Big Ten Wonk
Friday, March 31, 2006
 
More on Kelvin Sampson....
As expected, Indiana has officially named Kelvin Sampson as their new coach. Not only that, IU has signed Sampson to a seven-year contract that will pay the coach an average of $1.5 million per year. (Zounds. That is a huge commitment for any university--especially one without a cash cow football program.)

So Sampson is now a Hoosier. After Wednesday's initial flurry of surprised--and, at times, unhinged--reactions, the proverbial second wave has arrived: hey, wait a minute, the second wavers say. Maybe this guy's a good, even great, hire. This second wave arrived in my in-box in the form of an excellent email from alert reader and current Oklahoma student James J., which included the following:

The reasons you give for liking Sampson focus almost completely on basketball, which is what he's supposed to have control over. But your reasons for not liking him both have little to do with basketball and are not entirely his fault. I hope you will give him a fair chance.

Well said, James! So let me be rightly understood as being firmly and unequivocally seated on the fence here, which is why I divvied up Wednesday's post into things I like and things I don't.

Not only am I all for giving Sampson a chance, I in fact, as a shameless Big Ten homer, badly want him to succeed: to keep the next Josh McRoberts in the Big Ten, to return the Hoosiers to a level where Assembly Hall will be bulldozed sooner rather than later, and to give the conference another program of the strength and consistency displayed by Michigan State or Illinois over the past few years.

Part of wanting someone to succeed, though, is having a responsible understanding of the obstacles to that success. So let me just clarity a couple points here....

On Sampson's record in the tournament. The 2002 Final Four notwithstanding, it's not good. The coach's supporters and detractors agree it's not good and thus give alternate explanations for it.

Supporter: "OU's NCAA flameouts were somewhat predictable. Sampson never really had the horses, and his teams were generally worn out in March because they'd played harder for longer than just about every team in the country."

Detractor: "After 12 years of enduring Kelvin Sampson basketball, we have figured out the man's modus operandi: play hard to start the season; experiment with lineups; give the younger guys a chance; pull out some wins you shouldn't early on; curl up in a ball and play as if somebody on the inside might be making illegal bets come tourney time."

Conclusion: Wait and see.

On the phone calls. Sampson acknowledges his program in Norman violated NCAA rules pertaining to contacting recruits. To supporters of the coach, the apposite response here is a roll of the eyes at the silly arcane NCAA rule book. Hey, I can roll my eyes with the best of them when it comes to silly arcane rules. But the point here is not the calls, per se, which, to parrot my Wednesday post, no one is claiming rise to a "Baylor-level" as far as seriousness. (Nothing, quite frankly, rises to the Baylor-level.)

Rather, the point here is what it says about the coach. As it happens, these particular rules are not arcane, they're black-letter: you can't call recruits that are too young to even be recruits yet. Sampson's staff called anyway--repeatedly and systematically. (Ask a rival coach, off the record, how trifling this is. Recruiting is everything.)

And that worries me. A worry that can be assuaged with clean living from today on, yes, but a worry nonetheless.

...and on Billy Packer
Thanks to everyone who's donated to the Billy Packer Retirement Fund. Donations (which, assuming Packer does not retire, will go toward tornado relief in Springfield, Illinois) will continue to be accepted through Monday night's national championship game. (Even if he decides to retire only after the under-4 timeout in the second half, it's still worth the effort.)

Along with the donations came email, much of it of the right-on variety. But let it be known that there were a couple alert readers who wrote in to say they in fact appreciate Packer's willingness to tell it like it is, as opposed to the loud but empty all-coaches-are-great cheerleading offered by (do I really even have to say his name?).

There is a precedent--a rather excellent one, actually--for such pro-Packer sentiments. Last year Jason Zengerle penned a spirited and eloquent defense of Packer in The New Republic. Praising Packer's "combination of arrogance and fearlessness," Zengerle likened the CBS analyst to Simon Cowell and saluted his "critical eye."

I've always enjoyed Zengerle's work. Still, reading this particular piece, I was led to wonder if Packer benefits from the attitudinal equivalent of the fat bald guy rule. The sovereign assumption here seems to be: this guy is so undeniably annoying, his analysis must be really good. For Zengerle, at least, this arrogance plus analysis equation nets out to a positive balance. Hey, to each his own....

But for me this same equation produces a decided deficit. The example that Zengerle cites as representative of Packer's level of analysis--Delaware State's use of their big man against Duke to get Shelden Williams out of the paint in the first round of last year's tournament--would of course have been spotted immediately by any other analyst besides you-know-who. So must we get slathered with all the arrogance in exchange for that simple piece of analysis? Of course not.

(I would also question whether the arrogance in question is really so "fearless," self-indulgence being a pretty good candidate for the opposite of courage.)

Packer's analysis is fine as far as it goes. He does one thing and does it pretty well: he talks matchups. But there are analysts who are better who don't make me want to hit the mute button. Specifically, there are analysts who do more. Rick Majerus can be flat-out odd, yes, but one of the pleasures of his commentary is his effortless ability to shift from discussing player technique to coaching strategy.

(Packer has also started to have problems seeing the game: responding to every whistle by saying there's been a foul called when actually the offensive player traveled or stepped on the end line, etc.)

In the end, Zengerle's critical analysis vs. shill dichotomy is false. It was false 60 years ago when Richard Hofstadter posed it as embracing the only two possible modes through which to write American history and it's false here.

You don't have to choose between being Billy Packer or you-know-who. You can be Jay Bilas.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
South Carolina beat Michigan 76-64 in Madison Square Garden last night to win the NIT. (Box score.)

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

Is this the best way to crown a champion?
On Wednesday I linked without comment to a couple of articles that basically pose the following question: given that neither Connecticut nor Duke (nor any other 1-seed) will be there this weekend, does not this Final Four feel a little ersatz?

The readers respond!

