Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Ohio State will win tomorrow night
How can I be so sure? I'm not, but, hey, I already said the Buckeyes will be in the national championship game. So saying they'll win in the Sweet 16's no great shakes....

(5) Tennessee vs. (1) Ohio State (tomorrow, 9:57pm ET)
The Vols went 9-3 in the SEC when Chris Lofton was in the lineup and 1-3 when he wasn't. Tomorrow night, when Bruce Pearl's team faces Ohio State, Lofton will be in the lineup. So let's restrict our attention to only the conference games in which Lofton played....

Looking at just the 9-3 part, the Vols, not to put too fine a point on it, should still be doomed tomorrow night. Because even with Lofton Tennessee's conference opponents shot better from the floor than the Vols did. That's changed in the tournament, granted, where the Volunteers have hit 47 percent of their threes. But that may be yet another reason to doubt the life expectancy of this team: unsustainable outside shooting. Not to mention in conference play they lived off opponents' turnovers and allowed opposing teams to hit 53 percent of their twos (again, speaking only with-Lofton here). And now they're about to face a team with reliable ball-handling and Greg Oden.

Only caveat: Ohio State's main defensive strength
defending 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.


Also tomorrow night....

(4) Southern Illinois vs. (1) Kansas (tomorrow, 7:10pm ET)
I kind of had my say on this game already yesterday: contrary to popular belief, the best defense on the floor will be wearing Kansas uniforms, because the Jayhawks have the best defense in the entire country. As for SIU, their specialty is rebounding opponents' misses. If there are no misses, however, well....

If the Salukis manage to somehow win this game, never mind soon-to-be-relocating Chris Lowery and instead behold this year's Jai Lewis: Randal Falker.

(3) Texas A&M vs. (2) Memphis (tomorrow, 7:27pm ET)
Good grief. For a team that had such a great year, the Aggies seem like they have a really tough bracket: first Louisville (the Cardinals were the functional equivalent of more highly-lauded Pitt in Big East play) and now the Tigers, just to get to the Elite Eight.

I keep hearing what a "tough defensive team" A&M is. Maybe, but all I know is their offense was even better than the Kansas offense in Big XII play. And that's huge because Memphis might have one of the better defenses in the country, even if Chris Douglas-Roberts doesn't go tomorrow night. Opponents have made less than 42 percent of their twos against the Tigers this season (Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier are both formidable shot-blockers) while turning the ball over on 24 percent of their possessions. A&M, conversely, shoots only twos and never turns the ball over
USA Today sports columnist Mike Lopresti, take note: here's your irresistible force vs. immovable object game.

This will also be our first glimpse of how much of an advantage the Aggies will really have in San Antonio, an advantage that already has opponents pretty steamed in advance.

(D'oh! After this passage was drafted but before I could hit "publish," Ken Pomeroy went and made a couple of the exact same points: 1) the love should go to A&M's offense more than its D, and 2) Memphis has a defense constructed to collide spectacularly with the Aggies' offense. So I guess I better hurry up and say the following before Ken "Me Too!" Pomeroy does: Vanderbilt is, like, so doomed against Georgetown. T
ake that, KenPom!)

(3) Pitt vs. (2) UCLA (tomorrow, 9:40pm ET)
Great pairing. Just like they did last year, the Bruins are again playing pitiless D in the tournament. (See yesterday for more on the men from Westwood.)

Still, don't minimize the games the Panthers won to get here. Wright State tied Butler in the Horizon League during the regular season and beat them in the conference tournament
. And, of course, you can ask Coach K all about VCU. Aaron Gray is a beast on the defensive glass and he and his mates have recorded a cumulative effective FG percentage north of 60 in their two tournament wins. Only worrisome tea leaf for Pitt: even during a great couple games of offense, they've been turning the ball over. And so have UCLA's tournament foes. If the Panthers cough up the ball, they're in trouble.

(Actually I guess there are two worrisome tea leaves for Pitt, the other one being the Bruins have already showed against Indiana that they can essentially score no points and still win. Their D is that good.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
One vote for Lon Kruger as the next coach at Michigan. (But was not the UNLV coach's statement on the matter pretty much a General Sherman? You be the judge.)

One vote for Chris Lowery as the next coach at Michigan. Speaking of Lowery....Southern Illinois guard Jamaal Tatum is musical; the Salukis have a well-dressed radio-analyst, etc. (I'm going to be watching the site meter closely today. Anyone actually clicking on this last link will receive a prompt email: "In heaven's name, why?")

Illinois officials say athletic director Ron Guenther won't be disciplined for his outburst along press row during the Illini's first-round 54-52 loss to Virginia Tech. (More.)

Wisconsin will be strong again next year, even without Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor.

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

Big Ten Wonk readers: triskaidekaphobia-free!

Yesterday I complained that my bracket is shot and that I lag far behind those "unimaginative souls who just picked favorites." The readers respond!

Thirteen is my magic (as in I have no stats) number. Out of 65 games, I figure there will never be more than 20 upsets and never less than 10. Picking more than 15 upsets means you'll be losing too many later round teams when your upsets don't pan out. I go a little more conservative than that just to force me to be more patient in picking out the upsets. This year I'm currently tied for second (thanks, Wisconsin) after getting all Thursday games correct, and picking Notre Dame and five upsets that didn't pan out on Friday.

You don't have to be unimaginative with your picks, as people who had Duke playing this weekend have learned. Just patient. (The only thing my strategy cost me this weekend was when I chose to have the Hogs beat USC instead of Winthrop over Notre Dame, a decision I made about 30 minutes before the tourney tipped off.)

Thanks for the great commentary, numbers, and love of the game you bring to your site. As your best sporting event of the year post says, nothing compares to this game.

Craig W.

Thanks, Craig!

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