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Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/30/2006 04:56:00 PM

First Impressions Of Indy

I said there would only be one post on the travel day ... but I had these photos, and I figured, why not share them?

The RCA Dome, where the "road ends," opens Friday for public practice. The real show today is the adjoining coaches' convention, where every assistant under the sun is wandering the hallways in team-issued warmups.

RCA Dome
Luke Winn/SI

The souvenir stands are already up and running everywhere, and there are plenty of George Mason tees for the unaffiliated fans to snatch up and wear on Saturday. I snapped a shot of the most low-budget operation I could find: A makeshift store in the lower-level entrance to an Enterprise Rent-a-Car garage. Nothing says class like oil-stained, concrete floors.

Souvenir Stand
Luke Winn/SI

And finally, the most dangerous bracket that man has ever had to fill out:

Big Bracket
Luke Winn/SI

This bracket-banner is plastered on a building down the street from the Dome. If you look closely, you'll see that Mason is being treated unfairly; the Pats are last in the pasting-up order.
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3/30/2006 01:02:00 AM

Previews In The Raw, Part II

George Mason
The stats are against the Pats, but does that matter anymore in this tournament?
Win McNamee/Getty Images

This is the second part of the Blog's statistical look at the Final Four -- previews of Saturday's games that exclude the storylines and focus on the hard evidence. At the conclusion, I'll balance the "stat pick" against the "heart pick" and provide a final prediction. UCLA-LSU was covered on Wednesday morning, so it's now Florida-George Mason's turn:

In terms of tempo (possessions per 40 minutes) and offensive and defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions), here's how the Gators and Patriots stack up (all stats are the latest from kenpom.com, and adjusted for competition):

Team   Tempo        Off Eff.      Def. Eff.
(Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)
UF 68.7 (115) 116.9 (6) 87.4 (8)
GMU 64.5 (282) 108.8 (53) 89.1 (15)
What it means: From this perspective, Florida-GMU is almost reminiscent of the Duke-LSU matchup from the Sweet 16, in that the Patriots, like the Tigers, are a slower team with an offense that's significantly inferior to their opponent's. The difference between the Gators' and Pats' offenses is 8.1 points per 100 possessions, or about 5.4 points in a game at the average speed of the two teams.

Mason has to hope it continues to shoot the lights out like it did against UConn, and makes up some of the gap that way. The Pats' defense, however, is much more comparable to Florida's (only a 1.7 points-per-100-possessions difference), and Mason just survived UConn, the nation's No. 1-most efficient offense, in the Elite Eight.

The next step is to examine tendencies when either team has the ball, by comparing point-distribution figures (all percentages) for the season:

When Florida has the ball:
Team       FTs           2s            3s
(Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)
UF-Off 21.0 (123) 51.0 (210) 28.0 (162)
GMU-Def 17.1 (288) 52.3 (151) 30.6 (81)
What it means: Florida has a balanced offense; the Gators rank in the middle-third of D-I teams in their percentage of free throws, 2s and 3s. And Mason isn't in a position to take Florida out of its evenly spread attack -- the Pats, over the course of the season, have given up points in the same way the Gators tend to get them (with the exception that Mason fouls less than Florida usually draws). The game will likely depend more on individual matchups -- namely Mason forwards Will Thomas and Jai Lewis on Joakim Noah. Limit Noah's productivity -- no small task -- and the Gators' offense will be disrupted.

When George Mason has the ball:
Team       FTs           2s            3s
(Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)
GMU-Off 17.7 (296) 56.5 (47) 25.8 (226)
UF-Def 17.8 (267) 53.1 (116) 29.0 (132)
What it means: The season stats may be somewhat misleading. Mason's bread-and-butter was on the interior for most of 2005-06 -- it has scored 74.2 percent of its points from 2s and free throws. And Florida is at its best on D in the post, with Noah, Al Horford and big subs Adrian Moss and Chris Richard.

In their past two games of the NCAA tournament, however, the Patriots have scored 34.2 percent of their points on 3s (shooting 50 percent), and there's no reason to expect they won't continue to take that approach if their primary gunners (Lamar Butler, Tony Skinn and Folarin Campbell) are still hot.

Which brings us to ... the stat pick against the heart pick:

Stat pick: The Gators are the class of the Final Four, efficiency-wise -- they're the only team in the top 10 in both offense and defense. Noah is one of the most efficient stars in the nation; his season individual rating of 122.7 is higher than J.J. Redick's (120.2), Adam Morrison's (120.0) or Shelden Williams' (120.0). It's statistically improbable that on same night, Mason can contain Noah and have yet another out-of-character, net-scorching 3-point shooting performance. Florida by two.

Heart pick: No one (other than Florida fans and alums, that is) has it in their heart not to believe in Mason. If the Patriots could topple UConn -- no statistical slouch, either -- then they can take down the Gators. Mason has more experience than Florida, has managed to stay loose in the face of a massive media crush, and will have the majority of the RCA Dome on its side. The Patriots can hang around deep into the second half -- and it's clear by now that they're equipped to handle pressure situations. I'm feeling the upset. Mason by three.

The final prediction: My stats pick (Florida by two) balanced against my heart (Mason by three) = Mason by one. The Patriots have beaten the statistical odds three times already in this tournament. Why not a fourth?

(* Just so you're forewarned: This may be the only Thursday post, since I'm en route to Indianapolis. The Blog will be going at full force again on Friday; in the meantime, if you have any music recommendations for our road stereo, put them in the comments. A valued reader recently slipped me The Black Keys' Chulahoma, a collection of reworked Junior Kimbrough covers, and it's been getting heavy play on the laptop.)
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