Since I am an Illinois alum, of course I was cheering on the Illini basketball team last year. They had a wonderful regular season. They were crowned Big Ten conference champions—an honor. So, yes, I felt a pang when UNC defeated them in the final game last year. I felt tempted to complain, “The best team didn’t win! We were better all year than the Tar Heels! They were just better than us tonight!”

But I put that temptation away. Settle it on the court.

Sure it’s more pressure. But most of us want to know who will perform best under pressure. We don’t want to know who’s just good “on paper” or “in practice,” or when fewer people are looking on.

Hemingway said that grace is “courage under pressure.” We pay to see that kind of grace. We want to be blessed by it, by the witnessing of it—a blessing I felt watching the boys of Mason defeat UConn last Sunday.

David H.
Carmel, IN


Thanks, David.
 
Thursday, March 30, 2006
 
Give generously to the Billy Packer Retirement Fund
March 30, 2006

Mr. Sean McManus
President, CBS News and Sports
51 W. 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019-6188

Dear Mr. McManus,

Enough.

I've waited long enough. In fact, I've waited my entire adult life. Every year I hold out hope that this Final Four will be different. But every year Billy Packer shows up yet again.

How long must we fans of college basketball continue to suffer? This pain is inflicted on no other sport.

The Super Bowl is covered by a different announcing crew every year. The BCS title game doesn't appear to be the sole possession of any one announcing team. I literally have no idea which network is carrying the NBA Finals this year, much less who will announce the games. Heck, even the FOX announcers who've been doing the World Series for the last several years are newbies compared to Packer.

No, it's only the Final Four that's chained to the same analyst year in, year out.

Presidents come and go. Popes, Supreme Court justices, U.N. Secretaries General, Federal Reserve Chairmen, NFL Commissioners, even members of the Rolling Stones ("those damn kids," as Packer calls them)--they all rotate with more frequency than do your announcers for the Final Four.

And so I have a question:

Why? In heaven's name, why? Are we to believe you're swamped with emails from fans of Packer? ("Fans of Packer." There's an oxymoron, huh?) Do you think we like this state of affairs?

Are you under the impression that we want the Final Four covered by:

An analyst who came in a distant third behind Dick Cheney and Barry Bonds in a "Mr. Warm and Affable" contest?

An analyst with the inexplicable corrosive rage of an Edward Albee character?

An analyst who reportedly got into "a heated exchange with the entire cast" while taping a guest spot for "A Very Special Elmo Salute to Baby Pandas"?

Let me put it to you this way....

Packer doing the Final Four is a bit like having an insufferably pompous guy marry into your family. Said guy, attached as he is to someone or something so beloved, is simply unavoidable--and therefore all the more maddening. Cherished annual events that should be a source of unalloyed delight are instead approached with gritted teeth and a "let's just get through this" attitude.

And so this year I will continue to "act locally," extending my long-standing personal boycott of all CBS "Road to the Final Four" advertisers. This boycott will end only when Packer departs.

Until that happy day I will not stand in the ocean surf playing a stand-up bass and singing about the shrimp at Applebee's; I will not rent from Enterprise and drive a car full of children directly onto the soccer field; I will not paint my body and wear a cape to purchase insurance from my State Farm agent; and I will not evade pert questions from my significant other by lathering up with Head & Shoulders body wash. And please understand this is a great sacrifice for me because in any given week I would ordinarily do all these things.

Still, I don't want you to think all I offer here is merely a torch for destruction. No, sir, I've come with a hammer for building, as well. Here's my plan....

Let's buy him out.

I admit I don't know what kind of 401(k) you offer at CBS. But it can't be all that great or else C. Montgomery Packer wouldn't still be hanging around, am I right?

So how about we give him an early retirement package--in the form of some tasteful wallet-sized portraits of his favorite ex-Presidents? (Heck, he was probably friends with some of these guys.) I have to believe Packer would much rather count his monetary blessings than stoop to announcing a game with a (gasp) mid-major like (shudder) George Mason.

Anyway, that's my offer. I've even started the ball rolling by taking up a collection for his retirement in my blog.*

To paraphrase Hyman Roth: if I don't see Packer doing the early game Saturday, I'll know we have a deal. If I do, I'll know we don't.

Blogospherically Yours,

j.

P.S. I know it's not really your department but, while you're at it, can you see about keeping the "How I Met Your Mother" commercials down to less than 12 an hour? Thanks.

Donate here!
Yes! I want to contribute to the Billy Packer Retirement Fund. I wish Mr. Packer a long and happy retirement promulgating smugly dyspeptic criticisms of the condo association's selections for the shuffleboard tournament.







* Editor's Note: Should Mr. Packer not accept this generous offer and instead show up yet again at the Final Four this weekend, all funds collected here will be donated to the East Side Tornado Relief Fund in my hometown of Springfield, Illinois, where two tornadoes touched down on March 12 and caused millions of dollars in property damage.

 
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
 
Sooner rather than later
Indiana will apparently announce as soon as today that Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson will be the new coach in Bloomington. Sampson reportedly told his players in Norman, OK, yesterday and met last night with IU athletic director Rick Greenspan and Indiana president Adam Herbert to negotiate the details.

What I like
Sampson's arguably been a Big Ten coach for years, the only problem being his team wasn't actually in the Big Ten.

Rebounding is second nature to Sampson's players: OU, with good but not stellar personnel, was the best offensive rebounding team in the nation this year.

And the man can recruit--the class he has coming in to Norman is rated fourth-best in the country. If he can do that at a football school in Norman, Oklahoma, imagine what he can do in Bloomington, Indiana.

What I don't like
I don't like the comically low graduation rates of OU players: tenth in the Big XII--the Big XII, a conference that, with all due respect to any readers from out yonder, isn't exactly populated with the Northwesterns and Michigans of the world academically speaking.


