Thursday, December 11, 2008

Basketball’s Quiet Week

A Long Intro for a Single Baseball Link

I’ve said this many times before so I’ll keep it short. In baseball, statistics can tell you virtually everything about a game, with defensive range being perhaps the only exception. In football, statistics are virtually meaningless. Games are often decided by offensive and defensive line play, and there are few good measures of the size of holes made available for RBs or the level of pressure put on the QB. The nice thing about basketball is that the stats tell part of the story, but you need to watch the games to get the full context. Were they playing zone defense? Was the team missing wide open threes or taking too many contested shots?

As a result, baseball people consider statistics to be sacred, while fans of the other sports are not nearly as obsessed. Also sacred is the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite all its obvious flaws. The shear need to fill hours of airtime during baseball games certainly must contribute to these endless discussions of sacred stats and unfathomable oversights.

You can’t even waste that much time talking about other games during the baseball season, because no outcome is truly shocking. If Kansas City beats the Yankees, no one’s jaw hits the floor. But if Santa Clara knocks off North Carolina or the Bengals tie the Eagles in football, we’ll be talking about it for months.

And as we enter the quiet period in college basketball, otherwise known as “Finals Week”, perhaps the only cure to the dearth of big games is the fact that on a nightly basis you can still talk about a BCS team going down.

-Hey, Charlotte beat Mississippi St. last night. Wow the SEC has problems.

-Hey Drake beat Iowa St. on Tuesday. Boy does Iowa St. hate that state law that they have to play Drake and Northern Iowa every year.

But even I realize that this can be somewhat unsatisfying after Feast Week and the ACC/Big10 and Big12/Pac10 showdowns. So, in the event you like to argue about meaningless things, here’s an article by Joe Posnanski about the Baseball Hall of Fame. And if Posnanski’s blog isn’t on your reading list, you’re already behind the curve.

More on the Old Spice Classic

After some throw away comments on Siena and a column on Oklahoma St., here are two more entries on Old Spice Classic teams.

Inside Maryland

Sometimes you miss the obvious unless you watch the games in person. But it seems like everyone in the Maryland lineup is the same height. With tall guards in Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes, and no primary rotation players above 6’8”, Maryland seems to have a lineup of five wing players.

Sometimes this works. I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the interchangeability of Purdue’s players last year.

Sometimes this gets over-analyzed. I now must immediately change the channel anytime someone talks about the limited number of big men on Duke’s roster.

And sometimes height matters. Ken Pomeroy had a nice piece a few years ago about how height is correlated with defensive production.

But in a tournament where all three Maryland games were blowouts, it was hard to get a real read on this team. Perhaps the best thing to say is that Maryland has a very young team that played three top 25 teams in four days. They need to be more consistent, but they showed some promise.

Random side note: Two Maryland fans spent the Michigan St. game discussing Jin-Soo Kim. He is apparently one of the few Korean born players to play college basketball. Apparently he scored 20 points in an exhibition game to the shock of everyone. Kim’s huge offensive outburst earned him extra playing time to start the season, but the team soon learned that it might have been a fluke, and he is no longer in the primary rotation.

Kim played mostly in garbage time in the Old Spice Classic, but from what I observed I can see why he scored 20 points in a game. He’s clearly an aggressive player who can create his own shot. He’ll need polish to do that against ACC competition, but he could be a fun player to watch in future years.

Inside Gonzaga

Courtesy of the wife of this blogger, “Does Gonzaga have a rule that they always have to have a shaggy-haired kid?”

Indeed, I believe Matt Bouldin was given the Adam Morrison memorial scholarship.

Austin Daye might be Gonzaga’s most talented player, Josh Heytvelt may be the most quietly dominating big man in a non-BCS conference, and Jeremy Pargo may be the silky smooth PG who makes it all work, but in the Old Spice Classic Matt Bouldin quickly became my favorite Zag. His ability to dribble the ball inside and back his man down in the paint put a tremendous amount of pressure on the opposing defense.

One thing that is often frustrating is how good players are not aggressive enough with the basketball, (see Roy Hibbert last year), or how players are too aggressive given their abilities, (see Byron Eaton). But Bouldin seemed to have the good type of aggression. When teams would try to double team Heytvelt and force the ball out of Pargo’s hands, Bouldin was always there to make the defense completely break down.

The other interesting player on Gonzaga is Micah Downs. The former McDonald’s All-American who transferred from Kansas has never really seemed comfortable as the primary offensive option, but with 4 other stars in the Gonzaga starting lineup, he has plenty enough talent to fill the fifth starting spot. Perhaps a good analogy for Downs is Andrei Kirilenko of the Utah Jazz. He’s not as good as Kirilenko, but he’s a similar enigma. Downs is a 6’8” player, listed at guard, who doesn’t really seem to have a natural position. But just when you are willing to write him off he comes up with a big block, steal, or dunk.

Given Gonzaga’s starting five, it is hard not to love this team in the NCAA tournament. Like Georgetown, they may have a significant drop-off when they go to the bench, but when a player like Steven Gray can come in and score 19 points as he did against Tennessee, or when Josh Heytvelt can hit a pair of three pointers as he did against the Volunteers, it is hard to pick against this team.