Big Ten Wonk
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Ode to an Odenian turn
Just 23 short days ago I wrote this about Greg Oden:

Greg Oden's been merely outstanding. Don't get the "merely" wrong, I want him on my team. Oden's an efficient scorer who leads the conference in defensive rebounding (now that Brian Butch is out) and, of course, shot-blocking. So, yes, he's been outstanding. It's just that I thought he was going to be beyond outstanding. I thought he'd be Durantian.

"Merely outstanding"? Listen, pal, his numbers are earth-bound only because he gets two fouls slapped on him when he trots out during player introductions before every game. But during those odd isolated minutes when he's actually on the floor, he changes the game on both ends of the court more than any other player, including and especially your beloved little Kevin Durant.

Take yesterday....

(1) Ohio State 92, (2) Memphis 76
This game reminded me so much of the Illinois-Louisville Final Four game in 2005: a Big Ten team is in a dogfight with a long, deep, and athletic team for much of the game before pulling away with surprising ease at the end.

The substitution data for Ohio State isn't complete on the play-by-play but keep in mind that it was the Tigers' 14-4 run early in the second half with Oden on the bench that forced Thad Matta to bring the big guy back in the game with a little more than 12 minutes left, foul trouble or no. From that point on, the Buckeyes outscored Memphis 41-20. Not bad, Mr. Oden.

Not that those minutes were all daisies and buttercups for OSU. The low point in my yelling at the TV came on Daequan Cook's airballed three attempt with a little more than eight minutes left, a possession on which Oden (again) hadn't even touched the ball. (And don't give me any canned speech about how Oden's too passive, has to be more aggressive, and "demand" the ball. That may have been true earlier in the season when he was playing with one hand. But now that he's healthy, he's getting great position and making it clear that the rock stops here. Watch the tape.)

But once the other Buckeyes at long last got the message (video clearly shows Matta writing on the whiteboard during a timeout: "GIVE GREG THE BALL"), good things happened in abundance. Oden scored 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting in 24 minutes. Ron Lewis went 10-of-10 at the line and led the Buckeyes with 22 points. Mike Conley was aggressive taking the ball to the hole and scored 19 but, unusually, coughed up five turnovers.

(Box score.)

BONUS leave-your-analyses-at-the-door note! For the second consecutive game Ohio State's opponent was unconscious from the outside. (Jeremy Hunt made 5-of-11 threes and led all scorers with 26 points.) This will get some ink this week: OSU must improve perimeter D, Matta's concerned, etc. Don't believe most of it (particularly if perimeter-averse North Carolina is OSU's next opponent.) It's mostly luck.

(2) UCLA 68, (1) Kansas 55
If you wanted to pick the team that's looked the most unbeatable in the tournament so far, you could make a good case for UCLA. When even Julian Wright, Brandon Rush, and company can't score in the paint, you're looking at a special defense. Or look at it another way: when you give away 25 turnovers in a 68-possession game and still win by 13 against what was the best defense in the country this season, you must be playing some serious D yourself.

Indeed they are. Here are the sobering numbers for the Bruins' next opponent (Florida or Oregon): Ben Howland's team is allowing just 0.80 points per possession in the tournament. And UCLA's opponents (which have included the likes of Wright, Rush, Aaron Gray, and D.J. White) have made just 36 percent of their twos.

BONUS outreach to the old school! A note to all readers who email to say they hate high-scoring games, defense is what wins, etc. I really hope you were watching last night. If you look at a game as 40 minutes played by 10 positions on the floor, then this game quite possibly supplied the best 400 minutes of defense I've ever seen. I was glued to the screen watching this game.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
So 1-seeds can lose! That adds some suspense to today's games....

(3) Oregon vs. (1) Florida (2:40pm ET)
Since the opening tip in the first game of the Pac-10 tournament, no less than 41 percent of Oregon's shots have been threes. And the Ducks have connected on 49.6 percent of all those attempts from beyond the arc. They are Providence '87 all over again and they're playing Billy the Kid today.

(2) Georgetown vs. (1) North Carolina (5:05pm ET)
Thank you, Ken, for saying what had to be said. Pace, schmace. Ty Lawson will rocket into the lane to start every Carolina possession. The Hoyas will run clock to start every possession of theirs. The result will be a pace mutt. May the best team win.

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