Nor, of course, do I like the specter of impending NCAA sanctions on the Oklahoma basketball program. True, the speculation this morning says that Indiana would never have selected Sampson without an all-clear sign from the NCAA to the effect that the impending sanctions in Norman will not be too dire. Still, regardless of the punishment the NCAA chooses to dole out, IU fans should harbor no illusions as to the behavior in question--specifically the conscious flouting (apparently) of clear and unmistakable rules. Non-permitted phone calls to recruits may not be Baylor-level as far as criminality, granted. But a couple months ago Gregg Doyel made a persuasive case that this is in fact Missouri-level stuff--the only difference being the coverage.

And what's the deal with the steady and virtually Knight-esque exodus of players leaving the OU program? Mind you, we're talking in more than a few cases about players who were getting PT in Norman. Before yesterday, of course, I already knew of Oklahoma transfer Lawrence McKenzie, simply because he's slated to help a Minnesota team that badly needs help this coming season. But some further investigation turns up a surprising number of additional refugees on the roads leading out of Norman: Ryan Humphrey, Drew Lavender, D'Angelo Alexander, and Brandon Foust, to name a few.

One last thing: despite Sampson's reputation, the Sooners' defense this season was actually nothing special.

The canary in the new-coach-hire coal mine
I've come to have a very simple and straightforward measure of how good a coaching hire is in any given case: what is the reaction of the fans of the coach's former program? For example, Illinois fans were fairly well devastated when Bill Self left in 2003. Same for Kansas fans that same year in the wake of Roy Williams' departure.

How about Oklahoma fans? Call me picky but this does not sound very devastated.

Links
Sampson's father, Ned, says the toughest part for his son is "leaving his players and the new recruits coming in." Sooner recruit Keith Clark says he doesn't know what he'll do yet. Marquette assistant Jason Rabedeaux, who served as an assistant at Oklahoma under Sampson, says he understands the coach's motivation: "He's moving to a job where in a lot of people's eyes Indiana basketball is viewed in the same way as Oklahoma football." Columnist Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman says Sampson's "future is more secure than the program he just left."

Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz says simply: "Not sexy. Not a member of the family. Neither. Did you hear that noise? Thud." Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Jerry Brewer says Sampson "would be a fine coach for 90 percent of Division I teams. But for the Hoosiers, this move lacks pizzazz and sex appeal." At ESPN.com, Pat Forde says: "For the next few years, the temperature is going to be 1,000 degrees Kelvin under the chair of Indiana athletic director Rick Greenspan." (Cute.) Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler says Sampson is "Huggins Lite." Daily Herald columnist Mike Imrem seems puzzled by the hire. And Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti, acknowledging reports that IU was turned down by both Mark Few and John Calipari, wonders: "When Gonzaga and Memphis are considered better positions in 2006, what does it say about facilities issues and general fan psychosis at Indiana?"

Last word
In this morning's Chicago Tribune, Sampson also gets a welcoming slather of Skip Myslenski's brand of Oprah treacle. ("The acorn never falls far from the tree and so it is best to first view Kelvin Sampson in Pembroke, the North Carolina town where the next Indiana coach was raised," etc.) Bet you never saw indulgently lachrymose fluff like this in Norman, huh Coach? Welcome to a major media market!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan beat Old Dominion 66-43 in Madison Square Garden last night in the NIT semifinals. Courtney Sims led all scorers with 18 points. (More here.) The Wolverines will face South Carolina in the championship game tomorrow night. (Box score.)

Illinois and Kansas are reportedly locked in a battle for a prized Chicago-area recruit, 6-4 guard Derrick Rose, a junior out of Simeon High School. (In the recent past, prized Chicago-area recruits Julian Wright and Sherron Collins have both chosen Lawrence over Champaign.) The other schools on Rose's short list, according to his coach, are North Carolina, Memphis, and Virginia. (Virginia?)...Dee Brown was named to the ten-man John Wooden All-American team yesterday.

At FOXSports.com, Yoni Cohen ponders this 1-less Final Four: "The NCAA tournament doesn't determine the best team in college basketball. Rather, it determines the best team for six games in March. That's madness." And Kara Yorio of The Sporting News seconds Yoni's emotion, saying this Final Four leaves her "feeling cheated."

COMING tomorrow (delayed for a day by Kelvin Sampson)....
It's a Final Four Week tradition! This blog's annual helpful suggestion on what would truly be in society's best interest as regards a certain CBS Sports basketball analyst's schedule of activities for the weekend. Tune in tomorrow!

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

An invitation to mockery
Any pre-pre-pre-season predictions for next season?

Matthew C.

Great. Having seen in vivid detail how hoops pundits are utterly powerless to predict what will happen over the course of just two weeks, let us now turn our attention to a year from now.

OK, fine. Here's my seat-of-the-pants sequence, admittedly offered in advance of any dedicated research on newcomers not named Greg Oden:

Ohio State
Wisconsin
Illinois
Michigan State
Indiana
Penn State
Purdue
Michigan
Iowa
Northwestern
Minnesota

Bump Michigan State up a spot if Shannon Brown comes back. Bump Indiana up two spots if Robert Vaden and D.J. White both stay.
 
 
The Billy Packer Retirement Fund
Billy Packer has been doing the analysis on Final Four broadcasts for a very, very long time. So I wrote an open letter to the president of CBS Sports suggesting we give Mr. Packer an early retirement--starting immediately. Your donation will show you share my concern for my sanity--oops! No, I mean, for Mr. Packer's health and well being.

Please note: Should Mr. Packer not accept this generous offer and instead show up yet again at the Final Four this weekend, all funds collected here will be donated to the East Side Tornado Relief Fund in my hometown of Springfield, Illinois, where two tornadoes touched down on March 12 and caused millions of dollars in property damage.
 
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
 
BONUS Final Four edition PPWS!
There's no trick to putting up a nice number for points per game (PPG). Just shoot a lot. But who would get the most points from the same number of shots?

