Saturday, March 31, 2007

But did the fans notice?

I wasn't going to post anything else until after the games, but you just can't make this stuff up.

Friday, March 30, 2007

National Semifinal #2

1 Florida vs 2 UCLA

Both teams were in the national title game last year. Both teams return all major players except Farmar (and I’ve already documented how Collison has exceeded Farmar’s stats.) I could give you a statistical analysis, but I think that might not be fair, because this is a re-match game. If this game was being played in November, everyone would bet on UCLA. That is because UCLA players spent 6 months dwelling on this loss. UCLA coaches spent the summer agonizing over whether or not they had the best game plan and developing a new one. Meanwhile, Florida coaches and players are thinking – let’s just do more of the same. Our game plan worked last time, so if we just execute our game plan, we should win.

Because this mentality is impossible to avoid, I will be shocked if UCLA doesn’t come out hot at the beginning of the game. (The fact that this is the Final Four reduces the re-match factor to some degree, but I still think it will be there.) The question will be how Florida responds to UCLA’s new game plan. Donovan has a reputation as a good recruiter, but his adjustments in this game could help cement his reputation as a smart X’s and O’s coach as well.

So assuming Ben Howland comes out with a unique strategy against UCLA, what will it be? I have no idea, but two special UCLA correspondents file the following report. Their data suggests that Ben Howland has been choosing the best lineup so far, but based on his energy in the first two rounds, they suggest an unlikely sparkplug for this game.

“Where is Westbrook?”
Jeff Chang and John Yun

Basically, after the Indiana game, we have been wondering why Ben Howland does not play backup point guard Russell Westbrook more minutes: he played 7, 4, 6, and 5 minutes against Weber St., Indiana, Pittsburgh, and Kansas, respectively. For reference, last year, when Darren Collison backed up Jordan Farmar, Collison played 22, 14, 20, and 19 minutes against Belmont, Alabama, Gonzaga, and Memphis, respectively.

Westbrook has made the most of his minutes with highlights that include a steal & breakaway dunk over Indiana’s Roderick Wilmont and a steal & breakaway dunk during the Kansas game. During his combined 22 minutes in the tournament, Westbrook has 13 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists, and 1 turnover. Plus it does not hurt that he is a dead ringer for everybody’s favorite announcer Gus Johnson (especially Bruins fans who fondly remember his UCLA-Gonzaga masterpiece…“after being down by 17…Heartbreak City!”…) In sum, usually in a sports bar with a chicken wing in one hand, we keep asking ourselves: “Where is Westbrook?!!”

Well, we decided to look up the numbers and extrapolate each Bruin’s productivity to 40 minutes. Using a simple unweighted average of basic stats reported in every box score, we ranked them in ascending order.

Stats Per 40 min.   PTS  REB  AST   TO  STL  BLK   FG%   FT%   3P%
L.R. Mbah a Moute 10.96 9.90 2.51 2.51 2.24 1.19 49.1% 57.0% 33.3%
Darren Collison   15.56 2.80 6.93 3.65 2.80 0.12 49.0% 80.7% 46.3%
Josh Shipp        17.47 5.20 3.47 2.53 1.73 0.40 46.8% 77.4% 32.6%
Arron Afflalo     20.30 3.24 2.40 2.16 0.72 0.24 46.4% 79.5% 37.7%
Lorenzo Mata      11.60 9.52 0.52 1.56 0.69 2.08 64.7% 37.2%  0.0%
Michael Roll      12.10 3.46 2.72 1.48 0.74 0.25 39.9% 75.0% 36.3%
Alfred Aboya       9.37 9.60 0.46 1.60 1.14 0.69 50.0% 57.7%  0.0%
Russell Westbrook 14.95 3.52 3.08 3.08 1.76 0.00 45.6% 54.8% 40.9%
Ryan Wright       10.18 6.55 0.00 2.91 0.00 0.73 58.3% 64.3%  0.0%
James Keefe        5.54 9.23 1.23 3.08 0.62 1.85 30.6% 40.0% 33.3%

RANKINGS           PTS  REB  AST   TO  STL  BLK  FG%  FT%  3P%  Sum
L.R. Mbah a Moute    7    1    5    5    2    3    4    7    5   39
Darren Collison      3   10    1   10    1    9    5    1    1   41
Josh Shipp           2    6    2    6    4    6    6    3    7   42
Arron Afflalo        1    9    6    4    7    8    7    2    3   47
Lorenzo Mata         6    3    8    2    8    1    1   10    8   47
Michael Roll         5    8    4    1    6    7    9    4    4   48
Alfred Aboya         9    2    9    3    5    5    3    6    8   50
Russell Westbrook    4    7    3    8    3   10    8    8    2   53
Ryan Wright          8    5   10    7   10    4    2    5    8   59
James Keefe         10    4    7    9    9    2   10    9    6   66

According to this approach, Mbah a Moute is the top player—then Collison, Shipp, Afflalo, and Mata. Essentially, the top 5 players represent the starting 5. Additionally, Roll should be the first one off the bench. And he is. Aboya should be next. And he is. Westbrook should be third. And he is.

Therefore, this sort of confirms that Howland knows what he is doing. Obviously, these stats do not tell the whole picture. Westbrook’s numbers are hurt by his West Virginia game where he logged a lot of minutes and not much productivity. Also, we imagine most players' productivity is an inverted U-shape relative to minutes. We definitely feel Collison and Afflalo are past their peak minutes and Westbrook is way under. Thus, while it is likely that Howland is going to stick to his current substitution patterns, we hope to see more Westbrook on Saturday against Florida. Who knows, he just might be the difference…

Win Now, Win Later

I’m not quite sure how I feel about the U shaped productivity curve, but it has potential. Certainly if you play one minute, you might not get your feet under you, and if you play 40 you might get tired out. But, I offer another reason that UCLA should play Westbrook. Collison played a lot last year in the tournament and developed into a star guard this year. If Afflalo (likely) and Collison (becoming more likely) leave for the NBA this year, UCLA is going to want Westbrook to have more NCAA tournament experience. (Just as long as he uses his minutes effectively.)

My next post will be after the games Saturday. Enjoy the games!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

National Semifinal #1

1 Ohio St. vs 2 Georgetown

This had been billed as Oden vs Hibbert, but that’s not really fair to either team. Normally, I would say to watch out for the weak side blocks, but Georgetown and Ohio St. have had the luxury of practicing against a 7 footer all year. Both teams know how to score over big men in the paint with bank shots and quick release floating rim shots, so neither team will be intimidated by the size of the opposing center. I also suspect that both centers will be good but not great offensively. So what are we all excited about? Well, here are the key stats for comparison purposes:

Oden 15.6 PPG, eFG 62%, 116.4 ORtg
Hibbert 12.7 PPG, eFG 67%, 131.6 ORtg

Oden 14.8 OffReb%, 23.4 DefReb%
Hibbert 14.7 OffReb%, 18.4 DefReb%

Oden 12.8 Block Percentage
Hibbert 11.6 Block Percentage

Ohio St. on Offense

To understand what I think is going to happen in the game, it helps to look at the style of play ranking for Georgetown and Ohio St. Georgetown’s defense almost never gives up two point baskets. They either foul you or let you have a three point attempt. Meanwhile, Ohio St.’s offense is very balanced, but can settle for more threes than the average team. Assuming Georgetown packs it in the paint, and Ohio St.’s settles for three point shots, how will they do?

Ohio St. Three Point shooting
Butler 38% (73 made)
Lewis 36% (64 made)
Harris 40% (55 made)
Cook 42% (54 made)
Conley 30% (19 made)

Five Ohio St. players can hit three pointers, but will they take them at the right time?

Just because Georgetown packs it in the paint, doesn’t necessarily mean that Georgetown is going to double team Oden. It may be more indicative of the fact that Georgetown will try to curtail Conley’s penetration. It will be interesting to see whether Conley draws fouls on Georgetown’s players or whether Georgetown’s size along all positions (not just Hibbert) and strategy forces Conley to take too many three point shots.

(Ohio St. also needs to take advantage of transition baskets. Georgetown likes to crash the offensive boards which means there will be some fast break opportunities available for Conley and Lewis.)

At least based on the styles of play, this side of the floor seems fairly predictable. The other side is more of a mystery. To understand why, let’s look at another question.

Was it Bad Luck?

Ohio St. had a great 3 point defense this year, allowing opponents to hit only 33.1% of their threes. But in the tournament, Tennessee hit 51.6% of their threes against Ohio St., and Memphis hit 45.5% of their threes against Ohio St. Was that bad luck?

Luck probably played a large role, but when you look at the data, there might be another explanation. The key is that Ohio St. opponents attempt more three pointers than just about any team in the nation. Ohio St. opponents attempt a three on 37.3% of their shots. In contrast, UCLA opponents attempt a three on only 27.0% of their shots. The reason Ohio St.’s opponents attempted all these threes was because they would take the ball to the basket, get rejected by Oden a couple of times, and then decide the long jump shot was the only way to score. (Tennessee’s Ramar Smith would probably agree with that logic right about now.) However, any time you take more threes than normal, that probably means you take worse threes than normal which probably means your three point percentage is much worse than normal. This need not indicate anything about Ohio St.’s tenacity at defending the three point shot, it could simply reflect a change in a team’s normal shot selection.

But now in the tournament you have players who are better at three point shots, and in Tennessee you had a team that was not unaccustomed to taking a ton of three point shots, so their three point percentage did not suffer from the change in style of play. Moreover, as I mentioned in my recap, Memphis was not intimidated despite Oden altering several shots in the first 4 minutes. Memphis continued to take the ball to the basket, and only two players who were hot from outside took threes (Hunt and Kemp). The other players were not forcing three point shots and so the three point percentage stayed high for Memphis.

