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Chat: Caleb Peiffer (Basketball)

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday March 27, 2008 1:00 PM ET chat session with Caleb Peiffer (Basketball).

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Caleb Peiffer has been previewing each day's games at Basketball Prospectus. He also covered the D.C. subregional for the site

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): Good afternoon, college basketball fans. After an excruciating three-day absence, the tournament, which has been thus far almost exponentially better than last year's version, is back in action. I can't remember being more excited for a group of games than I am for tonight's four--X vs. WVU, UNC vs. State, and UL vs. UT should all be fantastic games, and who knows, maybe Courtney Lee has another monster game in him, too. Looking forward to answering your questions about those games and anything else college bball related. Just remember that I'm no Pomeroy or Gasaway, so take it easy on me...

Dave (Flushing): Caleb, appreciate your thoughts on the tournament. Can you handicap the UCLA game for us? Can WKU keep that close or is the UCLA defense too tough?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): Thanks, Dave. WKU I think has a shot to keep it close. Courtney Lee is one of the best players in the country--he'll be in the NBA next year. Lee destroyed San Diego last round. Of course, UCLA's defense is the second best in the country, and the 6'5 Josh Shipp matches up well with the 6'5 Lee, but there's still a chance Lee could go off and keep things close.

The main thing to watch from a team perspective is how many turnovers the Hilltoppers force. They're 19th in the country in turnover percentage, which really powers their defense. UCLA was sloppy with the ball against A&M, turning it over on 1 of 4 trips, and I think if the Bruins hit that mark again that will allow WKU to hang around, maybe even long enough for another Ty Rogers attempt at a miracle. If the Toppers can't force that many turnovers, I think they'll be looking at a double-digit deficit for the majority.

What are the odds that Dave is writing from the bowels of Shea Stadium, where he's hard at work trying to find Mike Pelfrey a third pitch?

Dave (Flushing): Caleb, appreciate your thoughts on the tournament. Can you handicap the UCLA game for us? Can WKU keep that close or is the UCLA defense too tough?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): Thanks, Dave. WKU I think has a shot to keep it close. Courtney Lee is one of the best players in the country--he'll be in the NBA next year. Lee destroyed San Diego last round. Of course, UCLA's defense is the second best in the country, and the 6'5 Josh Shipp matches up well with the 6'5 Lee, but there's still a chance Lee could go off and keep things close.



The main thing to watch from a team perspective is how many turnovers the Hilltoppers force. They're 19th in the country in turnover percentage, which really powers their defense. UCLA was sloppy with the ball against A&M, turning it over on 1 of 4 trips, and I think if the Bruins hit that mark again that will allow WKU to hang around, maybe even long enough for another Ty Rogers attempt at a miracle. If the Toppers can't force that many turnovers, I think they'll be looking at a double-digit deficit for the majority.



What are the odds that Dave is writing from the bowels of Shea Stadium, where he's hard at work trying to find Mike Pelfrey a third pitch?

Tim (Lansing, MI): Is Memphis as good as their record indicates and what chance do the Spartans have of upsetting them?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): Sorry about that double-up, there. Just ironing out the kinks in my first chat, here...

Memphis is not as good as their record, because they played in C-USA. If they were in one of the bigger conferences, they almost definitely would have a couple more losses. Having said that, however, they definitely deserved the No. 1 seed they got. Michigan St. however is more of a No. 4 seed than a No. 5, per the Pomeroy Ratings, and have a pretty decent chance at an upset. State has been really up and down this season, but they've been up so far in the tournament, obviously, with a very impressive defensive performance against Pitt. The key I think will be rebounding--State did a great job of keeping an excellent offensive rebounding Pitt team off the o boards, and they'll have to do the same against another good offensive rebounding team in Memphis in order to knock off the No. 1.

