Friday, March 30, 2007

Most Memorable Semifinal Games Since 1979, Part II

This entry is cross-posted at TNR's blog, Posting Up:

We’re now down to about 24 hours before tip-off for the National Semifinal games.

Just as a reminder, this list is only for semifinal games, not Championship games. So no Jimmy V looking for someone to hug, no Keith Smart from the corner, no Mateen Cleaves dancing (although that looks like the start of another list...)

The list also begins in 1979, the year of the Bird-Magic final. That year’s Final Four was memorable for other reasons, as it featured not one, but two Cinderellas (Bird’s Indiana State, although a #1 seed, was from a mid-major conference; and #9 Penn), as well as another team (DePaul) that looked as though it was on the verge of becoming the dominant force in college basketball in the early 1980s. With Mark Aguirre (who was the NBA’s #1 overall pick in 1981) and Terry Cummings (#2 overall in 1982), the Blue Demons were derailed by UCLA in 1980 (UCLA eventually played in the National Championship that year), and then stunned by St. Joseph’s in 1981 in an early round game – albeit underappreciated today – that surely ranks among the greatest upsets in NCAA history.

Without further ado, Numbers 5 through 1:

5. (#1) Indiana 97 / (#1) UNLV 93 (1987)

Despite having one of the best shooters in the game (Steve Alford), Indiana Coach Bob Knight had been a vocal opponent of the 3-point line, which was introduced that year. No one adapted faster to the new rule faster than UNLV (37-1 going into the game), and the Rebels hoisted 35 threes in the semis, including 10-for-19 from guard Freddie Banks (38 points). Armon Gilliam added 32, despite facing double-teams (Indiana essentially left UNLV guard Mark Wade unguarded, as he was a poor shooter); Wade, to his credit, handed out 18 assists, a tournament record.

Indiana only took four three-pointers, all by Alford (2-4, on his way to 33 points), and received unexpected help off the bench from a well-coiffed Steve Eyl. After the game Knight was unrepentant: "This game was a classic example of how much influence shooting now has on the game because they got 13 three-pointers and that was worth an extra 13 points. I believe basketball should involve passing and a lot of other things, not just coming down the court and throwing it in."

4. (#1) Michigan 81 / (#1) Kentucky 78 (OT) (1993)

A year removed from the heartbreak of the ‘Laettner game’, Kentucky’s Rick Pitino brought a hungry and talented team to New Orleans, with players such as Jamal Mashburn, Travis Ford, and Jared Prickett, and an average margin of victory of 31 in its four NCAA tournament games. But Michigan’s Fab Five – Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson –were not only one of the best recruiting classes ever, but a still-influential fashion statement: they invented – or at least widely popularized – the baggy-short-look for colleges.

Facing a double digit deficit with 14 minutes left, the Wildcats started pounding the ball to Mashburn, and eventually tied the game with 1:26 left in regulation. But when ‘Mash’ fouled out, Pitino had to mix-and-match lineups in the extra period; finally with four second left in the OT, and Michigan clinging to a 3-point lead, Webber made two straight deflections on in-bound plays, including a ‘heads-up’ second one from the baseline where he tipped the ball back towards mid-court, forcing a desperation heave by Kentucky’s Tony Delk that fell short.

But like Freddie Brown in 1982, Webber’s reputation as a crafty end-of-game player would last just 48 hours.

Interesting sidenote: the 1993 Final Four featured three #1s (Michigan, Kentucky, and UNC) and one #2 (Kansas) – the best ‘chalk’ ever.

3. 1984 (both games)

(#1) Georgetown 53 / (#1) Kentucky 40

At halftime, the budding Georgetown dynasty was at risk. The Hoyas had suffered through two scoring droughts of more than 5:00 minutes in the first half, trailed at one point 27-15, and more importantly, had their franchise center, Patrick Ewing, saddled with three personal fouls.

But coming out for the second half, it was Kentucky who went cold. The Cats went scoreless for the first 10 minutes of the second half, scored 2 points, then went another 7 minutes without another score. The whole crowd – including Georgetown fans – cheered when the Cats ended the worst drought in Final Four history.

Interesting sidenote: this game was only the second-biggest disaster that Kentucky’s Sam Bowie (was involved with during 1984, although he was only an innocent bystander in the June meltdown in Portland.

(#2) Houston 49 / (#7) Virginia 47 (OT)

Before there was a “Ewing Theory”, there was a “Sampson Theory.” In 1984, Virginia looked to be undergoing a rebuilding year, having lost 3-time college player-of-the-year Ralph Sampson to graduation the year before; but after going to just one Final Four with Sampson (in 1981), Othell Wilson took an undermanned and undersized team to the brink of the title game.

