Wofford: An Underdog Story?

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Wofford is a team that has experts around the country talking. There’s good reason for the chatter: The Terriers, the Southern Conference regular season and tournament champions, finished the season 29-4 at number 19 in the AP poll and number 13 in the NET rankings. Their offense is powerful: they have the 12th most points per game (83) in the country, the 10th best field goal percentage (49.3%), the 4th most three-pointers made (364), and the 2nd best three-point percentage (41.6%). Their defense is strong, too; they allow the 8th fewest total rebounds in the NCAA and are top-40 in average opponent points per game (65.6). They boast the Southern Conference’s Player of the Year in Fletcher Magee, who has made the most three-pointers (151) in the NCAA and holds the nation’s 14th best offensive rating. The numbers confirm the eye test; Wofford has a great basketball team, but the question that matters most is: how far will they make it in the NCAA Tournament? We used JMP Software to help answer that question.

The Terriers’ first opponent is Seton Hall, a team out of the Big East Conference that finished 20-13 on the year. To get an idea of how Wofford squares up against the Pirates, we’ll look at the parameters that increase the chances for a Terrier victory and see how Seton Hall’s numbers match up against each parameter. For example, Wofford is 24-1 this year when they score at least 70 points, while Seton Hall’s opponents this year average 71.5 points per game. In that case, the advantage would go to the Terriers. Similarly, Wofford is 20-0 in games when they record at least 13 assists, and Seton Hall’s opponents average 13.3 assists per game. Looking at other parameters, though, the numbers suggest a tight game. Wofford is 18-0 when their opponents score fewer than 72 points, but the Pirates average just over that with 73.9 points per game. They’re 18-0 when their opponents shoot worse than 43.1% from the field and 23-0 against teams with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 109.2, but Seton Hall averages 44.1% from the field this year and has an adjusted offensive efficiency of 109.3. These numbers don’t suggest any clear favorite, but using JMP to find Seton Hall’s weaknesses, we can see why Wofford opened as a 3-point favorite over the Pirates. Seton Hall is 4-11 when they score fewer than 73 points, while Wofford’s defense is allowing, as noted earlier, just 65.6 points per game. The Pirates are also a dismal 1-5 in games when their opponent shoots better than 40.5% from behind the three-point line, and, of course, Wofford is one of the best three-point-shooting teams in the country, averaging 41.6% from 3.

If the Terriers beat the Pirates, which the numbers suggest is the most likely outcome, they’ll probably face off against the Kentucky Wildcats, barring a massive upset from the other Wildcats at Abilene Christian. Kentucky’s three-point defense is fairly abysmal; their opponents average 35% from 3, good for 221st best in the nation, and have made 256 threes all year, which is 219th best in the nation. They certainly protect the interior well, as their opponents average just 43.6% on 2-point shots (good for 8th in the nation), but when playing a team who lives by the three, having a weak perimeter defense is certainly concerning. Especially concerning is the fact that Wofford is 16-0 when Fletcher Magee, who averages a three-point percentage of 42.8% this year, shoots at least 41.7% from behind the arc.

Wofford can certainly beat Seton Hall, and they shouldn’t be counted out against Kentucky, either. The three-pointer is the Terriers’ greatest asset, and if they make a run, the three-pointer will be their mode of transportation. If Fletcher Magee gets hot and Wofford’s defense holds strong, look for the Terriers to march right into the Sweet 16. If the threes don’t fall, Wofford might be going home earlier than they’d like to.

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