Georgetown on Offense

Based on the regular season numbers, Ohio St. should force Georgetown to take a lot of threes and miss them, but I don’t see that happening. Georgetown will likely continue to force the ball inside just as Memphis did. And when Georgetown takes threes, they will probably make a high percentage.

The question will be what happens when Georgetown tries to force the ball in the paint. Does Hibbert settle for bad shots against Oden, or does he make the right decisions and pass to the open man? Hibbert has dominated other 7 footers in recent games (Gray, Thabeet), but has never faced a center as athletic as Oden.

The good news for Georgetown is that there are a lot of players to pass the ball into the paint. While Jesse Sapp and Jonathon Wallace are not traditional point guards, Jeff Green and Patrick Ewing Jr. use their size and athleticism to find open teammates in the post.

Assist Rate Guards
Sapp 20.1
Wallace 19.2
Rivers 13.1

Assist Rate Power Forwards
Green 21.0
Ewing 13.9

The bad news for Georgetown is that sometimes the tenacious desire to get the highest percentage shot results in a turnover. In fact, Georgetown has a much higher turnover percentage than Ohio St., 21.9% for Georgetown as compared to 17.7% for Ohio St.

(This all assumes that Ohio St. plays man-to-man which I expect. If Ohio St. is forced to play a 2-3 zone, watch out for Jeff Green because he’s a zone buster. His ability to make a jumper from the free throw line or pass to avoid the double team has shredded the zone in the second half of the season.)


Ohio St. will take too many threes, but might win because of it.

Georgetown will not take many threes, will shoot a high percentage on their threes, but cannot turn the ball over if they want to win.

And, if you've been following the teams all season long, you probably already knew that.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Juniors Lead the Way

Last week I looked at the 2003 recruiting classes and discovered the complete lack of highly recruited seniors among the remaining NCAA tournament teams. That should not have come as a big surprise since the most talented players leave for the NBA. But, it does lead me to look back at the 2004 recruiting classes today instead. Again, I’m going to focus on the rivals article found here. There are more accurate final ratings available, but you have to be careful. A lot of players shoot up the ratings after they sign with a name school. (You know, that kid who nobody talked about signs with Arizona and suddenly he is one of the top 100 players in the country.)

The problem of course is that these early ratings include a lot of players, (like Josh Smith who had committed to Indiana), who went straight to the NBA. In fact, a record 8 high school players were selected in the first 19 picks of the 2004 NBA draft. I kind of like using these ratings anyhow since some of the NBA defections were surprises to the NCAA coaches.

1. Indiana – Still Waiting
DJ White was a star this year and AJ Ratliff was solid. But Josh Smith never matriculated and Robert Vaden followed Mike Davis to UAB. I remember Dick Vitale talking this recruiting class up in the Big Ten-ACC challenge. I believe the quote was “Don’t worry Indiana fans, Help is on the Way!” This class has produced 2 NCAA wins.

2. Texas – Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
LaMarcus Aldridge and Daniel Gibson led the Longhorns to the Elite Eight before moving on to the NBA. Mike Williams transferred to Cincinnati.

3. Arkansas – Still Waiting
Al Jefferson never matriculated. Charles Thomas might be the reason the Razorbacks made the NCAA this year as he had a huge game against Mississippi St. in the SEC semifinals. But despite two NCAA tournament appearances, this class has produced zero NCAA tournament wins.

4. Louisville – Lost in the Mail
Sebastian Telfair went straight to the NBA and Brian Johnson transferred to Mississippi St.

5. North Carolina – Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
When you win the national title, you get a positive rating even if only Marvin Williams lived up to the hype. Meanwhile J.R. Smith went straight to the NBA. JamesOn Curry changed his mind and ended up at Oklahoma St. and Quentin Thomas plays sparingly as a Junior.

6. Duke – Lost in the Mail
Shaun Livingston never matriculated. (And you thought most Duke recruits stayed four years.) DeMarcus Nelson is very solid, but not quite in the star category. David McLure had a red-shirt year, but hasn’t given Duke much besides rebounding.

7. Kansas – Still Waiting
The junior class has Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun, and Darnell Jackson who were all key players in the Elite Eight run. But the sophomores were the stars this year, and all these players should be back for one more try at the Final Four.

8. UConn – Still Waiting
I’m tempted to label this class a disappointment based solely on last year’s tournament failure, but Rudy Gay was a star the rest of the year. Red-shirted AJ Price was a key player this year, but needs to player better if this team is going to return to glory.

9. Memphis – Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
A one seed last year, a two seed this year, this class has done everything but reach the Final Four. Last year it was Williams and Washington. But even after those players left, this class still had Anderson, Dozier, and Dorsey who were vital this season.

10. Alabama - Still Waiting
Ronald Steele played so well last year that I can’t label this class a disappointment. But 2007 was clearly a big disappointment, perhaps because the other players in the class never panned out.

11. UCLA - Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
Farmar, Afflalo, Shipp, Mata! Are you kidding me? These are the stars of two Final Four teams. How can this class possibly have ranked 11th?

12. USC – Still Waiting
Robert Swift went to the NBA and never matriculated. Honestly, Robert Swift?! Does anybody remember this guy? He played two years for the Supersonics before tearing his ACL. Pruitt and Young were key players on a team that built a 19 point lead on North Carolina in this year’s Sweet Sixteen. Assuming everyone sticks around, you should hear a lot more about these guys next year after OJ Mayo matriculates.

13. Missouri – Lost in the Mail
Quin Snyder knew how to recruit. Too bad he had no clue how to coach. Oh wait a minute, maybe he lost his recruiting touch too. Not even new coach Mike Anderson could get much out of these juniors.

14. Georgia Tech – Still Waiting
Jeremis Smith, Ra’sean Dickey, and Anthony Morrow were all important players last year, but until the team added the freshman McDonald’s All-American point guard this year, the team didn’t know how to win. Now that these three players are complimentary pieces, the team improved from 4-12 a year ago to 8-8 this year in the ACC, and had wins over Duke, North Carolina, and Memphis this year. Morrow’s PPG fell this year which lowered his ACC “scare” factor, but he was one of the most efficient players in the country with an offensive rating of 125.5.

15. Florida – Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
Here’s proof that you don’t need five McDonald’s All-Americans to have a great team. This was hardly considered to be one of Billy Donovan’s best recruiting classes. Perhaps the best thing you could say about Brewer, Green, Horford, and Noah is that they came from good pedigrees. Brewer was the only highly rated player in the bunch, but today we can tell that this was the best recruiting class of the year.

16. Michigan St. – Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
I almost want to downgrade this class because Marquise Gray did not live up to his billing as the 15th best high school player in the country. But that is not fair. He’s been a solid player, and less recruited Goran Sutton has always hit a few key shots for the team, even as a freshman. Then you have Neitzel who was a key part of the 2005 Final Four run and I’ve got to give this team a positive rating.

17. Oregon - Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
What a difference a year makes. A year ago, this group was labeled a bust, this year they were Pac 10 tournament champs and an elite eight team thanks in large part to Hairston, Leunen, Taylor, and too a lesser extent Oguchi. At the time the article was written Hairston had yet to sign, otherwise the class would have been ranked higher.

18, 19, 20. Florida St., NC State, Mississippi St. Some good players on NIT teams here.

So what did we learn from all of this? In 2003, the best players all went to the NBA, so it was hard to truly evaluate the best recruiting classes.
Florida was 15.
Ohio St. had a losing Big Ten record and no Matta at this time.
UCLA was 11.
Georgetown had a losing Big East record and no JT3 at this time.
North Carolina was rated 5, but that had nothing to do with this year’s success.
Kansas was 7.
Memphis was 9.
Oregon was 17, but was later rated higher after Hairston.

It certainly helps to have some talented upper-classman to win NCAA tournament games, but you don’t necessarily have to have the top rated class. Of course, the NBA limit may be changing that, but for now, juniors still dominate all the Final Four team except Ohio St.

Correction: Yesterday I said that Purdue’s women’s team is traditionally an NCAA failure. I forgot that the team did win the National Championship in 1999, but there have still been a lot of disappointments since then. I need to hire better fact checkers. Or stop writing about the women’s tournament.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Four Days until the Final Four

Ironically, one day after I compared Big Ten Wonk to the sixth year senior (with two medical redshirts) playing for the love of the game, Big Ten Wonk discussed his pending graduation, err… retirement. But wait, John Gasaway isn’t going anywhere. He’s simply assuming a new blog pseudonym and expanding his repertoire.

Conference Breakdown

9-4 SEC (1 Left)
10-5 Pac 10 (1 Left)
8-5 Big 10 (1 Left)
6-4 Big 12
7-5 Big East (1 Left)
7-7 ACC

Has the ACC ever finished in last place among the BCS leagues? This is a pretty amazing year. Plus, Bill Simmons can eat a little crow about the Big 12 too. Let’s see if he admits it here? Argghh. This is when writing a blog is frustrating. I already knew Bill Simmons was a way better writer than me, but he even shows good insight about the Final Four. Go read the article anyway.

Awkward Moments Ahead Tuesday Night

Tennessee vs Mississippi
North Carolina vs Purdue

Ashley Awkward hopes to lead her Mississippi team past women’s juggernaut Tennessee. I have no insights, I just wanted to say that her name is cool. Plus Purdue faces North Carolina. Purdue is a perennial Big Ten winner, but can’t quite break through to the next level in the women’s NCAA tournament. But wait, the Purdue coach left because of NCAA violations, and the team seems to be playing better in this year’s tournament. Could this be the year they make the Final Four before the NCAA puts the hammer down? Uh, no. North Carolina is too good. OK, so if both women’s games look to be one-sided, what about the NIT?!

West Virginia vs Mississippi St.
Clemson vs Air Force

Clemson tries to become the 3rd straight team from South Carolina to win the NIT championship. West Virginia and Air Force have two of the most unique styles in college basketball. Mississippi St. was one of the unluckiest teams according to Ken Pomeroy. Yeah, I’m still not going to watch. Maybe I’ll look for Final Four tickets.