Houston’s Guy Lewis – the 80s coaching version of Dick Cheney – had seemingly learned nothing from his experience in 1983 (see below). The entire game was played at UVA’s slow, patient pace, despite Houston’s superior athleticism. In the last minute of regulation, the Cougars turned the ball over three times without a call of timeout, and barely escaped the NC State-esque ending. Georgetown would overpower Houston two nights later, however.

2. (#2) Duke 79 / (#1) UNLV 77 (1991)

A year removed from a 103-73 pasting in the Championship Game from the same Runnin’ Rebels (like Florida this year, the core of the UNLV team returned as defending champs), Duke ended a 45-game winning streak and ended talk of ‘greatest team of all time.’

UNLV had rolled through the regular season and the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament with an average victory margin of 29, and had rarely been involved in a tight game. And when point guard Greg Anthony fouled out late in the second half, the Rebels were suddenly rudderless in the closest game they had played in close to two years. Bobby Hurley, the slightest man on the court – and who, along with Christian Laettner, helped put the “detest” in “Duke” for many – belied his reputation (to that point) as a poor shooter by burying a huge 3-ball with a little over two minutes remaining to bring Duke within 2. Brian Davis then gave Duke the lead, with a conventional three-point play, and the UNLV reign ended in a haze of missed foul-shots (Larry Johnson went 1-3 from the line), and a botched last-second ‘play.’

Two nights later, the Blue Devils escaped the can’t-win-the-big-one tag by beating Kansas for the National Championship. A year later they repeated, a feat that the Gators are seeking to match in Atlanta.

1. (#1) Houston 94 / (#1) Louisville 81 (1983)

Phi Sla(m)ma Ja(m)ma vs. the Doctors of Dunk. Thought to be the ‘real’ championship game (especially since the other semifinal featured two low seeds (#6 NC State vs. #4 Georgia).

And the game delivered. Referee Hank Nichols calls the game “The Blitzkrieg.” At one point, there were 11 dunks in 14 minutes. A note that was passed down press row during the game: “Welcome to the 21st Century.”

An end-to-end game in a real college gym (not a dome) that featured (H)Akeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Michael Young, Larry Micheaux, and Alvin Franklin for Houston and Milt Wagner, Rodney McCrae, Scooter McCrae, Billy Thompson (one of the first ‘super frosh’), and Lancaster Gordon for Louisville.

When Houston’s sixth man, Benny (called “The Outlaw”, but who would have fit in on the Jackson’s Victory tour) Anders, was asked, in the post-game interview room, about “one of the dunks” he had to ask, “which one?”

Of course, earlier in the season Anders had said, “I like the dunk. It’s a high percentage shot.”

This is a must-Tivo on ESPN Classic, if you have the opportunity.

Interesting sidenote #1: Houston starter Micheaux fouled out with 13:28 left because Guy Lewis didn’t know he had four fouls; two nights later in the final against NC State, Lewis made the same mistake when Drexler picked up his fourth foul with 2:38 left in the first half!

Interesting sidenote #2: In her story after the NC State victory in the final, then-Boston Globe reporter Lesley Visser asked rhetorically about Lewis’ decision to slow the pace midway in the second half:
Why, they asked, did Houston coach Guy Lewis, a man who had coached for 27 years, signal for a stall when the team led by seven points with 10 minutes left? Or, as one coach said in a bar after the game, "Ninety-thousand dollars of recruiting on the floor and he has them play like Princeton.

Interesting Sidenote #3: The toughest of all of the Cougars, Larry (“Mr. Mean”) Micheaux is now a high school teacher in Stafford, Texas. You never know.

I couldn’t include every great game, or memorable moment in this list. A few that ‘just missed’: Duke 81 / Indiana 78 (1992), Coach K vs. Bob Knight (“The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.”); or Duke 70 / Florida 65 (1994), giving Grant Hill the chance to win three titles; or Kentucky 86 / Stanford 85 (OT) (1998). And of course, without semifinal wins like NC State over Georgia in 1983, or Villanova over Memphis State in 1985, the memories of those respective Finals would have a different flavor.

But here’s hoping that this weekend’s games add a few more memories to this list.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Most Memorable Semifinal Games Since 1979

This entry is cross-posted on TNR's site, Posting Up:

This weekend’s games hold the potential to be the best ‘Final Four’ games – i.e., National Semifinals – in many years. Two #1 seeds (Florida and Ohio State) face two #2 seeds (UCLA and Georgetown), and both games offer intriguing storylines (e.g. http://infrematch of last year’s title game in FLA/UCLA, two big-men face off in Ohio State/Georgetown).

