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March 17, 2009

Villanova, Home Court, and the Odds

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:46 pm

Since posting the log5 previews for the East and Midwest a few minutes ago, I’ve received multiple inquiries wondering whether the probabilities listed for Villanova reflect the fact that the Wildcats will be playing their first- and (they hope) second-round games in Philadelphia at the Wachovia Center, where Jay Wright‘s team played three regular season home games this year.

The answer is no: the numbers assume a neutral floor. Use these figures accordingly.

Obviously Villanova gets a boost from playing at home. (I actually think they get more of a boost from their opponent flying across three time zones, assuming UCLA does indeed meet up with ‘Nova.) I would only add one cautionary reminder.

Two years ago everyone outside the state of Texas went absolutely nuts when three-seed Texas A&M was put in a San Antonio bracket on the second weekend with one-seed Ohio State and two-seed Memphis. Buckeye fans in particular were livid. But, as it happened, the Tigers edged the Aggies in the Sweet 16 and the world continued spinning.

Not apples to apples, I know. Philly is more synonymous with Villanova than San Antonio is with A&M. Still, keep in mind Georgetown, to name one fairly innocuous non-tournament team, played at the Wachovia Center a couple weeks back and won by two. I merely wish to suggest that if the ‘Cats are counting on geography to do all their work, they will be flirting with an early exit.

March 16, 2009

Tomorrow’s Memes Today!

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 8:23 am

The sound you do not hear is the sound of gossip.

It’s March. The brackets are set. We should talking about the coaches who were just fired and, more especially, gossiping about the coaches who want badly to be hired into those positions. Yet, unless you’re speculating furtively on who’s going to replace Dennis Wolff at Boston University, you’re not doing that kind of gossiping right now. Why not? 

We here at Tomorrow’s Memes Today! think it’s the economy. Indeed TMT is proud to have brought this meme to you first, before a certain fly-by-night “news” organization followed rather feebly in our footsteps. The fact that last week passed without any morning-after dismissals was particularly notable.

That’s not to say an axe couldn’t fall this week or even today. But it would appear that the buyouts negotiated on behalf of coaches two or three years ago are looming large in 2009. 

March 15, 2009

Arizona

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsheehan @ 6:55 pm

I know I said I’d wait until tomorrow, but….Arizona? Really? Last year, they got in when a third of their schedule was hand-waved away as a product of injuries. This year, they go 2-9 on the road, do absolutely nothing out of state, fall apart down the stretch, finish .500 in conference, get waxed in the conference quarterfinal…and get in?

They weren’t one of my first eight out. Their case is the eight top-100 wins. EVERYTHING else is a negative.

This seems like a repudiation of everything the committee has said over the last decade. Creighton went 8-4 on the road, finished tied for first in their league, and had nine top-100 wins, admittedly mostly 51-100.

I just don’t understand this selection in the context of the last decade. The committee has selected the big-conference team that did less than the minimum over the mid-major that did very well, though not perfectly, with what it had.

I know I said there would be no arguing, but…this is a failure. It’s the only mistake they made, but it was a doozy.

Watch next year, as Arizona tries to lower the bar for selection yet again.

Epilogue

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsheehan @ 4:13 pm

Mississippi State won a comical ending against Tennessee, one that featured at least two phantom fouls in the last 15 seconds, and some terrible play by both teams. That puts them in the tournament, and costs, at least in my bracket, San Diego State its spot. I’ve shuffled the decks a bit. Here are the details:

Last four in: Creighton, Minnesota, Maryland, Dayton
Last four out: San Diego State, Penn State, Auburn, St. Mary’s
Next four out:  New Mexico, UNLV, Tulsa, Niagara
I don’t do bracketing, in no small part because I think the decisions on where to send teams geographically drive so many of the decisions that the seedings we see may not reflect the S-curve as closely as we’d like. Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm…these guys have that stuff down, and I have this whole other sport to focus on. I did put together an S-curve, which is as close as I’ll get to seeding these teams.

I have Duke over Memphis for the final #1 seed, based on the quality wins. As I mentioned in today’s column, I’m starting to wonder whether Conference USA needs to be re-evaluated. I also have UConn lower than most, because they have been a different team since the Kevin Dyson injury. I could make a case for Oklahoma as a #3 for the same reasons, but I don’t know which team I’d elevate. The 2/15 games could be fairly interesting this year. If Memphis gets a #1 seed, they could hold a #16 under 20 points.

Thanks for following along this year. Both John Gasaway and I will have bracket analysis tomorrow, and I’ll be chatting hoops and baseball over at the mothership at 1 p.m. Monday.

