Just Your Average Conference Tournament Quarter Final
The 19,375 fans in the Garden for the afternoon quarterfinal session, depending on the team affiliation, may have disappointed with one -- or both -- game outcomes, but they could not have been disappointed with the effort given by any of the four teams. There is something special about games like these, played at a very high level and with great effort. Ray Floriani has graciously shared his experiences at the tournament and his insights into the play each day (his latest contribution, "Big East Tournament, Day 3" is above), looks at the Syracuse vs. St. John's game, so I thought I might breakdown the box score of the Connecticut vs. Pittsburgh game to get an idea of how the Huskies took down the tournament #1 seed (and the conference's most consistent team).
The breakdown by halves...
The pace was more to Pittsburgh's preference than Connecticut's, though the Huskies have played seven games (total) within 4 possessions of the calculated 60 possessions (59 per Ken Pomeroy), posting a 5-2 record in those games. The numbers that really caught my eye (green highlighted above) had to do with shot conversion and rebounding. Note Connecticut was "outshot" 63.3% to 47.4% but kept the score close and actually won! Converting at a rate 15% better than your opponent and losing is the kind of stat that puts deep lines on a coach's face. Three keys to understanding how UConn negated that Pittsburgh advantage can be found with a harder look at the table...offensive rebounding, turnovers & free throw shooting. By grabbing 44.8% of their misses and keeping turnovers to 9.5% (about half of Pitt's turnover rate), the Huskies gave themselves a 58-49 advantage in field goal attempts. Nine additional shots, particularly when the conversion rate drags down to the 40s, (partly a feature of Kemba Walker's tendency to volume shoot, the guard was 8-22 from the field, a 36.4% eFG%) can be crucial. Connecticut nearly matched Pitt's field goals (26 vs. 27). Getting to the free throw line has been crucial for Connecticut, especially since the Huskies' offense works hard to convert from the low post (UConn's 3-to-2 FGA ratio is just over 3:1) and get to the line. Note Connecticut's FTA/FGA was 43.1%, another 15% advantage over Pittsburgh, and surprising given Pitt's emphasis on scoring from the low post as well. The Panthers, given Gary McGhee's foul problems, no doubt shifted to a perimeter attack to offset the center's absence from the low post. Connecticut's point distribution is a bit light on points from beyond the arc. Despite the announcing crew reminiscing about UConn shooters of the past, UConn's generally looks beyond the arc for only 20%-25% of their points. Points from the line however, at 27.6%, is on the mark for the best Connecticut teams. The rebounding numbers are particularly surprising. Pittsburgh is #2 in the conference (to West Virginia) for offensive rebounding and #1 for defensive rebounding. Both teams dominated the defensive boards, but yielded that advantage to half time adjustments. Nevertheless Connecticut's offensive rebounding rate was over twice what Pitt usually allows, while the Panthers were held to an offensive rebounding rate 2% lower than they usually get in conference.
Connecticut, 24-9, advances to meet Syracuse 26-6, 79-72 winners over St. John's in the second quarter final game, tomorrow in the first semi-final game. Pittsburgh, 27-5 overall, will wait to see if they can hold on to their #1 seed (likely, especially if Notre Dame fails to run the table) and find out where they will open their NCAA run next week.