East Tennessee St. Buccaneers[E16] @ Kentucky Wildcats [E1]: NCAA Tournament Game Preview

This is sweet.

Since the first-round loss by the Kentucky Wildcats to Marquette Golden Eagles in 2008, I have been anxiously waiting, even dreaming, about writing this post -- Kentucky as a prohibitive favorite in an NCAA tournament game.  I had no idea at the time I would wait almost two years to do so, nor that I would be writing about a #1 seed -- I would have settled for anything in the top five.

But here we are after a long wait, preparing to watch Calipari's youth brigade do battle in the first of what we all hope will be six stirring victories, which would complete one of the most improbable team comebacks (from a #4 NIT seed to an NCAA Tournament championship) in college basketball history.

Oops.  Getting ahead of myself there.  Before we celebrate a championship, we have to get past the East Tennessee St. Buccaneers.  Baby steps, Tru.

First, a quick comparison:

Rank and Records ETSU UK
RPI #125 #2
Strength of Schedule #173 #45
Overall 20-14 32-2
Conference 13-7 14-2
Home 11-5 21-0
Away 9-9 7-2
Neutral 0-0 4-0
Top 25 0-2 7-1
RPI Top 50 0-3 9-1



Common Foes ETSU UK
Louisville L, 69-56
W, 71-62
Arkansas W, 94-85
W, 101-70
Tennessee L, 78-66
Split
Morehead L, 60-58
W, 75-59

More after the jump.

How They Got Here

For the second year in a row, the ETSU Buccaneers won the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament as underdogs.  Last year, they beat the Jacksonville Dolphins as a #2 seed, and this year they knocked off 2nd seed Jacksonville again, in the semis this time, and went on to defeat the 6th-seeded Mercer Bears in the conference tournament championship game.

ETSU gave the Pittsburgh Panthers, a #1 seed last year, no end of difficulty in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament, so taking this team lightly is not a good idea.  The Bucs are a bit younger this year than last, but are far more experienced than the young Wildcats.

As usual, we have our game dashboard, courtesy of A Sea of Blue member Sylvar:

 

Four Factors Analysis

Now that we are out of conference play and into the tournament, I'll be looking at the entire body of work for both teams.

Because Kentucky played a much tougher schedule than the Buccaneers, it's a little difficult to compare them.  Since Sylvar uses Ken Pomeroy's numbers when creating these charts (and I don't recall if he is using adjusted or unadjusted efficiency numbers), we may or may not have some correction built in.

Be that as it may, as you would expect in a 1-16 game, the statistics favor the 1 seed in a lopsided way.  Kentucky is more efficient on both ends of the floor, and is either in or near the green on both sets of stats.  The Buccaneers are in the red in offensive efficiency, but are pretty good defensively, which is likely why they are here.

As you can see by looking at the comments just below, the Buccaneers have had good guard play this year, and we all know that guard play is one of the critical factors in a one-and-done scenario like the NCAA Tournament.  ETSU is not a great three-point shooting team, but they take them fearlessly when they get them.  That makes for a dangerous combination, since a hot shooter can be a real pain, even in a mismatch.  Just recall, if you will, the 37 points Corey Allmond of Sam Houston St. Bearkats laid on Kentucky (11/16 from 3).

Turning to the Four Factors:

  • Offensively, the Wildcats are bettter in every stat, even turnovers.  The Buccaneers are not afraid to turn the ball over.  ETSU likes to play at a reasonably fast pace, so it will be interesting to see if they modify that plan to avoid the possibility of a Wildcat track-meet.
  • Defensively, ETSU forces more turnovers than Kentucky, but other than that, is not as strong as the Wildcats.  Being good at forcing turnovers has not helped teams versus UK very much this year, because both UK's starting guards are point guards in their own right.
  • Kentucky is better at shooting the three, takes more, and plays at a higher tempo.  ETSU utilizes their bench more than Kentucky does.

Overall, this is a typical 1-16 matchup and should have a typical result, but the Buccaneers are capable of upsetting a superior team that does not take them seriously.  Despite their 16-seed, these players all have more experience in the NCAA tournament than any of Kentucky's starting five, and most of Kentucky's bench.

