Looking back to analyze NCAA Tournament games

Mar 19, 2013 3:00 AM

It’s the final stretch of a long college basketball season. There are better teams, tougher matchups, and defensive intensity.

It’s a good time to look backward to conference regular season tourney play and early season matches against different conferences. That’s because it can be tougher to analyze matchups during the Big Dance with teams from the East Coast heading out West to play.

Even in the NIT or College Insider Tournament, there will be unusual matchups of teams from different conferences and different styles of play. This is why looking back on regular season meetings can be helpful.

You know what a team’s style of play by this point is. Coaches, for example, can change what had been a slow, defensive-oriented team from a year ago into a wide-open, run-and-gun style. This is evident in team scoring averages and can even be noticeable in OVER/UNDER results from season to season.

Early regular season games feature a lot of non-conference action. This can provide good box scores to judge how a school from a smaller conference did when stepping up in competition against the big boys. However, those games often took place last November – a long time ago. Teams can get significantly better or worse.

Examine the starting five and the bench for those games. While the big man is so important to winning championships in the NBA, college tournaments find more of a premium on strong guard play.

The sparkplug guard handles the ball, controls the tempo, and can go on a hot run from three-point land at any moment. Remember that the college three-point shot is closer to the basket than the NBA trey. In addition, poor guard play can result in too many turnovers, which can be a killer to a team’s momentum and hopes of advancing.

Here are some points to keep in mind when looking back on box scores from earlier this season to see how it might be relevant during tourney play:

Importance: Did a team play a tough schedule? Look back at some of the key conference games they played or early non-conference action that featured marquee or step-up games. Did the team give it their all or even pull some upsets? Did they play tough defense, or give up defensively, knowing they were supposed to lose? How teams played in those step-up games can give you a clue in March to their toughness and confidence.

Familiarity: When teams meet up in March that haven’t played one another, examine their schedule to see who they did play. More to the point, did they play teams with similar styles? And how did they do? A slow, defensive-oriented Big 10 school, for instance, may have struggled against an uptempo Pac 10 or SEC squad. That should jump off the page.

History: In the ACC, you can see how Duke and North Carolina have fared against each other the last few years. Is there a distinct home/road differential? Does one team “own” another? Is this a revenge situation? Carefully eyeing the past can reveal clues about the present and future. Also, has a team from smaller conferences made it this far into the tourney before? Does a coach have a track record in March, good or bad?

Defense: Late in the season, if two teams are battling each other for the lead in the conference, a head to head matchup can bring out the best in their defenses. March tournament play has even greater importance – win or go home! Defense can be more intense this time of the season, which is important if you are a totals player. There’s nothing sweeter than cashing a totals ticket in the second half so you don’t have to sweat the final frantic minutes!

Jim Feist, author and leader in sports information for over 40 years, hosts TV’s Proline as well as running National Sports Services since 1975. Reach him at [email protected]

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