Editor’s note: Cats Stats has a new analytics tool for analyzing assists. Here, Julia Sultz, a math major at the University of South Carolina in the Honors College, offers her insight from a project completed remotely with Cats Stats.
I believe that one of the greatest chances for an upset in the tournament this year could be Loyola-Chicago over Miami (Fla.). At 28-5, Loyola-Chicago averages 15.8 assists and 72.4 points per game and has the 5th best scoring defense in the country, allowing 62.2 points on average. In their win against Florida, which had the highest RPI they faced all season at 36 at the time of the game, they had 14 assists, double that of Florida. Every time that Loyola-Chicago has lost this season, they have been out assisted. If Loyola-Chicago can win the assist battle over Miami (Fla.), I believe that they have a good chance at winning the game. Miami averages 13 assists per game, scores 74.2 points per game, and is 64th in scoring defense, allowing 68 points per game. As a team, if they lose the assist battle when playing teams with lower RPIs, they often lose the game. Based on these numbers, I believe that Loyola-Chicago has a good chance of winning the assist battle. I also believe that since each team averages a similar number of points per game, Loyola-Chicago’s better scoring defense puts them in a good position. One should not be fooled by the seeding by the tournament, as Miami’s RPI is 21 and Loyola-Chicago’s is 22. With very little between each ranking, this should be a very exciting game to watch. If Loyola-Chicago were to win, they would likely face Tennessee. Tennessee averages 15.9 assists, 74.3 points, and allows just 66.1 points per game. As the season has gone on, in their losses, the assist battle has either been won by the other team or has remained very close. I would not count Loyola-Chicago out against Tennessee, if they play, as they are similar in their statistics and with Loyola-Chicago’s momentum from beating Miami, it could end up being a very close game.
Buffalo could also be another team at which to look. Their RPI is 20 and Arizona’s is 15. Buffalo averages 16.9 assists, scores 84.8 points, and allows 75.9 points per game. Arizona has 15.2 assists, scores 80.9 points, and allows 71.2 points on average. For some of Buffalo’s losses versus teams with a high RPI at the time of the game, they had more assists per game. Also, in some wins over teams with high RPIs, Buffalo had fewer assists than the losing team. Due to this, it’s hard to see a correlation between their assists and their wins. I still think that Buffalo may have a chance due to their high scoring offense, but this also may be due to playing in a conference that lacks top-ranked scoring defenses. In games in which Buffalo is able to score a lot and win, they usually have a lot of assists. I think that if Buffalo could contain the Arizona offense, and have a lot of assists as a team, they will possibly be able to outscore Arizona.
Julia Sultz, a guest contributor to the Cats Stats blog, is a math major at the University of South Carolina in the Honors College.
Follow up comments from Julia Sultz:
In Loyola’s tournament run, they were successful in the games in which they had more assists than their opponent. Against Miami and Tennessee, the assists were won 19-11 and 17-15 respectively. In the second weekend, against Nevada and Kansas State, the assists were won 15-8 and 17-9 respectively. Unfortunately for Loyola, their assist magic ran out when they played Michigan in the final four, losing the assist battle by 2, 6-8. When looking at Loyola’s season as a whole, in every one of their losses, they also lost the assist battle. It’s also interesting to note that in all of their losses but one, their assists were kept in the single digits.