Sunday, February 28, 2010

Random Thoughts

Rutgers is 5-3 in their last 8 Big East games, 6-3 in their last nine overall.

I continue to complain that California’s defense is terrible (adjusted defensive efficiency of 86th in the country through Friday). But on Saturday, in their last best chance to impress the NCAA tournament committee, California held Arizona St. to 4 points in the final 11 minutes of the game.

Thanks to the high tempo of the game, Villanova’s 33 fouls isn’t as bad as it sounds. In fact, the 44.6 free throw rate is relatively low for a Villanova loss.

Minnesota has blown big games all season and Illinois has come back all season. So no surprise that Minnesota couldn’t hold a 19 point lead in the final 7:11 against Illinois. Luckily for the Gophers, Illinois missed a potential game-tying shot as time expired.

Notre Dame only had an offensive rebounding rate of 40%, but it was much higher in the first ten minutes. Georgetown could live with the fact that Notre Dame was shooting lights out, but when the Hoyas weren’t rebounding the rare misses, that was the nail in the coffin. Georgetown's Austin Freeman had a terrible game thanks to an illness. That only seemed fair given the injury to Notre Dame's Luke Harangody. But the illness is terrible timing when you consider that Georgetown has to go to Morgantown to play West Virginia on Monday.

The Tennessee – Kentucky game was only slightly more up-tempo than the first encounter. Tennessee just made about 5 more shots in the re-match. Perhaps I’m na├»ve to expect a high tempo game between these teams at this point. Tennessee has used pressure defense and chaos much less frequently the last two seasons, and they’ve seen their tempo fall from the top 20 to the 70’s. But I keep flashing back to Tennessee vs Memphis, Pearl vs Calipari, from Dec in the 2006-2007 season which was a 74 possession, crazy statement game by Bruce Pearl’s team.

Polls mean nothing as Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim emphasized after the game. But Syracuse will almost certainly jump to number one with Kansas and Kentucky losing. But if Syracuse had lost, could Purdue have moved to number one even with the Hummel injury? Poll voters tend to have these stupid rules about moving teams up unless they lose, so I would have loved to have seen what they did. As is, Syracuse will almost certainly jump Purdue, regardless of what happens to Purdue tomorrow.

Wake Forest lost at home to North Carolina - That’s a pretty bad loss. Who thought they could ever type that? Along those same lines, Oregon won at USC and UCLA this week. And the Ducks are still having a terrible year? In what universe can Oregon pick up those wins and have a terrible year?

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Sounds of March

What? Did the former Big Ten Wonk violate his historic rule and talk about announcers today? Actually, I think the historic rule would be better stated like this. Complaining about announcers is dull. Grading announcers can be good. I really miss SI’s Dr. Zimmerman’s grading the NFL guys at the end of the season.

There was actually a great piece on announcers in last week’s Sports Illustrated profiling Al Michaels and Bob Costas. (I still get the paper copy of SI. I know, I’m crazy that way.) The part I liked was a quote from Jim Nantz. He says it is much harder to call a game by staying out of the spotlight, than to take the spotlight. In some ways, people may view this as a knock on Gus Johnson. And I’ll agree that Gus Johnson and Kevin Harlan often impose their voice on the game. But I don’t think tone is critical. You can be a good announcer whether you are vocal or laid-back.

I think the biggest key for any announcers is incredibly simple. They have to react honestly and genuinely. This is why Verne Lundquist and Dick Enberg are so under-rated. They manage to show appropriate and genuine interest and excitement in every game they call.

And this is what gets other people in trouble. There are basically two parts to this. First, you have to care about the game. Over the course of a season, it is hard not to have a game or two where you phone it in, but look at the excitement in the student section. If you can't muster some honest interest in the game's outcome, you shouldn't be calling the game.

Second, you have to hold off on the hyperbole. Does anyone remember when baseball announcer Tony Schiavone used to call wrestling matches for TBS? Every show was the biggest and most exciting show of all-time. Every main event was the biggest main event of all-time. When you try to call something like that, even a fake sport, it wears thin pretty quick. You have to give the fans credit for being smart. They understand what is a key moment and what is not.

And whether you call it calmly like Dick Enberg, “Oh my!” or dramatically like Kevin Harlan “Up-high, down hard”, it only works when you care and when the reaction is real.

Update: By the way, I've already received some mocking for my Tony Schiavone reference. All I can say is this. If you were in a college dorm in the late 90's, there's a good chance you know who he is.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Purdue's Nightmare Night

Reason #716 why I hate zone defense: Good teams always seem to beat zone defense in crunch time. Minnesota could not stop Purdue at all on Tuesday when playing man-to-man, but after Robbie Hummel went down, the zone was amazingly effective. But with about 5 minutes left, Purdue started heating up from the outside. Minnesota tried to switch back to man-to-man, but after a couple of possessions, it was clear the man-to-man wasn’t going to work. So Minnesota settled on zone for the final two minutes, and what happens? Keaton Grant shoots over the zone, Minnesota can’t make any stops, and Purdue wins.

There’s no question Purdue probably wins this game easily if Hummel plays the whole game. His absence completely changed the momentum. But I think this game exposed a few other flaws in Purdue that have been mentioned in recent games. First, Purdue has absolutely no depth in the paint behind JaJuan Johnson. I never thought I’d say this, but this team misses Nemanja Calasan. Patrick Bade is not ready to play in crunch time with the season on the line. Now against Minnesota, Chris Kramer is so versatile that he was able to defend the painted area, but that’s not going to work against some stronger NCAA tournament teams.

Second, Minnesota did a great job exposing Purdue’s defense in the second half, and other teams can watch this film and try to use some of this. Purdue was getting out and over-playing the basketball, defending beyond the three point line. That’s a great recipe for good defense, but it also leaves lanes open for players to cut to the basket. Minnesota exposed that in the second half with some great no-look passes and drives. What I kept thinking is that Georgetown would be a horrible match-up for Purdue right now. I admittedly did not watch the Northwestern upset over Purdue earlier this year, but I have to think they did some of the same things with back-cuts. If a team overplays you have to punish them, just like if a team tries full court pressure you have to punish them.

For all the talk of Minnesota playing 10 or 11 guys, in a game they had to have, Minnesota played a rotation of basically 6 players.

Robbie Hummel’s loss was just heart-breaking. I’m admittedly a Minnesota fan, but there was no joy in seeing Hummel go down.

Again, I had no expectation that Minnesota would win this game, despite what the Pomeroy numbers said. Minnesota has not been as efficient in Big Ten play. But this season has just been a series of heart-breaking losses for Gophers fans. They lost a late-game 13 point lead to Michigan St and lost by 1 point; they lost a late-game 13 point lead to Northwestern and lost in overtime; they lost a second half 9 point lead to Purdue and lost by 1 point.

How much does Minnesota miss having Al Nolen as a defensive option down the stretch? Minnesota’s defense had fallen off this season before the Nolen academic suspension, but I have to wonder if he might have earned a game clinching steal in this one.

As an opposing fan, I am really not going to miss Chris Kramer. He’s just one of the all-time glue guys. He just makes winning plays all the time. Statistics will never tell the story of a guy like Chris Kramer and that’s why I love basketball. There really are some things you have to see in person to understand. (OK, maybe some sort of +/- metric like they use with Shane Battier, but you get my point.)

Thanks to Marquette winning a couple of overtime games, I’m waiting for Pomeroy to update his luck numbers this morning. Minnesota is not going to catch Penn St., or a surging unlucky Alabama team, but Marquette is coming back to the pack.

Again, I know margin-of-victory is important, but is there any question, winning games matters too? If Minnesota holds wins over Michigan St. and Purdue instead of losing by 1 in each game, don’t you have a different impression of this team?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Last 11+, What’s Left, Why the Outrage?

Bubble talk is ubiquitous. So rather than add to the monotony, I want to point to a few links, do a few unique things, and then get out of the way. First, Andy Cox’s team sheets are available again this year. These replicate the type of information that is presented to the NCAA committee when comparing teams. If you want to compare two teams head-to-head, click on the at-large tab, then click on the individual team name to see the team sheet. If you want a higher level summary of the Nitty Gritty numbers for free, I recommend Warren He has a few discrepancies from the official NCAA feed. For example, as of Monday he listed UTEP with only one neutral site game, while the NCAA lists two. (These annoyances are why Ken Pomeroy got out of the RPI business.) But Nolan updates extremely frequently and he’s a must-reference for your RPI top 50 and RPI top 100 stats. I add two handy references to this list:

1) Last 11+

My tracker came about because I find it dumb that most web sites list the last 12 as of today. What I care about is what the last 12 is going to look like at the end of the season. My tracker lists the order of wins in the last 11 regular season games, assuming you’ll play at least one game in the conference tournament. If you lose your first conference tournament game, tack an L on the end. If you win your first conference tournament game, erase the first letter and keep adding to the end.

So let’s say you are a fan of Arizona St. (And if you are, sorry the Pac-10 sucks this year.) Your case for a bid is that you’ve improved as the season has worn on. Even though you started the last 11+ with an L, if you win a game in the conference tournament, you can erase that L. By winning some in the Pac-10 tournament, Arizona St. could be in the at-large discussion with a 10-2 season finish.

On the other hand, Arizona can’t remove its losses from the last 12. At best if they lose in the conference tournament, Arizona will be 7-5 in the last 12. That’s just not going to cut it in a weak Pac-10 this year. Arizona probably had too horrible a profile anyhow, but those recent losses make it impossible.

(One final tangent, I intended to write about USC which has two L’s at the start of the last 12. But USC isn’t playing in the Pac-10 tournament or the NCAA tournament this year. Doh! That’s too bad because USC could make an interesting test case. USC has a crazy 8-3 record against the top 100, but they have 7 bad losses. The product of no offense and fabulous defense is tremendous inconsistency. I was just warming up to the possibility that USC was on the bubble when I remembered the post-season ban.)

