Thursday, February 3, 2011

49-47 in the ACC and the Unintended Consequence of the New Injury Sub Rule

I love Tony Bennett in the ACC. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to watch Big Ten teams play Wisconsin or Penn St., and I love seeing Bennett bring that painful slow-paced magic to the ACC. Clemson scored 13 in the first half of this game. Virginia had 13 through the first 19 minutes of the second half. Ouch.

The end of this game actually had a very interesting sequence. Virginia’s Mustapha Farrakhan was 6 of 6 from the free throw line, and showed no signs that he would miss. But Clemson hit him in the gut on a late game foul which caused Farrakhan to leave the game. The unfortunate thing was that the new “replacement player” rule came into effect. Instead of Virginia choosing a replacement free throw shooter, Clemson got to choose a player, and Clemson chose Assane Sene who was shooting 56% on the year. So apparently the new best strategy when you can’t get the ball out of a good free throw shooters hands might be to innocently hit them below the belt.

In some sense, the NCAA rule is a catch 22. The old rule rewarded teams for faking an injury. The new rule rewards teams for injuring a good player and getting him out of the game. The good news is that it is usually hard to intentionally injure a player without getting a flagrant or technical foul, so the new rule is probably the right rule. But late in the Virginia – Clemson game, it certainly did not seem that way.

But despite this 49-47 drama, the real fun of the night was elsewhere:

With 10 seconds left, and trailing #6 San Diego St. by 2 points, Colorado St.’s Travis Franklin got the ball in the lane and converted a bucket to tie. Then, without calling timeout, San Diego St.’s DJ Gay took the ball the length of the floor and hit a pull-up jumper for the game winner.

Not to be outdone, Rutger’s Robert Lumpkins hit a pair of threes to pull Rutgers close to St. John’s in the final seconds. Then coming off a beautiful screen, Lumpkins hit a wide open three to tie the game with 20 seconds left. St. John’s ran some clock and called timeout, and then Justin Browlee, who injured his finger earlier this week, caught the ball in the lane and made the game-winning basket. Four fantastic end-game shots in a five minute span. This is why I watch.

A few other notes on these games:
CBS CS was airing the SDSU-CSU game, and the post-game interview with Steve Fisher was one of the longest post-game interviews I have heard in some time. Um, isn’t there suppose to be a limit of 3 questions or something?

Obviously the Duke win was more important, but in a lot of ways, this game was vital to St. John’s NCAA chances. Their schedule was front-loaded with a ton of Top 25 opponents, but if St. John’s does not beat some of the lower level Big East teams down the stretch, everything they have done so far will be meaningless. And Mike Rice’s Rutgers team is no longer a push-over. I thought Rice was going a little crazy when he was taking players out one-at-a-time for committing stupid turnovers in the second half. But Rice has Rutgers believing they can compete. Lumpkins, a transfer from New Mexico St., still has hideous three point shooting numbers on the year, but he is on fire right now. He also hit some big shots late in the loss to Pittsburgh.

Other games:

-Missouri had another frantic comeback at Oklahoma St. Almost all Missouri games seem more entertaining when they are behind. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they could not finish the comeback, and they are now winless on the road in the Big 12.

-Mason Plumlee’s dunk with 8 minutes to go when Maryland had cut the lead to 5 was one of those critical, rally interrupting plays. I keep seeing flashes of brilliance out of Plumlee, and that’s why I enjoy watching him despite his horrific turnover rate and worst efficiency rating in the Duke rotation. I assume Mike Krzyzewski puts up with his turnovers because of his great rebounding numbers.

-I am becoming a huge fan of Villanova’s Mouphtaou Yarou. When he is in the ball-game, Villanova is just a different team defensively. 7 footers can do that. Marquette now sits as the 11th place Big East bubble team. This is probably a good time to take the trip down to USF, right?

-On a night when C-USA leading UAB and Memphis both lost at home, UTEP’s game was postponed. Sometimes the best thing your team can do is not play. If the game is made up tomorrow and UTEP loses, there would be 6 teams in first place with 3 losses. (Southern Miss at 6-3 would technically have a half game lead.)

-Thanks to VCU’s loss, George Mason is now tied for first in the CAA.

-Duquesne crushed George Washington. The margin-of-victory numbers are going to continue to love this team. And thanks to Xavier’s surprise loss at Charlotte, Duquesne now sits alone in first place in the A10.

-The bottom of the Big Ten is making the middle of the Big Ten look very incompetent. Here are my thoughts on Indiana’s three point win over Minnesota:

Hoosier Havoc Part 2

Sports do not always follow the script. I had a couple of themes in my head prior to the Minnesota – Indiana game.

The first theme was going to be how Indiana is a bad match-up for Minnesota. The Hoosiers foul at a higher rate than any team in a BCS conference, and Minnesota is not particularly adept at the charity stripe.

The second story was going to be how Minnesota was going to struggle with ball-handling now that Al Nolen is out. While Michigan and Northwestern, by virtue of their passive defensive, were not going to expose Minnesota’s ball-handling, Indiana surely was going to attack this weakness.

Of course neither storyline really came to pass. Minnesota struggled with ball-handling early, and Indiana’s ball-pressure prevented Minnesota from passing the ball inside. But Minnesota’s turnover rate for the game was not excessive. And the Gophers actually forced a number of Hoosier turnovers during a late comeback.

As for the free throws, Minnesota made only 11 of 22, and Blake Hoffarber surprisingly missed two technical free throws, but free throws hardly seemed like the story of the day either.

The story of the day was Indiana’s tenacity on the offensive boards. Tom Pritchard scored what will be his career highlight dunk in the first half on a run-the-lane, sky-in-the air, and thunder-home the offensive rebound dunk. And despite the fact that Minnesota did grab a slightly higher percentage of offensive boards 41% to 36%, Indiana’s competitiveness in this category was the difference in the game. Amazingly the Hoosiers two big wins, against Illinois and Minnesota, came in games when Indiana did not shoot the ball incredibly well. But they made enough of the other plays to hang on for victory.

I honestly cannot decide whether I respect Tom Crean a lot as a coach or dislike him. On the one hand, no coach in the country (outside perhaps former assistant Buzz Williams), is better at teaching great post defense to smaller players. (Note to Bill Carmody, just because the other team is bigger, does not mean they have to dominate the paint.) But I also question the length of the rebuilding process in year three at Indiana. Maybe John Calipari sets the bar too high, but you might expect a storied program to be winning some game on talent, not just grit.

I also tend to dislike many of the defensive techniques Tom Crean’s players use. When Daniel Moore pulled Blake Hoffarber out of bounds by hooking his elbow, that was just an unnecessary play. There was also the play where one of the Indiana players kicked Trevor Mbakwe’s foot out from underneath him. After the Derek Elston’s trip at Northwestern earlier this year, I expected Tom Crean to suspend him and try to clean up the program. Instead, I’m starting to believe he teaches his players to push the boundaries. The fact that they lead the nation in fouling leads me to believe they do.

Has Tom Crean saved his job with a nice mid-season streak of games? Who knows? Let’s see how the team finishes the season.