Big Ten Wonk
Monday, October 15, 2007
My 598th post here
This blog is no more. It has ceased to be. Bereft of life it rests in peace. Etc.

My keystrokes can now be found at Basketball Prospectus. Hope to see you over there.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Wonked out...for good
As previously announced, today is the last day for Big Ten Wonk (though not for John Gasaway).

So here are 11 valedictory posts, in honor of the conference that's given me a title and a topic for three seasons.

1. There was a national championship game last night
2. The Big Ten is better than people who link to me say it is
3. Funky stats: don't wait for the revolution, it's already here
4. Leave the tournament the way it is
5. Regress your view of your coach toward the mean
6. Jane Austen, college basketball, and press conferences
7. Glance toward your blogger without hope or despair
8. Nod perfunctorily toward your columnist
9. Hug your beat writer
10. Later, Wonk
11. Yo, John

Enjoy. (In installments.)

There was a national championship game last night
#1 in a series of last-day posts
(1) Florida 84, (1) Ohio State 75

The thing that was supposed to be so important turned out not to be. Greg Oden wasn't in any foul trouble the entire night and thus posted a 25-12 dub-dub with four blocks. And yet Ohio State lost, due to 10-of-18 shooting from beyond the arc by Florida.

Thad Matta did what any coach blessed with Oden would have done against Florida: he kept his big man in the paint (even when Oden's man came out top to set screens) and took his chances with the Gators on the perimeter. The paint part workedFlorida's 2FG pct. was south of 50 for the first time in the tournamentbut, alas, the Gators on the perimeter were unconscious. (Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green shot a combined 7-of-10 on their threes. Al Horford went 6-of-8 from the line and led the Gators with 18 points.) For their part, the Buckeyes were meanwhile posting their worst perimeter shooting of the entire 2006-07 season: 4-of-23. And that would fall under the category of really bad timing.

The Gators are different
My first season of blogging ended with North Carolina winning the national championship in very much the same fashion that they played during the regular season. And since that year was my formative hoops-analysis experience, I've been dutifully looking for that kind of team ever since.

But Florida the past two years challenges that model. They don't win national titles the way they win games during the regular season. Last year, for example, Billy Donovan's team flipped a switch come tournament time and played outstanding defense. That, along with their already very good offense, enabled them to win six games and sport some really neat ball caps.

This year, by contrast, their defense actually got worse during the tournament. (High school coaches, don't let your players read this part.) But little things like defense don't matter one bit when you're making 61 percent of your twos and 41 percent of your threes. Florida upped its number of attempted threes dramatically in the tournament and reaped a West Virginia-like benefit in improved accuracy on their (already quite accurate) twos. (Michigan fans take note.) Result: over six tournament games, the Gators scored 1.23 points per possession. And that will win you some hardware.

Fantastic, erratic, dynastic, elastic Gators of Florida, Wonk salutes you!

(Box score.)

BONUS continuation of tradition!
This year's poison pill was New Mexico State. The Aggies lost to Texas, who lost to USC, who lost to North Carolina, who lost to Georgetown, who lost to Ohio State, who lost to Florida.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....

West Virginia (note correct spelling) coach John Beilein has reportedly accepted an offer to become the next head coach at Michigan. According to reports, Beilein will meet with his players today in Morgantown to inform them of his decision.

Butler coach Todd Lickliter will be the next head coach at Iowa. He will be introduced today at a press conference in Iowa City.

Note that with Lickliter joining Tubby Smith in the Big Ten coaching fraternity, eight of the conference's 11 coaches will enter next year having taken a team to the NCAA tournament in 2007. And coach #9 (Beilein, we think) has the current NIT title to his credit. Not bad.

The Big Ten is better than people who link to me say it is
#2 in a series of last-day posts

I'm certainly not one of those crude unlettered souls that judges "power" conferences based solely on their performance in the tournament.

Oh, wait. (Crude grunt, unlettered scratch.) Yes, I am. Sometimes....

SEC (11-4)
Pac-10 (10-6)
Big Ten (9-6)
Big XII (6-4)
Big East (7-6)
ACC (7-7)

Behold the ACC, at the bottom of the heap and without a Final Four participant now for two years.

So why no crisis headlines from Tobacco Road? Why no navel-gazing? Why no irritably defensive quotes from coaches?

Because the ACC doesn't feel that its intrinsic worth is in play with every tournament. They can have a bad year and they're still "the ACC." No big thing.

Not so the Big Ten. When silly headlines appeared after the first weekend this year (headlines that, goodness knows, were not out of place last year), the hue and cry was instantaneous, familiar, and plaintive: oh, my goodness. The Big Ten only has one team into the Sweet 16, and that thanks to a non-call (or, more precisely, a possible mis-call on what could have been an intentional foul).

OK, Wisconsin losing to UNLV was disappointing for Big Ten believers, but was the performance of the conference as a whole really such a shock? Three of the Big Ten's six tournament teams were seeded in the 7-9 range, those three teams went 3-0 in the first round (against Gonzaga, Arizona, and Marquette), and every one of those three teams failed to advance past the first weekend (against UCLA, Florida, and North Carolina). Wow, who could have seen that coming? Well, anyone, pretty much.

I've faulted the Big Ten on aesthetic grounds this year and I know from the email I receive that some readers don't take kindly to that. So let me be clear:

The Big Ten happens to play at a slow pace. So did Georgetown this year
slower than any non-Northwestern team in the conference. And they got to the Final Four. My problem is not with slowness. If it works, do it. John Thompson III, I salute you.

But when every team in the conference plays the exact same speed (and nine of 11 teams play pretty much the same system at the same speed) the resulting homogeneity in style has the potential to do every conference team a disservice in the postseason. They just haven't seen enough variety to be prepared for what the tournament, by definition, throws at them: the best teams in the country. (Yes, if you have Ohio State-in-2007 or Illinois-in-2005 talent, you can work around this. Duly noted.)

Fans who like faster games tend to see defense as the culprit here. I, on the other hand, think teams that don't have confidence in their offense tend to go slower. You can have defense and eat your speed cake too, I dare say.

The larger point as it relates to the worth of the Big Ten, however, is that, while you may not care for the style, the conference's top teams did indeed play that style very well, losing to Florida by just seven and to UCLA by just five. I just happen to think those results can be matched and indeed exceeded by varying styles and picking up the pace a bit.

And there's even a hopeful example close at hand: those aforementioned Georgetown Hoyas. They achieved a nice level of success this year and, what's even more encouraging, a good many people seemed to understand that they did so at a slow pace. That is, observers were able to distinguish between style of play (which may not be one's cup of tea) and success within that style (which no one could, or did, doubt that Georgetown did in fact achieve).

That's all any team can ask. At any speed.

Funky stats: don't bother waiting for the revolution, it's already here
#3 in a series of last-day posts

We who follow college basketball confront an odd situation in April 2007. To the extent that stats can on occasion be of some use in following this sport, the numbers we need come from blogs and nowhere else. Even national sportswriters employed by the MSM get their numbers from bloggers just like we all do.

Meanwhile conferences still occupy precious server space with numbers
these are the "official statistics," mind youthat no one really uses. (Not that such numbers are entirely meaningless, of course. In addition to perfectly good 3FG and FT percentages, there's an irony available on the Big Ten's stat page. The fact that all Big Ten teams averaged between 57 and 64 possessions per 40 minutes in conference play this year means you can look at their raw numbers with little need for meddling from the likes of yours truly. Such numbers aren't tempo-free but they sure are tempo-similar.)

So just how much longer will this odd situation continue? My current guess is: forever. And a good thing, too....

I didn't used to think this way. A while back it looked like these wacky new stats were going to sweep all before them with fall-of-the-Berlin Wall-style abruptness and ensuing celebration. I mean, all the signs were there: Pomeroy getting snatched up by ESPN, a D-II conference going tempo-free, skeptical harrumphing ($) from established media types
all within days of each other.

But, lo and behold, "the" moment never came. You know, the one where the scrolling message board in Times Square blares: "OLD BASKETBALL STATS WERE WRONG....(EXCEPT FOR 3FG and FT PCTS)....USE TEMPO-FREE STATS INSTEAD." (I was sure that part would happen.)

What I've come to realize is that the number of people interested enough or nerdy enough or both to use this stuff
even and especially among those paid to write about sportsis fairly small. And over the past 15 months or so, pretty much everyone who's going to board this particular flight has made it to their seats by now.

Yes, it's a small group. But even those not on board are aware of this flight and made a choice not to hop on. As a result, I see significantly fewer number-based assaults on hoops reality in print than I did two years ago.

Announcers working the games on TV? Ah, the last frontier. They still say things like "outrebounded by five." (Sigh.) We'll get them too, someday, comrade. (We already have Fran Fraschilla working, in their midst, on the side of the tempo-free angels.)

So, no, this will not be a change marked by a decisive moment. It will be marked instead by incremental adaptation.

Change that to "has been marked by." Yay, blogs.
Leave the tournament the way it is
#4 in a series of last-day posts

There is grumbling every year in the immediate aftermath of Selection Sunday, of course, as to who gets left behind. This year the grumbling seemed even louder and was given a new sound bite: an unprecedented number of D-I teams, it is said, won at least 20 games.

Meaning: 1) there are more D-I teams than there used to be; and 2) the "power"-conference teams are becoming more savvy about scheduling numerous W's in November and December.

Be that as it may, where there's Selection Sunday grumbling there is always a proposal: expand the field of 65.

The most attractive aspect of this proposal is that it would greatly enhance the prospects of seeing genuinely interesting and competitive games in November and December. Big-name programs from different conferences could actually schedule each other home-and-away, or even create long-running series like Notre Dame-Michigan or Florida-Florida State in football.

But benefits gained in November and December would be paid for the rest of the season. Increasing the field to 128 teams would, for example, drain much of the suspense and uncertainty from February. Had there been an expanded field this year, the bubble discussion would have moved off of Illinois, Arkansas, Syracuse, and Missouri State and onto, say, Penn State, South Carolina, Cincinnati, and Fordham. True, bubble teams aren't much of a threat to do damage in the tournament as it is. But at least with the field of 65 there's always the hope, admittedly small, that one of the last teams in will pull a North Carolina 2000 and get to the Final Four. That hope would shrink to virtual nonexistence with a field of 128 teams.

Worse, an expanded field would mean a first round of the NCAA tournament that would unavoidably be populated by a critical mass of really dull games. Indeed, they wouldn't even be games as much as foregone conclusions. If there's never been a case where a 1-seed loses to a 16-seed, imagine the tense excitement of 1 vs. 32 and 2 vs. 31 matchups. (And don't even speak of first-round byes. Off the table. Entry to the tournament may be granted on grounds more or less aristocratic but once you get there it's a straight meritocracy. Has to be.)

So I say: let Syracuse think they were robbed. That's a way better tale to tell over a beer in 2017 than "we lost to New Mexico State in the round of 128." Selection is the necessary prelude of potential injustice, leading up to an almost ideally just tournament.

