UCLA v. Minnesota By The Numbers

Hoping to see more of this on Friday night - USA TODAY Sports

With the Bruins getting ready to take on Minnesota on Friday night, we revive a traditional March Madness series of posts on BN - looking at some of the stats and rankings underlying the performance of UCLA's next NCAA Tournament opponent.

Over the years, when the Bruins have headed into their NCAA Tournament games (an all too infrequent event in recent years), I have written up a series of posts looking at the numbers underlying the performance of our upcoming opponent, with a focus on the work of Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin as well as their adjusted statistics.

Minnesota enters the Tournament with a 20-12 record, earning an at-large berth and the South region's 11th seed after finishing tied for 7th in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers lost to Illinois, 51-49 in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament. In conference play, they played conference powers Indiana, Michigan State and Wisconsin twice each, as well as not-so powerful Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern. In conference play, Minnesota played 11 games against NCAA Tournament teams, 14 games against Tournament competitors overall, with a 6-8 record - with a notable win against then-#1 Indiana in late February.

Minnesota and UCLA have faced two common opponents: Stanford and Southern Cal. Minnesota beat both teams in their lone meetings: defeating Stanford 66-63 in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, and knocking down Southern Cal at the Galen Center, 71-57. The Bruins swept the home-and home with Stanford, and as we know split the season series with Southern Cal this year.

Now to the numbers...

RPI: UCLA: #26, Minnesota: #34

(ESPN) BPI: UCLA: #29, Minnesota: #31

Ken Pomeroy: UCLA: #46, Minnesota: #23

Sagarin: UCLA: #41, Minnesota: #30

Minnesota beating the Bruins has become one of the trendy first second round upset picks, and the basic computer rankings give some justification for that. While the Bruins have a slight advantage per the RPI, the more advanced metrics actually see the Gophers as the better team - Sagarin's average ranking giving them a 1.5 point advantage on a neutral court - and that is assuming the presence of Jordan Adams.

A couple of quick notes and reminders on these rankings - they all have differing philosophies the factors that make a team good or bad, and different ways in measuring success in creating a ranking. The RPI is the result of a formula that factors in only the win % of a team's opponents, their opponents and those team's opponents, without factoring in score margin or other measures of team/game performance. Ken Pomeroy's rankings are based upon a more detailed data set which is used in an attempt to predict future performance. Sagarin actually has multiple ratings - the rankings above reflect his synthesized rating, a combination of his two main ratings systems (neither of which make the Bruins look any better). ESPN's Basketball Rating Index (BPI) is a relatively new computer ranking system, with an explanation of the theory and intent behind it published here.

Now, here is a look at the efficiency metrics and pace of play for the Golden Gophers and Bruins, as calculated by Ken Pomeroy.

Minnesota:

  • Offense: 112.5 points/100 possessions (#26 in D-1)
  • Defense: 92.3 points/100 possessions (#41 in D-1)
  • Pace: 63.1 possessions/40 minutes (#288 in D-1)

UCLA:

  • Offense: 110.3 points/100 possessions (#39 in D-1)
  • Defense: 94.3 points/100 possessions (#65 in D-1)
  • Pace: 69.3 possessions/40 minutes (#35 in D-1)

As opposed to UCLA teams earlier in Ben Howland's tenure, the Bruins play at a much faster pace than our tournament opponent. We have all seen that this year's squad has run more than we have seen the last few season, and actually rates as one of the leaders among NCAA Tournament teams in Adjusted Tempo - an adjusted estimate of possessions per game. In one clear contrast in style, the Gophers have been one of the most deliberate teams in D-1 basketball, with their pace of 63 possessions/game coming in as the 6th slowest pace of any tournament team - the expected Sunday opponent of this game's winner, the Florida Gators, comes in with the 4th slowest pace of play.

The Bruins have played a team with an even slower average pace - Georgetown - while simply in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency, Arizona is the closest analogue among Bruin opponents, though the Wildcats are not a proper point of comparison for looking at what Minnesota brings to the court. One other stat of interest from kenpom's site is his calculation of 'luck': UCLA rates among the luckiest 1/10 of all D-1 teams, and the 6th luckiest team in the tourney, while Minnesota is the 5th unluckiest team in the tournament by the same measure. Looking at the ESPN BPI, the Gophers also rate as one of the most inconsistent teams to make it to March Madness.

Using the above efficiency measures, together with the average pace of the two teams' play, the average game score of each team, based upon an equal schedule composed of average Division 1 teams would be:

Minnesota: 71-58

UCLA: 76-65

This looks like it should be a close game - while I don't have the same confidence in Minnesota as the media - or even some of the rankings do, the loss of Jordan Adams and the short rotation that Ben Howland's actions have created will limit the Bruins ability to take advantage.

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