Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

March 22, 2009

Chalk Show

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:29 pm

I know you probably haven’t had a chance to sit down and analyze this weekend in its true historical context, so I just want to assure you that your first impression is correct. The brackets really did hold true the first two rounds. In fact they did so to an unprecedented extent.

Snootiest Sweet 16s
1985 to now

       Avg. Seed        
2009     3.06     (All four ones, twos, and threes)
1989     3.13     (All four ones and twos)
2007     3.19     (All four ones; no seed lower than a six)
1995     3.19     (All four ones and twos) 

1996     3.69     (Three ones, all four twos)
1991     4.00     (All four ones, three twos)

1993     4.06     (All four ones, two twos)

Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, this is the first year where the top 12 seeds have gone a perfect 24-0 the first weekend.

So should we be alarmed? Enacting sweeping reforms? Forming blue-ribbon Presidential commissions? I’m not so sure.

Remember this: it was just three short years ago that everyone was bent out of shape because the 2006 Final Four had no one-seeds. It was universally assumed that year that Duke and Connecticut would play for the national championship. The bracket was set up for that to happen. Instead we got teams like LSU, UCLA, George Mason, and Florida.

Besides, we’ve gone through this before. As seen above, things looked very chalky indeed for a while there in the mid-1990s, only to revert to salutary chaos by 1999. That year’s historically wacky Sweet 16 had more double-digit seeds (four) than twos, threes, and fours combined (three).

Nor do I buy the theory that the committee has just gotten so much better at seeding these teams. Sure, I think that overall the committee did a pretty good job this year, but I don’t suppose any group that gave Boston College a seven-seed can be termed particularly sharp-witted, much less historically so.

I think it’s more likely that this year’s results are a combination of design and luck. Design in the sense that the committee did indeed seed the teams pretty accurately, and the best teams played well enough to win. Luck in the sense that Marquette could have very easily beaten Missouri (of course Utah State could have very easily beaten Marquette), Western Kentucky could have very easily beaten Gonzaga, USC took Michigan State down to the wire, and, hey, for a heartbeat there it even looked like overall one-seed Louisville was in trouble against Siena

Not to mention there is an underdog still alive in this field. Let’s all pull for those scrappy overachievers from Arizona

March 21, 2009

Why Siena can beat Louisville

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anthony Macri @ 10:00 pm

Look, I realize I am going to take a lot of heat for this.  But I can’t help myself.

Siena can beat Louisville.

Now, before you invade my inbox with all the reasons I should be tarred, feathered, drawn, and quartered, at least be kind enough to see why I think the small school Saints have a chance against the mighty Cardinals.

The first reason is point guard play.  Obviously, Ronald Moore was a huge part of Siena’s first round win over Ohio State on Friday night (as Bill Raftery said, “garden variety ONIONS”).  But he was also money in Siena’s first round blowout over Vanderbilt last season as well (11 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds in that game), and a subpar game from Moore doomed the Saints in the second round last year against Villanova (Moore was dealing with the flare-up of a nagging injury at that time, though).

This year, against Rick Pitino’s pressure match-up defense, it will be up to Moore to stay in control and make the Cardinals pay.  Louisville’s defense is based on two principles; (1) on-ball pressure to disrupt and create fatigue and (2) jump-switching to disorient and confuse.  Because the ball will be in Moore’s hands, it is his responsibility to pilot Siena’s offense without falling into one of these two traps.  At the same time, Moore will also have to attack the Louisville defense and force it to guard the entire court, all 94 feet.

There is no doubt in my mind he is one of the few point guards in the country that can execute exactly this gameplan.  Possessing great speed with the rock and an uncanny sense of when to deliver passes to teammates before they are open (but on the verge of becoming so), Moore is the exact kind of guard that gives Rick Pitino teams trouble.  Couple him with backcourt-mate Kenny Hasbrouck and you have a lethal pair that is built for an upset of this variety.

The second reason is the versatility of this Siena team.  All year, they have been a team that gets up and down the floor, utilizing a mix of full-court pressure and solid man-to-man halfcourt defense to wear down opponents and jump start their offense.  Friday night, however, they morphed into a plodding, slow-it-down and punch-you-in-the-mouth team: in other words, they were able to adapt to the situation at hand.  This is critical for an upset-ready team.  Remember the George Mason team from a few years ago, or Davidson from last year?  Both of those teams changed styles of play based on what was needed in any given game to get the win.  They did some core things (just as this Siena team does), but they could change their colors to a certain extent as well.