Louisville
North Carolina
Pittsburgh
Duke
Memphis
Michigan State
Connecticut
Oklahoma
Missouri
Kansas
Syracuse
Purdue
Villanova
Wake Forest
Washington
Florida State
Ohio State
Clemson
Gonzaga
Utah
Xavier
West Virginia
Illinois
Arizona State
Tennessee
Marquette
Oklahoma State
Texas
UCLA
LSU
Butler
Southern California
Utah State
Texas A&M
California
Brigham Young
Siena
Boston College
Michigan
Wisconsin
Dayton
Maryland
Minnesota
Temple
Mississippi State
Creighton
Western Kentucky
VCU
Northern Iowa
Cleveland State
American
North Dakota State
Stephen F. Austin
Akron
Binghamton
Portland State
Robert Morris
Cornell
ETSU
Morgan State
Cal State-Northridge
Radford
Morehead State
Chattanooga
Alabama State
 

The Myth of Syracuse 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 3:05 pm

There will be a ton of discussion tonight and in the next 72 hours devoted to this year’s Syracuse team and the fatigue factor. I mean, seriously, get ready for this meme to be absolutely beaten into dust before your eyes: Will the Orangemen “have their legs”? Will they be seeded in a Thursday or Friday bracket? Even if they win the first game can they possible win the second?

Part and parcel of that conversation will be repeated references to Jim Boeheim‘s 2006 Big East Tournament champions, who rode hot shooting from Gerry McNamara to four wins in four days and a Big East tournament championship, only to lose by eight in the first round of the NCAA tournament to an up-and-coming Billy Gillispie and his twelfth-seeded Texas A&M team. To this day Boeheim likely believes his team lost that game because they didn’t have their legs against the Aggies.

Maybe Boeheim’s right. It was after all one of those dreaded Thursday games in a far flung-locale: in this case, Jacksonville, Florida, some 1100 miles away from the Carrier Dome.

Then again Jacksonville’s also zero time zones away from upstate NY, far preferable to Boise for a team whose locale is further east than coastal cities like Wilmington, NC, Savannah, and, yes, Jacksonville. Moreover this particular Thursday game was also the last one of the evening, tipping at 9:55 at night. Lastly there is of course the fact that Syracuse won their Big East championship on Saturday night. For them to play the following Thursday is equivalent to any ACC, Big Ten, or SEC conference tournament champion playing the following Friday. Big deal.

I think Syracuse might have lost because, as a five-seed, they were almost certainly the most over-seeded team of the tempo-free era, one that could not beat a correctly slotted 12-seed. In Big East play that season the ‘Cuse was outscored by their opponents by 0.08 points for every possession they played, a level of performance equal to what teams like Cincinnati and Iowa have achieved this year within their respective conferences.

Historically the committee has remained admirably level-headed when confronted with one of these four-wins-in-four-days teams–witness the 14-seed they gave Georgia last year. But for some reason the 2006 committee plainly got swept up in the G-Mac Mania, giving a five-seed to a team that had proven over the course of 16 games that they would be a decided underdog against A&M on a neutral floor, as indeed they were.

For all I know this year’s Syracuse team may prove to be decisively hampered by fatigue in the first or second round. But if they are, the 2006 team is not an apposite precedent.

BONUS fun fact! This ain’t just ancient history we’re sifting, folks! In today’s high-turnover one-and-done era, a surprising number of current Orangemen saw quality minutes with that ’06 team. Eric Devendorf averaged 27 minutes a game while Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku each at least got off the bench in 20-plus games.    

The Louisville Paradox

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 8:59 am

Louisville won the Big East tournament last night, beating Syracuse 76-66. The win gives the Cardinals an absolute jewel of a sound bite to take before the selection committee: outright champions of the Big East, winners of the Big East tournament.

That sound bite is true, and Rick Pitino‘s team has earned it. Moreover, this team really does look like national championship material. And I mean that in the best purely visual sense. Watching them last night against the Orangemen–creating second-half turnovers not only with their athleticism but also with their relentless pressure; knocking down second-half threes; scoring points on some polished post moves executed by Samardo Samuels; getting, as usual, whatever’s needed from Terrence Williams–I could very easily imagine them inflicting their will on an opponent on a Monday night in Detroit three weeks from now. Very easily.

So don’t brand me a “doubter” (I spent almost the entirety of last season yelling and waving my arms about how the ‘Ville was outrageously underrated) or a disrespecter if I bring up a couple more sound bites, ones that are also true.