Final Four Tickets – Buyers’ Guide

The hardest part is scoring tickets to Saturday’s games. The problem is that on Saturday you have six sets of fans. You have a large group of college basketball junkies, some local fans, plus the fans for the four Final Four teams. By Monday, two of the teams are gone. Plus Monday’s game is really late which reduces the local fan demand. That makes Monday’s tickets much easier to get. If you see ticket packages that include Monday’s games for only 100 dollars more, that is probably the right margin.

In the rare event you get tickets to Saturday’s games, but not Monday, the Monday tickets are still pretty easy to get. All you need to do is wait until the end of the semi-final that does not include your team and then stand by the losing teams’ section. Fans are much more comfortable selling tickets in the stadium. Just hold up two fingers and you should be able to get two tickets to Monday’s championship for a pretty reasonable price from the losing teams’ fans. This will be an ideal strategy for the Ohio St. or Georgetown fans who can comfortably worry about tickets knowing their team is in the championship game. (Warning: Buy tickets from the fans of the team you just beat at your own risk. I highly recommend the other semifinal loser instead.)

Mission Statement Redux

24 hours later, I feel like I should admit that the quotes from last night’s column were from memory and not transcribed. I also regret calling Bill Self a tremendous coach. But otherwise that recap holds up pretty well.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Comeback Part II

I'd like this blog to be mostly impartial, but Sunday's game leads me to write the following mission statement for the blog. It includes a number of quotes I captured while watching post-game shows until 1 am.

Mission Statement

After the 2005 Final Four, Illinois held a celebration at Memorial Stadium. As Deron Williams trotted out, the fans chanted “one more year”, and I just smiled. An hour later my wife and I were having dinner at Zorbas when Bruce Webber walked in to order food for his family. My wife said, “good job coach,” and in a quiet raspy voice Webber responded, “thank you.”

A Webber media interview the next day expressed a different encounter with a fan. “I ran into a fan today and he said, next year we’ll win 38 games. I want to make this clear, 37-2 is a special season. I hope the fans had as much fun as we did. I hope they enjoyed the ride, because a season like this doesn’t come around very often.”

To anyone whose team is headed to the Final Four, I say: Enjoy the Moment. College basketball teams are fleeting. With the possible exception of this year’s Florida team, good teams don’t get second chances in college basketball. Every team is new. Every year is unique. It is all part of what I love about the college game.

It starts in November with the exhibition games, a chance to see the transfers and the young freshman take the floor for the first time. And what about the juniors and seniors? Who has stepped up his game and taken it to the next level? Next come the non-conference games. A few tough games provide a learning experience, a chance to build a resume, and a taste of what is to come. But the blowout games are fun too. Who doesn’t enjoy rooting for the walk-ons to take the floor as a payoff for all the hard work they do behind the scenes. Then the conference season starts. The arena is a little more full, the games a little more meaningful. Some players take their game to the next level, some players struggle against the tougher competition. Somewhere along the way, the games become more than just games, they become the difference between being a 2 seed or a 5 seed. Or maybe they mean the difference between the NCAA tournament and the NIT. But, somewhere, somehow, when a senior hits a clutch basket, or a freshman shows a rare flash of brilliance, you begin to believe.

Then March hits and every game matters. If they replayed that game 30 times, both teams might win 15 times, but they only play once. If your team loses, it is over. The seniors will be gone; the star may be headed to the NBA; there is no second chance with this group of players. But when your team wins, when your team hits the banked in two point shot with 2 seconds left, when your team comes back from 10 down in the final 7 minutes to win… Enjoy the moment.

Even the great coaches, and believe me, Bill Self is a tremendous coach, sometimes cannot crack the Final Four riddle. Even the elite teams, the Kentucky Wildcats, the teams with the best fans in the country, sometimes cannot crack the Final Four. And if your team is lucky enough to still be playing. Enjoy the moment.

In his press conference after the game, Roy Williams said, “I would give every cent… to have the feeling, for my players to have the feeling, that those Georgetown players are feeling right now as they cut down those nets.” You’ll rarely see that same emotion out of a pro coach. A pro coach thinks, “next year we’ll be better”. But, for college teams, there are no second chances with these players. These are the emotions of college basketball.

After the game, Jesse Sapp was wearing a cap that said, Georgetown Hoyas, East Regional Champions. He said to a reporter, “After what we did out there, to come back against a team like North Carolina, I didn’t care what happened in overtime, I was going to wear this hat.”

There was Patrick Ewing Jr., with tears in his eyes. “You don’t understand. Georgetown hasn’t done this in 22 years. And my Dad and I did this. We share this.”

Doc Rivers, “I have never been happier in my entire life.” Unable to watch as his son Jeremiah defended the Ellington shot at the end of regulation, Doc Rivers said this: “I just listened to the cheers of the fans around me, and I knew the shot was no good.”

Sitting on my couch during the timeout with 24 seconds left in regulation, I uttered the following. “Georgetown needs to get the rebound here. North Carolina is a smart team. They are not going to take a shot as time expires. They want to take a shot and get a chance at an offensive rebound. Georgetown needs to get the rebound here if they want to win.”

Roy Williams expressed the same thought in his post game interview. “When Wayne took that shot, we didn’t plan on it being the final shot. We wanted to give ourselves multiple chances.”

But there was no second shot in the final seconds. Despite 16 offensive rebounds in the first 34 minutes, in the final 6 minutes North Carolina could not get a single offensive rebound. (Carolina got four more in overtime, but only after their shooting touch had gone cold.)

Hibbert and Green were monsters on the boards at the end. And as Billy Packer pointed out, Hibbert may have benefited from the foul trouble. By sitting out 8 minutes early in the second half, he was completely rested for the end of the game. Instead of folding in the final 5 minutes as several analysts had predicted, Georgetown went on an 11-6 run in the final 5 minutes.

But, again we see the difference in strategy employed by John Thompson the 3rd (aka JT3). Hibbert played with 2 fouls throughout the first half, but sat for a long stretch with 3 fouls in the second half. Perhaps he knew that at half-time Roy Williams would emphasize taking the ball right at Hibbert. Perhaps it was just luck. But, if you watch JT3 enough you realize that he isn’t trying to coach like everyone else. He is his own coach. Roy Williams, “I think if you asked Big John, and I haven’t done this, but I think he’d be very proud to see that his son is his own man.” John Thompson Jr, “My son let’s me meddle around a little, but the best thing he does is ignore my advice.”

JT3 doesn’t run the intimidating physical offense that John Thompson Jr. used to run. He doesn’t run the Princeton Offense that Pete Carril used to run, although you might have thought so on Sunday with all the back door cuts. (I swear, Georgetown got more lay-ups and dunks on back-cuts Sunday then they did all season combined.) JT3 runs a combination offense, that all depends on the intelligence of his players, and their willingness to share the ball. Jeff Green has been the poster-child all year, a player who could average 20 points a game, but would rather be part of a Final Four caliber team. JT3 says Jeff Green is the smartest player he has ever coached.

But on Sunday, it was another player who looked just as smart. Jonathon Wallace had a good enough academic profile to be a basketball player at Princeton. And he was headed to Princeton, until JT3 moved to Georgetown. He shoots 48% on his 3 point shots on the year, and like Green, he could score a lot more points if he was more selfish. But, when describing his three point basket to tie at the end, Wallace had this to say: “The reason I took the shot is that it was the right shot within our offense.” I thought Roy Williams description was more accurate, “That was a big time shot. If he doesn’t make that shot, they probably lose the game.”

Enjoy the moment Georgetown fans. Comebacks like these, big shots like these, seasons like these are truly special.

Enjoy the second chance Florida fans and Bruins fans. Rarely is a national semi-final this good.

Enjoy the moment Ohio St. fans. Feel free to chant “one more year” at Greg Oden if you want, but I’m going to enjoy each game as if it is Oden’s last.

And if this is the end of the college road for Jeff Green (likely) or Roy Hibbert (becoming more likely), I’ll still be seated in the stands this fall. I’ll be watching DaJuan Summers who scored 20 points against North Carolina and who has somehow flown under the radar. I’ll be watching for the new freshman and enjoying the journey all over again.

Illinois 2005 vs Georgetown 2007
In 2005, Illinois celebrated 100 years of basketball.
In 2007, Georgetown celebrated 100 years of basketball.
In 2005, Illinois came back to defeat Arizona to advance to the Final Four.
In 2007, Georgetown came back to defeat North Carolina to advance to the Final Four.
Biggest Three of Life to tie: Deron Williams
Biggest Three of Life to tie: Jonathon Wallace

That's the reason I call this "The Comeback, Part II."

I’ve now cheered three separate teams to the Final Four. If you’d like me to cheer for your team next year, please send a check to…

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sunday Morning Thoughts

Carolyn, wife of this blogger, wants me to send out a thank-you to Big Ten Wonk for the kind words in Saturday's column. If I haven't already made it clear by citing him once a post, Big Ten Wonk is the icon of basketball blogging.

Besides he's the only one of the blogging superheroes who isn't getting paid by ESPN or FoxSports or something. Those other guys have gone to the NBA, but Big Ten Wonk is like a 6th year senior with two medical redshirts who keeps playing for the love of the game! (I mean that as the highest possible compliment.) I would also like to think of myself as the lanky freshman center who shows flashes of brilliance but is wildly inconsistent and still needs some polishing.

Despite trying live blogging of a game yesterday, I didn't feel like I really had any great insights into OSU-Memphis. (Unless you wanted someone to look up alacrity for you.) But Big Ten Wonk had a few fun insights. Apparently CBS cameras caught Thad Matta writing "GIVE GREG THE BALL" on his whiteboard. I must have missed that while I was typing my comments, but that's hilarious.

