Looking At Final Four Matchups

Rounding out the Final Four are Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Kentucky, University of Connecticut and Butler. VCU and Butler — teams from smaller "mid-major" conferences — are becoming regular fixtures in the Final Four. How did that happen?

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

College basketball is known for the March Madness brackets, but not for obsessive statistics keepers. That's usually baseball's territory. Well, Ken Pomeroy is trying to change that. He runs the free website kenpom.com. And if you want to know the offensive rebound percentage for any NCAA player or a team's turnover percentage, he's your guy.

Ken Pomeroy is also a meteorologist in Salt Lake City and he joins me now. Welcome to the program, Ken.

Mr. KEN POMEROY (Blogger, KenPom.com; Meteorologist): Hey, Melissa, thanks for having me on the show.

BLOCK: And let's take a look at your rankings for the Final Four NCAA teams. You have Kentucky, Connecticut, Butler and VCU ranked respectively at number four, 11, 37 and 50. Does that mean that your rankings are out of whack with what we've seen in the tournament?

Mr. POMEROY: Well, it certainly speaks to the fact that the Final Four is extremely unusual this year. I think, most of the time, you find teams in the top 20 that are in the Final Four. Rarely would a team be outside of the top 20 at this point in the season.

Because you got to think about it, VCU, they're ranked 50th and they've already played five games, where they've looked pretty good. And they're still only ranked 50th. So they've had to come a long way just to get to that point.

BLOCK: Well, tell us about the statistics that you keep an especially close eye on try to help you understand teams.

Mr. POMEROY: The two big ones are offensive and defensive efficiency, which I put on the front page of my site. And those basically measure what a team does when they have the basketball. Are they effective at scoring or are they effective at preventing scoring? Those are kind of the two cornerstones of analyzing what a team does well and what they don't do well and why they're successful or not.

BLOCK: You're going to have to explain to me how you have a statistic in there for luck.

Mr. POMEROY: What luck measures is how a team performs in close games. And if you watched any of the college basketball action over the past couple of weeks, you've seen some weird things happen in close games, things that are outside of a team's control a lot of times. Player's make close shots. You know, they do things to win games at the end, obviously.

But there are also some things out of their control. Officiating is one of those things that's pretty often cited. And so, if a team wins a lot of close games, chances are they had some good fortune at the end of games and that's really what luck tries to quantify.

BLOCK: Is there - when you think about the Final Four, is there one player that you're going to especially be keeping your eye on, or the numbers seem to say there's something really great going on here?

Mr. POMEROY: There's one guy in particular that comes to mind and that's Josh Harrellson of Kentucky. He's an interesting guy because he's got this odd affinity for wearing jean shorts. So, he has the nickname Jorts, which endears him to a lot of fans.

BLOCK: Doesn't show up in your statistics and...

Mr. POMEROY: Not at all. And you don't normally see a guy who likes jorts actually be a great basketball player. There's not a lot of crossover there. But in the case of Josh Harrellson, he actually has turned into a very good player. He's a role player for Kentucky. They have players that are going to go higher in the NBA draft, but he's outstanding in his role.

He has a very high offensive rating. So when he touches the basketball, he does good things with it. And he's also very good at offensive rebounding. So I measure something called offensive rebounding percentage and he grabs one out of every six Kentucky misses.

So normally, Melissa, a missed shot is a bad thing, but Harrellson actually makes it not a bad thing by grabbing the rebound and giving his teammates an opportunity to take another shot, which really helps Kentucky's offense be actually very, very good this season.

BLOCK: Well, based on your numbers and the way you've crunched them, when you look at the Final Four, who would you say wins the NCAA Championship this year?

Mr. POMEROY: The thing is, you know, as things were progressing over the last weekend, the favorite to win the tournament changed from Ohio State - they lost. It went to Kansas. They ended up losing. It went to Yukon. And then Kentucky ended up winning and they became the favorite. So it's changed hands four times in the last three days or so.

But Kentucky's the best team. I actually have them at about a 45 percent chance to win the tournament so that, of course, means there's a 55 percent chance that they don't. So, there's still plenty of time for upsets to occur here, even though there's only three games left.

BLOCK: Ken Pomeroy, NCAA statistician by night and meteorologist by day. Thanks so much.

Mr. POMEROY: Thanks, Melissa.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: