Wednesday, April 10, 2013

2012-13 into the Rearview Mirror

With the coronation of Louisville, college basketball for 2012-13 comes to an end.  For the 2nd consecutive year, the number one overall seed walked away with the hardware.  The other Final Four teams included two teams that spent chunls of the season in the Top 5/10 and Wichita State, arguably the best mid-major to make the Final Four ever.

What do we take from this season?

Narratives written by the national media are often wrong, for starters.  We had the notion of parity shoved down our throats all season when the reality was, this season was pretty much a carbon copy of most seasons.  Sure, the top spot was juggled amongst many teams but by the opening tip of the tournament, we didn't need a computer to know who the best team was.  As the tournament moved along, the top teams kept moving along for the most part.  Parity?  No, more like more of the same.

Another disturbing trend was the continued decline in scoring.  We're finally starting to see more top level coaches speak out against this and acknowledging it is a problem.  On twitter on Monday, everyone celebrated the offensive battle between the two teams.  It was 38-37.  In 2009, UNC scored 55 against Michigan State who managed 34 themselves.  Truth was, I think we've become immune to offense as fans.  We've had the concept of "defense wins championships" crammed down our throats by coaches and the media that low scoring contests while derided by the press and fans, have become accepted as "it is what it is".  If you follow any of the Wisconsin media on twitter, you'd understand why it's so accepted.  Louisville is mocked as some "gimmick" defense that relies on turnovers to legitimize it's status as a top defensive team, one not capable of matching up to the man-to-man half court defenses of the Big Ten.  This is done while completely ignoring why Louisville plays the way they do, to generate easy offense and wear down opponents.  Notice Michigan's shots late in the game?  They couldn't match Louisville's conditioning.  That's not a knock on the Wolverines, that's how Pitino coaches and practices. 

Not everybody can do what Louisville does but there are ways to generate offense in the game.  Officials can be directed to call the game closer, especially in the Big Ten and what was the old Big East.  Eliminate the clutching, holding and undercutting.  The concern is no one wants to see 3 hour games that would ensue but like coaches that coach to the contact that's allowed now, the good ones will adjust.  The physical play would subside.  And enforce the charge/block correctly.  Far too often, the offense is unfairly penalized.

Finally, we say good-bye to the Big East and welcome back to the ACC.  With the addition of Syracuse and Pitt for next season and Louisville the following, the ACC should take the path the old Big East took and get back to the top.  The ACC should open next season with 3 teams in the Top 10 in Syracuse, Duke & UNC.  And we'll welcome back Kentucky who will almost assuredly open 2013-14 back at number one.

Congrats to Louisville on winning it all and sending the Big East out with a bang wrapping up one of the better seasons in recent memory.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Title Game Historical Notes

The Big East & Big Ten have had teams meet for the National title twice before.

  • 1987 - Indiana 74 Syracuse 73
  • 1989 - Michigan 80 Seton Hall 79, OVT
Louisville has played in two national title games, winning both times.
  • 1980 - Louisville 59 UCLA 54
  • 1986 - Louisville 72 Duke 69
Michigan has played in 5 national title games, going 1-4.

  • 1965 - UCLA 91 Michigan 80
  • 1976 - Indiana 86 Michigan 68
  • 1989 - Michigan 80 Seton Hall 79
  • 1992 - Duke 71 Michigan 51
  • 1993 - North Carolina 77 Michigan 71
In the 1965 Final 4, UCLA defeated Wichita State in the national semi-finals in Wichita State's only other Final 4 appearance.  Use that for what you may.

The Resurrection of Michigan Basketball

Between 1989 and 1993, Michigan basketball played in 3 of the 5 National Championship games.  Led by Bo Schembechler's "Michigan Man" Steve Fisher, the Wolverines won the '89 title game over Seton Hall.  Fisher was named the coach prior to the 1989 tournament after Bill Freider announced he was taking the Arizona State job.

In 1991, Fisher landed one of the greatest recruiting classes in college basketball history, the so-called Fab 5.  As a 6 seed, Michigan made it to the National Championship game, actually leading Duke at half before the Blue Devils ran them off the court in the second half en route to a 20 point win.  A year later, Fisher & Co. made it back to the title game before losing in the infamous Chris Webber TO game to North Carolina.

One could say Michigan took a 20 year timeout after that.  Though they made it to the Elite 8 in 1994 before losing to eventual National champ Arkansas, the slide of Michigan basketball had begun.  Chris Webber and Jalen Rose had left for the NBA after the 1993 season and Juwan Howard followed suit after the Arkansas game.  Ray Jackson and Jimmy King remained and there was hope Steve Fisher had landed his second "Fab 5" in 1994-95 when Maceo Baston, Travis Conlon, Maurice Taylor, Jerod Ward & Willie Mitchell arrived on campus.