2) Best Three RPI Wins

This is a handy reference if you want to argue with people. Why is Georgetown getting the love? They beat RPI #2, 8, and 9. But Pitt should get similar love after beating #4, 5, and 8. On the other hand, Mississippi St.’s best win at this point is #41 Old Dominion. That’s why they were out of Joe Lunardi’s bracket on Monday.

This also helps to remind us of the key non-conference victories. Did you remember that Purdue beat West Virginia and Tennessee? What about St. John’s wins over Temple and Siena?

The chart below is through Sunday’s games. (So you can add UConn’s win over West Virginia manually if you want.) Scroll to the right to see all the columns. I’ll update this at the start of championship week.

What’s Left?

With two weeks left in the regular season, who can still help themselves and hurt themselves? The next table lists the number of RPI top 50 and RPI top 100 opponents left for each team, along with the complete remaining schedule.


As discussed here previously, Northwestern and Ole Miss are effectively done. Neither team has a RPI top 100 opponent left. And neither team has a good enough profile to earn an at-large without serious work in the conference tournament. The team I might add to this list is Seton Hall. Two games against Rutgers and a game against Providence might get them to .500 in Big East play, but probably won’t do enough for the overall profile.

UNLV also has zero games left against the RPI top 100, but at least they are currently projected in the field. Things are a little more precarious in the A10 where Rhode Island has just one big game left at home against Charlotte. Rhode Island’s no lock and that is a must win game.

On the flip side, what do you make of St. Louis? Left for dead at the end of January, they’ve won 6 games in a row. They are a long shot at best at this point, but with four top 100 opponents left, and three of those games at home, I don’t think you can count Rick Majerus out yet.

Louisville also has 4 RPI top 100 opponents left. They face Georgetown and Syracuse at home and Marquette and Connecticut on the road. It is time to find out how good Louisville really is. Rick Pitino’s teams usually play their best at the end of the year, and if that is true again this season, they will improve their seed substantially.

Clemson faces four RPI top 50 opponents the rest of the way. Georgia Tech and Florida St. probably aren’t worth as much as their lofty RPI rating, but with most of these games on the road, Clemson is either going to win some key road games or fall apart down the stretch.

Finally, Florida faces a murders row, facing every team in the SEC East except South Carolina down the stretch. I thought they were done after losing at home to Xavier, but they bounced back nicely winning at Ole Miss, and they have a great chance to prove they deserve a bid by winning some of the upcoming games.

Defending the Selection Process

I’ve long believed college basketball has the best post-season selection system of any sport for several reasons. First, real people evaluate the teams. Unlike a formula which can’t anticipate unusual events, (see Evan Turner’s injury), people can digest information and attempt to give it proper weight.

Second, 34 at-large teams is more than adequate to include all the national title contenders. If your team has ever been Final Four good, you know what a Final Four team looks like, and you know when your team just doesn’t have it. Sure, it is nice to be one of the last teams in, but the 11 and 12 seeds in the tournament are rarely a threat for a deep run.

Third, the committee system is superior to a “pure records” system because there is no point at which everything is clinched. By emphasizing the last 12 in seeding, college basketball teams have to fight hard in every game and play their best at the end of the season. You don’t see good teams resting their players late in the year like you do in the NFL.

Finally, the committee system is also able to reward tough non-conference scheduling. Unlike College Football where Texas can choose to play zero non-conference games against BCS opponents and slide into the national title game, NCAA basketball teams frequently get hammered for weak non-conference schedules. Non-conference schedule has nothing to do with picking the best teams, but it does increase my enjoyment of the entire season by creating more marquee games along the way.

That’s why I find posts, like that by Ken Pomeroy last Thursday, so puzzling. How can he work up genuine disgust and angst at the selection process at this point? Let’s start with his main question? Would anyone use this process to pick the 34 best teams?

The answer is clearly no. Even if the stated goal is to pick the 34 best teams, that’s obviously not what the NCAA committee is trying to do. If it was, non-conference SOS wouldn’t be a real reason to exclude a team from the tournament. Every year, you’ll see one good team whining about getting left out, and the committee chair will say non-conference schedule was a key factor why they were left out.

(If you want to get all crazy, you could argue the NCAA’s goal is to pick the 34 best teams in this year and future years. In other words, they are solving a dynamic problem and not a static problem. And with limited non-conference games it is almost impossible to compare teams across conferences. Thus if the committee has to sacrifice one or two teams each year to ensure better non-conference matchups, that still might result in a better overall evaluation of teams in the long-run.)

But Ken’s complaint isn’t really about non-conference SOS. He’s complaining that record vs the RPI top 50 or 100 doesn’t make any sense. But that calculation has evolved out of a historical process. At one time, record was the key criteria for getting into the tournament. But then people realized “who you play” has a big impact on your record. So they developed the RPI. Should they have moved on to a superior system by now? Of course. But with a committee of real people making the final decisions, I don’t think the ultimate product is that egregious.

But then we get down to the heart of the complaint, which I’ve rambled on about before. The NCAA’s big mistake is that it does not want margin-of-victory to be a criteria in any of its sports. The NCAA does this in order to promote good sportsmanship. But without margin-of-victory, no ranking system can properly evaluate teams. Ken Pomeroy recently decried New Mexico’s high seeding. But it is hard to make a case against New Mexico without the margin-of-victory stats. Look at Jeff Sagarin’s ELO CHESS ranking compared to his PREDICTOR ranking. The former uses outcomes only and the later uses margin-of-victory. New Mexico is 12th in ELO CHESS and 39th in PREDICTOR. Margin-of-victory is clearly useful, but the NCAA does not want to touch it.

So the NCAA ends up with something that is not about selecting the best teams. What you get in the post-season is the best teams and the teams that won their close games. But is that different from any other sport? Do the best 12 teams make the playoffs in NFL? Or do the best teams plus the luckiest teams make the post-season? You play to win the games, and so even if the NCAA ignores margin-of-victory, I’m comfortable with that.

And most importantly, the bracket mistakes are the only reason I can do halfway decent job filling out an NCAA tournament bracket. There are few things I know this year, but here are two of them: Whoever gets New Mexico in their bracket is going to be very happy. And whoever gets Maryland in their bracket is going to be very sad.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

More on Villanova's fouls

Last week I had a throw-away comment that Villanova’s foul differential in the Connecticut game was a product of being behind. Ever one to look at things more carefully, John Gasaway posted the next day that Villanova is engaged in a suicidal level of fouling this season. Of course, he’s right. But consider this. Compare Villanova to a team with similar height and bench minutes, in this case Cincinnati.

Average Opponent FT Rate in Big East Wins: 30.9
Average Opponent FT Rate in Big East Losses: 44.6

Cincinnati displays the normal pattern. You foul a little more in your losses than in your wins. But look at the numbers for Villanova:

Average Opponent FT Rate in Big East Wins: 47.3
Average Opponent FT Rate in Big East Losses: 86.5

Even when winning, Villanova fouls at a ridiculously high level. Villanova fouls more in wins than Cincinnati does in losses.

But the real jaw-dropping number is that in losses they foul at nearly twice the rate. When Villanova falls behind, the whistles start flying. (As further evidence, remember that in their comeback win over Louisville, where Villanova trailed substantially, the free throw rate against was 75.0.) Is this a product of wanting to extend the game when you have such a potent offense? Is this a fluke because Villanova has so few losses? Who knows? But when Villanova falls behind, the games get ugly quickly.

By the way which was more surprising in Nova’s loss to Pitt on Sunday?
-Leading by 4 with 45 seconds left, Ashton Gibbs missed two free throws.
-Trailing by 4 with 40 seconds left, Scottie Reynolds threw a pass that was intercepted by Ashton Gibbs.
Gibbs missing a free throw is rare, but Reynolds making a mistake in crunch time was equally shocking.

What was going on at the end of the Marquette vs Cincinnati game? Why were Yancy Gates and Lance Stephenson out for large stretches? With an NCAA bid on the line, Mick Cronin had more faith in Cashmere Wright and Rashad Bishop. Sadly the Cincinnati Post no longer has a sports staff, so I’m having trouble finding an explanation. But on the Bearcats own site, Cronin simply says that both Gates and Stephenson were struggling so he didn’t feel comfortable having them in the game. Wow.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Coaches Part 8 - Bracket Buster Edition

Once again I'm averaging the tempo free numbers over the last seven years for active non-BCS coaches at all schools where they coached. Today I tackle the Four Factors on offense. For additional amusement, I sort out some of this weekend's Bracket Buster battles at the top.

-Blaine Taylor has seven years of tempo free stats at Old Dominion and his teams are consistently among the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation. And even though I’m not listing defensive stats today, I'll tell you that Northern Iowa has one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the nation this year. Something has to give.

-Want a preview of a future coaching post? I’ve got one planned regarding Siena’s Fran McCaffery. After taking over in 2005-2006, his team has improved its offensive and defensive efficiency substantially in four of the last five years. This has been the ultimate turnaround and the team hasn’t peaked yet. Meanwhile Brad Stevens has taken over at Butler and kept the offense rolling in just about all areas.

-I love Gregg Marshall but all those years in the Big South didn’t help his efficiency statistics. On the other hand, since Ken Pomeroy has been keeping tempo free stats, Stew Morrill’s teams have been phenomenal at shooting the ball. This year the dominance is at the three point line where they lead the nation at 42.8%.

-William & Mary was once one of the top offenses in the country, but they have cooled off in CAA play. Tony Shaver’s teams have never been offensive juggernauts before, so perhaps it is no surprise to see the early offense was somewhat unsustainable. Remember in 2006-07 when Iona won 2 games? They are a lot better now.

