Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Lost Art? The Two Point Jumper Beats Purdue

As Basketball Prospectus has said from the beginning, Duke’s defense is predicated on denying three point shots and dunks and forcing teams to make intermediate jumpers. Few teams are equipped to win by taking two point jumpers, but the 2008-09 Illinois team might be the rare team that can win with this strategy. Illinois is dead last in free throw rate among BCS schools, shoots many more twos than threes, but is finding a way to win.

And thanks to two lanky big men in Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis, the jump shot is here to stay in Illini country. I don’t know that Illinois can win on a consistent basis with this strategy, but on a night where the shooters couldn't seem to figure out where the three-point line was on Purdue’s floor, (it was the blue line, not the white line), Illinois surprised the Purdue defense scoring 46 of its first 47 points on two pointers. (And thanks to ESPN for catching this stat-geek gem).

Again, I hardly recommend this strategy. In the long haul, I think Illinois needs to learn to draw some fouls. But don’t think that great teams can’t employ the two point jumper in their arsenal. I’ve been watching some of the 2005 Illini season on the Big Ten Network’s Greatest Games feature, and we tend to forget that Dee Brown, Deron Williams, and Luther Head were not just great three point shooters, they all had a solid intermediate game as well. You saw it in big games against Wake Forest, Gonzaga, and at Michigan St. where the 2005 Illini squad shocked the other team by pulling up short of the paint, and knocking down wide-open 8 foot jumpers.

Update: Big Ten Geeks actually predicted this in the pre-game. Yep, that earns a LHS link. And Spartans Weblog had a nice graphic of the tempo free stats showing that Illinois should not be a surprise team. Note to self: Read more of other blogs.

Here we go again. But not this time.

Illinois was the unluckiest team in the nation last year, losing numerous close games. But further analysis revealed it was not just bad luck. Illinois couldn’t make free throws and therefore couldn’t finish any of the close games last season. This year, most of the poor free throw shooters are graduated, (and as noted above, Illinois isn’t taking any free throws this year), but Illinois still had a major chance to blow a late lead against Purdue.

After committing a foul in the final seconds to allow the game to be tied, and after giving up the first 4 points in overtime, Illinois could have easily hung their heads and lost again.

After Demetri McCamey (an 89% free throw shooter) missed three foul shots, Illinois could have easily caved in and kept the streak of close losses intact.

But not on this night. Illinois was playing too smooth. (See 6 turnovers.) Illinois was playing too unselfishly (See 21 assists.) And on back-to-back nights, a conference favorite went down at home. UConn, Purdue, who's next? This is college basketball.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Georgetown defeats #2 Connecticut

Over a decade ago, Minneapolis North product Khalid El-Amin, one of the most exciting high school guards in Minnesota high school basketball history, decide to attend UConn. He helped win a national championship for Jim Calhoun in 1999 and I spent much of the next decade resenting UConn basketball. Like most people, I cheered when George Mason upset the Huskies a few years ago, and after a mass exodus of UConn players left for the NBA, I was happy to watch players like Jeff Adrien suffer through a 17-14 season just two years ago.

But as much as I’ve become obsessed with college basketball over the past few years, I’ve learned you have to respect quality coaches. And Jim Calhoun has not only put UConn on the map, he’s earned my respect. Yes, his teams still go for too many blocks instead of making the simple defensive play. But there is something to be said for a team that thinks dunk first and not lay-up. Jim Calhoun’s teams not only win basketball games, they do it with style.

And the more I’ve respected Jim Calhoun, and seniors like AJ Price and Jeff Adrien, the more a victory like this one is all the sweeter. Here was a game where AJ Price ended an early Georgetown run with a pair of threes, where Jeff Adrien would not be denied in the second half, where Hasheem Thabeet was diving on the floor for loose balls, and where much-maligned Stanley Robinson was making a crazy put-back dunk. And yet Georgetown would not be denied.

UConn fans will blame the fouls, (see the early steal by Greg Monroe which followed a clear bump by Monroe), or the lack of effort on backdoor cuts. But this was not about a lack of effort by UConn.

This was about Georgetown flat-out refusing to lose. There was Chris Wright hitting multiple buzzer beating jumpers. There was Austin Freeman with his new-found aggressiveness taking it to the basket earning numerous lay-ups and free throws. There was DaJuan Summers hammering home the offensive rebound dunk. There was Jesse Sapp hitting a clutch three pointer to extend the lead in the second half. There was Jason Clark making a pair of key free throws. There was Julian Vaughn coming in and playing defense on Hasheem Thabeet.

But there was only one Greg Monroe.

Freshman are not supposed to go on the road and dominate the number 2 team in the country. Freshman are not supposed to have this kind of all-around game. At the end of the day, heck at the end of the year, the PPG stats aren't going to be the best because Monroe is a team player. But Greg Monroe showed on Monday why he is one of the most talented freshmen in the country, opening the game with a three pointer, a hook shot over Hasheem Thabeet, 3 assists, and 3 steals. (Oh, and did I mention that he leads the Hoyas in steals, as a forward?) Monroe's performance in the first 6 minutes of the game, not only gave the Hoyas a 15-1 and then a 18-3 lead, it proved that there still are a few freshman worth watching this year.

Look Greg Monroe might cool off under the grind of Big East play. He may get schooled by DeJuan Blair on Saturday. But it is games like this one that make a Georgetown fan want to bask in the moment. Enjoy this season while you can Hoya fans, because if Monroe wants to go pro, he’ll have that option.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Final Old Spice Post

With no college basketball on Christmas, I decided it was time to clean out my notebook with some final thoughts on Thanksgiving's Old Spice Classic.

Inside Wichita St.

The Shockers didn’t have the most fans in Orlando (more like 4th most), but the fans they brought sure seemed to know how to make the most noise. The Key: the mid-major foot-stomp. On bleachers, this creates much more noise than clapping.

Against Georgetown, Sienna, and Michigan St. in the Old Spice Classic, Wichita St. had a simple strategy: Slow the pace down, lull your opponent to sleep, and hope that Clevin Hannah can get hot and win the game at the end. It worked against Siena (in the biggest comeback in the tournament), and the strategy certainly gave Georgetown and Michigan St. a big scare. But will it work over the course of a season? It is hard to say. I’m still big on Gregg Marshall who did wonderful things at Winthrop, but it is a lot harder to win on a consistent basis in the MVC. Huge game this Sunday (Dec. 28th) when Wichita St. takes on Creighton.

Random Thought: It looks like former Missouri Tiger Stefhon Hannah and Wichita State’s Clevin Hannah are not related. I thought with Missouri and Wichita St. being in close proximity that they both might be local, but Stefhon was from Illinois and Clevin is from Mississippi. Trust me, you wonder these things when you watch 12 games live in 4 days.

Inside Michigan St.

Spartan fans like to claim they have lots of depth, but in the case of Michigan St. seniors Marquise Gray and Idon Ibok, what they really have is two warm bodies. To be fair, Gray is off to a decent start this year, but no one thinks the team is getting to Ford Field this year on the backs of its senior forwards.

The result in Orlando was that Tom Izzo rushed Delvon Roe back into the lineup. I was very excited to see Roe in person, and in warm-ups I could see why people are excited about the redshirt freshman. He seemed big, mobile, athletic, and a force to be reckoned with. But he was tentative when he got in the game, and the injury seems to have taken away some of his aggressiveness. With mostly Roe and Gray in the lineup (Sutton – injured, Morgan – fouls), Michigan St. lost the opener of the Old Spice Classic to Maryland. So maybe Michigan St. isn’t quite as deep as we thought.

Certainly, Michigan St. proved against Texas that if Sutton is healthy, and if one of the emerging guards (Allen or Summers) can make plays in the half-court, Michigan St. can be one of the best teams in the country. But the main feeling I got from Michigan St. fans in Orlando was that of impatience. The fans want the team to be dominant now, and while watching Roe develop sounds good on paper, it sure isn’t as much fun as winning right now.

Inside Tennessee

I’m going to be honest, it is hard for me to evaluate Tennessee vs Georgetown from a non-Georgetown perspective. Going into the game, I was wondering if Georgetown would even be able to compete with a Top 25 team, especially a run-and-gun team, on day 2 of a tournament, when Georgetown doesn’t have much depth beyond the starting five. But despite this lack of depth, despite facing tough full court pressure, Georgetown overcame several runs and the Hoyas were in position to knock off Tennessee. But that’s when the Vols hit some late threes to take the lead. Tennessee was 10-15 on 3’s in the game. Were it not for that fabulous outside shooting, I don’t think Tennessee wins. But that’s not really fair to Tennessee. The Vols deserve a lot more credit than that, and Bruce Pearl deserves every bit of praise he’s getting in Knoxville. Sometimes, it is just hard to write that you got beat by the better team.

By the way, the Tennessee fans were easily the nicest fans we met at the tournament. They were humble, gracious, and excited to be part of a new winning era in Knoxville.

Random Notes

-On Sunday of the Old Spice Classic, there was a rain delay due to rain blowing in an exhaust vent in the building. This reminded me of the time Michigan St.’s ACC-Big Ten challenge game was cancelled due to a wet floor, and it reminded some nearby Tennessee fans of last year’s SEC tournament.

-I spoke to some Volunteer fans who remember Georgetown’s Omar Wattad from high school. Wattad has yet to win me over, but he had a career day against his home state school, hitting 3 three pointers.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Zags Down

I’m still in shock that Gonzaga lost to Portland St. last night. My initial reaction is that this is the kind of loss that could cost Gonzaga 3-4 seed lines on selection Sunday. This is particularly devastating for Gonzaga because the Zags are not going to be able to make a standard argument for a 1 or a 2 seed. They’ll have a nice record against the RPI top 50 and 100, but they won’t have nearly as many quality wins as the runner-up in the Pac10 or Big 12.