Expect the Saints to take on whatever persona is needed against the Cardinals.  They have the right starting five to mix it up (Moore, Hasbrouck, Edwin Ubiles, Alex Franklin, and Ryan Rossiter – this team actually has solid talent at every position), and they have a great swagger as well.  When you look at Siena, they scream “balance.”  With experience having played teams at Louisville’s level already this season (see their games at Pitt or Kansas), and fore-knowledge of the kind of raised stakes at this point in the tournament (see last year), Siena is the kind of giant-killer that a top seed has to worry about.

The final reason that Siena can defy expectations and take out the tournament’s #1 rated team has a lot more to do with the configuration of Louisville’s team than it does with Siena.  Louisville is a team that relies on creating opportunities to score with its defense.  If a team is somehow able limit its turnovers and convert a decent (not necessarily an excellent) percentage of its shots, Louisville could experience some problems scoring in the halfcourt.  Look back at their early season loss to Western Kentucky–a team that is built very similar to Siena, by the way–and see what happens to Louisville when their defense isn’t brilliant.

Of course, their defense has been brilliant lately.  Forcing over 20 turnovers per game in postseason play (Big East and NCAA), Louisville is suffocating on that end of the floor.  This is especially the case in the second half, as the constant pressure simply wears on teams.  This Siena team, however, has proven it is a second half team as well.  At numerous points this year, the Saints have salvaged victory from the jaws of defeat.  In fact, they have been a team that counting out has proven to be ill-advised.  Check out their comeback wins over St. Joseph’s, Marist, Ohio State, and others.  They simply don’t quit.  And they won’t against Louisville either.

Siena may end up falling hard against Louisville–but that would shock me.  I expect the game to be close.  It could, in fact, be the closest of the second round matchups for the #1 seeds.  And, if things break right for Siena, they can spring the upset.  The three keys:

1.) Ronald Moore controls tempo, turnovers and shot selection
2.) The Saints get production from everyone on the floor throughout the game, preventing the Cardinals from focusing their pressure on just one or two players
3.) Siena forces Louisville to work for points in the halfcourt, challenging shots and controlling the defense glass

If Siena accomplishes none or only one of these keys, they run the risk of getting run out of the gym.  If they can do two of the three, the game is a toss-up.  All three, and the Saints win the game without a doubt.

The bottom line: I think Siena comes out focused, ready, and hits two of the three keys (I think they will struggle with Key #2).  The game is close the whole first half, and Louisville makes their normal halftime adjustments. Siena, however, using their versatility and resilience, manages to weather the Louisville storm, and takes a mid-second half lead.  Despite a furious late rally from the Cardinals, the Saints hold on and advance to the Sweet 16.  Final score: Siena 73, Louisville 72.

Bring on the heat!

March 20, 2009

How to Talk about How Conferences Are Doing

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:29 am

I meant to do this exact post this week but things have been a trifle lively here at Prospectus HQ and anyway, as you see in the link, the always excellent Dan Hanner beat me to it. The important thing is that the information is out there.

Every year my pet peeve recurs: Conference records in the NCAA tournament are simply added up and presented with no context. Today we find that after the first day the Big East is 2-0, the ACC is 3-1, and the Big Ten is 2-2. But how well are those conferences truly performing, given their seeds?

Each of these three leagues received seven bids, but of course three of the Big East’s bids went to one-seeds. Given that teams seeded on the top line of a region are, as of this moment, 34-0 in first-weekend games over the past five tournaments, we would expect the Big East to win more games than the other two leagues.

Here are the historically-appropriate expectations, given the seeds that each conference’s teams were given:

The Big East should win at least 16 games. (Yes, 16. Mike Tranghese‘s league is set up beautifully for a gaudy record, not least because its only bubble team, Providence, was left out. All seven teams that got in, conversely, were slotted to play lower seeds in the first round.)

The ACC should win 10 or 11.

The Big Ten should win seven, possibly eight.

Praise or damn accordingly. 

