Friday, March 26, 2010

Four Years

Not every journey has a happy ending.

But some of them do. Four years ago Wayne Chism was a charismatic freshman, making the most of every moment on the floor with hard work and tenacity. Then he was a brilliant sophomore, slashing and dashing and achieving the most wins in Tennessee single season history. As a junior, he was a leader, finding a way to score, often with no true point guard on the floor. And as a senior, he is in the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.

Did Chism really get better over four years? The numbers seem the same. What I love is that when you look at his four year tempo free statistics, they are so consistent in almost every category. Take something totally random such as three point shooting:

Wayne Chism
2007: 32.9% of threes, 26 made
2008: 32.2% of threes, 29 made
2009: 32.0% of threes, 40 made
2010: 30.7% of threes, 31 made

But of course three point shooting isn’t his game.
-Chism has always been a fantastic defender, and great shot-blocker.
-Chism has always been a premier defensive rebounder.
-And Chism has always been a good, but not great scorer. His lifetime Offensive Rating hovers right around 105 or 106. That’s good enough to be a four-year hero, but not good enough to be a first round draft pick.

But what Wayne Chism has always been is a player who gets lay-ups at key times. For years, he’s been a player that when the game is chaotic, when everything is out of control, he somehow keeps his cool. He somehow has a nose for the ball. He’s the one who comes out of the scrum and finishes the play.

But the Ohio St. game was different. This season has been different. Since Tyler Smith was suspended, (and maybe before that), his team has used a slower, more organized attack. There hasn’t been the chaos. And it hasn’t always worked. This is the worst adjusted offense in the last four years. Without all the easy lay-ups, Tennessee has struggled to score at times this season.

But not tonight. As the clock ran down in St. Louis, Tennessee wasn’t hurrying to get the shot up. Wayne Chism wasn’t thriving in chaos, he was thriving in cool, calculated, cerebral execution. Two beautiful Chism lay-ups in the final four minutes put Tennessee ahead. And some heart-stopping defensive execution sealed the win.

Tennessee got revenge for an earlier loss to Ohio St. in the Sweet Sixteen in 2007. But this game wasn’t about revenge - this game was about breaking through. Sometimes, breakthrough wins don’t happen when you expect them. In 2005, the St. Louis Cardinals won 100 games, but fell in the playoffs. In 2006, they won 83 games, and won the World Series.

For Tennessee, this was not supposed to be the best team in school history. That was the team from two years ago that lost to Louisville. But something funny happened along the way. Tyler Smith was kicked off the team. Three other players were suspended. A walk-on player hit a miraculous shot to beat Kansas. And Tennessee plodded its way to a 6 seed in the NCAA tournament. They were the 6th best team in a deep Midwest region. They were the afterthought. But when the season was on the line, Wayne Chism and company came through. The winningest player in Tennessee history has finally brought Tennessee to the Elite Eight. Now what about the Final Four?

Friday’s log 5 Update

Once again, here are the numbers. (Pythagorean Winning Percentage through Wednesday’s games.)

Initial = Odds of winning national title after Thursday
Self = Change in odds due to own game Friday
Others = Change in odds due to other games Friday
New = New odds of winning national title after Friday

Even without playing, Kansas St. and Butler saw their national title odds increase with Ohio St. exiting.

On the flip side, Duke and Baylor advanced. That was expected, so it doesn’t do much to hurt Kentucky or West Virginia’s national title odds, but it does hurt. The right-hand side of my printable bracket is looking very top-heavy.