Key stats and notes for each Sweet Sixteen matchup

Sunday

(1) Gonzaga vs. (5) Creighton – Sunday, 2:10 PM ET, CBS

Gonzaga:

  • Welcome to the best offense in America with the best shooters in America. Gonzaga’s current eFG% of 61% is the best recorded in KenPom’s database (dating back to 2001-02).
  • However, the Zags’ offense only ranks 30th in 3PT% at 37.3%. What’s actually driving this is the best two-point percentage ever recorded at 63.6%. The shortened season certainly helps, but this is a team blowing out its competition inside the perimeter.
  • Gonzaga has not been held below 50% on two-pointers ONCE this season. Scarier yet, they had 11 games where they made 65% of more of their two-pointers, which was the most by any team this season. (Furman and Loyola Chicago were tied for second with nine.)
  • The Bulldogs (or Zags, whatever you prefer) had their worst shooting game of the season against Oklahoma – a 49.1% FG% performance that included only going 8-for-22 (36.4%) on threes. They won by 16 points over a team that beat four top 10 teams this season.
  • Gonzaga has scored at least 1.03 points per possession in EVERY SINGLE GAME.
  • With all that said, you shouldn’t sleep on Gonzaga’s defense. Allowing just 89.1 opponent-adjusted points per 100 possessions, this defense ranks 7th-best in America and is the second-best defense Mark Few has had behind 2016-17’s group, per KenPom.
  • Why are they so good? They don’t give up many second-chance points and about 20% of possessions end with a turnover, meaning the vast majority of possessions are either one-and-done or none-and-done. Gonzaga was just one of eight teams this season to force TOs on 20% of possessions and hold opponents below a 25% OREB% on average. The only other team left in the field that can say the same: Loyola Chicago.
  • The only real proven way to score on Gonzaga, surprisingly, is at the rim. The Bulldogs only block 7% of opponent two-pointers and rank 87th in FG% allowed at the rim, per Hoop-Math.

Creighton:

  • Talk about an ideal matchup. Over the last five years, Gonzaga ranks #1 in eFG% across all games played. In third place is Creighton, who is the only team to rank in the top 5 in both 2PT% and 3PT% across the last five years of play.
  • This will, as usual, be a fast-paced game. Creighton ranks 15th nationally in percentage of shots taken within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock at 30.2%. (Gonzaga is #1.)
  • The key to Creighton’s best offensive performances, unsurprisingly, has been an ability to hit shots. In Creighton’s 11 games where they posted a 1.2 PPP or better, the Bluejays shot 44% or better from three in 10 of them and made at least 54% of their twos in 10 of them as well.
  • Creighton’s not much for offensive rebounding, but they can’t get shut out on the boards. They’re a perfect 12-0 when they rebound 25% or more of their misses.
  • Something that’s flown under the radar for the Bluejays: this is easily the best defense Greg McDermott has brought to the table, and almost certainly a key reason why they made their first-ever Sweet Sixteen. Creighton ranks 32nd in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings after never topping 46th under McDermott before.
  • Two key pieces have driven this: a newfound ability to force tough twos (45.8% 2PT% allowed, 35th-best) and their continuous ability to not foul (42nd in defensive FT Rate).
  • An important piece of the puzzle: Damien Jefferson. The Bluejays are 9 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the court, per hoop-explorer.com, with most of the impact coming offensively.

(1) Michigan vs. (4) Florida State – 5:00 PM ET, CBS

Michigan:

  • Even with Isaiah Livers’ injury, it’s reasonable to call this the best Michigan team since the Fab Five were on campus. Both units of the team rank in the top 10 on KenPom, and only Gonzaga is able to say the same.
  • Not having Livers is pretty unfortunate, though. The Wolverines outscored opponents by 19 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court this season, and while their rate of +13 per 100 without him is still very good, it’s a six-point dropoff that may prove critical against an opponent ranked #13 by KenPom.
  • It’s not easy to be really good at hitting twos and threes, but the Wolverines make it happen. They’re one of just 11 teams out there that rank in the top 40 of both 2PT% and 3PT%; the only other team in the field that can say the same is, of course, Gonzaga.
  • Michigan’s best offensive performances this year have come when they’ve been able to control the offense boards. They’re a perfect 14-0 when they rebound more than 30% of their misses.
  • Defensively, this is a Michigan squad that does a terrific job of forcing tough twos. Their 2PT% allowed of 42.4% ranks third-best nationally, and opponents only average 32.1% of their attempts from deep, the 30th-lowest rate out there.
  • Along with that, Michigan forces a very low Assist Rate of 41.5%, meaning the majority of opponent baskets come in one-on-one play.
  • Only one defense forced more mid-range shot attempts this season than Michigan: BYU.
  • Unsurprisingly, Michigan’s worst defensive nights have come when opponents have been able to shake loose from deep. Of Michigan’s six least-efficient defensive nights, five have come when opponents shot 41% or better from three.