To answer that question we turn to the handy stat known as points per weighted shot (PPWS), developed cannily by John Hollinger (The Basketball Prospectus) and renamed brazenly by yours truly. Here are the current numbers for every starter and selected key reserves in the Final Four:

Scoring efficiency: PPWS
1. Joakim Noah, Florida (1.32)
2. Lee Humphrey, Florida (1.31)
3. Tyrus Thomas, LSU (1.26)
4. Ryan Hollins, UCLA (1.25)
5. Al Horford, Florida (1.24)
6. Arron Afflalo, UCLA (1.22)
7. Cedric Bozeman, UCLA (1.21)
8. Folarin Campbell, George Mason (1.18)
9. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA (1.18)
10. Taurean Green, Florida (1.18)
11. Will Thomas, George Mason (1.17)
12. Lamar Butler, George Mason (1.16)
13. Jai Lewis, George Mason (1.15)
14. Corey Brewer, Florida (1.14)
15. Darrel Mitchell, LSU (1.14)
16. Glen Davis, LSU (1.10)
17. Tony Skinn, George Mason (1.08)
18. Darnell Lazare, LSU (1.07)
19. Jordan Farmar, UCLA (1.04)
20. Walter Hodge, Florida (1.04)
21. Tasmin Mitchell, LSU (1.03)
22. Darren Collison, UCLA (1.00)
23. Gabe Norwood, George Mason (0.99)
24. Garrett Temple, LSU (0.88)

The numbers back up what our eyes tell us: Lee Humphrey notwithstanding, this Final Four is heavy on the frontcourt. Fans who like their hoops old-school--light on the threes and heavy on the post moves--are in for a treat this weekend.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
The latest on the Indiana coaching search: no news. (Tom Crean, for one, says he hasn't been contacted.) In the Big XII they move faster (see Iowa State, Kansas State, and Missouri) but with no other major programs competing with the Hoosiers for top candidates, it now appears IU athletic director Rick Greenspan may sit tight until after the Final Four.


Michigan plays Old Dominion tonight in Madison Square Garden in the semifinals of the NIT. Daniel Horton says any criticism of his coach, Tommy Amaker, is off-base: "It bothers me, because it's not on him. The team didn't perform like we should have." ODU coach Blaine Taylor says his team won't be intimidated by the Wolverines. (Well, duh.)

It's official: Minnesota guard Rico Tucker will not return to the Gophers next year. The San Diego native intends to transfer to another program, perhaps one closer to home.

COMING tomorrow....
It's a Final Four Week tradition! This blog's annual helpful suggestion on what would truly be in society's best interest as regards a certain CBS Sports basketball analyst's schedule of activities for the weekend. Tune in tomorrow!

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

Who's a mid-major?
Love your site, but what's up with:

"George Mason (the team) beat the Huskies 86-84 in OT yesterday to become the first mid-major to reach the Final Four since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985."

How are we defining "mid-major" these days? Was UMass from a "major"? How about UNLV? Don't you really mean "George Mason is the first crappy team from a non big six conference to reach the Final Four"?

Actually, replace the word "crappy" with "underfunded" and that's precisely what I mean. The idea that 1-seeds blessed with the likes of Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, and Marcus Camby were scrappy mid-majors is novel, to say the least.
 
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
The mid-major Declaration of Rights
(With apologies to George Mason (1725-1792), author of the original.)

A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS made by the Representatives of the millions of good people who attend or attended MID-MAJORS (so-called), assembled in full and free Convention in the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.; which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of present gloating and future schedule-making.

Article 1
That all D-I teams are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of tournament, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of irrevocably destroying conventional wisdom, with the means of acquiring and possessing wins, and pursuing and obtaining Final Four happiness and fame.

Article 2
That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the actual performance on the court and not in the number of times your team's games have been done by Dick Vitale.

Article 3
That the game of college hoops is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit and happiness all fans, whether or not Billy Packer believes their team "belongs" in the tournament.

Adopted unanimously March 26, 2006
Verizon Center Convention of Mid-Majors

"George: G-E-O-R-G-E." Now how hard was that?
There's disdain and then there's disconnect: Connecticut, apparently, can't even spell the name of the opponent they lost to yesterday. No matter. They have the offseason to brush up on their spelling. [Update: they fixed it. But it took a while.]

George Mason (the team) beat the Huskies 86-84 in OT yesterday to become the first mid-major to reach the Final Four since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They won for a simple reason: they were the best team on the floor. Big bad prohibitive favorite 1-seed UConn was, late in regulation, reduced to playing the role of the scrappy underdog.

True, there was one span of a few minutes late in the first half where Connecticut was having its way and the Patriots, for a few seconds, trailed by 12. But with that singular exception, the notable aspect of yesterday was how the visual grammar was all wrong: it was George Mason that had a clear edge on the boards (posting offensive and defensive rebounding percentages of 43 and 61, respectively). It was George Mason that, "incredibly," was methodically feeding the post and getting scores from their bigs, especially Will Thomas. And it was Connecticut, a team whose name is synonymous with post defense, that was substituting frantically in a futile attempt to find someone who could stop Thomas. ("We got beat in the post, which we really haven't all year, and we got beat good in the post," said Jim Calhoun afterward.) Just to force OT the Huskies needed three missed free throws from the Patriots in the final 60 seconds of regulation and an amazing and improbable last-second lay-in by Denham Brown that bounced on the rim for what seemed like an eternity.

No matter. The Patriots, playing the same five players for much of the day against Calhoun's cast of thousands, closed the deal in OT, thanks in large part to a Kobe-esque jump-stop fadeaway jumper by Folarin Campbell. (And yet still another missed free throw gave the Huskies a last chance. But a three by Brown at the buzzer that would have won the game for UConn skidded off the rim.) Start the celebration and rewrite the history. (Box score.)

What now?
George Mason looks like a legitimate threat to put together six wins in the tournament because they've already won four games in a number of different ways. This is not a team where shutting down one Carmelo-sized offensive threat is "the key." Nor are Jim Larranaga's men riding a Providence-in-'87-brand wave of precociously hot outside shooting. (They're hitting about 42 percent of their threes in the tournament which, of course, is very good. But only about 29 percent of their shots in their four wins have been threes.) Consider....