March 19, 2009

Terps knock off Cal

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 7:54 pm

After a really interesting opening game in Kansas City, the Maryland-California game was a bit of a letdown. Going by efficiency margins, Cal was a prohibitive favorite going into the game. However, I picked Maryland on my own bracket. I wasn’t impressed by Cal when I saw them earlier this year against Mizzou and I felt like the teams were closer than the efficiency margins indicated simply because I think the Pac 10 is kind of weak. At least that’s what the President says. Also, Maryland had the best player on the floor in Greivis Vasque, which is a good enough tiebreaker for me.

The game was slugglish. The first half feature more turnovers than assists and a comibined 35% shooting. Vasquez had 11 points at the break, but it took him 11 shot to get there and he had zero assists. In the second half, Maryland was able to display a little urgency, while Cal really just seemed like they were on cruise control the whole game. Vasquez became more of a creator, which opened up the perimeter and Maryland pulled away late. Vasquez ended up with 27 points and got four assists after the half, as Maryland climbed to almost the break-even mark in shooting for the game.

So it’s Maryland and Memphis in the second round. I sat next to the section of the media area set aside for scouts (no accident) and talked quite a bit to Memphis assistant Orlando Antigua, a former player at Pitt who also played for the Harlem Globetrotters. I had the feeling that he was much more concerned with matching up with Cal lightening bug Jerome Randle than he was Vasquez. Vasquez creates a lot of offense because of his heighth advantage over opposing guards, allowing him to see the floor and pick apart a defense. That won’t fly against Memphis. In fact, I think it’s a terrible matchup for the Terps and I look for the Tigers to romp.

Memphis survives

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 3:20 pm

So the Matadors’ cape finally … oh, never mind. Cal Northridge ran out of gas, as Memphis found some defensive intensity midway through the second half and rode record-breaking day from Roburt Sallie to an 81-70 win. It was terrific opening game here in KC — much more than one could have hoped for.

Sallie’s 10 three-pointers were a record for a first-round NCAA game. His 35 points were 22 more than his previous season high and also broke Larry Kenon’s Memphis record for points in an NCAA tourney game. As John Calipari pointed out after the game, the Tigers were 1-13 from beyond the arc if you take away Sallies’ flurry.

Memphis could be in trouble

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 2:03 pm

I’m courtside at the Sprint Center in Kansas City today and I’ll check in on Unfiltered from time to time. I’m also blogging over at my KC Star hub, if you want to check in there.

Right now, Northridge leads Memphis — my pick to win the whole bracket — by a point with 13:52 to play. It’s been a stunner. Memphis is not playing with the kind of intensity that you’ve come to expect from Coach Cal’s charges. Northridge, on the other hand, has been repeatedly beating the Tigers down the floor to get easy shots. Their point guard, Mark Hill, is playing out of his head in the second half. The ratio of Memphis fans to Matador fans here is about 2000:1. However, every neutral fan in the place has become a de facto Cal-Northridge booster. The place is really getting loud. Buckle up your seats on this one.

If Memphis can survive, we’ve seen that a shaky first round performance doesn’t necessarily bleed over into subsequent games. Survive and advance, as the mantra goes. If the Tigers do fall in what would be a jaw-dropping development, that’d open a nice path to the Final Four for Mizzou.

63-0

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsheehan @ 11:51 am

Because I’m just arrogant enough to think you care, but not bright enough to know how to post an image of my bracket…

Sweet 16:

Louisville over Ohio State
Arizona over Wake Forest
West Virginia over North Dakota State
USC over Michigan State

Connecticut over BYU
Purdue over Michigan State
Missouri over Utah State
Memphis over California

Pittsburgh over Oklahoma State
Wisconsin over Portland State
UCLA over Villanova
Duke over Texas

North Carolina over Butler
Gonzaga over Western Kentucky
Syracuse over Arizona State
Clemson over Oklahoma

Final Four:

Louisville over West Virginia
Memphis over Connecticut
Pittsburgh over UCLA
Syracuse over Gonzaga

Championship:

Syracuse 79, Louisville 69

Chat Today, PLUS Drama, Magnitude, Finality

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 8:15 am

Join me today for the live chat thing as the tournament tips off. Click here starting at noon Eastern to go live or do it earlier and submit your question in advance. I did this same time slot last year and, with actual NCAA games in progress, the conversation becomes a really nice blend of meandering chat and focused collective spectating. Drop by. 

And because I believe that no Unfiltered post should be limited to a shameless plug for a chat, please indulge me while I carry a tradition forward:

The tournament starts in earnest today when LSU tips off against Butler at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina. And so at 12:20 Eastern beings the best sporting event of the year. By far….

