Big Ten Wonk
Saturday, March 31, 2007
BONUS all-red edition! Why has capitalism failed me?
Note: the Final Four preview was yesterday.

This evening, like every year, I'll grit my teeth and watch the games, knowing that a certain analyst comes with the games as a multi-decade package deal.

I didn't do any big wacky gimme-hits torch-and-pitchfork post about that analyst this year and that's a departure from tradition. I guess I've had my say and now there's nothing to do but wait him out. (I feel like a Cuban waiting for Castro to taste the inevitable.)

But let me note one thing: I am genuinely baffled by this analyst's longevity. I thought the whole deal with capitalism was that we would sacrifice a gemeinschaft of communally maintained minimal amounts of food, shelter, health care, etc., in exchange for a dynamic and open-ended if sometimes unsettling and unfeeling gesellschaft of promise, potential, and pitfalls.

And yet here is this analyst, as solidly entrenched as any Ukrainian apparatchik circa 1951.

I don't get it. Is CBS some kind of Mondragon
-styled worker's cooperative?

Where oh where is a little creative destruction when you need it?
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.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
If the moving van goes from Morgantown to Ann Arbor....
Michigan has reportedly zeroed in on West Virginia coach John Beilein.

First order of business: Beilein's Mountaineers will play Clemson in the NIT title game tonight in Madison Square Garden. But once that's over and done with we should know within a few dozen hours if the reports are accurate.

Canonical blogger Brian Cook, for one, rather hopes they are. He has nominated the following ballot for the next coaching staff at Crisler:

HEAD COACH: John Beilein
UNICORN: Unicorn

(Let the record show Unicorn has a five-dollar buyout at his current gig and has released the following statement: "I am the Unicorn of Mythical Lands. I'm happy here at Mythical Lands and my only focus right now is being the best Unicorn for Mythical Lands that I can be. My wife, Diane, and I and our children, Caitlin, Dylan, and Cody, have enjoyed our years here immensely and have no current plans to make any changes.")

Brian, of course, paddles comfortably through Pomeroyean waters. Would that it were so for all who write on the Michigan coaching search....

It's been excruciating this week to read accounts that apply the adjective "Princeton" directly and unquestioningly to the noun "Beilein's offense." About as excruciating, in fact, as reading opposing views pointing out that West Virginia averaged more points per game than UCLA or Georgetown.

Points per game? Points (huff, huff) per game? Have I been doing this for three seasons just to give my typing a workout, people?

Here's what you need to know:

Big East--points per possession
(2007, conference games only)
1. Georgetown (1.14)
2. Louisville (1.09)
3. Pitt (1.08)
4. West Virginia (1.08)

I'd say that ranks as one impressive piece of coaching. Beilein lost not only the famous-for-his-name Kevin Pittsnogle but also the Wonk-wowing Mike Gansey ("a veritable freak of offensive nature") from last year's team. This year? Uh, not a lot on hand. (Quick: name one West Virginia player.) And yet the Mountaineers beat UCLA and are up there with the second-weekend boys in terms of offense.

So when writers covering Michigan fret about whether or not Beilein's system will "work" in the Big Ten, I would ask them to remember one thing: Beilein has a system. Has there been one in Ann Arbor this millennium?

Oh, and as far as pace....

Big East--possessions per 40 minutes
(2007, conference games only)
1. Syracuse (70.5)
2. Notre Dame (69.1)
3. Providence (69.1)
4. Seton Hall (68.9)
5. Connecticut (67.6)
6. Marquette (67.6)
7. South Florida (65.7)
8. St. John's (65.2)
9. Villanova (65.2)
10. West Virginia (64.2)
11. Louisville (64.1)
12. Cincinnati (63.2)
13. DePaul (62.8)
14. Pitt (62.0)
15. Rutgers (60.9)
16. Georgetown (59.4)

Comfortably in the Big East mainstream. (Keep in mind the Big Ten chugged along this year at 61.5 possessions per 40.)

There are other measures, however, by which "mainstream" does not do descriptive justice to the Mountaineers. Namely:

1. They shoot more threes than twos (52 percent of their attempts in conference play)
2. Their rebounding (both with- and post-PittsGansey) is poor on both ends of the floor
3. Their defense
(both with- and post-PittsGansey) is average at best

Items 2 and 3 could conceivably give a Michigan fan pause. (Indeed, forget the "conceivably" and put this Wolverine on the record as pausing big time.) Still, mark me down, if Beilein's hired, as guessing that defensive rebounding will improve in lock step with an uptick in his average roster height, even as offensive rebounding stays low for system-based reasons. (Ah, height. You are to defense what skill is to offense.) And, in any event, I tend to see this in terms of what it would do for the conference.

I think it would provide a small but welcome jolt. Beilein is a Big East coach achieving SEC ends (we'll outscore you and worry about defense next year) through Missouri Valley means (X's and O's).