The Patriots beat Michigan State with superior rebounding and outstanding interior offense. Then, on a day when they were beaten on the boards and their threes weren't falling (4-of-16), George Mason beat North Carolina by taking care of the ball and getting to the line. Against Wichita State, the men from Fairfax, VA, relied on excellent defense--more specifically, outstanding field goal defense.

And then yesterday: the Patriots won this game not because they stopped UConn but because UConn couldn't stop the Patriots. George Mason scored 86 points on just 69 possessions, netting out to a robust 1.25 points per possession. They did it with a run of hot outside shooting early in the second half and, as mentioned above, a late run of strong interior play. (One constant: this team isn't commiting turnovers. The Patriots have given the ball away to their opponents on only 16 percent of their tournament possessions.)

Proficient Patriot polymaths of George Mason, I salute you!

Links
Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon says George Mason-over-Connecticut is probably "the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history." Ken Pomeroy says no, it's not: "UConn, while having a bunch of players with 'upside,' was a team that never distanced itself from the field. The thing to learn from this is that when a team doesn’t play up to its alleged potential for 33 games, why should we expect them to do so in game number 34?" At ESPN.com, Andy Katz thinks what the Patriots have done merits repeating: "Let's go over this again: The Patriots took out Tom Izzo, Roy Williams and Jim Calhoun, the latter a Hall of Fame member and the first two likely to be enshrined some day." Katz's colleague Gene Wojciechowski says the win against Connecticut is "more than an upset, it's history." Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News agrees ("historic"). And at cbs.sportsline, Gregg Doyel says "George Mason beat UConn because George Mason was better than UConn. End of story."

Best headline
Can't link to it because it's already long gone but for a brief time right after the game yesterday ESPN had this on its main page: "This One Goes to 11." Perfect.

And while no one was watching....
Pity 3-seed Florida, winners of what will go down as the most overlooked and little-remembered regional final in a long while, their 75-62 victory over 1-seed Villanova. The Gators rebounded over 57 percent of their own misses (Al Horford alone had eight offensive boards) while limiting the Wildcats to a level of shooting futility (27.4 effective FG pct.) even lower than that inflicted upon Memphis by UCLA Saturday night. Joakim Noah posted a 21-15 dub-dub for the victors while teammate Horford notched the rare ascending-numbers version of the same (12-15). Randy Foye, Allan Ray, and Mike Nardi shot 22 threes and missed 18 of them. Yes, 26 offensive boards sounds impressive for 'Nova--but keep in mind they missed 55 shots. Jay Wright would gladly have traded in a few offensive boards for a few threes. (Box score.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
With each passing day it looks more and more likely that Iowa coach Steve Alford will stay right where he is. Yesterday Missouri named UAB coach Mike Anderson as their new head coach.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few has not talked to Indiana about their vacancy.

Minnesota guard Rico Tucker is reportedly mulling a transfer to another program. "He just needs to go somewhere where they press," says his father, Terry. "That's what he's best at."

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

Blatant double-standard?
Wonk,

I know your blog is about celebrating college basketball. I know your site isn't about whining and I know your site isn't about creating an "us against the world attitude" with respect to Big Ten basketball.

But the next time the national media denigrates Big Ten basketball, and my Badgers in particular, about a "grinding" style of play, please remember the following games, scores, and headlines:

"A Beautiful Grind" - ESPN.com regarding the UCLA/Memphis 50-45 final.

Villanova 60, BC 59 (in OT, no less).

Florida 57, Georgetown 53.

I won't direct you to the box scores. I won't direct you to the stats. I won't direct you to the multitude of tales regarding the great "athleticism" of the players on these teams. I'll just sit here and tell myself that the name on the front of the jersey makes no difference in how a game or team is perceived by fans and spun by the media.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have cows to milk and a cheesehead hat that needs repair.

Sandon K.

Not a bad point, Sandon. Though I, for one, would lift the Villanova-BC game well above the rim-denting brick fest that was UCLA-Memphis or the 56-possession still-life known as Florida-Georgetown.
 
Sunday, March 26, 2006
 
Youth is served
Based on the results of yesterday's Elite Eight games, we know that one of the teams in the national championship game next Monday night will be very young. And very good.

(4) LSU 70, (2) Texas 60 (OT)
The Tigers are this year's Michigan State in that they beat the two top seeds in their region to get to the Final Four. But that's where the similarity ends, for LSU is getting it done with defense. Incredible defense played against two of the best offenses in the nation: Duke and Texas. These elite teams simply aren't able to get the ball in the basket against the Tigers. Texas actually achieved a slight edge on the boards in yesterday's game and turnovers were a wash. But the Longhorns made less than 28 percent of their twos--which is simply astonishing for a team that features LaMarcus Alrdridge and P.J. Tucker (who, combined, made 55 percent of their twos this season). In fact, LSU turned Texas into a POT yesterday: the only way the Horns stayed in this game was by making ten threes. (That and the fact that the Tigers were a woeful 3-of-18 on their own threes.) Tyrus Thomas was credited with only three blocks but he's reached the point now where actual blocks in the box score are immaterial: he changes opponents' shots merely by walking onto the court.

Not to steal the thunder of the following paragraph, but it already seems fair to say that the winner of their national semifinal game with UCLA may be the team that gets to 50 points. (Box score.)

(2) UCLA 50, (1) Memphis 45

Yes, the pace was a tad slow but not nearly as glacial as the score might indicate. There were in fact 63 possessions in this game, as opposed, say, to the 56-possession crawl-ball that was Florida-Georgetown Friday night. And there was some tenacious D played by both teams yesterday. Still, the shooting was simply awful. The Tigers missed 16 of their 18 threes. The Bruins missed 19 of their 39 free throws. Any game in late-March acquires a certain glow because of its momentous stature--and this game was no different. But among the momentous games of late-March, this was one of the more homely ones. (Box score.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
The rest of the Final Four will be written in today....

