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The Eternal Question … No, Not Chicken Or The Egg, The Other, Basketball Related One …

March 23, 2013

Some observations on the Round of 64 while I ponder changing my name to “Nicky Flash” … because it rhymes …

What matters more in the NCAA® Division I Men’s Basketball Championship: Offense or Defense?  On one hand, eight (8) teams scored 80-plus points (all of whom won their games), and over half of the games (23 of 36 so far) were decided by double figures or more. On the other hand eight (8) teams scored less than 50 points, all in losing efforts, and four (4) games were played in the 50s or below by both teams – I still think the Over-Under number for such games is Eight, but right now I’m leaning toward the Over. Nevertheless, my answer is that Defense matters more in the earlier rounds, when effort and pluck can fall a giant, and Offense asserts itself in the later rounds as the talent level rises, the pressure intensifies, and teams with more ability to create and convert scoring opportunities survive and advance, which is why I favor teams like Indiana, Louisville Florida, Duke, Michigan and Gonzaga to challenge for the NCAA Title … Early kudos to the Atlantic-10 Conference (6-0 so far) and the Big Ten (6-1), comprising roughly 1/3rd of the remaining field between them. Meanwhile, mocking derision to the Big (L)East (3-5), with only Louisville, Syracuse and Marquette still standing, the deepest cut of all No. 2 seed Georgetown – losing for the fifth time in the last five NCAA Tournaments on the first weekend, to a double-digit seed, while being no lower than a No. 6 seed –  who fell 19 points behind a Florida Gulf Coast team that I, in this very space, told you would give the Hoyas everything they could handle.  I also think the Mountain West, the RPI #1 rated conference, hasn’t lived up to that billing, although San Diego State now has a great chance of getting to the Sweet 16 now that John Thompson III has left the building …

While I’m mentioning Georgetown, I’m as much a fan of KenPom.com and the efficiency analyses as any other basketball nerd, but watching several KenPom All-Stars get punched in the mouth the last two days – Wisconsin (ranked No. 8 by KenPom as of Thursday), Pittsburgh (10), Georgetown (13), St. Mary’s (19) Missouri (20), New Mexico (21) and Oklahoma State (24) all exited stage left to lesser ranked opponents, five of them by double digits – only reaffirms my belief that the Madness is more than what advanced statistics can show you.  Good tools for evaluation, yes, but not a panacea for divining winners and losers, as there is no substitution for watching games and teams in volume …

Weirdest game of the last two days has to be Villanova-North Carolina, in which both teams showed why they were middling seeds despite their collection of talent. Similar to the Illinois-Colorado and Kansas St-La Salle games, where 15-20 point leads were overcome, only for the team that lost that lead to go one and win in all three cases, yet unlike the other two games, Carolina came out ahead by screwing up less than ‘Nova, instead of making winning plays down the stretch.  Even so, the way Kansas looked yesterday in beating Western Kentucky by seven, North Carolina has more than a rock and a sling shot … Speaking of, is it really necessary to say the full name of North Carolina’s “James Michael McAdoo” every time someone mentions him during a game?  This is right up there with announcers saying “The National Football League” every time they can when “NFL” suffices, as well as text message spam, pot holes, and bran muffins.  I mean, it’s not like anyone’s going to confuse the kid with his cousin Bob, who stopped playing professionally 20 years ago … With four of their five starters either freshmen or sophomores, Colorado is going to be a terror in two seasons assuming all of them stay.  Just wasn’t to be this season, yesterday showing the inexperience and impatience that has plagued them since last season, when they made a habit of grabbing leads then pulling a “Buffalo Swoon,” letting teams back into games. Yesterday, the Swoon came first against a talented but equally unpredictable Illinois team, who I don’t think is long for this tournament with Miami hitting on all cylinders … While I’m at it, can we just call the Tuesday-Wednesday “play-in” games (apparently a term that’s too politically incorrect) the “First Four”, then call the Round of 64 (which itself is a clunky construct) the “First Round”, and Round of 32 the “Second Round”?  Players, coaches, fans, even the CBS and ESPN talking heads can’t keep it straight.  Let’s stop trying to force it, and end the silliness and ongoing confusion, as no one I know calls each round by the terms the NCAA prescribes …