Besides, justice can sting as badly as injustice. Those beautifully "Euclidean" brackets have their ruthless side. Seeing the glass as half-empty, the March onslaught of conference tournaments is indeed something of a blood-letting. And then that hired goon known as the NCAA tournament finishes the job by exterminating 64 of the 65 teams left standing.

The nice thing about a botched travesty like the BCS, conversely, is that its very incompetence creates space to speculate recklessly and without contradiction by events: "If only...."
Regress your view of your coach toward the mean
#5 in a series of last-day posts

There's a hoary old chestnut that says a quarterback receives too much credit when his team wins and too much blame when they lose. Said chestnut needs to be multiplied 100-fold and applied to college basketball coaches.

A coach in basketball has significantly less in-game control than a football coach (who calls the play or the defense before each snap) or a manager in baseball (who can call each pitch). Yet we talk about basketball coaches like they're each a modern-day Beethoven: not just conducting the orchestra but writing the music as well.

In fact, a coach's most significant achievement (or failure) takes place before the opening tip: recruiting. And while it's fun to talk X's and O's, the significance of play-calling in hoops surely pales in comparison to much less cerebral concerns, most notably personnel and their shooting accuracy on a given day or night.

The next time you hear an analyst talking about a coach in glowing terms more appropriate for a chess grand master, think of said coach instead as having roughly the same degree of control over his team that you have over your golf shots.
Jane Austen, press conferences, and college basketball
#6 in a series of last-day posts

One of the nice things about having these here newfangled internets and eleventy-gillion channels on your HD is the ability this explosion of offerings has afforded to eavesdrop on previously restricted events. Take press conferences....

The last one I listened to start-to-finish was the one following the Xavier-Ohio State game in the second round, by any measure a wildly thrilling game. Here's the thing, though:

The press conference was stupefyingly dull....

Q. What were you thinking when you hit the three to force overtime?

On the three, I was just trying to get an open look. I told Mike before we left the huddle and he found me and I got the open look.

(Very long pause.)

Q. What were you thinking when Oden fouled out?

We lose a big inside presence when he goes out. We've played seven games without him this season, and he has been in foul trouble before, so we've learned to play without him. Our team did a good job of adjusting their roles when he fouled out.

(Very long pause.)

Q. What were you thinking when....

Mannered, deferential, and courteous to a fault, the talk at any college basketball press conference where Bob Knight is not in attendance is perhaps the last remaining venue in 2007 where Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet could blend in seamlessly with the conversation.

Don't blame the questioners. Press conferences are structurally doomed: when was the last time you saw candor and spontaneity coming from a dais in front of an assembled group of reporters?

So when, despite all odds, a spark of the unscripted does indeed occur, that is itself news. It's why men and women who must, as part of their employment, go to a lot of these are so improbably and indeed needlessly fascinated with Joakim Noah. He actually says things. Bully for Noah but that doesn't mean his psyche's a compelling object of study worthy of a modern-day Camus.

Nevertheless, here's a salute to the men and women forced to attend these buzzkills. I now realize as I never did before that any insights and scoops are achieved in spite of press conferences and not because of them.
Glance toward your blogger without hope or despair
#7 in a series of last-day posts

I'm here before you today to defend the college hoops blogosphere.

And it needs defending. It's become almost commonplace to decry the sorry state of blogdom where college basketball's concerned. (Hey, I've done it too.)

It's true that if you throw a dart at the mass of college basketball blogs you'll hit a middling target more often than not. That's true of blogs on any sport. But it seems like college football, pro baseball, and pro basketball have each seen the rapid coalescence of not only a core group of must-reads but also lively constellations of orbiting lesser fare. (With blogs on those sports, kind of like with music, I have the sense that I'll find more good stuff I don't yet know about if only I can make the time.) Blogs on college hoops? A little less numerous (many are team-based football blogs that moonlight in hoops
a gig that, granted, can on occasion be pulled off with excellent results), a little less lively, maybe fewer must-reads.

Still, let's not lose sight of the obvious. Issuing a cattle call for anyone with a keyboard to step forward may not bring in Shakespeare or Red Smith every time but it certainly leaves room for the welcome surprise. Or in this case surprises: the door was flung open and in came Ken Pomeroy and Kyle Whelliston. We wouldn't have them if not for this whole blog thing that happened
a few dozen middling and easily ignored blogs are surely a small price to pay.

Nor are blogs by people with first names not starting with "K" doomed to mediocrity. Quite the opposite. Given total freedom over what to write about and at what length,
the potential to reach anyone on the planet with a network connection, hundreds of sports channels available 24 hours a day, the ability to record virtually any major-conference game with the push of a button, and access to years of the most detailed and enlightening statistics yet compiled on the sport, any blogger sitting down to a keyboard in 2007 has a set-up, albeit sans salary, that no New York Times sports columnist could have dreamed of as recently as 15 years ago.

So do it.

Nod perfunctorily toward your columnist
#8 in a series of last-day posts
For decades the sports columnist, by virtue of their profession, enjoyed three effective though not total monopolies:

1. The ability to see the games
2. The ability to reach readers
3. The ability to talk to players and coaches

What we've seen over the past 20 years is the total breakup of monopoly number 1 by cable and satellite. Even more dramatic has been the antitrust action brought against number 2 by the internet over the past 10 years. Today the professional columnist is left with only monopoly number 3. And while it's true this realization can on occasion trigger a frightened yelp like that coming from a stagecoach manufacturer circa 1910, this state of affairs in fact doesn't faze most sportswriters.