And this lumpy undifferentiated Big Ten porridge could use a dash of SEC tabasco. Badly.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State basketball: more storied than you think.

Square peg, round hole department. This is not the year to do a writes-itself on how important guard play is for Final Four teams. My diligent research has turned up the following: Greg Oden is seven feet tall. So is Roy Hibbert. Florida has flourished for two years now because Al Horford and Joakim Noah refuse to miss two-point shots. And UCLA has rolled through the tournament because they refuse to let opponents make two-point shots. No one thinks more highly of Mike Conley or Arron Afflalo than I. But this is not the year for this particular writes-itself. (This writes-itself, on the other hand, is more like it.)

Former Iowa coach Steve Alford reportedly contacted Hawkeye signees Jake Kelly and Jarryd Cole after taking the New Mexico job and tried to convince them to join him in Albuquerque.
If true: unseemly? You bet! NCAA infraction? Heck, no! National letters of intent are governed by the Collegiate Commissioners Association, not that feckless band of gumshoes down Indy way. Meanwhile, Alford, having already indicted Iowa on charges of being a football-first athletic program, is apparently doing everything in his power to make sure that every last pier and every last plank on every single bridge leading out of Iowa City is burned down to the finest ash.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber, on being yelled at by his boss, athletic director Ron Guenther, during the Illini's first-round come-from-ahead tournament loss to Virginia Tech: I like it! I like it! (OK, my paraphrase. Actual quote: "
I'd rather have someone like that than an accountant who doesn't know what's going on or what coaching or basketball is all about." Extended excerpt of the Q&A here.)

COMING tomorrow!
Your official Final Four preview. If Greg Oden promises to give Ron Lewis a dollar per occurrence, will Lewis pass the ball to the big guy on occasion? Tune in tomorrow!

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Do "hot" coaches stay hot after they're hired?
Some don't. No one could be hotter than Steve Alford was eight years ago this month. His 12th-seeded Southwest Missouri State team (since morphed into simply Missouri State) had beaten 4th-seeded Wisconsin and 5th-seeded Tennessee to reach the Sweet 16, before falling to 1-seed Duke.

And Alford's team did it with punishing defense: the score of the Wisconsin game was 43-32. If Alford could do that with the recruits he had in Springfield, MO, the thinking went, just imagine what he could do at a "power"-conference program.

We've since found out what he could do. Not much, and he's now fled the power conferences entirely.

Then again, some "hot" coaches do OK. Bill Self ("hot" class of 2000, Tulsa), Thad Matta (2004, Xavier), and Bruce Pearl (2005, Wisconsin-Milwaukee) are chugging along.

So the question facing ADs at Michigan and Iowa is: how can we predict who'll stay hot and who'll cool off?

Answer: you can't. But here's what I'd do if I were in their shoes....

1. Try first, last, and throughout to gauge your candidate's recruiting potential. Tough to do, of course, but also the most important skill for your new hire to possess. Matta and Self are where they are for one reason above all others: recruiting.

Self, of course, has been tagged this week as something of a Breck girl among coaches: catnip to the blue-chip recruits but doomed to be out-coached in Elite Eight games. Yesterday I registered my dissent to this characterization, not because I fancy that Self unwinds after a long day by doing some quick diffy q's but because I don't suppose any of this is exactly rocket science. If you're a towering intellect and you go into basketball coaching, you're in the wrong field. Please go where you're needed: Billy Packer job-relocation. We need our best minds working on that as a modern-day Manhattan Project.

(And, yes, I'm aware that Seth Davis agrees with me where Self is concerned. Save your taunts, please. The words "Seth Davis agrees with me" cut deeper than anything you could say.)

2. Look at the body of work, not just the tournament run.

3. Look at the three-point shooting of your candidate's team: if it was really good in March, discount that as a factor in your hiring. Example: for all I know, Ernie Kent will turn out to be the next John Wooden. But if he's hired based on what Oregon did this month, he'll show his true greatness in spite of his team's precociously hot outside shooting and not because of it. (Actually the same could be said, kind of, for Pearl. Tennessee left the building having shot 49 percent on their threes in the tournament.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Last year Ohio State lost to Georgetown in the tournament but this year the Buckeyes are reportedly bigger and better; profile of David Lighty.

Seven-foot high-school baller Beas Hamga is rethinking his commitment to Iowa in the wake of Steve Alford's departure....Think back to 2001. Michigan hired Tommy Amaker, while Wisconsin went with Bo Ryan (the latter an Adolph Rupp Award-winner, by the way). Inescapable conclusion for 2007: clearly Iowa should find some obscure old guy drilling fundamentals into plucky overachievers at a D-III school, preferably in, say, Cleghorn, Iowa.

P.S. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl has officially said no to Iowa.