But Gonzaga was still going to have a shot at a top seed because a number of smart college basketball people would have made the argument that Gonzaga has too much talent to be seeded lower. And people who saw Gonzaga in person against UConn or in the Old Spice Classic would have had plenty of ammunition to argue that Gonzaga’s top 6 players are as good as any team in the country, with the exception of UNC. But a loss like this just cripples those “other” arguments. Would the third place team from the Big 12 or Pac 10 lose at home to Portland St? Certainly not. Washington has already beaten them, and Baylor probably will next week. And that’s why I think this loss pushes Gonzaga down 3-4 seed lines at the end of the year. Make no mistake about it, this was an absolutely devastating loss.

The only good news for Gonzaga is that Portland St. is actually a pretty good team. Last year Portland St. won the Big Sky conference regular season title by 3 games and won the conference tournament. And they’ll probably be the favorite to win the conference again this year. So maybe if Portland St. can keep their RPI in the top 100, this loss will be “explainable” for Gonzaga. But you never want a loss like this near the end of the non-conference schedule.

Elsewhere on Tuesday

Wisconsin scored 5 points in the final 6:45 of the game against Texas. I said it before, but it is still true. Who is going to be the star for Wisconsin when they need a bucket?

Sorry no comments on the Bragging Rights game between Illinois and Missouri. I have it on tape. I was watching Georgetown double up Florida International 76-38 at the Verizon Center. The Hoyas have clearly figured out how to dominate smaller schools with absolutely relentless eFG% defense, but now comes the hard part. Here is the upcoming schedule along with the Pomeroy ratings of the teams. Georgetown is at #6 Connecticut, vs #3 Pittsburgh, at #23 Notre Dame, vs #89 Providence, vs #35 Syracuse, at #4 Duke, and vs #7 West Virginia. Oh, and then they go on a three game road swing. Good times.

Hats off to Clint Sargent of South Dakota St. for leading the victory over Iowa St. The sophomore guard is averaging 14.6 PPG with an ORtg of 119.5.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

8 Thoughts on a Great Saturday of Basketball

1) My wife’s call of UConn’s AJ Price taking the shot at the end of regulation against Gonzaga, “Bad shot, bad shot. Oh it went in.” Look, I’m done ragging on Jerome Dyson. Dyson is a fabulous defender and a fantastic full-court player. But against a tough half-court defense, if you want someone to make a play to win the game, you want the ball in AJ Price’s hands.

2) Is Steven Gray the best 6th man in the country? Gray’s best two games came against ranked teams (Tennessee and UConn). Gonzaga might fall out of the top 10, but this is clearly at least a 2 seed at the end of the year. And if they go undefeated in WCC play, I’d give them a 1 seed. They had no shot in OT once Austin Daye, Micah Downs, and Matt Bouldin fouled out.

3) With about two minutes to go in the Michigan St. vs Texas game, Durrell Summers was starting to take over. He had just knocked down a big three to pull Michigan St. within a point, and he had found Kalin Lucas at the top of the key to give Michigan St. the lead. And after Gary Johnson had taken the lead back for Texas, it was a no brainer. “Get the ball to Summers!” Of course, he immediately drove into the lane, lost control of the ball and turned it over to Connor Atchley. Rats. But wait. There was another chance at glory. After Atchley missed a three, Summers was once again standing in the corner when Raymar Morgan found him for the game winner. Yep, that’s why I watch this stuff.

4) Rick Pitino has forgotten more about coaching than I’ll ever know about coaching, but what was he doing yelling at his team to play full court pressure with 4 minutes to go in the Louisville vs Minnesota game? Louisville had just cut the Minnesota lead to 4 points, and I think he should have played it straight up and saved his player’s energy for the offensive end of the court. Minnesota was starting to look tentative, and I’m not sure the Gophers would have been able to make a basket against a half-court defense. But we’re never going to know. Because Louisville kept fouling Minnesota and allowed the Gophers to score their final 14 points from the free throw line.

To me, the key problem with this strategy is that Earl Clark, Terrence Williams, and Samardo Samuels weren’t buying it. They kept giving Pitino looks like, “Are you serious?” Minnesota had been playing a rotation of 11 players, and while Louisville had also been rotating 12 players, the three key Louisville players had played virtually the entire game. Plus those key Louisville players had just played a game on Thursday, while Minnesota had been off for 10 days. There was no way Louisville was going to wear down Minnesota at that point in the game. I could understand using full-court pressure when they were down 10 or 12, but down 4 with 4 minutes to go? All Pitino did was foul out Samuels and piss off his best three players.

5) During the Memphis vs Syracuse game, Tyreke Evans had the ball on a 3 on 1 break. Rather than pass the ball to his open teammates, he drew a charge. Dick Vitale commented: “I wouldn’t say he was selfish, I’d just say that was bad freshman decision making.” OK, sure.

6) Seton Hall, which holds wins over USC and Virginia Tech, lost to IUPUI.

7) Alex Legion debuted for Illinois. He made his first two shots, both three pointers, before missing his next 4 shots. I think Illini fans are under-estimating how much time it will take for Legion to fit into the offense and defense, but there was still reason to be excited.

8) Last year Chris Kramer was 18th nationally in steal rate and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the year. All I remember was that he was really irritating. Stephen Curry knocked my Georgetown team out of the NCAA tournament last year. Stephen Curry meet Chris Kramer. Meet 5 of 26 shooting.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

McDonald’s All-American Watch

I’ve been putting this off, but the time has come.

First, a look at the school’s with the most MAA’s this year:
8 North Carolina
7 Duke
3 UCLA, Georgetown
2 Arizona St., Georgia Tech, Kansas, Louisville, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Syracuse, Villanova

7 of Duke’s top 8 scorers are MAAs, with the only exception being Brian Zoubek.

North Carolina is getting production from some non-MAA players, but they have so much talent to burn, it isn’t even fair. Imagine if Ellington, Hansbrough, and Green had left early last year. How much time would we be spending talking about Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis? Instead, I’m guessing a large segment of fans don’t even know who those players are.

For the first time in a long time, Texas is missing from this list. And Texas, Pittsburgh, Xavier, Purdue, and Michigan St. are the only teams in the AP top 20 without a MAA. In fact, the Big Ten is virtually without any of the country's premiere recruits.

MAA’s by Conference
21 ACC
13 BigEast
9 Pac10
7 Big12
3 Non-BCS
2 Big10

And given the Ohio State’s two MAA players, William Buford and B.J.Mullens are not dominating, this is quite likely the weakest group of MAA’s in Big Ten history.

Let’s take a look at this year’s freshman. ORtg is from Kenpom.com and gives a sense of the efficiency of the scoring.

Productive and Efficient
PPG - R - A - ORtg - Name - School
19.1 - 6.1 - 2.3 - 119.4 - Sylven Landesberg - Virginia
17.0 - 6.1 - 1.1 - 126.6 - Samardo Samuels - Louisville
14.9 - 7.3 - 1.5 - 107.6 - Luke Babbitt - Nevada
13.9 - 1.6 - 2.6 - 113.2 - Willie Warren - Oklahoma
13.3 - 5.8 - 2.1 - 123.9 - Greg Monroe - Georgetown
11.1 - 3.7 - 3.2 - 113.5 - Kemba Walker - Connecticut
10.8 - 3.9 - 2.9 - 121.8 - Jrue Holiday - UCLA

With Virginia sitting at 4-3, no one realizes what a great season Landesberg is having. Between Blake Griffin and Willie Warren, Oklahoma would be nowhere without its two MAAs.

Not as efficient, but still good
16.1 - 5.8 - 3.8 - 95.4 - Tyreke Evans - Memphis
15.9 - 3.4 - 0.9 - 101.7 - Mike Rosario - Rutgers
11.5 - 6.4 - 0.4 - 101.0 - Michael Dunigan - Oregon
11.4 - 4.1 - 6.3 - 97.7 - Iman Shumpert - Georgia Tech
11.3 - 8.8 - 1.9 - 99.6 - Al Farouq Aminu - Wake Forest
9.8 - 4.3 - 1.0 - 86.3 - Demar DeRozan - USC

Evans has had a few bad shooting days. Rutgers probably needs Rosario to keep shooting given the amount of talent on the team. Only DeRozan’s production can really be considered detrimental to the team at this point.

Limited role in offense
10.0 - 1.5 - 0.5 - 109.9 - Tyler Zeller - North Carolina
9.7 - 7.1 - 0.8 - 102.0 - Chris Singleton - Florida State
8.9 - 8.7 - 0.6 - 106.4 - Ed Davis - North Carolina
8.7 - 1.6 - 0.8 - 106.5 - Scotty Hopson - Tennessee
7.6 - 6.4 - 0.7 - 101.6 - JaMychal Green - Alabama

Limited role and limited efficiency
6.0 - 3.6 - 0.1 - 91.2 - B.J. Mullens - Ohio State
5.9 - 2.3 - 0.7 - 90.2 - William Buford - Ohio State
4.2 - 2.0 - 0.8 - 83.7 - Malcolm Lee - UCLA
2.9 - 2.8 - 0.9 - 74.5 - Elliot Williams - Duke
2.2 - 1.7 - 3.2 - 91.7 - Larry Drew - North Carolina

And here are the rest of the MAA’s who have stayed in college. Most are off to tremendous starts, although many of them have yet to face top competition.