Louisville won the Big East tournament by beating Providence, Villanova, and a Syracuse team that had already played the equivalent of nearly four games before they took the floor against the Cardinals.

In winning the regular season championship, the Cardinals’ per-possession performance was a hair below that of Pitt and Connecticut, even though the latter two teams had to play each other twice.

Again, I’m not doubting this team per se. They did take care of business and that’s all we can ask of any team. Indeed it would be the height of irony if I doubted Louisville due to its schedule the day after I scolded anyone who would dare doubt Auburn due to its schedule.

No, I’m just offering full disclosure for anyone about to put pencil to bracket. As I said, it’s a paradox, one I’m still working through myself. Right now I’m coming down about here:

Louisville is clearly one of the six best teams in the country, yet they haven’t shown me they’re as dominant as the honorific “overall number one-seed” would imply, should they indeed earn said honorific later today. 

Living Up to the Hype

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:38 am

At the beginning of the 2008-09 season, a USC run to the Pac-10 Tournament title would have been a reasonable prediction. By the time the tournament started, with the Trojans having gone 9-9 in conference, lost six of nine games in the second half of Pac-10 play and fought on the court at the conclusion of a home loss to Washington, it seemed like a longshot–even in a conference that was marked all season by the absence of a dominant team or teams.

Nonetheless, on Saturday USC clinched an NCAA Tournament berth which was not likely forthcoming without the automatic bid. The Trojans rallied from a 15-point halftime deficiit and beat Arizona State 66-63 to emerge as Pac-10 champions.

What was remarkable about USC’s run, which featured wins over three of the Pac-10’s top four teams, was that all three wins were very different games. On Thursday, the Trojans outscored the potent Cal offense in a 79-75 win. Last night, they showcased their defense, holding UCLA to a dismal 76.2 points per 100 possessions. Today’s game was a slowdown 54-possession affair, which means neither defense was as impressive as the final score would indicate. Southern Cal won this game too with offense, putting up a 122.2 Offensive Rating. I’m not sure of the possession breakdown, but USC’s efficiency had to be off the charts in a 42-point second half.

That’s one reason to be wary of seeing the Trojans come up opposite your favorite team when the NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed tomorrow afternoon. The other reason is the player who serves as a microcosm for his entire team in terms of belatedly fulfilling expectations. In College Basketball Prospectus 2008-2009, I quoted scouts as comparing DeMar DeRozan to the likes of Vince Carter and even Kobe Bryant. Those seemed laughable–well, maybe not to Raptors fans–when DeRozan scored single-digits in three of his first five collegiate games. So much for talk of being a top-five pick after one year at USC.

DeRozan has quietly made progress over the course of the season, offering the Trojans more consistent production. He put it all together during the Pac-10 Tournament, scoring 63 points and grabbing 27 rebounds over the three games to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. DeRozan showcased newfound three-point range (his three threes in the tournament were as many as he hit during the entire regular season) and the ability to create off the dribble. DeRozan shot 57.5 percent from the field in the three games.

With DeRozan stepping into the O.J. Mayo role, the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year (Taj Gibson) anchoring the paint and a defense that can be stifling for extended stretches (the first half against Cal, the second half against ASU and the entire game against UCLA), the Trojans have the parts to play spoiler again next week in the NCAA Tournament.

March 14, 2009

Auburn’s Still Alive

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 8:51 am

Auburn might lose to Tennessee today in the SEC tournament semifinals, and if they do the Tigers may well be shoved off the bubble before they were every truly acknowledged as being on it. Understood.

But for the past three weeks or so Jeff Lebo‘s team, more so than any other team in the country, has represented what I think is a very important idea: All any team can do is play the schedule they have and win. (Memphis, of course, is swimming against this same current, albeit from a much better part of the river.) To dismiss a team out of hand because they didn’t have Pitt or North Carolina on their schedule in February (“Hey, who has Auburn beaten?”) is worse than fatuous, it’s monarchical. If that’s going to be our criterion let’s just send out a letter on January 31 telling the vast majority of teams: Sorry, ain’t gonna happen. We looked at your remaining schedule and, hey, where are the quality wins going to be? At (snort) Mississippi State? At home against Tennessee or (cackle) LSU? Not good enough.

I’m not saying Auburn deserves a bid; that’s a comparative judgment, not a normative one. I am saying Auburn deserves a look. 