Wonk also points out that some people are going to question Ohio St.'s perimeter defense, but that this is more indicative of luck than poor play. I think that luck is part of it, but I disagree slightly. I'm more concerned that when certain players get hot, Ohio St. doesn't seem to stay in the grill of those players. On the other hand, things often go wrong if you over-compensate for one player, so maybe Ohio St. was right to let Hunt get those deep threes and just play good defense on everyone else.

Women's Sweet Sixteen

While the early rounds of the women's tournament are often difficult to watch because of the talent disparity, the later rounds are highly under-rated in my opinion. I happened to catch a little of yesterday's action on ESPN Classic this morning, and it re-kindled my interest.

In case you missed it, the upset of the day yesterday was Duke's women's team falling to Rutgers. Duke had only lost one game all year and trailed by one with 5.6 seconds to play. Duke had only committed 4 fouls, so they essentially could not foul Rutgers enough to get the ball back, and they needed a steal. Amazingly Lindsey Harding of Duke got that steal and drove into the lane. With one tenth of a second on the clock, Harding drew a foul and went to the line with a chance to win. Instead, she missed both free throws and Rutgers held on to advance to the Elite Eight.

Congrats to Rutgers! Rutgers has been one of the few teams that has been able to beat Connecticut in Big East play in recent years, but they have not been able to break through and go to the Final Four. Monday Night could be the big chance against Arizona St. It also marks a re-match of a game cancelled earlier this year due to the tragic death of the brother of one of the Arizona St. players at practice just before the game.

The other regional final will feature Connecticut (which always seems to go to the final four) and LSU (which has been a final four team recently). That should be a tremendous game, provided they don't spend the whole time talking about recently resigned coach Pokey Chatman.


Is it possible that UCLA is under-rated? Maybe the efficiency stats are not quite as high as some of the other top seeds, but this team did win 17 games against the RPI top 100 and 10 games against the RPI top 50. This team did go to the Final Four last year and returned most of the key starters.

The key loss was the graduation of point guard Jordan Farmar and his 13.5 points per game. But, Darren Collison has played even better this season. Collison only averaged 12.7 points per game, but he needed considerably fewer shots to do it. While Farmar took 29.4% of the shots when he was on the floor, and had a pedestrian offensive rating of 99.3, Collison took only 19.6% of the shots and had an offensive rating of 114.1 this year. Collison also had fewer turnovers, a very similar assist rate to Farmar, and more steals. You know, steals. That key little stat in the game on Saturday where UCLA had 17 steals! To put it in perspective, (or to exaggerate), Florida got one steal against Butler on Friday.

Oh, and then there is that Aaron Afflalo guy. As if he didn't make enough dramatic shots last year, he was un-guardable in this game. For all the stars on Kansas, the 6'5" junior guard from Compton, CA was flat out the best player on the floor. There's a reason they say guards win NCAA tournament games, and Afflalo just showed us why.

So if last year’s UCLA team lost in the championship game, most of the key players are back, and the guards are playing even better than last year, can this team win the national championship?

Well, let’s be careful. If UCLA doesn’t make a bunch of ridiculous shot-clock expiring 3 point shots, if Kansas doesn’t blow a bunch of lay-ups, if this game isn’t played in California, then maybe things are different. But, right now UCLA sure doesn’t look like a Final Four underdog to me.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Comment at Every TV Timeout

Ohio St. vs Memphis

- It is only 8-2 Ohio St., but Ohio St. is totally dominating the game. It is amazing how important big men are in the NCAA tournament. Oden has already altered several shots. All the players are well-coached at this point, but you can’t coach size.

- The difference between Memphis and a non-elite eight team is that they are not intimidated. Memphis continues to take the ball inside, drawing the first foul on Oden. Then, with Oden out of the game, they really take it to the tin. Good thing for Ohio St. that Conley and Lewis are doing the same thing.

- Great, Oden and Dorsey are on the bench with foul trouble. Yet another NCAA game where the stars are on the bench. Meanwhile Douglas-Roberts, the leading scorer for Memphis, has yet to score and he looks a little frustrated.

- Hunt is on fire. “16 points in 11 minutes.” Memphis is 5-7 from deep. Ohio St. is 0-6 from three point range. Jamar Butler finally hits a three for Ohio St. Raftery describing Lighty, “There’s no trampoline here, this is just god-given ability.”

- Amazing dunk by Douglas-Roberts after his teammate cleared out the lane. Raftery, “With Alacrity!” That's a made-up word, right? Let's look it up. Alacrity means “enthusiasm, energy, readiness”. Rats, I was hoping Raftery had officially gone crazy.

- Memphis is 7-11 from three point range and still trails in the game. That can’t be a good sign for the Tigers.

Half time

- Now Douglas-Roberts is starting to take over. According to Raftery, Conley needs a pedicure because his foot was on the three point line. "I know you get those pedicure bills at the end of the month Verne" Oden has 3 fouls.

- Oden finally gets off the bench but not before Memphis has taken the lead.

- That could have been a 6 point play! On the intentional foul on Oden, Oden made the basket, got two free throws, and the team got possession of the ball which resulted in Butler earning 2 free throws. I've never seen an intentional foul and one. Is that the correct call for the player to get the basket and two free throws. Wow!

- Has anyone improved their NBA draft position more than Ron Lewis? I heard nothing about this guy, but I know some crazy general manager is going to take a flyer on him now. Ohio St. should consider fouling Dorsey on every possession the rest of the game. Those foul shots looked horrible.

- Listen Memphis, we're Ohio St. We keep playing these really close games and quite frankly, we've gotten sick of it. So not to bug you or anything, but we're going to make 18 straight free throws and make sure we don't have to sweat at the end, OK?

Ohio St. is on to the Final Four. Will it be
1) The Re-Match: This time, we've got Oden.
2) Oden vs Hibbert


One piece of hope for those that consider a Florida-Kansas-North Carolina-Ohio St. Final Four a nightmare scenario. In 2003, the last time all four 1 seeds advanced to the elite eight, only one of the 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four. Kentucky, Arizona, and Oklahoma were all upset, while Texas advanced to the Final Four.

Conference Breakdown
9-4 Pac 10 (2 Left)
8-4 SEC (1 Left)
6-3 Big 12 (1 Left)
7-5 Big 10 (1 Left)
6-5 Big East (1 Left)
7-6 ACC (1 Left)
3-0 CUSA (1 Left)

Did you see Tim Floyd freak out at the end of the UNC and earn a technical foul? I’ve started to buy into the theory that some technical fouls are strategic, but that was simply a short temper and a bad sign for USC fans since USC still had a chance to win the game! Hey OJ Mayo, would you like to reconsider?

Did you see the Jeff Green “travel” replayed during the UNC-USC game? I thought they were talking about his left foot, but they focused on his right foot. Now I’m really confused. For more, read the previous post.

For the First Time Since 1996!

For the first time since 1996, Georgetown is going to the Elite Eight. Here are a few thoughts on the game.

1) A travel, really? Seth Davis and Clark Kellogg cannot imagine a flagrant foul being called at the end of the Ohio St. game, but they expected a sliding pivot foot to be detected in the final seconds. Admitting for a moment my Georgetown bias, my college basketball fan bias thinks this is ridiculous. Just as I was thrilled to see Eric Maynor hit a jumper in the lane and Ron Lewis hit a tying three-pointer, I was amazed to see a double-teamed Jeff Green bank in a two-pointer for the win. But, you sensed no joy from the studio announce team. Jim Nance and Billy Packer are always negative, so Nance’s call of “No Foul” didn’t bother me. In fact, in the post game interview Nance and Packer seemed outright giddy. But, for the studio crew to focus on the travel call seemed somewhat absurd to me.

On the other hand, in the rare chance you went to Vanderbilt or live in Tennessee, you have a constitutional duty to drive the “travel” theme into the ground on your talk radio shows.

2) For the first time ever, I saw the turnover jinx. As soon as CBS put up a stat that said that Vanderbilt had not turned the ball over in 23 minutes, Vanderbilt turned it over on 2 of the next 3 possessions. (It may be hard to imagine, but earlier this year Georgetown won at Louisville in a game where Louisville only turned the ball over 1 time.)

3) Give Vanderbilt Coach Stallings some serious credit for his game plan. To fully understand what happened you have to go back to the Georgetown vs West Virginia Big East game. Like Vanderbilt, West Virginia is a perimeter-oriented-team with a number of interchangeable players. Because there was no real advantage to having Hibbert guard any West Virginia player, Georgetown employed a defense where they switched defenders on every screen. West Virginia was unprepared for this defense and turned in one of its worst offensive performances of the year.

John Thompson the 3rd knew that Vanderbilt was similar to West Virginia and decided to come out with the screen-switching defense again. But Stallings was ready. Unlike West Virginia which kept at least one player in the post so that Hibbert was able to switch to the post player in all instances, Vanderbilt completely cleared out the post and forced Hibbert to switch between perimeter players. Georgetown players were completely out of position for rebounds in the first half, and they used screens on the non-Hibbert side of the floor to cut various players to the basket. By the time Georgetown figured out what was happening, Vanderbilt had built a 13-point lead.

Georgetown eventually played more straight man-to-man, but fearing Vanderbilt getting in a groove switched to the occasional 2-3 zone with Hibbert staying in the middle. They tried to limit the use of the zone however, fearing Vanderbilt’s 3 point shooters.

Honestly, if you are trying to teach and learn about the Princeton offense you should make a copy of this game tape and study the various principles employed by the two teams. This was one of the most strategic basketball games I have seen in a long time and I have a lot more respect for both coaches after this game.

4) Once again John Thompson rolled the dice on a player with foul trouble, but for the first time in awhile, he got caught. Hibbert fouled out with just under four minutes to go in the game. Still, I appreciate Thompson being willing to take a risk and play his foul-plagued players.