With about 48 hours remaining until tip-off, I thought I might propose a modest list: Most Memorable Final Four (i.e., National Semifinal) Games, since 1979.

Why 1979? It’s arguably the start of the modern era, with the Bird/Magic final. (That’s still the highest rated TV game, and also – and perhaps not coincidentally -- the first college game I remember watching.)

And that game was the start of March Madness, as we now know it.
Without further ado:

10. (#1) Georgetown 50 / (#3) Louisville 46 (1982)

Although a defensive struggle, this National Semifinal marked the arrival of Patrick Ewing (then a freshman), Georgetown, and the Big East Conference on the national basketball scene. In four years, Ewing’s Hoyas would go to three Finals, and win one; the two defeats in the Finals would be by a total of 3 points.

Interesting sidelight: the MVP (as chosen by CBS) for Georgetown in this game was Freddie Brown. His 15 minutes of fame lasted just 48 hours.

9.(#11) George Mason 58 / (#3) Florida 73 (2006)

The clock finally struck midnight for Cinderella. But the Patriots, as they had through their entire tournament run, battled; after falling behind early (16-6), they went on a run and cut the lead to 31-26 at halftime. But Gator sharpshooter Lee Humphrey (look for him on Saturday) started the second half with three straight three-pointers, and Noah, Horford, and Brewer got untracked. The #11 seed never recovered.

8. (#3) Michigan 83 / (#1) Illinois 81 (1989)

The 31-5 Flyin’ Illini had been near the top of the national rankings for a good part of the season, and featured future NBA first round draftees in Kendall Gill (#5 pick), Nick Anderson (#11), and Kenny Battle (#27), along with sixth man (and high school legend) Marcus Liberty. Michigan featured future NBA players such as Rumeal Robinson, Loy Vaught, and Glen Rice.

With the score tied late in a back-and-forth game, Michigan’s Terry Mills missed a long jumper, but on the weak side, Sean Higgins followed-up with 0:01 left, and “Michigan man” Steve Fisher moved to a (then) career record of 5-0; somewhere Bo Schembechler is smiling at the memory.

7. (#1) Georgetown 77 / (#1) St. John’s 59 (1985)

Although a dominating performance by the Hoyas made the result a foregone conclusion well before the final horn, the lead-up to the game was enormous. #2, and St. John’s had beaten the then-previously-undefeated Hoyas earlier in the season in the Capital (DC) Center. That win was part of a long St. John’s streak that began when Coach Lou Carnesecca wore on an ‘ugly Italian sweater’ that became his trademark.

In late February, on the Hoyas’ return trip to Madison Square Garden, Georgetown coach John Thompson put on a replica of Carnesecca’s sweater under his suit coat, and opened it up to the crowd just before tipoff; the Hoyas won that night, as well.

Interesting sidenote: the Big East had placed three teams in the Final Four in 1985 (Georgetown, St. John’s, and Villanova), a feat not since equaled.

6. (#2) UConn 79 / (#1) Duke 78 (2004)

UConn jumped on Duke early, racing to a 15-4 lead. But the Blue Devils clawed back and eventually took an (seemingly) insurmountable lead of 75-67 lead with just 3 minutes left.

But to the horror of the Dookies everywhere, UConn went on final 12-0 run to drive a dull, splintery, wooden stake – metaphorically, of course – through Duke Nation’s collective heart.

(Numbers 1-5 coming tomorrow.)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

More on Packer

This entry was cross-posted on TNR's blog, Posting Up:

Classic Billy Packer moment last night: Late in the UNC game, CBS ran a replay that showed that Georgetown's Jeff Green traveled not once, but twice, on the score with 2.5 seconds left (once when he lifted his right foot while pivoting, once again when he lifted it as he stepped through to shoot). Packer, who had not raised the travel issue at all while calling the game, responded by saying that (a) he wasn't sure that there was any travel, and (b) he would have to check with (head of officials) Hank Nichols to be sure.

UNC's comeback was surprising, but not stunning. While USC was much quicker and more athletic, UNC coach Roy Williams kept changing lineups in search of the right combination, and also wearing USC down. When Taj Gibson went off the floor with his fourth foul, USC went through almost 8 minutes without scoring; but with the shots that USC was taking (off-balance, long range), there was no reason for them to go in.

Picks for the weekend: UCLA, Memphis, Georgetown, and Florida.

--Matthew Henshon

Friday, March 23, 2007

Missed Layups and College Players

This entry is cross-posted on TNR's web site, Posting Up:

From the first day a child picks up a basketball, he or she is taught how to shoot a layup. It's the simplest shot in the game, just flip the ball up on the box, and let it fall into the hoop.

