Tuesday, March 28, 2017

25th Anniversary of the Shot

Brian piqued my interest by asking what would be the second best college basketball game I ever saw after Duke-Kentucky which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary.

From a personal satisfaction standpoint, Marquette's trouncing of Kentucky in the regional final would probably rate second. The previous three games could certainly round out the top 5. All 3 were too close for comfort but wildly satisfying at the end.

Marquette's wins over Murray State in 2012 and Butler in 2013 would also rate highly from a personal standpoint. So many games have been lost to the fog of time and in many instances, intoxocation. I know Gonzaga-Arizona is 2003 was wild and Xavier-Ohio State in 2007 was as well but I was pretty lit up for both.

Regular season games have hardly stuck with me. The Jason Williams one man show versus Maryland, Novak smoking UConn, various Cincinnati losses sort of stick.

Though we'll see a lot of the Showalter-Chiozza highlights, with Florida not winning Sunday, the drama is diminished since Florida didn't make the Final 4. Luke Maye's shot on the other hand after Malik Monk's three, that story will have more legs years from now unless your a Gator or Badger.

At the end of the day, no game had better play, more story behind it, more drama and a better ending than Duke-UK. No game is probably seared into my memory more than that one. It was truly the perfect game for March. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Final Four Fun FactZ

Well, the Final Four is set. We have two 1-seeds in Gonzaga and North Carolina advancing. We have a solid 3-seed in Oregon, left for dead by many, including myself after the loss of Chris Boucher. The Cinderella is South Carolina, as least likely a Final 4 team from a power league I can remember since maybe Wisconsin in 2000. Anyway, here's some numbers to tide you over until Saturday.

- Gonzaga remains the number 1 overall team in KenPom. They have the best defense and it's a solid margin over South Carolina. The offense is 14th.

- South Carolina is 2nd in defensive efficiency. They're 105th in offense. That's the 2nd worst of the KenPom era. Louisville was 109th in 2012. LSU was 62nd in 2006 and Syracuse was 50th last year. None of those teams made the title game.

- North Carolina is 3rd in KenPom and 6th in offensive and 18th in defensive efficiency respectively. 

- All the other coaches are Final 4 newbies but this is Daggum Roy's 9th Final 4 and 5th with North Carolina.

- This is the 2nd time he has taken UNC to back-to-back Final 4's. He did so in 2008 and 2009.

- Oregon is at 10 in KenPom, 16th and 19th in offensive and defensive efficiency.

- Per CJ Moore of Bleacher Report, South Carolina's offensive efficiency before the tournament was 101.8. During the tournament? It's 116.7. No, we didn't underestimate them. They're on a roll.

- The last time a regional final was held at MSG, UConn won it. It was also a 7-seed.

- This the first Final 4 since 1998 to include 2 "west coast" teams. I'm stretching out to Utah for that.

- The Zags and South Carolina are making their first Final 4 as you know. The last Final 4 to include two newcomers was 1996, Mississippi State and UMass.

- Dana Altman and Frank Martin both coached at Kansas State.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Morning Elite 8 Musings and More

- Let's begin by discussing Indiana doing the right thing and not hiring Steve Alford. Alford's track record is fine but Indiana needed to hire a young, energetic coach and successful young coach. They checked all three with Archie Miller.

He'll find Indiana to be unreasonable in expectations but my guess is his he'll do well enough and better than his predecessor. Will Indiana accept a track record similar to his brother Sean? My guess is yes. Sean Miller will get to a Final 4 soon enough and Archie will at IU. Which does first? 

- Congratulations to Mark Few and Gonzaga for breaking through. The criticism they've received through the years has been largely unfair. Now, people are mocking them for only having to beat an 11-seed, beating West Virhinia and surviving a Northwestern "scare".

A. Way to go Arizona for not "legitimizing" the Zags Final 4.

B. Checks KenPom and sees West Virginia is still 7th. But West Virginia missed a bunch of shots! Weird. Zags must not have the nation's most efficient defense for a reason.

C. They survived Northwestern? Doubt Carolina gets the same reaction about Arkansas if they advance today.

- The most impressive player of the day was Jordan Bell of Oregon who was so intimidating he basically ruined Kansas. Kansas was so spooked by him, by time they started stopping the Ducks on defense, it was too late. Going to write about Dana Altman and the Ducks path here later this week.  

- Bill Self is now 2-7 in regional finals and a bad coach. Or so I hear. Listen KU faithful, be careful what you wish for. The wilderness is vast and you can wonder it for years.

Now, for the games...

East 

South Carolina vs. Florida: Is it the Muschamp Bowl or the Spurrier Bowl? Whatever the case, if you had this as your regional final, you live in SEC Country. I've been betting against both since the bracket was announced so what to do? 

Let's review Florida's game against the Badgers. Fall behind 16-8 but lead at half. Blow a 12-point lead in the final 3:50 with the final blow being an off-balanced 3 by a former walk-on who punctuates it by doing the Discount Double Choke. Fall behind in overtime by 6. Have Canyon Berry granny some free throws, block Iverson and then Chris Chiozza makes a wild 3 to win at the buzzer. This, while today's opponent manhandled their opponent earlier in the evening. Points to an emotional letdown, no? What the hell do I know?

The Pick: Florida 66 South Carolina 58

South

Kentucky vs. North Carolina: 

According to some, this is being billed as the de facto national title game. Again, checks KenPom and scratches head.

Listen, it'll be a good game and the winner will be billed as the favorite next weekend but if you think either would be a lock you haven't been paying attention to what has happened this season. This isn't 2009 North Carolina or 2012 Kentucky. Both are quite good but not dominant.