(11) George Mason vs. (1) Connecticut, Washington, D.C. (2:30pm ET)
Can a mid-major make it to the Final Four?

(3) Florida vs. (1) Villanova, Minneapolis (5:05pm ET)
Inside vs. outside.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006
 
Did UConn really win that game?
Jim Calhoun says his team is "a team of lapses." Last night's "lapse" encompassed 25 minutes. (Yesterday I referred to "those patented weird UConn funks." Little did I know last night's funk would be more like a coma.) And yet they're 30-3 and in the Elite Eight. Embrace the paradox....

(1) Connecticut 98, (5) Washington 92 (OT)
I'm glad I wasn't liveblogging this game. If I had been I would have held forth with earnest sagacity early in the second half on how there was no possible way Connecticut could win. With 15 minutes left in regulation UConn had already turned the ball over 23 times. (After the game Calhoun gave credit to the disruptive D played by Washington. I think the coach was being more honest on the sidelines during the game when he was yelling at Marcus Williams: from where I sat I saw a lot of unforced errors.) But surprises were in store....First, and most importantly, the Huskies of the east stopped coughing the ball up. Second, of course, there was the crucial play with 13 minutes left where Brandon Roy went from having two fouls to sitting on the bench with four within five seconds. Roy was assessed his third personal and then slapped immediately with his fourth when his robust discussion with Rudy Gay resulted in a double-technical. (A double-technical is almost never a good call and it most certainly wasn't here. The situation merited a ref coming between the two and nothing more. Refs, please, remember your oath: first, do no harm.) Yet even with Roy sidelined for a crucial stretch of the second half, U-Dub still had this game within its grasp, leading 80-76 with 11 seconds to play. But that's when Mike Jensen decided to commit the dumbest foul in a Sweet 16 game since Dane Fife fouled Jason Williams in 2002. (And it wouldn't work out for Jensen the way it did for Fife.) With Marcus Williams about to finish a lay-in, Jensen came across the lane and hacked him: just like that, three points the old fashioned way. Roy made two free throws on the other end to put Washington up 82-79. No problem: Williams found Rashad Anderson, who sank the game-tying three with two seconds to play. And with the entire U-Dub team in serious foul trouble, there was not a single person in the Verizon Center last night that thought OT favored the Huskies of the west. Indeed, it did not. (Box score.)


(1) Villanova 60, (4) Boston College 59 (OT)
How amazing is it that this game went to OT with BC turning the ball over 21 times and shooting just 8-of-17 from the line? Those numbers demonstrate better than anything just how successful the Eagles' D was at making life miserable for the Wildcats. Villanova fell behind early and scrapped their four-guard lineup. Jay Wright's team couldn't throw the ball in the ocean from a rowboat (38.3 effective FG pct.) but they didn't commit any turnovers and fought the Eagles to a draw on the boards. Yes, Randy Foye scored nearly half (29) of Villanova's points (60). But then he took a healthy plurality of their shots, too (he took 25; the team took 60). (Box score.)

(3) Florida 57, (7) Georgetown 53
Wow, this game was slow: just 56 possessions. The Hoyas shot just eight free throws; the Gators took 17. In a grind-it-out game that was otherwise remarkably even, this was the difference. One additional note: dub-dubs in games this slow are really hard to come by. So kudos to Joakim Noah for his 15-10. (Box score.)

(11) George Mason 63, (7) Wichita State 55
Note to all West Virginia bashers: you can win a Sweet 16 game without offensive rebounding. The Patriots proved it last night, cruising to an easy win despite recording just two (not a typo) offensive boards. The Shockers jacked up 24 threes and missed 21 of them. Will Thomas recorded the J.J. Gittes dub-dub: 10-10. ("As little as possible.")


In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Can this level of hoops continue? I certainly hope so....

(4) LSU vs. (2) Texas, Atlanta (4:40pm ET)
There will, to say the least, be some athletes on display along the front lines of these two teams. Man, can't wait....

(2) UCLA vs. (1) Memphis, Oakland (7:05pm ET)
The Tigers want to play at a pace that's about 10 possessions faster than what the Bruins would like. Both teams are young--why did these youngsters (and, for that matter, LSU) make it this far while Kansas and North Carolina did not?

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Friday, March 24, 2006
 
Bitter tears in the Sweet 16
I've been watching hoops a long while and it's not often that you see a player out and out cry. (I know Darius Washington, Jr., said he was crying last year after he bricked his free throws at the end of the C-USA championship game against Louisville. But he pulled his jersey up over his head so we couldn't see.)

So it was striking, to say the least, to see easily the two most highly publicized players in the land, J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison, both get weepy last night. It was practically a chick flick!

Heck, I cried--because the hoops were so great and the Big Ten so absent. Only one boring game last night and three outstanding ones....

(4) LSU 62, (1) Duke 54
This game was all about defense: the winning team scored just 0.87 points per possession. So it's entirely fitting that the night's most dominant player, by far, scored just nine points and had only 25 minutes of floor time. Tyrus Thomas was sensational. If ever the phrase "credited with only five blocks" were apt, it is this morning: Thomas clearly got into the Blue Devils' heads. Rebounding and turnovers were even in this game--it came down to making shots. And, Shelden Williams notwithstanding (and even he was just 8-of-18), the Dukies couldn't do it. The Blue Devils went 5-for-26 on their threes. Redick, harassed all night by Garrett Temple, was held to 11 points on 3-of-18 shooting, the incredible part being that he was 0-of-9 on his twos. That is what shot-blockers can do. (Box score.)