Nor should it.

Take Simmons. I think the shift he heralds isn't that he's both a sportswriter and an avowed Boston Red Sox fan but simply that he writes as a sports fan would write instead of as a professional would write. That is, he hasn't shattered any paradigms but he's writing from the VIP seats and not from six feet closer to the court along press row. That's a big six feet: he's all about old monopolies 1 and 2 and not at all about number 3. And such is one way of finessing the current situation as a professional.

Another way for sportswriters to greet the present is even more obvious: if you have a monopoly on access, don't do penance. Use it. Please. In three seasons of reading MSM fare as a blogger trolling for good stuff, I still feel that perhaps the single best piece I came across was a feature by Mike DeCourcy and Kyle Veltrop of The Sporting News in December 2004. That month Illinois played Wake Forest in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and basically DeCourcy and Veltrop each took a team and trailed them for a few days leading up to the game. The resulting article, posted a day or two after the game, was filled with fascinating details to be found nowhere else: how each coaching staff broke down the game tape, what they told their players about the opposing team's weaknesses, the stats that each coaching staff kept on their own team, what each player's assignments were, etc. All gold.

I'm baffled as to why we don't see more reportage like this. You have a press pass. Trail these guys! (Related: how come we never get any dishy off-the-record quotes on opposing players or coaches? Good grief, if mandatory job rotation were enforced and we had the Washington press corps assigned to college hoops, we'd have scandal within the week, guaranteed. More people than just Bob Knight talk like Bob Knight, they just do it off the record.)

Or take another example: every now and then I make sport of Seth Davis. But say this for Davis: he uses his monopoly on access. He broke the news that Mike Davis was out at Indiana. And he quotes NBA scouts and GMs anonymously on the draft prospects of college players. Davis should quit analysis altogether and just duel Katz to see once and for all who's going to be the Bob Woodward of this here sport (where "Bob Woodward" is understood in a 30-second-SportsCenter-spots kind of way). The gig is just sitting there: Deadspin-snarky but with health coverage and getting calls returned. Schmooze, build your network, quote them anonymously, and do it. There's a place for that.

Where I think columnists sometimes err, though, is in thinking that this last remaining monopoly can be of some use in divining what's going to happen (where the object under study is tonight's game and not, say, a coaching search). This year I had occasion to dissent from a columnist who had written about a game: "Breaking down [team X's] chances is simple. If [leading scorer for team X] doesn't have a big game, then [team X] is toast." With the phrase "breaking down team X's chances," the columnist was stating, in effect: by virtue of monopoly 3, I have this figured out in advance.

He turned out to be wrong, of course, which is why I chose this particular episode. (Bet you didn't see that coming.) But the larger point is that giving anyone
columnist, blogger, or free-lance blueberry inspectorthe abilities of former monopolies 1 and 2 should enable them to run rings around anyone limited to merely number 3 where analysis is concerned (again, as distinct from coaching searches and the like).

Columnists, give us what we can't get ourselves. It's interesting to us and in your best interest.
Hug your beat writer
#9 in a series of last-day posts

I don't know what the near future holds for sports coverage but I do know that, because people will continue to be interested in the games, relatively small numbers of credentialed professionals will continue to be granted access to report on these sporting events. It's a challenging job done under tremendous time pressure. And it's essential.

As one with a blog, I had the freedom to remark on one or maybe two things that I found interesting. And I could pretty much take as long as I wanted to do so. Yay, me. But if I were called upon to provide the comprehensive after-the-fact summary for those who might not have seen the game, and told I needed to get it done in X minutes, well, I would not be your best bet for such a service. I've lost count of the number of times I've hit "publish" on a post, turned to a game recap, and slapped my forehead, saying: d'oh! I meant to say something about that.

Hard-toiling beat writers, Wonk salutes you! You fell the trees so that the rest of us might argue about what to plant.
Later, Wonk
#10 in a series of last-day posts

This blog had a good run: three seasons, 593 posts, and some page views by you all. The busiest month was this past March. The busiest day, February 21, 2006.

For reasons I still don't understand, I spent the first season writing in the third person, with the result that I now feel an actual physical shudder when I have to reach back into the archives to pull up something from 04-05. (Wonk says: he never should have pitched his prose in that way. He now finds it far too odd.)

Season 2 witnessed the full-force arrival of tempo-free stats. If you delve into the archives under, say, November 2005 and find yourself thinking there may have been moments when the numbers were so abundant that they got in the way, you're not alone. I think so too.

And then season 3: I was perfect in every way. First-person voice, balanced number-word ratio, modesty, the works.

The best part of doing this was the surprises it brought in the email. I heard from some Big Names and that was fun. But the other 99 percent of the email came from names I didn't recognize at first. Many of those names have since become highly valued email peeps
a republic of pixels, sort of. Nice republic, that.

And with that, I guess I should be going. For you see my sister-in-law (a past guest star) has saluted me for getting out before I jump the shark with this thing. (I hadn't realized that the danger was so near.)

In any event, I had a good time here. Hope you did too. Please watch for a referral here to my new digs.

Yo, John
#11 in a series of 11 last-day posts

Last week I said that next year I plan to write about college basketball, the whole thing. What that usually means, of course, is "all the good teams, irrespective of conference."

That will indeed be my starting point. (Maybe I can branch out past that eventually.) Anyway, hope to see you there. Watch for a referral.

Take care and stay in touch,

Monday, April 02, 2007
A preface to previews
(1) Ohio State vs. (1) Florida (9:21pm ET)
Don't read any preview today without this handy accompanying piece at your side....