As for the game, it's 50/50 on KenPom and that sounds right. 

The Pick: Kentucky 77 North Carolina 76

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Sweet 16 Musings

- Well, the lack of excitement in late game situations was answered. Zak Showalter's running 3 was amazing. The Gators answer even moreso. One thing I take out it, though, Gators did fail to execute fouling so it wasn't a final minute without some failure. As stunning was the Canyon Berry block of Iverson. Iverson has such incredible hops and attacks the hoop. Don't forget that play when this story is told.

- The Badger senior class "graduates" as one of the greatest of all time. Still, knowing SJW Nigel Hayes will forever be part of NCAA promotional videos watching the game winner warms the heart. Put that in your lawsuit.

- South Carolina's destruction of Baylor was built by men. Those are grown ass men. A bit of caution, Baylor offense was pretty pedestrian at times through the season. They really needed some creators to breakdown South Carolina. The Cocks never had any fear of that. Florida will be a different creature.

- Butler had little chance to beat Carolina without a perfect game. Bad matchup for them. I think they could have beaten any of the other 1-seeds but not the Tar Heels. 

- Kentucky was brilliant last night. Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox are such fun players. Nothing rattles them. They were calm, cool and collected. Once Kentucky built the lead, the offense they played was beautiful. No rushing shots, driving without a plan or turnovers. They executed beautifully. Not sure how they'll turn out as pros but there's certainly game there to mold.

- Steve Alford says he's out at Indiana. Certainly hope it's not Chris Mack. If it is, Indiana becomes a real problem.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Elite 8 Saturday

West

Gonzaga vs. Xavier: Zags are a solid 10-point favorite by KenPom in this game. That's pretty remarkable for an Elite 8 game but we know Xavier's numbers are deflated because of what happened late in the regular season.

Trevon Bluiett's play this month has been nothing short of remarkable. Sean O'Mara has really helped them in the paint. And they've gotten production from seemingly someone different throughout the course of every game. It's been a great team effort to complement Bluiett.

On the other side, Gonzaga hasn't looked pretty but are in the Elite 8. They survived a game Northwestern squad playing with house money and the ugliness that is West Virginia basketball.
There's a lot to be said about that. 

Chris Mack has been brilliant since the Big East tournament and like he did agaisnt Arizona, he'll steal some buckets for his squad. Mark Few will do the same. His team while battered and beaten found a way to win the other night. That's a game I'm not sure they win in other years.

The Pick: Gonzaga 72 Xavier 67

Midwest

Kansas vs. Oregon: Kansas is a 5-point favorite by KenPom in this game. I casually mentioned they reminded me of the Duke 2015 team. That Duke team kept quietly rising up in defensive efficiency to where they were a top 15 team by the end of the year. Kansas won't get there but it's getting good enough the offense can cover it.

Speaking of the offense, it's passed 90 in all 3 tournament games. Oregon did a good job against Michigan the other night but I'm not sure they can match that again. The back court is a distinctive advantage for Kansas.

As game as Purdue was for about 25 minutes, Kansas athleticism overwhelmed Purdue. Oregon won't have that problem. Dorsey, Ennis & Brooks are a terrific trio.

Ultimately, I think Josh Jackson is the difference. He's such a savvy player. Watching him move without the ball and position himself on defense is something else. He's worked hard to develop enough of jump shot that teams better repect it.

The Pick: Kansas 90 Oregon 80

Friday Night Games

North Carolina 75, Butler 68 - Tar Heels own the boards and paint.

Kentucky 88, UCLA 76 - Kentucky's defense holds down the Bruins

South Carolina 61, Baylor - SC scores less in the game than the 2nd half against Duke and still wins

Wisconsin 64, Florida - So I can punish myself at least one more game

Friday morning Sweet 16 musings

- What a job by Chris Mack. Xavier should go to him with a blank check and tell him write your number. After getting killed on othe offensive glass, his team only gave up one over the last 17 minutes. Baskets came in bunches out of timeouts again. His team perfectly executed a 2-for-1 in the final minute. Larri Markkanen got 1 shot in the final 11 minutes, though Allonzo Trier's 13 point run had something to do with that. Trevon Bluiett has been sensational. Sean O'Mara has given them so many good minutes in March, he's been a revelation. Fun run.

- Sean Miller lives another year without a Final Four. Winning in March is hard but I get the pressure he'll be feeling. Is it fair? Hard to say but I bet he'll be sick of hearing about it and when it does happen, he might explode.

- The Kansas evisceration of Purdue happened so fast, it was as if the Death Star became fully operational and Purdue was Alderaan. Not sure what the Boilermakers could have done. Josh Jackson does so many things well and his ability to get in position everywhere on the court is something to watch. Three straight games in the 90's. Fun team.

- Michigan came up short but after being left for the NIT in January by yours truly, it's hard to be disappointed in the grand scheme. Oregon made one more play. Listening to Dan Bonner and Reggie Miller makes you wonder if they watched any Michigan film. They seemed shocked Michigan didn't push more tempo. It's a slow team, gents. I give Oregon a lot of credit. They matched Michigan's patience and didn't get out of sorts like some teams might in a game like that. That was a mature performance by the Ducks in a game played at Michigan's dictation.

- Let's not talk of West Virginia-Gonzaga. Let's thank Gonzaga for not only ending Northwestern but also ending the Mouintaineers season. They should just put that end of game West Virginia possession on a loop for One Shining Moment.