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March 27, 2010
Home-State Blowout
Baylor Makes its Case

by John Gasaway

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I can't speak for my colleagues at Prospectus, of course, but to my mind Baylor this year is the type of team for which Basketball Prospectus exists in the first place. The Bears have been excellent all year long, but they have little in the way of recent programmatic success, they're located in Waco, Texas, they number no household names among their starting five, and Bill Simmons isn't trying to get any of the Bears to come on his podcast. All they do is score points at an absurd rate (1.14 points per trip in the Big 12) and play pretty good (though not great) Ekpe Udoh-centered defense. This team self-evidently deserves an earnest Prospectus type championing their cause, and I'm happy to oblige.

(3) Baylor 72, (10) Saint Mary's 49 [58 possessions]
This was a little bit like the drubbing that Syracuse put on Gonzaga last week or, even better, the beat-down the Orangemen laid down on Villanova that night in the Carrier Dome when there were like eleventy-gillion people there (because non-Prospectus-readers apparently thought it was some kind of epochal clash of the team titans--as if). In last night's contest Baylor's shooting from the field was merely normal, but Drew's men did make their threes (Lace Dunn and Tweety Carter were a combined 7-of-13). Good outside shooting along with terrific offensive rebounding from Josh Lomers (six offensive boards in just 23 minutes) and a Wisconsin-like ostentatious lack of turnovers (seven in a 58-possession contest) pushed the Bears north of 1.20 points per trip. But, again, you'd be surprised to find how close to normal that performance was for this offense.

More surprising, from my chair, was the fact that all those three-point shooters for Saint Mary's couldn't knock down some shots. I thought going in that Omar Samhan might furnish further evidence in support of my John Bryant Theory and be overmatched by all that Baylor size. And, mostly, he did and he was (needing 17 shots to score 15 points), but then again I did rather expect that between Matthew Dellavedova, Mickey McConnell, and Ben Allen, the Gaels would find some open looks against a perimeter D that is not always Duke-like. Didn't happen. Randy Bennett's team was just 6-of-22 from beyond the arc.

(1) Duke 70, (4) Purdue 57 [64]
Matt Painter deserves some kind of medal for effectively taking this post-Hummel team 115 minutes into the NCAA tournament, to a point where they trailed Duke by just two points midway through the second half of a Sweet 16 game. I find that remarkable, truly. Possession after possession, whether it was in the Big Ten tournament or the NCAA happening, I would watch the Boilers on offense and note with mounting incredulity how zero attention was being paid by opposing defenses to both Lewis Jackson and Chris Kramer. When fully 40 percent of your team can be ignored without penalty, you don't often find yourself on an even footing with a one-seed just ten minutes away from the Elite Eight. Coach Painter, I salute you!

Purdue leaves the Dance having scored just 192 points in 214 possessions. Translation: Never mind the aw-shucks demeanor, one that has led even home-turf observers who should know better badly astray. The fact is Robbie Hummel is transcendently important to this particular team.

Meanwhile Duke is someplace they haven't been in six years, the Elite Eight. When do we get to officially declare 2010 Collapse-less? Will there be a ceremony?

(6) Tennessee 76, (2) Ohio State 73 [66]
The Buckeyes trailed 76-73 when Thad Matta called timeout with 13 seconds remaining. Evan Turner was going to have a chance to do what he does (what he did to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament). He dribbled into the corner and missed a three, grabbed the rebound and tried again from the top of the key, where J.P. Prince triggered a collective shudder from the Volunteer faithful by going for the block. As Kansas State's Chris Merriewether had learned the previous evening, being in the proximity of such a shooter at the end of regulation can be risky indeed. This time, however, it worked: Prince's block gave the Vols their first ever trip to the Elite Eight.

Tennessee feasted on the offensive glass in this game, and I'm reading post-mortems suggesting that this was to be expected. Well, I didn't expect it. Ohio State may not appear Baylor-sized along the front line to the naked eye, but they more than held their own this season on the defensive glass. Nor were the Volunteers anything to brag about this year in terms of offensive rebounding. Be that as it may, Bruce Pearl's team got it done there in this game, hauling down fully 56 percent of their misses. Wayne Chism recorded a 22-11 double-double.

Turner in all likelihood departs the college stage having needed 23 shots to score 31 points, to go along with five assists and six turnovers. In this final game, what his team really could have used from him was a few more defensive boards.

(5) Michigan State 59, (9) Northern Iowa 52 [58]
At this point I think it's fair to ask just what kind of pixie dust Tom Izzo sprinkles on his players come tournament time. The man is 28-9 in these games since the turn of the century. Sure, Roy Williams has posted an even better mark over that time at Kansas and North Carolina (33-8), but he's done so with an average seed position of 2.8. Izzo's teams, on the other hand, have on average been a rather more plebian 5.3. (Fun fact: Michigan State hasn't been a one-seed now for nine years.) In our book this year Bradford Doolittle found that, in terms of team performance measured against seed expectation, Izzo is as good as it gets.

And sure, you could note that the Spartans have benefited and are benefiting this year from something of a collapsed bracket, much like they did in the South in 2001. But that's kind of my point. Isn't it funny how it's always Izzo who's on the scene to benefit from these tournament upsets, yet he so rarely falls victim to them himself? I speculated a couple weeks ago that maybe the field comes back to Michigan State every March, that teams look scary in February because they're so great at home, while Izzo's teams the past couple years have done strangely well on the road. Whatever the reason, if I were an athletic director looking for a coach, I would know this man's phone number.

Speaking of the John Bryant Theory, this wasn't a good evening for hitherto dominant senior big men from below the Red Line. Northern Iowa's Jordan Eglseder was held to nine points and four boards in 22 minutes. Give full credit to Michigan State but, the Kansas miracle notwithstanding, the Panthers looked like their reality. This was merely the Missouri Valley's sixth-best offense this season. The Midwest "Bracket of Death" will now conclude with a 5-6 match-up where, given the strikingly anti-Matta personnel strategies of both coaches, we could see 20 players get into the box score in legitimate non-trillion fashion.

John offers complimentary sprinklings of pixie dust on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.

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

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<< Previous Article
Rookie of the Year (03/26)
Next Article >>
Meet Butler (03/28)

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