-Ken Pomeroy loves Todd Bozeman, and he can add this stat to his reason’s why: Bozeman has the second best offensive rebounding percentage among active non-BCS coaches. But Billy Kennedy’s teams have traditionally shot better including 56.5% from two point range this year. Which is a better sign of inside muscle? Good shooting in the paint or good offensive rebounding?

So if Bozeman is number two in offensive rebounding, who is number one? And who is number one in the other factors. Scroll down to find out.

(The answers might surprise you but remember these numbers aren’t adjusted for quality of opponents. You might get a few more open looks in the Southern Conference.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Pulse, Part 2

There are definitely years when I don’t watch the Olympics at all. But with the advent of the DVR, there’s almost no excuse not to watch some of it. There’s at least 45 minutes of content in every 5 hour window. And I’m always amazed how accurate Sports Illustrated is in its predictions. They nailed the Women’s speed skating medals perfectly, picking the gold, silver, and bronze on Sunday. And in the men’s short track final on Saturday, they picked a Korean sweep. Of course, one of the Korean skaters took out another allowing Apolo Ohno to take the silver, but they still get credit in my book.

Two weeks ago I set about checking the pulse of the 65 teams in the conferences with the top 5 RPI ratings. I covered 32 teams in that column and I’ll be revising those evaluations soon. (Marquette, Baylor, Clemson, and Florida St. have already moved to the plus side.) But in the meantime, here are the 31 mostly winning teams that I didn’t cover in my previous column. The ranking on the left is the Pomeroy Ranking. The conference record is listed in parentheses.

John Chaney Division – Middling record, dangerous team (continued)

75. Notre Dame (6-7) – I was worried about the lack of depth on Notre Dame this year, but I had to remind myself it wasn’t a big deal. This is the 3rd straight year Notre Dame has been among the nation’s leaders in fewest bench minutes. Then Luke Harangody was injured. Suddenly I remembered why the lack of depth was a real problem. But I thought the team played admirably in Harangody’s absence Sunday. Tim Abromaitis is already the next Notre Dame star in the paint. Mike Brey deserves a lot of credit for keeping this offense at the elite level. And while Notre Dame could probably just fold its tent right now, I think they have an upset in them.

55. Virginia (5-5) – A dirty little secret about the ACC in recent years is that this has been a bad transition defense league. Teams have wanted to be as flashy as North Carolina and prove they can play up-tempo, but when the ACC gets to the NCAA tournament, suddenly those easy buckets aren’t there. Suddenly the mid-level ACC teams get stuck playing 40 minutes of half-court basketball, and the results haven’t been pretty. So while other ACC coaches may groan at the thought of Tony Bennett bringing a plodding, methodical style to the conference, it may be one of the best things to happen to the ACC. What you want conference play to do is prepare you for the different styles that emerge in the NCAA tournament. And Virginia will test whether teams can win with a precision half-court attack. Of course as I write this, Maryland is blowing Virginia out by making quick transition passes and getting lay-ups off steals. But imposing your will and tempo, is a key lesson you want to learn before the NCAA tournament.

Kelvin Sampson Division – This won’t end well

There’s a double meaning in picking Kelvin Sampson here. First, Sampson often brought his team to the NCAA tournament with a mid-level seed, only to bow out early. Other than a Final Four run in 2001-2002, his net performance against seed expectations was negative. Second, Sampson had Indiana on top of the world with Eric Gordon and a fantastic team in 2007-08, only to see the season crash and burn due to recruiting violations. Thus any time things seem OK on paper, but probably aren’t going to end well, that’s the Kelvin Sampson Division. (Ironically, as the Kelvin Sampson team featured one sensational freshman in Eric Gordon, the first two teams also have sensational freshman in Derrick Favors and Lance Stephenson.)

27. Georgia Tech (5-6) – You didn’t have to know that Georgia Tech was very unlucky last year to know that with Derrick Favors the team would win more games. But the guard play on this team has been just atrocious. Iman Shumpert and Mfon Udofia are shooting near 30% from deep and turning it over on over a quarter of their possessions. You might expect turnovers against Clemson, but when Georgia Tech can’t even hold onto the ball at home against NC State (two point win), this is not a team that can win in the NCAA tournament.

61. Cincinnati (6-6) – The Bearcats defense is substantially improved from last season. And if you told me that, I’d have told you they’d be in the NCAA tournament without question. But the offense has been shockingly disappointing. First Cashmere Wright had shooting problems and lost his starting job. And now Lance Stephenson has seen his efficiency go in the tank in Big East play. Worse yet, while I thought Stephenson would compliment Deonta Vaughn and Yancy Gates and make the whole team better, all he’s really done is taken shots away from two of the Big East’s best players. The key for Stephenson may be simple. Stop wasting 3 possessions a game taking shots beyond the arc. Stephenson is only 20% from downtown. Maybe he feels he needs to take threes to keep the defense honest, but when you shoot at that percentage, everyone is going to play the drive anyway.

53. Oklahoma St. (5-5) – I sometimes catch myself referring to Oklahoma St.’s Keiton Page as a point guard. But that description doesn’t really fit. Sure, Page is often the one to dribble the ball up-court, but he does little to run the offense. His assist rate is actually the fourth best on the team and it isn’t elite by any stretch of the imagination. Oklahoma St. as a whole has one of the lowest assist rates in the nation. Oklahoma St.’s offense is almost entirely predicated on players going one-on-one. And while teams usually have someone who can guard the 6’6” James Anderson or the 6’5” Obi Muonelo, not many teams can guard both. But one-on-one basketball isn’t a formula for the NCAA tournament, and in a solid Big 12, it might not be enough to get there.

42. Ole Miss (5-5) – I spent a lot of time talking about how Northwestern’s season is close to over. The same can be said for Ole Miss. They have one more top 100 win than the Wildcats, but they are only 1-4 vs the RPI top 50. Ole Miss ends the season facing a downward trending Florida team along with a slew of SEC West teams. None of those games can substantially improve their profile. The game that really matters is this Thursday when Ole Miss hosts Vanderbilt. If they can win that game, they can glide by some inferior competition and make it in. If they lose that game, the SEC tournament becomes the only clear path.

54. Florida (6-4) – I’ll admit it. I’ve become a huge Chandler Parson’s fan. It isn’t just the buzzer beating threes out of a 6’9” guard. What I really love is his assist rate which sits at 15.3%. That’s not an elite assist rate by any stretch of the imagination, but when two to three times a game you see a 6’9” player thread an insane pass for a lay-up, you take notice. But this year’s team just takes too many bad shots to win at tournament time. After complimenting Billy Donovan for having the highest eFG% of any coach over the last 7 years, this year’s eFG% has been horrible. And when the eFG% falls that much, the problem is usually shot selection.

Rollie Massimino Division - Teams that might still peak late

I finally browsed a copy of the ESPN college basketball encyclopedia. There’s lots of good information in there, including a graphic that suggested that Rollie Massimino’s Villanova team was the worst team ever to win the national title. Wow, way to crush the greatest Cinderella story of all time. But this division is all about potential late season surprises. There are no guarantees. After all, Massimino’s 8th seeded Wildcats could have easily lost in the first round that year. But these teams could pull together after some tough early season losses.

(By the way, great to see Steve Rushin contribute to the book. Only Steve could appreciate the joy of a Bradley vs Pittsburgh battle on CBS. Hint: What were the team name abbreviations? He’s got his own site and a new book coming out if you miss his SI articles.)

51. Illinois (9-4) - When I watch teams, I’ll almost always credit them with the type of shot they get, not whether the shot goes in or not. And that’s why Illinois makes no sense to me this year. I’ve been screaming all year for the team to take the ball to the basket and stop settling for jump shots. And against Ohio St., the Illini did just that. But as the CBS graphic showed at half time, Illinois missed a ton of shots in the painted area. And in the game, the Illini were blown out. Perhaps the correct statement is this. Stick with what brought you there. When you play great teams you want to play to your strengths. And even though four-foot bank shots are a great shot for most teams, this year’s Illinois team is actually better at taking 10 foot jumpers.

32. Tennessee (6-4) – I’ll make the same comment about Tennessee. Did the Volunteers make the right call slowing the game down and playing zone against Kentucky? Fundamentally, when you play the best teams in the country, don’t you want to be playing to your strengths? If Tennessee’s strength is taking early shots, running up and down the floor, and creating chaos, shouldn’t they go down swinging? Maybe Kentucky has an absolute advantage in the full court game, but if I’m Bruce Pearl and I believe in chaos, I tell my guys to give it their best shot. Bruce Pearl did engineer the defeat of Kansas this year playing with six players at a slow tempo, but I was very disappointed that Tennessee vs Kentucky had only 68 possessions.

39. Mississippi St. (6-4) – Why won’t Mississippi St. give up on Renardo Sidney? Because the Bulldogs elite defense means nothing without an elite offense. Ravern Johnson is out-of-this world shooting 60% on twos, over 40% on threes, and almost never turning the ball over. But his teammates miss too many shots, turn it over too much, and don’t get enough offensive boards. Johnson’s gotten little hype outside of SEC country, but he has a major chance to make a name for himself against Kentucky on Tuesday night.

