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March 9, 2009, 10:59 AM ET
Weekend in Hoops: Wildcat-Heavy Edition

by John Gasaway

Farewell regular season, we hardly knew ye! Seems like just yesterday the Kentucky faithful were up in arms because their beloved Wildcats had lost at home to VMI.

Don’t go to Vegas with Billy Gillispie. (Though actually it would’ve been a good idea last year.) 
Ah, but that was then. Now the Kentucky faithful are, well what do you know, up in arms because their beloved Wildcats closed the SEC season losing five of their last six. Included in that total is UK’s season-ending 60-53 loss at Florida Saturday. The late-season swoon has the ‘Cats hoping for an SEC tournament miracle to get them into the NCAA tournament and, worse, acknowledging that they will accept a bid from the NIT should it come to that.

The chorus is loud and sustained: Billy Gillispie has Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson. How can he be losing these games?

Two ways, actually. Because Kentucky is admirably tidy in their strengths and weaknesses, we can zero in on the problem performance-wise. This is after all an above-average defensive team (one that’s particularly harsh on opponents attempting twos) that shoots well from the field, attacks the offensive glass, and gets to the line quite often. What they do not do is take care of the ball. Oh, how they do not do that. In SEC play this year the Wildcats coughed up the rock on one out of every four possessions. Only Georgia was more benevolent with the ball.  

So turnovers are one way UK is not winning these games. The other factor at work in Lexington this season is fate, and here the karma’s pretty ironic. Last year Kentucky was one of the most fortunate teams in the country, going 12-4 while outscoring SEC opponents by just 0.01 points per trip. This year they upped that scoring margin to 0.04 points per possession–and went 8-8 for their troubles. Yes, that qualifies as pretty unfortunate (that scoring margin “should” fetch you either a 10-6 or, at least, a 9-7), but keep in mind the huge departure from normality actually took place last year, when expectations were raised pretty high by a team that barely outscored its conference opponents.   

BONUS SEC note!
Not Wildcat-related in any way: Auburn took care of business on their home floor Saturday, dispatching LSU 69-53. Tune in for Conference Check tomorrow for the final numbers but take it from me: Jeff Lebo has a good team, particularly on defense. Surging late in the year in the down division (West) of a down conference (SEC), they couldn’t get anyone to notice them. Makers of mock brackets say the surge was too little, too late. Maybe so. Still, the numbers here are pretty insistent as far as what team you would not want to play in a first-round NCAA game. You’d much rather face South Carolina than Auburn.

Those Wildcats out West can shoot the rock
Last seen in this space losing at home to Cal Thursday night, Arizona rallied in impressive fashion, beating Stanford 101-87 in Tucson on Saturday. Gaze upon this box score, for it features the best shooting you will see anywhere. In making 62 percent of their threes and 73 percent of their twos, the Wildcats recorded an effective FG percentage of 80.0, making theirs the best 40 minutes of shooting posted in any major-conference game this year. ‘Zona finished the year 9-9 in the Pac-10. As the five-seed in the conference tournament, they’ll face Arizona State in a quarterfinal on Thursday. Barring a Pac-10 tourney championship, these Wildcats will probably be watching the Selection Sunday show with the unnerving knowledge that this thing could go either way.

Wildcats of the Midwest come up short
Northwestern rallied from an early 15-point deficit at Ohio State yesterday and made the Buckeyes sweat but came up just short, losing 52-47. NU finishes 8-10 in the Big Ten, a giant leap forward, goodness knows, from their 1-17 record last year. Still, they can’t help but wonder what might have been. If they’d just held on to that lead at home against Illinois.

Then again, there’s a conference tournament starting Thursday. Win it. That will end this bothersome little 70-year NCAA tournament absence.

BONUS pro-bono scouting tip for NBA front offices!
B.J. Mullens is raw. Good night is he raw. DeAndre Jordan a year ago was Steve Nash compared to Mullens. Give the kid another year or three.  

Wildcat theme ends here: Let’s talk about Aggies
Texas A&M led 51-29 at the half and cruised somewhat unsteadily from there to a 96-86 win over Missouri in College Station on Saturday. Congratulations to Mark Turgeon and the Aggies on closing the year with six straight wins and putting themselves in very good position for an NCAA bid. True, part of that surge was fortuitous scheduling: their most impressive road win over that span arguably came at Nebraska. That being said, one of the things that drives me up the wall about who-have-you-played myopia (see “Auburn” above) is that it ignores how teams are playing. During their six-game lunge for the finish line, A&M scored 1.17 points per trip, making 54 percent of their twos and 44 percent of their threes. That’ll do.  

Duke is really struggling on D
North Carolina won the ACC outright yesterday with their 79-71 win at home over Duke, all but assuring that the Heels will receive their fourth one-seed in five years. Take a bow, Roy Williams. You’ve had a run the likes of which few coaches not named Wooden can relate to. 

As for the Blue Devils, there’s no shame in losing by eight at Chapel Hill, of course, but Mike Krzyzewski has more substantial worries on his plate. On paper Duke has a defense that tied with Florida State’s for best-in-the-ACC honors during conference play. In reality, this team allowed 1.11 points per trip over the back half of their ACC schedule. They’ve been getting riddled with made shots by opponents for weeks now. The only thing between Duke and a total defensive collapse has been a relatively high number of opponent turnovers. But when those opponents get a shot off, look out.

Teasing tomorrow’s post
The Big East in 2009 has been an NCAA selection committee’s dream league. Dividing the conference into worthy and unworthy in terms of bids couldn’t be simpler. Tune in tomorrow.

Unfiltered-Back!
Don’t just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Mon dieu! The French were right with their posh talk about post-modernism! (Stupid French)
Hi, John,

I had a comment concerning the column on “luck.”

As far as I understand it, “luck” is the difference between the pythagorean winning percentage and the team’s actual winning percentage. 

In the business that I work in (economics), I would call that “error,” not “luck.” Calling it luck presumes the pythagorean percentage is the exact specification for winning.

Thanks!

Ben A. 

This is what I’ve been saying all along: the confusion here arises from the English language, not from the numbers. “Luck” connotes meanings which I do not hold with regard to these teams. Therefore I propose to start calling this phenomenon a team’s degree of DeChellis, in honor of the Penn State coach who’s had an extremely high degree of DeChellis for two seasons running now.

Though, truth be told, the Nittany Lions actually lost a close game (!) Saturday at Iowa. It looked very strange. I didn’t know that was possible.  

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