They couldn't recapture the magic, finishing that season 17-13 before losing in the 1st round of the tournmanet to Western Kentucky.  Then Robert "Tractor" Traylor came to campus.  It all fell apart after that.  Michigan made it back to the tournament but again lost in the 1st round, this time as a 7 seed to Texas in Milwaukee.  During that season, Traylor was involved in a car accident with recruit at the time, Matean Cleaves that ended Traylor's season and brought the name Ed Martin to the attention of the Michigan Athletic Department and the B1G and NCAA.

An investigation into Martin's relationship with Michigan's program commenced and the Wolverines fortunes on the court weren't much better.  They missed the tournmanet but would win the NIT behind an MVP performance from Traylor.  The investigation ultimately lead to Fisher resigning just weeks before the beginning of the 1997-98 season.  Though he was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, Fisher was still held responsible for a "lack of institutional control."  Assistant Brian Ellerbe was named interim coach and he guided Michigan to the first B1G tourney title and a 3-seed in the tournament where they were bounced by UCLA in the 2nd round.  It would be Michigan's last appearance until 2009.

Ellerbe had the interim tag removed after the success of 1998 but was a colossal failure at Michigan after that.  His record the following 3 seasons was 12-19, 15-14 (NIT) & 10-18.  On top of that, the Ed Martin case was blowing up as the Feds got involved busting a numbers game racket involving Martin and workers at auto plants.  Records showed Martin had laundered that money through Michigan basketball players.  Among those were Webber and Traylor.  Webber would eventually admit to it but lied under oath originally.  As it turned out, Martin had been funnelling money to Webber and Traylor dating back to their middle school days.  Martin had also received perks such as hotel rooms and tickets.

Michigan would lose scholarships, 4 in total and were placed on probation and were ineligible for post-season play in 2002-03, which would be the only time pre-John Beilein they had a winning conference record under Tommy Amaker who replaced Ellerbe in 2001-02.  The rest of the decade was not kind to Michigan as they tried to work their way out from under sanctions.

Amaker had some success at Seton Hall before taking the Michigan job but never was able to get over .500 in the conference.  He would win the NIT title in 2004 and were runner-ups again in 2006 but never reached the Big Dance.  Despite the anger of Jay Bilas, Amaker was removed following the 2007 season.  Enter John Beilein.

Beilein has been successful at Canisius, Richmond & West Virginia before arriving in Ann Arbor.  His first year was a bust, finishing 10-22 (5-13).  A year later, Michigan returned to the NCAA tournament finishing 21-14 (9-9) making it into the 2nd round.  They took a step back a year later despite ranking 15th in the pre-season polls.  They finished that year 15-17.  They made it back to the dance in 2011, taking Duke to the final horn of the 2nd round but team MVP Darius Morris would declare early for the NBA. 

Morris was the PG and Michigan would be replacing him with Mr. Ohio PG, Trey Burke.  Burke was a 4 star recruit and Top 100 recruit but no one expected him to have the impact he would.  Burke won the B1G Frosh of the Year and led Michigan to a share of their 1st B1G title in decades.  The euphoria was short-lived as Michigan was upset by Ohio in the 1stround of the tournament but the future was bright as Michigan had landed their best recruiting class since the days of the....Fab 5.  And now, they are playing for a national championship on Monday.

20 years ago, Michigan was a basketball power.  Within a decade, they had bottomed out and it would take another decade to re-establish themselves as a national title contender and a school that mattered in hoops.  It's been a bumpy, embarrassing at times and slow climb back to respectibility and now this.  In a week, the school can again have contact with Chris Webber.  As part of their penalties in 2002, they had to cease relations with Webber & Traylor for a dceade, with Webber geting an extra year.  The ill-fated timeout to a chance to play for a title.  A 20-year odyssey Michigan fans would probably like to forget but could end in a title.

The State of Officiating in College Basketball

If we want to be outraged by the awful jump ball call made by the incompetent Karl Hess, then let's be outraged by the equally odious charge call on Brandon Triche at the end of the Syracuse-Michigan game.  I know it didn't involve an "underdog" but it was as equally bad.

Seth Davis likes to say the charge call is called wrong all the time (I contend 90% of charges are blocks) because coaches (Think, Big Ten) want it called that way, rewarding guys who are willing to sacrifice themselves on defense.  It's part of the reason offense is as bad as it is.  No, it's not the primary reason but it's part of it. 

Jordan Morgan was sliding into position after Triche had left the ground.  On top of it, Morgan wasn't set.  Heels have to be down.  Watch replays on Monday night of any charge call, I'm willing to bet they'll almost all be wrong.  The only ones that get called right are when post players lead with their shoulder into the defender.

Ultimtaley, Syracuse still had an opportunity to win or at least force overtime and they couldn't execute.  Despite trying to lose, Michigan earned that win in the end by playing solid defense and getting contributions from their much maligned bench.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

I feel bad.

For Wichita State. That was the quickest jump ball call I have ever seen. Not to be all conspiracy theory but did the Kevin Ware story influence that call?