1. Accept no discussion whatsoever of defense in any preview.
Florida's players and coaches will mouth the right words at press conferences and say how important defense is, how it leads to transition opportunities, how it all starts with Corey Brewer, etc. Don't believe it. Some nice shot blocks against UCLA the other night notwithstanding, in their innermost Gator souls they don't really think about defense. They don't need to. Their shots go in at a rate that renders defense an afterthought. (This is, after all, the best-shooting team in the nation.)

And, though Ohio State can play some D and (oh, yeah) has a seven-foot shot blocker in the paint, no one expects tonight's game to be a defensive struggle. Florida's offense will be productive tonight. They have been in every game since the LSU fiasco. (Even in a subsequent loss at Tennessee, the Gator offense was excellent.) If I were Thad Matta, I'd write this number on the white board: 1.15 points per possession. That's the minimum required for a Buckeye win tonight.

The good news for OSU fans? That's feasible against this defense....

2. Corey Brewer is indeed a great defender, but....
No one needs to be told at this late date that Brewer is 6-9, has the wingspan of an even taller player, and yet still possesses the quickness to stick with opposing guards. All true. Problem is, Brewer knows all of the above too and he's been relying on it too much. I've seen him leave his feet a surprising number of times and I've seen him driven on with good results. Position D is not his long suit. (If you gave Ben Howland or Bo Ryan this guy for a couple seasons, ay, carumba....) Much more important than any chinks in Brewer's armor, however, is the fact that he has teammates in the starting lineup who are on the floor primarily for offense.

So Florida simply dares you to outscore them. Most times you can't....

3. Just because Florida's been shooting a lot of threes lately doesn't mean it matters whether they go in or not.
Never mind that the Gators have devoted 46 percent of their shots to threes in the tournament. With any other team that would mean winning or losing would ride on whether said team is "on" from outside. But this isn't any other team. It's Florida. Against Purdue the Gators shot just 28 percent on their threes and still scored 1.13 points per possession by making their twos and going to the line 31 times. This offense simply will not be denied. They don't care what you take away. They will find another way to score.

4. Mike Conley's the best player on his team.
And really it's no contest. Sure, Greg Oden's better when he's on the floor but over the past three games that's been just 52 percent of the time. In terms of impact over 40 minutes, Conley's your man.

Four months ago when I took the showily and self-consciously reckless step of titling a post "Ohio State will play in the national championship game," I was at root trying to share with readers the full depth and extent of my "Whoa!" reaction to this freshman Conley after just six games. His eerie calm and ruthless efficiency are, like Oden's face, an insistent and unanswerable refutation of the statement: he's just a freshman.

5. Greg Oden's the best player in the country.
Oden's wrist injury and his teammates' occasional unwillingness to give him the ball deprived him of his Durantian moment. Here he is about to play his last college game and we never did get that 33-16 kind of dub-dub from him. But make no mistake: uncannily Mr. Burns-like CBS analysts notwithstanding, Oden's potential is vast. Indeed, he's been improving exponentially before our eyes (during those random stray moments when he's actually in the game). Given the extra foul and permissive officiating at the next level, the aforementioned analyst will be shown to have been wrong within a few hundred days here.


Sunday, April 01, 2007
All other D-I schools can just withdraw from every sport
In lacrosse, tennis, field hockey, baseball, and volleyball, we'll just cut to the chase from now on and have Ohio State play Florida for the championship right at the start.

(1) Ohio State 67, (2) Georgetown 60
Forget Greg Oden, never mind Mike Conley, look past Ron Lewis, and even ignore recent Packer fixation David Lighty. The player of the game for Ohio State was Ivan Harris. Yes, Ivan Harris. You see, Harris had five offensive boards and only one turnover in 15 minutes. And his performance was emblematic: the Buckeyes won this game, even though they didn't shoot as well as Georgetown, simply because they got more shots.

On Friday I noted that the Hoyas aren't a good defensive rebounding team. That hurt them last night, as Ohio State (normally not a good offensive rebounding team) pulled down 16 misses out of 37 chances. That's the kind of performance Georgetown usually turns in on the offensive glass but last night the Hoyas were meanwhile being limited to getting just 30 percent of their own misses. (Yes, Roy Hibbert playing just 24 minutes helped that number.)

Nor did turnovers help matters, of course, for Georgetown: John Thompson III's team gave the ball away 14 times in a 59-possession game. That's bad, sure, but keep in mind it's almost exactly as bad as the Hoyas performed all season long in Big East play (where they donated the ball to opponents on 24 percent of their possessions) while still putting up arguably the best offensive numbers in the country. And they shot about as well last night as they did in-conference. The key difference: fewer offensive rebounds.

(Note that Ohio State committed only eight turnovers. For the tournament Thad Matta's team has given the ball away on just 14 percent of their possessions.)

My Friday forecast that the Buckeyes would play zone was half-right. OSU played a 2-3 off made baskets on their end throughout the first half but went exclusively man after Georgetown ripped off 11 points before the first media timeout after halftime. (So there's no readily available explanation for the odd silence of Jeff Green, who scored nine points on just five shots. Green faced a zone for much of the game so there's no single defender to credit.)

As for the big guys, Hibbert lived up to the hype, even with foul trouble, scoring 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting in just 24 minutes. Oden missed a 20-minute dub-dub by a hair, recording 13 points and nine boards. If he'd just secured that 10th rebound, maybe he would have been adjudged by a certain analyst as having the potential to be another Russell or Walton. Alas.

(Box score.)