(2) Texas 74, (6) West Virginia 71
Kevin Pittsnogle hit a three to tie the game at 71 with ten seconds to play. But credit Rick Barnes for not calling the customary timeout in this situation: he let play continue and it worked. A.J. Abrams did his best Tyus Edney impression for about 60 feet and then fed Kenton Paulino, who had a wide open look at a three with one second left. He nailed it....This game was West Virginia's season in miniature: no offensive boards (three) but no turnovers either (eight). Most of their shots were threes and the Mountaineers were in this game at the end because they were hitting those shots (15-of-33). But it wasn't enough. The Horns won this game on the interior, where they hit more than 60 percent of their twos. Soon-to-be lottery pick LaMarcus Aldridge (26-15 dub-dub) is, of course, a beast. P.J. Tucker (15-14) isn't too shabby either. Stat of the game: there were 30 rebounds available off of Texas misses last night. The Horns hauled in 17 of them. Incredible. And decisive. (Box score.)

(2) UCLA 73, (3) Gonzaga 71
OK, Illinois fans. Raise your hand if you flashed back to last year's Elite Eight game against Arizona in the final seconds of this one. Jordan Farmar was Jack Ingram to J.P. Batista's Channing Frye, stripping the ball from Batista off an inbounds pass under UCLA's basket and feeding Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for the go-ahead lay-in. The Bruins looked just as dead last night as the Illini looked against the 'Cats last year. Gonzaga had been in front the entire game, leading at one point by 17. But the Bruins scored the game's last 11 points. BONUS deconstruction of weeping! The weird part about Morrison crying was that there were still 2.6 seconds left. And, as it happened, Batista ended up having a pretty good Laettner-esque look off a full-court baseball pass that would have put the game in OT. Verily, Adam, remember your Eliot Ness: never stop until the fight is done.

(1) Memphis 80, (13) Bradley 64
Congratulations to the Braves, the pride of Peoria, for making it further than anyone imagined. (Further, this Illini fan might add, than any other team from Illinois.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Last night's weep-fest will be a very tough act to follow. Tonight:

(4) Boston College vs. (1) Villanova (Minneapolis, 7:10pm ET)
The Eagles have the worst defense of any of the 12 teams still playing. And the Wildcats' offense is, of course, superb. Even more ominous, the weakest part of BC's defense is on the perimeter. That being said, the Eagles' offense is outstanding in its own right, especially on the offensive glass. There should be some points put up in the Metrodome tonight.

(11) George Mason vs. (7) Wichita State (Washington, D.C., 7:27pm ET)
The Patriots play excellent defense and shoot the ball. That's a good combination. Only thing: George Mason needs to hit their shots; if they don't they're in trouble because their offensive rebounding is weak and they don't go to the line much. (Think Ohio State here: when the shots don't fall, that's it, party's over. No plan B.) And, as it happens, Wichita State's defensive rebounding is outstanding. So this game will come down to the looks given to Jai Lewis and Will Thomas and what they do with them. (Um, unless Sean Ogirri goes nuts from outside for the Shockers.)

(7) Georgetown vs. (3) Florida (Minneapolis, 9:40pm ET)
OK, you know how these little preview blurbs the past couple days have been saying this game or that features what should be an interesting collision between X and Y? Well, this time I really mean it: best interior shooting in the country (Florida) against that long Hoya front line that spooked Ohio State so. Let the sparks fly. (Granted, that Hoya D is surprisingly meh on paper. Have they matured suddenly or was the OSU game a fluke?)

(5) Washington vs. (1) Connecticut (Washington, D.C., 9:57pm ET)
These two teams share some notable similarities. (And not just their common nickname.) Neither shoots threes and both are ferocious on the offensive glass. But UConn's, uh, ferociouser: the very best in the nation at hauling in misses. And U-Dub won't get 28 more free throws than their opponent tonight like they did in their last game. (Nope, no bitterness here!) So how do the Huskies from Seattle win tonight? Answer: one of those patented weird UConn funks. Otherwise? Not a chance.

In today's less still-alive venues....
Another day with no news on the Indiana coaching search. (Hoosier AD Rick Greenspan is reportedly asking former IU players what characteristics the next coach should have.) And I think each passing day with no news lends more and more support to the notion that Indiana doesn't want to make this hire without first talking to Memphis coach John Calipari. Not to say Calipari's necessarily the first choice, mind you. Merely that IU has the apparent luxury of waiting and seeing. For all the talk of a coaching carousel, there really isn't one this year. (Unless you consider Bob Huggins getting out of the house at last and a one-day vacancy in Cedar Falls, Iowa, a coaching carousel.) And there won't be one until Indiana (or, conceivably, Missouri) starts one in motion by hiring away someone.

Profile of Purdue's incoming freshmen--Chris Kramer, Jonathan Uchendu, and Dan Vandervieren--here.

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So, in a way, Illinois is still alive!
Has there been any mention of former Illini Kyle Wilson and his impact on the Sweet 16 Wichita State Shockers?

Best,
Don G.

Ah, Kyle we hardly knew ye. And I mean that literally.

Wilson was another one of Bill Self's Texas finds (a la Deron Williams, Jack Ingram, and Warren Carter) but the young man got zero PT (less than seven minutes a game) and left when Self left at the end of 2003. This year he's doing quite well for the Shockers, functioning, in effect, as an efficient cog in Mark Turgeon's strikingly balanced attack. (For one thing, Wilson's hitting better than 43 percent of his threes.)

Former Illinois bench denizen Kyle Wilson, we desperate Illini fans salute you!
 
Thursday, March 23, 2006
 
This blog is now "Human Resources Wonk"
Coaching drama persists this morning at three Big Ten programs. That's a whopping 27 percent of all conference schools! Mass hysteria!...

Indiana says: we need a coach!
And some Hoosier fans apparently think John Calipari would be ideal.

Iowa says: we may need a coach!
Even if Indiana's not interested in Steve Alford, Andy Katz says Alford is one of four candidates for the Missouri job (along with Mike Anderson of UAB, Dana Altman of Creighton, and John Beilein of West Virginia).

