Big Ten Wonk
Friday, March 23, 2007
Not exactly gliding smoothly through the bracket, are they?
(1) Ohio State 85, (5) Tennessee 84
Talk about taking Tennessee's best shot. Bruce Pearl couldn't have dreamed up a better set of circumstances:

1) The Vols made 16 of 31 threes.
2) UT turned the ball over just seven times in a 67-possession game.
3) Greg Oden was in foul trouble all night and recorded only nine points and three boards in 18 minutes.

And still the Vols lost. The Buckeyes trailed 49-29 with 30 seconds left in the first half but needed only 11 minutes to tie the game at 64. (I'm seeing some "more than just Oden"-themed recaps this morning. But note that, while it's true he played only 18 minutes overall, Oden was in fact on the floor for eight of the 11 minutes during this crucial 35-15 run.) And then it was close the rest of the way. In the end, Oden blocked a Ramar Smith runner as time expired to seal the win.

A couple days ago I offered this:

Ohio State's main defensive strengthdefending two-point shotsis much less weighty against an opponent like Tennessee that simply bombs away from the perimeter. The key variable in this game is whether or not the Vols are hitting their outside shots. If they're not, they lose. If they are, they still might lose. Because against an interior D this leaky, Thad Matta's Bill Walsh-like script should read as follows:

Play 1. Get ball to Oden in the paint.
Play 2. Get ball to Oden in the paint.
Play 3. Get ball to Oden in the paint.

Well said! Quite right. Yes, I've got my eye on you, Gasaway. I like the cut of your jib. You seem like a bright young lad....

Anyway, as I was saying, OSU won this game in the paint, Oden or no Oden. Matta's men made 19-of-29 twos and got to the line 35 times. That was the difference on a (late) night when the Buckeyes' perimeter shooting was merely normal (8-of-22). Ron Lewis went just 3-of-9 on his threes but scored 25 points by taking the ball to the hole. Mike Conley added 17 points, six assists, and some nervous moments for his coach, as the youngster went 9-of-14 at the line (with four of those misses coming in the last 5:10). (Box score.)

Now Ohio State gets 2-seed Memphis, who looked beautiful in edging 3-seed Texas A&M 65-64 in front of a vocally and decidedly pro-Aggie crowd in the Alamo Dome. The Tigers, of course, were regarded as faintly dubious all year because, in the new-look declawed C-USA, they hadn't played anybody. Well, last night they played somebody. And won. They look very tough.

"Poor shooting background" conspiracy theorists, take note!
Over the course of two games in the Alamo Dome last night, four teams combined to shoot just 55 percent on their free throws.

(1) Kansas 61, (4) Southern Illinois 58
What a great, if strange, game. The Salukis ran clock and shot threes all night, missing most of them. (For the game they were 6-of-25.) Yet they were in this right to the end because they schooled the taller Jayhawks on the offensive glass, pulling down 17 offensive boards out of 37 chances. Kansas, perhaps rivaled only by UCLA in terms of beastliness on the defensive glass, is not typically so generous. Speaking of generous, Bill Self's team coughed the ball up 19 times in a 63-possession game. (Brandon Rush, Russell Robinson, and Mario Chalmers had four turnovers apiece. And, interestingly, SIU was credited with just six steals.) If they could have just held on to the ball KU could have made this evening much more comfortable for their fans, for the Jayhawks were hitting their shots from start to finish. As it turned out, they needed to.

(2) UCLA 64, (3) Pitt 55
The Bruins are playing the best defense of any team in the tournament. Over the course of three games opponents have now scored just 0.79 points per possession and made only 35 percent of their twos. Aaron Gray was held to 10 points and there were very few second shots for any of the Panthers. Hoops fans everywhere should send a thank-you email this morning to Berkeley, because Cal's win over the Bruins in the first-round of the Pac-10 tournament knocked Ben Howland's team down to the 2-line, thus setting up Saturday night's unimaginably good regional final: UCLA vs. Kansas.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
It's that time of year: when news from the human resources department rivals and on occasion even eclipses the news from the court.

Tubby. Minnesota. Wow.
In three seasons of doing this blog, no single piece of news has dropped my jaw so suddenly and so far as the news that Tubby Smith will be the next head coach at Minnesota. (The press conference is today at 1 ET.) Gopher AD Joel Maturi, last seen in this space bungling Dan Monson's dismissal in every conceivable way, is suddenly reaping the surprised and emphatic acclaim more traditionally associated with a commander-in-chief the morning after a spectacularly successful clandestine military strike.

Kentucky fans may be saying good riddance, of course, but keep in mind this is Minnesota we're talking about. A team with precisely zero recent (untainted) success in basketball, where "recent" is defined as "post-Kevin McHale." For a coach who's won a national championship, with Rick Pitino's players or anyone else's, to plant his flag under the hitherto sleepy rafters of Williams Arena is an abrupt and seismic occurrence.

I'll say it again. Wow.

Alford. New Mexico. Meh.
Steve Alford is leaving Iowa and will be the next head coach at New Mexico. (The press conference is today at 4 ET.)

Michigan. Vacancy. Patience.
What does all this do to the Wolverines' search for a new coach? Not much, unless they wanted Tubby. There are more than enough good candidates for Iowa and Michigan to both make smart hires.

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POTs, Packer, and parallels
Yesterday I said that Butler is a POT and noted some striking similarities between this piece on Billy Packer from March 2007 and this piece on Billy Packer from March 2006. The readers respond!


I've been a fan of your blog since I first discovered it last season, probably off KenPom. I'm especially a fan of the POT nomenclature, the aerials, and the DAD watch.

I was glad to see you link to the Simmons piece on Packer today, because when I saw his piece I immediately thought back to yours. Given the choice, I'd rather read you.

In your Florida-Butler preview today, you pointed out that the Bulldogs are a classic POT. What you didn't point out, though, is that Florida defensively is a classic anti-POT nightmare. Only about seven percent of Gator defensive possessions end in a made three, one of the better rates in the country.

Which should set up an interesting matchup: 15.4 percent of Butler possessions end up in a made three-pointer, perhaps the highest rate in the country. (Note as well that Oregon's rate, at 13.3 percent, is also very good nationally. So the Gators' current opponent and their most likely next opponent are both exceptionally good offensively at the thing Florida is exceptionally good at defensively.

Keep up the great work.

Tom G.

Great points, Tom. A couple more: keep in mind Butler's percentage of possessions ending in a made three is a function not only of their marksmanship (which, at 37 percent, is OK but not excellent) but also of their shot selection (49 percent of their shots are attempted threes) and, as you note correctly, their poor offensive rebounding.

Also note that Florida's numbers for perimeter D are in fact coming back down to earth with notable speed. (As I predicted; yay, me!) While their season numbers are still quite scary (opponents have hit just 29 percent of their threes), the Gators' last six opponents in SEC play made threes at a much more normal rate (38 percent).


Ah, one of my favorite subjects! A group of friends and I compare preposterous, as well as painfully obvious, Packer statements after every game he calls. If I can compile the list, perhaps I'll send it to you for your amusement.

Here's the worst thing about Packer. He turns me into a bad person.

That's right. It's cruel. It's perverse. It's shameful. But Packer, like Bob Pulford and Dick Cheney (all three of whom have been inflicted upon us without end and in the face of whom we are utterly helpless), leaves me no recourse but to actively wish him ill.

I'm sorry.

By the way, your piece was better than Simmons' and I like Simmons. ("Understands the sport as well as anyone"?)

Dick M.

Thanks, Dick!

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