Every November, when college football is once again twisting itself into noisy, bewildering, and futile BCS knots trying to determine who will play for the national championship, I thank the bracket gods for giving us such a beautifully Euclidean way of determining who will play for the national championship.

Every May and June, when the NBA inflicts upon us “playoffs” that occupy about as much time as the Crimean War (I especially appreciate the leisurely pauses between first-round games, drawing out the suspense of that tense Lakers-Nuggets series), I thank the bracket gods for giving us such a tidy three-week method of going from 340+ to 65 to one.

Every February, when the NFL presents a Super Bowl that feels so oddly disconnected from and unrelated to an actual football game, I thank the bracket gods for giving us tournament games that are the very epitome of college hoops (Laettner, Drew, et al.).

Every October, when baseball gives us its best games in indigestible four-hour slabs in the dark of late-night in game-altering 30-degree weather, I thank the bracket gods for selecting their champion in two-hour installments in precisely the right game-enhancing venues (neutral floors, opposing fans, opposing bands, etc.).

And every October 15, I thank the bracket gods for starting the cycle anew.

“Drama, magnitude and finality” has been lifted from those estimable wordsmiths at the Supreme Court, ruling against President Truman some 57 years ago. I think the Supremes of a previous century would happily concede that theirs is a better description of March than of what they thought they were describing (the presidency).

Starting today, each game is the most important game of the year. Each game eliminates one more team. And there will be one fewer game than there are teams.

This morning it’s all still in front of us.  

March 18, 2009

Chat Tomorrow, PLUS Coaching Carousel?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:41 am

Join me tomorrow at noon Eastern for my favorite live chat of the year, the one I do as the tournament’s first games are tipping off. Last year’s tip-off chat was fun and wild, as 14-seed and miracle team Georgia took an unexpected lead over three-seed Xavier. Eventually the Musketeers won pretty easily, but Xavier panic and Bulldog jubilation reigned supreme on the chat for a while there.

So yeah, click here tomorrow to go live or do it now and submit your question in advance. All topics welcomed! Keep me on my toes and make up still another postseason tournament: “Hey, John, who do you like in this year’s first-ever Elite X-tremes Collegiate Excellence Seeded Selection Invitational Vibrant Event (EXCESSIVE)? I like how the bracket lines up for Prairie View A&M. Go Panthers! All the way to the finals in Muncie! Woo!” 

And because I believe no Unfiltered post should be limited to a shameless plug for a chat, please accept this morsel of speculation regarding the hiring market for head coaches this season:

Previously I’ve wondered aloud what effect the economy will have on this year’s coaching carousel, specifically whether buyouts negotiated circa 2006 will prove too much to swallow in the strange and financially straitened new realm called 2009.

Of course within hours of wondering aloud, Dave Leitao was shown the door at Virginia. (Note that in this link the pitiless finger of hindsight is pointed at alleged deficiencies displayed by the Cavaliers on defense. Actually this year in ACC play UVA was at least within shouting distance of average on D–Boston College, for one, is dancing even though their defense is markedly more porous than Virginia’s–but the Cavaliers were way below-average on offense. For the record.) Even with a vacancy in Charlottesville, however, there remain multiple other shoes out there that simply haven’t dropped this postseason. My sense is that in better economic times we would see more positions available than the ones currently open at Alabama, Georgia, and Virginia (and, of course, an opening sans any firing at Arizona).

There is, however, one factor that could ignite a true coaching carousel this year, hard times or no. Yesterday at SI.com Seth Davis suggested that a player revolt may be in the offing at Kentucky if Billy Gillispie is retained as head coach. I can’t remember the last time I was less surprised to read something that should have been surprising. I watched a number of UK games this year. Those players just looked miserable, even when they won.

Nothing has happened in Lexington yet, of course. Maybe nothing will happen. But speaking purely as a hypothetical, an opening at a program as blue-blooded as Kentucky would ripple through the entire coaching market. Look at what happened when North Carolina hired Roy Williams in 2003. Kansas replaced Williams with Bill Self. Illinois replaced Self with Bruce Weber. Southern Illinois replaced Weber with Matt Painter. A very small number of jobs trigger after-shocks like that. Kentucky is one of them.

