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January 22, 2008
Back and Forth
Mainstream Edition

by John Gasaway and Ken Pomeroy

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John: Yo, hoops nation! John and Ken here, feeling forlorn and unnecessary because we think Memphis and Kansas are the probably the two best teams in the country and now (gulp) the polls agree with us. Holy mainstream, Ken! What's next? Should we start using rebound margin? Talk about big players "stepping up"?

Ken: I know. Even Drake has finally gotten some recognition in the polls. All it took was a 7-0 start in the Missouri Valley and a 16-1 start overall. If Keno Davis starts garnering Coach of the Year support, we might get put out of business.

John: Actually we may yet to be able to add some value to the conversation. Take the ACC. It looks like this year it might be that most confusing of creatures: a really fast conference that plays good defense. Last year, the slow-poke Big Ten notwithstanding, there was a remarkable consensus on speed among the BCS conferences: the ACC, Big 12 and SEC were all right around 68 possessions per 40 minutes in league play. It's early, sure, but so far this year the ACC has bumped up the tempo considerably, averaging 72 trips per 40 in-conference. And, as you pointed out in your mailbag piece yesterday, they really play some D in the ACC this season. I'll pay our readers the compliment of assuming they already know Duke is an excellent defensive team. But look at a team like Virginia Tech: nothing on offense, sure, but they've been tough on D in-conference at 75 possessions per 40.

Ken: Yeah, the ACC is defense-heavy, which you'd think would mean plenty of close games in conference play. That hasn't been the case. In fact, to me that was the story of the weekend. It seems that everywhere you looked, there were blowouts where there shouldn't have been. Kansas State over Texas A&M, UConn over Marquette, Virginia over BC, and Georgia over Arkansas, to name a few. While the top of the college hoops world is getting sorted out, the middle of all the power conferences are in chaos.

John: K-State is the one that's really rocked my cognitive world the past couple weeks. They came out of the gate with Michael Beasley being Durantian and everyone else shooting bricks. Easily summarized--I liked it. Now, all of the sudden, they're all shooting like they're the Phoenix Suns. Bill Walker in particular is making threes and I can't believe I just said that. If there were ever a year to watch Kansas State play at Colorado, this is it. Tune in tomorrow night.

Ken: I don't know how to read the game the Wildcats had against A&M, since the Aggies have now laid consecutive eggs against K-State and an uninspiring Texas Tech team. I do know that Frank Martin is earning my respect. Through brilliant substituting--and the fact that there were ample stoppages due to Texas A&M's hack addiction--Beasley played ten more possessions on offense than on defense. This was crucial in a game where he spent the first 25-30 minutes of a then-close game in foul trouble.

Elsewhere, the most shocking 10 minutes all weekend was the end of the Louisville/Seton Hall game, in which a 10-point Cardinal lead turned into a 10-point Seton Hall win. I was ready to tout the Cards as a legitimate threat to win the Big East, but now I revert to questioning whether a team that launches threes as often as they do can win a power conference.

John: The Big East team that proves to me they can beat non-Rutgers and non-USF opponents on the road will show me they're the favorite. That is why Cincinnati is emblematic of the entire league. They started the conference season winning by a point at Louisville--strange, shocking and huge. Look past that, though, and you'll find that in every other conference game the Bearcats have won by single digits at home and lost by double-digits on the road. Still, I have to tip my cap to Deonta Vaughn, who missed a ton of shots last year but has been lighting it up this year.

Ken: The upper tier of the Big East is inhabited by Cincinnati and DePaul at the moment, who are each within a game of Georgetown for the conference lead. I'm predicting that neither will last. Cincinnati has been a fun story. They kept Pitt off the glass on Saturday which is no small task. DeJuan Blair finished with three boards! The Panthers, on the other hand, are an enigma. They could either be really close to the team that beat Duke, or a team headed for doom. The game at St. John's on Wednesday suddenly has a must-win feel for them. If they lose, they're 3-3 in conference, and then you legitimately have to wonder if the injuries are catching up to them.

John: Speaking of doom, Oregon State coach Jay John was shown the door on Sunday night. This was a decision that had been building for quite some time, of course, but when the trigger was finally pulled the timing felt odd. The Beavers were actually competitive on the road at Washington on Saturday. Be that as it may, here's hoping for an Arizona State-style year-to-year 180 starting next year in Corvallis. It'll help if they have next year's James Harden coming in.

Ken: It'll be interesting to see who ends up with that job, even if not many people will want it. Then again the whippersnappers out there don't remember that Ralph Miller had that team in the top five nationally in the early '80s. As for 2008, it will not be enjoyable to play that team the rest of the season. A loss to them is a serious resume killer and a win means nothing.

I see now where C.J. Giles has been dismissed from the team. I'll never understand why he didn't work out there. John wasn't going to be back next year anyway, but Giles' lack of production is what cost John his job in the middle of this season. While we're on the left coast, what about USC? Suddenly, O.J. Mayo is restrained and they look like a dangerous team. A sweep of the Oregon schools on the road this weekend is not a crazy notion. The 72 points in 64 possessions against UCLA was as good an offensive performance you'll see by any team this season. I really like where Tim Floyd's team is going.

John: A sweep could happen. The Ducks are shooting as many threes as ever but making only 33 percent in-conference.

While we're on the subject of shooting a lot of threes, I direct your attention to Starkville, Mississippi, where Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs are also shooting and missing a high number of treys. They're 4-0 in the SEC anyway, thanks in part to one Jarvis Varnado, who's already recorded 10 blocks in a game twice in conference play. Little wonder MSU opponents aren't scoring. Still, Ole Miss should give their in-state rivals a good test this Saturday.

Ken: Yes, MSU is quietly rising from the ashes of a disappointing November and December. They're also giving UConn a run at the block percentage title, currently leading the nation by sending back more than one in five opponents' two-point attempts. You have to take note when a team holds consecutive conference opponents under 30 percent eFG as the Bulldogs did to LSU and Georgia. If they can get any production from beyond the arc, they'll have a great shot at the SEC West title, which will mean more than it did last season.

John: Well, in the West, certainly Arkansas continues to baffle, losing at home to South Carolina. And don't get me started about the collapse of LSU, which was playing in a national semifinal game just 21 months ago. The game this Saturday in Starkville will feature the two best teams in the West right now.

Ken: LSU could probably use Tasmin Mitchell right about now, but even if they had him they still wouldn't be thinking about the postseason.

John: While we're in the West, I think it's time we let the sun set there. And so we say goodbye to our bid for mainstream acceptance in a Back and Forth. Maybe when next we talk Memphis will have lost at Houston and Kansas will have lost at Kansas State. Then we'll show 'em!

Ken: Hey, everyone's got to lose sometime.

John: Except the Patriots. Maybe. Auf wiedersehen.

Ken: Goodbye everybody!

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.
Ken Pomeroy is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Ken by clicking here or click here to see Ken's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Reversals of Fortune (01/22)
<< Previous Column
Back and Forth (01/07)
Next Column >>
Back and Forth (02/17)
Next Article >>
Four-Point Play (01/24)

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