I think most coaches leave their star players on the bench too long. Instead of crumbling when Hibbert fouled out, the Hoya players rallied around their missing teammate. This effect cannot be overlooked and is one more reason I advocate trusting players to play with multiple fouls.

5) The following space is now reserved for personal fandom:
Hibbert with the follow!
Summers with the big three pointer!
Green with the amazing tip in for the three-point play!
Sapp drives the lane, no carry here! And one!
Wallace shakes his defender, picks the ball up off the floor and hits for two!
Green banks in the game winner!
Hoyas win, Hoyas win, Hoyas win!

Friday, March 23, 2007

More on Minnesota

I was thrilled that Minnesota landed Tubby Smith, but unlike most people I was not shocked. As I described yesterday, it was clear Minnesota had extra money to spend and wanted a proven coach this time around. Tubby was in the right place at the right time.

Most people are shocked because they believe that it is difficult to win at Minnesota. And while Minnesota does not have the tradition of an Indiana, Minnesota is in better position to win then some other struggling BCS teams:

1) Minnesota is no Northwestern. It is much easier to recruit at Minnesota than Northwestern. First, Northwestern has local competition for players from DePaul. Minnesota is the only major university in the state. Meanwhile, while schools across the country can easily fly into the Chicago airline hub and recruit the top players, Minneapolis is not nearly as convenient. While Minnesota has lost some good players like Kammron Taylor to Wisconsin, Chicago players are raided by all the top national programs. Moreover, part of the reason players like Kammron Taylor have chosen to leave the state has been a lack of faith by the local high school coaches in the local program. Just as Kelvin Sampson should do a better job recruiting Indiana players than Mike Davis, I expect Tubby Smith to do a solid job keeping the top in-state talent. Finally, while Northwestern must overcome the stigma of never having been to the NCAA tournament, even during the recent down period, Minnesota still made the NCAA tournament three years ago.

2) Minnesota is no Penn State. Minnesota has proven in the past that the fans will show up and support the team. Even during the Crispin years, Penn State struggled to build up a fan base. While fans are willing to travel from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for 7 Penn State football games, they have never shown a consistent interest in traveling to see Penn State basketball games. Located in the heart of a metropolitan area, Minnesota fans are quite willing to support the team whether or not the team makes the NCAA tournament. Minnesota could pack the Barn for NIT games and had a multi-year waiting list for basketball season tickets under Clem Haskins.

3) Minnesota is no Clemson. Minnesota is not cursed. (Well, actually the football team is cursed, but that’s a blog for another day.) Unlike Clemson, which year after year has a great non-conference performance but always fails to break through in the ACC, Minnesota basketball usually performs equally well in the non-conference and conference part of the schedule.

Thursday's Questions

I'm still amazed to hear that Tubby Smith is coming to Minnesota. Feel free to camp out on and read more stories which I hope to comment on soon. Sid Hartman's column title expresses my feelings perfectly. "Maturi hits jackpot."

As for Thursday's games:

1) What strategy did Kansas employ that I would label brilliant? With 25 seconds left and 14 seconds on the shot-clock and a 1 point lead, Kansas ran its offense and got a good shot for Rush. Most teams would have waited until 11 seconds left in the game and taken a bad shot and given the other team a chance to win at the end. Instead Kansas gave themselves a more comfortable lead and only had to prevent the tying three pointer. Most teams wait much too long to initiate their offense in these late game situations, and I salute Kansas for playing smart.

2) Has there ever been a more clutch set of offensive rebounds? Memphis grabbed 4 offensive rebounds in the final 33 seconds and finally got the foul and the win. Given their CUSA schedule, we never had a real chance to evaluate Memphis, but THIS-JUST-IN, this team is good. Playing in a hostile environment, the limited number of Memphis fans made a lot of noise, and the team was unfazed by a Texas A&M team that played tough until the final seconds.

For the record, I think the reason 1.1 seconds ran off is because the ball bounced inbounds one time before hitting a chair out of bounds, but it still bums me out. I would have liked to have seen Acie Law get one more shot whether he made it or not.

3) What happened in the UCLA game? No honestly, what happened? The box score tells me Pittsburgh had a 7 minute second half drought where they scored 1 point. That's just not going to cut it in the Sweet Sixteen. But, I didn't see the end of the game because I was watching OSU vs Tennesee.

4) Is Ohio St. a team of destiny? Or is Ohio St. vastly overrated? I don't really care what the answer is, I'm just happy we get to ask the question one more time. I didn't believe for a second when Tennessee was up 20 that the game was over. (See Notre Dame vs Winthrop). But, after Tennessee squandered the lead I thought they'd be disheartened and fold. I was shocked to see Tennessee hit a few more big threes and take the lead again. And when Conley missed a pair of free throws, I began to wonder if the annoucers were right and OSU used too much energy coming back. But then there was Ron Lewis hitting a big corner three again. How many wild swings can a game have? Despite the fact that OSU couldn't get Oden the ball on the final possessions, he did get the big block and OSU moves on.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Rah, Rah, Rah, for Ski-U-Mah

According to multiple sources, Tubby Smith is now the new coach at Minnesota! With openings at Michigan and Iowa, Minnesota scored the rare coup by scoring the perfect coach for the team. Last time Minnesota had a coaching vacancy they went with the hot young coach in Dan Monson, but Minnesota did not want to take that risk again. Instead, Minnesota brings in a veteran coach who has taken 3 different teams (Tulsa, Georgia, and Kentucky) to the Sweet Sixteen.

Some of the national media outlets list Minnesota’s recent failures and may wonder why (other than job security) Tubby Smith would be interested in the Minnesota job. But, Minnesota has been able to attract talented players in the past including current NBA alumni Bobby Jackson, Joel Przybilla, and Kris Humphries. In fact, as recently as 10 years ago, Minnesota was playing in the Final Four with Bobby Jackson leading the way. That team was both the high point and the low point for the program as allegations of tutors writing papers for players and the coaches’ knowledge of wide-spread cheating put the program in a downward spiral.

Monson, "I'm amazed that Bruce Webber is able to coach such talented players."
Dan Monson who led Gonzaga on a deep tournament run was the hot coach when the scandal hit, but it turned out he was the wrong coach for the program. Monson's biggest problem was that he did not seem to know how to get his star players (see Ric Rickert and Kris Humphries) to buy into the team concept. For me, the low point came when Monson was playing the 2005 Illinois Final Four team and Monson uttered the above quote. Monson essentially admitted that he did not know how to coach talented players and it was clear from that point onward that he needed to go. Somehow he survived a Star Tribune story at the end of the 2006 season saying he was fired, but after his team lost to Marist earlier this year, Monson was let go. (As it turned out Marist was a 2nd round NIT squad, but the loss looked really bad at the time.)

While speculation has been rampant that Minnesota would steal the head coach from Xavier or Southern Illinois, neither of those coaches has a lot of experience. After the way the Dan Monson experiment ended, Minnesota wanted to get a veteran coach who was a proven winner. Tubby Smith may not have been able to consistently reach the Final Four at Kentucky, but he has been able to get talented players to play together and he should be a vast improvement over Monson from an X’s and O’s standpoint.

Some may question whether he’ll have the desire to put in the recruiting hours at Minnesota, but the question was never his recruiting desire at Kentucky. The problem was that he seemed to pick the wrong players. (See Chris Lofton). Tubby Smith won’t have the same type of recruiting options as he had at Kentucky, but by simply keeping the best players in the area and adding a few national recruits he should have Minnesota competing for the NCAA tournament on an annual basis. The Barn will soon be rocking again and I can’t wait!

Congrats on an Amazing Prediction
Back when Dan Monson was fired, MVC correspondent Lynn Gottschalk predicted that Tubby Smith would be the next Minnesota coach. Sadly, this blog did not exist at that time so I have no official proof, but I'm amazed anyway! One thing that may have been missed in the speculation is the fact that Minnesota likely saved quite a bit of money with the new football coaching staff. (Glen Mason had two offensive coordinators that were paid like some Division 1 head coaches.) With that extra money in hand, I've felt like the Gophers were going to go after a big name basketball coach, and they did!

While talking about the blog's favorite teams:

Is Roy Hibbert the next Dee Brown?
Just as Dee Brown helped recruit Deron Williams to Illinois, in a sweet sixteen press conference, we learned more about Georgetown's dynamic duo. Apparently Roy Hibbert was instrumental in recruiting Jeff Green to Georgetown. What? Were you expecting me to make some comparison of playing styles?

Tommorrow night, John Thompson the 3rd will be coaching just 50 miles down the road from Princeton, his former coaching home.

Continuing the SI Lookback
Midwest Region
2 Florida vs NR Butler
40 Oregon vs NR UNLV

This was the region that SI's preseason predictions missed. Butler was not picked to win the Horizon league or make the tournament and they clearly surprised teams early this season. UNLV was not one of the two MWC teams picked as tournament bound either. After losing a number of close games last year, SI felt Oregon would play better, but rated at 40, they received no preview story either. Only the Gators received a long article.

With defending champion Florida returning most of their starters, the article had few statistical questions to ask about the Gators. Clearly they could play with the elite teams, the only question was whether or not they could repeat. Ah, but SI did sneak in one statistical question. Could Taurean Green improve his 33% two point shooting to match his 38% three point shooting? In fact Green improved both. He still shot more three point shots, but he upped his two point shooting to 51% while shooting 39% on threes. Green's overall offensive rating raised from 108.8 last year to 114.5 this year.

East Region
3 North Carolina vs NR USC
7 Georgetown vs NR Vanderbilt

SI correctly pegged North Carolina and Georgetown, but missed the other two teams. The pre-season articles on Georgetown and North Carolina didn't have any interesting questions and these teams are pretty well know at this point, so I'm going to end the SI lookback here. On to the games!