For Southern Illinois, and then a few minutes later (and several hundred miles away) for Texas A&M, missed layups meant the difference (in all likelihood) between going to the Elite Eight and going home. For SIU, Brian Mullins made a terrific steal with 2:20 left, went down the floor, but short-armed a tough layup, and teammate Jamaal Tatum was unable to follow-up the miss. For the Aggies, it was star Acie Law IV who, on a homerun pass against a full-court press with 40 seconds left, also missed a layup on the short side.

While it is impossible to have a 40-minute, very competitive game hinge on a single play (and therefore, impossible to "blame" any single player for the loss), in both cases, the fatigue, pressure, and defense (both were contested layups) proved to be too much.

The Salukis definitely impressed in the first game. Facing a squad filled with McDonald's All-Americans and future lottery picks, SIU proved the value of tough, gritty, resourceful college players--rather than a collection of pro prospects. Although Kansas moved on in the draw--and surely impressed more NBA scouts--I am sure that Kansas Coach Bill Self will not be anxious to face such a formidable mid-major squad again anytime soon.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

We're Number...66!

This entry is cross-posted on TNR's blog, Posting Up:

Only two teams will finish the college basketball season on winning streaks: one will be the NCAA champion, the other the NIT champion (actually, a handful of others, like some of the Ivy teams with no conference tournament, could also end the year with a win). A few notes about the NIT, while waiting for tip-off of the Sweet Sixteen games tonight:

-- Since the expansion to 64 teams, all four #1 seeds have never reached the NCAA Final Four. But next week, all four #1 seeds will be in the NIT semifinals. Something to think about if you, like Richard, have the "chalk" this weekend.

-- The Clemson/Air Force semifinal next Tuesday will pit two teams that just missed the NCAA's and are looking for post-season redemption: Clemson started the year 17-0 before faltering and going 4-10. Air Force started 17-1, and ended the year on a four-game losing streak.

-- Finally, Air Force coach Jeff Bzdelik may be involved in a game of musical chairs in the mountains. (Other open jobs in the region include Colorado State, Utah, and Wyoming.) Colorado is interested in talking with Bzdelik for their open job, and former Air Force coach Joe Scott left Princeton to accept the University of Denver job yesterday. Best of luck to Coach Scott and his family in the Mile High City.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Some New Questions... And Some Answers

This entry is cross-posted on TNR's blog, Posting Up:

So we all agree that the ACC is overrated and the PAC-10 got a raw deal this year.

But to paraphrase a keen observer of the human condition--Rowdy Roddy Piper--now that we know some of the answers, it's time to change the questions.

And the new questions are: Who has had the best--and worst--March Madness so far?


-- NCAA Selection Committee. Drexel and Syracuse snubs are distant memories. The chalk rules every region, excepting only UNLV (mis-seeded at #7) and Vandy (#6).

-- Anthony Grant. Coach of VCU knocked out everyone's favorite ACC whipping-boy in Round One, took Big East beast Pitt to OT in Round Two, and made some extra spending money in the process. Comes from the Pitino-coaching-family (via Florida's Billy Donovan), and may not finish his first year as coach of VCU.

-- Texas A&M. Got through tougher-than-expected Penn, beat virtual home team Louisville, and head back to the friendly Alamodome (don't be surprised to see George H.W. Bush or Defense Secretary Bob Gates in the crowd shots). Memphis is a tough 2-seed, but Chris Douglas-Roberts is questionable, and #1 Ohio State looks vulnerable. The Aggies were a trendy Final Four pick a week ago, but this time, the Conventional Wisdom may be right.


-- CBS. No memorable buzzer-beaters, no major upsets, no Duke. Sure, there were some overtime games on Saturday, but is it worth paying $6B over 11 years to promote 'How I Met Your Mother'?

-- Kevin Durant. How can we have a coming-out-party when the guest-of-honor is MIA? To be fair, scouts, recruiters, and insiders have been up on Durant for a while--he was the #2 prospect a year ago (after OSU's Greg Oden), but this was this quietest college exit by a future NBA star since Indiana took UNC out of the Sweet Sixteen in 1984.

-- Sons of famous coaches. Sean Sutton's season at Oklahoma State included a brief ranking at #9 and ended with a home loss to Marist in the NIT. UNLV's Kevin Kruger took some heat after an 0-for-8 from the field in a First Round game, but to his credit, bounced back with 16 points (including 3 straight 3-pointers in the second half) in the second round win over Wisconsin. Unlike Kruger, Sutton has to wait six months to get another chance.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Round of 32 Thoughts

This entry is cross-posted at TNR's blog, Posting Up:

The Round of 32 is now over, and all but one ACC team has been sent home. While UNC is a definite threat to go to the Final Four, if not win it all, 2007 has not been a banner year for the conference that likes to consider itself the best in the country.