Another concern for the Spartans is turnover rate. That had been a huge problem for them up until mid-February, when they really turned it around. Last game they slid back somewhat, coughing it up on 23 percent of possessions. I think if they turn it over on less than one in five possessions and hit the defensive glass as hard as they did against Pitt then they have a great shot at getting the upset. That is, if they can avoid getting most of their shots swatted away by Memphis.

jcsiii (Columbia, SC): Pomeroy's take on Sweet Sixteeen probabilities rates Wisconsin at better than 4 to 1 against Davidson. But he previously wrote that his system probably underrates the Wildcats, and the spread is only 4-5 points. What's your take on this game? Can Davidson win without a huge game from Curry?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): The Pomeroy system probably underrates the Wildcats, and it LOVES Wisconsin, as I'm sure you're aware. The Badgers do everything very well on D except force turnovers. Davidson doesn't turn it over, so it'll get plenty of shots off. Still, I don't think Davidson can get enough of those shots in the hoop to win without a huge game from Curry. They just don't have enough offense otherwise. Jason Richards is a strong piont guard, but beyond him they don't have anyone who uses more than 20.8 percent of possessions. As the Georgetown game showed, it's extremely hard to keep Curry under wraps for two halves. He's pretty quickly becoming a second-half assassin. But I think Michael Flowers is as good a defender as Curry will have seen all year, and that Flowers will slow Curry down enough for the Badgers to win a game that will be closer than the 11-point Pomeroy predicted margin.

Tre Dimick (Orlando): Great to see you on the chat, Caleb. Your insight is rare and appreciated. How frustrating is UAB, on a scale from 1 to 10? Anticipating a draft exodus from Memphis, will they be ready to claim the CUSA throne in 2008-09?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): Thanks for the compliment, Tre. If you're counting the injury to point guard Paul Delaney as a part of the general frustration, then the season was definitely hugely frustrating--probably around an 8. Delaney was obviously the Blazers' best player last year, and it's just a shame that he had to end his career by sitting on the sideline. The season was probably made more frustrating by the fact that UAB started playing really well, in the stretch where it nearly beat Memphis, before the disappointment in the C-USA tourney and then the offensive disappearance against Va Tech in the NIT.

I don't think you can say UAB is ready to dethrone Memphis, even if the Tigers lose Rose and Douglas-Roberts in addition to Dorsey, because they've won, what, 150 straight C-USA games? Something like that, anyway. I have a friend who is a big UAB fan who said there's a rumor Vaden might hop to the pros, which would obviously crush the Blazers' chances. That's probably just a rumor, though. It could be really interesting next year if the Tigers are depleted--I'd give UAB a chance. More rumors--Mike Davis has some GREAT recruits coming into B-Ham in the next couple of years. Now maybe if he'd stop playing his son so much?

Brian (New Haven): Which is the real Louisville, the one that ended the regular season on losses to Georgetown and Pitt, or the one that crushed Oklahoma last weekend? How do they stack up against the non-Lady Vols?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): Aha! A question about the BP flame this year, Louisville. Basketball Prospectus has been swooning over the Cards all season, and we're not about to stop now, especially considering that they're still underrated, so I'll say the latter--the squad that crushed Oklahoma will show up tonight.

I think the Cards defense will really force the Vols to struggle with their shooting, and pretty much shut down Tennessee's three-point attack. However, I will concede it's not the best matchup for Louisville, mainly because of the turnover equation. Louisville isn't that careful with the ball, especially Terrence Williams, and Tennessee's defense is of course powered by forcing turnovers. If I were Pitino I'd be very scared of the Vols really causing havoc with their pressure defense and coming up with a ton of steals. If the Cardinals can keep that from happening, and turn it over on one in five possessions or less, then I think they'll definitely win.

But this has the potential to be a real classic. John Gasaway picked it as the best game of the Sweet 16. By the way, has anyone seen Edgar Sosa recently? Any chance we see the same player that scored 30 in the tourney versus A&M last year?

JKiersky (Memphis): Hey Caleb- love the work... I'm hungover. It's my birthday. Will Carroll will be in Memphis tomorrow for a Q&A at my bar (The Hi-Tone) and the Tigers are going to win the National Championship? How about thems apples?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): Thank you. And Happy Birthday! You've got quite a present with the games tonight.

I don't think the Tigers are going to win it all, but I can't argue with you saying they are--it's a legitimate possibility, definitely more-so than last year. As Ken Pomeroy pointed out on the site the other day, the free throw worries are way overstated. It would be great to see them win just to prove everyone was wrong about the whole free throw thing. The defense is certainly fearsome, but the offense is just not quite there...even if you throw out free throw percentage, they don't get to the line very often, and they don't shoot threes well enough, either. The offense is almost one-dimensional, and a great defensive rebounding team (UCLA) is going to take them off the o boards and out of the tournament.

Chris (Los Angeles): How many points will the home crowd in Houston be worth for Texas against Stanford? Is Stanford's guard situation finally going to catch up to them?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): Let me whip out my handy game predictor, courtesy of Ken Pomeroy. If we give Texas a "semi-home" court advantage for playing in Houston, the Longhorns' chances of winning jump from 51 percent to 59 percent, by the Pomeroy calculations--one more point for Texas, 67-65 rather than 66-65. That's substantial.