While he was at it, Pearl also disavowed any interest in the Michigan job, though it's unclear whether he's been contacted or if the Wolverines are even interested in him. Indeed, some observers think AD Bill Martin may be focusing instead on West Virginia coach John Beilein. (We'll have to wait a little longer to find out: the Mountaineers came back from 14 down and beat Mississippi State on a buzzer-beating three last night in the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden. West Virginia will play Clemson for the title.)

A Freudian analysis of all those Billy Donovan-to-Kentucky rumors.

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

How good was North Carolina, really? (Plus stuff about me.)
On Monday I said this is the last season for this blog, though not for this blogger. The readers respond!

Hi Wonk,

Great season of Wonking overall. Even though I'm a Michigan State fan, I'm pretty excited to have Tubby in the conference. He's a pretty stunning catch for the Gophers, and I think he'll be a credit to the Big Ten overall. Not sure he can ever make them a powerhouse but the upper-middle of the pack just got a little more crowded.

With an eye toward your new direction, let me just go ahead and say it: You didn't convince me that North Carolina had a good defense this year.

I'm absolutely convinced of the value of tempo-free stats and PPWS, but either UNC's D inexplicably tanked every time I watched them, or the stats painted an inaccurate picture in this case. Technically, you're correct that they don't allow many points per possession; if that's the sole measure, it's hard to argue with you.

But it seemed to me that it wasn't really "defense" in the classic sense; these guys were stellar rebounders who played really fast, but couldn't lock down anybody if they tried. Throughout the tourney, UNC got back-doored over and over, gave up an absurd amount of open threes, and generally seemed unable to adjust to complex half-court offenses. Their great rebounding and completely disorienting pace was the key to their low PPP on the defensive end, but isn't that a bit like having a punter who lays it on the one yard line every time? Most defenses will look good in that scenario.

Anyway, I really look forward to reading your stuff next season, wherever it may be located. As for the rest of this season, I strongly suggest you dispense with the winking modesty angle and switch directly to the full-bore, Mitch Albom-style, "Tuesdays with Wonkie" tearjerker angle. It would be cathartic for all of us.

Shawn M.

Carolina made opponents miss two-point shots all year long--until Sunday night. And now they're sitting at home because of the exception to the rule. That's the way March works in this here game.

And thanks for the kudos, Shawn.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Lincoln was right!
Judging from reactions to the past two NCAA tournaments, it would seem, just as the 16th president said, that you can please all the people some of the time and some of the people all of time. And that's as good as it gets.

Recall that last year with George Mason crashing the party, there was an insistent undercurrent of grumbling and even (I'm serious) talk of structural change: the Patriots? Who are they? We want UConn vs. Duke!

Then this year the brackets held form to such a ridiculous extent that seven of the Elite Eight teams were 1- or 2-seeds--and the eighth was a 3-seed. (Meaning "this year's George Mason" turned out to be Oregon.) More grumbling: we want Cinderellas!

Speaking only for myself, I count both the George Mason-Connecticut 2006 Elite Eight game and the UCLA-Kansas 2007 Elite Eight game among the entries in my "wow" hoops memory bank. Both were outstanding basketball games. The difference between the two? The Patriots were resented by some last year for confounding our expectations. Now this year's big dogs are resented by some for fulfilling our expectations.

A thought: let's forget our expectations. Let's watch the games. This year they've been incredible, albeit in a slightly different way than in years past.

All hail me: this blog will end its life without having once made a pun on Bill Self's name!
I don't usually rush to the defense of Big XII coaches blessed with more bona fide NBA talent than the Memphis Grizzlies. But some of what I'm reading this week about Bill Self surpasses "laughable" and reaches flat-earth society-level lunacy. Self's Kansas team, you see, lost to UCLA Saturday night. Meaning Self has now made it to four Elite Eights without once going to the Final Four. Not once! He can't win the big one! He's a hoops Schottenheimer, for goodness sake!...

Right. Let's look at those Elite Eights.

In 2000 Self's Tulsa team lost to North Carolina. Save your email: I know Tulsa was the higher-seeded team in that game (7 vs. 8). I don't care. It's still Tulsa vs. North Carolina.

Then in 2001, Self's Illinois team lost to Arizona. The starting five for the Illini that day: Frank Williams, Cory Bradford, Sergio McClain, Brian Cook, and Marcus Griffin (with Robert Archibald, who is now out of the NBA, coming off the bench). The starting five for the Wildcats: Jason Gardner, Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Michael Wright, and Loren Woods (with Luke Walton, who is now a starter in the NBA, coming off the bench).

And then in 2004 the fourth-seeded Jayhawks rallied from seven down in the last three minutes to force the OT before losing to third-seeded Georgia Tech. (HT: Bret L.)

In other words, Saturday marked the first time Self had the more talented and higher-seeded team taking the floor in an Elite Eight game. And, yes, he lost. To UCLA, a team that is putting together the best run of sustained defensive excellence that I've seen any team put together in the three seasons I've been doing this. I've already pushed the numbers forward--I really don't know what else to say, except that right now Ben Howland's team looks like the college hoops equivalent of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

Just promise me that when Florida loses to the Bruins Saturday I'll hear about how Billy Donovan was oh-so-badly outcoached. Deal?