John: hoped you noticed that Tennessee's JaJuan Smith took your advice. With 2:32 left and the Vols clinging to a 64-62 lead over UVa, Smith launched from the top of the key--and banked(!) home a three-pointer. While Chris Lofton's free throws ultimately were the difference, Smith's bomb was critical.

Finally, a ranking of all how all four #1 seeds looked during Rounds 1 & 2 as we move towards the Sweet Sixteen:

1. Florida -- Put the hammer down on Jackson State, squeezed the life out of Purdue at crunch time. Seem to be able to turn it up when they need to. To beat the champ, you must knock him out.

2. Kansas -- Niagara's dream ended quickly. Jayhawks outclassed Kentucky all over the floor. That's not a typo.

3. UNC -- Unbelievably deep and athletic, but the big run by Eastern Kentucky and the fact that a thin Michigan State had them on the ropes at the 8:00 TV timeout raise some questions. Also, what happens if Hansbrough has foul problems (e.g. gets called for bowling people over near the hoop.)

4. The Ohio State University -- barely escaped the X-men. Can they stay this lucky?

Friendly's Update

Front page article in Globe today on the status of Friendly's, and the deteriorating relationship between co-founders and brothers Pres and Curtis Blake. The current management of the company has engaged Goldman Sachs to consider selling it, but at the same time has reached out to Curtis Blake to have him convince his older brother not to vote his shares with a hedge fund that has a significant position:

After meeting with the executives for a few hours at his home, the younger Blake the next morning faxed a handwritten, five-page letter to his older brother. The siblings, who started Friendly's during the Great Depression, live just 12 miles apart but haven't spoken to each other in more than a year because of a falling-out over the business. But Curtis broke the silence to protect Friendly's from what he called "a corporate raider."

"Our company is now in a very precarious position," Curtis wrote in January. "You alone are now in the position to control the entire future"...

"I'm sorry my brother isn't with me on this," Prestley said, "but I'm going to keep going because I know I'm right. I'm going to keep going until I can't go any further."

Said Curtis: "I'm very disappointed. He was my best friend for 85 years. It would have been a nice story if we ended up best friends for our entire life."

Early North Jersey Industrial Skyline...

This entry is cross-posted on TNR's site, Posting Up.

Kudos to Richard for anticipating the zone that BC threw at G-town this evening. Until JTIII was able to settle down the Hoyas down and have them administer a big dose of Roy Hibbert on the low block, the Eagles looked as though they were in control. Georgetown moved on to East Rutherford, but they will undoubtedly see more zone in the rest of the Tournament; an opponent with a larger inside presence might have been able to hold off the Hoyas.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Second Round Saturday

This entry is cross-posted on TNR's blog, Posting Up:

John's questions about officiating are fair--the foul sending Greg Oden with a minute left in regulation was a critical call, but did not seem to be a lot of contact. Oden's fifth could have been called an intentional foul, which would have probably sealed it for Xavier in regulation.

All that being said, OSU responded without Oden in the OT, and they seemed to be a sleeker, and in some ways, a more dangerous team when he was on the bench. The comeback (from down 9 with 2:54 left in regulation) was also a huge confidence-builder for a young (albeit talented) team.

The OSU performance will bring out all of the questions about the Big 10 (and I, for one, am not sold on #2 Wisconsin, by a long shot.) But tonight's game against Michigan State could be a trap game for UNC. If the Spartans can withstand the inevitable runs, and shorten the game, I would not be surprised to see another #1 seed in trouble...

Finally, thinking of the N17 on this 17th of March, and an old school addition to Jason's Separated at Birth: Syracuse's Marty Headd.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday Afternoon Late Update

This entry is cross-posted on TNR's blog, Posting Up.

Wisconsin survived a stern challenge from #15 Texas A&M--CC. The Badgers were probably the beneficiaries of the "pod" system, as it sounded as though they had extensive support in Chicago (a Big Ten city).

Nevada survived an overtime game with Creighton despite losing Nick Fazekas to fouls with 3 minutes left in the extra period. For a second there, it looked like we were going to see an Adam Morrison moment, but Fazekas, and the Wolf Pack, regained their composure.