Iowa released this statement yesterday from Alford:

I'm the head coach at Iowa. My family and I love the Iowa program and the community. We had a record-setting season with a second Big Ten Tournament championship and I look forward to continued success with this program.

As in the past, search committees and interested officials from other programs with openings for a head basketball coach have initiated contact. I'm flattered with the interest and the recognition of the outstanding season we had this year. With that success, comes attention and speculation that I cannot control. I have not scheduled any interviews with any other institutions.

That was enough to satisfy one endearingly guileless headline writer. (Iowans. They're so trusting.) But the rest of the world above pre-K read that and knew better. In fact, if anything the Clintonian loopholes in the verbiage ("have not scheduled" as opposed to "will not accept"--or how about simply "I will return next season"?) merely added fuel to the fire.

So cue the disgruntled booster! "I would like Steve to stay at Iowa for a long time and do well for us, but this stuff is getting old," said the president of the Des Moines area alumni. "If he's just using this as a stepping-stone job for someplace else, then let's move on and get someone who wants to be here." ("If"? Dude, in other news: Japan surrendered, Lucky Lindy made it, and the Applebee's ad is a violation of the Geneva Convention.)

Minnesota says: we have a coach! Um, such as he is....
And at Minnesota, athletic director Joel Maturi, in announcing last night that Dan Monson will return next season as coach, has mustered what must surely rank as history's most tepid endorsement of a coach's continued employment:

"I've told this to Dan, if this were the Timberwolves and I were the GM, maybe he wouldn't be coaching next year," Maturi said. "But I don't want to be the Timberwolves and I'm not the GM. I'm the athletic director at an academic institution that has some values, has some integrity and we're going to live that and walk the talk."

So Monson's staying, despite the fact that yesterday the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on its front page that the coach wouldn't be back next year. But Maturi, traveling with the team in Cincinnati where the Gophers lost in the NIT Tuesday night, told the players yesterday morning that Monson will indeed be back. "You have to believe in your bosses," Monson said yesterday, "especially in this day and age where there is so much out there that can be posted without checks and balances." (What's that all about? This was "posted" by the Star Tribune, a 139-year-old newspaper. It arrived in print on my doorstep just like it would have 50 years ago.) For his part, Strib columnist Patrick Reusse says "there was nothing to recommend Monson's return other than repeating the same tired excuse about inheriting a tough situation."

Epilogue. Late Tuesday night Monson called longtime (make that long, longtime) Star Tribune sports columnist and legend-in-residence Sid Hartman. "This is going to ruin our recruiting," Monson told Hartman.

Precisely. And next year's team loses Vincent Grier, Adam Boone, J'son Stamper, and Moe Hargrow. The Gophers' leading returning scorer will be Spencer Tollackson. (I would not want to be Dan Monson.) A cynic might wonder whether the University decided to keep Monson because buying out his contract next year will be $400,000 less expensive than doing so this year.

But the truth is almost certainly less calculating and more cacophonous. Clearly some powers-that-be wanted Monson gone; some wanted him to stay. The latter won out. For now.

One gentle reminder about rollicking good coaching soap opera....
The reliability and more specifically the durability of the information being relayed varies in direct proportion to the frequency of proper nouns affixed to the source. For instance on Monday behind ESPN.com's paid wall for "Insider" subscribers, Andy Katz cited a "source close to the process" as saying Indiana would contact Steve Alford about the coaching vacancy at IU. The next day Katz, posting on the free side of the wall this time, cited "multiple sources close to the situation" as saying that Indiana would not contact Alford. (Question: if it's free is it more reliable or less? Just asking!)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
With Chicago recruit Patrick Beverley on hand to watch, Michigan beat Miami 71-65 in Ann Arbor last night to reach the NIT semifinals. The Wolverines will face Old Dominion in Madison Square Garden Tuesday night. (And if I get any more email wondering about my absolute ontological lack of interest in the NIT, I think the words "the Wolverines will face Old Dominion" speak for themselves.)

Purdue has its recruiting sights set on "Keaton Grant, a 6-foot-4 guard from Bridgton Academy in Maine, and Takais Brown, a 6-8 power forward from Southeastern (Ill.) College."

Link here for today's episode in the continuing drama, Will Shannon Brown Go Pro?

Meanwhile, there's some thing called the Sweet 16 going on. Not that the Big Ten would know anything about it....

(4) LSU vs. (1) Duke (Atlanta, 7:10pm ET)
Should be a great collision between the best offense in the country (that would be referring to the Blue Devils) and one of the nation's top ten defenses. The Tigers' Tyrus Thomas is a beast on the defensive glass. But can LSU hold on to the ball and score enough points to win?

(13) Bradley vs. (1) Memphis (Oakland, 7:27pm ET)
There are no made threes in Bradley games--because the Braves never attempt them (treys account for just 29 percent of their shots) and their opponents never make them (shooting just 31 percent on their 3FGs). The Bradley D creates missed shots, both on the perimeter and inside. But can the Braves play at this speed? Among teams still alive, only Washington puts more possessions into each 40 minutes than does Memphis.

(6) West Virginia vs. (2) Texas (Atlanta, 9:40pm ET)
More than half the Mountaineers' shots are threes; if they're falling, John Beilein's team has a chance. If they're not--and if Texas is taking care of the ball--this might not be all that close.

(3) Gonzaga vs. (2) UCLA (Oakland, 9:57pm ET)
Speaking of enticing collisions, this one should be a beaut. With the early exits of Iowa and Kansas, the Bruins have the best defense still playing.

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Genetic engineering comes to Champaign
How likely do you believe it is that Jamar Smith will learn to defend and Brian Randle will develop a jump shot over the summer? Will Bruce Weber resort to fusing them genetically in order to create a 6-8 swingman?

Bill P.
Ottawa, Ontario

My friend, if Randle could shoot like Smith or if Smith had Randle's height and hops, they'd be walking to a podium to put on a cap and shake David Stern's hand in a few weeks.
 



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