Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Patiently awaiting some salutary chaos
The downside of having so few upsets this year is that the tournament has lacked a certain anarchy that it's had before. (Though my oh-so-brilliant bracket is anarchic enough.) The upside, however, is that the stage is now set for a Sweet 16 that has more heavyweight collisions than any other in recent memory.

And so here's a look at tomorrow night's games. (Looking for thoughts on tonight's games? I did those yesterday! Because, you see, tomorrow there will be results to talk about. Get with the program!)

(5) Butler vs. (1) Florida (7:10pm ET)
The Bulldogs are a by-the-numbers POT: lots of threes and very few offensive boards. They actually don't shoot exceptionally well but they're fanatical about holding on to the ball—this much you knew already. (And Florida, like great Connecticut teams of yore, seems to view trying to create opponent turnovers as almost beneath their dignity. So Butler figures to get more first shots in this game.) What's less remarked upon, however, is the man-bites-dog aspect of Todd Lickliter's men, for here is a very undersized team that nevertheless plays excellent interior defense. Needless to say, that interior D will receive its largest challenge, by far, tomorrow night. The Gators are the best-shooting team in the country.

In brief, if the Bulldogs can hit that first shot they can hang around long enough to make things interesting. If not, Florida should roll. Emphasis on "should." For they just didn't look very roll-ready against Purdue, did they?

(6) Vanderbilt vs. (2) Georgetown (7:27pm ET)
No single tournament result—not even UNLV over Wisconsin—surprised me more than Vandy beating Washington State in two OTs. (Is it too late to get a recount?) The Cougars were typecast this year as just another fight-in-the-mud version of the 2000 Badgers when in fact their offense was really quite good. Not Texas-good, by any means, but serviceable. More to the point, the Cougars' offense was only a shade worse than the Commodores' offense. And, of course, WSU's defense was vastly superior to Vanderbilt's.

Be that as it may, the Commodores won and now their indifferent defense is about to collide with what may be the best offense in the nation. It won't be pretty.

(7) UNLV vs. (3) Oregon (9:40pm ET)
I pretty much covered my thoughts on this one the other day. In a nutshell, I like the Ducks in this game, which honks me off (har!) because I've been forecasting their lack-of-D doom for two months now. Ay, doom there shall be! Just not tomorrow night. UNLV arrives in late-March with no marketable skill other than their suddenly marketable coach. They don't shoot particularly well, nor defend, nor rebound. (Oregon's most glaring deficiency on a notably deficient D is their poor defensive rebounding, a weakness that the Rebels, as it happens, are ill equipped to exploit.)

Granted, Lon Kruger's men do hold on to the ball. That won't be enough.

Side note: Remember in December when half the college hoops nation traveled down to Lubbock, Texas, to see Bob Knight break Dean Smith's record for career wins—only it didn't happen because UNLV won that night? Guess now we know that really wasn't such a big surprise.

(5) USC vs. (1) North Carolina (9:57pm ET)
Readers of this blog should know their Heels by this point. (If not, start here.) As for those inscrutable Trojans, they've kind of got that A&M thing going on where they never shoot threes—but when they do they're deadly, hitting 41 percent from beyond the arc in Pac-10 play. Granted, Carolina will own the boards and should have some good opportunities on the offensive glass. But SC nevertheless has a good enough interior D to keep things interesting.

Note that, in breezing past Texas with surprising ease, the Trojans parlayed an exceptional lack of turnovers and 38 free throw attempts (14 by Taj Gibson) into a stellar offensive showing. It's doubtful the turnovers will be so few or the free throws so numerous this time, so SC's best hope is to limit Carolina's trips to the line and force them to hit jump shots. Which, of course, is what every Carolina opponent tries to do. It ain't easy.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
New Mexico has received permission to speak with Iowa coach Steve Alford about the Lobos' head coaching job. And this morning the Albuquerque Tribune is reporting that an Alford move "is close to a done deal." The Tribune also reports that Texas Tech coach Bob Knight has played a pivotal role in the discussions involving his former Indiana player. At, Andy Katz reports that a news conference announcing the deal could come as early as tomorrow. And Iowa City Press-Citizen columnist Pat Harty encourages Alford not to let the door hit his backside on the way out. (Curmudgeonly pedantic Melvin Lasky-style connoisseurs of bad copy editing take note! In this piece Harty and his editors fairly pulled off the 7-10 split of notably inept copy editing, to wit: misspelling both the first and last names of a nationally known sportswriter—"unverified voracity" indeed!)

Ohio State: savoring the moment; reportedly "rock-solid" on D; Daequan Cook should feel free to get hot any time now, etc.

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

You say "tomato," I say "Thad Matta"
Yesterday I said Ohio State will beat Tennessee. The readers respond!

Let me first state that your stuff and that of your boy Pomeroy are the only basketball sites worth reading. Mass media has too much trouble divesting themselves of the NBA to focus on what makes a team good in the NCAA, but I digress....

I'm not as smart as you or Ken but being dumb has its advantages. Take Pomeroy. He chose Georgia Tech, a team with two freshmen starting at guard and an 8-8 conference record, to go the Final Four. You don't need Pythagoras to tell you they would have trouble with a senior-laden team that knows how to win on the road.

Now let's consider Ohio State and Tennessee. No doubt the key to OSU's success will be getting a big game from Oden. And I know I don't need to tell you that Tennessee already played the Buckeyes right down to the wire in Columbus—a game mass media will tell you was oh-so-long ago for a developing Oden. I say eight weeks is not that long and, anyway, Oden did have a big game: 24-15. OSU also hit 90 percent of their 20 free throws, compared to 45 percent of the Vols' 11 attempts. And yet Ohio State STILL needed a Lewis heart- stopper to pull out the win.

Speaking of Lewis heart-stoppers, did you notice the OSU bench when Ron nailed that bomb vs. Xavier, a shot that would have even the most unbiased observer jumping off the couch? Did you notice Oden casually rise from the bench and offer a golf clap for the senior's effort?...

Good luck, Wonk, and thanks for keeping up your site. It's a good read even for an outsider like myself.

David J.
Lafayette, LA

Nifty piece of advocacy, David. My thinking is this....

Yes, these teams played in January and, yes, it was close. I just think Ohio State will turn the ball over less this time. That game was in some ways Tennessee's season writ small: the Volunteers didn't shoot as well as the Buckeyes but an improbably extreme imbalance in turnovers turned this one into a nail-biter anyway. (Ohio State turned the ball over on 27 percent of their possessions in that game. Tennessee, 11 percent.) I don't see the imbalance being as pronounced tonight. We'll see.

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