(1) Florida 76, (2) UCLA 66
I thought the Bruins' defense would be good enough to win this game for UCLA and for the first five minutes I was right. (Let's see the glass as one-eighth full!) Then the threes started falling for the Gators (first from Corey Brewer, he of the game-high 19 points, and then from Lee Humphrey) and the Bruins did something I would never have expected from a Ben Howland team. They seemed to just lose hope. The foul trouble for Arron Afflalo seemed to be more damaging morale-wise than anything else. The Bruins, after all, trailed by just six after a first half where Afflalo didn't score. So instead of being good enough to win, the UCLA defense was the reason they lost.

Not that Florida didn't have something to do with that, mind you. For this year's tournament run, the Gators have apparently decided to model themselves on a Pittsnogle-Gansey-era West Virginia offense. They're shooting a ton of threes in the tournament and it's not so much that they're lighting it up from the outside (they've hit 39 percent of their threes in the tournament
very good but not unconscious by any means) as that all those threes, even misses, are opening things up on the inside, where Florida's connecting on 65 percent of their twos over five tournament games.

That kind of lethal efficiency on the interior should pose a formidable challenge Monday night for one Greg Oden.

BONUS notes for posterity! This game was nowhere near as close as its score. Florida missed 12 free throws, UCLA had only three turnovers, the Gators had 17, etc.

Saturday, March 31, 2007
BONUS all-red edition! Why has capitalism failed me?
Note: the Final Four preview was yesterday.

This evening, like every year, I'll grit my teeth and watch the games, knowing that a certain analyst comes with the games as a multi-decade package deal.

I didn't do any big wacky gimme-hits torch-and-pitchfork post about that analyst this year and that's a departure from tradition. I guess I've had my say and now there's nothing to do but wait him out. (I feel like a Cuban waiting for Castro to taste the inevitable.)

But let me note one thing: I am genuinely baffled by this analyst's longevity. I thought the whole deal with capitalism was that we would sacrifice a gemeinschaft of communally maintained minimal amounts of food, shelter, health care, etc., in exchange for a dynamic and open-ended if sometimes unsettling and unfeeling gesellschaft of promise, potential, and pitfalls.

And yet here is this analyst, as solidly entrenched as any Ukrainian apparatchik circa 1951.

I don't get it. Is CBS some kind of Mondragon
-styled worker's cooperative?

Where oh where is a little creative destruction when you need it?
Friday, March 30, 2007
The only Final Four preview I've read so far
I know everybody's doing previews and I thought about setting mine apart by doing, say, a very special vowel-free preview ("Grg dn nds th bl!") or some such. But, in the end, I decided that not reading anyone else's preview is gimmicky distinction enough. So if I'm out in left field it's because I'm clueless, not because I'm bucking any conventional wisdom. I'll find out what the conventional wisdom is after I post.

(2) Georgetown vs. (1) Ohio State (6:07pm ET)
If by some lightning-strike twist of fate Greg Oden is not in foul trouble in this game, I have a three-word preview:

Ohio State wins.

Last Saturday, for example, Memphis went on a 14-4 run in the second half with Oden on the bench with three fouls. At which point Thad Matta cried uncle, brought the big guy in, and OSU outscored the Tigers 41-20 from that point on. He's that important.

A much safer assumption, however, is that he is in foul trouble tomorrow night. (Oden played 24 minutes against Memphis and just 18 against Tennessee.) Then what?

Then the Hoyas should take the ball to the rim like mad fools on every single Oden-less possession. Because when Oden's on the floor the collision should be spectacular: the Georgetown offense, the nation's best, gets it done on the inside. Two-point shots (from Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert) and offensive boards (Hibbert) are what got John Thompson III's team this far.

If I were Matta, I'd have spent the week drilling Ivan Harris, Daequan Cook, and Othello Hunter on the finer points of pulling down defensive boards behind Oden's attempted shot blocks. The Buckeyes were excellent on the defensive glass during the season (pulling down 70 percent of their opponents' misses in Big Ten play) and have been spectacular there in the tournament (75 percent). That will need to continue.

One thing to keep in mind, however: I wouldn't be surprised to see zone off of every made basket from the Buckeyes
and not just to protect Oden. A zone's simply a not terribly creative but really effective comfort-denier against a Princeton-inflected offense. (And if you don't believe me, believe recent Northwestern grad Tim Doyle, no stranger to such offenses he: "The zone is better against it because you don't give up layups. [The offense is] back-cutting into nothing." Doyle also astutely points out the Hoyas' offense didn't look so hot against the Syracuse 2-3 last month. He's right. Good stuff, Tim! Start blogging!) True, the zone invites threes and Ohio State saw Memphis and Tennessee record 26 makes in just 53 attempts from beyond the arc in San Antonio. Still, I expect Matta will take that risk rather than play man against this particular buzzsaw.

As for Ohio State's offense, there's simply no avoiding it. The obvious must be stated. But I can tell you why the obvious should in fact be even more obvious: give Oden the ball. If I were Matta I'd hoard my timeouts specifically so I could use them following any offensive possession where Oden doesn't touch the ball. He's that important. With a foul-blighted Oden, the task at hand is to try to cram 35+ minutes of offensive production into just 18-24 minutes. He doesn't need to shoot every time, of course, but he does need to get the ball and force the Hoyas to pick their poison. For after a season of thoroughly meh outside shooting (33.3 3FG pct. in-conference), OSU is at last connecting on their threes (41.3 3FG pct. in the tournament).