PPG - R - A - ORtg - Name – School - Class
23.7 - 6.9 - 3.9 - 126.9 - James Harden - Arizona St. - SO
23.1 - 15.1 - 2.5 - 120.5 - Blake Griffin - Oklahoma - SO
22.8 - 7.2 - 0.6 - 133.1 - Tyler Hansbrough - North Carolina - SR
19.1 - 10.3 - 0.5 - 103.6 - Gani Lawal - Georgia Tech - SO
18.8 - 6.1 - 3.1 - 122.6 - Chase Budinger - Arizona - JR
17.9 - 2.6 - 4.8 - 113.9 - Sherron Collins - Kansas - JR
17.6 - 9.1 - 3.0 - 130.8 - Patrick Patterson - Kentucky - SO
17.5 - 2.4 - 4.8 - 117.2 - Johnny Flynn - Syracuse - SO
16.8 - 11.4 - 1.1 - 111.9 - Jon Brockman - Washington - SR
16.6 - 7.8 - 3.5 - 117.9 - Kyle Singler - Duke - SO
16.3 - 2.2 - 6.9 - 143.6 - Ty Lawson - North Carolina - JR
15.8 - 5.6 - 1.9 - 118.8 - James Anderson - Oklahoma St. - SO
15.0 - 4.0 - 6.7 - 115.2 - Nick Calathes - Florida - SO
14.1 - 10.4 - 1.7 - 128.7 - Cole Aldrich - Kansas - SO
13.9 - 3.2 - 4.6 - 111.5 - Scottie Reynolds - Villanova - JR
13.8 - 4.6 - 2.6 - 117.6 - Austin Freeman - Georgetown - SO
13.4 - 4.2 - 2.4 - 122.7 - Wayne Ellington - North Carolina - JR
13.3 - 4.8 - 3.1 - 133.7 - Danny Green - North Carolina - SR
13.3 - 3.8 - 2.3 - 116.1 - Jon Scheyer - Duke - JR
12.8 - 6.9 - 1.8 - 121.0 - Tasmin Mitchell - LSU - SR
12.4 - 3.4 - 3.8 - 118.2 - Chris Wright - Georgetown - SO
12.3 - 3.5 - 1.1 - 130.6 - Corey Stokes - Villanova - SO
12.3 - 2.5 - 2.2 - 118.5 - Nolan Smith - Duke - SO
11.6 - 8.1 - 3.4 - 110.4 - Earl Clark - Louisville - JR
10.7 - 4.3 - 1.8 - 114.6 - Gerald Henderson - Duke - JR
10.0 - 3.5 - 3.0 - 121.1 - Tweety Carter - Baylor - JR

All of the above players are having incredibly efficient starts with the possible exception of Gani Lawal at Georgia Tech. But again, when you look at Georgia Tech's offense, it isn’t clear to me that he should be shooting less.

How good is the sophomore class? Corey Stokes, was one of the only disappointments last year, but he is off to an incredible start this year, knocking down 49% of his threes.

9.9 - 5.5 - 1.4 - 105.5 - Micah Downs - Gonzaga - SR
9.1 - 5.4 - 1.6 - 108.0 - Mike Williams - Cincinnati - RSR
8.2 - 3.9 - 0.5 - 124.4 - Lance Thomas - Duke - JR
7.2 - 5.0 - 1.0 - 114.8 - Luke Zeller - Notre Dame - SR
5.8 - 1.3 - 1.9 - 104.6 - Greg Paulus - Duke - SR
4.8 - 5.1 - 0.2 - 108.1 - James Keefe - UCLA - JR

I like to poke fun at the above players for having a smaller role on their team, but all of them have been solid role players. Also, Mike Williams has returned from multiple injuries so I really shouldn't expect more out of him yet.

13.9 - 1.1 - 3.4 - 102.7 - Eric Devendorf - Syracuse - SR
13.6 - 6.3 - 0.2 - 89.6 - Korvotney Barber - Auburn - SR
13.0 - 8.4 - 2.1 - 97.7 - Brandon Costner - NC State - SR
11.9 - 3.6 - 6.6 - 97.5 - Byron Eaton - Oklahoma State - SR
2.6 - 1.2 - 2.0 - 84.2 - Bobby Frasor - North Carolina - SR
1.3 - 1.3 - 0.3 - 86.3 - Eric Boateng - Arizona St. - SR

You know, the class of 2005 had a surprising number of busts.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fifteen Ties, Eighteen Lead Changes, No Lead Bigger Than Six Points

You know when both Jim Burr and Ed Hightower are refs for your game, that you have a good game in front of you. (And that most of the country is off for finals.)

First off, Dana O’Neil’s recap of Georgetown vs Memphis is a must read. And the always entertaining Hoya Saxa recap opens with a great quote from John Calipari. “There were times we had a chance to get [the lead] to eight or ten and [Georgetown] just said, 'Nope, not happening'.”

But despite all this good stuff, I still have more to say on this game. First, I don’t think the recaps were fair enough to Memphis. Calipari isn’t searching for answers. He might have been searching for a few more points, but I thought he had an absolutely perfect game plan in this game.

Despite an absolutely horrid shooting percentage, horrible three point shooting, a shocking free throw disparity, and an incredible tendency for the refs to call traveling, carrying the ball, and offensive goaltending, Memphis still almost won on Georgetown’s home floor. Given that almost all the above factors are beyond the coach’s control, let’s look at exactly what Calipari was able to get his team to do in this game:

1) Memphis played by far the best half-court defense Georgetown has seen all year. The AP recap said it well. Basically every shot was contested in this game. Chris Wright may have claimed that the Memphis size wasn’t a deciding factor, but it clearly prevented him from initiating the offense the way he normally does. Memphis was disciplined enough to prevent backdoor cuts, persistent enough to stay out on perimeter shooters, and physical enough to prevent Monroe from dominating in the lane.

2) Memphis did not fear Georgetown’s fast break and Calipari had his team crash the boards with a 3rd or 4th person on almost every possession. Georgetown often has trouble with offensive rebounding, especially when they played zone, but this didn’t seem to be a case of Monroe or Summers not boxing out. This was a case of Memphis sending perimeter players to the glass and coming in from unusual angles. Memphis also clearly pushed it a little, touching a number of balls that were close to being on the cylinder, and earning two offensive goal-tending calls, but those were a small price to pay for 20 offensive boards.

3) Georgetown’s defense holds opponents to an incredibly low shooting percentage in large part because they almost always “help” in the post. It doesn’t matter if they are playing zone or man-to-man, Georgetown will send a weakside post man over to double team the ball and stop an inside basket. But Memphis was perfectly prepared to exploit this. Throughout the first half, Memphis would get deep position but instead of taking the expected shot, would pass to the weakside big man for an easy lay-up or alley-oop dunk. My wife pointed out that you could see the frustration on JT III’s face because he knew what Memphis was doing, but he wasn’t able to get his team to adjust until halftime.

So basically, Calipari had his team ready to defend, and exploit the two key weaknesses in Georgetown’s defense. And his team almost pulled off the victory. If you ask me, that’s not a coach that is looking for answers. That’s a coach who is looking for better production.

Unlikely Hero

Having watched the Hoyas eek out close victory after close victory last year, you just felt incredibly confident any time a game was close. (This made the Davidson loss all the more painful.) But now there was no Jonathon Wallace to sink a big three or Roy Hibbert to take a big hook shot in the lane.

And instead of flourishing with the crowd on their feet, Georgetown actually had several turnovers down the stretch and went the final 5 minutes of regulation without a FG.

With 2:45 left in OT, Georgetown had officially gone over 7 minutes without a made basket and I was really starting to panic. And that’s when Georgetown found an unlikely hero.

With the shot-clock running down, Georgetown needed an answer. Wright tried to drive, but was cut-off. Freeman tried to drive, but was cut-off. And that’s when freshman Jason Clark drove into the lane and with one second on the shot clock hit a pull-up jumper to give Georgetown a three-point lead. It was a lead Georgetown would never relinquish. And in my opinion, a freshman hit the biggest shot of the game.

Oh, DaJuan Summers was incredible in this game. And Georgetown needed every one of Summers’ 21 points. But if you hit an over-time shot-clock expiring shot, I don’t care if that’s your only basket all day. Jason Clark gets my game ball.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Basketball’s Quiet Week

A Long Intro for a Single Baseball Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on the Old Spice Classic

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

Inside Maryland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside Gonzaga

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Better to Lose Now than Never Win

I promised more on the Old Spice Classic, and after the recent story about Ibrahima Thomas leaving Oklahoma St., I want to start with a little more discussion on the Cowboys.

Oklahoma St. has been a team in transition for several years. First, there was the embarrassing quest to get Eddie Sutton to 800 wins despite his not being present on the sideline. Then Sean Sutton took over, and despite the presence of two McDonald’s All American guards (Byron Eaton and James Anderson), Sutton’s team posted back-to-back losing Big 12 marks and failed to make the NCAA tournament.

Perhaps the biggest nail in the coffin for Sutton was the Cowboys 19-game road losing streak. While the Cowboys were good enough to beat good teams at home, (including Texas and Kansas), questionable road losses to struggling teams like Nebraska and Iowa St. ultimately cost the younger Sutton his job.

In the off-season, the team made a large play to bring Bill Self home, but was largely rebuffed. Ultimately the team hired Travis Ford from UMass. At the time I questioned the hire. Travis Ford had clearly had a good season at UMass (the team was runner-up in the post-season NIT), and Travis Ford clearly had UMass moving in the right direction, but I still thought he could use some more seasoning in A-10 play before moving on to a tough job in the Big 12 South. But the last few weeks have given me reasons for optimism in Stillwater, although perhaps not this season.

The main thing I noticed in Orlando was how some players on the Oklahoma St. team seemed to run the offense and how some players were still focused on doing their own thing. Even a junior college transfer who was injured much of last season, Anthony Brown, looked like a decent player when the team would run their offense and move the ball. But as usual, my favorite target, Byron Eaton was not interested in running Ford’s offense. Eaton posted terrible numbers in the tournament (including 0-10 against Siena), but the biggest disappointment was the Gonzaga game. In a game Oklahoma St. could have easily won, Eaton was 2 of 15 from the field and 1 of 7 from the free throw line. And while he contributed 10 assists, he also coughed up 6 turnovers. Basically, I spent the opening game against Gonzaga laughing at how bad things would happen every time Eaton touched the ball and how crisp the Oklahoma St. offense looked when he didn’t have the ball. (According to Jimmie Tramel Eaton has lost his Mojo.)

But as the tournament progressed, I began to see some reason for optimism for both Eaton and his role on the team. In particular, when 5’10” Keiton Page was on the floor which allowed Eaton to move to an off-guard position, the offense really seemed to run smoothly. The key for Eaton’s role is to understand what he can and cannot do for the team. Eaton has spent 4 years learning different systems, or trying to score without a system. And at this point he is basically a one-on-one player. Most of the time Oklahoma St. should be running the offense and getting the ball to its playmakers, Obi Muonelo and Terrell Harris. But in situations where Harris and Muonelo are shut down and when the playclock is running down, that’s when you want the ball in Eaton’s hands. Eaton won’t necessarily get you the highest percentage shot, but he can make things happen in pressure situations and against good defenses, and that is incredibly valuable.

