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April 7, 2008
Looking Back
The Best and Worst of Gasaway

by John Gasaway

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As a reader, you probably stop by Basketball Prospectus because you think maybe we know what we're talking about. Otherwise why would we be here? Why would there be advertisers? Why would there be a forthcoming book?

Ha! Shows what you know!

OK, sometimes we're right. Then again, sometimes we're not. It's time now to relive the recent past, to see just how that split played out this year. See, last week my redoubtable colleague Ken Pomeroy was honest enough to trot out his own missteps, along with a few of his correct calls. I guess that means I have to do the same.

Hey, I'm just glad I don't have to do this at a press conference with my wife--ashen, solemn, and devastated--at my side. ("I will do all I can to regain my family's trust...trust that was lost when I predicted that Seton Hall could go 13-5 in the Big East.")

First, the worst. Set your phasers on "appalled." Here we go…..

5. Oregon is "likely" headed to the NIT (3/3)

It sounds pretty mild, I know, but keep in mind I said that in March. I should have known better. On the other hand, the Ducks' "lack of defense" did indeed send them home after one game.

4. Washington State is the new Arizona (2/13)

"Arizona" here meaning, of course, a team that plays very good offense but diffident defense. What I didn't know was that in a little more than a month the Cougars would make a name for themselves by allowing Notre Dame just 41 points in a second-round tournament game. Still, my point, if overstated, had merit: WSU's offense was better than people realized this year. Its defense during the regular season, conversely, was not as good as it was last year.

3. Seton Hall could go 13-5 in the Big East (1/29)

All right, all right. Stop laughing. At the time I wrote that, the Pirates were 4-3 in conference. They'd just beaten Louisville in Newark and they were coming off a stretch of four consecutive wins, during which time they'd scored 1.18 points per possession. What I meant, in part, was that the Hall had a favorable schedule: they didn't have to play the Cardinals on the road this season. Anyway, the magnitude of my error was brought home to me with a vengeance just a week later, when Seton Hall lost by 26 at home to Notre Dame.

For the record, the Pirates finished 7-11. Hey, I was just six games off.

2. Iowa State will go .500 in the Big 12 North (10/30)

The Cyclones had one of the worst offenses in major-conference basketball last year. I thought sheer regression to the mean would insure that no offense could possibly be that bad two years in a row. I thought wrong. ISU went 4-12 in conference.

1. Drake will finish last in the Missouri Valley (11/8)

You just can't beat this in terms of futility in forecasting. It's the analytic equivalent of teeing off in the wrong direction. Still, in my defense, Missouri Valley champion Drake surprised everyone, including and especially their own coach, Keno Davis, who picked his team to finish sixth in the MVC and thought he was being optimistic.

Enough of that. On to the better news. Things I got right….

5. Mississippi State will win the SEC West (10/18)

Coming into this year Arkansas had all five starters returning from an NCAA tournament team and therefore everyone picked them to win the West. Nevertheless, I zagged on this one and it worked:

I'll go with Mississippi State. Bad luck and opponents' threes, in that order, were the only things that kept the Bulldogs out of the tournament last year. Had they made it there, who knows? Maybe they go on a nice little run like Tennessee and Vanderbilt did and you're hearing about them right now. In any event, their offense in conference play was bested only by Florida and Kentucky in 2007.

The Bulldogs took the West by three games over a 16-game schedule.

4. Louisville is the best team in the Big East.

The top-ranked team in the nation notwithstanding, it falls to every team every year to hold forth loudly on how underrated they are and to vow that they're going to prove those gol'dern polls wrong. Louisville this season may have the best such case I've ever seen. By a wide margin, they've been the best team in what may be the best conference in the nation, yet the Cardinals are actually unranked in this week's ESPN/USA Today poll. (2/13)

Despite drawing a three-seed in the tournament's toughest region, the Cardinals lasted longer in March than any other Big East team, falling to North Carolina in the Elite Eight.

3. Wisconsin will win the Big Ten (11/7)

OK, I said they'd share the title with Michigan State. Still, the preseason media poll had the Badgers finishing no better than fourth. Everyone and their brother said the Spartans and Indiana would battle it out for the regular season championship. Bo Ryan's team went 16-2 and won the title outright.

2. Tom Crean would be very interested in the Indiana job.

You'll have to listen to my voice on this one. Go here and fast-forward 22 minutes in. Asked about a new Indiana coach I name two names: Tony Bennett and Tom Crean. I say if Bennett doesn't take the job it won't be because his sister was fired as the women's coach at IU three years ago. I also say that even though Crean is mentioned for every Big Ten opening, he would actually be "very interested" in this particular opportunity.

Sounds vanilla, right? Everyone was talking about Bennett and Crean a couple weeks ago. I get extra points, though, because this podcast is from February 13, within 24 hours of the Kelvin Sampson story's eruption. This was the first season where I had real honest-to-goodness "sources." They came in handy on occasion. Yay, sources!

1. Bill Self is no more cursed than the Red Sox or Eli Manning.

It's remarkable to me that in an era when we've seen the Boston Red Sox win not just one but two World Series, when we've seen Eli Manning (Eli Manning!) beat Tom Brady in a Super Bowl, and when we've seen former longtime bridesmaids like Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim win it all, it can still be seriously contended that there's some kind of intractable barrier preventing Bill Self from reaching the Final Four. Personally I think Self reaching the Final Four is a matter of when, not if. (2/22)

A few days later, I offered this on the true hierarchy of the Big 12:

I've had some nice things to say the past couple weeks about Texas as a team and about Rick Barnes as a coach, but I have to admit I was kind of glad they lost at Texas Tech. The Longhorns were being crowned as a presumptive one-seed way too fast for my tastes. After all, even within the cozy confines of the Big 12 there's another team whose performance has been head and shoulders above that of the 'Horns. Why that other Big 12 team gets relatively little attention, I can't say. Yes, that other team lost by one at Oklahoma State. Hey, last year Florida lost by ten at LSU, for goodness sake. What's the big deal? (3/3)

There you have it. Superstitions banished, corners looked around, sources worked, Drakes misunderstood. All here for you at Basketball Prospectus.

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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