35. Texas A&M (7-4) – After Monday’s game, Kansas coach Bill Self saluted the fact that Texas A&M had the kind of defense to make his team look bad. But I found it a bit shocking. Texas A&M had surrendered over 1 point per possession in four of their last five games and nothing suggested they would be able to make Kansas look this ugly. By the way, has anyone else noticed how ESPN announcer Bob Knight is a repeater? He likes to say the same thing over and over again. It makes his games almost impossible to listen to. In pre-taped, well-edited segments, his insight is phenomenal. I loved the segment where he broke down Syracuse’s zone defense, saying the key is to draw two people to the ball and then find the open player. But in game situations, Bob Knight is a repeater. He likes to say the same things over and over again. And this makes his games almost impossible to listen to. I’ll agree with him on one point though, the same thing I accused Wisconsin of last week against Illinois. Texas A&M had a chance to beat Kansas, but they settled for too many threes. You can’t settle for three pointers late in the game and hope to beat good teams. Also, Bob Knight is a repeater. He likes to say the same things over and over again.

26. Louisville (7-5) – Is Louisville officially off the unlucky list after that win at Syracuse? I give Card Chronicle a lot of credit for identifying ahead of time that Louisville was a bad match-up for Syracuse. But this is still an underachieving team. There are four reasons, and none of them seem directly related to the extortion case. First, whether it is late game turnovers, horrible free throw misses, or a failure to take the big shot, Edgar Sosa always seems to make the wrong play in crunch time. Second, Louisville’s defense is the worst in the seven years Ken Pomeroy has been keeping tempo free stats. Third, the team is taking more threes than last year despite the fact that this is not a team strength. And fourth, the whole “New Jersey Nets” thing seemed to crush the team’s morale at St. John’s. OK, maybe that fourth thing is related to the extortion case, but not the rest.

13. Missouri (6-4) – Last year Missouri won the Big 12 tournament and made it to the Elite Eight. But the year after a breakthrough season is often rough. DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons aren’t walking through that door. And a new group of crunch time playmakers needs to emerge. But Missouri fans shouldn’t curse about this season. They should appreciate breaking the losing streak to Illinois. They should appreciate beating a very good Kansas St. team. And they should appreciate the team with the highest steal rate in the country. When Zaire Taylor walks across the floor on senior day, the fans will salute a lot of clutch threes and big steals.

3. Wisconsin (9-4) – At a certain point, I need to stop spouting the same story about how Bo Ryan wins with less heralded recruits year-after-year. But then you see a game like Saturday, and I can’t help myself. The Badgers played the Hoosiers who also have limited talent right now, but instead of playing a fairly even game, Wisconsin just destroyed Indiana. Sure part of that is Indiana’s youth and the home court, but the difference in performance was just incredible. With Bo Ryan the sum is always greater than the individual parts. But for this team to make a deep run, they desperately need another post player. Will Jon Leuer return? By the way, the missing Jon Leuer has something in common with Evan Turner of Ohio St. Both were high school guards who grew 6 to 7 inches late in their high school careers. I’m starting to wonder how effectively the recruiting services cover this angle. Does have a “late grower” category?

Gene Keady Division – Regular Season dominance, post-season heartbreak

My biggest memory of Gene Keady is his teams ruining my bracket year-after-year. I was a huge Big Ten homer in my younger days, and his dominant squads would constantly struggle as 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Don’t you wish someone would go back and calculate those tempo free stats for Gene Keady’s Purdue teams. Were the margin-of-victory stats poor? Should we have expected his teams to struggle all those years? Or was it a legitimate surprise?

31. Vanderbilt (8-2) – Saturday, Vanderbilt played LSU and earned a sparkling 124.7 offensive rating. That’s not surprising. LSU is a terrible team. But Vanderbilt probably still wanted to throw away the game tape. That’s because LSU was playing some horrific zone defense. Horrific in that the only strategy seemed to be to foul every time the ball made it into the paint. Vanderbilt ended up with 43 free throw attempts on 45 field goal attempts. But LSU made some shots early, and in a game without any rhythm, LSU hung around long enough for some of us to watch the ending. As the free throw totals later reminded me, the zone defense wasn’t that effective. But I’m still starting to wonder if it isn’t the right strategy against Vanderbilt. In the olds days, Vanderbilt used to torch you if you’d play zone defense. But look at the trend. Three years ago, Vanderbilt took 42.8% of its shots from three point range. Two years ago it was down to 38.1%. Last year it was down to 34.1%. And this year Vanderbilt takes only 30.1% of its shots from downtown. The turnaround is remarkable (and not unrelated to the emergence of AJ Ogilvy in the paint.) But I’m starting to wonder if a team like Ole Miss, which can compliment its smaller lineup with zone defense, might be able to give Vanderbilt some real fits by taking away the paint.

24. Virginia Tech (7-3) – The first thing I think of with Virginia Tech is that I haven’t seen them on TV much. I don’t remember any of their games since the OT thriller against Seton Hall down in Cancun. And in fact, other than a couple of non-descript games against Florida St. and Clemson, Virginia Tech has been dodging the top 50 opponents in the ACC. The upcoming games against Duke, Maryland, and Wake Forest should say a lot about how good this team really is. As far as the numbers go, Seth Greenberg is like a Big 10 coach in ACC country. Normally, that’s a recipe for the bubble, but in a year where the Big 10 actually won the ACC challenge, it seems to be a good recipe. What do I mean by a Big 10 coach in ACC country? My coaching series showed that his adjusted defense is historically great, while his adjusted offense is historically ugly. And that’s never been more true then this year where the Hokies are 2nd in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency and outside the top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency.

29. Wake Forest (8-3) – Wake Forest has the 2nd best NCAA profile in the ACC, and this is a good team. But this is a season that could have easily gone the other way. This team is 4-0 in OT, and I’m not sure where that fits in the NCAA criteria, but I bet they notice. Realistically, this is a team that can struggle at scoring for long stretches. Last year Wake Forest had three of the best post players in the country, Al-Farouq Aminu, James Johnson, and Chas McFarland. James Johnson left school early and I don’t think people give Al-Farouq Aminu enough credit for improving in Johnson’s absence. He’s seen his efficiency stay steady despite increasing his shot percentage from 21% to 27%. But what has happened to Chas McFarland? The third dominant post player seemed a natural fit sliding into the starting lineup, but he has not delivered. He’s gone from a 52% from the field and 72% at the free throw line to 46% from the field and 59% from the line.

28. Pittsburgh (8-4) – Sports often have a surprise factor. And for a good portion of the season, Ashton Gibbs was Pittsburgh’s surprise superstar. On the year, Gibbs averages 16.8 PPG with a 114.7 ORtg. But by mid-season, he was on the scouting report. In the six games starting January 20th, Gibbs was held to 11 points or less four times. Recently Gibbs scored 20 against Robert Morris and 24 in OT against West Virginia, but the question still remains. If an opponent shuts down Gibbs, who is going to step up and win the game for Pittsburgh? Against West Virginia the answer was Brad Wanamaker who drove to the rim and punished the Mountaineers before fouling out.

17. Georgetown (8-5) – With so little depth, it doesn’t matter if the opponent is Rutgers or Villanova, Georgetown needs big production out of its big three to win. While Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe are constant performers, Chris Wright is extremely hot and cold. And at this point, the splits are getting ridiculous. Georgetown wins when Chris Wright plays well and loses when he struggles. And since Chris Wright won’t play well six games in a row, Georgetown isn’t going to go far in the NCAA tournament. Another Georgetown point: I don’t believe Georgetown looked passed Rutgers on Sunday, but I will say this. Georgetown is playing a lot of zone defense this year. With no bench, they are trying to conserve energy. And if you play zone without energy, you look like Notre Dame. You give up over 1 point per possession regularly. This is at least one factor in why Georgetown seems to be playing down to the level of their opponents.

23. Michigan St. (10-3) – Statistically, Michigan St.’s defense is worse than last year. They obviously miss the lock-down defense that Travis Walton provided. But wasn’t Walton’s departure supposed to allow the offense to flow much more effectively? This is much more than the Kalin Lucas injury. Michigan St. averages less than 1 point per possession about half the time in Big Ten play. It pains me to say this based on Tom Izzo’s history, but I just don’t see this team getting better. Remember when Draymond Green became a star in the NCAA tournament last year? Do you really see any of the bench players on Michigan St. emerging this year? Austin Thornton seems resigned to a minor role on the team now. Garrick Sherman isn’t even rebounding very well which makes him a total waste of minutes. Derrick Nix is so afraid of going to the FT line that he’s tentative around the basket. Korie Lucious is just way too inconsistent. Sure, Chris Allen has been playing better, but it seems like he and Durrell Summers are the inverse player. Either one is playing well or the other, never both. Michigan St. might win the Big Ten this year, but unless this team surprises me, they won’t be going back to the Final Four.

4. West Virginia (8-4) – West Virginia has the top 100 wins to have a terrific NCAA profile. They have the blowout wins which are good for their Pomeroy and Sagarin predictor ratings. But last year and this year, this is a team that consistently fails in the big games. Last year, the problem was beating the good teams. West Virginia was only 2-8 against the Big East’s NCAA tournament teams. This year, West Virginia is a true national title contender, but now they can’t beat the great teams. In games against Purdue, Ohio St., Syracuse, and Villanova, they are just 1-3. And after a 3 OT loss put them in a tie with Pittsburgh, this is a team that continues to fail in the biggest moments. (Crud. My decision to call out West Virginia almost certainly insures Georgetown loses to West Virginia, much as my calling out of Rutgers worked magic.)

14. Villanova (11-2) – Offense is fun to watch, so the best games usually involve teams with great offense and bad defense. This includes Villanova, Notre Dame, California, Baylor (although less then recent years), Marquette, Louisville (which is a complete shock), Vanderbilt, Utah St., Xavier, St. Mary’s, Ole Miss, and Providence. In Villanova’s case, it seems to work out OK because they have such great crunch time execution. But as much as I love to watch Villanova play, when you don’t have a championship caliber defense, you exit early in the NCAA tournament. (By the way, I love how some people emphasize the free throw disparities, as when Nova lost to UConn on Monday. Um, there’s almost always a free throw disparity when you lose, because you need to be aggressive and try to foul to get back in the game.)