To the extent that Page and the other guards can run the offense, and limit Eaton’s role, I think Oklahoma St. may actually be slightly under-rated. But to the extent that the Cowboys continue to let him pad his stats and ignore what is good for the team, the team could be in for a long season.

But how does this all relate to the team’s release of center Ibrahima Thomas this week? Was he one of the players who didn’t know how to run the offense in Orlando? The reality is that I don’t know. I didn’t see much of him on the floor. Thomas seemed to be on a personal mission to foul out for most of the Old Spice Classic.

But I like the bigger statement that Travis Ford made by releasing Thomas from the team. He basically said that if you aren’t committed to helping us get better, if you aren’t committed to the principles that will lead us to win, then I’d rather play without you. Certainly this will hurt in the short-run. Oklahoma’s lack of size may be catastrophic in Big 12 play. But in the long-run, it should send a message to the rest of the team that the old lackadaisical approach is over. The days of going one-on-one, and ignoring what is good for the team, are over. Next year and down the road this will make Oklahoma St. better. And maybe even this year, if the team learns to accentuate Eaton’s strengths, maybe he can still make the key play they’ll need late in the season.

Certainly, absent the facts, I do not wish harm on Ibrahima Thomas. If I had more information, I may not condone his dismissal from the team at all. But given the need for Travis Ford to not only change the system, but also to reinstate a winning culture in Stillwater, I applaud the move.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Incomple List of College Basketball Obsession

After attending the Old Spice Classic, I have come to the definitive conclusion that all crazy college basketball fans should at some point in their life attend at least one of these marquee eight team early season tournaments. Here is an incomplete list of things a true college basketball fan should do. 1 is rookie, 10 is obsessed fan.

1) Take off work to watch the Thursday and Friday afternoon games of the first round of the NCAA tournament.

No, I’m not saying sneak away at lunch to watch a few minutes, or leave at 3:30 for a “doctor’s appointment”. Take the day off. If you don’t do this, I cannot respect you as a college basketball fan.

2) Get season tickets for a local team. In February, obsess about your team’s RPI ranking.

The true joy of following a college basketball team is that by February almost every game matters. You root for your own team. You root against teams above your team. You root for teams that you played in the non-conference schedule. You root against Duke. (Well, after the Olympics, I’m not rooting against Coach K as strongly as I did in the past, but most people include that last one.)

3) Attend an NCAA tournament game in person.

I was tempted to say, “Attend the first or second day of the NCAA tournament in person”, since seeing 4 games in one day is an experience everyone should try once. But a lot of people love to watch the opening weekend on TV since you can see four games at once, so I’ll let it slide if you prefer to attend the Sweet Sixteen.

But you haven’t lived until you’ve shown up and seen a stadium half full of crazed Kentucky fans wearing blue. (My favorite is still the old farmer looking guy with the overalls and the blue Kentucky shirt underneath.)

You haven’t lived until you’ve had a chance to grade the quality of the celebrity alumni in attendance. Hey, there is Nick Lachey for Cincinnati. Hey, there is Bill Murray for Illinois.

You haven’t lived until you can grade the skill level of the different bands and cheerleader squads.

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a higher seeded team upset a lower seeded team in person.

4) Attend the Final Four

Chances are, unless you live in Missoula, Montana, that you can see an NCAA tournament game without much effort. And while attending the Final Four may take a little more work, it is incredible to see how the Final Four descends on a city and takes over. Much like the Super Bowl, there are streets blocked off for block parties. And you can always find the ESPN set where Digger Phelps is prognosticating. But don’t forget to look for the under-the-radar events. In 2005, when Illinois went to the Final Four, Missouri and Illinois held an alumni game at the Savvis Center a few days earlier.

5) Take time off work to watch the conference tournaments.

Every game has huge NCAA implications. Every game is win or go home. Often 3-5 games are on at once and accessible by a standard cable package. Championship week is the whole reason I created this blog.

6) Greet your team at the airport after a huge road win, or attend a pep rally scheduled at the last minute because of an NCAA tournament win.

This one could be easy so perhaps it should be closer to the top of the list, but it assumes the team you are following is actually good enough to celebrate something. That part may be hard.

7) Attend a major conference tournament in its entirety.

On paper, this may seem pretty similar to attending an NCAA tournament event. But it isn’t even close. Attending a conference tournament requires a tremendous amount of stamina.

If you attend the first and second round of the NCAA tournament, you’ll see four games, get a day off to regroup and then go back and see two games. Certainly this requires effort, but this is nothing like seeing the ACC tournament in person. Four games one day, four games the next day, two games the next day, and then the title game?! Trust me, only a truly obsessed fan can make it through the second day without their eyes glazing over.

8) Attend a mid-major conference tournament.

Find out why fans from Hempstead, NY are willing to travel all the way to Richmond, VA to see the Hofstra Pride in action. Find out why fans from Northern Iowa say “Anyone but Southern”, referencing the overwhelming number of Southern Illinois fans that descend on the MVC tournament every year.

9) Read what other writers say and start a blog to document your own experience.

I’m often guilty of being too busy to read and quote other blogs, but that doesn’t mean I don’t read some of the great sports writers who are out there. Along those lines, I was very saddened to return from my trip and hear that Paul Zimmerman, Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated, recently had a stroke. My thoughts are with Dr. Z and his family and I certainly wish him the best.

Dr. Z is one of the few people to keep his own game notes on football games and as such often has the most important All-Pro ratings of any NFL writer. But perhaps the most touching thing he wrote occurred earlier this year. In one of his columns, Dr. Z wrote that he fell asleep during the fourth quarter of a game and woke up to find his wife’s arms around him, continuing to tally his numbers on his personal scorecard. We should all be so blessed to find someone we love who can accept the passion we have for college basketball.

But the other thing that caught my eye was how Bill Simmons referenced Dr. Z’s stroke and how Bill indicated how influential Dr. Z had been on his writing. I’m not sure if it was big picture things: Did Dr. Z’s mentions of his "beautiful redhead" influence Bill to include his wife’s mini-column? Maybe Dr. Z's influence was more subtle than that, but if you are starting out with a blog, there is nothing wrong with learning your style and craft from those who have come before. Today’s column could be called a patented Bill Simmons’ "list column".

Even if only a handful of people read “Yet Another” column, who cares? If you care about college basketball, share your obsession.

10) Attend an eight team early season tournament (Maui, Anaheim, Old Spice, ect.).

This takes an even greater level of stamina because early in the season, the neutral fans don’t know who to cheer for. There is no “seeding” to allow fans to cheer for the clear underdog. But when you can watch a tournament like I just watched where:

i) Wichita State, Michigan St., Tennessee, and Gonzaga brought enough fans to create an NCAA tournament level neutral court atmosphere

ii) The “worst” team, Sienna has three clear stars (Edwin Ubiles, Kenny Hansbrouck, and Alex Franklin) and was incredibly fun to watch

iii) At least 8 of the 12 games were exciting

iv) You get to see a 250 pound high school tuba player dance to “Joy to the World” and end the song by doing the splits

Well folks, you’ll have a great time. I’ll be back with more details on the Old Spice Classic later in the month. For now, my vacation is over and it is time to catch up on the real world.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Turkey or Basketball?

I choose basketball.

CBE Championship Game: Kansas vs Syracuse

Why do I deny myself sleep to watch basketball? Yep, this is why. Big stops, big shots, and overtime.

This was a game in several distinct sections. Early on, Syracuse tried to force the tempo but ended up missing a lot of shots in the paint. I think this was partly because Kansas has decent length, and partly because Syracuse was not judicious in its shot selection. The Orangemen wanted to push the tempo whether the shot was there or not. And by early in the second half, Kansas had built a big enough lead that I posted a column and started packing.

And then Syracuse came back. I'm still not sure how it happened, but I looked back over and saw Andy Rautins make a three pointer to give Syracuse a one point advantage. We've got a game folks. I don't know how it happened, but we've got a game.

But that's when the home court advantage really kicked in for Kansas. Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich scored for Kansas and then Tyrel Reed , who has a weird resemblence to Kirk Hinrich, hit a big three to give Kansas a 61-57 lead and take back all the momentum.

At this point I had written in my column how Syracuse still doesn't have the depth to play an elite team on back to back days, and how the Syracuse jumpers were destined to come up short in crunch time. But not so fast my friend.

There was Arinze Onuaku getting back to back blocks that seemingly took the heart out for Kansas. And there was Paul Harris making one of those "probably should have been goaltending" but it was "too amazing to call it" blocks moments later.

And that's when Jonny Flynn, knowing his team was down by three, exhausted after playing two days in a row, calmly caught the ball on the wing and drained a three pointer to tie the game in the final seconds.

After an Onuaku hook shot in overtime, it was over. Syracuse went on the road and made a statement that they will not be an NCAA bubble team this year. With wins against Florida and Kansas, Syracuse is clearly one of the most exciting teams to watch this year, and that's hard to say as a Hoya fan.

Just a great basketball game all around. And while Kansas may be disappointed in the loss, I saw enough good things from players like Cole Aldrich and the Morris twins to make me believe this team will still be fighting for the Big 12 title this year. Even if this supposedly is a "down year" for Kansas.

CBE Third Place Game: Florida vs Washington

The game was on ESPNU, but wait… ESPN News is bringing us bonus coverage.

“So Bob Knight, Washington is down by 2 points and has the ball, what would you do here? Do you give it to Jon Brockman even though he’s a terrible free throw shooter?”

Knight responds, “I’d have Isaiah Thomas drive the lane and take the shot with about 7 seconds left and I’d have Brockman go to the opposite side.” Note: One of Bob Knight’s big themes is how most rebounds go to the opposite side of the basket.

What happens: Thomas drives the lane, misses the jumper, Brockman collects the weakside rebound, puts up an open lay-up, and misses.

Bob Knight has a long way to go to be a good color commentator. He often describes obvious stuff in painful detail. But he’s also one of the few announcers who cares enough about how teams play to predict a play like that before it happens.

