Well, that last game sure was a battle. As I argued could be the case in my last preview, Texas A&M looked far from the #9 seed that they came into the game possessing. This time, we get to look forward to a matchup with the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky, who before the past weekend was typically thought of as the school with the big red blob of a mascot. WKU has a couple of strong players, including a possible 1st round draft pick in Courtney Lee. I'll leave discussion of Courtney and his teammates to others here that may have more insights as to his effect on the game. While WKU is not regarded as quite the test that Texas A&M was, they are not a team that can simply be looked past - particularly with Luc's health again in question.
Western Kentucky enters Thursday night's game with a 29-6 record. WKU finished tied for the Sun Belt's regular season title, and won the auto bid by way of winning the conference tournament. With the West's #12 seed, they defeated Drake and San Diego to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
UCLA and Western Kentucky have faced one common opponent, Michigan. WKU defeated Michigan, 73-69 at the Great Alaskan Shootout. Entering the tournament, they had played two teams that had made the tourney, losing to Gonzaga in Alaska, and to Tennessee, by a score of 88-82 in Nashville. While UCLA has one of the longest current winning streaks in the NCAA, Western Kentucky is riding no less of a hot streak, having lost but one game since mid-January, winning 18 of its last 19 contests.
Now to the numbers...
Not all that much to say about these rankings; as the popular media have pointed out over the past couple of days, WKU is considered one of the weakest, if not the weakest of the teams advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. While the fact that the team is one of the final 16 standing must stand for something, the comparative status remains.
Now for the efficiency metrics and pace of play...
- Offense: 110.3 points/100 possessions (#64 in D-1)
- Defense: 94.5 points/100 possessions (#56 in D-1)
- Pace: 69.5 possessions/40 minutes
- Offense: 119.6 points/100 possessions (#6)
- Defense: 82.5 points/100 possessions (#2)
- Pace: 65.3 possessions/40 minutes
- Western Kentucky: 77-66
- UCLA: 78-54
Another statistical tidbit that may be of interest for Thursday has to do with fouls - Western Kentucky likes to foul. A lot. Going by the raw numbers, WKU has been called for 744 fouls this season (21.3/game). UCLA, in comparison, has been called for 511 fouls over the course of the year (14.2/game).
Pomeroy, as part of his statistics for each team, has a series of metrics that break down certain measures of offensive and defensive performance. In the case of Western Kentucky, two things stand out in relation to their defense: Their rate of forcing turnovers, and the rate of opponent's free throw attempts. While WKU is in the top-20 nationally in forcing turnovers, their advantage over UCLA in this category is relatively slight but noticable, an advantage of 2% of defensive possessions.
Fouls are a whole another matter. The first thing that got my attention while looking over WKU's numbers was an abnormally high defensive free-throw rate (#329 of 341 D-1 teams). This is a ratio of attempted free-throws to attempted field goals; while UCLA's Defense (which admittedly is called for relatively few fouls) exhibits a ration of ~ 1ft:4fg, WKU's defensive ratio is very close to 1ft:1fg, and accounts for a significant proportion of their defensive sets.
A rough analysis of the free throw ratio significance (very rough: while the statistic for turnovers forced comes directly from Pomeroy, the second and third statistics are numbers that I have roughly derived from his data sets. They are not exact counts of how many possessions end in fouls and/or shots from the field; I don't have the data available to make those sorts of calculations. Think of those statistics in terms of comparing free throws to shots from the field, or in comparing like statistics with other teams, and as a way of highlighting the significance of the high number of fouls drawn by WKU through the season.
Western Kentucky's defensive "possessions"
- Turnovers forced: 24.5%
- Free throws attempted: 36.5%
- Field Goals attempted: 39.0%
- Turnovers forced: 22.5%
- Free throws attempted: 19.1%
- Field Goals attempted: 58.4%