Big Ten Wonk
Friday, March 30, 2007
The only Final Four preview I've read so far
I know everybody's doing previews and I thought about setting mine apart by doing, say, a very special vowel-free preview ("Grg dn nds th bl!") or some such. But, in the end, I decided that not reading anyone else's preview is gimmicky distinction enough. So if I'm out in left field it's because I'm clueless, not because I'm bucking any conventional wisdom. I'll find out what the conventional wisdom is after I post.

(2) Georgetown vs. (1) Ohio State (6:07pm ET)
If by some lightning-strike twist of fate Greg Oden is not in foul trouble in this game, I have a three-word preview:

Ohio State wins.

Last Saturday, for example, Memphis went on a 14-4 run in the second half with Oden on the bench with three fouls. At which point Thad Matta cried uncle, brought the big guy in, and OSU outscored the Tigers 41-20 from that point on. He's that important.

A much safer assumption, however, is that he is in foul trouble tomorrow night. (Oden played 24 minutes against Memphis and just 18 against Tennessee.) Then what?

Then the Hoyas should take the ball to the rim like mad fools on every single Oden-less possession. Because when Oden's on the floor the collision should be spectacular: the Georgetown offense, the nation's best, gets it done on the inside. Two-point shots (from Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert) and offensive boards (Hibbert) are what got John Thompson III's team this far.

If I were Matta, I'd have spent the week drilling Ivan Harris, Daequan Cook, and Othello Hunter on the finer points of pulling down defensive boards behind Oden's attempted shot blocks. The Buckeyes were excellent on the defensive glass during the season (pulling down 70 percent of their opponents' misses in Big Ten play) and have been spectacular there in the tournament (75 percent). That will need to continue.

One thing to keep in mind, however: I wouldn't be surprised to see zone off of every made basket from the Buckeyes
and not just to protect Oden. A zone's simply a not terribly creative but really effective comfort-denier against a Princeton-inflected offense. (And if you don't believe me, believe recent Northwestern grad Tim Doyle, no stranger to such offenses he: "The zone is better against it because you don't give up layups. [The offense is] back-cutting into nothing." Doyle also astutely points out the Hoyas' offense didn't look so hot against the Syracuse 2-3 last month. He's right. Good stuff, Tim! Start blogging!) True, the zone invites threes and Ohio State saw Memphis and Tennessee record 26 makes in just 53 attempts from beyond the arc in San Antonio. Still, I expect Matta will take that risk rather than play man against this particular buzzsaw.

As for Ohio State's offense, there's simply no avoiding it. The obvious must be stated. But I can tell you why the obvious should in fact be even more obvious: give Oden the ball. If I were Matta I'd hoard my timeouts specifically so I could use them following any offensive possession where Oden doesn't touch the ball. He's that important. With a foul-blighted Oden, the task at hand is to try to cram 35+ minutes of offensive production into just 18-24 minutes. He doesn't need to shoot every time, of course, but he does need to get the ball and force the Hoyas to pick their poison. For after a season of thoroughly meh outside shooting (33.3 3FG pct. in-conference), OSU is at last connecting on their threes (41.3 3FG pct. in the tournament).

Only exception to the law of feed-the-beast: good things happen for Ohio State when Mike Conley takes the ball to the rim. Points, trips to the line by Conley, offensive boards by Oden
these are all acceptable outcomes from where Matta's standing. (Also note that the Hoyas, for all their size, are in fact a poor defensive rebounding team. OSU's no Georgetown when it comes to offensive rebounding; still, if the Buckeyes can pick up some second-chance points, that's huge.)

BONUS note for the viewer's guide! If OSU does choose zone, watch for a certain analyst to delve into tedious and indeed blinkered and wholly mistaken detail as to the "matchups" on the floor when "Matta goes zone." Nonsense. The zone will simply be deployed on every defensive possession following either a made Ohio State basket or a whistle on their end (travel, charge, etc.).

(2) UCLA vs. (1) Florida (8:47pm ET)
I can't wait for this game. I think UCLA will win for three reasons.