Dean Smith Division – Potential to Dominate

We tend to remember Dean Smith’s teams as winning it all. But he had a lot of good teams that came up short too. The next set of teams have struggled at times during the regular season, but they’ve played well enough that you can’t count them out.

12. Maryland (7-3) – Last year Maryland lost to Georgetown and Gonzaga at a neutral site and then they lost to Morgan St. at home just prior to the start of conference play. This year started out much the same. Neutral site losses to Cincinnati, Wisconsin, and Villanova, and a late home-loss to a non-BCS team in William & Mary left serious questions. Was this going to be yet another one of those years where Gary Williams had to scrap together some wins late in the year to save his job? But a funny thing is happening this year. Instead of Maryland getting older and North Carolina bringing in yet another class of freshman recruits that is better than Maryland’s veteran players, Maryland’s veteran players have actually gotten better. This year’s team has been blowing teams out in ACC play and has increased their efficiency on both sides of the ball. This is what’s supposed to happen with a former national champion coach and a team that returns virtually all its minutes. But the way things have gone in recent years, it still seems like a huge surprise.

11. Kansas St. (7-3) – I’ve argued without data that point guards always make the big three pointers in the NCAA tournament. Nobody every sags off the elite two-guards in crunch time, but they do sag off the point guards to protect against the drive. And I’m almost certain Jacob Pullen is going to hit a huge shot in March. At 40% from downtown with an elite assist rate, and elite free throw rate, I’ll be shocked if he isn’t a hero in one of the NCAA tournament games.

8. Texas (6-4) – Watching Texas fall apart in the last month has not changed my belief that this team could win it all. This hasn’t been a month where Texas was out-manned. They were simply outplayed. The execution has been dreadful. And while Rick Barnes NCAA tournament history is not replete with teams figuring it out late in the year and exceeding their seed, if this team could simply make better decisions, the sky is the limit. From a talent standpoint, Texas is in the same league as Kentucky. Damion James is simply one of the most athletic and versatile players in college basketball. Dexter Pittman is a human wrecking ball. And the freshman have been sensational. Jordan Hamilton and Avery Bradley are explosive scorers. And while J’Covan Brown has struggled from deep, his 90% FT shooting suggests his shot will come around. I don’t know if I really believe that Texas can start clicking at the elite level at this point in the year, but unlike a lot of teams, they still have a chance.

6. Purdue (9-3) – The addition of Lewis Jackson seemed like a dumb desperation move to me. Jackson wasn’t part of Purdue’s essential core. And while an additional point guard is always nice, he wasn’t even that efficient last year. But this is “the year”. It’s time for Purdue’s big Final Four run. Or so the experts say. Purdue’s core trio of Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, and E’Twaun Moore have been playing together for 3 years and they are due. But Gonzaga is due too. Isn’t it time Gonzaga finally makes it to the national title game? The team of destiny stuff is silly. Teams don’t just get older and suddenly get handed trophies. They have to earn them. They have to take them. And until Tuesday’s game at Michigan St., I didn’t believe Purdue quite had that killer instinct. But there was E’Twaun Moore basically telling Michigan St. they didn’t have a chance. Nice little run there guys, but my team is winning. I want to see that in the re-match with Ohio St. If Purdue can beat Ohio St., Purdue is for real. Until then, the best team in the Big Ten is…

10. Ohio St. (10-3) – No one executes better in crunch time than Scottie Reynolds. John Scheyer is the definition of ruthless efficiency. Wesley Johnson is the perfect inside-outside combination. Damion James defines explosive. DeMarcus Cousins is a man among boys and the nation’s premier offensive rebounder. But no one scares me on the basketball court like Evan Turner. Literally, how do you stop him? He has the top assist rate in a BCS conference and he’s relentless taking the ball to the basket making nearly 60% of his two point shots. And at 6’7” he’s too tall for your guards and too quick for your forwards. Your only hope is that Turner turns the ball over. But that’s up to him and not you.

John Wooden Division - National Championship Contenders

2. Duke (9-2) – There seems to be some concern that Duke doesn’t have enough depth at the guard positions. But I don’t think this is a real concern in the NCAA tournament. You need depth in the post, because over 6 games, some of your post players are going to get in foul trouble. But guards rarely get in foul trouble. And with all the TV timeouts, there’s no reason Duke’s guards can’t play 35-40 minutes a game in the tournament.

5. Syracuse (11-2) – Per minute, Syracuse was a taller team two years ago when Donte Green and Arinze Onuaku each played major minutes for the Orange. But the post positions are not the critical position when you play zone. Syracuse is among the nation’s tallest teams at the wing and guard positions this year, and that’s what’s allowing this team to disrupt passing lanes and get steals. But can anyone score consistently against the Syracuse zone? Of course: A disciplined Pitt team did with a hot shooting guard. Notre Dame did because of its ability to catch and shoot quickly and avoid turnovers. And West Virginia did thanks to its ability to get offensive rebounds against the zone. But that’s why matchups are completely the key in the NCAA tournament. I could see a cold-shooting Kentucky team getting blown out by Syracuse. But with Cole Aldrich able to catch lob passes and Kansas having several great shooters at guard, doesn’t it seem like Kansas is the nightmare matchup for the Orange?

1. Kansas (11-0) – Any sensible person who wants to win their NCAA pool should pick Kansas. The margin-of-victory numbers are simply off the charts. I loved hearing how disappointing Xavier Henry was just because he scored in single digits for 5 games in a row. Well guess what, Henry is back to playing well. And even without Henry, I think Kansas can win it all because Marcus Morris has become an elite player. He’s scored in double figures in every single Big 12 game this year and he’s become the Jayhawk’s second leading scorer. He’s also one of the most efficient players in the country thanks to an amazingly low turnover rate and 57% FG%. Now I’m sure his incredible efficiency is because he never gets double-teamed. Teams have to stay on Cole Aldrich and stay out on the shooters, but the improvement in Morris’s performance is the largest factor that explains Kansas jump in offensive efficiency from 26th nationally to 2nd nationally.

9. Kentucky (9-1) – Kentucky was my pick for the national title in November (although not on the blog) and I’m sticking with it. But Ken Pomeroy’s post last month made me nervous. He says the argument for Kentucky is this one: They are toying with weaker opponents. My argument has been that it will take awhile for freshmen to learn how to play consistent defense in the SEC, but that John Calipari will get them there. But the idea that Kentucky is toying with opponents makes me nervous. You can’t just flip a switch and play elite defense. Sure Kentucky forced a lot of turnovers against Tennessee. And sure the defense has had its moments. But could Kentucky really do to Texas what Kansas just did to Texas? The answer is no. They aren’t that fundamentally sound yet. But by March? We’ll see.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Best Game of the Year – So Far

Hype in sports is often manufactured. It is dished out in equal parts adulation and exaggeration. But if the weekly grind of hundreds of college basketball games does nothing, it dulls the hype machine. Rivalries get overlooked and sometimes the drama builds organically. Pittsburgh and West Virginia are separated by just 75 miles. They were separated by just one game in the Big East standings. A double bye in the Big East tournament may or may not have been on the line. Both teams were ranked. Both teams have the type of insane fans that can drive you crazy. (Let’s go Pitt! Let’s go Moun-Tain-Eers!)

But here with no Friday NBA games, ESPN neatly scheduled this game. It seemed innocent enough at first. Pittsburgh shot well early, but the quietly efficient West Virginia team imposed its will. With West Virginia leading by 7 with about a minute to go, it seemed over.

But for some reason, West Virginia doesn’t win by 7. West Virginia wins by 20 (see their high efficiency rating) or their games are decided on buzzer beaters. Maybe it is free throws. Maybe it is bad luck. But for whatever reason, that’s been the story of the Mountaineers for two years now. They either make it look easy, or it isn’t easy at all.

And in a heartbeat, this game wasn’t easy. After a questionable steal and possible step out of bounds, Ashton Gibbs hit a three pointer to send the game to overtime. Then Darryl “Truck” Bryant hit a buzzer beater to send the game to a second overtime. Then Travon Woodall hit a buzzer beater only to have the play waived off because the ball was in his hands. The game went to a third overtime.

At the end of regulation the student section had gone from sleepy to electric. Some premature exits had returned to their seats. But it wasn’t all good. Pittsburgh had seen its 91% FT shooter Gibbs miss a game sealing FT and Pittsburgh players were shown with towels on their heads. West Virginia players that had seen their late lead disappear were shown cursing and looking shocked on the sideline. But those same West Virginia players were pumping their fists moments later. Basically, if you live just west of the Appalachian Mountains, this became a game you really wanted.

And in the third overtime, it was decided. Pitt saw its 2nd and 3rd players foul out. The Panthers missed the next four shots. But just when it looked like West Virginia would pull away, they didn’t. Pitt kept crashing the boards and went to the line. And after a series of made free throws, the Panthers celebrated.

This is college basketball.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Coaches Part #7 - Non BCS Edition

Over one half of Division 1 college basketball coaches have less than 4 years tenure at their current school, and nearly three fourths have less than 7 years at their current school.

Years at School – Number of Coaches – Percentage out of 347 D1 Coaches
1 – 37 – 10.7%
2 – 43 – 12.4%
3 – 56 – 16.1%
4 – 46 – 13.3%
5 – 31 – 8.9%
6 – 20 – 5.8%
7 – 24 – 6.9%
8 to 10 – 35 – 10.1%
11 to 15 – 35 – 10.1%
16 plus – 20 – 5.8%
Note: I credit interim head coaches with a single year of tenure.