Only exception to the law of feed-the-beast: good things happen for Ohio State when Mike Conley takes the ball to the rim. Points, trips to the line by Conley, offensive boards by Oden
these are all acceptable outcomes from where Matta's standing. (Also note that the Hoyas, for all their size, are in fact a poor defensive rebounding team. OSU's no Georgetown when it comes to offensive rebounding; still, if the Buckeyes can pick up some second-chance points, that's huge.)

BONUS note for the viewer's guide! If OSU does choose zone, watch for a certain analyst to delve into tedious and indeed blinkered and wholly mistaken detail as to the "matchups" on the floor when "Matta goes zone." Nonsense. The zone will simply be deployed on every defensive possession following either a made Ohio State basket or a whistle on their end (travel, charge, etc.).

(2) UCLA vs. (1) Florida (8:47pm ET)
I can't wait for this game. I think UCLA will win for three reasons.

1. Florida allowed conference opponents to make half their twos. In a Final Four where strong interior FG defense is the rule (even from an offensive juggernaut like Georgetown), the Gators' permissiveness in the paint is striking. (Note for example that undersized but plucky Carl Landry was able to do business against this team, to the tune of 8-for-14 for 18 points.) Florida won this year simply by outscoring teams. Hey, nothing wrong with that. It was effective. Stylistic pluralism reigns supreme in these here parts. Only thing: now the Gators are playing UCLA. And I don't think offense alone can win this game for Billy Donovan's team.

2. Florida's defensive specialty is irrelevant in this game. The Gators' defensive strength
—making opponents miss threes—won't come into play because the Bruins don't shoot threes. (Kansas fans with vivid terrifying memories of Arron Afflalo may disagree with this last statement. That game—17 attempted threes out of 45 FGAs—did indeed mark a mild exception to UCLA's take-it-to-the-rim rule.) That being said, Florida's defensive rebounding in the tournament has been excellent and the Bruins don't "do" offensive boards (preferring to get back on D). It will be essential that Afflalo, Josh Shipp, and Darren Collison hit their first shots because there won't be many second shots.

3. UCLA is simply on another planet defensively right now. How can we tell? Well, for one thing they've turned the ball over on almost 25 percent of their possessions in the tournament
—and yet here they are in Atlanta. Their defense has been so ridiculously good that little things like not being able to hold on to the ball haven't mattered. Now that D is about to go up against two-point-making monsters Al Horford and Joakim Noah. As I said, I can't wait.

BONUS "I boldly predict X unless of course Y in which case forget everything I said" note!
The wild cards in this game are Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green. An otherwise Superman UCLA defense was surprisingly Clark Kent toward opponents' threes all season long. That has continued in the tournament. And, lo and behold, Florida's turned into a POT here in late March: 45 percent of their shots in the tournament (!) have been threes. Interesting....

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Maybe Michigan AD Bill Martin's been working the phones after all. A report in the Spokane, WA, Spokesman-Review states that both Michigan and Iowa contacted Washington State coach Tony Bennett and that the Wolverines were "especially vigorous" in their pursuit of the 37-year-old coach. To no avail, it seems: Bennett has reached an "agreement in principle" with WSU to stay in Pullman, courtesy of a restructured contract. Meanwhile this morning's Ann Arbor News reports that UM is down to three candidates in its search: West Virginia coach John Beilein (whose team won the NIT last night), Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, and Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery.

Former Iowa coach Steve Alford says he did nothing wrong in contacting recruits who've signed with the Hawkeyes and, reportedly, encouraging them to come to New Mexico.
"You've got to make contact with the kids," Alford said. "They're your kids that you signed. One of the parents was upset that I didn't call earlier. You've got to tell them where you're going, that you're not going to be their coach."

NCAA president Myles Brand says the idea of expanding the field of 65 is "not off the table."

In addition to typing words, I can occasionally speak them....
I'll be talking Final Four hoops and anything else that comes up with Steve "The Homer" True on Milwaukee's ESPN Radio this afternoon around 3:20 ET. Tune in and listen to me wing it.

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Actually, it was George Costanza who invented "It's not you, it's me"
On Monday I said this is the last season for this blog, though not for this blogger. The readers respond!

Hi Wonk,

Say it ain't so. You won't be largely dedicated to the minutiae of Big Ten hoops
for IU's dramatic national title run next season? This reader feels the impending loss deeply.

You don't expect us jilted conference fans to believe this "Let's just be
friends, it wasn't you" line, do you? What was it really? Your move to Indianapolis and the proximity of Hinkle Fieldhouse (the "Horizon Broadening" theory, pun intended)? The interminable grind of covering the agony that is Northwestern and Penn State basketball (the "Daily Doormat Inspection" Theory)?

Regardless, be sure to let us all know where you'll be posting, and I'll be reading every day. Yours is great stuff, and fans of the nation's top (or at least, most interesting) teams will benefit. I do hope you maintain your detailed Big Ten previews and a more than disinterested eye on the league!


Ashton S.

It's not you! I swear I haven't been seeing ACC games behind your back! They mean nothing to me, honestly.

And good luck with that impending national title run. I'll be watching closely, rest assured.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
If the moving van goes from Morgantown to Ann Arbor....
Michigan has reportedly zeroed in on West Virginia coach John Beilein.

First order of business: Beilein's Mountaineers will play Clemson in the NIT title game tonight in Madison Square Garden. But once that's over and done with we should know within a few dozen hours if the reports are accurate.