1. Florida allowed conference opponents to make half their twos. In a Final Four where strong interior FG defense is the rule (even from an offensive juggernaut like Georgetown), the Gators' permissiveness in the paint is striking. (Note for example that undersized but plucky Carl Landry was able to do business against this team, to the tune of 8-for-14 for 18 points.) Florida won this year simply by outscoring teams. Hey, nothing wrong with that. It was effective. Stylistic pluralism reigns supreme in these here parts. Only thing: now the Gators are playing UCLA. And I don't think offense alone can win this game for Billy Donovan's team.

2. Florida's defensive specialty is irrelevant in this game. The Gators' defensive strength
—making opponents miss threes—won't come into play because the Bruins don't shoot threes. (Kansas fans with vivid terrifying memories of Arron Afflalo may disagree with this last statement. That game—17 attempted threes out of 45 FGAs—did indeed mark a mild exception to UCLA's take-it-to-the-rim rule.) That being said, Florida's defensive rebounding in the tournament has been excellent and the Bruins don't "do" offensive boards (preferring to get back on D). It will be essential that Afflalo, Josh Shipp, and Darren Collison hit their first shots because there won't be many second shots.

3. UCLA is simply on another planet defensively right now. How can we tell? Well, for one thing they've turned the ball over on almost 25 percent of their possessions in the tournament
—and yet here they are in Atlanta. Their defense has been so ridiculously good that little things like not being able to hold on to the ball haven't mattered. Now that D is about to go up against two-point-making monsters Al Horford and Joakim Noah. As I said, I can't wait.

BONUS "I boldly predict X unless of course Y in which case forget everything I said" note!
The wild cards in this game are Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green. An otherwise Superman UCLA defense was surprisingly Clark Kent toward opponents' threes all season long. That has continued in the tournament. And, lo and behold, Florida's turned into a POT here in late March: 45 percent of their shots in the tournament (!) have been threes. Interesting....

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Maybe Michigan AD Bill Martin's been working the phones after all. A report in the Spokane, WA, Spokesman-Review states that both Michigan and Iowa contacted Washington State coach Tony Bennett and that the Wolverines were "especially vigorous" in their pursuit of the 37-year-old coach. To no avail, it seems: Bennett has reached an "agreement in principle" with WSU to stay in Pullman, courtesy of a restructured contract. Meanwhile this morning's Ann Arbor News reports that UM is down to three candidates in its search: West Virginia coach John Beilein (whose team won the NIT last night), Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, and Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery.

Former Iowa coach Steve Alford says he did nothing wrong in contacting recruits who've signed with the Hawkeyes and, reportedly, encouraging them to come to New Mexico.
"You've got to make contact with the kids," Alford said. "They're your kids that you signed. One of the parents was upset that I didn't call earlier. You've got to tell them where you're going, that you're not going to be their coach."

NCAA president Myles Brand says the idea of expanding the field of 65 is "not off the table."

In addition to typing words, I can occasionally speak them....
I'll be talking Final Four hoops and anything else that comes up with Steve "The Homer" True on Milwaukee's ESPN Radio this afternoon around 3:20 ET. Tune in and listen to me wing it.

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

Actually, it was George Costanza who invented "It's not you, it's me"
On Monday I said this is the last season for this blog, though not for this blogger. The readers respond!

Hi Wonk,

Say it ain't so. You won't be largely dedicated to the minutiae of Big Ten hoops
for IU's dramatic national title run next season? This reader feels the impending loss deeply.

You don't expect us jilted conference fans to believe this "Let's just be
friends, it wasn't you" line, do you? What was it really? Your move to Indianapolis and the proximity of Hinkle Fieldhouse (the "Horizon Broadening" theory, pun intended)? The interminable grind of covering the agony that is Northwestern and Penn State basketball (the "Daily Doormat Inspection" Theory)?

Regardless, be sure to let us all know where you'll be posting, and I'll be reading every day. Yours is great stuff, and fans of the nation's top (or at least, most interesting) teams will benefit. I do hope you maintain your detailed Big Ten previews and a more than disinterested eye on the league!


Ashton S.

It's not you! I swear I haven't been seeing ACC games behind your back! They mean nothing to me, honestly.

And good luck with that impending national title run. I'll be watching closely, rest assured.

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