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February 11, 2008
Four-Point Play
UCLA, Purdue, Louisville and Hendrix

by John Gasaway

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The Gasaway Theory of Pac-10 Travel

This weekend in the Pac-10 the headline-grabber was, of course, Washington's 71-61 victory over UCLA yesterday in Seattle. The game deserved to grab headlines: the Huskies entered the contest 3-7 in conference play while the Bruins, well, they're the Bruins. Still, let's not overlook another data point that came to us via Pullman, Washington, where on Saturday the previously struggling Washington State Cougars laid a vigorous 74-50 thrashing on previously surging USC. Two teams from Southern California each lose the second of their two-game sets up in the state of Washington. Hmm. I wonder….

In the admirably symmetrical Pac-10, teams play their road games in geographically appropriate pairs, customarily on a Thursday-Saturday schedule. If you play at Oregon on Thursday, for example, you'll play at Oregon State the following Saturday (or Sunday). Or you'll play Cal and then Stanford, Arizona and then Arizona State, etc. That's all nice and tidy. However, for our current purposes the salient point is that the Seattle-to-Pullman trip (or vice versa) is, at 286 miles, far and away the longest game-to-game commute in the conference. Travel alone can't explain UCLA's lethargy, of course. The defense that UW's Artem Wallace played against Kevin Love doubtless had a good deal more to do with yesterday's end result. Nevertheless, playing at these two venues on a Thursday-Saturday schedule, as did USC, is a tough gig, to say the very least.

(Kudos to the Huskies' Tim Morris, by the way, for virtually ensuring that the Rules Committee will make at least one change in the offseason: it will no longer be permissible for a player to avoid a five-second call on an inbounds pass by simply throwing the ball, hard, off the defender's face. This shall be called The Morris Rule. It didn't come soon enough for Alfred Aboya.)

Purdue. Wave of the Future. Discuss.

With this year's freshman class, Matt Painter hit a recruiting sweet spot that 340 other D-I coaches would love to find. His class is good, really good. Witness the Boilermakers' 72-67 victory over Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday night. On the other hand, unlike Ohio State's crop of first-year players last year, this freshman class isn't so good that any of them are about to leave for the NBA anytime soon. Ladies and gents, your pre-preseason favorite for the 2009 Big Ten title: the Purdue Boilermakers. Actually, at 10-1, they're looking pretty good for 2008, too.

Purdue might represent the wave of the future in another sense, as well. This spread-the-floor-with-quickness thing is spreading like a YouTube link, isn't it? True, the Boilers don't employ the Memphis variety, preferring to use their small big men for high screens instead of using them for weak-side offensive board opportunities. Still, with a point guard and four wings on the floor, this is officially no longer Gene Keady's Boilermakers. One way to read a coach's true beliefs is to watch their play calls coming out of timeouts. In Madison, Painter called more than one clear-out for Robbie Hummel to take Brian Butch to the hole. The play worked beautifully. (Eventually Bo Ryan had to pull Butch out of the game--there was simply no one on the floor he could guard.) Much like Duke, this Purdue offense waits to see who's being guarded by the opponent's slowest player and then isolates that match-up. For opponents, the simplest answer is, of course, to play zone: the Boilers managed just 0.93 points per trip against Ohio State's 2-3 in West Lafayette on January 12 (but won anyway because the Buckeyes scored just 0.84 points per possession). I'll be very surprised if Kelvin Sampson doesn't roll out a 2-3, at least off made baskets, when Indiana hosts Purdue next Tuesday.

I Am So Mad at Louisville Right Now

You see, until Saturday I had them all to myself. I knew they were the best team in the Big East, even before they beat Georgetown 59-51 at Freedom Hall Saturday night. Repeat: before they beat Georgetown….

Through games of February 7, conference games only Pace: possessions per 40 minutes PPP: points per possession Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)

Big East                              Opp.
                     Pace     PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Louisville       66.7    1.06    0.89   +0.17
2.  Georgetown       62.9    1.07    0.92   +0.15
3.  Pitt             63.9    1.06    0.98   +0.08
4.  Notre Dame       73.7    1.07    1.01   +0.06
5.  Connecticut      69.1    1.08    1.03   +0.05
6.  West Virginia    62.9    1.02    0.97   +0.05
7.  Marquette        68.2    1.04    1.00   +0.04
8.  Syracuse         69.4    1.02    0.99   +0.03

Those were the numbers going into the weekend. (Tune in tomorrow for the updated reality on all the power conferences.) Yet the Cardinals weren't even in the top 25. Unbelievable.

Last week the NCAA held its mock bracket selection exercise for members of the media in Indianapolis. I briefed one of the participants in advance with the following nugget: "No team in the nation shows a greater discrepancy between capability and current ranking than Louisville." So true. The Cardinals are playing some of the best defense in the country right now. Now everyone knows it and I'm just another voice in the chorus. (It's all about me.) Why couldn't the Cards have lost that game by three? O, the injustice!

Richard Hendrix Is the (pre-2004) Kevin Garnett of College Hoops

Gather 'round, youngsters, and let me regale you. Did you know there was a time when the words "Kevin Garnett" were synonymous with: "an insanely great player burdened with a mediocre team that never does anything in the postseason"? It's true! Or it was true for years until Garnett's team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, made the Western Conference Finals in 2004.

Today we have another such player in college hoops. Meet Richard Hendrix. His team, Alabama, is just 2-7 in the SEC. But just look at this guy….

Big Men, 2008                       Off.                Def.       Block 
                                    Rtng.   eFG pct.  Reb. Pct.     Pct. 
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina    128.1     54.0      20.2        0.7
Kevin Love, UCLA                    132.2     64.2      30.8        2.9
Roy Hibbert, Georgetown             118.9     60.4      18.8        8.6
D.J. White, Indiana                 119.8     62.1      26.3        5.9
Richard Hendrix, Alabama            121.0     64.2      24.5        7.7

Hendrix is a mensch laboring in sub-.500 obscurity in a conference and a region where hoops is but the dark side of the football moon. Salute.

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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