The formula is pretty clear. A new coach gets 3-7 years to build a winning program. If he succeeds, he continues in his position. If he fails, a new coach comes along. This is true at almost every level from the Big South up to the Big East.

So which coaches will be filling the future BCS vacancies? The efficiency numbers do a pretty good job of describing the best coaches in the non-BCS leagues. The next table shows the Average Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and Average Adjusted Defensive Efficiency of non-BCS coaches over the last seven years. This chart averages their performance at all schools where they have coached in the last seven years, not just their current position. It summarizes information available at This year is officially not complete yet, but I give it equal weight to the other years. (We tend to weight recent behavior higher anyhow, so I think it makes sense to give this year full weight.) Data are through Feb 11th, 2010.

The number of years of data is listed on the right. Note that Chris Mack of Xavier, Shaka Smart of VCU, Josh Pastner of Memphis, and David Carter of Nevada are all former assistants in their first year as head coaches and thus they only have one year of data. But all four are doing a very nice job with the talent they inherited.

No one should be surprised to see Gonzaga's Mark Few at the top of this list. His average efficiency margin ranks 21st nationally and 1st among non-BCS coaches. When Mark Few can achieve this level of success at Gonzaga, why would he leave for the pressures of a BCS gig?

Near the top of the list we also see some of the most under-rated coaches of the last decade. Stew Morrill, Phil Martelli, and Dana Altman are near the top and their great efficiency numbers have led to numerous 20+ win seasons. Former Big Ten coaches Lon Kruger, Steve Alford, and Mike Davis are also still getting it done in their non-BCS positions.

But how do they get it done? Steve Alford and Chris Lowery lead the way with shut-down defense. But don’t overlook coaches like Brad Brownell of Wright St. and Bruiser Flint of Drexel who consistently compete with top level defense.

On the flip side of the ledger, Mark Few is the offensive leader, but don’t under-estimate Jim Baron’s offense at Rhode Island, or what Marvin Menzies has been able to do offensively at New Mexico St.

Finally, I include the figures for tempo. Not surprisingly, Duggar Baucom of VMI is at the top of the list while Joe Scott of Denver is at the bottom of the list. But don’t worry Denver fans, Scott is actually playing at a faster adjusted pace at Denver than he ever did at Princeton.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tuesday Thoughts

With the Big Ten leadership on the line, I had two thoughts:

-What has happened to Raymar Morgan? Instead of stepping it up with the Kalin Lucas injury, he's seen his scoring taper off. And instead of making big plays to rally his team, the senior is the one missing open dunks late in the second half. His play is puzzling to say the least.

-And what was up with Wisconsin's strategy against Illinois? I know they've been taking more threes with Jon Leuer out, but the Badgers abandoned the inside game way too early in this one. This was especially true late in the game when trailing by just 4 points. The smart play is always to take it to the basket and extend the game, and with Illinois missing free throws, Wisconsin would have had a chance to win if the Badgers kept trying for easy baskets.

But that's not really fair to Purdue or Illinois who I salute for two sensational road victories.

Put this on Youtube please

There is often a hidden play that defines a team. It isn't always a buzzer beater or a ferocious dunk. Sometimes you have to look a little more closely. At 14:03 remaining in the second half of the Georgetown - Providence game, Georgetown has the offensive possession that I think defines this team. Georgetown passed the ball 10 times, probing the Providence defense in and out and side to side, until finally Julian Vaughn gets a lay-up. My initial thought was simple. Was that the Harlem Globetrotters? That looked like a rehearsed passing exhibition, not a real offense. 10 passes! And Monroe's soft touch post feed to end the sequence was off the charts. Seth Davis has written that Georgetown's chemistry is much better this year. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But on that single play, Georgetown defined teamwork and execution.

Monroe ended the day with 12 assists. According to the game announcers it was his 13th career double-double, but first without rebounds. So Greg, do you have a triple double in you?

By the way, Len Elmore's announcing had to drive the Providence fans nuts. He seemed to call the game like Georgetown was up 20 the whole time even when they trailed by 8 and even when the lead was 5 in the final minutes. His emphasis on "possesssions" and shooting percentage was almost a tempo free analyst's dream, but it was very unusual not to hear an analyst gush for a near top 10 upset.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Is Northwestern an NCAA tournament team?

Did you know? Kansas St. has had six coaches since 1986, and all six are
still active in Division 1 today.

Coach – Current School – Years at Kansas St.
Lon Kruger – UNLV – 1986-1990
Dana Altman – Creighton – 1990-1994
Tom Asbury – Pepperdine – 1994-2000
Jim Wooldridge - UC Riverside – 2000-2006
Bob Huggins – West Virginia – 2006-2007
Frank Martin – Kansas St. – 2007 - Present

More coaching posts in the future, but in the meantime, I’m going to steal a piece of reader email from John Gasaway today. John was trying to be kind to his reader so he didn’t say all this, but I would have been a lot harsher, as you’ll see below.

“With nine regular season games remaining, NU still has some work to do
to get off the bubble. Meaning the Wildcats’ RPI is currently 61. Win
eight of those nine and things should be great: 23-8 overall and 11-7
in-conference. Sure, that’s not likely, but if the Cats pull off the improbable
it should really boost their RPI, right? No. In such a scenario
Northwestern’s RPI will actually fall to 67 under this inane “scheduling is
destiny” system. And if NU miraculously wins all nine remaining games
(which, again, won’t actually happen) their RPI will stay about the same. These
results are predestined by the fact that the Wildcats will play Iowa, Indiana,
and Penn State twice, and Chicago State once. But I defy any of your readers to
say that Northwestern is a better team now than they would be if they went 8-1
the rest of the way.

I hope the valuable missionary work that you, Ken Pomeroy, and others
have done over the years has appropriately diminished the status of the RPI
in the eyes of the selection committee. If Northwestern is excluded from
the NCAA tournament based on their Sagarin or Pomeroy ratings, I can accept
that. And if they’re excluded because of too few good wins or too many bad
losses, I can accept that. But if Northwestern is excluded on the basis of
RPI, I will be angry and will redouble my efforts to see that a better system is
used to select tournament teams.

Ben J.”

First, this reader is pointing out something many people have noticed and which I emphasized in December. Schedule is such a large factor in the RPI that games can have a “predestined” positive or negative effect. And in Northwestern’s case this is true in the extreme. No matter what Northwestern does, their RPI is going to go down.

But I have great news for Ben. A team’s RPI is NOT a criteria used to select the teams. The RPI is used to group opponents faced during the season and that’s it. But don’t just take my word for it. If you want to read about the process, the NCAA has been trying to make it more and more transparent every year. Here are some articles I linked to a few years ago.

Maybe the NCAA should just drop the RPI because it causes too much confusion and angst among viewers. The NCAA should say teams will be grouped based on season performance and leave it at that. Because the truth is, this isn’t the BCS. There is no magic formula for NCAA tournament selection. At the end of the day a bunch of people sit in a room for a week and compare team resumes. As Jay Bilas puts it, the selection process is very simple: “Who have you beaten and where?” That’s the criteria.

So to this Northwestern fan, I have good news. Your team won’t miss the dance because of the RPI. But I also have bad news. Your team will likely miss the dance because they don’t have enough quality wins. Northwestern is currently 1-5 vs the RPI top 50 and 2-2 vs the RPI top 100. Or to drop the RPI nomenclature, Northwestern basically has three quality wins this year. They beat Purdue, Illinois, and Notre Dame and that’s it.

That’s not a profile that will earn an NCAA tournament bid. And the six remaining games against inferior competition don’t help. Those are no-win games. If they win, they are supposed to win. Truthfully, one or even two losses to the bad teams wouldn’t matter. What Northwestern really needs is some more quality wins. They need to beat Minnesota, and they desperately need to win at Wisconsin to get a second Top 50 win. Otherwise a deep Big Ten Tournament run is the only hope.

Northwestern’s record is going to improve over the next month and that will help. Performance in the last 12 is a key criteria. But Northwestern’s opportunity to improve their resume is basically over. And no less a prognosticating novice than ESPN’s Jay Williams was spouting this on Midnight Madness. Illinois is in much better position than Northwestern even though the finishing stretch is brutal. That’s because Illinois can still prove they are an NCAA tournament team. The Pomeroy and Sagarin ratings don’t look favorable, but Illinois still has multiple chances to get more quality wins. Meanwhile, Northwestern had most of its chances and failed.

Now, this reader wants to credit John with being a missionary for conference efficiency margins over the RPI. And I think we all agree, that John and Ken Pomeroy provide a tremendous service for evaluating the quality of teams and understanding how they play. But efficiency margins are NOT a criteria for NCAA tournament selection either.

The NCAA has decided in almost every sport that margin-of-victory should not be a criteria because one of the NCAA’s primary goals is to promote good sportsmanship. And the NCAA wants to lower the incentive of teams to run-up-the-score. The NCAA is willing to do a worse job picking NCAA tournament teams in order to encourage good sportsmanship.

And to some degree I agree that margin-of-victory is a poor NCAA selection criteria. Think about this:
Minnesota was a net –8 in two games against Michigan St.
Illinois was a net –5 in two against Michigan St. and in one of those games Kalin Lucas was out.
On paper, you can argue Minnesota is about as good as Illinois. But there’s a key difference.
Illinois went 1-1.
Minnesota went 0-2.

You play to win the games. I don’t want to see some 6-10 ACC team get into the NCAA tournament because it played a lot of good teams tough and the ACC had great margin-of-victory numbers in the non-conference.

But remember that the committee is made up of humans. And humans can’t help but notice how teams played. So if you think John Gasaway’s conference efficiency margin, Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and the Jeff Sagarin’s predictor ratings aren’t important to the committee, you are dead wrong. They look at all this information and take it into consideration.

