentage ranks 104th in D-I hoops, and despite a recent barrage of long-range marksmanship, their 32.4% from three-point range doesn’t often save them (227th nationally…ouch!). Defense and rebounding—mostly rebounding—have gotten the Ducks to where they are today. Oregon’s best chances probably lie in the fact that one-game playoffs are a hotbed for statistical variance. Some kid can make eight triples in one game, and then go 2-for-12 the next (his name was Tajuan Porter). But two things that teams have a lot of control over from game-to-game are ball security and rebounding, and the Ducks happen to be good at one of those. Admire some statistics:

Margin Pace TS% OReb% DReb% TO%
Oregon 8.2 68.3 53.6% 34.9% 70.9% 21.6%
St. Louis 10.9 63.7 55.5% 28.1% 70.7% 17.8%

Kazemi blowing up his inflatable biceps.

Both teams have solid margins of victory, an all-around summary of a team’s success on the scoreboard, but Oregon carries a heavy offensive rebounding advantage. Because I calculated rebounding as a percentage of missed shots here, Oregon didn’t get some sort of hidden advantage for being a bad shooting team. They did, however, recruit the likes of Arsalan Kazemi and Tony Woods, two guys that grab a lot of rebounds. The Ducks earned two additional field goal attempts and four more free throw attempts per game than its opponents, thanks mostly to their offensive rebounding.

While Oregon gives itself more chances on the glass, it takes away chances from itself by turning the ball over more frequently than do the Billikens. With point guard Dominic Artis looking good and healthy, Oregon has a better chance to shave the turnover deficit while maintaining a rebounding advantage, and that could very well be the key to an upset.

Any one game can be decided by a hot shooter or a few bad calls, but if the Ducks are able to nab a high percentage of the available rebounds, and outperform their turnover rates from the regular season, then they’ll significantly improve those chances of an upset.

Oregon Shafted?

March 18, 2013

Joe Lunardi projected Oregon as a 9-seed at the end of the regular season, and then he upgraded the Ducks to a projected 8-seed after a win against UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament championship game. When I saw the 12-seed that Oregon was given Sunday afternoon, my reaction was probably similar to that of many Duck fans. I was mildly upset,  but then I was immediately reminded of an article I read some years ago by this guy you might know, Nate Silver.

Oregon was expected by many to get an 8-seed or a 9-seed, but as Silver explains, those are probably the worst seeds to be awarded in the 5-to-12 range. If we assume Oregon is as talented as most 8/9-seeds, then had they gotten an 8 or 9-seed, the Ducks would have had about a 50% chance of winning in round one and a 14% chance of winning in round two. That multiplies out to a 7% chance of making the Sweet 16, which is likely a high estimate given that Oregon’s true talent level is objectively worse than a typical 8-seed.*

From the 12-seed, the Ducks will need to beat a 5-seed in Oklahoma State, and then probably the 4-seed in St. Louis (though possibly the 13 in New Mexico State). History suggests that most 12-seeds have a 34% chance of a round one upset. Those that are able to pull off the upset go on to beat the 4-seed 40% of time. That seems a little backward that 12-seeds would do better against 4-seeds than 5-seeds, but remember there’s selection bias. The 12’s that get to play 4’s are the ones that were able to beat the 5’s first. So this is a group of 12-seeds that was underrated. If we just take those probabilities from past tournaments at face value, then Oregon would have a 14% chance of making the Sweet 16. That’s almost surely a low estimate, as Oregon’s true talent level is probably something better than a typical 12-seed.**

Oregon’s chances of making the Sweet 16 actually improved from a conservative estimate of 7% to 14%, simply by getting “shafted” by the seeding the committee, which had no idea it was actually doing Oregon a favor. Indeed, if you look back at the past six tournaments, you’ll find that five 12-seeds have made it to the Sweet 16 versus just one 8-seed and one 9-seed.

UPDATE: Silver’s projections are out, and he has given Oregon a 17.5% chance at the Sweet 16. The 8 and 9-seeds in that draw, Colorado State and Missouri, have been given a combined 14.5%.


*Ken Pomeroy has Oregon as a true-talent 10-seed while Jeff Sagarin has them as a true-talent 12-seed. The AP poll projected Oregon as a 9-seed before winning the Pac-12 tournament. So a simple average of the three would estimate the Ducks’ true talent level as about that of a typical 10-seed. 

**And actually, if we additionally account for the slim chances that New Mexico State pulls it out against St. Louis, Oregon could have something closer to a 20% chance at the Sweet 16.