The Stanford guard situation is pretty atrocious, although Mitch Johnson came up huge against Marquette with 16 assists against just one turnover. That was a remarkable performance, given that Johnson leads the team in turnover rate. It's obviously no secret that Texas' D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams make up the far superior backcourt, and have the potential to rip the Cardinal all night. I would say that's going to be the case, but Stanford's guards have been very good this season at limiting opponent attempts from three--just 28 percent of the field goal attempts against them are from deep, the 17th lowest rate. Of course, Marquette shot a ton from deep (30 of 71 field goals), but only hit 10. Long story short, I wouldn't totally discount Stanford's ability to cut down on Augustin and Abrams' three-point game.

This could be the year Stanford ends its string of tourney disappointments.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Took UNC over UCLA, went with your log predictors for each bracket otherwise from top to bottom. Have led at the end of each day of play. Is West Virginia's 1 point favor over Xavier legit today, or do they have a Big East halo (though they have played well). Thanks!

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): Big East halo. Nice. WVU's being the favorite is not legit, according to the Pomeroy Ratings, and my own amateur take upon watching both teams play. It should be a heck of a game, but I would give the edge to X because of their ability to get to the free throw line, something that West Virginia hasn't been able to stop this season, and also the team's three-point shooting, which, again, West Virginia hasn't been able to stop this year. Xavier has to worry about turnovers. It really could go either way, but you can't justify WVU being the favorite I don't think. Whatever happened to the bookies going with veteran leadership? Isn't that the traditional X-factor?

JD (CT): Wash St. +9 seems high, right?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): I think so, yes. This is the game I'm most looking forward to watching tonight, mainly because I want to see how the slow tempo will affect the Tar Heels. Will their defense suffer in long half-court stretches? The evidence is scattered and it might be just noise in the data, but in the handful of slow games UNC has played this year, it's D has been vulnerable. And the correlations data says the faster the game, the better the UNC D. The Tar Heels also could be exploited down low by the 6'10 forwards Cowgill and Baynes.

But this should be a great game. You've got an offense in UNC that has absolutely murdered two defenses in the tournament, and the Wash. St. D which just totally shut down Notre Dame, which has a very good offense. The UNC strengths--offensive rebounding, getting to the free throw line, two-point offense--play right into the Cougars defensive strengths. The Pomeroy Ratings say the line should be Wash. St. +2.

Brian (Chicago): Am I crazy for picking Stanford to go to the Final Four?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): If you are, then I'm crazy, too, which is a distinct possibility. The Cardinal has repeatedly choked in the tourney since going to the Final Four in 1998, losing in the first and second rounds as a No. 1 and No. 2 seed a bunch of times. But I like the Cardinal as a darkhorse to go to the Final Four and beyond. It plays fantastic two-point defense thanks to the trees down low, the 7'0 Lopez twins. And more than that, it realizes what its strength is, and funnels teams from the perimeter towards the basket, knowing that the shot-blockers are back there to prevent easy baskets. That combination--very low two-point percentage allowed, very low amount of three-pointers shot against them--has worked extremely well. The problem is on offense, where the team doesn't get much from its guards, and has virtually nothing that resembles a solid three-point attack. Brook Lopez has to carry the team on offense, which he can do, as the Marquette game demonstrated once more. He hasn't even shot 50 eFG% from the floor on the season, though, so its unclear whether the Cardinal will eke out enough offense to go the distance. The team doesn't have a single guard who uses 20 percent of possessions. Anthony Goods needs to step up!

Or (Dallas): Hey, Caleb. What are your thoughts on the Longhorns' chances?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): Well, you have to love a team that turns it over as infrequently as the Longhorns do. I think that's a very important trait to have in a single-elimination tournament. The Longhorns are obviously a guard-dominated team, and I'd be a little worried about the play of their best guard, Augustin. Over the last three games, he's shot just 41 eFG% from the floor, and scored an average of 12.7 points, as compared with his seasonal averages of 51.8 eFG% and 19.2 ppg. It probably goes without saying that the Horns can't go the distance if Augustin keeps playing like that. Could it be that D.J. is wearing down a little bit? Possibly. He's played 92.7 percent of the team's minutes in 34 games. Last year, he played 86.5 percent of minutes. If the three days off rejuvenated him, then the Horns could definitely sink Stanford and give Memphis a great game.