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Wisconsin senior Alando Tucker and Ohio State freshman Greg Oden were named first-team AP All-Americans yesterday. Also on board: Texas freshman Kevin Durant, Texas A&M senior Acie Law IV, and UCLA junior Arron Afflalo.

Mike Conley Sr. is proud of Mike Conley Jr.

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery, and Butler coach Todd Lickliter all say they have not been contacted by Michigan regarding the vacancy in Ann Arbor.

High school baller Jeff Peterson says he may still choose Iowa, Alford or no Alford (Pearl or no Pearl?). Speaking of Alford, the new coach of New Mexico says hoops is a distant second to that other sport in Iowa City: "
I can talk for eight years all I want at Iowa about trying to get my own strength coach, my own weight room and own practice facility, but when that never happens and $100 million is being put into football complexes, recruits see that."

Michigan State assistant coach Jim Boylen will be the next head coach at Utah.

Penn State announced yesterday that Milos Bogetic and Maxwell Dubois will be transferring to yet-to-be-determined (possibly Division II) destinations.

Years ending in "7" are fateful for Minnesota.

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

Is it possible for a lame-duck blog to have an email section?
Yesterday I said this is the last season for this blog (though not for this blogger) and, precisely as I intended, this resulted in lots of nice emails from readers saying how much they'll miss the blog, how great I am, etc., etc. (This rocks! It's like being at your own funeral! I should have thought of this way sooner.)

The emails are much appreciated. (Keep 'em coming! Oops. Did that slip out?) At the same time, I didn't and don't want "Wonk back!" to be merely a Kennedy Center Honors ceremony with me sitting in the VIP box wearing a silly medallion.

So talk hoops to me: who's going to win Monday? Can Tubby Smith resurrect the moribund Minnesota program? Who do you want to coach Michigan? Iowa?

Thoughts? Anyone?
Monday, March 26, 2007
I demand golf clubs! Rocking chairs! Liquor!
I've decided that this will be the last season of "Big Ten Wonk."

Next season I'll continue to write on a regular basis on college basketball. I just don't know where, exactly. Watch this space for a referral.

Regular readers know that this past season I spent less time on, say, Northwestern than on North Carolina, Florida, UCLA, Kansas, Georgetown, and Butler. I know this shift befuddled a few of you and, given this blog's title, any befuddlement was entirely reasonable. So now I want to end that confusion: I want to write about college basketball. The whole thing.

Last month when Kyle Whelliston visited the casa on the occasion of Butler-Southern Illinois, the following few seconds unspooled:

ME: I think this is the last season of "Wonk."

KYLE: You say that every year.

ME: No, I mean, I'll still write. I just want to flit wherever I want topically.

KYLE: Oh. Well, that's OK.

ME: Thanks.

So, really, this isn't much of a change. My words will still be available on your computer, should you be so inclined. And who cares what it says in the address bar up there while you're reading said words?

Still, it does mean the end of a nice three-season run here at Knowing that, I ran through several exit scenarios.

For example, I toyed with the notion of pulling a blog-equivalent Ziggy Stardust: announcing in the last sentence of the last paragraph of the last post that this is it.

Or I could adopt the Roger Clemens/Brett Favre approach and make serial- or near-retirement into its own second career.

And then there's the "Seinfeld" model. It would mean I'd end my last post as I started my first post, talking about Quin Snyder and President James Buchanan. (No, I have no idea what I was thinking either. I was new at this.)

In the end I decided to steer a middle course between the first two. My last post will be next Tuesday, April 3. I'll talk about the previous night's national championship game, offer up a numerically appropriate 11 unsolicited homilies on 11 variegated topics, and then say au revoir, popping up at the new digs in the fall.

(For his part, Kyle has pledged that, taking his cue from Illinois fans bidding farewell to the Chief on February 21, he'll paint "WONK" in blue letters on his forehead and weep openly as he reads the last post, then don a black T-shirt. I, in turn, have asked that he plug the camera into the laptop that morning. This I have to see.)

Anyway, that's the plan. Now, back to our regularly scheduled madness....
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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Sunday, March 25, 2007
Ode to an Odenian turn
Just 23 short days ago I wrote this about Greg Oden:

Greg Oden's been merely outstanding. Don't get the "merely" wrong, I want him on my team. Oden's an efficient scorer who leads the conference in defensive rebounding (now that Brian Butch is out) and, of course, shot-blocking. So, yes, he's been outstanding. It's just that I thought he was going to be beyond outstanding. I thought he'd be Durantian.

"Merely outstanding"? Listen, pal, his numbers are earth-bound only because he gets two fouls slapped on him when he trots out during player introductions before every game. But during those odd isolated minutes when he's actually on the floor, he changes the game on both ends of the court more than any other player, including and especially your beloved little Kevin Durant.