BONUS etymology note! What the heck does “waiting for the other shoe to drop” mean, anyway?

Now I know. It dates from the early 1900s:

Its source would seem to be the following story. A man comes in late at night to a lodging house, rather the worse for wear. He sits on his bed, drags one shoe off and drops it on the floor. Guiltily remembering everyone around him is trying to sleep, he takes the other one off much more carefully and quietly puts it on the floor. He then finishes undressing and gets into bed. Just as he is drifting off to sleep, a shout comes from the man in the room below: “Well, drop the other one then! I can’t sleep, waiting for you to drop the other shoe!” This may come from music hall or vaudeville, though it would seem that nobody has been able to tie it down more precisely.

Actually, that’s plenty precise for me.

March 17, 2009

#66, #98 and #114!

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsheehan @ 4:31 pm

Where once there was one backup tournament, there are now three, as something called CollegeInsider.com is sponsoring a 16-team event drawing largely from non-major conferences. It joins the College Basketball Invitational, in its second season, and the venerable NIT.

I’m not complaining of course, although as far as I can tell, the newest event has minimal, if any, TV coverage, and I’m in no hurry to go back to that nightmare of a Web site to find out if I missed something. HDNet has picked up a bunch of the CBI games, and I think I get that on DirecTV. The NIT, since being subsumed by the NCAA, has gotten most of its games onto the ESPN family of networks. Look, I’m a sports geek, and if you put the games on, I’m going to watch them, or at least TiVo them. So I’m all in favor of absurd expansion of the college basketball postseason, up to and including the point where the 16-17 St. John’s squad gets to keep playing.

The NIT trumpeted the way in which it extended bids to any regular-season conference champion that didn’t reach the NCAA tournament. For the second year in a row, though, they treated those teams unkindly. Four of the five teams to get bids this way are eight-seeds, and the fifth, Davidson, is a six. The NIT remains the province of BCS schools coming off of mediocre seasons, usually featuring .500 or worse conference records and lame nonconference schedules. Of the 16 teams hosting first-round games, nine are from BCS leagues, and two others are from the Mountain West.

Playing at home is usually the best path to success in the NIT, although that didn’t hold as much last season. After a 24-4 performance in ’07, home teams went just 21-7, still a strong indication that being the higher seed is the path to Madison Square Garden. A look at this year’s bracket shows that out west, seeds will probably hold for the first two rounds, but #2 St. Mary’s has a good shot to beat #1 San Diego State in the regional final. In the south, it’s a little more sketchy; Northwestern can win at Tulsa in the 4/5 game, and Georgetown should be able to take advantage of Baylor’s defense down in Waco. I expect Georgetown to emerge from this quadrant of the bracket, although only Tennessee-Martin would be a true surprise. Duquesne can play, and a second-round matchup of the Dukes and Baylor would be a ton of fun to watch if it happened.

In what we’ll call the midwest, seeds are likely to hold, although I like UNLV to take out Kentucky at Rupp Arena in the 4/5 game. Creighton versus Notre Dame would be an excellent game, and given the Irish’ problems away from home, I’ll go with the Bluejays-who should be in the NCAAs-to advance to New York.

Finally, in the Eastish quad, Florida has a fairly easy path to the final, hosting Jacksonville and either Miami (Fla.) or Providence. Penn State gets George Mason at home, no easy game, and then would host the winner of Niagara/Rhode Island, one of the better first-round games, and one with no TV coverage. I like Rhode Island for the upset here, and to make it to a final eight showdown with Florida, which is a tossup game.

So my NIT final four is St. Mary’s, Georgetown, Creighton and Rhode Island. I’ll take St. Mary’s to win it all.

In the CBI, teams get home games by putting up money, so there’s not much relationship between quality of team and playing at home. That’s how St. John’s ends up hosting Richmond. It won’t be enough; the Spiders are the best team in that particular foursome. Look for them, Oregon State, Nevada and Boise State-my upset special!-to comprise the final four, with Nevada taking it all.

The new event doesn’t bracket, so picking a winner is harder to do. The best teams in the field, in my opinion, are Portland, Old Dominion, Austin Peay and either Rider or Idaho. Three of those teams open on the road. Gun at my head, I’ll take Old Dominion over Portland in the final.

One last note, so that I can be on record when I get the next 63 games right: Morehead State wins it going away in Dayton.

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