Thursday, March 05, 2015

Regular Season Finale: Bulls Preview

And it has come to this.  You know all the scenarios, but there is only one contingency that really matters.  If BG wins tomorrow they will play in Cleveland no earlier than Thursday.  If they lose tomorrow, it is Ball State at the Stroh on Monday and a need to win 5 straight games in 6 days to break the non-tournament streak.

Buffalo is a very good team that is playing well.  They are 20-9 and 11-6.  They have an RPI of 40, but are not on the bubble because their best win is over Kent State.  Yes, they played some tough games against top teams, but that doesn't equal high profile wins.  I don't think its fair--seems like the #10 conference should have 2 bids, but we have this discussion every year.  If you want to get to the tourney in the MAC, you have to win the tournament.

Buffalo is hot.  Since losing at home to CMU, they have won 5 straight.  They won @EMU, @BG (by 12), Akron, @Kent and OU.  With 5 straight and 3 on the road and a war crimes style whipping on OU, they come into the game at their place flying high and should have a big crowd

Before that, they were pretty inconsistent.  They were 5-6, winning here and there.  So, they are either an inconsistent team who found their rhythm or an inconsistent team waiting to fall back.

Rather than our normal preview, I thought I would take a look at Buffalo during the back season but before they won 5 straight and then what they have done while they have been winning 5 straight.

This chart goes a long way to figuring it out.  Offensively, Buffalo has not gotten more efficient during their winning streak.  They have been very hot from 3, but it has not resulted in more points per possession.  Do note, however, that 1.12 points per possession is scoring at a very high level so it might be more accurate to say that Buffalo has sustained their efficient scoring during the winning streak. That's 34th in the country now, so there wasn't room for it to go much higher.

The real difference has been on the other side of the ball.  Before, UB was playing sub-par defense and since then they have been playing outstanding defense.  That .93 was what BG's was early in the year when they were playing what everyone considered to be really good defense. If you could sustain that for a season, it would be a top 20 defense nationally.

Breaking those two elements down, you can see here that Buffalo is even consistent in the four factors on offense.  The only difference has been a slight uptick in FT rate...and Buffalo gets to the line a lot and they make 73% when they get there.

Here's where the difference came from.  Teams before were making shots at a high rate against Buffalo and now they aren't, and teams before were getting an above average number of offensive rebounds and now they are getting well below average.  When you force misses and control the glass, while having decent turnover rates and keeping teams off the line, that's a prescription for a top-20 defense.

So, what does that mean for the game?

First, to all the stats dudes out there, I know we are dealing with a small sample, especially with the five games and one of them being a war crime committed against OU. It is unlikely Buffalo can sustain a move from a below average defense to a top-20 defense.  Some regression to the mean is certainly possible, but not guaranteed.  If it did happen Friday, all of us in orange would be all the happier.

This is a really tough assignment.  To win, BG is going to have to play the kind of defense they were playing earlier in the season while finding a way to solve the Buffalo defense.  BG has allowed more than 1 point per possession in 6 of the last 8 games while allowing it only 5 times in the previous 20.  That's a trend that needs to be fixed or regress to the mean or whatever.

I'd like to see more balls inside to Holmes, as we did against Kent, and BG simply must make shots from 3FG to compete with Buffalo.

The final battle will be on the boards.  Buffalo's effective rebounding is evident on both sides of the ball.  BG must compete on the boards, something that is tough when your second big is Spencer Parker.

Anyway, BG has come up with big performances this year and they need to do it again on Friday. If so, then lots of things pop up in their favor.  If not, we will see everyone Monday at the Stroh.

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