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|
|Strength of Schedule||#173||#45|
|RPI Top 50||0-3||9-1|
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.
East Tennessee St. Buccaneers Basketball Roster
|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|
|Tommy Hubbard||13||G||Starter, leading scorer/rebounder. Foul prone||210||6-4||junior|
|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
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.