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November 19, 2008, 12:51 PM ET
Chapel Hill, Boulder, and the Space Between

by John Gasaway

I know I was supposed to watch North Carolina-Kentucky last night and I tried. Truly I did. But the game was eerily reminiscent of what happened the last time I watched the Heels, only this time it was Carolina that sprinted out to a huge lead, just like Kansas did against them in the Final Four last April, and then coasted rather desultorily across the 40th minute for the 77-58 win. In those first eight minutes Ty Lawson looked as fast as ever, Deon Thompson looked more confident than I remember, Ed Davis looked impressive, and the team as a whole made me glad I’m on the record as saying they could conceivably win a national championship even without Tyler Hansbrough.

Still, my attention wandered after those first eight minutes. Playing on their home court, Oklahoma got by Davidson 82-78. The foci of hype and anticipation were understandably Blake Griffin (21 boards) and Stephen Curry (44 points on 29 shots). But I additionally found myself watching Sooner freshman Willie Warren, who looked, for the first time, like a player who merits the advance praise that he’s received.

Of course, merely having the ability to flip from North Carolina-Kentucky to Oklahoma-Davidson in mid-November would have to be termed a luxury. (Thanks, ESPN.) So why did I end my evening thinking about…Colorado? Well, for starters last night the Buffs lost at home in OT to Montana State, 85-82.

We know CU’s Jeff Bzdelik can coach. What’s more he’s shown a rare fondness for switching styles, having presided at the helm of both the go-go Denver Nuggets and no-go (but, of course, insanely efficient) Air Force. Last night, though, Bzdelik’s experience wasn’t enough. Bobby Howard came off the bench for the Bobcats and hit 5-of-7 threes. Colorado lost at home to an opponent that’s without three of the top four scorers from a team that went 7-9 in the Big Sky last year.

And I thought to myself: The non-KU Big 12 North right now seems like the coaching profession’s equivalent of a land war in Asia, humbling all who dare to enter.  

BONUS didactic harangue! It is now November 2008. Basketball Prospectus has been around for, what, 13 months? We’ve been called “indispensable” by the New York Times. (Albeit by a part of the Times that yesterday announced it has ceased to exist–no cause and effect, I swear!) So surely there is no longer any earthly reason for a national write-up on the Carolina-Kentucky game to fret in Roy Williams‘ direction that, sans Hansbrough, the Wildcats ”outrebounded the Tar Heels (34-31).” In fact it was North Carolina that dominated the boards last night, getting to 36 percent of their own misses and 70 percent of the Wildcats’. The fact that UK coughed up the ball on an astonishing 38 percent of their possessions, however, meant there were simply way fewer Wildcat misses to rebound. Meanwhile the Heels were combining low-turnover ball with surprisingly meh shooting, resulting in plenty of chances for Kentucky to record defensive boards.

Pretty straightforward, yes? Now, picture me choking on a half-eaten radish in war-ravaged Georgia circa 1865, backlit in dramatic silhouette: As God is my witness, I will kill this “rebounding margin” cognitive fungus as dead as Marley’s ghost. It is worse than meaningless. In certain cases, such as this one, it is in fact the precise belligerent opposite of long-neglected hoops reality.   

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