Contradiction 1: Big Ten Wonk correctly points out that Indiana’s offense was even better than Indiana’s defense this year. But, the fans (and sportswriters) seem to think the opposite is true.

Let’s look at Indiana’s performance against NCAA tournament teams this year. When people try to subjectively evaluate the quality of Indiana’s team, they probably put more weight on these games.

Opp.   Opp.Def.  Score   Pace  OE    DE
Butler     46   L,60-55   62   88    96
Duke        5   L,54-51   63   79.8  84.4
Kentucky   37   L,59-54   65   82.6  90.2
S. Ill.    12   W,57-47   57   99.8  82.3
Ohio St.   10   L,74-67   59   113   125
Mich. St.  14   W,73-51   63   116   80.7
Purdue     15   W,85-58   64   132   90.4
Illinois    2   L,51-43   50   84.4  100
Wisconsin   8   W,71-66   64   110   102
Illinois    2   W,65-61   64   101   94.6
Purdue     15   L,81-68   67   100   119
Mich. St.  14   L,66-58   61   93.8  107
Illinois    2   L,58-54   55   86.2  92.6
Gonzaga    80   W,70-57   66   105   85.6
UCLA        3   L,54-49   60   80.4  88.6

vs NCAA Tournament Teams       98.5  95.9
All Games                     109.5  96.1
Adjusting For Opponents       117.7  90.9

Indiana’s defense was almost exactly the same against NCAA tournament teams as it was against the other teams on their schedule. This at least partially gave people the impression that Indiana’s defense was dependable. It might not have been dominant, but the defense was still solid against the good teams.

However, Indiana’s offense was considerably worse against the NCAA tournament teams. This should not be surprising, given that Indiana played some of the toughest defensive teams in the country. (Pomeroy has another rating that says Indiana played the 3rd toughest schedule in terms of opponent’s defenses.) That said, when most fans and sportswriters see a 54 point performance, they don’t say “We looked pretty good considering we were playing the #2 ranked defense in the country” they say, “Uggh, 54 points.” And in the games that Indiana fans valued the most, Indiana had some serious offensive problems, with an unadjusted rating of 98.5.

Contradiction 2: Texas A&M is now an offensive juggernaut, but most sportswriters consider this a defense-based team.

I got the idea to write about contradictions today based on Big Ten Wonk and Ken Pomeroy’s posts on Texas A&M. First, as Pomeroy explains, Texas A&M’s defense has been steady, while the offense has risen to an elite level and many writers haven’t caught up to this fact. But, I do not think that is the entire story. Big Ten Wonk points out that Texas A&M gets the job done by shooting mostly 2 point shots and not turning the ball over. I think this is a key part of why people under-estimate Texas A&M. While productive 2 point shots are terrific for scoring points and winning games, they do not necessarily catch the attention of viewers (the way say a 6’9” Kevin Durant hitting a 3 pointer does.) While teams that score on 3’s tend to have memorable scoring binges that give the impression of offensive explosiveness, (see Ohio St. in overtime vs Xavier), a team like Texas A&M just methodically scores points which tends to fly under the radar.

Contradiction 3: Big Ten Wonk also points out that Kansas is a better defensive team that SIU, but most game previews focus on Southern Illinois’ defense.

It’s easy to blame this one on pace inflation. Kansas plays at a faster pace than most teams, so they are rarely going to hold a quality opponent in the 50’s. But, I think the quality opponent factor matters again here. Let’s look at how Kansas has fared vs NCAA tournament teams:

Opp.   Opp.Off.  Score   Pace  OE    DE
Oral Rob. 116   L,78-71   74   95    104
Florida     3   W,82-80   63   116   113
DePaul     54   L,64-57   62   91.2  102
USC        38   W,72-62   72   99.8  85.9
Boston C.   9   W,84-66   75   112   87.7
Texas Tech 52   L,69-64   64   98.5  106
Texas A&M   6   L,69-66   64   102   107
Texas       5   W,90-86   75   119   113
Texas       5   W,88-84   70   110   105
Niagara   124   W,107-67  86   124   77.5
Kentucky   11   W,88-76   65   134   116

vs NCAA Tournament Teams      109.5  100.8
All Games                     112.8  87.0
Adjusting For Opponents       119.1  81.8

Again, Kansas’ offense has been the same against NCAA tournament teams, but the defense has been much worse. Part of this is because they played strong offensive teams, but certainly in the recent big games, Kansas has not had a dominant unadjusted defensive performance. Therefore, even if the numbers from the whole season show that Kansas is a defensive machine, many people just have not seen it.

Revisiting SI Preseason Predictions, South Region
8 Ohio St. vs 19 Tennessee
NR Memphis vs 12 Texas A&M

SI under-rates Ohio St. in part because they questioned how a team with so many underclassmen would survive early in the season with Oden injured. As it turned out, Oden came back much earlier than projected, and the other freshman have played even better than expected. The article wondered whether Jamar Butler could carry the load, but the truth is that he has not had to. Butler’s scoring has fallen from 10.1 PPG a year ago to 8.3 PPG this year and his offensive ratings has slipped slightly from 118.6 to 116.2, but he has remained a role player. Instead Mike Conley has emerged as a star with a 117.1 offensive rating AND the best assist rate of any guard still playing in the NCAA tournament.

Tennessee was rated as #19 and the article said that Bruce Pearl needed a lot from freshman Ramar Smith and Wayne Chism. Both have been solid, but have hardly been stars. Whether injured or healthy, this season has been all about Chris Lofton and his offensive rating of 124.9.

Since these teams already played this season and since I had the luxury of reading Big Ten Wonk’s preview already, I offer a few more words of wisdom. Big Ten Wonk says Ohio St. should give the ball to Oden. In the first match-up of the year, Oden had 24 points. Wonk also says that Tennessee needs to hit their 3’s to stay in the game. Tennessee actually held tough in the first meeting despite hitting only 22% of their threes, but that was before OSU went on the long winning streak, and Tennessee will almost certainly have to hit their threes to win this time.

Tempo will be key. Tennessee won the pace battle in the first game, making it a 72 possession game, about 7 possessions above the Ohio St. average. That’s key because although insignificant in both cases, Pomeroy does have a stat that says OSU’s offense is worse in fast paced games and Tennessee’s offense is better in fast paced games. But be careful of the half-court fallacy. Just because OSU prefers to play good half-court defense, they should still take open looks and lay-ups when available.

Memphis was not even predicted to win the automatic bid for CUSA which is clearly the worst of SI’s pre-season predictions so far. The improvement of Chris Douglas-Roberts offensive efficiency from 105.6 last season to 116.8 this season is a big reason why Memphis exceeded early expectations.

As for Texas A&M, the SI article focuses on Acie Law (big surprise) and he has certainly been key this year. I’m shocked to see how efficient Josh Carter has been offensively this year with a 130.4 offensive rating. That’s partly because Law sets him up so well, but that’s not bad for Warren Carter’s little brother.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Revisiting Preseason Predictions

One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to pull out the Sports Illustrated College Basketball Preview Issue and check the accuracy of their predictions. There’s Roy Hibbert and Jonathon Wallace on the cover of mine, although yours may show Tyler Hansbrough and Reyshawn Terry, or Julian Wright and Mario Chalmers.

A fourth cover shows two Washington Huskies, but since they didn’t even make the NCAA tournament, I’m just going to pretend that didn’t happen. Honestly, the cover says Big is Back and shows a 6’ 7” Huskies player. If that didn’t jinx the season, I don’t know what did. Speaking of jinxes, the fifth cover shows Brian Butch. Doh!

Today I’ll break down the West Region. Tomorrow I’ll look at the South. Today’s column also gets a big assist from Ken Pomeroy’s team scouting reports. I’m going to cite his offensive efficiency stat frequently. If a player is rated under 90, you probably cringe whenever they shoot. 90-100 had better not be a primary option. 100-110 is good with an open look. 110 and above is probably not shooting enough.

West Region
1 Kansas vs 20 Southern Illinois
5 UCLA vs 10 Pittsburgh
At least for this region, the pre-season SI rankings are eerily similar to the final seeding of these teams.

The Kansas article basically focuses on Brandon Rush and his reputation as “Lazy-and stupid” which may have been partly due to the fact that he thought college was going to be a “jog in the park”. (Trust me, Seth Davis eventually manages to spin this as a good thing.) The story goes on to claim that Rush was not selfish enough as a freshman and that the team wanted him to shoot more this season. Did he shoot more this year? According to, Rush took 23.1% of his teams shots when on the floor this year with an offensive rating of 109.2. Last year he took 23.6% of his teams shots and had an offensive rating of 104.3. So no, he did not shoot more. Amazingly however, all of the key players for Kansas except Sasha Kaun actually had higher offensive ratings this year than last year and eight players have ratings 104.9 or higher. So unlike last year when Rush really was one of Kansas’ best options, this year the team played so well that he didn’t need to shoot more.

Despite a #20 rating, SI actually had Southern Illinois rated 3rd in the Valley. SI says to watch for the “seasoned backcourt of Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young”. Duly noted. (Sorry Southern Illinois fans, you don’t get a full story unless you are rated in the top 16.)

As for UCLA, SI says that Mbah a Moute’s parents did not even know he went to the Final Four until he sent a DVD. “Why didn’t you tell us? We would have come.” (Wow, SI has some great quotes to steal. Uh, go buy the magazine.)

The key statistical question was whether or not the team could replace point guard Jordan Farmar. Well, Darren Collison had an offensive rating of 114.1 and had the 29th best assist rate in the country (Only Ty Lawson and Mike Conley have better ratings among teams still in the tournament.) So, UCLA passed the test and is once again a Final Four contender.