But what I would argue is that the committee has a responsibility to use these numbers, not for picking the 34 at-large teams, but for seeding the tournament. If you ignore team performance and seed outstanding teams too low, it punishes the other teams in their bracket.

If you visit the bracket project you’ll see Maryland is estimated to be a 9 seed. (This is because there aren’t many RPI top 50 wins to be had in the ACC this year.) But based on Pomeroy’s predictive measure, Maryland is the 8th based team in the nation. Can you imagine being a 1 seed and having to play the 8th best team in the nation in the second round? That just wouldn’t be fair.

Now the NCAA walks a fine line in seeding this way. Quality wins remain the main criteria. But if you think when any group of humans is comparing resumes that a 1 point win looks the same as a 20 point win, good luck winning that argument.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Today in the Obscure and The Spartan's Fall

-Oklahoma St. trailed Texas Tech by double digits and was using full court pressure to try to get back in the game. Momentum had seemingly swung in the Cowboys favor. They cut the lead to 7 and got an inbounds steal. And then it all went wrong. First, after taking the steal, Oklahoma St.’s Keiton Page hesitated on a three-point attempt and was called for traveling. Then with Oklahoma St. setting up pressure defense again, Texas Tech tried to beat the pressure by throwing the ball deep. But the pass was off target and headed for the scorer’s table. That’s when fate intervened in the form of the referee’s head. The ball ricocheted off the ref’s head and into the hands of a Texas Tech player. And in the commotion Oklahoma St.’s best player, James Anderson fouled out. All it takes is one referee to ruin your momentum, literally.

-I don’t know where they got this footage, but during the Washington – Arizona St. game they showed footage of Lorenzo Romar on the Milwaukee Buck’s team bus in 1983. The footage shows four other members of the team humming the beat while Romar busts out some sweet Motown vocals. 1983 seems so much cooler than 2009. But really, we need more footage of team buses. They always show footage of players getting off the bus, but that’s dull. Get us the goofy behavior on the bus.

-Nancy Pelosi and Paul Tagliabue were shown prominently in the TV footage of today’s Georgetown game. But they don’t get any credit because they were in a luxury box. You have to go down in the stands where the fans can see you! My wife actually met Paul Tagliabue in person last year. At first she didn’t recognize who he was and started making small-talk about the Redskins, figuring it was a neutral topic for any adult male in DC. But when he kept smirking, she suddenly realized his face was familiar. When she went home and googled him, she couldn’t believe she was trying to talk football with the former commissioner of the NFL.

Illinois vs Michigan St.

For me, the turning point occurred with about 6 minutes to go in a tie game. Brandon Paul stole the ball and had a fast-break opportunity. But as I’ve posted before, Brandon Paul has been struggling immensely on the fast-break. He’s blown a ton of opportunities after Illinois steals this year. But what did Paul do this time? He went up strong and jammed it home one-handed. The crowd went nuts even though it was a single bucket after a decent Michigan St. run. Did the crowd remember Brandon Paul’s struggles on other fast-breaks? Were they just jacked up from ESPN’s college gameday being there? I don’t know. But at that moment, I suddenly believed Illinois was going to win.

Of course Illinois followed this up by running what I call the “Dee Brown” offense. This is from the 2005-06 season when Deron Williams had graduated and the team would just stand around and watch Dee Brown dribble. With 3 minutes left, the team needed to stay aggressive, but stood around and watched Demetri McCamey dribble. This resulted in a number of wasted possessions and gave Michigan St. a chance. But again Paul bailed Illinois out. Paul drove to the basket and his continuation “and-one” was exactly what Illinois needed.

The truth is, Illinois is not a great team this year. (See Pomeroy ranking, RPI, Sagarin, ect.) Based on how they’ve played, I don’t think they deserve to go to the NCAA tournament. I’ll argue about the RPI wins and losses later in the year, but what I mean is this. An NCAA tournament at-large team is a team you legitimately think would not just show up, but could win a couple of NCAA tournament games. And based on a number of close wins (and losses) against bad teams, Illinois just doesn’t have that feel.

But the key for this team has always been the development of three sensational freshmen. DJ Richardson is already playing off the charts. Tyler Griffey is playing at a very solid level for a back-up post player. Thus it comes back to Brandon Paul. If Brandon Paul plays like an elite player (like he did in the 20 point comeback against Clemson), Illinois can be a great team. But Paul isn’t ready yet. He’s spent too much time looking like Alex Legion, taking bad shots, and showing indifference to defense. Illinois needs tonight’s Brandon Paul.

Future generations of Illinois players will always be compared to the 2005 Illinois team. It isn’t fair to anyone, but it is what we do. Demetri McCamey fits the perfect Deron Williams role of the ideal motion-offense point guard. McCamey runs past screens, drives, and hits his teammates in rhythm for open jumpers. DJ Richardson fits the Luther Head role perfectly. He’s knocking down numerous threes and seems to be playing at a higher level than any fan could reasonably expect. But what’s missing is Dee Brown. What’s missing is that extra energy when Illinois gets in a drought. For at least one night, Brandon Paul provided that energy.

As for the Spartans, for all the NCAA tournament success Michigan St. has had, they have not won a ton of Big Ten titles lately. They have not had a lot of seasons where everything fell their way. Two years ago Georgetown had what I’d call the “Eff-you Hoyas” season. Georgetown won a ton of games on the final possession, everyone said they were over-rated, all the other Big East fans despised the team, but all they did was win the Big East regular season title outright. After Michigan St. won late at Minnesota and Michigan, it just seemed like the Spartans were having one of those special seasons where they win all the close games. But not tonight. And now, Michigan St. sits just one game up in the loss column ahead of four teams. If the Spartans want another Big Ten title, they’ll have to earn it.

Final note on this game: The Orange Crush rushing the floor was clearly wrong.

That Other Top 5 Upset

Finally, I probably should comment on Georgetown’s win over Villanova, but all I hear is John Thompson III in my head. (The Hoyas can play with anyone in the country and they can lose to anyone. Jason Clark may have had a special day, but he is a special player. He’s going to do that a lot more before all is said and done.) Perhaps the only astute observation I can provide is this: Has there every been a scarier league to have a double-digit lead than the Big East this year? Even when Georgetown was up 20, I had no feeling of comfort. As it turned out, the Hoyas hung on today, while St. John’s blew a 16 point lead. But the South Florida game leaves me with a queasy feeling for this season. I'm now going to dread foul trouble on Georgetown for the rest of the year.

Zipping through this game a second time on the DVR, this had to be a very frustrating game for Duke fans. First, this game took an extra 30 minutes and cut off the start of the Duke - Boston College game. Second, Duke transfer Taylor King hit a couple of threes late in the game. Third, even though Villanova was blown out just like Duke, and even though the margin of victory was similar, Villanova showed a lot more fight late in this game. But when only Corey Fisher really showed toughness for Villanova in the first 25 minutes, and when Georgetown makes threes like today, they are very hard to beat.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Coaches Part #6

You may remember I was planning on posting about coaching trees. Then Dana O’Neil went and blew my mind with this column. It had way more information then what I planned on presenting. About the only thing she missed was the fact that Scott Drew was a student manager at Butler when Thad Matta was a junior assistant there. You can argue that doesn’t really count, but if you want to Stump the Schwab, that’s the type of information you would need to stump him.

Even if much of this is redundant, let’s have some fun anyhow. It looks like I can hit 62 of the 73 active BCS coaches by starting with five active coaches who were already coaching in 1984-1985,

Jim Boeheim
Mike Montgomery
Bo Ryan
Gary Williams
Bob Huggins

and 12 historic figures,

Bob Knight
Dean Smith
Larry Brown
Eddie Sutton
Tom Davis
Pete Carril
Rollie Massimino
Jud Heathcote
Gean Keady
Jim Harrick
Joe Harrington
Jerry Pimm

I know what you are thinking. Who is Jerry Pimm? Unless you are an obsessed basketball fan (or a Pitt fan), you probably don’t know that he’s the start of the Ben Howland – Jamie Dixon tree.

Jerry Pimm
.  1) Ben Howland – former assistant at UC Santa Barbara
.    2) Jamie Dixon – Pimm assistant at UCSB, Howland assistant at Pitt 

But there’s a bigger question here. What does a coaching tree really mean? I’m basing this on resumes available online. Since the start of 64-team era in 1984-85, what connections can you draw? But are those connections really meaningful? I list Rick Barnes as a Gary Williams disciple. But Barnes was only a William’s assistant for one season. And then Barnes returned to George Mason where he had been a long-time assistant under Joe Harrington. It hardly seems fair to put Barnes in Gary Williams coaching tree based on one season. But that’s what we do. Meanwhile, most of the Joe Harrington’s of the world get ignored. But the former Colorado coach is lucky. Seth Greenberg was also Harrington’s assistant. So Joe Harrington becomes a piece of trivia:

Joe Harrington
.  3) Seth Greenberg – former assistant at Long Beach St.
4) Gary Williams
.  5) Rick Barnes – assisted Harrington at GMU, Williams at Ohio St.
.    6) Frank Haith – Barnes’ assistant at Texas 

My goal is to cover connections made after the start of the NCAA tournament era. I.e. after 1984-85. Williams, Ryan, Huggins, Boeheim, and Mike Montgomery were already head coaches at that time which is why they get to start trees.

7) Bo Ryan
.  8) Tony Bennett – remained assistant at Wisconsin after father left

9) Mike Montgomery
.  10) Ernie Kent – former assistant at Stanford
.  11) Trent Johnson – former assistant at Stanford
.    12) Mark Fox – Johnson’s assistant at Nevada 

Thad Matta was also an assistant under Barry Collier who was an assistant under Mike Montgomery. But I put Thad Matta in the Rick Pitino tree.