Take yesterday....

(1) Ohio State 92, (2) Memphis 76
This game reminded me so much of the Illinois-Louisville Final Four game in 2005: a Big Ten team is in a dogfight with a long, deep, and athletic team for much of the game before pulling away with surprising ease at the end.

The substitution data for Ohio State isn't complete on the play-by-play but keep in mind that it was the Tigers' 14-4 run early in the second half with Oden on the bench that forced Thad Matta to bring the big guy back in the game with a little more than 12 minutes left, foul trouble or no. From that point on, the Buckeyes outscored Memphis 41-20. Not bad, Mr. Oden.

Not that those minutes were all daisies and buttercups for OSU. The low point in my yelling at the TV came on Daequan Cook's airballed three attempt with a little more than eight minutes left, a possession on which Oden (again) hadn't even touched the ball. (And don't give me any canned speech about how Oden's too passive, has to be more aggressive, and "demand" the ball. That may have been true earlier in the season when he was playing with one hand. But now that he's healthy, he's getting great position and making it clear that the rock stops here. Watch the tape.)

But once the other Buckeyes at long last got the message (video clearly shows Matta writing on the whiteboard during a timeout: "GIVE GREG THE BALL"), good things happened in abundance. Oden scored 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting in 24 minutes. Ron Lewis went 10-of-10 at the line and led the Buckeyes with 22 points. Mike Conley was aggressive taking the ball to the hole and scored 19 but, unusually, coughed up five turnovers.

(Box score.)

BONUS leave-your-analyses-at-the-door note! For the second consecutive game Ohio State's opponent was unconscious from the outside. (Jeremy Hunt made 5-of-11 threes and led all scorers with 26 points.) This will get some ink this week: OSU must improve perimeter D, Matta's concerned, etc. Don't believe most of it (particularly if perimeter-averse North Carolina is OSU's next opponent.) It's mostly luck.

(2) UCLA 68, (1) Kansas 55
If you wanted to pick the team that's looked the most unbeatable in the tournament so far, you could make a good case for UCLA. When even Julian Wright, Brandon Rush, and company can't score in the paint, you're looking at a special defense. Or look at it another way: when you give away 25 turnovers in a 68-possession game and still win by 13 against what was the best defense in the country this season, you must be playing some serious D yourself.

Indeed they are. Here are the sobering numbers for the Bruins' next opponent (Florida or Oregon): Ben Howland's team is allowing just 0.80 points per possession in the tournament. And UCLA's opponents (which have included the likes of Wright, Rush, Aaron Gray, and D.J. White) have made just 36 percent of their twos.

BONUS outreach to the old school! A note to all readers who email to say they hate high-scoring games, defense is what wins, etc. I really hope you were watching last night. If you look at a game as 40 minutes played by 10 positions on the floor, then this game quite possibly supplied the best 400 minutes of defense I've ever seen. I was glued to the screen watching this game.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
So 1-seeds can lose! That adds some suspense to today's games....

(3) Oregon vs. (1) Florida (2:40pm ET)
Since the opening tip in the first game of the Pac-10 tournament, no less than 41 percent of Oregon's shots have been threes. And the Ducks have connected on 49.6 percent of all those attempts from beyond the arc. They are Providence '87 all over again and they're playing Billy the Kid today.

(2) Georgetown vs. (1) North Carolina (5:05pm ET)
Thank you, Ken, for saying what had to be said. Pace, schmace. Ty Lawson will rocket into the lane to start every Carolina possession. The Hoyas will run clock to start every possession of theirs. The result will be a pace mutt. May the best team win.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007
The year of Lawrence Welk
In three of the four regional finals: and a 1 and a 2. (In the fourth region? A 1 and a 3. That hoops-ignorant weenie in your office pool that just picks the four 1-seeds every year has never been more smug than right now.)

(1) Florida 65, (5) Butler 57
The Gators have the template down. Come out slowly, cough up a lot of turnovers (six in the first eight minutes), give your opponent hope, and then win anyway. Not with complete dominance but with something, from your overmatched opponent's standpoint, much more frustrating: the minimum required. (My NBA simile for this team looks better and better.) Butler did an outstanding job limiting Florida's two-point shots (there were just 15 such by the Gators all night), forcing the defending national champs to either go to the line or shoot threes. But, unfortunately for Bulldog fans, Billy Donovan's men were hitting their shots from both spots, going 23-of-28 from the line (Joakim Noah and Al Horford were a combined 17-of-21) and 8-of-19 on their threes (Taurean Green hit 5-of-8 from outside and led all scorers with 17 points). The night's oddest result? The Bulldogs actually outperformed the Gators on the boards, getting to 70 percent of Florida's misses and 34 percent of their own. It helped them hang around on a night when A.J. Graves and Mike Green were a combined 8-of-25 from the field.