Friday Afternoon Thoughts

This entry is cross-posted on TNR's site, Posting Up:

-- UNLV eliminated GA Tech a little while ago. Bad end-of-game for GA Tech, which ran out of timeouts with 2:19 left, and proceeded to allow UNLV to outhustle them for 3 straight offensive rebounds on a possession with about a minute left and score tied. Positive of the game: Billy Packer was obligated to congratulate Mountain West's Rebs at the expense of the ACC. Another mid-major moves on.

-- Quick addition to Josh's laugh-out-loud-funny post from Monday:

Alberto Gonzales Method: Make picks normally. Obtain numbers for court-side phones for each Tournament site. If one of your picks is losing, call court-side phone during TV timeouts to 'check in' on officials. If losing at halftime, utilize little known provision of USA Patriot Act to replace entire officiating crew.

The Georgetown Offense and First Day Thoughts

This entry is cross-posted on TNR's blog, Posting Up:

Richard makes a number of good observations on Georgetown's adaptation of the "Princeton offense."

John Thompson III has taken the principles of what he learned at Princeton, both as a player and coach, and has shown that he will allow flexibility within the 'system' to take advantage of the skills of his individual players (e.g., Will Venable at Princeton, son of former MLB player Max Venable; Jeff Green at Georgetown). The result has been a team that is fun to watch and is very efficient at scoring (#1 in Adjusted Efficiency according to stat maven Ken Pomeroy). (Full disclosure: I have known JTIII for close to 20 years; when I was freshman, he was a senior, and I spent of most of that year's practices chasing him around.)

As far as playing zone, it does make the motion part of the offense more difficult to run. However, long shots produce long rebounds, and if Roy Hibbert and/or DaJuan Summers get on the offensive boards, my guess is that Coach Skinner won't stay in a zone for long.

A few other thoughts from Day One:

-- Although we were warned about Texas Tech, I was surprised at how meekly they went out yesterday. The key play was with BC leading, 72-70, Tyrese Rice got loose on a backdoor, blew the layup, chased down the rebound (despite three red jerseys), and then laid the ball back in, without anyone 'putting a helmet' on him. Is Bob Knight still coaching the Red Raiders?

-- Two huge runs by big underdogs: #14 Penn had a 21-6 run to open the second half and briefly take the lead over #3 Texas A&M at 39-37; and #16 Eastern Kentucky closed a 27 point deficit to 4 with just over 16 minutes left against #1 UNC. Both favorites won, but not impressively, especially for those of you who have both teams going to the Final Four.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Shoot-Arounds Part 2

Cross-posted on TNR's blog, Posting Up:

Ben raises a number of questions. Here are some thoughts:

--Preparation Doesn’t Begin on Selection Sunday.

Coach Carril was focused on small details. For instance, from the first day of practice in October, he would say, over and over, “throw it to him right.”

What he meant by this was, when you are passing to an open teammate (and if he was open, the ball was expected to go to him), the ball needed to be delivered so that he could be ready to make a play, and not have to reach across his body or jump to catch it. In other words, the ball needed to be delivered into an area above the waist, and on his correct (shooting) side, so your teammate could step naturally into his shot, even if he elected not to do so (because it was “too early” in the shot clock, for instance.)

If the ball were too high, or on your teammate’s non-shooting side, he may be able to catch it, but in doing so, the defender could recover, and what had been an open shot opportunity would become, at best, an off-balance or contested one. Focusing on the details like ‘throwing-it-right’ mattered when you were practicing because it mattered when you were playing a game; and it certainly mattered when you were playing a faster, more athletic opponent.

Will such a small detail make any difference? Maybe, if the game is close and you have a chance at the end. But the point is that you have to be working on such a small detail all year, not just Tournament week.

Attention to details like this was one of Coach Carril’s philosophies; for more, you can read his book.

--A “Neutral” Crowd

When you play at a mid-major or small school, you often play elite Division I opponents early in the season, but the difference in the Tournament is that instead of playing these teams on their home floor (elite teams rarely want to play at a mid-major’s gym), you get a chance to play them on a more-or-less neutral floor.

If you are an underdog, that means that a “neutral” crowd will often get behind you. The truly neutral fans who are at the game generally pull for the underdog, or might have some other reason to root against the favorite, and because of the way the NCAA groups games together, the other fans in building (i.e. those whose teams either have just played, or are about to play) also have an interest in seeing Goliath (i.e., the High Seed) defeated; they’ll take their chances with you, the Low Seed, in the next round.

For example, in 1990, we played Arkansas on the home floor of the Texas Longhorns; the site was a lot closer to Fayetteville than Princeton. But at the time, both teams were bitter rivals in the old Southwest Conference (SWC), and Razorbacks Coach Nolan Richardson was about as popular in Austin as a vegetarian at a cattle ranchers’ convention. Of the thousands of people in the arena that night, most were pulling for an upset by the end of the game. (Arkansas won, 68-64, and eventually went to the Final Four that year.)