Speaking of conspiracy - does either Brian or Kurly care to opine on the Ed Rush story?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Final Four: The Picks and Other Things

When the brackets came out on St. Patrick's Day, the first team listed was the overall number one seed, Louisville.  As we made our way through the drawn out process of filling the field and getting the matchups, Michigan and Syracuse came up as four seeds.  There wasn't much outrage about those teams.  Syracuse limped into the Big East tournament and then was torched by Louisville in the final 15 minutes of the Big East title game.  Michigan lost to lowly Penn State late in the B1G season and got torched by a bad-shooting Wisconsin team in the second half of the B1G quarters.  Finally, Wichita State got a 9-seed after finishing 2nd in the Missouri Valley.  Again, it's what they earned having some bad losses on their resumes.

Now, here we are heading into Final 4 weekend and these are the 4 teams.  One team that has passed the eye test from the beginning even with their early hiccups in the Big East and 3 teams, that quite honestly, have looked like the 3 other best teams of this tournament.

The early tilt is Louisville-Wichita State.  KenPom predictor has them the Cardinals a 10-point favorite with an 83% win probability.  Without looking, I'd say if the Shockers were to pull off an upset, it'd be one of the great upsets in Final 4 history.  As we know, the West bracket broke wide open, one of the reasons being Wichita's upset of Gonzaga.  But Nic Reiner has an interesting blog post up at KenPom anout how difficult Wichita State's run was through the West.  Wichita State beat 3 top 12 KenPom teams on their way to Atlanta.  Now, I argue Pitt wasn't as good as the computer numbers say.  I'll let smarter people tell me I'm wrong but the run and busted bracket in the West was a Wichita State doing in large part.

As for Louisville, they haven't had the toughest jaunt thus far but they've looked very impressive in getting to Atlanta.  They destroyed a good Colorado State team and beat Oregon in the Sweet 16 by jumping out early and grinding out a workmanlike win in a game that was never in doubt.  Like Wichita State, they were able to avoid a 4 or 5 in the Sweet 16.  In the regional final, they tussled with Duke for about 25 minutes before running them off the court in one of the most impressive regional final showings in years.

Wichita State has been shooting the ball very well from deep in this run, bombing Gonzaga and then doing the same to Ohio State.  Entering the tournament, the Shockers were 174th in the nation in shooting the 3.  Louisville defends the 3 pretty well amongst the many things they do well on defense.  Typically, Wichita State protects the ball but so did Colorado State.  For the Shockers to have any chance at the upset, they'll have to make Louisville beat them in the half court.  If Duke couldn't do it, I don't know how Wichita State does it.

The Pick:  Louisville 74  Wichita State 57

The late game pits Syracuse against Michigan.  On New Year's Day of this year, you could have seen this.  On March 1st, not so much but here we are.  And both teams have looked really good getting here.  Syracuse has done it on the defensive end.  First, they limited Montana to 34 points and then shut down Allen Crabbe and California.  On the second weekend, they stifled one of the nation's best offenses in Indiana and embarrassed Marquette into their worst offensive performance in years.  Their length and athleticism is freakish.  They force teams to shoot 3's and teams shoot 40% of their shots that way but only make 28%.  Marquette shot 25 3's last Saturday.  They made 3.  Syracuse has been dictating your shot selection this dance.

On the flip side has been Michigan.  The Wolverines biggest question all season has been their defense.  They're 35th in AdjustedD, so it's not as if they're deficient on defense but it's still a concern.  In the tournament, they whipped South Dakota State and then ran all over VCU.  For 37 minutes, it looked like Kansas would knock them off but in one of those great seminal March moments, Trey Burke became a March legend as the Wolverines erased an 8-point lead in the final 1:25 and won in overtime.  On Sunday, Michigan waxed Florida behind Nik Stauskas rainbow jumpers and a brilliant defensive performance.

In 2010, Syracuse beat Michigan 53-51.  That dropped John Beilein's record against Jim Boeheim to 0-10.  Mitch McGary has been incredibly active in this run and Syracuse has a problem on the defensive glass.  If McGary can stay out of foul trouble and remain active on the offensive glass, it'll give the Orange fits, think Davante Gardner at the BMOHarris BC.  I think the other matchup to watch will be Trey Burke against Michael Carter-Williams.  MCW has been very impressive for Syracuse since the start of the Big East tournament but is prone to occassional moments of bone-headed plays.  Burke typically isn't.  Michigan will also have to harass James Southerland.  Teams get 3's off against Michigan even if  they don't make a ton against them.  Southerland is a different beast from deep than any the Wolverines have seen. 

Syracuse has been so good at disrupting good looks yet teams have been trying to make 3's against them in March.  Part of it is decisiveness by the offensive players.  Michigan has shooters in Burke, Stauskas and Hardaway that catch and shoot.  Of course, they have to make but if they don't, an active big man can get them some cheap buckets on rebounds.  On defense, they need to harass Southerland and clean the glass.  Syracuse is a great offensive rebounding team.  It's their strongest attribute on offense.  Michigan is good, not great on the defensive glass.  This is a toss-up.  KenPom has Michigan by 1 but it's basically 50/50.

The Pick:  Syracuse 67 Michigan 65