Big Ten Wonk
Monday, March 26, 2007
The return of scoring margin as a March advisor
In 2005 the top four teams in "power"-conference hoops nationally in terms of tempo-free scoring margin (i.e., efficiency margin) during their respective conference seasons were Illinois, Louisville, North Carolina, and Michigan State. Every one of those teams went to the Final Four that year. So the five or so of us tracking that kind of thing two years ago right now thought: wow. Neat.

Then last year the top four teams were Texas, Kansas, Connecticut, and Ohio State, none of whom made it to the Final Four. (Though note that both the Longhorns and the Huskies lost in OT in the Elite Eight.) So scrap that stat, huh? Turns out 2005 was a freak occurrence, like a lightning strike or Terrell Owens behaving rationally.

Well, not so fast. Granted, the four-for-four performance of 2005 might not return anytime soon. Still, look at what we have here....

Best "power"-conference efficiency margins, 2007
(Conference games only)
1. Kansas (0.24)
2. North Carolina (0.17)
3. Georgetown (0.16)
4. Ohio State (0.16)
5. UCLA (0.15)
6. Texas A&M (0.15)
7. Wisconsin (0.14)
8. Florida (0.13)
9. Louisville (0.13)

I'd class that, all in all, as a pretty good group of March performers. Yes, Wisconsin tanked, shamefully under-seeded Louisville had the misfortune of playing another team on this same list the first weekend, and said team, Texas A&M, lost a heartbreaker to Memphis in the Sweet 16. But every other team on this list was still alive up until 9:30 or so ET Saturday night, by which time, the Oregon fluke notwithstanding, they had started to collide exclusively with each other.

As indeed they'll continue to do in Atlanta....

(2) Georgetown 96, (1) North Carolina 84 (OT)
That, my friends, was one awesome display of offense put on by the Georgetown Hoyas. One hesitates to use the word "foreordained" with reference to a comeback, but when the team with the 11-point second-half lead can't hit shots from the field and is getting it done exclusively with free throws and boards, that's one shaky lead. (Consider for example this pair of numbers: the Hoyas' effective FG percentage in this game was 63.6. Carolina's was 38.7. Seen in that light, the amazing thing is that the Heels managed to get this thing to OT at all.) Pretty much all season long I touted how good North Carolina's interior defense was. Not yesterday. Georgetown made 58 percent of their twos (kudos to Roy Hibbert, Jeff Green, and DaJuan Summers) and it won them the game. There will be gnashing of teeth in Tar Heel country about all their missed shots but keep in mind 84 points in 74 possessions will win you a lot of games, assuming your D is merely adequate. Yesterday it wasn't but, then again, that's the best offense in the country they were up against. Cold-blooded big-stage performer Jonathan Wallace, Wonk salutes you! Seven assists, one turnover, and that game-tying three with 31 seconds left in regulation. You, sir, are a mensch.

(1) Florida 85, (3) Oregon 77
And it needn't have been this close: the Gators missed 15 free throws and coughed up the ball 18 times in a 71-possession game. Even so, the Ducks, a team that arrived in the Elite Eight courtesy of hot outside shooting, were sent home by their opponent's hot outside shooting. (O, the irony!) Lee Humphrey made 7-of-13 threes and led Florida with 23 points. The previously on-fire Tajuan Porter, conversely, went just 2-of-10 from outside for Oregon. Teammates Aaron Brooks (27 points on 19 shots) and Malik Hairston (18 points) fared notably better but it was not to be.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Will Kentucky call Michigan State coach Tom Izzo? Will he listen?

After-the-fact, behind-the-scenes: Tubby Smith-to-Minnesota. (Cue the air-quotes chick from Say Anything: "How did that *happen*?")

One vote for John Beilein-to-Michigan.

Hit play on the obligatory Green Day....Steve Alford at Iowa. What went wrong? ("What went right?" would have taken fewer column-inches.)

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