Florida State:

  • It may not feel like it at times, but Leonard Hamilton has crafted the best offense in modern Florida State history. Their ranking of 14th in offensive efficiency beats the program’s previous best of 21st in 2006-07.
  • The keys for this year’s team: threes and offensive rebounds. The Seminoles rank 16th in 3PT% at 38.2% while rebounding 34.8% of their missed shots (19th-best).
  • Unsurprisingly, the ‘Noles have been at their best when keeping turnovers low. They’re 8-1 when staying below the 20% mark in offensive TO% this season. The obvious problem there: that’s only nine games out of 24.
  • Yet another year where Florida State has a fantastic two-point defense and blocks lots of shots. The Seminoles have ranked outside of the KenPom top 50 in Block Percentage just once in the last 13 seasons, and this year’s group ranks 11th.
  • Among the teams left in the field, only USC allows a lower FG% on layup/dunk/tip attempts than the Seminoles at 51.6%.
  • A key to Florida State being able to pull off a minor upset: staying out of foul trouble. In games where the Seminoles commit fewer than 20 fouls, they’re 15-0, including both Tournament games. Michigan forces an average of 16.4 opponent fouls per game.
  • Surprisingly, Florida State has actually survived most of the scariest shooting nights against them this year. They’re an impressive 9-1 when the opponent makes 35% or more of their threes.

(2) Alabama vs. (11) UCLA – 7:15 PM ET, TBS

Alabama:

  • Everyone already knows this, but it’s worth repeating: no team in America took fewer mid-range two-pointers this season than the Crimson Tide. Only 12% of their shots came from the mid-range, per Hoop-Math.
  • Along with that, only Gonzaga got a greater percentage of their shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock than Alabama’s 34.1%.
  • However, this game is more about shot volume than shot making for Alabama. The Crimson Tide are undefeated (13-0) when they rebound at least 35% of their misses, and they’re 18-2 when they keep their turnover percentage below 20%.
  • Of course, Alabama still has to make the shots they get, especially inside the perimeter. All of Alabama’s six losses have featured either a sub-35% performance from three or a sub-45% performance from two. In the games where they’ve been unlucky enough to have both, they’re 1-3.
  • The defense is the more important (and better) piece. Alabama ranks third nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings, largely driven by a quality turnover rate (20.8%, 66th-best) and some excellence in forcing tough three-pointers (28.9% 3PT% allowed, 8th-best).
  • Unsurprisingly, it’s the two-pointers that matter most. Five of Alabama’s six losses have seen their opponent convert 49% or more of their twos, and only two of those six losses saw the opponent hit more than five threes.
  • If you can actually get to the rim on Alabama, it’s not impossible to score. They’ve allowed a 58.9% FG% at the rim, which ranks 12th among the remaining 16 teams. The problem: only 33% of all field goal attempts have come there.

UCLA:

  • UCLA’s taken a few strange turns this year, ranking as high as 22nd and as low as 45th in KenPom, but they’ve stabilized into having a fantastic offense (12th-best) that makes the threes they take (37.4%, 28th-best) and gets up a great number of shots with turnover prevention (16.1%, 38th-best) and offensive rebounds (30.8%, 80th-best).
  • A potentially great sign for the Bruins: they only turned the ball over on 11.2% of possessions against Michigan State (a team that doesn’t force many turnovers) and 12.8% against Abilene Christian (the #1 turnover-forcing team in America).
  • If Alabama likes to play fast and avoid the mid-range, UCLA is their polar opposite. Only two teams left in the field (Oregon State and Houston) play at a slower pace offensively, and no team takes as many mid-range twos as UCLA does (39.6% of all attempts). Of course, it helps when you hit 42.5% of them, as UCLA does.
  • Something I’m keeping my eye on in this game: can the Bruins keep Alabama off of the boards? Defensive rebounding is the only category the Bruin defense ranks in the top 80 of, and only seven of UCLA’s 29 opponents have broken the 32% barrier Alabama cracks on an average night.
  • Very much worth noting: UCLA is a perfect 14-0 when they hold opponents to a 23% OREB% or lower and a still-great 17-3 when that number is 30% or lower.
  • One more thing that may play into UCLA’s favor: a lack of free throw attempts. UCLA ranks 87th in opponent FT Rate, while Alabama’s offense ranks 249th. The Tide haven’t needed free throws to have success this year, but they may need them against a UCLA team that’s 17-3 when their opponent attempts 17 or fewer free throws (Alabama averages 18.3).

(6) USC vs. (7) Oregon – 9:45 PM ET, TBS

USC:

  • The first thing anyone will call out when seeing this game: USC already beat this team once and didn’t even have Isaiah Mobley available. USC defeated Oregon 72-58 thanks to a 10-for-21 night from three, 15 offensive rebounds, and Oregon only making 40% of their twos.
  • USC’s run through this season has been fueled by an offense that does pretty much everything well if it isn’t at the free throw line. USC ranks in the top 100 of every offensive category aside from turnovers (18.1%, 125th-best) and free throw percentage (64.3%, 328th-best of 347).
  • The amount of offensive rebounds USC gets is a bother to deal with, and in the NCAA Tournament, they’ve actually had two lackluster outings for their standards. USC is 15-1 when rebounding 35% or more of their misses, but their peak through two games in Indianapolis is 30.8% against Kansas.
  • More than anything, this comes down to a simple thing for USC: hit your two-pointers. 68.8% of USC’s shots are from inside the arc (the most of anyone left in the field), and when USC makes at least half their two-pointers, they’re 21-2. (When they don’t: 3-5.)
  • USC’s defense is scary in a lot of places, but it’s hardest to deal with at the rim. The Trojans allow just a 50.5% FG% at the rim, the best defensive rim FG% in the field. USC also blocks 13.6% of opponent two-point attempts, which ranks 18th-best nationally.
  • Two-pointers don’t work here. USC has forced opponents to hit just 41.4% of their twos, the lowest rate in America.
  • The only way to really beat this USC defense: chuck and pray. All seven of USC’s losses have seen the opponent hit at least 36.4% of their threes, which isn’t ideal against an Oregon team that averages 38.2%. However, USC also hasn’t lost when the opponent takes 40% or more of their shots from downtown.

Oregon:

  • Oregon’s offensive prowess was on full display against Iowa Monday. It was the seventh game in eight tries where Oregon posted at least 1.14 points per possessions and the continuation of an impressive hot streak from downtown. 
  • In the month of March, Oregon is shooting 47.7% from three after shooting 35.5% from downtown across the first three months of the season.
  • Oregon’s path to a win this season has been pretty simple: make shots. They’re 18-1 when posting an eFG% of 50% or higher; if you prefer a more traditional stat, they’re 16-1 when shooting 44% or better from the field.
  • It might be beneficial for Oregon to attempt more threes in this one. They actually shot pretty well against USC in the first game (41.2% on 17 attempts), but only making 40% of their twos and not getting to the free throw line often killed their chances.
  • The Oregon defense isn’t quite as impressive. Their eFG% of 50.2% ranks 181st nationally, which ranks 13th among the 16 teams left in the field.
  • If it’s at all possible, Oregon has to find a way to keep USC from crushing them on the boards. The Ducks went 2-4 in games where the opponent rebounded 35% or more of their misses (as USC does on an average night), and one of the two wins was over KenPom #284 Florida A&M.
  • A Ducks win also likely requires them to stay out of foul trouble. They’re 16-2 when holding the opponent to 16 or fewer free throw attempts and 5-4 otherwise. Unfortunately for Oregon, one of those two losses was the 14-point loss to USC.

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