Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
UCLA was legit this year, Oregon wasn't. What about now?
I love the Pac-10. Every team plays every other team home and away. There's no need to worry about strength-of-schedule math. We can just look at the results of (what a concept) actual games.

And looking at the results of actual games tells me that UCLA is better than Oregon. Much better.

Both teams played the same 18-game schedule but the Bruins, while putting an offense on the court that was only a hair worse than the high-scoring Ducks, also happened to play excellent defense. Oregon, by stark contrast, didn't play defense at all. (Michigan fans interested in Ernie Kent take note.)

Then again, these numbers are based on conference play and that was eons ago, was it not? What about more recent indicators?

In two games against Miami (Ohio) and Winthrop, the Ducks have been very much the POT: lots of threes, very few turnovers (absurdly few, in fact), and very few offensive boards. Plain and simple, Oregon will go as far as their threes can take them because their defense, after a very strong Pac-10 tournament, has shown signs of reverting to indifference. (Note for example that the RedHawks and Eagles made a whopping 57 percent of their twos against the Ducks.) That being said, you might have Oregon to kick around just a little longer anyway. They've had the good fortune of drawing UNLV for their Sweet 16 game and the Rebels are, on paper, the field's weakest remaining team by a healthy margin.

As for the Bruins, the defense they've played against not only an overmatched Weber State team but also against a very good Indiana offense has been stellar. Ben Howland's wrecking crew is forcing tournament opponents into missing 65 percent of their twos and they're hauling in 73 percent of all misses. True, UCLA's offense hasn't exactly been a thing of beauty (and indeed has been strangely ineffective on the interior) but, if the other team can't score at all, you can get away with having an ugly offense....

For a while, at least. Pitt will be a good test for the Bruins. The Panthers are a balanced team that shoots well from inside and on the perimeter; they don't have to rely on being hot from outside (see Aaron Gray). And, like UCLA, Pitt dominates their defensive glass. (There should be no offensive rebounds in this game.)

In short, UCLA's clearly better than Oregon but that doesn't mean the Bruins will live longer than the Ducks in March. Specifically,
UCLA's next opponent promises to be a tougher test than Oregon's next opponent.

So my love of the Pac-10 doesn't necessarily help me figure out what's going to happen in late March. (Obviously. My bracket is shot. I've been left far behind by the unimaginative souls who just picked favorites all the way through the tournament. This was a really dangerous year to fancy that you knew anything about these teams.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....

Michigan needs a coach and yesterday I exhorted canonical blogger Brian Cook to "give the posts on who's going to be fourth-string left tackle in spring practice a rest and own the coverage on this coaching search." Brian has responded! He's ranked the top candidates from both the mid-majors and the empyrean "power"-conference/NBA realm. (Note that Brian's much more suspicious of John Beilein than I would be, asking if his style of play can work at "the highest levels." Highest levels? UCLA?) Not to be outdone, canon 2.0 blogger Dave at Maize n Brew has done his own rankings. Make haste!

Minnesota needs a coach and officials there now have to contend with competition on the hiring front from the Wolverines.

OK, everyone who fell for the "Greg Oden says he's really enjoying college and might stick around!" meme for even a second, please step forward so I can slap your wrist.

Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther has apologized for his outburst along press row during the Illini's 54-52 first-round loss to Virginia Tech. CBS Sportsline columnist Gregg Doyel sat near Guenther during the game and reported that at one point the Illinois AD yelled at Warren Carter: "Warren, you idiot!"

Gannett News Service columnist Mike Lopresti has the upcoming Kansas-Southern Illinois Sweet 16 game pretty much precisely upside-down, to wit: "
The unstoppable force will be wearing white, the immovable object maroon
." What you need to know: 1) It is in fact Kansas that has the best defense in the country, better than SIU's or anyone else's, and 2) while the Jayhawks' offense certainly isn't chopped liver, it's at least mortal (Texas and Texas A&M both had better offenses in Big XII play) and is thus one or maybe even two steps down from its D, which fairly defies Newton's laws.

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