Truthfully, there couldn’t be a bigger contrast in styles than Knight and Dick Vitale. Whereas Dick Vitale cannot bring himself to even call the action in these early season games, Knight is fretting about all the details. Do you want to hear Vitale gushing about Coach K again and ignoring the action, or hear Knight break down the minutiae of how a team should align defensively to stop the out-of-bounds play? I guess the truth is, I’d like something in the middle. But with some polish, Knight has plenty of potential.

Speaking of people getting distracted on tangents, the game was not quite over after Brockman’s missed lay-up. Brockman fouled Florida’s Allan Chaney who went to the line and made only one of two free throws meaning Washington had a chance to tie with a three. But Florida didn’t let Washington get a shot off. Florida gave the foul with 2.5 seconds left and that foul allowed Florida to preserve the win.

Maui Semi #1: Notre Dame vs Texas

Meanwhile, down in Maui, Notre Dame had only 4 team fouls but absolutely refused to get in the face of the Texas shooters and give a foul in the final minute. Jay Bilas spent the final minute of commentary telling them to do so, but Notre Dame was oblivious.

Besides making the other team inbound the ball again and waste time, the great thing about giving a foul in the final minute is that you can go for a steal. And defensive pressure can lead to problems for the other team. But instead Notre Dame sat back and watched Texas calmly make 3 three pointers in the final 40 seconds. Texas almost came back to win, but a final three at the buzzer fell short and Notre Dame won by a point.

Is there a more fun team to watch in the final seconds than Texas? (OK, possibly Baylor). But Abrams and Mason showed that even without DJ Augustin they can still make some clutch shots at the end of the game.

By the way, what was up with the Notre Dame free throws in this game? Notre Dame was just 10 of 21 at the line, and the Irish were the best free throw shooting team in the Big East last year. This led to the following unintentionally hilarious exchange in Luke Harangody’s post game interview. “Luke, what do you have to say about your desire to want the ball in your hands so you can go to the free throw line at the end of the game?” “Uh, well I missed those shots tonight, but we hung on to win anyway."

Is anyone not drooling at the prospect of Harangody and Hansbrough battling it out for a rebound tomorrow night? I sure hope Tyler Hansbrough is healthy enough to play, because I’ve been contemplating whether the universe might explode if Harangody and Hansbrough both want a key rebound late in the game.

Maui Semi #2: Oregon vs North Carolina

Oregon won the tip and Oregon’s Michael Dunigan found himself wide open for a dunk in the lane to open the game. This was possibly the only highlight for Oregon. North Carolina led 51-22 at halftime. I want to point out that UC Santa Barbara only trailed North Carolina by 8 at halftime of last week’s game.

What else can I say here? Why aren’t Jay Bilas and Sean McDonough wearing Hawaiian shirts? Why did Luke Harangody’s dad dye his hair for the early game?

Wednesday Schedule

Notre Dame vs UNC, Title Game
Texas vs Oregon, 3rd Place Game
Alabama vs St. Joe’s, 5th Place Game
Indiana vs Chaminade, The “Indiana can’t lose to Chaminade can they?” game

NIT Semis
Purdue vs Boston College
Oklahoma vs UAB, The “One of my only chances to see Robert Vaden” game

Thursday - Sunday
Old Spice Classic
Anaheim Classic
Legends Classic

I’ll be attending the Old Spice Classic live, but since I’m not getting paid to blog, I’m treating it as a vacation. I need one of those “Out of the Office” icons. Look for some great details in about 10 days or so.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Three Down, Six To Go

Another variation of Gregg Easterbrook’s Sweet and Sour:

Offensive Rebounds are Sweet: With just under 3 minutes to play and the lead widdled to 6 points, Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf missed a jumper, but Paul Harris was left all alone under the basket by the Florida Defense. Harris corralled the rebound, tipped in the basketball, and Syracuse never looked back.

Blocks are Sweet: In the second half of the Wisconsin vs Connecticut game, Joe Krabbenhoft threw the ball up for an alley-oop pass to a teammate and Hasheem Thabeet blocked the alley-oop pass.

Not Having any Veteran Players is Sour: Indiana turned it over 20 times in losing by 38 to in-state rival Notre Dame.

Paradise Jam Title Game

Given my allegiance to other Big East and Big Ten schools, I see a lot of UConn and Wisconsin, and it was fun to see both schools square off. If you watched this game, UConn was clearly much more athletic, Thabeet was changing the game even without scoring a bunch of points, and yet Wisconsin hung in there for three quarters of the game. I’ll never count out a Bo Ryan squad, but I am wondering who is going to step up and be the face of the offense. It seems like they’ve always had some veteran star player (Devin Harris, Alando Tucker, Brian Butch), but who will step up and fill that role this year? I’m not buying Trevon Hughes or Jason Bohannon yet. UConn was more than capable in this one and they join Duke and Xavier as an early season tournament winner.

CBE Semis

I watched a little of Syracuse vs Florida and both teams put on an offensive clinic. A lot of times early in the year, teams can’t score against zone defense, but both Syracuse and Florida practice against the zone on a regular basis, and both offenses absolutely put on a clinic. You saw passes to a man at the top of the free throw line. You saw passes along the base line caught by big men and put in for lay-ups. You saw the teams work the ball around and get wide open three pointers. You saw 25 offensive rebounds (because it is often hard to box out when you play zone), and you saw both teams push it in transition. Perhaps the biggest key to beating the zone was the stellar guard play by both teams. The combination of Eric Devendorf and Jonny Flynn for Syracuse hardly seems fair.

I didn’t stay up for the ending of Kansas vs Washington, but Kansas had the game well in hand. My goodness does Kansas have a lot of new players. Hey, there’s Sherron Collins. Hey, there’s Cole Aldrich. Yeah, that’s all I recognize.

Maui Quarters

The favorites advanced in the first three games, setting up some great semifinal action.

Tuesday's Games

CBE Title Game: Syracuse vs Kansas
CBE 3rd Place Game: Florida vs Washington

Maui Semi #1: Texas vs Notre Dame
Maui Semi #2: UNC vs Oregon/Alabama

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two Down, Seven To Go

Puerto Rico Final: Xavier vs Memphis

How wild is it that one of the most important non-conference games of the season may have been decided by an incidental goaltending violation?

At the 8 minute mark, Xavier led 51-45, but thanks to some suffocating defense by Memphis, Xavier barely got another shot at the basket in the next 6 minutes. Only three free throws allowed Xavier to nurse a 54-53 lead. Then, (and I apologize if I got the names wrong, I had the game on mute in the exercise room), Antonio Anderson accidentally hit the rim on a Dante Jackson shot that clearly wasn’t going to go in. That goaltend, combined with an And-One free throw, gave Xavier the cushion that they would milk to the end.

I’m sure in March this game is going to be mentioned over and over again in discussions about seeding for Xavier and Memphis. And Memphis can thank an out of control bump of the rim for costing them a seed line.

Three other thoughts:

1) How wild is it that Xavier turned to freshman Terrell Holloway to make the free throws in crunch time. Holloway may not be a one-and-done NBA player right now, but he is proving that there are still plenty of impact freshman in college basketball.

2) If these teams re-match in March, I’m guessing the game is in the 80s and not 63-58. It is unfortunate to see two great teams fight so hard and play such ugly offensive basketball. But when you take marginal shooters, great defense, and play a 3rd game in 4 days, this is what you get.

3) You can certainly question the Memphis shot selection. Hey Tyreke Evans (cough, cough), 4 of 17, 1 of 6 from 3 point range is not good. But the thing I’m starting to observe about the DDM is how it really wears the other team’s defense down as the game progresses.

Sure in the first 5 minutes, any good team can defend the drive, but at the end of the first half, most teams start to be a step slow. And that’s when Memphis really dribbles in and gets the easy baskets and fouls. We saw it in the Memphis vs UMass game where Memphis was UGLY in the first 10 minutes, but then started taking it to the basket and scoring more. And we saw it again against Xavier where Memphis trimmed an eight point deficit down to three points before the half, basically by catching Xavier a step slow. Memphis might not quite have the shooters to be a Final Four team yet, but there’s no doubt John Calipari has a system that works.

Elsewhere in Puerto Rico, Missouri beat USC. This was definitely not what USC wanted in this tournament. They went in thinking they might steal a win from Memphis and instead ended up with two losses to unranked BCS teams in Seton Hall and Missouri.

On the other hand Seton Hall got exactly what they wanted. They got two wins against BCS competition (USC on Thursday and Virginia Tech today) and an RPI improving loss to Memphis. That’s a good formula for an NCAA bubble team.

With the Coaches vs Cancer and Puerto Rico Shootout in the books, that still leaves seven fun tournaments this week. Here’s Monday’s slate:

Paradise Jam Title Game
UConn vs Wisconsin

CBE Semis
Florida vs Syracuse
Washington vs Kansas

Maui Quarters
St. Joes vs Texas
Indiana vs Notre Dame
North Carolina vs Chaminade
Oregon vs Alabama

And the NIT, Anaheim, Old Spice, and Legends tournaments are later in the week.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Small Schools, Major Headaches

How good is Mercer this year? First they beat Alabama and Auburn; today they took Georgia Tech to overtime, but lost.

And Gardner Webb isn't that good this year, (they've already lost to Longwood), but the Runnin' Bulldogs nearly pulled another big upset. They led Oklahoma by 5 late in the game before losing by 4. Guards Grayson Flittner and Aaron Linn who combined for 35 in the upset of Kentucky last year combined for 41 in Saturday's loss.

One Down, Eight To Go

Coaches vs Cancer

Is there anything better than coming home on a Friday and seeing a high profile college basketball game already under way? Oh there is. Well I don't care.

What’s with all the once-in-a season plays?
Thursday it was the double dive out of bounds play for Duke. Friday, UCLA pulled off the double behind the back passes en-route to a dunk.

For all the concerns about Duke, UCLA to me looks much more like a POT (perimeter oriented team) this year. When they knock down their threes, as Collison did to break open a close game and put UCLA up for good, they will be almost impossible to stop. But when the jump shot isn’t falling, this can be an ugly looking offensive team.