13) Jim Boeheim
.  14) Rick Pitino
.    15) Herb Sendek – assisted Pitino at Providence and Kentucky
.      16) Thad Matta – assisted Sendek at Miami(OH)
.        17) Sean Miller – assisted Sendek at Miami(OH), Matta at Xavier
.        18) Todd Lickliter- assisted Matta at Butler
.        19) Scott Drew – student manager while Matta assisted at Butler
.    20) Tubby Smith – assisted Pitino at Kentucky
.    21) Billy Donovan – assisted Pitino at Providence and Kentucky
.      22) Travis Ford – played under Pitino, Sendek, Smith, & Donovan
.      23) John Pelphrey – played with Ford, Donovan assistant
.      24) Anthony Grant – assisted Donovan at Florida, Marshall 

Pitino was in the NBA in 1984-1985 which was the intended cut-off of my coaching trees, but I couldn’t resist the connection to Boeheim.

Mick Cronin was also a Pitino assistant at Louisville, but I put him in the Bob Huggins tree.

25) Bob Huggins
.  26) Mick Cronin – former assistant at Cincinnati
.  27) Andy Kennedy – former assistant at Cincinnati
.    28) Frank Martin – assisted Kennedy & Huggins at Cinc., Kansas St. 

Mike Krzyzewski was also already a head coach at Duke in 1984-85, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to put him under Bob Knight. But am I the only one who gets the feeling that Krzyzewski doesn’t appreciate the connection to Knight anymore?

Bob Knight
.  29) Pat Knight – assisted Knight at Texas Tech
.  30) Mike Krzyzewski – played under Bob Knight at Army
.    31) Mike Brey – former assistant at Duke
.      32) Jeff Capel III – played for Duke while Brey was an assistant
.    33) Johnny Dawkins – former assistant at Duke 

Fred Hill was also an assistant under Tommy Amaker who was an assistant at Duke, but I put Hill in the Rollie Massimino tree.

Rollie Massimino
.  34) Jay Wright – former assistant at UNLV and Villanova
.    35) Fred Hill – Wright’s assistant at Villanova
  Pete Gillen – former assistant at Villanova
.    36) Dino Gaudio – Gillen assistant at Xavier
.    37) Bobby Gonzalez – Gillen assistant at Xavier, Prov., & Virginia
  Steve Lappas – former assistant at Villanova
.    38) Paul Hewitt – Lappas assistant at Villanova

Jud Heathcote
.  39) Tom Izzo – former assistant at Michigan St.
.    40) Stan Heath – former assistant at Michigan St.
.    41) Tom Crean – former assistant at Michigan St.
.      42) Darrin Horn – Crean’s assistant at Marquette
.      43) Buzz Williams – Crean’s assistant at Marquette 

Buzz Williams was also an assistant under Billy Gillispie at Texas A&M so you could pencil him in another tree below.

Gene Keady
.  44) Bruce Weber – assisted Keady at Purdue
.    45) Matt Painter – played under Keady, assisted Weber at S. Ill.
.    46) Tracy Webster – assistant under Weber at Ill., Keady at Purdue
.  47) Kevin Stallings – assisted Keady at Purdue 

Stallings was also an assistant under Roy Williams at Kansas. Tracy Webster was also an assistant under Billy Gillispie at Kentucky. Thus you could put both of them in another tree below.

Dean Smith
.  48) Roy Williams – former assistant at North Carolina
.    49) Jeff Lebo – played under Smith when Williams was an assistant
.    50) Mark Turgeon – assisted Williams at Kansas 

Mark Turgeon also played at Kansas when Calipari and Self were assistants there.

Larry Brown
.  51) John Calipari – assisted Brown at Kansas
Eddie Sutton
.  52) Leonard Hamilton – assisted Sutton at Kentucky
.    53) Bill Self – assisted Brown at Kansas, Sutton & Hamilton at OkSt
      Billy Gillispie – assisted Self at Illinois and Tulsa
.        54) Doc Sadler – assisted Gillispie at UTEP, Sutton at Arkansas
.      55) Norm Roberts – assisted Self at Illinois and Tulsa 

John Pelphrey was also a one-year assistant under Eddie Sutton, but I listed him earlier because he was a long time assistant under Billy Donovan.

Pete Carril
.  56) Bill Carmody – former assistant at Princeton
.    57) John Thompson III – assisted Carmody and Carril at Princeton
.    58) Craig Robinson – Carmody’s assistant at Northwestern

Jim Harrick
.  59) Lorenzo Romar – former assistant at UCLA
.    60) Ken Bone – Romar’s assistant at Washington

Tom Davis
.  61) Bruce Pearl – former assistant at Iowa
.  62) Keno Davis – former assistant at Drake 

The remaining active BCS coaches have no co-mingled resumes with other active BCS coaches since 1984-1985 as best I can tell.

63) Jim Calhoun
64) John Beilein
65) Kevin O’Neill
66) Al Skinner
67) Rick Stansbury
68) Oliver Purnell
69) Ed DeChellis
70) Sidney Lowe
71) Jeff Bzdelik
72) Gregg McDermott
73) Mike Anderson

A lot of these guys touched on the NBA or had other important mentors. You can’t ignore the fact that Mike Anderson is a former Nolan Richardson assistant because he brings 40 minutes of hell at Missouri. But with no other Richardson assistants in BCS leagues, there is no tree to draw.

So now can you connect Scott Drew to Matt Painter through Bill Self?

Scott Drew – Thad Matta – Herb Sendek – Rick Pitino – Billy Donovan – John Pelphrey – Eddie Sutton – Bill Self -

Now either take Bill Self - Mark Turgeon – Roy Williams – Kevin Stallings – Gene Keady – (optional Bruce Weber) – Matt Painter

Or Bill Self – Billy Gillispie – Tracy Webster – Bruce Weber – Matt Painter

What, you think you can do better?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Surprise, Surprise, the Bulls are 5-5

A lot of people are going to look Georgetown’s home loss to USF and say that Georgetown overlooked South Florida. Georgetown played USF sandwiched in between Top 10 opponents Duke and Villanova. But that’s not true and that’s not fair to USF.

A lot of people are going to see that Greg Monroe fouled out for only the 2nd time this season and say that Georgetown lost because of foul problems. But that’s only part of the story and that’s not fair to USF.

A lot of people are going to see Chris Wright struggled and say that’s why Georgetown lost. And while Chris Wright remains the perfect predictor of Georgetown’s success this year, even that’s not fair to USF.

South Florida was flat out the better team on Wednesday night.

John Thompson the 3rd said in pre-game that Georgetown didn’t have to worry about overlooking USF because Dominique Jones was playing so well and the team knew he would be a real challenge. And after watching the Pitt game this weekend, I was thinking about Jones too. Jones can get to 30 on any night if he wants to, just like Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell. So this afternoon I asked myself how many coaches would take Jones over Hazell. I thought the answer was “Everyone but Bobby Gonzalez”. (But after the way Hazell was loafing late in the Villanova game last night, the answer might be everyone.) And this game was the perfect example. Georgetown was double and triple teaming Jones early in the game and leaving other players open. And Jones did what Hazell doesn’t. Jones set up his teammates. And while his teammates were missing open shots, he showed he was willing to pass and Jones made the defense respect the pass.

Then at the start of the second half, USF ran two straight plays that picked up fouls number two and three on Greg Monroe. That was huge. Monroe had been dominating the game to this point on both ends of the court. But now Greg Monroe started playing tentative to avoid his 4th foul. And the light went off for USF. Stan Heath said it in the post-game. “We knew they were more aggressive in the first half, and we knew if we had a chance, we had to become the more aggressive team in the second half.” South Florida began to take the ball to the basket relentlessly, and South Florida quickly erased a 9 point deficit and built an 8 point lead on the Hoyas.

Make no mistake. Georgetown was not overlooking USF. Georgetown came out with intensity and was making shots. Early in the game Austin Freeman was fouled on a three point attempt and still hit nothing but net. At halftime Georgetown led by 9. This was not a Georgetown team that overlooked USF. USF simply played better basketball.

In his 3rd year at Arkansas, Stan Heath turned the Razorbacks into contenders. But it was too early in the process. His team was still missing pieces, and all he did was raise expectations. All he did was get himself fired. And I’ll admit, in Heath’s 3rd year at South Florida, I did not expect the Bulls to arrive. They had too many players that had struggled previously. They had too many transfers who didn’t fit in elsewhere, and couldn’t seem to find a role. It wasn’t that USF had no talent, but it didn’t seem to have the right talent. Well, in year three, Tom Izzo disciple Stan Heath is finally putting it together.

That’s not to say that USF fans should book NCAA tournament tickets. The mistake at Arkansas was that the fans expected too much too soon. But USF is finally showing the progress Stan Heath needs to build this program. For the first time since joining the Big East, we can say it. The Bulls have won 4 conference games in a row. The Bulls have arrived.

(Incidentally, Dominique Jones went a little crazy taunting the crowd after the win. I’d tell him to act like he’s been here before, but this is new territory for USF, so I’ll let him off the hook for now.)

-One of my running Illinois jokes while watching the games is that Brandon Paul can’t make a fast-break basket. He just seems to have a mental block about it. Tonight against Iowa was the best yet. After a steal gave him a 1 on 0, Paul missed a finger roll. Luckily for Paul there were still no Iowa defenders in the picture, so he was able to put in his own miss. You just can’t make this stuff up.

-Flipping back to my Pulse column, I want to point out two other errors. I called Duke’s horrible defense against NC State a fluke and Minnesota’s horrible defense against Indiana a fluke. Both Duke and Minnesota proved me wrong this weekend.