Canonical blogger Brian Cook, for one, rather hopes they are. He has nominated the following ballot for the next coaching staff at Crisler:

HEAD COACH: John Beilein
UNICORN: Unicorn

(Let the record show Unicorn has a five-dollar buyout at his current gig and has released the following statement: "I am the Unicorn of Mythical Lands. I'm happy here at Mythical Lands and my only focus right now is being the best Unicorn for Mythical Lands that I can be. My wife, Diane, and I and our children, Caitlin, Dylan, and Cody, have enjoyed our years here immensely and have no current plans to make any changes.")

Brian, of course, paddles comfortably through Pomeroyean waters. Would that it were so for all who write on the Michigan coaching search....

It's been excruciating this week to read accounts that apply the adjective "Princeton" directly and unquestioningly to the noun "Beilein's offense." About as excruciating, in fact, as reading opposing views pointing out that West Virginia averaged more points per game than UCLA or Georgetown.

Points per game? Points (huff, huff) per game? Have I been doing this for three seasons just to give my typing a workout, people?

Here's what you need to know:

Big East--points per possession
(2007, conference games only)
1. Georgetown (1.14)
2. Louisville (1.09)
3. Pitt (1.08)
4. West Virginia (1.08)

I'd say that ranks as one impressive piece of coaching. Beilein lost not only the famous-for-his-name Kevin Pittsnogle but also the Wonk-wowing Mike Gansey ("a veritable freak of offensive nature") from last year's team. This year? Uh, not a lot on hand. (Quick: name one West Virginia player.) And yet the Mountaineers beat UCLA and are up there with the second-weekend boys in terms of offense.

So when writers covering Michigan fret about whether or not Beilein's system will "work" in the Big Ten, I would ask them to remember one thing: Beilein has a system. Has there been one in Ann Arbor this millennium?

Oh, and as far as pace....

Big East--possessions per 40 minutes
(2007, conference games only)
1. Syracuse (70.5)
2. Notre Dame (69.1)
3. Providence (69.1)
4. Seton Hall (68.9)
5. Connecticut (67.6)
6. Marquette (67.6)
7. South Florida (65.7)
8. St. John's (65.2)
9. Villanova (65.2)
10. West Virginia (64.2)
11. Louisville (64.1)
12. Cincinnati (63.2)
13. DePaul (62.8)
14. Pitt (62.0)
15. Rutgers (60.9)
16. Georgetown (59.4)

Comfortably in the Big East mainstream. (Keep in mind the Big Ten chugged along this year at 61.5 possessions per 40.)

There are other measures, however, by which "mainstream" does not do descriptive justice to the Mountaineers. Namely:

1. They shoot more threes than twos (52 percent of their attempts in conference play)
2. Their rebounding (both with- and post-PittsGansey) is poor on both ends of the floor
3. Their defense
(both with- and post-PittsGansey) is average at best

Items 2 and 3 could conceivably give a Michigan fan pause. (Indeed, forget the "conceivably" and put this Wolverine on the record as pausing big time.) Still, mark me down, if Beilein's hired, as guessing that defensive rebounding will improve in lock step with an uptick in his average roster height, even as offensive rebounding stays low for system-based reasons. (Ah, height. You are to defense what skill is to offense.) And, in any event, I tend to see this in terms of what it would do for the conference.

I think it would provide a small but welcome jolt. Beilein is a Big East coach achieving SEC ends (we'll outscore you and worry about defense next year) through Missouri Valley means (X's and O's).

And this lumpy undifferentiated Big Ten porridge could use a dash of SEC tabasco. Badly.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State basketball: more storied than you think.

Square peg, round hole department. This is not the year to do a writes-itself on how important guard play is for Final Four teams. My diligent research has turned up the following: Greg Oden is seven feet tall. So is Roy Hibbert. Florida has flourished for two years now because Al Horford and Joakim Noah refuse to miss two-point shots. And UCLA has rolled through the tournament because they refuse to let opponents make two-point shots. No one thinks more highly of Mike Conley or Arron Afflalo than I. But this is not the year for this particular writes-itself. (This writes-itself, on the other hand, is more like it.)

Former Iowa coach Steve Alford reportedly contacted Hawkeye signees Jake Kelly and Jarryd Cole after taking the New Mexico job and tried to convince them to join him in Albuquerque.
If true: unseemly? You bet! NCAA infraction? Heck, no! National letters of intent are governed by the Collegiate Commissioners Association, not that feckless band of gumshoes down Indy way. Meanwhile, Alford, having already indicted Iowa on charges of being a football-first athletic program, is apparently doing everything in his power to make sure that every last pier and every last plank on every single bridge leading out of Iowa City is burned down to the finest ash.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber, on being yelled at by his boss, athletic director Ron Guenther, during the Illini's first-round come-from-ahead tournament loss to Virginia Tech: I like it! I like it! (OK, my paraphrase. Actual quote: "
I'd rather have someone like that than an accountant who doesn't know what's going on or what coaching or basketball is all about." Extended excerpt of the Q&A here.)

COMING tomorrow!
Your official Final Four preview. If Greg Oden promises to give Ron Lewis a dollar per occurrence, will Lewis pass the ball to the big guy on occasion? Tune in tomorrow!

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

wonk back!
email me

a very special wonk
the blog's final days

me, simmons, and 150 million other american males
the four dullest topics for a hoops blog
drama, magnitude, and finality
2007 "power"-conference velocity report
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stop DAD: defensive attention deficit
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they shoot free throws, don't they?
every rebound needs an adjective
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was norman dale wrong?
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POT: perimeter-oriented team
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law of november weight change
scoring and preventing points: how to

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geek chorus
intro to tempo-free stats
2007 big ten team tempo-free stats
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