Part of the problem in this game was that no one on UCLA could make a free throw in the first half, and that can really hurt. The key with bad free throw shooting isn’t that players miss free throws, the key is that those players often become less aggressive because they are afraid of getting fouled.

Once UCLA-Southern Illinois got out of hand, my eyes were wandering in the exercise room and I saw CBS had on that story about the 73 year old who had scored 2 points in a college basketball game. At the time I saw the story, I remember reading this quote: “Seriously, who fouls a 73-year old basketball player? Dude, move your feet a little." But then I saw the CBS feed of the video. Ha, it’s true! I always assumed that someone got called for a cheap hand foul or intentionally fouled him or something, but that’s not what happened. Someone on the opposing team actually got faked out, went airborne, and came down on Ken Mink. Uh, I’m pretty sure when Ken Mink has the ball you don’t need to jump early. That’s hilarious.

Not much to say on the late game between Duke and Michigan. If Duke looked this good against Michigan with little time to prepare for Michigan’s unorthodox style, think how good they are going to look when they re-match in a few weeks.

And with that tournament in the books, there are still 8 more high profile early season tournaments left.

Puerto Rico Tip-Off

Xavier beat Virginia Tech on a half-court buzzer beater. Sweet. And as has been pointed out elsewhere, what a stat-line for Virginia Tech star A. D. Vassalo. He had 10 rebounds, 8 assists, but went 0-6 from three point range and 2 for 13 in the game. And Memphis beat Seton Hall, setting up a Sunday match-up between two of the top non-BCS teams in the country on Sunday. Here’s the Sunday lineup:

Xavier vs Memphis, 1st Place Game
Virginia Tech vs Seton Hall, 3rd Place Game
Missouri vs USC, 5th Place Game

Paradise Jam

The three BCS teams advanced to the semis. But Wisconsin needed overtime against an Iona team that went 2-28 a few years ago. Here are Sunday’s semifinals.

Wisconsin vs San Diego
UConn vs Miami

Friday, November 21, 2008

More on Thursday's Games

After last nights exciting games, I’m thinking I should start some day-by-day coverage of the early season tournaments.

I’ve already recapped Duke’s win over Southern Illinios last night. (And I respectfully disagree with Rush-the-Court’s assessment that Southern’s foul trouble was unwarranted. Yes Southern hasn’t fouled its other opponents very much, but its early opponents weren’t nearly as quick as Duke. It basically looked to me like a game where Duke would drive towards the basket and Southern would foul them every time instead of waiting to see if the shot would be missed.)

Then we had a sensational second game between Michigan and UCLA including the fabulous back-door cut for Michigan at the very end. Still, how many people had to laugh at Vitale jumping to the conclusion that the game was over when the lead was only 5 points. The rampant front-running in his analysis is beyond ridiculous. Most announcers know that dramatic comebacks can happen in college basketball, and you’d think after Billy Packer said the Final Four game was over last year that announcers would be more careful, but not Vitale.

Two other great games were held in Peurto Rico, where Seton Hall beat USC and Xavier beat Missouri. I thought that Xavier might take a step back this season after losing Drew Lavendar, Stanley Burrell, and Josh Duncan to graduation, but CJ Anderson, Derrick Brown, and BJ Raymond still want to make another elite eight run.

Coaches vs Cancer
UCLA vs Southern Illinois, 3rd Place Game
Duke vs Michigan, Championship Game

Puerto Rico
Virginia Tech vs Xavier, Semifinal
Memphis vs Seton Hall, Semifinal
USC vs Chatanooga, Consolation Semifinal
Missouri vs Fairfield, Consolation Semifinal

Paradise Jam
Miami vs Southern Miss, First Round
UConn vs La Salle, First Round
San Diego vs Valparaiso, First Round
Wisconsin vs Iona, First Round

Next Week
Maui, Anaheim, Old Spice, more NIT, Legends, CBE

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Six Thoughts on Duke vs Southern Illinois

Note: I watched the second half on mute while running on the treadmill in our apartment’s exercise room.

-Hustle play of the year
Singler dives out of bounds under the basket to save the ball, nearly throws it out again towards the Duke bench but Henderson dives out of bounds too. Henderson saves the ball a second time and by now Singler has hustled back into the lane and Singler deflects the ball to another Duke player who gets fouled. Folks, Coach K doesn’t just get good players, he gets good players to play hard. This is why I love college basketball.

-Taking flopping to a new level
Mullins of Southern Illinois drove the lane and passed to a big man and then ran out of bounds under the basket to avoid contact. One of the Duke players followed him out of bounds and tried to draw a charge 3 feet outside the out-of-bounds line. Who knew you could flop out of bounds?

-Wow does Gerald Henderson look ripped. If you ignored skill level and experience and just picked the out one guy on the floor who looks like he can physically dominate an opponent, that’s Gerald Henderson this year. And Paulus still looks like the walk-on.

-The game was basically over when Southern Illinois got called for an intentional foul on Singler in the second half. But they really got their money’s worth. Singler who was dunking was flipped 180 degrees and nearly landed on his head. Scary moment for Duke fans but he popped back up.

-Carlton Fay is just an unfortunate name. I mean besides all the obvious problems with the last name Fay, did his parents have to go and name him Carlton?

-Southern Illinois refused to give Duke any open looks, but eventually just fouled out of the game. I’ve seen this before. Sometimes a team just takes the mentality that they refuse to give any open looks and then they give away the game at the free throw line. I’m sure Duke haters will say the free throw disparity was unfair, but I’m pretty sure Southern earned that free throw disparity tonight.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why am I actually watching a game at Midnight?

Watching the opening minutes of UMass vs Memphis, I can only come to one conclusion. That DDM offense sure worked better with Rose and CDR. To be fair, as the game has progressed, Memphis is looking a lot better.

OK, the real reason I'm still up is because I'm typing a player-by-player recap of the Georgetown game. This makes no sense. I really don’t want to make this a “Georgetown” blog. That’s what HoyaSaxa does. But since Georgetown only has 4 returning players, one who was injured most of the previous year, and when the opener is a four point game in the final minutes, you get a long recap.

Meet the Hoyas


Omar Wattad: Oh my god, why is the 8th or 9th man in our rotation taking so many threes and missing them all? Wattad was 0-5 from three-point range and when you chip in questionable threes by several other Hoyas, bad shot selection kept Jacksonville in the game until the end. And it is too bad Wattad has no shot because he was really moving his feet defensively and trying to replace Jeremiah Rivers. Wait, Rivers was a terrible three-point shooter. Maybe he is Rivers.

Austin Freeman: You know the scene in Jerry Maguire where the WR gets knocked out in the endzone and decides to milk the crowd reaction? That was Austin Freeman in this game. Freeman who was clearly suffering from leg cramps took two of the most overly dramatic free-throws I have ever seen. He spent 5 minutes fighting to straighten his legs and then calmly went to the line. Also, as part of his 5 minute dramatic pause, he looked over to the sideline for a sub, but when he saw Wattad coming to the scorers table to replace him, I think he just decided to suffer and do it himself. He gave the second free throw a look like, “You better go in because I’m checking out of the game.”

Nikita Mescheriakov: When he checked in earlier than Henry Sims and played more minutes, I was seriously bummed.

Henry Sims: Sigh. 2 minutes, no faith by the coaching staff. Well, it is early.


Julian Vaughn: Appeared to have the immobility of Roy Hibbert (due to a leg injury), but played terrific defense. The Hoyas need minutes in the post and someone (Mescheriakov, Sims, or Vaughn) is going to provide a lot of fouls and very few points.

DaJuan Summers: People expect Summers to become the next Jeff Green. That’s tough. And I think it was Seth Davis over the summer who said that he thought Summers was not developing. My philosophy is that Summers is a guard (or at best a wing) being asked to play power forward for the Hoyas. And it just isn’t a good fit for him. But he redeemed his mediocre rebounding and post-defense with some incredible offensive athleticism in crunch time.

Jessie Sapp: The lone senior did his thing.

Jason Clark: With Freeman injured and ineffective and Wattad just ineffective, Clark got to play at the end of the game. He handled the ball well and calmly made his free throws. Not bad for a freshman. He even hustled and got three rebounds from the guard position.


Chris Wright: Wright may not be the best player on the Hoyas, but I think he has the most potential. He’s a true PG (which Wallace really was not) and he has an incredible feel for the flow of the game. Uggh, I need to stop before I jinx his season. Key Point: At the end of the game when it was still close, he called his teammates together for a huddle after the huddle with JT3. As long as his teammates accept him in the role, Chris Wright is ready to be the leader of the Hoyas.

Greg Monroe: He’s no Michael Beasley, but you can see why he was a McDonald’s All-American. I liked what I saw and I want to see more.

Bottom line:

When you’ve watched enough championship caliber teams, you know when you don’t have one. But that’s not really fair. This was the opening game for a very young team (one senior, one junior, only four returning players).

Watching the team give up so many offensive rebounds gives me concern, but the defense played extremely well otherwise and if the Hoyas can play good defense, they can have a good season.

Truthfully, the only reason Jacksonville stayed in this game was because Georgetown had a horrible night shooting, missing a ton of wide open shots. Freeman was clearly dehydrated all game and it contributed to a 1-10 game from the field and Wattad won’t get a chance to repeat an 0-5 game. Assuming JT3 can bring the offense along, the Hoyas will be formidable by February. But they are also going to lose some games early; they may even lose to Drexel on Saturday.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Folks, the opening week just got its big story. VMI just beat Kentucky.

The blog world is going to be all over this since VMI has been a stat-geek darling. They had the fastest pace in the nation two years ago and second fastest pace last year.

The regular media is going to be all over this because of the whole Gardner-Webb part II angle.

What's the over-under on the number of times the ESPN crew says "Billy Gillespie" and "Hot Seat" in the same sentence this season?

What's the over-under on the number of people who claim that Kentucky is not an NCAA team only to be burned when they go 12-4 in SEC play?

How long until someone says, "Hey that team just got VMI'd?"

Monday, November 10, 2008


Yep, Greg Paulus was not in the starting lineup for Duke’s season opener. But like most of you, I don’t have ESPNU, so I don’t have anything relevant to say about the game.

