Before I present a breakdown on Thursday’s featured game, I’m going to throw a couple of links at you. Surely if you’re a regular at this site, you know of Yoni’s site. And you are probably already participating in his blogger’s bracket. But if not, get over there and fill out a bracket. You can win money!

Additionally, the people over at Baseball Toaster allowed Big Ten Wonk and me to take over their site for a day. Check it out!

Now, a breakdown of Arizona/Utah State, set to tip at 7:20 EST on Thursday from Taco Bell Arena in Boise, Idaho. It’s the game I am most looking forward to on day one of the tourney.

Hey Ken,

Thanks for providing just about the only statistical resource for college basketball on the Web. Without you, I’d have to calculate all the team efficiencies by hand like I did last year, and that’s always a pain.

Anyways, I agree that Utah State is a rough 14 seed for Arizona, since they have the statistical profile of a team seeded between 6 and 8.

But someone has to give some more love to Spencer Nelson! I don’t think I’ve ever heard his name mentioned in the media (although he was First Team All Big West), but it seems to me that he deserves to be ranked up along with Andrew Bogut and Danny Granger as the leading mid-major superstars.

His numbers are 16.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 4.8 apg, and a .611 FG% in just 29.4 mpg at the slow Utah State tempo. His Offensive Rating is an absurd 128, made more absurd by the fact that he uses 31% of his team’s possessions. His Floor Percentage? 63%.


Now this is what we like to see. The fans talking offensive rating and such. Jeremiah is responding to Monday’s post where I promoted Utah State as the most dangerous 14 seed in the history of man, and more specifically the Aggies’ sharpshooter Jaycee Carroll as one of their weapons.

I singled out Carroll mainly because he broke free from the basketball shackles of Wyoming to make it playing college ball. In truth, Nelson is clearly the star of the Aggies, his numbers suggesting he is the Grant Hill of the Big West. Also, Nelson is from Pocatello which is not a basketball hotbed even within Idaho, so he’s a true heartwarming story playing in his home state on Thursday.

Nelson’s offensive rating is even better than Jeremiah suggested – 133 on 30% of his team’s possessions, which are Coppenrath-type numbers. USU’s average tempo (raw) was 312th in the nation during the regular season and is 63rd among tourney teams. The fastest team in the dance is UNC, and they have averaged about 25% more possessions per game than USU. Ratchet Nelson’s numbers up by a quarter – he’d average 21, 10, and 6 – and I am sure he would get more attention.

Nelson scores efficiently, distributes, cleans the glass, and despite all of this activity, doesn’t turn it over much. His 61.1% FG% ranks 11th nationally, but second on his own team. Nate Harris is #2 in the nation at 65.4%.

As a start in comparing the Wildcats and the Aggies, let’s compare the main team stats of each, using the adjusted numbers from the stats page, with national rank in parentheses…

                  Utah St.    Arizona
Tempo             63.4(305)   70.3(63)
Off. Efficiency  115.6(16)   115.9(15)
Def. Efficiency   91.8(31)    93.1(49)

Here’s a breakdown of Utah State’s important players…

Player               Off Rtg. %Poss %Shots %Min  PPG  TO%
Nelson, Spencer (F).... 133   29.6   24.8  72.9 16.4 19.2
Carroll, Jaycee (G).... 122   20.9   26.9  75.2 14.6 16.6
Harris, Nate (F)....... 128   19.6   21.3  76.2 13.0 16.1
Pak, David (G).........  97   21.2   21.0  55.4  6.2 26.7
Matheus, Cass (C)...... 121   20.1   19.1  37.8  6.2 15.2
Williams, Jason (F).... 106   15.9   17.5  41.5  5.3 18.3
Huber, Chris (G)....... 110   14.7   13.8  45.4  3.9 25.0
Neil, John (F)......... 101   14.2   14.4  43.9  3.9 25.3 

(Argh, do we really need another basketball player named Jason Williams?)

Check out this post if you don’t know what the above numbers mean. I am introducing turnover percentage here, which quantifies how often an individual’s possession results in a turnover. Point guards typically have the highest values in this column, due to how often they handle the ball.

Now here’s Arizona…

Player               Off Rtg. %Poss %Shots %Min  PPG  TO%
Stoudamire, Salim (G)  127     24.9  29.2  79.5 18.4 19.6
Frye, Channing (C)     125     26.6  29.4  80.3 15.8 13.7
Adams, Hassan (G)      108     27.6  29.6  76.6 12.2 19.3
Shakur, Mustafa (G)    104     22.4  19.8  75.9  8.3 26.8
Radenovic, Ivan (F)    106     22.7  23.2  64.9  8.6 19.6
McClellan, Jawann (G)  113     22.0  22.1  39.6  5.6 19.8
Rodgers, Chris (G)     107     19.8  22.6  49.0  5.6 17.3
Fox, Isaiah  (F)        84     19.2  17.1  20.9  2.1 31.4 

(Looking at the above numbers is it any wonder Isaiah Fox has slid off the end of Lute Olson’s bench towards the end of this season?)

I think the key matchup is between the point guards. Arizona figures to have a substantial advantage with Mustafa Shakur against the USU platoon of David Pak and Chris Huber. The Aggies point guards will have to play over their heads in order to control tempo and distribute the ball to their effective scorers. The offensive numbers of the respective players are similar, but Shakur has done it against much more difficult opponents. Pak and Huber have not seen the quickness of Shakur all season.

Player            Off Rtg. %Poss %Shots PPG  TO%
Shakur, Mustafa     104     22.4  19.8  8.3 26.8
Pak + Huber         103     18.3  17.7 10.1 26.1

I really can’t wait to see what happens. The respective teams’ numbers are surprisingly similar across the board (except tempo) considering we are talking about a 3/14 game. The wacky thing here is that if Arizona survives, they will likely be a bigger favorite in their second round game, which could be against a six seed.