Big Ten Wonk
Monday, March 19, 2007
Why Wisconsin lost
(7) UNLV 74, (2) Wisconsin 68
Although the Badgers came out cold (again) and the Rebels did a nice job limiting Alando Tucker's touches, Wisconsin still came away with 68 points in a 65-possession game and shot more free throws than UNLV. True, they didn't get any offensive boards but then again they didn't turn the ball over either. S
o much of the above can in fact be slotted in comfortably under the heading of "how Wisconsin usually wins."

And, indeed, for a time it seemed like it would be enough for a win yesterday, as well. The Badgers overcame their slow start and, after trailing by as many as 13, led this game 53-48 with a little more than eight minutes left. All was right with the world. The 2-seed, playing in front of a friendly crowd just 150 miles away from home, had come to life and taken control of the game. It seemed like it would be enough.

Yesterday, however, it wasn't enough. Why not?

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Michael Hunt thinks it's because Wisconsin was "extremely vulnerable to the types of matchups presented by a league predicated on quickness." Close, but no stogie. Hunt's description is actually better suited to the Wisconsin team we saw before Brian Butch was injured. Speaking in the present tense, though, a starting lineup with Tucker, Kammron Taylor, Michael Flowers and Marcus Landry isn't lacking for quickness, even if it does include Jason Chappell. Don't blame the personnel.

I say blame two things, in this order:

1) Accursed fate (relative weight: 99 percent). Why did Wisconsin lose? Because this is college basketball. It's wildly unpredictable (the majority of this weekend's games notwithstanding) and that's precisely why we watch. UNLV shot 20 threes and made 10 of them. They "should" have made just seven. But what is this "should"? How do we know? Forget fans and bloggers and columnists. Look at the actual participants. A coach has no idea what's going to happen when the ref tosses the ball up. The players have no idea what's going to happen. The motto for every college basketball blog, including and especially this one, should be: "Just because we have no clue what's going to happen doesn't mean we can't have fun talking about it."

2) Style (relative weight: 1 percent). Also known as: don't blame the personnel, blame their previous opponents.
UNLV shot 20 threes and made 10 of them. They "should" have made just seven. But what is this "should"? It's the cumulative record of how Kevin Kruger and company fared this season against opponents that weren't Wisconsin. But on this day the Rebels were playing an opponent unaccustomed to threes early in the clock. Of UNLV's 10 threes, six of them came in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock. (Hey, Norman Dale was wrong!) Wisconsin wasn't vulnerable to the types of players presented by a league predicated on quickness. They were vulnerable to the types of plays presented by a league predicated on quickness.

(Box score.)

(1) Florida 74, (9) Purdue 67
Why Purdue lost. Because they were playing Florida.

OK, a couple more things to note. Purdue was a different team this year in those relatively rare games, such as yesterday's, where they didn't turn the ball over. And you don't need me to know why that's true: in Carl Landry, David Teague, and Chris Lutz, the Boilers had a reliable post scorer with a predilection for getting fouled and two perimeter shooters who combined to hit 43 percent of their threes this season. But when the Gators (specifically Taurean Green) finally stopped turning the ball over 33 minutes into the game, Purdue was doomed. Every single two that Al Horford and Joakim Noah attempted was another nail in the coffin of Matt Painter's team.

One more thing. If you had told me before this season started that with my own two stunned eyes I would see the willowy and perimeter-loving Lutz drive and score on 2006 Final Four MOP Noah, I would have told you, uh, I would have told you that Butler would make the Sweet 16. That UNLV would beat Wisconsin in the United Center. That Illinois would be the worst-shooting team in the Big Ten this year. That Gonzaga's tournament chances would be crippled by law enforcement. That Penn State's defense would be even worse this year than it was last year. Etc.

(Box score.)

BONUS star-watching note! Prior to yesterday I knew, of course, that Noah's father, Yannick Noah, won the French Open in 1983. What I hadn't known until CBS showed the elder Noah in the crowd at yesterday's game, however, was that this particular tennis great is also apparently an enthusiastic member of the International "Fat Albert" Characters Reenactors Society, with "Rudy" as his particular area of emphasis and study.

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

Yesterday on a busy Sunday in Big Ten land I touched down on the Michigan coaching vacancy long enough to note that success as a basketball program doesn't correlate real well with geographic proximity to recruiting hotbeds. Canonical blogger Brian Cook has since registered his "mild" dissent to my comment and, after going back and reading what I said, I think if anything Brian was too mild.

It's true that locating your campus next door to a good pool of recruits is not enough all by itself to get you to the Final Four. But if you're a fan of the Wolverines you of course want to tap into and indeed dominate said pool. My observation of what's been true historically for the remotely-located-yet-hegemonic Duke's and Arizona's of the world needlessly left confusion as to what any four-year-old can see should be the correct agenda of action items in the present tense for the only Michigan of the world. My bad. Good catch, Brian. (Now 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, one that will, at a minimum, define Michigan basketball for the better part of the next decade.)

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Who's the bouncer at this dance?
I was just noticing that 12 of the top 13 RPI teams (with the sad exception of Wisconsin) made the Sweet 16. This led me to wonder how often the RPI top 16 gets to the third round vs. the selection committee's top four seeds. In the past five years, I have the top four seeds getting there 47 times, while the RPI top 16 made it 50. (And, yeah, I know we're working with a couple of different RPI formulae, but still...)

Basically, I don't know why we keep the selection committee around at all. We could add a level of certainty to the process and eliminate all the pre-selection lobbying and post-selection whining by just doing the non-automatic bids, and the seeding by a straight RPI process. The only drawback I see is some lost ad revenue for CBS's selection show, plus a lot of hemming and hawing by the old-school technophobes.

Whaddya think?

Derek M.

In your list of potential opponents of such a move, you forgot to mention the Indianapolis Star, which would be out $10K if the Appalachian State's of the world no longer took out full-page ads to state their case to the committee. Anyway....

There is indeed a part of me that says when I'm crowned as unquestioned czar of the hoops world (and, clearly, this day is not far off), I will simply use the Pomeroy rankings for the at-large bids. (Although I guess teams and coaches would then break down Ken's equations and start scheduling and playing "to the test," as it were. Which, to an extent, would defeat the original intent and worthiness of the equations. How Hegelian!)

But in the end I think there's an ontological level of dissatisfaction that will occur with the selection of any 65-team field. Call this level "X." I actually think X is going to be pretty much where it is whether we use the current selection committee, a committee that goes Matlock and piles on the legends (John Thompson, Dean Smith, et. al.), or even just Ken as a committee of one. With all of the above, X will be there and it will be given voice at 7:02 ET on Selection Sunday evening every year by Dick Vitale, who has fairly become the Robert F. Kennedy of the 35th and 36th best teams in the country that didn't win their conference tournaments.

(Still, it would be swell theater to see Vitale yelling at Ken personally instead of some faceless "committee." There's a great YouTube mash-up just laying out there for the first person who splices together Vitale's comments from, say, each of the past five Selection Sundays. The team names would change, of course, but the impassioned references to being "unfair to the kids" would be as regular as the stanzas in a sonnet. And, truth be known, in a way Vitale is right. No system will eradicate X entirely.)

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