As for Pittsburgh, Aaron Gray worked on his stamina over the summer. He “lifted every morning (and) ran uphill sprints in the afternoon.” Was it uphill both ways? During the Big East championship game, the announcers re-iterated this point claiming that Gray was disappointed with his performance at the end of last year and felt he needed to have more stamina this year. Did Gray have more stamina? Well, Gray increased his offensive efficiency from 105.3 last year to 114.1 this year which may be a reflection of his increased stamina, but his overall minutes per game are down slightly. Moreover, recognizing the small sample bias, I have not seen better stamina in the Big East championship game or in the two NCAA tournament games. It still appears to me that Gray gets worn down too easily against good teams.

Truthfully, while Gray is good, what scares me more about playing Pittsburgh is the team’s balance. They have six players with offensive ratings over 106.3 and Ronald Ramon is a deadly three point shooter which raises his offensive rating to 117.3. Maybe someone with a Pittsburgh connection can fill me in, but I totally do not understand why Ramon is coming off the bench instead of starting.

Not much has changed for these teams since SI’s pre-season prediction that the Jayhawks would win it all and that seems like a safe pick for now.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Recruiting Look-Back

I'll have some thoughts on the Sweet Sixteen eventually, but since we have a few days, I want to jump back to the 2003 recruiting article I cited last Thursday. Just as it is fun to evaluate NBA and NFL draft classes a few years later, I thought it would be equally fun to go back and evaluate the recruiting classes from 2003.

2003 is particularly interesting because (with the exception of a few red-shirt players and the NBA early entrants), these players were seniors this season. Let's re-evaulate the top 20 classes.

1. Oklahoma – This class turned into a disaster as all the major players transfered. Drew Lavendar almost led Xavier to an upset of Ohio St. on Saturday.
2. Arkansas – Brewer is playing in the NBA.
3. Maryland – Strawberry, Jones, and Ibekwe lost in the second round this year and won only two NCAA games in their careers. They were fine college players, but this class did not live up to its billing.
4. Duke – Deng and Humphries are in the NBA.
5. Pittsburgh – Aaron Gray is the only member of his recruiting class to stick around at Pittsburgh, but he has been a vital part of a team that has been ranked in the top 10 for most of the past few seasons.
6. Michigan St. – Naymick was described as a hard worker with a “fine touch”. That “fine touch” never panned out as planned. Shannon Brown is in the NBA.
7. Arizona – Shakur is a senior starter. Kirk Walters was described as a “great find” but he only played in 2 games this year as a senior. Was “great find” code for “we didn’t have him ranked”?
8. LSU – None of these players were stars on the Final Four team, but Lazare and Minor contributed this season.
9. Syracuse – Nichols and Roberts are stars for the snubbed NIT crew.
10. DePaul – The article says that Wesley Green “throws a terrific outlet pass”. What kind of a compliment is that? Mejia turned into a star.
11. Kansas – Disaster of a class where only Jeremy Case is still on the team, and he played sparingly this year. David Padgett ended up at Louisville.
12. Mississippi St. – None of these players stayed at the school either. Worse yet, Ervin ended up being a key player at Arkansas.
13. Michigan – Seniors Courtney Sims and Bret Petway had solid careers and Dion Harris was a star, but the team never made the NCAA tournament.
14. South Carolina – Do not under-rate this class because of this season. Tre Kelley and Brandon Wallace have developed into fine players and Renaldo Balkman is playing in the NBA.
15. Memphis – Calipari seems to cycle through the players pretty quick.
16. California – Powe is playing in the NBA.
17. Illinois – McBride and Carter were solid role players on the Final Four team and have emerged as consistent seniors. Randle has been disappointing, but thanks to a red-shirt still has one year of eligibility.
18. Florida St. – Hard to see how this group was rated ahead of…
19. Wake Forest – Chris Paul was the key piece in a top 10 Wake Forest squad before becoming NBA rookie of the year.
20. Louisville – Brandon Jenkins remains a solid contributor this season.

Looking back it appears that the best players are already in the NBA. Some of this year's best tournament teams (UCLA, Georgetown, and Kansas) do not feature a single senior playing significant minutes. Others (Ohio St., Florida, and North Carolina) feature only one major senior and none of those players (Lewis, Humpries, Terry) was part of a dominant recruiting class (at least as listed here).

Perhaps the most important senior in the Sweet Sixteen, Acie Law the 4th is not listed either in part because Texas A&M was a non-factor back in 2003. This all suggests that I should really look back at 2002. Maybe I will do that next week.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Shocking Sunday?

1) Was the upset of 2 seed Wisconsin a shock? No, it was a little surprising Wisconsin did not advance out of the Chicago pod, but the team clearly did not play the same after the Brian Butch injury.

2) Was Texas losing to USC a shock? Let’s look at Texas vs the RPI Top 50:

Michigan St. defeats Texas 63-61
Tennessee defeats Texas 111-105 in overtime
Villanova defeats Texas 76-69
Texas A&M defeats Texas 100-82
Kansas defeats Texas 90-86
Kansas defeats Texas 88-84 in overtime

Texas lost a lot of games against the top 50 this year and only won two:

Texas defeats Arkansas 80-76
Texas defeats Texas A&M 98-96 in double overtime

So the fact that Texas lost in the Sweet Sixteen should not have come as a total shock. But, the final margin of victory was surprising.

USC defeats Texas 87-68

After so many dramatic games (including the Okahoma St. games), the NCAA viewer has to feel a little cheated that we did not get to enjoy some Durant magic one more time. I heard quite a few people claim that Texas was much better than a 4 seed, but what was hidden by Durant’s amazing offensive ability was the fact that the team had suspect defense and was too dependent on underclassmen at the other starting spots. (Sadly, no Ron Lewis on this team.) Regardless, there is no denying that Texas was fun to watch and that Texas will be missed as the tournament continues. Goodbye Durant, we hardly knew you.

3) What was the biggest shocker of the tournament? Every year since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the ACC has put 2 teams in the Sweet Sixteen. But, with Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke, Boston College, and Georgia Tech going down, the ACC sends only 1 team to the Sweet Sixteen this year.

ACC Teams in Sweet Sixteen By Year
1985 4
1986 4
1987 2
1988 2
1989 4
1990 4
1991 2
1992 4
1993 4
1994 2
1995 4
1996 2
1997 3
1998 3
1999 2
2000 2
2001 2
2002 2
2003 2
2004 3
2005 3
2006 2
2007 1

That was a truly amazing streak. (The best part of the streak ending is that I never have to hear Dick Vitale quote this stat again.) While some argued that this was the deepest ACC ever and that even Florida St. deserved a bid, the parity at least partly reflected the lack of dominant teams in the conference. The ACC is also near the bottom of the conference race:

7-2 SEC (3 Left)
7-3 Pac 10 (3 Left)
5-2 Big 12 (2 Left)
5-4 Big East (2 Left)
6-5 Big Ten (1 Left)
6-6 ACC (1 Left)
2-0 CUSA (1 Left)
2-1 MVC (1 Left)
2-1 MWC (1 Left)
2-1 Horizon (1 Left)

That’s it for today. If you are still basketball starved, you can always check out the NIT bracket where 3 ACC teams are still alive!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Saturday Thoughts

Happy St. Patrick’s Day Birthday to me!

Ohio St vs Xavier: Tied at the end of regulation.
Butler vs Maryland: Tied with 3 minutes and change on the clock.
Texas A&M vs Louisville: Tied in the final minute.
Georgetown vs Boston College: 2 point game with 3 minutes and change on the clock.
Pittsburgh vs VCU: Tied at the end of regulation.
Vanderbilt vs Washington St.: Tied at the end of overtime.
North Carolina vs Michigan St.: 2 point game with 5 minutes and 30 seconds left.
UCLA vs Indiana: Tied in the final minute.

This year my birthday present was some of the best basketball games of the season. 8 teams lost, but there were no losers in a memorable day of basketball action.

8 Questions

1) Did Greg Oden commit a flagrant foul? Maybe, but if the referees had called it, we would not have seen Ron Lewis’ dramatic three pointer. If Ohio St. wins the championship, this may very well be the one shining moment. A lot of people are going to write that the team won in spite of Oden fouling out, but Oden still provided some big plays in this game, including a huge steal under the basket in the final minute.

2) Why didn’t Maryland foul at the end of the game? Leading by 2 with 40 seconds left and 35 seconds on the shot clock, Butler had the ball. Maryland elected not to foul, apparently believing that they could get a stop and score in the final seconds. But, in a best-case scenario, they were only going to get a rebound with 4 seconds left. That’s hardly enough time to get a high percentage shot. Unless they believed they were an inferior team, they needed to extend the game in the situation. As it turned out, Butler got the rebound with 4 seconds left and held on to win.

3) Do you ever want your opponent to make a free throw? With 35 seconds left, leading by one, and having watched Lousville miss the first of two free throws, Texas A&M might have liked Louisville to make the 2nd free throw and tie the game. Then Texas A&M would have the ball for the final possession in a tie game with the ball in the hand of “Mr. Clutch” Acie Law.

Instead Louisville missed the free throw and then fouled Joseph Jones who proceeded to miss two free throws for A&M. This meant Texas A&M was no longer in position to hit the buzzer beating shot, and they had to defend against the buzzer beating shot from Louisville. But Texas A&M doesn’t allow 59.2 points a game for nothing. They played tough defense at the end, forced a difficult shot, and got the rebound. (By the way, you know you are a tempo-free stat junky if the fact that a team allows 59.2 points a game does not impress you.)

4) Which one of the Hoya dunks was more impressive, Jeff Green’s “Superman” clean-up or Patrick Ewing Jr,’s reverse-and-one dunk at the end of the game? Both were critical. Give Boston College credit for hanging with the Hoyas, but BC was unable to come up with the loose balls and defensive rebounds at the end of the game. Perhaps their star trio played too many minutes as Dudley, Rice, and Marshall all played the full 40. But, Georgetown also tightened their rotation as four Hoyas played over 34 minutes.

