Saturday, January 16, 2010

The return of observations

Other than a few stat dumps, I’ll admit my posts have been rather limited this year. But if I’m going to start posting more observations, I have to start with the three teams I follow:


Wasn't life better when every game was an unknown? The problem with knowing the numbers is that it can ruin the surprise.

-I knew Seton Hall did not play defense, so I wasn’t surprised to see Georgetown have its best offensive rating of the year on Thursday.
-I knew UConn did not have great margin-of-victory stats. So I wasn’t shocked to see Georgetown come back from down 19. (I was thrilled they completed the comeback, but I was almost sure they’d come back somewhat.)
-I knew Marquette had great margin-of-victory stats. So I wasn’t crushed by Georgetown’s loss to a team lacking quality wins.

Yep, I’d like to thank the numbers for ruining all the suspense this season.

I’d also like to thank myself for predicting that Austin Freeman would shoot more this season, despite Hoya Prospectus accurately noting that players rarely become more aggressive in their careers. Freeman’s shot percentage has increased from 21.7% to 24.5%. I’d also like to point out that I’m completely cheating on this stat, by posting it shortly after Freeman scored 33 points in a game.

On the other hand, I’m completely shocked by how well Julian Vaughn is playing, upping his offensive rating from 88.6 to 102.5. (Again, I’m carefully posting after he just had a great game.) But the truth is, I’ve been amazed by Vaughn all season. Last year one of the things I picked up from being at the games was how totally confused Vaughn was in his first year in the Georgetown system. Vaughn was constantly in the wrong position and Monroe or Summers were constantly directing him where he needed to be. This year, it is like Vaughn is a completely different player. He’s playing with incredible confidence, and his spin move from the three point line to get a lay-up against Seton Hall, was just incredible. And the truth is, I don’t think he’s reached full potential yet. I really think Vaughn has a 25 or 30 point game in him against the right opponent.

What else can I say about attending games? Well, you see, I was in Minnesota for work for much of December. So I didn’t exactly… Blah, blah, blah. Here’s Casual Hoya with some awesome in-arena notes.


As previously noted, I think Minnesota’s Pomeroy ranking is inflated by crushing some bad teams in the non-conference schedule. That was just a deep experienced team picking on some smaller teams. Realistically, I think Minnesota is closer to the 30th best team in the nation than the 16th. I still like this team but my main question is whether a team can really be a Final Four contender playing a full-court pressure defense. As I’ve argued about zone defense, it just seems like the best teams know how to beat the full-court pressure. That’s why last weekend’s win against Ohio St. was so satisfying. Evan Turner was back and playing well. Trust me, Turner was dominating in the first half, and Minnesota still turned him over on about 5 possessions in a row in the second half to break the game open. And to answer my own question: Yes, a pressing team can go deep in March. But Minnesota is going to need some special individual performances to do it. And that’s why Royce White and Trevor Mbawke are missed.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is how sometimes college basketball needs an impossible in-season goal. You know, the type of game where you look at your shoes and say, "Arggh, we never beat these guys. Can't we just get the breaks to go our way once?!"

Minnesota’s win last year at Wisconsin was so satisfying because Wisconsin is so dominate at home. It really felt like Minnesota accomplished something in that win. It is getting to that point when Minnesota plays at Michigan St. And the quotes from Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson after the loss reflect that. The Seniors thought this was finally going to be the year they won at MSU. But it wasn’t. Someday Minnesota is going to win at Michigan St., and I’m sure it will be all the sweeter for those of us that watched the losses.

By the way, did anyone catch Raymar Morgan’s block of Blake Hoffarber’s three on Wednesday? Tim Doyle keeps talking about how Hoffarber has the quickest release in the Big Ten, and Morgan’s quick reaction and block, was one of the most amazing plays I’ve seen all season.


Illinois has totally turned around my impression of Notre Dame. I usually pick on the Irish for horrible defense. And I agree that Notre Dame is unlikely to advance deep into the NCAA tournament until they figure the defense out. But Notre Dame is a really fun team to watch. And that’s how Illinois has been for most of the year. With surprisingly good offense, and shockingly poor defense for Bruce Webber, Illinois had turned into a team that was hard not to cheer for, but also hard to believe in.

This inconsistency somehow caused Seth Davis to label Illini fans as apathetic this season. But I thought the response in his mailbag was spot on. Illini fans just don’t know what to expect from their team this year.

And then just when the defense was clearly the problem, a funny thing happened. Add a little Jeffrey Jordan and Bill Cole. Subtract a little Brandon Paul (and watch Mike Davis lose his shot.) And suddenly Illinois has a worse adjusted offense than defense. Puzzling.

But while I think the move to Jordan and Cole has been good in the short term, I think the team still needs to give Brandon Paul a long-run shot to be a star. According to the St. Louis newspaper, in Fall 2003, Bruce Webber wrote the April 2005 Final Four on the blackboard and told the players they were playing for the next season. On a team with no seniors, it was perfect. And with all apologies to lone scholarship senior Dominique Keller, I think Illinois should do the same thing this year. They need to write down April 2, 2011 and play for that date. Let Paul, DJ Richardson, and Tyler Griffey develop, and hope that the sophomore jump makes this an elite team next year.

Of course, even though I’m arguing for more of the struggling Brandon Paul, I’d like to ask a simple question: How come Brandon Paul doesn’t know how to complete a fast-break basket? His attempts after Illinois gets a steal have almost become comical.

Psychic Powers

The other big thing I’m rooting for this year is my Big East predictions. John Gasaway kindly points out that a reasonable prediction for Pitt was a 10-8 mark and NIT bid. I’d like to point out that this was my exact prediction in the BP book, and while 10-8 seems a bit conservative now, I was definitely optimistic relative to most publications. With the number of player losses, and limited big time recruits, most people picked Pitt for a sub .500 finish. Let me just say this. I don’t care who they have on paper. Never pick Wisconsin or Pittsburgh for a sub .500 finish as long as Bo Ryan and Jamie Dixon are coaching.

Also, never pick against Scottie Reynolds. Did you see the drive he had against Louisville late in the game where he seemingly weaved between three players en route to a lay-up? That kind of body control is just ridiculous. But Villanova's Pomeroy ranking isn't as impressive as the poll ranking. Does that bother me? Did I predict it? The BP book is still available at Amazon.