Next up for Florida....

(3) Oregon 76, (7) UNLV 72
Fact: Tajuan Porter is a 5-6 freshman. Fact: Porter hit 8-of-12 threes and scored 33 points in a Sweet 16 game for Oregon. Conclusion: In a tournament with precisely zero underdogs left standing, get ready to hear a lot about Porter. At one point in the first half the Detroit product scored 17 straight points for the Ducks. (That loud gnashing sound you hear is canonical blogger Brian Cook cursing Tommy Amaker for not giving Porter a scholarship. True, 71 other "power"-conference coaches passed on him, too.) Thanks in large part to Porter, Oregon led by 17 with a little more than five minutes left. But the Rebels made things interesting down the stretch, hitting three threes in the last 80 seconds, before Bryce Taylor's two free throws with 0.9 seconds left put this one away.

(2) Georgetown 66, (6) Vanderbilt 65
Jeff Green drained a bank shot with 2.5 seconds remaining to win this one for the Hoyas. (Replays show a pivot foot being dragged. Replays don't blow whistles. There you are.) I thought the Hoyas' machine-like offense would blow away Vandy's Oregon-like flimsy defense in this one. I thought wrong. For while it's true that Georgetown scoring 66 points in a 58-possession game is par for the course, the Commodores were meanwhile doing just as well on offense. Anyone who's seen a Northwestern game lately saw some familiar-looking offensive sets from Vandy: no one in the low post, an uncomfortable opposing big (in this case Roy Hibbert) forced to play out top on D, and plenty of room for wicked back-cuts. It worked, particularly in the first half, as Vanderbilt led by as many as 13. But the Hoyas were able to come back, thanks mostly to total domination on the boards, where John Thompson's men chased down 75 percent of Vandy's misses and 47 percent of their own. (See the excellent breakdown of this game at Yet Another Basketball Blog, a good blog with a misleading name.)

Georgetown now gets....

(1) North Carolina 74, (5) USC 64
The Heels were down 10 with 11 minutes to go, at which point they unreeled an 18-0 run. Look at the play-by-play here: not a single three-point attempt in that run, just lots of "GOOD! TIP-IN" and "GOOD! LAYUP." Both pieces of typography should be emblazoned across Carolina '07 commemorative T's, for such is how this team wins. Brandan Wright notwithstanding (21 points on 15 shots), Roy Williams' team couldn't shoot worth a lick in this game but they held on to the ball and took care of business on the glass. Taj Gibson, Nick Young, and Lodrick Stewart, conversely, scored a combined 46 points for SC but also committed a combined 12 turnovers, three more than the entire UNC team.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
We'll know at 9:30 ET tonight if it's permitted in the 2007 tournament for a 1-seed to (gulp) lose a game....

(2) Memphis vs. (1) Ohio State (4:40pm ET)
Buckeyes contractually mandated to take game to final seconds.

(2) UCLA vs. (1) Kansas (7:05pm ET)
The Jayhawks had the best defense in the country this year. The Bruins have had the best defense in the tournament. Enjoy.

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Quick! Someone send Thad this link!
Longtime listener, first-time writer, love the show, etc....

Yesterday was the first time this season I watched Ohio State play while rooting for them. I'm a Badger fan but during tourney time I'm a Big Ten fan.

Now I know why the Buckeyes didn't beat Wisconsin as badly as I thought they would this season. It seems they have no idea (or no interest) in working the ball to that low-post guy, whatshisname. I counted the number of times they actually worked the ball around with the "intention" of getting it inside. I didn't use a lot of fingers.

If Oden had played for the Badgers this year, I'm convinced he'd have averaged 30 a game. Sure he was in foul trouble but, even when he was in there, they ignored him.

Jeez, how hard is this? Doesn't coach Matta read Big Ten Wonk?

Ohio State won't win it all this year. I'd love it if they did, but they won't.

Philip C.

Indeed, Philip. Here's hoping Thad's poring over his Big Ten Wonk right now (I'm sure he has nothing better to do today).
Friday, March 23, 2007
Not exactly gliding smoothly through the bracket, are they?
(1) Ohio State 85, (5) Tennessee 84
Talk about taking Tennessee's best shot. Bruce Pearl couldn't have dreamed up a better set of circumstances:

1) The Vols made 16 of 31 threes.
2) UT turned the ball over just seven times in a 67-possession game.
3) Greg Oden was in foul trouble all night and recorded only nine points and three boards in 18 minutes.

And still the Vols lost. The Buckeyes trailed 49-29 with 30 seconds left in the first half but needed only 11 minutes to tie the game at 64. (I'm seeing some "more than just Oden"-themed recaps this morning. But note that, while it's true he played only 18 minutes overall, Oden was in fact on the floor for eight of the 11 minutes during this crucial 35-15 run.) And then it was close the rest of the way. In the end, Oden blocked a Ramar Smith runner as time expired to seal the win.