I’ll spare an exhaustive examination of my bracket, although it’s doing quite well (Thanks for asking!) with 15/16 Sweet 16 picks still alive (Thanks for nothing Wisconsin, don’t forget the parting gifts backstage), and the only pick I really regret making was trusting Frank Haith’s Wild and Wayward Missouri Tigers to hold their water against Colorado State … Thursday’s winner of the “WHAT WAS THAT?!?” Award is Montana and their 34-points-in-40-minutes outburst, so dreadful that I thought about giving them Friday’s “WHAT WAS THAT?!?” Award as well, but that will go to Kansas State and their last play against La Salle, punctuated by Bruce Weber’s feeble (and unrewarded) attempt to call timeout with 1.3 seconds left as he watched his point guard Angel Rodriguez drive into No Man’s Land behind the basket … Honorable Mention to Ole Miss’s Gunner Extraordinaire Jordan Henderson, who started the game against Wisconsin shooting 1-13, and yet kept shooting, scoring 17 of his 19 points in the second half and pulling his Rebels away from the Badgers, prompting notice from Basketball Royalty about his obvious Green-Light status … Is it just me, or has “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson’s agent been working overtime the last year? He’s too large a human being to be that ubiquitous if you ask me, dude looks like he’s pushing maximum muscular density and that he might disappear like a Charlie Brown Spelling Bee contestant if you pricked him with a pin … Meanwhile, New Mexico, the word is “Beagle” …

Gonzaga’s game against a Wichita State squad that fears nobody goes one of two ways: Either a.) they’re still stuck in first gear and get run off the court like Pittsburgh did, or b.) the 6-point win over Southern serves as a wake-up call and they play much closer to their ceiling in ushering the Shockers back to Kansas. There’s not much in between for the ‘Zags as I see it … Should a.) occur, I see Wichita State advancing past the Ole Miss-La Salle winner and well-positioned for a Butler-esque run to the Final Four … Did I say that St. Mary’s was the “First Four” Team Most Likely To “VCU”?  Clearly I meant La Salle, must have been a typo or something … Arizona, to borrow a new cliché, Is What It Is right now, for better or worse.  They rebound well for a team that doesn’t prioritize the offensive glass, preferring to send more players back on defense, which can be stifling at times. They are too loose with the ball and miss too many of the good shots their offense creates, compounded by times when shot selection wavers. Mark Lyons is not your typical point guard, and really isn’t the best distributor on the team (That would be Nick Johnson). These Wildcats tend to play up and down to the level of their competition, lack a killer instinct, and are prone to long scoring droughts as well as having high “spurtability”. But on Thursday Sean Miller’s charges handled with ease a Belmont team that was a popular Cinderella candidate among media and amateur bracketologists alike, should eliminate a plucky but undermanned No. 14 seed Hahvahd team and advance to the Regional Semis where the Wildcat-friendly confines of Los Angeles’ Staples Center await. Sure, only one game in, but the No. 6 seed to me looks as deep, balanced, dangerous and capable as anyone else in the West Regional, and I’m not the only one, just ask the guy who announced the game for CBS  … As for UCLA, was that Ben Howland’s Bruin swan song?  An embarrassing 20-point loss to a talented but inconsistent Minnesota team notwithstanding, how does THE Premier Program west of the Mississippi find itself in the NCAAs with seven scholarship players?  The answer to that question – between mid-season departures and recruiting issues too curious and lengthy to examine here and now – is why I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a change in Westwood soon …

With another Round of 32 slate that provides several absorbing encounters, the type of matchups that routinely make this round my favorite of the NCAA Tournament, so many burning questions remain: Is Colorado State’s five senior starters and rebounding prowess (#1 rebounding margin in the country) enough to impede Louisville’s March To Atlanta? Will Oregon be able to score more than 60 points against a Saint Louis team that looked every bit the Final Four Darkhorse in dispatching New Mexico State? Can Memphis impose their quickness and athleticism on a Michigan State built to absorb such play like a sponge?  Will Creighton have better luck against this year’s Tobacco Road foe (Duke) than in their loss last year to a Tobacco Road foe (North Carolina)?  Does any sort of “welcome” await Roy Williams in Kansas City against his former Kansas program, or will Hell continue to hath no fury as a Jayhawk scorned? Can Michigan withstand VCU’s “Havoc” defense, or will Trey Burke cause more havoc than VCU can handle? Is Cal’s Pac-12 POY Allen Crabbe enough against Syracuse’s Match-up Zone? Will the winner of Ohio State-Iowa State have to score 100 points? Does Butler win their Marquette rematch, or do the “Fighting Buzz Williams” exact revenge for Maui?  Can Temple and the Best Player You Haven’t Seen Enough Of Khalif Wyatt be the fly in Indiana’s Ointment? Can Minnesota keep it close against Florida, and if so, can Florida find a way to win such a game?  Can I possibly eat any more nachos?

With apologies to Karen Carpenter, We’ve Only Just Begun.

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From → Basketball, Sports

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