5) Can Eric Maynor and VCU have an encore next season? The team will have to find a way to replace seniors B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa, but Eric Maynor is only a sophomore. This team has easily been the most fun team to watch in March due to their trapping defense and clutch guard play. To come back from 19 down against Pittsburgh is a tremendous accomplishment.

6) Can you top this? That’s what Derrick Byars and Derrick Low said in a double overtime game. I really did not see enough of this game to do it justice, but what I saw was two teams showing tremendous heart.

7) Is this what Roy Williams envisioned at the beginning of the season? Michigan St. played an incredible game, but in the end the massive substitutions and never-ending energy of North Carolina proved too much for Michigan St. After Reyshawn Terry hit a big three near the end, Dick Enberg pointed out the fact that an exhausted Drew Neitzel looked at his coach as if to say, “What more can I do?”

8) Where was Lance Stemler all year? Being a talented and smart defensive team, UCLA knew they needed to shut down Roderick Wilmont and they also did their best to limit DJ White and Calloway’s offensive game. Indiana’s offense looked frustrated and stagnant, scoring only 13 points in the first half. (Things would have looked a little better if they had hit their free throws.) Knowing Stemler had only shot 32% on his three pointers on the season and had made only 3 three pointers in February and March, UCLA was willing to allow him a few more open looks. But in the final minutes, the junior college transfer was huge. Stemler hit two big threes and was fouled on a third, making 3 clutch free throws. Stemler showed a ton of heart, but in the end it was the smart play of UCLA that won the game. Afflalo took the ball inside and kept getting fouled, preventing Indiana from taking the lead and winning the game.

It was an amazing day of basketball. I end by revisiting my predictions.

Good: I correctly predicted that the lack of upsets Thursday would make for some memorable games Saturday.

Bad: I expected this to also translate into some major upsets. But the true tournament favorites all held tough and advanced. Will the same hold true tomorrow?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Half-Court Fallacy and More

Half-Court Fallacy
Many announcers seem to think that teams that prevent transition baskets and play half court defense dislike getting fast-break baskets. This is clearly wrong. All teams want easy baskets! The difference between fast and slow teams depends more on whether the team takes one-on-one shots early in the shot clock, or whether the team works the offense to get an open look late in the shot clock. But when given the opportunity to get an uncontested lay-up in transition, all good teams will take that opportunity whether fast-paced or not!

The following is clearly moronic. “I know that team X just turned the ball over and Team Y got a lay-up, but this tempo clearly favors team X.” Uggh, this type of announcing must stop.

No Upsets
There were no 5-12 upsets this year. (Illinois came the closest, losing by 2 points.) Could it be that the committee is doing a better job of seeding the tournament? Teams like Winthrop and VCU are now seeded as 11’s instead of 12’s. In fact, Winthrop and VCU are the only double digit seeds to advance to the 2nd round. That means even better match-ups this weekend, and I predict multiple major upsets in the weekend games. Can you believe that Kansas vs Kentucky and North Carolina vs Michigan St. are second round games? The fun is just getting started.

Conference Crown
5-1 Big Ten
4-1 SEC
3-1 Big 12
5-2 ACC
4-2 Pac10
3-3 BigEast
1-0 CUSA
1-0 Big South
1-1 MVC
1-1 MWC
1-1 WAC
1-1 A10
1-1 CAA
1-1 Horizon

Afternoon Fun
Good: I correctly predicted that the Notre Dame vs Winthrop game would appear to be a blow-out and that CBS would leave the game, only to come back.

Bad: I was wrong about which team would have the lead.

Good: I also predicted that New Mexico St. would take the lead against Texas and scare a lot of people.

Bad: I was wrong about Maryland vs Davidson being higher scoring than Tennessee vs Long Beach St.

A few other random thoughts while watching 4 games at the same time at the sports bar:

- Texas A&M CC gave Wisconsin everything they could handle. While trailing 10-0 and 21-6 was embarrassing for Wisconsin, their fans should take solace in the fact that this game won’t be replayed for the next 20 years.

- It was fun to watch Tennessee pile up points, although they showed somewhat bad sportsmanship by taking a 3 with 10 seconds left to score 121.

- Creighton and Nevada played one of the most entertaining games of the tournament, but in the end Funk, Porter, and Tolliver’s crew fell to Fazekas, Session, and Kemp’s squad. I felt Nevada’s defensive pressure at the end of the game was the difference. Funk had nowhere to go with the basketball and had to take some tough shots at the end of the game and in overtime.

- Winthrop was aggressive early against Notre Dame and took advantage of Notre Dame’s poor defense to build a 20 point lead. But then Winthrop took the air out of the ball and tried to work the clock. Winthrop ended up settling for poor shots and allowed Notre Dame to come all the way back and take the lead. Then, in even more shocking fashion, Winthrop became aggressive again and pulled away for the victory. Now that is tournament drama!

- I’d also like to apologize to James Brown who I dismissed as being a “football guy” on Thursday. As a new resident of DC I did not know that Brown was a former Washington Bullets announcer and former standout basketball player for Harvard.

Heartbreaking, but not Surprising
If Illinois had an Achilles’ heel this season, it was late game execution. Leading in the second half against Arizona, Maryland, Wisconsin, and six other games, Illinois was unable to make free throws or make clutch shots and lost. Leading in the second half against Virginia Tech, the team again missed free throws and was unable to make even a single clutch basket in the final 4 minutes of a 54-52 loss. In many ways, the NCAA tournament reveals who you are as a team. You no longer have a home court to depend on or blame, and your true basketball team shows up. The 2007 Illinois squad was a good team that could not make plays at the end of a basketball game.

Of all the things I hope the team finds over the winter (FT shooting, a shot for Chester Frazier, a healthy recovery for Carwell), perhaps the biggest thing this team needs is for someone to step up and take a leadership role next season.

Three factors were key in the second half. First, after Virginia Tech was hit with a technical, the referees began to whistle more fouls. Illinois had been playing a more physical defensive game, and the increase in foul calls allowed Virginia Tech to make up points with the clock stopped. (Alas Virginia Tech made those points up slowly due to poor free throw shooting.)

Second, with Rich McBride having found a hot-hand, McBride was fouled on a 3 point attempt. After missing two free throws badly and wincing in pain, referees allowed Webber to sub in Trent Meachem for the 3rd free throw before McBride went to the locker room. Had McBride not been injured, he may have provided one more key three pointer and a win for Illinois. (Of course had Virginia Tech lost, their fans would have complained about that substitution throughout the off-season.) The finish was eerily similar to the end of the Wisconsin game where a hot Shaun Pruitt was hit in the leg and watched his team lose the lead when he went to the locker room for medical attention.

Finally, turnovers were critical. The announcers credited the full court pressure with causing a few more turnovers, but it was actually the turnovers in the half-court set that were critical.

While the collapse may provide fuel for the critics of Bruce Webber, I saw a team that fought hard until the end. There were many times this year when Illinois’ players could have hung their heads and given up, but instead the team finished the year imposing their tempo on Virginia Tech and the team had a chance to win or tie on the final possession.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Thursday Evening Random Thoughts

- He’s back! It wasn’t quite Bryce Drew hitting a 3 at the end of the game, but we may already have our signature moment of the first round. Eric Maynor hit a jumper from the free throw line with 1.8 seconds left to beat the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA tournament. To me the key to the play was the fact that Maynor started his move early instead of waiting to take the shot with zero seconds left on the clock. Too many players wait too long and then get a tough double teamed shot. By starting his move two seconds earlier, Maynor had the threat of the pass to the corner, and used it to shake free for the open jumper. Maynor has already clinched a spot on my all-tournament team.

- Although I highly enjoy the Full Court package, I can’t justify purchasing March Madness on Demand for so few games. Unfortunately, my market was given the late game of North Carolina vs EKU. Who other than North Carolina fans wants to watch this? Thankfully North Carolina was in domination mode from the beginning and it didn’t take long before I was taken to Indiana vs Gonzaga. (I had even contemplated heading to a sports bar to see the Indiana vs Gonzaga game.) Just as I was enjoying the 2nd Half, I hear this:

“Eastern Kentucky has gone on a 30-8 run, and we’re sending you back to Winston-Salem.”

You have got to be kidding me. Not only did the Tar Heels beat my Illini in 2005, not only are the Tar Heels fans cheering loudly against my Hoyas in 2007, but the Tar Heels are depriving me of games I actually want to watch because of their poor play. Uggh.

Luckily, it didn’t take long before the lead was back to double digits and I was sent out to Xavier-BYU. Here we see Danny Ainge’s son in action.

Patrick Ewing’s son. Danny Ainge’s son. Dell Curry’s son. It’s a father-son picnic today.

Drew Lavendar, the McDonald’s All-American I discussed Thursday morning hit 2 of the 3 big shots down the stretch to give Xavier the close win. But, I still questioned Xavier’s strategy down the stretch. For some reason college teams do not see the value in going two-for-one. In a tie game with 1 minute left, Xavier ran the clock down to 30 seconds before taking the shot. Had Xavier missed, BYU could have held for the last shot and the possible win. Why not run your offense and take a good shot with 45 seconds left. Then even if BYU makes a shot, you are still going to get the ball back. If Xavier had run their offense and then taken a late shot, I could have understood the move, but they ran the clock down by dribbling. Of course my strategizing did not matter, as Xavier won anyway. Xavier now gets a shot at former coach and cross-state rival, Thad Matta and Ohio St.

Back to Indiana vs Gonzaga, is it just me or does every Gonzaga player look like he was designed by the create-a-player feature on a video game? Bald white kids, bushy haired white kids, red-haired white kids, multiple players with beards. Len Elmore stole the obvious line about Matt Bouldin. Gonzaga hopes Bouldin will pick up Adam Morrison’s scoring ability, but not his mustache.

More tournament thoughts tomorrow.