Buccaneers Roster


East Tennessee St. Buccaneers Basketball Roster

# Pos. Comments W H College
Isiah Brown 41 F Starter, 2nd leading rebounder 210 6-8 sophomore
Sheldon Cooley 5 G Sixth man 180 6-3 freshman
Jocolby Davis 11 G Starter, asst. leader 185 6-1 senior
Jordan Edwards 33 F - 220 6-7 freshman
Bruce Grimm 4 G Reserve 170 6-1 freshman
Tommy Hubbard 13 G Starter, leading scorer/rebounder.  Foul prone 210 6-4 junior
De`Shaud Johnson 10 G - 165 5-9 junior
Jarvis Jones 25 G Reserve 190 6-2 sophomore
Lukas Poderis 34 F Reserve 230 6-8 freshman
Mike Smith 1 F - 225 6-6 senior
Adam Sollazzo 43 G Major reserve 200 6-6 sophomore
Justin Tubbs 3 G Starter, major contributor, 3pt threat 195 6-3 junior
J.C. Ward 44 F Major reserve 230 6-6 freshman
Micah Williams 30 G Starter, major contributor, 3pt threat 215 6-4 junior


Buccaneers Player Stats


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Tommy Hubbard 34 33.6 5.3 11.8 44.7 0.4 1.3 28.9 3.2 4.3 73.5 2.8 5.4 8.3 1.2 2.4 1.6 0.4 3.5 14.1
Micah Williams 34 26.7 4.1 8.9 46.7 1.2 3.4 35.1 3.0 4.1 73.4 1.0 2.3 3.3 1.0 1.9 0.8 0.4 1.9 12.5
Justin Tubbs 34 27.1 4.0 9.7 41.2 2.1 6.6 32.7 1.9 2.7 70.3 1.5 2.3 3.8 0.6 1.5 1.1 0.1 2.2 12.0
Mike Smith 4 20.8 3.3 10.0 32.5 1.0 4.3 23.5 1.8 2.0 87.5 1.0 0.8 1.8 1.3 1.8 1.5 0.0 2.8 9.3
Isiah Brown 33 25.5 2.9 5.4 53.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.9 3.7 52.1 2.1 3.6 5.6 1.1 1.7 0.8 1.5 2.6 7.7
Sheldon Cooley 34 17.6 2.4 6.2 39.5 0.3 1.0 27.3 1.7 2.4 72.8 0.6 2.0 2.5 1.8 1.5 0.9 0.0 1.4 6.9
Jarvis Jones 25 11.9 1.6 4.8 32.8 0.8 2.7 29.4 0.2 0.3 57.1 0.3 0.8 1.1 0.3 0.4 0.4 0.0 0.8 4.1
Adam Sollazzo 34 14.0 1.2 2.8 44.2 0.0 0.2 16.7 1.2 1.7 70.2 0.3 1.5 1.8 1.7 1.7 0.7 0.1 0.9 3.7
Jocolby Davis 31 20.4 1.1 2.4 45.3 0.1 0.4 16.7 0.6 1.2 47.4 0.4 1.3 1.7 2.4 2.2 1.3 0.1 2.0 2.8
Lukas Poderis 29 9.3 0.9 2.0 47.4 0.0 0.2 20.0 0.8 1.3 61.5 0.9 1.0 2.0 0.1 0.5 0.1 0.4 1.8 2.7
J.C. Ward 30 13.8 1.0 1.9 50.0 0.1 0.2 57.1 0.3 0.8 36.0 1.4 1.8 3.2 0.2 0.5 0.2 0.2 1.9 2.4
Bruce Grimm 16 11.0 0.5 2.6 19.5 0.3 1.6 19.2 1.0 1.4 69.6 0.2 0.4 0.6 1.3 1.1 1.1 0.2 0.4 2.3
De`Shaud Johnson 12 5.2 0.4 0.8 55.6 0.1 0.2 50.0 0.2 0.2 100.0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.0 0.8 1.1
Jordan Edwards 2 2.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0


Final Analysis

If experience matters more than talent, Kentucky is in trouble here.  Fortunately, that just isn't the case, and the Wildcats are vastly superior in every respect to this scrappy and determined ETSU team.  But as we all know, that matters less than you would expect when it comes to March.  They don't call this thing "March Madness" for nothing.

The one thing that stands out to me is the size of ETSU's guards -- they are pretty big, with their shortest guard being 6'1".  Kentucky will have a slight advantage size-wise in the back court, but not as much as they usually do.

If ETSU were to upset the Wildcats, it would be madness for the Big Blue Nation, and set a historical precedent no team ever wants to be the first to accomplish.  Fear not, though, I don't see that happening here.  ETSU will struggle mightily against Kentucky on the glass, and even though Wall, Cousins, Patterson & Co. have no direct experience in the NCAA tournament, they have played, for the most part, like veterans all year long.  Calipari is a salty old sailor when it comes to this time of year, and he knows how to keep young teams in order and focused.

As is my custom late in the year, I don't predict the outcomes of games.  But I will say that history is unlikely to be made in this contest.

Late Additions:

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