For those of you checking in for the first time this fall, click here for the basketball preview I wrote a few weeks ago. I didn’t even pick a national champion because, quite frankly, it is impossible to pick anyone other than North Carolina with a straight face. But if you want a team-by-team list of the early season tournaments, it is worth a quick look.

Meanwhile, Rush the Court has been churning out just a ton of fantastic material, and I wanted to make sure two stories didn’t get lost in the archive.

1) The ACC is proposing putting limits on the drawn-out NBA early entry process. Rush-the-Court points out one potential benefit for the Duke’s and UNC’s of the world with this rule: They can use the early deadline to make scholarship offers to additional players if needed.

While this may be the main reason, I view the legislation another way. Coaches like Bob Huggins, John Calipari, and Tim Floyd freely tell their players that if they want to go to the NBA or test the NBA waters, they fully support that decision. They can support the individual over the team because they know they need individual success to have success. Meanwhile, if a player asks Coach K if Coach K will support his decision to test the NBA waters, Coach K will honestly have to say that he does not. (See Josh McRoberts.) He values players who want to get an education and he values the player development that comes from staying in school.

In a way, I view this legislation as a way to close a recruiting advantage that the Huggins and Floyds of the world have over Coach K by de-emphasizing a process that Duke abhors.

2) Rush the Court also posted the Vegas odds. I’m no fan of gambling on college athletics, but if you believe in betting markets, you have to believe these guys do a pretty good job of incorporating all the relevant information (returning players, prized recruits, coaching ability, ect.) And whenever a ranking differs from the Vegas odds, it is worth asking the question as to why.

In the case of the Rush the Court article, it is fairly clear that the AP poll is not doing a very good job of picking the national champ, and that may be true for a number of reasons. One key reason may be the variance/mean aspect of a national champ. Florida has an exceptionally young team (basically all sophomores and freshman) including a McDonald’s All-American point guard in Nick Calathes. Because of this youth, the expected outcome (or mean outcome) for the Gators may not be that high, AP #19. But because of the youth and talent, Florida probably has a greater upside than many of the other teams and is the 3rd most likely to win a national championship.

In contrast, Pittsburgh is a pretty good bet to have a sensational season and compete for the Big East title, AP #5. But Pitt is also a pretty low variance team. Pitt relies on solid defense and Jamie Dixon’s ability to develop a strong bench year-after-year, not on supremely talented players. And as such the ceiling for Pitt may be a little lower.

Basically while Florida may be a first round bust or National Title contender, Pitt is a fairly good bet to lose in the Elite Eight this year.
Along those same lines, Vegas likes Past Final Four coaches with young Talent (Georgetown and Ohio St.) a whole lot more than the AP top 25. Meanwhile the AP loves Gonzaga who is almost certain to have a fantastic regular season, but will continue to remain an unlikely pick to win it all.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

College Football Around the Horn Part 2

Big East

I feel a patented Bill Simmons reader letter coming on. "Dan, I put my money in the stock market, watched it crash, took my money out, saw it raise 500 points, put my money back in, and watched it fall 800 points again. Is there a sporting analogy for this?"

Yes, made-up reader, this would be called being a West Virginia fan this weekend. West Virginia was getting blown out by Cincinnati and most of the fans left. Then, after an on-side kick and 52 yard field goal, many of them returned to see their team lose again in overtime. West Virginia's record reads 6-3, but it really feels like 6-4.

You know, despite all the crazy geographies that conference re-alignments have caused, the Big East could actually be settled within a few miles. Call it the Ohio River rivalry, well except they aren't all on the Ohio River. Call it the I-70 rivalry. Except, they aren't really on I-70. Eh, West Virginia, Pittburgh, and Cincinnati, three teams that are close enough to hate each other.

All three of these teams are tied for first and Pittsburgh vs Cincinnati and Pittsburgh vs West Virginia are coming up soon.

Big 12

A few weeks ago I labeled Colt McCoy as the "aw-shucks" QB of the Big 12. Last night, I annointed Graham Harrell the "geeky band-freak" QB of the Big 12. Seriously, in his post game interview on ESPN, Harrell's voice cracked approximately 7 times.

So let's look at the scenarios. If Texas Tech beats Oklahoma in two weeks, they clinch a spot in the Big 12 title game. (Even if Texas Tech lost to Baylor, they would still hold head-to-head tiebreakers against Texas and Oklahoma.)

But if Oklahoma wins, ESPN will have adequately filled its programming for the next three weeks. We will be told the following over and over again.

There is a three way tie for first.
Texas beat Oklahoma
Texas Tech beat Texas
Oklahoma beat Texas Tech

Kirk Herbstreit's head may or may not explode.

Obviously, the easy outcome will occur if one of those teams loses one of the other games. For example, if Oklahoma loses to Oklahoma St, we’ll have a two-way tie for first with the obvious tie-breaker. But if all three teams remain tied with one loss at the end of the season, then the tie-breaker is actually pretty simple: The BCS Standings.

But wait a minute? Who will the BCS standings put at the front of this group? The computers may like Oklahoma’s win against TCU and the poll-voters may like the fact that Oklahoma lost earlier than the other two. But style points could be huge here. What if Oklahoma barely beats Oklahoma St. in the finale after Texas Tech crushed Oklahoma St. Will that sway some voters? And what about the fact that Texas didn’t get a true home game against either team and lost at the last second to Texas Tech? Again, the BCS standings are the tie-breaker, but who knows how the voters are going to sort it out.

Let the debate begin.

And of course, once that is sorted out, then there will still be the question of which team is second of the three teams. Which additional team should be considered for an at-large BCS slot? And as we saw with Kansas-Missouri last year, head-to-head records may have no bearing on who is chosen to be the second best team from the conference by the committee that organizes the bowl.

But barring a loss to the North winner in the Big 12 title game, the Big 12 South should produce a participant in the BCS title game and a BCS at-large bid. We just don’t know who yet.

Speaking of the Big 12 North, you may have circled Missouri-Kansas on your calendar, but you probably shouldn’t have. If Missouri beats Iowa St this week (probably should say when, not if), and if Texas beats Kansas (also highly likely), Missouri will clinch the Big 12 North.


Alabama and Florida have clinched spots in the SEC title game, and many view it as a defacto national championship semifinal. Also of note, the loser of the Alabama/Florida game has probably locked up an at-large BCS bid. Sometimes the loser of the SEC title game gets jumped by another deserving team from the SEC, but I don’t see that happening this year. The only other SEC team with 2 losses is Georgia and it would be pretty shocking for them to jump either of those teams in the pecking order after the way Georgia lost to those teams.

Still if I’m a CBS exec trying to sell ad space over the next few weeks, I will say this: Alabama and Florida may have locked up SEC slots, but they haven’t locked up a top slot in the BCS standings. If Florida loses to former coach Steve Spurrier or rival Florida St., the SEC title game may no longer be a defacto national championship semifinal for them.


Oregon St. could actually play a crazy role in the BCS. If they win all their remaining games, they would hold the tie-breaker against USC and would play in the Rose Bowl. But given that Oregon St. finishes with California, Arizona, and Oregon (aka the other good teams in the conference), that isn’t going to happen.

USC will coast to another Rose Bowl bid, and not even a win over Notre Dame can move them up enough in the BCS standings to change that. OK, to be fair, USC has two clear paths to the national title game. 1) Missouri wins the Big 12 title game. Some poll voters have this funny requirement that a team should win its conference to play in the national title game, and this is the only way to boot a Big 12 team. 2) Alabama or Florida lose prior to the SEC title game and then win the SEC title game. Hey, stranger things have happened.

Random Note: Watch out for Arizona St. After losing an embarrassing 6 games in a row, the Sun Devils finish with Washington St. (cupcake), UCLA (struggling), and Arizona (rival), and might just get a bowl bid after all.

Big 10

Who knew? Penn St. vs Michigan St. is the game of the year?

Well, if Penn St. wins out, they go to the Rose Bowl.
If Ohio St. wins out and Penn St. loses, Ohio St. goes to the Rose Bowl.
And if Michigan St. beats Penn St. and Ohio St. loses a game, Michigan St. goes to the Rose Bowl.

The Big Ten might even get two BCS bids if two teams are tied for first, but I wouldn't count on it. Nor would I count on Penn St. getting back into the national title picture. Penn St. can get back into the national title picture, but only in the scenario I outlined for USC above.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing to watch the next two weeks is whether Michigan loses again. If the Wolverines lose one more game, they will have lost the most games in school history. Wow.


I don't have "The Mountain" or CSTV or whatever channel aired the Utah-TCU game. Chances are that you don't have that channel either. So you probably watched the same cribbed together highlights by ESPN that made Utah look like a lucky bufoon to beat TCU. So Boise St. will probably move / stay / be ahead of the Utah in the next BCS Standings. Or they won't. I don't care.

The only interesting question is whether the MWC will finish ahead of the Big East in the major polls. And with 3 Top 25 teams, and an Air Force team with only two losses and big upcoming games against BYU and TCU, can the MWC really get 4 teams in the top 25? Tune into "the Mountain" and find out. Doh.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

College Football Around the Horn

Let’s take a look around the BCS leagues.

Want a scenario where the ACC still gets two BCS bids? Read on to find out how.


What would you say to Florida St. vs North Carolina, Bobby Bowden vs Butch Davis, one more time, but this time for the ACC title? Since returning to the ACC, Davis has yet to face the Seminoles, and given the rivalry he had with Florida St. when he coached at Miami, this is the one potential ACC title game match-up that I might tune in to watch.

Certainly, it has to be more appealing than Wake Forest beating Georgia Tech 9-6 in the rain in 2006. (There was rain right? Or was it just a horrible game?) And even though a few people liked the 2007 rematch of the Matt Ryan comeback game, Virginia Tech vs Boston College, I think the television rating pretty much spoke for itself. On a day when the SEC and Big 12 title games are going to have huge national title implications, the ACC title game is going to need something special to get people to tune in. And I think a little Butch Davis-Bobby Bowden rivalry might be just what the conference needs.