That being said, the NCAA changed the seeding system a few years ago to the current “pod” system, which protects the highest seeds from the vagaries of a “neutral” crowd. But watch what happens this week if #13-seed Albany plays well in Columbus, OH against UVa, or if Davidson (also a #13) looks good against Maryland in Buffalo.

--Play the First Round, First

Finally, Ben asked about how a Low Seed treats the reality of its slim chances to win. As last season showed with George Mason (an #11 seed; the Ivy champ has been at least as high as an #11-seed four times in the last decade), a mid-major or small school doesn’t have to win the national championship to have a successful tournament. If you are playing well – and by definition, you need to play well to have any chance to beat a High Seed in the First Round -- anything can happen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


This entry is cross-posted at the TNR blog, Posting Up:

If you really want to 'go the extra mile' to prepare your brackets, and live near a town hosting a First Round Thursday site like Winston-Salem or Lexington, today's the day to watch the 'shoot-arounds' that the NCAA coordinates for each team that is going to play tomorrow.

The shoot-around, a light workout that is open to the public, is designed to familiarize teams with the facility, the dressing areas, and the shooting background. (Most teams will have a regular workout elsewhere that is closed to press and public.)

For players going to the tournament for the first time, especially those from small or mid-major conferences, the shoot-around will also be the first glimpse of the media hype that will surround all the games--A/V cables and klieg lights will be everywhere, and the seating section for the print media alone can be larger than many high school gyms. Security won't let anyone near the floor without the proper 'pin' or credentials.

In 1991, Princeton played a First Round game against Villanova at the cavernous Carrier Dome in Syracuse. While our home gym was dome-shaped, its maximum capacity is about 8,500 (with temporary bleachers); the Carrier Dome can hold more than 33,000 for basketball, and close to 50,000 for football. (In the preceding two years, we had played NCAA games in two facilities that at the time seated about 14,000 each--the Providence Civic Center (now the Dunkin' Donuts Center) and the Erwin Center in Austin, Texas).

Unfortunately, 'Nova beat us the next night, 50-48, on a basket with 0.7 seconds left.

Repeat Trips to the Final Four

This piece is cross-posted on TNR's site, Posting Up:

If you are finalizing your Bracket, are down to picking a winner, and don't want to rely exclusively on Richard's system, you might take note of the fact that since 2000, no coach has won the Final Four without having taken a team there previously.(In 2000, champion Michigan State's coach Tom Izzo had taken a team the previous season; in 2001, Duke's Coach K had been multiple times, most recently in 1999; in 2002, Maryland's Gary Williams had been the year before; in 2003, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim had been in 1987 and 1996; in 2004, UConn's Jim Calhoun had been in 1999 (where he won in his first trip); in 2005, UNC's Roy Williams had been (with Kansas) most recently in 2003; and in 2006, Florida's Billy Donovan had been in 2000.)

When you think about it, it's not that surprising. With all of the hype and hoopla surrounding a Final Four, a coach who has been there before might be expected to be able to keep his team focused through Monday night.

So as you review your selections, keep in mind that among this year's #1 seeds, Thad Matta of Ohio State and Bill Self of Kansas have never coached a team to the Final Four.

On the other hand, while #2-seed Georgetown's John Thompson III has never been himself, his father (with whom JTIII remains close) went to three Final Fours in the early 1980s, including a victory on "Big John's" second trip in 1984.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Middies and Other Charms

This piece is cross-posted on TNR's blog, Posting Up.

A few follow-ups on "Middies":

-- The Conference-USA observation made by reader T.M. is a fair one. However, CBS apparently considered C-USA to be a "mid-major" for its calculations, and my post was as much about the internal CBS discrepancy between Seth Davis and Billy Packer as anything else.

-- While the Mid-Majors received 6 bids this year, that total could have been lower. If Nevada and Xavier had not lost in their respective conference tournaments, New Mexico State and George Washington would not have gotten in, leaving 4 Mid-Majors. Even if one assumes the next two teams in would have been Syracuse and Drexel, it still would have meant a total of just five "middies", which is down from the eight in 2006. (It should also be noted that seeing as many observers have concluded that the Committee made a large mistake in leaving Drexel out, it's hard to know for sure if the Committee would have gotten it "right" if they had had one or two more at-large slots.)

