Big Ten Wonk
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Inspired, fired, and just too tired
Wow. Tumultuous day in the Big Ten yesterday. Let's try approaching this thing chronologically....

(1) Ohio State 78, (9) Xavier 71 (OT)
This was the early game on the first Saturday, the one that takes place all by itself and so has pretty much the whole country watching it. And of course this was the game that for years, seemingly, Duke always won. The Devils were thus the first team into the Sweet 16 year after year, or so it seemed. So the very structure of the situation suggested one parallel. But, as it happened, the particular course of events in this game suggested quite another.

No, I don't mean the classic double-overtime game between 1-seed Arizona and 9-seed Gonzaga in Salt Lake City in the 2003 second round, a game won by the Wildcats, 96-95. (I still remember the picture that the print edition Sports Illustrated ran of the closing seconds of that game, quite possibly the best single photo of college basketball I've ever seen.) That of course matches yesterday's OSU-Xavier bracket perfectly. But as far as the actual game I think the closest precedent is 1-seeded Illinois' storied 90-89 win in OT over Arizona in the 2005 Midwest regional final. In that game as in yesterday's the 1-seeded Big Ten champion looked finished with three minutes left in regulation. In that game as in yesterday's the last FG in regulation was a three from the 1-seed to send the game to OT (courtesy of Deron Williams in 2005 and Ron Lewis yesterday). And in that game as in yesterday's one had to think that just maybe the close brush with bracket mortality would do a confident and talented team some good.

There were a fair amount of threes in this game and Lewis's trey of course provided the contest's signature moment. (Lewis hit 4-of-5 threes and led all scorers with 27 points.) But this game took on the character it had
—the "Ohio State was very lucky to win" character—because of twos. The Buckeyes were surprisingly ineffective on their twos and the Musketeers were, for an Ohio State opponent this late in the season, unusually successful on theirs. Kudos to Justin Cage and Justin Doellman, for they went a combined 10-of-13 on their twos and, in an inside-the-arc realm populated by Greg Oden, that is noteworthy. (This kind of Robert de Niro in The Deer Hunter accuracy on the first shot was also crucial—because OSU owned the defensive glass in this game.)

As for the big man himself, he had a 14-12 dub-dub in 35 foul-blighted minutes and went to the bench for good in the closing seconds of regulation. Mike Conley scored the first seven points of the OT (he had 21 for the game) and secured the win for the Buckeyes.

And so the Ohio State-Texas A&M regional final that everyone, and I mean everyone, has the Aggies winning was on life-support yesterday, as both the Buckeyes and A&M struggled mightily just to survive the day. In the end, both did. See you in San Antonio. (Box score.)

Next: The winner of (5) Tennessee vs. (4) Virginia.

Bill Self owns the recruiting hotbed of Lawrence, Kansas
During the Ohio State-Xavier game I learned that Tommy Amaker had been fired as head coach at Michigan. I reserve the right to say more on this in the coming days but for now let me just remark on one distressing aspect of the first cycle of coverage here. I'm already hearing references to the "recruiting hotbed" of Detroit and how important it will be for a new coach at Michigan to corner that market.

As we embark on a couple weeks of what promises to be rollicking good coach-hire chat, let us note at the outset that proximity to a recruiting hotbed doesn't correlate real well with success. If it did, the best programs in the country would be St. John's, DePaul, and USC. They're not. The most successful programs over the past 15 years, conversely, have tended to come from such more or less bucolic settings as North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Connecticut, UCLA, and Arizona.

Just something to keep in mind as we talk about the two current vacancies in the Big Ten. (Don't forget Minnesota. Jim Molinari, brought in as interim coach on the last day of November, is a candidate but the job is being shopped around.)

(1) North Carolina 81, (9) Michigan State 67
Whoa. The Heels rang up 81 points in just 65 possessions on a tough Tom Izzo team. And they did it from the line. Tyler Hansbrough, mask-less in the second half, shot 17 free throws and made 13, on his way to 33 points. Watching Carolina is like hitting the "X2" button on your DVR during a Wisconsin game. Bo Ryan is fanatical about "touching the paint" on every offensive possession and so, in his velocity-loving way, is Roy Williams. Time and time again, the ball goes into the paint: whether it's rocketed there by Ty Lawson with 30+ still on the shot clock or it's fed to Hansbrough. It goes in and the result is points or a foul or both. Basketball's a simple game, particularly with the talent Williams has. As for the Spartans, they gave the Heels a good 14-minute scrap in the second half before running out of gas with a vengeance at the six-minute mark. (After a steady diet of Lawson-Hansbrough paint production, when Reyshawn Terry at last made a couple jumpers you could almost see the life drain out of MSU. If you can make jumpers too, State seemed to be saying, we can't keep up.) Drew Neitzel scored 26 points but needed 27 shots to get there. No wonder he got tired. (Box score.)

(2) UCLA 54, (7) Indiana 49
I thought Kelvin Sampson's use of timeouts in this game was interesting. For a while his deployment of TOs seemed almost impossibly effective
—and then it seemed like maybe it cost the Hoosiers the game.

With seven minutes left IU was down 13 which, in a game where points were obviously at a premium, seemed to be a large deficit. At that point Earl Calloway sank a three and Sampson called one of those pre-scripted before-it-even-clears-the-net timeouts. Then with a little less than five minutes remaining and Indiana down 12, Lance Stemler made a three and Sampson again called an immediate TO. Whatever he drew up in those huddles must have worked because the Hoosiers tied the game at 49 with a minute left. But it also meant that IU entered the final minute with no timeouts. And that was a problem, because, down two with 38 seconds left, Indiana could not inbound the ball. Minus any opportunity for drawing up a different play (or substituting), Sampson watched as Stemler had his inbounds pass deflected twice. Then on the third try Stemler threw the ball almost directly to Darren Collison, whereupon Calloway fouled out going for the ball. It proved to be the game's decisive sequence
though it needn't have been, timeouts or no timeouts, had not the Hoosiers missed 11 of 21 free throws. D.J. White recorded a 12-14 dub-dub, as IU made just 5-of-16 threes. (Box score.)

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

(9) Purdue vs. (1) Florida (2:15pm ET)
Wonk 360: Purdue in New Orleans
Boilers are respectful of Gators and all but Carl Landry is confident.

(7) UNLV vs. (2) Wisconsin (2:30pm ET)
Wonk 360: Wisconsin in Chicago
Alando Tucker is home; two Landry brothers are playing today; assistant coach Gary Close had the scout on the Rebels, etc.

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

Speaking of too tired, emails tomorrow. Or sometime.


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