A couple days ago I offered this:

Ohio State's main defensive strengthdefending two-point shotsis much less weighty against an opponent like Tennessee that simply bombs away from the perimeter. The key variable in this game is whether or not the Vols are hitting their outside shots. If they're not, they lose. If they are, they still might lose. Because against an interior D this leaky, Thad Matta's Bill Walsh-like script should read as follows:

Play 1. Get ball to Oden in the paint.
Play 2. Get ball to Oden in the paint.
Play 3. Get ball to Oden in the paint.

Well said! Quite right. Yes, I've got my eye on you, Gasaway. I like the cut of your jib. You seem like a bright young lad....

Anyway, as I was saying, OSU won this game in the paint, Oden or no Oden. Matta's men made 19-of-29 twos and got to the line 35 times. That was the difference on a (late) night when the Buckeyes' perimeter shooting was merely normal (8-of-22). Ron Lewis went just 3-of-9 on his threes but scored 25 points by taking the ball to the hole. Mike Conley added 17 points, six assists, and some nervous moments for his coach, as the youngster went 9-of-14 at the line (with four of those misses coming in the last 5:10). (Box score.)

Now Ohio State gets 2-seed Memphis, who looked beautiful in edging 3-seed Texas A&M 65-64 in front of a vocally and decidedly pro-Aggie crowd in the Alamo Dome. The Tigers, of course, were regarded as faintly dubious all year because, in the new-look declawed C-USA, they hadn't played anybody. Well, last night they played somebody. And won. They look very tough.

"Poor shooting background" conspiracy theorists, take note!
Over the course of two games in the Alamo Dome last night, four teams combined to shoot just 55 percent on their free throws.

(1) Kansas 61, (4) Southern Illinois 58
What a great, if strange, game. The Salukis ran clock and shot threes all night, missing most of them. (For the game they were 6-of-25.) Yet they were in this right to the end because they schooled the taller Jayhawks on the offensive glass, pulling down 17 offensive boards out of 37 chances. Kansas, perhaps rivaled only by UCLA in terms of beastliness on the defensive glass, is not typically so generous. Speaking of generous, Bill Self's team coughed the ball up 19 times in a 63-possession game. (Brandon Rush, Russell Robinson, and Mario Chalmers had four turnovers apiece. And, interestingly, SIU was credited with just six steals.) If they could have just held on to the ball KU could have made this evening much more comfortable for their fans, for the Jayhawks were hitting their shots from start to finish. As it turned out, they needed to.

(2) UCLA 64, (3) Pitt 55
The Bruins are playing the best defense of any team in the tournament. Over the course of three games opponents have now scored just 0.79 points per possession and made only 35 percent of their twos. Aaron Gray was held to 10 points and there were very few second shots for any of the Panthers. Hoops fans everywhere should send a thank-you email this morning to Berkeley, because Cal's win over the Bruins in the first-round of the Pac-10 tournament knocked Ben Howland's team down to the 2-line, thus setting up Saturday night's unimaginably good regional final: UCLA vs. Kansas.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
It's that time of year: when news from the human resources department rivals and on occasion even eclipses the news from the court.

Tubby. Minnesota. Wow.
In three seasons of doing this blog, no single piece of news has dropped my jaw so suddenly and so far as the news that Tubby Smith will be the next head coach at Minnesota. (The press conference is today at 1 ET.) Gopher AD Joel Maturi, last seen in this space bungling Dan Monson's dismissal in every conceivable way, is suddenly reaping the surprised and emphatic acclaim more traditionally associated with a commander-in-chief the morning after a spectacularly successful clandestine military strike.

Kentucky fans may be saying good riddance, of course, but keep in mind this is Minnesota we're talking about. A team with precisely zero recent (untainted) success in basketball, where "recent" is defined as "post-Kevin McHale." For a coach who's won a national championship, with Rick Pitino's players or anyone else's, to plant his flag under the hitherto sleepy rafters of Williams Arena is an abrupt and seismic occurrence.

I'll say it again. Wow.

Alford. New Mexico. Meh.
Steve Alford is leaving Iowa and will be the next head coach at New Mexico. (The press conference is today at 4 ET.)

Michigan. Vacancy. Patience.
What does all this do to the Wolverines' search for a new coach? Not much, unless they wanted Tubby. There are more than enough good candidates for Iowa and Michigan to both make smart hires.

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POTs, Packer, and parallels
Yesterday I said that Butler is a POT and noted some striking similarities between this piece on Billy Packer from March 2007 and this piece on Billy Packer from March 2006. The readers respond!


I've been a fan of your blog since I first discovered it last season, probably off KenPom. I'm especially a fan of the POT nomenclature, the aerials, and the DAD watch.

I was glad to see you link to the Simmons piece on Packer today, because when I saw his piece I immediately thought back to yours. Given the choice, I'd rather read you.