Still, with six teams with 2 losses in conference play, and three more teams with 3 losses, this game is no lock to happen. Let’s break it down:

Atlantic Division

Maryland (2 losses) – Left: North Carolina, Florida St., Boston College
Wake Forest (2 losses) – Left: NC State, Boston College, NONCONF: Vanderbilt
Florida St. (2 losses) – Left: Boston College, Maryland, NONCONF: Florida
Boston College (3 losses) – Left: Florida St., Wake Forest, Maryland

Tiebreakers: Maryland beat Wake Forest, Wake Forest beat Florida St.

Even after the uninspired loss to Virginia Tech on Thursday night, Maryland controls their own destiny. If they win out, they’ll have beaten Florida St. and they hold the tiebreaker over Wake, so they’ll make the ACC title game. Who would have thought that when they lost to Middle Tennesse St.? Still, Maryland might not be favored in any of the remaining games. That “control your own destiny” thing really only works when you win.

Wake Forest is probably in the poll position. NC State is one of the few bad teams in the ACC this year, and if Wake wins the next two games, they only need Maryland to lose once to ensure another trip to the ACC title game. Still, Wake Forest brings possibly the worst TV ratings of any of the options, so let’s hope not.

Even if Florida St. makes it to the title game, they’ll probably have 3 losses overall, since I think Florida would beat them by 2 TDs right about now. But a 3 loss Florida St. team is still more appealing than Wake Forest.

Boston College also controls their own destiny with games against the top 3 teams in the Atlantic. But I’ll believe it when I see it.

Coastal Division

Virginia Tech (2 losses) – Left: Miami, Duke, Virginia
North Carolina (2 losses) – Left: Maryland, NC State, Duke
Miami (2 losses) – Left: Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, NC State
Georgia Tech (3 losses) – Left: Miami, NONCONF: Georgia
Virginia (3 losses) – Left: Clemson, Virginia Tech

Tiebreakers: Virginia Tech beat North Carolina, North Carolina beat Miami

Also: Virginia Tech beat Georgia Tech, North Carolina beat Georgia Tech, Virginia beat North Carolina, Miami beat Virginia

Virginia Tech might not go to a BCS bowl this year, but if you’ve followed the team, it is clear that this is Frank Beamer’s best performance as a coach. His team lost to East Carolina early in the year, and quite frankly looks like it has a lot less talent than some of his ACC competition. And yet two big comebacks over Georgia Tech and North Carolina in September, both 20-17, proved that sometimes an elite coach can find a way to win. Injuries to the top two QBs have hurt the team (although Sean Glennon played admirably on Thursday night), and I don’t see them making it to the ACC title game, but for this team to control its own destiny at this point in the season, is nothing short of remarkable.

If North Carolina can beat Maryland this week, which I believe they will, they should be able to crush NC State and Duke. Then the only thing to do will be to watch whether Virginia Tech loses a game.

Note that the ACC can still get two bids to the BCS. If North Carolina and Virginia Tech win out, and a 2-loss North Carolina does not get an invitation to the ACC title game, North Carolina will probably finish in the top 16 of the BCS. After the 6 auto bids, a bid for a non-BCS team, and the second bid for the Big 12 and SEC, there’s a decent chance that North Carolina will be the most attractive at-large candidate available. I admit it is a long shot, but it could happen.

I’m not sold on Miami winning out yet, but the loss to their former coach will probably prevent them from reaching the ACC title game this year.

Georgia Tech probably blew their opportunity by losing to North Carolina this week, but a win against Georgia might be a way to get back in the conversation for the Chic-fil-a or Gator Bowl.

4-0: Virginia’s record in October
1-5: Virginia’s record in all other months. Enough said.

Final Note on the Coastal: Duke can officially kiss any chance it had of a bowl game away after losing at home to NC State.

More on the other conferences in a bit.

I am Officially Grumpy

As I indicated in last week’s post, I have not been diluted into thinking that this year’s Gopher football team is any good. But given the ample evidence that this year’s Michigan team is also horrible, I at least thought Minnesota would be competitive today. And given that in my lifetime, Minnesota has never beaten Michigan at home, I was at least somewhat hopeful that this would be the year.

Boy was I wrong. Honestly, I really hope for Tim Brewster’s sake that no recruits were watching this game, because this was by far the most pathetic performance I have seen by a team with a winning record.

On Minnesota’s first 8 drives, the Gophers gained 1 first down. The rest were 3 and outs. To put it another way, 4 and out was the best Minnesota did in the first half.

Meanwhile, on Michigan’s first 8 drives, Michigan got 1 TD, 4 FGs, and turned it over once in the redzone. If it were not for Michigan’s general ineptness, they might have been leading 42-0.

Watching SportsCenter last year, I heard Kirk Herbstreit make the comment that certain teams are destined to collapse and have a horrible finish to the season. He was referring to Michigan St. at the time, and the Spartans have actually finished strong this year. But his comment remains true for Minnesota. I think it is pretty clear that Minnesota is going to lose by 21 to Wisconsin next week, lose a closer game at home to Iowa and head into a bowl game with a 4 game losing streak.

Note to announcers: You sound like idiots when you say Minnesota is playing for a New Year’s day bowl, you really do.

The knock against Glen Mason was that Minnesota couldn’t win in November or go to a New Year’s Day bowl. Tim Brewster is about to learn, that losing in November is a school tradition.

Again, you may ask how this loss can be so crushing. I’d certainly rather be a Minnesota Gopher fan than a Washigton St. fan or a Syracuse fan.

But the key is the “levels of excitement” that I introduced in the last post. This was a drop game. While the loss to Northwestern kept me firmly rooted at level 3, the complete lack of competitiveness shown by the Gophers in this game against a bad team, dropped my level of excitement from a 3 to a 2, and possibly down to a 1.

Oh well, basketball starts on Monday. What? The only game is on ESPNU. I hate ESPNU. OK, I’m still grumpy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Welcome to November!

I’ve begun to subscribe to the theory that I hate big comebacks. (**Unless they involve Illinois or Georgetown making it to the Final Four.**) The reality is that bad teams don’t get to make big comebacks. Only great teams get to make big comebacks.

And there was Texas once again on Saturday staking claim to the fact that they are a great team, coming back from down 19 late in the first half. We’ve seen it before with Texas and Oklahoma St. We’ve seen it before with Texas and Texas Tech. Texas is the better team and they get to have the dramatic comeback from down 3 TDs. But not tonight.

Texas Tech, a team built to pass and come-from-behind, saved a little bit of magic for the final minutes. While watching Colt McCoy drive for the go-ahead score I was thinking to myself, “Texas Tech can’t win this game with a big defensive play. They have to win by scoring on the final drive.” An lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened.

Seriously, if you were playing NCAA Football 09, what was the greatest score on that game?

Speaking of video games, what about that final drive? How could Texas Tech never spike the ball? They just kept snapping it and passing and snapping and passing. The only time I’ve ever seen anything like that is on the Playstation.

But time kept ticking off the clock. Sure Texas Tech might be in range for a 50 yard field goal, but what were the odds of that? And then the interception! It had to be an interception right? Brent Musberger wasn’t the only person who thought it was a pick. “@#$%@$%& I knew Texas was going to win. Whhhaaa? The pick was dropped?”

And then the play. So much could have gone wrong. The pass could have been incomplete. Time could have expired. But no, Michael Crabtree made the play of the year-to-date, spinning out of a tackle and running the ball into the endzone. And Texas Tech upset Texas. That’s why we watch sports.

Gopher Loss

Elsewhere this weekend, Minnesota lost when WR Eric Decker, leading the Big Ten in receiving, had a ball ricochet off his hands and get returned for a TD. To understand the ramifications of this loss, we have to break out a scale:

Levels of Excitement:

1) Wow, we’re not even competitive. I can’t root against our team in principle, but I sure hope we get a new head coach. My favorite part of the game is garbage time. Sometimes we score.

2) At least we’re competitive, but we have no idea how to win a ball game. It used to hurt, but I’m used to it now.

3) Eh, we’ve beaten some teams, but you can tell we’re still not very good. If we played a top 10 team, we’d get blown out.

4) Holy cow, we might actually have a good team this year. I think we have a chance against a top 10 team.

5) Wow, I know I shouldn’t do it, but I’m calculating the odds of a championship.

6) We should win. On paper, we’re the best team.

Level 6 is fun, but not as fun as some of the others. At level 6 you find yourself saying things like: “We should have beat them by more than 14.” “I didn’t think we played well at the start of the game. We actually fell behind. I guess you forget the game starts at 0-0. I’m so used to us being ahead.” That’s not to say level 6 isn’t fun, it just isn’t as fun as some of the other levels. Level 4 and 5 are probably the best.

I’m currently at level 3 with the Gophers. The nice thing about level 3 is that it doesn’t really hurt to lose, even in heart-breaking fashion. That’s because you know your team isn’t very good.

So even though I’ve never seen an interception return to break a tie and win a game at the end of regulation, it doesn’t even rank in the top 10 worst losses for Minnesota in the last decade. (See rushing for 300 against Michigan and Wisconsin and blowing 4th quarter leads for better examples. I was actually at level 4 in those seasons.)

The great thing about the excitement scale is that I can always tell when it changes within a season. You always know the game.

For example, the greatest Minnesota jump of all time happened when Randy Moss went to Lambeau field as a rookie. The Vikings jumped from a level 3 to a level 5 in a few quarters. It doesn’t get any better than that.

When Illinois and DeRon Williams hosted Wake Forest and Chris Paul during the Final Four season, that win was clearly a jump from level 4 to 5.

This year, the Vikings actually fell from a 4 to a 3 during a win. It occurred during the New Orleans game when Minnesota won, but everything good was a total fluke. The only reasonable conclusion to draw was that the Vikings were not a legitimate contender.

There are more examples, but I’ll leave it at that. And while the Gophers defeat came in memorable fashion, remember they’ve lost to Northwestern on a hail mary in the last decade, so again, I'm barely fazed by this.

People who are more crushed this weekend: Louisville fans, Notre Dame fans, Florida St. fans, and the list rolls on.