Andy (Minnesota): If Stephen Curry had muscles, would he be a lottery pick?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): I say yes--that quick release jumper is just deadly, and I think it'll play at the next level. If he was bigger he'd probably be a lotter pick, but he's going to have some sort of role at the next level anyway. But I should refer you to Bradford Doolittle, one of BP's NBA analysts, who wrote a prospect guide for the tournament. You can find that here:
http://basketballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=274

Here's Doolittle's analysis of Curry from his prospect guide articles:

"The son of former NBA designated shooter Dell Curry, Stephen is one of the nation's most exciting players and prolific scorers. Despite posting the 18th-highest usage rate in the land, his eFG% this season was 60.9. That's a lethal combination. Of course, he did it against less than top-notch competition and is only 6'2" -- not the kind of shooting guard you want to construct your NBA roster around. His shooting ability should land him a role at the next level. He could be used in a role similar to the way Philadelphia uses Louis Williams. Or if his abilities really translate to the pros, he could have a larger role playing alongside a bigger point guard, in the same way Golden State pairs Baron Davis with Monta Ellis....3/22: A dynamic scorer. Lit up Gonzaga for 30 second-half points and 40 overall in Davidson's first-round win. Has what coaches always call the "it" factorů.3/24: After torching Georgetown for 30 points, 25 in the second half, and lifting Davidson into the Sweet 16, Curry is the talk of the tournament. Can he play in the NBA? I say yes. And if he can play the point, which he may have a chance to do next season after assist-man-deluxe Jason Richards graduates, he may even start. His quick release will help his scoring to translate and his passing skills are a lot better than I realized."

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Is this current UConn group going to pose a danger in future tourneys?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): I think if the entire nucleus comes back--and I don't know if that will happen--then the Huskies will definitely be a big factor next season. A.J. Price really improved his scoring ability this year, stepping up when Jerome Dyson was suspended. He's become one of the best point guards in the country. Thabeet is arguably the biggest defensive force in the country. I'm not totally on board with the fact that he's going to turn into a complete offensive force, however. He certainly could, but I think he also might just not be an offensive player, and top out as a guy who dominates defensively and gets a lot of dunks and baskets off second chances, things of that nature. Last year, Thabeet used 15 percent of possessions and took 11 percent of shots while on the court, and this year those numbers were 15.9 and 12.8. Improvement, but not substantial improvement. Thabeet did bump his eFG% from 55.4 to 60.9, and drop his turnover rate from 24.5 to 20.5, which are encouraging figures. So maybe he's a guy that keeps getting more and more efficient with the limited slice of the offense that he commands, but isn't a guy that's going to dominate the low post and be a classic back-to-the-basket scorer.

Stanley Robinson could be the key to whether this UConn team really does some damage next year. The sophomore forward might be the team's most talented player, but he was wildly inconsistent this season. You also have to wonder what kind of role Dyson will have on next year's team. In the six games he played after coming back from his nine-game suspension, he didn't shoot or score that often, after being the team's leading scorer beforehand.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): What's DeAndre's NBA outlook? His mpg seems real low; is he a Build-A-Bynum kit or a powderkeg?

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): Well, here's Doolittle's take again, which can be found here:
http://www.basketballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=268

"Despite a relatively unproductive freshman season, Jordan would be a top-ten pick if he were to come out. The 7'0", 255 pound freshman is extremely talented and extremely raw, as evidenced by his 43.7 percent mark from the foul stripe. He's got no passing skills and turns the ball over way too much but he's got the potential to be a dominant rebounder and interior defender."

I don't know whether he's headed to the NBA or back to College Station, but he has plenty of things to work on should he return--as Brad mentions, mainly the free throw shooting, ability to pass out of the post, and turnover issues. I can't wait until Basketball Prospectus gets some sort of a PECOTA-type comparables system going--I don't know if that is a practical thing to hope for, but it would be interesting to see which of the past NCAA players are most similar to today's. I think Ken Pomeroy has done some work on this in the past, but I'm not entirely sure. Of course Bynum never played in college, but such a system would be useful for evaluating future NBA prospects for players such as Jordan, in addition to the other interesting information it would provide.

Caleb Peiffer (Basketball): Thanks to all for stopping by to chat, and for your great questions! Enjoy the great games tonight and the rest of the weekend. And go 'Toppers.


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