Monday, April 2, 2007

Turnovers and Naismith

1 Ohio St. vs 1 Florida

Florida was in the national title game last year. Ohio St. has the most exciting freshman center in the last decade. This is goliath vs goliath, one heavyweight champ against another.

After Florida won easily in December, the rematch factor is at play here and I would expect Ohio St. to have more energy early. But, as Florida showed against UCLA, that doesn't necessarily mean a lot in the Final Four. And while there is no question Ohio St. has been playing better lately, winning 22 in a row, I still don't see how the team is fundamentally different from the way they played in December. The splits aren't noticeably different from the beginning and end of the season for Ohio St., and I cannot really identify what will lead to a different outcome in this game.

Will Oden finally have a break-out game where he doesn't have foul trouble and dominates? Win or lose, Monday is his last opportunity to make his mark on the college game.

The truth is, after two disappointing semifinals, I'm just hoping that the national championship game lives up to its billing. I don't have much to say statistically, since we know both these teams very well, but after the way Georgetown lost, I find myself going back to the turnover factor.

Both Florida and Ohio St. have dominant defenses despite not forcing turnovers. Stealing Pomeroy's defensive factors:

Florida - Rank
eFG Def - 17th
Turnover% - 276th
OffRebAllowed - 8th
FTA/FGA - 13th

Ohio St.
eFG Def - 40th
Turnover% - 214th
OffRebAllowed - 69th
FTA/FGA - 2nd

Ohio St. ranks 276th in turnovers forced, while Florida ranks 214th in turnovers forced. In fact, only Corey Brewer and Mike Conley are particularly adept at getting steals. (Noah receives honorable mention.) Instead, both teams rely on fundamentally sound defense.

But someone will turn the ball over on Monday, and with both teams so effecient offensively, it could be the difference in the game.

Georgetown and Turnovers

Saturday, Georgetown turned it over on 24.1% of their possessions which is a key reason the team lost. I was actually quite surprised by this development because Ohio St. does not force a lot of turnovers. (See above.)

This was even more surprising given the improvements Georgetown had made as the season progressed. For the first 16 games of the season, Georgetown turned it over on 24.3% of its possessions. But in the second half of the season, when the team won 19 of 20 games, Georgetown only turned it over on 19.9% of possessions. Furthermore, in the last seven games (starting with the Big East tournament), Georgetown only turned the ball over on 16.8% of its possessions. By turning it over 24.1% of the time against Ohio St., Georgetown ended up looking a lot more like the team that struggled early in the year.

Naismith Smiled, but not at the Women's tournament

I really wanted to get excited about the women's Final Four, but LSU scored 35 points and the UNC vs Tennessee game started with both teams combining to shoot 3 of 29 from the floor, just over 10%. Uggh. The offenses were so inept in part because the women's game has become much more physical, a point Naismith himself would have abhored.

I've run into Naismith's grandson a couple of times in recent years at NCAA events. He's the one trying to sell the original set of rules for a million dollars, and he likes to set up free displays as a "service" at NCAA tournament sites. I question his grandson's motives, but he does make a good point. Naismith never intended basketball to be a physical game. He intended the game as an excercise and he appreciated passing and shooting much more than a center using his size to back down a player in the lane.

So maybe, even though I did not appreciate the Oden vs Hibbert matchup on Saturday, maybe James Naismith himself was smiling as both big men sat on the bench with foul trouble.

And despite all the criticism's I have for the NBA, the rules changes in recent years have made the NBA more like the game Naismith envisioned. By making hand-checks and other defensive moves illegal, the NBA has allowed great shooters and passers to take over the game. The fact that the Suns and the Mavericks are now the best teams in the NBA instead of the Spurs and the Pistons, says a lot about how the game has changed. As sad as I will be when the NCAA season ends, at least there was a taste of good NBA basketball with the Suns vs Mavericks Sunday.

So should I convert over to NBA blogging for the next three months? Not a chance. When a league has 10 teams purposfully tanking games over the next month to get a better chance at Oden or Durant, it will never hold my interest. Instead, I'll be rooting for the Ivan Harris's of the world, the type of players who go all out in the Final Four, not for future NBA glory, but for a love of the game.