So I looked last night, and watched the Tigers edge Florida 61-58 in the SEC quarters, a bubble vs. bubble game along the lines of Thursday’s collision in the Mountain West between San Diego State and UNLV. In the first half the Gators’ match-up zone looked surprisingly active for a team that on paper has merely an average defense. Truth be told Auburn couldn’t do much with that zone in the half-court, nor could their undersized interior D do much to stop Alex Tyus. There was a direct correlation in the opening period between Florida misses and Tiger makes on the other end, as Auburn’s Korvotney Barber cleared the defensive glass and Frankie Sullivan pushed the pace. In the second half Lebo’s team started dribbling into the gaps in that zone. It was enough, barely. 

Florida, much like Creighton and New Mexico, now has to wait and see what happens after being knocked out of their conference tournament earlier than expected. Nick Calathes had a wretched game, going 3-of-13 from the field and missing two big free throws late. Even when he’s struggling, however, Calathes has that Deron Williams air of calm intelligence at high velocity. Not to mention he recorded 11 defensive boards on a night when nothing was falling for him on offense. Were I a GM at the next level, I would take that as a very good indication of this player’s motor.

As for Auburn, they’re not a big team, but between Barber and Lucas Hargrove they actually fared surprisingly well on the defensive glass in SEC play. Their weakness is perimeter shooting. If they overcame that weakness against a zone D like Florida’s, maybe they can overcome the “Who have you beaten?” presumption. But they haven’t done it yet and the Volunteers stand astride that path.  

March 13, 2009

Six Overtimes, One Classic

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:57 am

Syracuse beat Connecticut 127-117 in six overtimes earlier this morning in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. I saw the whole game, and it took close to four hours.

It shouldn’t have come to this. Eric Devendorf sank a three at the end of regulation that would have ended the game in any of the sport’s first ten decades. Now, of course, we “check the monitors.” And when they did the refs made the correct call: the ball was on Devendorf’s fingertips when the clock hit triple-zero. So 30 more minutes were played. Those 30 minutes acquired a kind of cumulative grace. 

Now, I should tell you that in my mind “conference tournament” and “classic” are tough to reconcile. Truth be told there really wasn’t much on the line here. UConn will still be a one-seed, even though they lost. Maybe the Orangemen can move up from a six- to a five-seed with a worthy performance at Madison Square Garden. But even if they do, that’s not what you’re going to tell your grandchildren.

And, frankly, in the second and third overtimes, I got the distinct feeling that both teams had that same thought. What are we doing this for? If we win we’re going to be exhausted tomorrow night against West Virginia. (In another universe the Mountaineers’ upset of Pitt would be big news right now.) If we lose, let’s rest up for the Dance.

Then a funny thing happened. By about the fourth overtime it was as if the sheer magnitude of the spectacle imparted its own adrenaline to the players on both sides. Then again, by the fifth overtime most everyone was gone. Devendorf, Arinze Onuaku, Kristof Ongenaet, Hasheem Thabeet, Stanley Robinson, even Gavin Edwards–they all fouled out. The only familiar names left at the end were Jonny Flynn, Andy Rautins, A.J. Price (and even he fouled out close to the end), and Jeff Adrien.  

At the start of the fifth overtime, Flynn came on the court without his headband. Why? I have no idea. I’ve never seen him without it. When it was all done he had played 67 minutes. In his postgame interview, he seemed ready to go for six more overtimes. Jim Boeheim, conversely, was emotional, effusive, and a little awed by the whole thing, I thought.

I know how he feels.

March 12, 2009

Chat Today, PLUS Football Penalty Impacts a Bid

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 8:17 am

Join me today for the live chat thing. Click here starting at noon Eastern to go live or do it earlier and submit your question in advance. All topics welcomed! Keep me on my toes and make up a plausible sounding name for a ref. (“Hey, John, when is Donnie Whitehead going to stop calling so many blocking fouls? Does he have a disability where he can’t put his hand behind his head to call a charge?”) 

And because I believe that no Unfiltered post should be limited to a shameless plug for a chat, please accept this moment of intersport Zen:

Last night Robert Morris punched their ticket to the Dance, beating Mount St. Mary’s 48-46 in the NEC final, thanks to a 12-footer from Dallas Green off a broken play with 2.5 seconds remaining.

Had this contest been decided by five points or seven, scrutinizing each possession over the course of the game would be academic. Since it was decided by a single basket, however, it’s worth pointing out Mount St. Mary’s gave away two points late in the first half when, coming out of a timeout, they were assessed a technical foul for briefly having six players on the floor. 

I’ve been watching college hoops since I was a wee lad but I have never seen a technical foul assessed on a team for having six players on the floor. I thought that was purely a football problem; I didn’t know it was possible in basketball. Now I’m waiting to see what happens when the Yankees send ten players out onto the field on opening day. What would the “penalty” be? 

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