In your Florida-Butler preview today, you pointed out that the Bulldogs are a classic POT. What you didn't point out, though, is that Florida defensively is a classic anti-POT nightmare. Only about seven percent of Gator defensive possessions end in a made three, one of the better rates in the country.

Which should set up an interesting matchup: 15.4 percent of Butler possessions end up in a made three-pointer, perhaps the highest rate in the country. (Note as well that Oregon's rate, at 13.3 percent, is also very good nationally. So the Gators' current opponent and their most likely next opponent are both exceptionally good offensively at the thing Florida is exceptionally good at defensively.

Keep up the great work.

Tom G.

Great points, Tom. A couple more: keep in mind Butler's percentage of possessions ending in a made three is a function not only of their marksmanship (which, at 37 percent, is OK but not excellent) but also of their shot selection (49 percent of their shots are attempted threes) and, as you note correctly, their poor offensive rebounding.

Also note that Florida's numbers for perimeter D are in fact coming back down to earth with notable speed. (As I predicted; yay, me!) While their season numbers are still quite scary (opponents have hit just 29 percent of their threes), the Gators' last six opponents in SEC play made threes at a much more normal rate (38 percent).


Ah, one of my favorite subjects! A group of friends and I compare preposterous, as well as painfully obvious, Packer statements after every game he calls. If I can compile the list, perhaps I'll send it to you for your amusement.

Here's the worst thing about Packer. He turns me into a bad person.

That's right. It's cruel. It's perverse. It's shameful. But Packer, like Bob Pulford and Dick Cheney (all three of whom have been inflicted upon us without end and in the face of whom we are utterly helpless), leaves me no recourse but to actively wish him ill.

I'm sorry.

By the way, your piece was better than Simmons' and I like Simmons. ("Understands the sport as well as anyone"?)

Dick M.

Thanks, Dick!
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Packer. Again.
Behind door number 1. A piece from last March, complaining that Billy Packer has been around forever:

Presidents come and go. Popes, Supreme Court justices, U.N. Secretaries General, Federal Reserve Chairmen, NFL Commissioners, even members of the Rolling Stones ("those damn kids," as Packer calls them)—they all rotate with more frequency.

This longevity stands in stark contrast, the piece notes, with the short life-expectancy of announcing teams for other major events:

The Super Bowl is covered by a different announcing crew every year. The BCS title game doesn't appear to be the sole possession of any one announcing team. I literally have no idea which network is carrying the NBA Finals this year, much less who will announce the games. Heck, even the FOX announcers who've been doing the World Series for the last several years are newbies compared to Packer.

The piece behind door number 1 then agonizes over Packer's ubiquity (he's "simply unavoidable") and laments that instead of simply enjoying our Final Four we have to approach it every year "with gritted teeth."

Behind door number 2. A piece from this week, complaining that Billy Packer has been around forever:

You have to admit, it's incredible that Packer has held the lead job ever since the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman were America's favorite couple. Back then, college basketball didn't have a shot clock or a 3-point line, coaches carried themselves like drill sergeants and stars stayed in school for four years, rarely dunked and wore tight shorts that would have made Richard Simmons blush.

This longevity stands in stark contrast, the piece notes, with the short life-expectancy of announcing teams for other major events:

Think how many different No. 1 NBA broadcasting teams there have been over that time. Think how many partners Keith Jackson has had. Think how many different pairings have called AFC and NFC championship games, Super Bowls, the ALCS and NLCS, the World Series, even WrestleMania. Packer's contemporaries in the longevity department (Tim McCarver and John Madden) started their careers in the 1980s and never had the same stranglehold on the big games.

The piece behind door number 2 then agonizes over Packer's ubiquity ("he can't be avoided") and laments that instead of simply enjoying our Final Four we have to "grit our teeth" every year.

Conclusion. Uncanny coincidence? Don't be so naïve! Indeed, you're missing the point, one that speaks to a remarkable degree of September 12-level unanimity across all ages, races, classes, education levels, and religions:

Sit any American male under the age of 93 in front of a keyboard and he will, independently and without need for prior example, write this exact same piece.

Key difference between the two. The piece behind door number 2 will, I scientifically estimate, be read by eleventy-gillion more people than was the piece behind door number 1. So many more people, in fact, that the piece behind door number 2 may represent a tipping-point (oh, yes, please) in the never-ending nationwide hoops prayer vigil that seeks blessed relief from Packer's decades of dyspepsia.

So I say: Go, piece behind door number 2. Go and work your wonders. Go to the four corners of the earth. Most importantly, go to West 52nd Street in New York and act as the epiphany, one where decision-makers realize, as if awakening from some horrible trance, "Gee. I guess, if you think about it, there's really no reason to annoy millions of people year after year. Is Raftery still under contract?"

You are on the side of the angels, piece behind door number 2. I bless you and wish you god speed on your journey.

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