After the Bruins used a strong second half to Tulsa's season on Friday night, we can now look ahead to our next NCAA Tournament opponent, the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks.
Stephen F. Austin enters tonight's game with a 32-2 record, having earned an automatic bid and the South Region's 12th seed by going undefeated in conference play and winning the Southland Conference tournament by defeating Northwestern State and Sam Houston State. The Lumberjacks then defeated VCU in overtime on Friday night to extend their active winning streak to 29 games (second to Wichita State's 35 game streak) and advance to the Round of 32. SFA is the only team from the Southland Conference to make this year's NCAA field; they played one regular season game against a fellow NCAA Tournament team, losing to Texas by 10 points in Austin.
UCLA and Stephen F. Austin have no common opponents. Now to the numbers...
RPI: UCLA: #14, Stephen F. Austin: #52
BPI (ESPN): UCLA: #16, Stephen F. Austin: #69
Ken Pomeroy: UCLA: #18, Stephen F. Austin: #45
Sagarin: UCLA: #15, Stephen F. Austin: #73
Like most games where a double-diigit seed plays a highly rated opponent in the tournament, there will be plenty of talk about a possible upset while most of the unaffiliated fans watching the game will be hoping for that result. But looking at the numbers - and as one would expect given the seeding - a Bruin loss is a long shot. That is nothing against the Lumberjacks - they have won 29 games in a row, albeit against marginal talent - and are statistically an equal if not slightly better team than Tulsa was. But let's look a bit more at the computer rankings.
I mentioned this in more detail in my post before the Tulsa game, but keep in mind that all of these rankings are based on differing philosophies regarding the factors that make a team good or bad, and different ways in measuring success in creating a ranking.
These various metrics saw the Bruins as a proper 4-seed entering the tournament; there is a bit more variance around Stephen F. Austin 's rating. The RPI has been frozen since selection sunday, while the remaining rankings are listed as they stood after Friday's games. Sagarin has them rated slightly worse team than Tulsa was entering the tournament (though after Friday's games, SFA edged ahead). while the RPI along with ESPN's BPI and Pomeroy's rankings consider the Lumberjacks as a stronger opponent than we faced in the Round of 64.
Sagarin's average ranking gives the Bruins about a 9-point advantage on a neutral court, but his two main component ratings tell completely different stories. His 'politically correct' ranking (similar to the type of football ranking that he was asked to provide for the BCS) actually rates the Lumberjacks more highly than the Bruins, and as a top-10 team overall. But his points-based ratings (which he considermore accurate in predicting future games) places SFA as just the 85th-best team in the nation, and favors UCLA by 9.5 points tomorrow.
Now, here is a look at the efficiency metrics and pace of play for the Lumberjacks and Bruins, as calculated by Ken Pomeroy.
Stephen F. Austin:
- Offense: 113.1 points/100 possessions (#33 in D-1)
- Defense: 100.8 points/100 possessions (#91 in D-1)
- Pace: 63.3 possessions/40 minutes (#311 in D-1)
- Offense: 116.7 points/100 possessions (#14 in D-1)
- Defense: 97.4 points/100 possessions (#45 in D-1)
- Pace: 69.8 possessions/40 minutes (#38 in D-1)
Compared to Tulsa's solid defense but mediocre offense, Stephen F. Austin strength has come on the attack. It is not an elite offense, but at least compared to the teams remaining in the tournament enough to do some damage. Among teams still alive in March Madness, their offensive efficiency sits just between that of Syracuse and Arizona, but unlike those two highly rated squads, the Lumberjacks do not posses an elite defense. Of the teams falling below that #91 efficiency ranking that remain in the tournament, they either have very elite offenses (Creighton - #1, Michigan - #3 and Baylor - #7), a bit of luck (North Dakota State) or were simply on the side of all that is good in the world during the opening round (Mercer).
The Lumberjacks are one of the slower-paced teams in the nation - reminiscent of the early-to-mid Howland years. The Bruin opponent that played closest to that pace is Alabama, who we beat 75-67 at Pauley in late December. As I noted above, Arizona's offensive efficiency is the closest match for what we will see tomorrow, while Cal was the opponent closest to SFA's efficiency on defense. As an overall package per Pomeroy, they sit one position above Utah, though the Utes' offensive/defensive rankings are the reverse of the Lumberjacks.
Their strength of schedule rates out very poorly: 319th out of 351 teams, with a weak OOC schedule (though barely weaker than ours) failing to make up for their Southland Conference slate. But they won all the games that mattered, as well as a game in the Tournament, so I doubt anyone cares at this point other than to point out they have not faced a team with near the talent of the Bruins, nor had to play any pair of opponents like VCU + UCLA.
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:
Stephen F. Austin: 72-64
Partly because of how favorably Pomeroy's rating sees SFA (better than anything other than Sagarin's 'PC' ranking), this game could shake out as a much closer contest than we saw on Friday night, and more fitting of an upset watch than Tulsa was. The Bruins rate out as better on offense and defense, but not significantly - at least on offense. Their defense isn't anything special once corrected for the slower pace they like to play at, but good enough to keep them in the game, especially if we let them control the pace of the game.