Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Half-Court Fallacy and More

Half-Court Fallacy
Many announcers seem to think that teams that prevent transition baskets and play half court defense dislike getting fast-break baskets. This is clearly wrong. All teams want easy baskets! The difference between fast and slow teams depends more on whether the team takes one-on-one shots early in the shot clock, or whether the team works the offense to get an open look late in the shot clock. But when given the opportunity to get an uncontested lay-up in transition, all good teams will take that opportunity whether fast-paced or not!

The following is clearly moronic. “I know that team X just turned the ball over and Team Y got a lay-up, but this tempo clearly favors team X.” Uggh, this type of announcing must stop.

No Upsets
There were no 5-12 upsets this year. (Illinois came the closest, losing by 2 points.) Could it be that the committee is doing a better job of seeding the tournament? Teams like Winthrop and VCU are now seeded as 11’s instead of 12’s. In fact, Winthrop and VCU are the only double digit seeds to advance to the 2nd round. That means even better match-ups this weekend, and I predict multiple major upsets in the weekend games. Can you believe that Kansas vs Kentucky and North Carolina vs Michigan St. are second round games? The fun is just getting started.

Conference Crown
5-1 Big Ten
4-1 SEC
3-1 Big 12
5-2 ACC
4-2 Pac10
3-3 BigEast
1-0 CUSA
1-0 Big South
1-1 MVC
1-1 MWC
1-1 WAC
1-1 A10
1-1 CAA
1-1 Horizon

Afternoon Fun
Good: I correctly predicted that the Notre Dame vs Winthrop game would appear to be a blow-out and that CBS would leave the game, only to come back.

Bad: I was wrong about which team would have the lead.

Good: I also predicted that New Mexico St. would take the lead against Texas and scare a lot of people.

Bad: I was wrong about Maryland vs Davidson being higher scoring than Tennessee vs Long Beach St.

A few other random thoughts while watching 4 games at the same time at the sports bar:

- Texas A&M CC gave Wisconsin everything they could handle. While trailing 10-0 and 21-6 was embarrassing for Wisconsin, their fans should take solace in the fact that this game won’t be replayed for the next 20 years.

- It was fun to watch Tennessee pile up points, although they showed somewhat bad sportsmanship by taking a 3 with 10 seconds left to score 121.

- Creighton and Nevada played one of the most entertaining games of the tournament, but in the end Funk, Porter, and Tolliver’s crew fell to Fazekas, Session, and Kemp’s squad. I felt Nevada’s defensive pressure at the end of the game was the difference. Funk had nowhere to go with the basketball and had to take some tough shots at the end of the game and in overtime.

- Winthrop was aggressive early against Notre Dame and took advantage of Notre Dame’s poor defense to build a 20 point lead. But then Winthrop took the air out of the ball and tried to work the clock. Winthrop ended up settling for poor shots and allowed Notre Dame to come all the way back and take the lead. Then, in even more shocking fashion, Winthrop became aggressive again and pulled away for the victory. Now that is tournament drama!

- I’d also like to apologize to James Brown who I dismissed as being a “football guy” on Thursday. As a new resident of DC I did not know that Brown was a former Washington Bullets announcer and former standout basketball player for Harvard.

Heartbreaking, but not Surprising
If Illinois had an Achilles’ heel this season, it was late game execution. Leading in the second half against Arizona, Maryland, Wisconsin, and six other games, Illinois was unable to make free throws or make clutch shots and lost. Leading in the second half against Virginia Tech, the team again missed free throws and was unable to make even a single clutch basket in the final 4 minutes of a 54-52 loss. In many ways, the NCAA tournament reveals who you are as a team. You no longer have a home court to depend on or blame, and your true basketball team shows up. The 2007 Illinois squad was a good team that could not make plays at the end of a basketball game.

Of all the things I hope the team finds over the winter (FT shooting, a shot for Chester Frazier, a healthy recovery for Carwell), perhaps the biggest thing this team needs is for someone to step up and take a leadership role next season.

Three factors were key in the second half. First, after Virginia Tech was hit with a technical, the referees began to whistle more fouls. Illinois had been playing a more physical defensive game, and the increase in foul calls allowed Virginia Tech to make up points with the clock stopped. (Alas Virginia Tech made those points up slowly due to poor free throw shooting.)

Second, with Rich McBride having found a hot-hand, McBride was fouled on a 3 point attempt. After missing two free throws badly and wincing in pain, referees allowed Webber to sub in Trent Meachem for the 3rd free throw before McBride went to the locker room. Had McBride not been injured, he may have provided one more key three pointer and a win for Illinois. (Of course had Virginia Tech lost, their fans would have complained about that substitution throughout the off-season.) The finish was eerily similar to the end of the Wisconsin game where a hot Shaun Pruitt was hit in the leg and watched his team lose the lead when he went to the locker room for medical attention.

Finally, turnovers were critical. The announcers credited the full court pressure with causing a few more turnovers, but it was actually the turnovers in the half-court set that were critical.

While the collapse may provide fuel for the critics of Bruce Webber, I saw a team that fought hard until the end. There were many times this year when Illinois’ players could have hung their heads and given up, but instead the team finished the year imposing their tempo on Virginia Tech and the team had a chance to win or tie on the final possession.