Before getting ready for tonight's game, two things I miss about the "old" Tournament:

-- Before the Tournament went to the full 64-team field, there were a variety of Preliminary Round and/or First Round games, so you could have a situation where 12th-seeded Richmond in 1984 had to win 2 games (over Rider, and then Auburn) before playing 4th-seeded Indiana, who had received two successive "byes." Confusing and "charming"? Yes. Fair? Not-so-much.

-- More recently, a Monday-morning-before-the-Tourney tradition was to pick up a copy of USA Today,which had (and presumably still has) a pull-out section devoted to the Tournament, with a lengthy capsule on all 64 teams. (Others must have had the same idea, because one year I didn't get to the newsstand until lunchtime, only to find all copies of USAT gone.) For many years, it was an introduction to, let's say, the Southland Conference champion. But in today's world of the "Internets," waiting until the day before the Tournament begins seems way too long, and info the projected field is available from the first day of the season from a wide variety of sources. If you're just focusing on evaluating the Southland champ (BTW, it's Texas A&M-CC) this morning, you're way behind the rest of your office pool!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dripping Water 4

The retirement of Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley was announced this morning. Kiley was the commanding officer at Walter Reed from 2002 to 2004.

Mid-Major, Go Home?

The following is co-posted on TNR's March Madness blog, Posting Up:

CBS needs to make up its mind about how it feels about mid-major schools in the NCAA Tournament. CBS paid $6 billion in 1999 to extend its then-current contract with the NCAA to broadcast the tournament for 11 more years, or until 2014.

A year ago, controversy erupted during the Selection Show when CBS color commentator Billy Packer challenged then-Selection Committee chair Craig Littlepage over the inclusion of so many mid-majors, including the Colonial Athletic Association's George Mason University. Packer, who played and coached for Wake Forest of the ACC, cited the poor record of the CAA and the Missouri Valley Conference in the preceding years, in contrast to power teams like Cincinnati and Florida State, that were omitted from the 2006 event. (Packer had previously raised the ire of mid-major fans with his criticism of St. Joseph's #1 seed in 2004.)

Littlepage responded after the show by citing Packer's own admission that he had seen few of the mid-major teams actually play that year, and was relying on past performance. Littlepage remarked, "Facts, instead of opinions, would be helpful." Packer, of course, ended up calling the Final Four games that included George Mason, the lowest-seeded team to make it in twenty years.

This year, CBS turned to facts. About halfway through the Selection Show last night, the following graphic flashed:

Number of Mid-Major At-Large Bids Awarded:

2003 10
2004 12
2005 9
2006 8
2007 6

As CBS commentator Seth Davis noted, the trendline since 2004 is down. More interestingly, Davis commented that the trend was bad for the Tournament, and bad for college basketball, because the Mid-Majors give the tournament its "charm."

There was a theory a year ago that the NCAA, having acquired the rights to the NIT in late 2005, would be tempted to send a power team, with its well-established fan base, to the lesser tournament and keep a few extra mid-majors in the NCAA mix. Despite the protestations of Packer--and to the chagrin of Davis--it appears that the rich keep getting richer in the NCAA tournament.

Or maybe the execs at CBS just believe that "any publicity is good publicity."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Must Viewing

John McSheffrey's op-ed (about watching the casket of a Iraq casualty being unloaded from his commercial flight) in today's Globe is powerful, but the effect of the accompanying photos (taken by McSheffrey with a camera-phone) is one example of why the on-line reading experience does not always measure up to the real-paper-and-newsprint. Here's hoping the Globe finds a way to get the photos on-line.

Late Update: The Globe has now placed at least one of McSheffrey's grainy -- but poignant -- photos on line with the story.

Friendly's For Sale?

Friendly's has apparently hired Goldman Sachs to advise them on possible options, including a possible sale. Perhaps in a related event, two hedge operators who own a sizable stake in the company sent a letter to shareholders, as highlighted by the Globe:
Meantime, on Tuesday Sardar Biglari , one of the firm's largest stockholders, sent a letter to other shareholders outlining his strategy to shake up the chain if he and business partner, Philip L. Cooley, win the two directors seats up for election at the company's annual meeting in May. He said the firm needs to convert more company-owned stores to franchises and curb executive compensation.

With founder Pres Blake's suit still pending, it seems likely that there will be more to come from this corporate story.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Bush and the Bottom

By almost any measure, President Bush's polling numbers are at historic lows. Real Clear Politics, which 'creates' its own poll by averaging the most recent published results, currently has Mr. Bush at an approval rating of 34.3%, based on polls measuring the period Feb 21 to March 1.

But with the (seemingly temporary) meltdown in world markets last Tuesday, and with the recent revision of Commerce Department figures indicating that growth in the fourth quarter was significantly slower than first reported, it begs the question of what the polling numbers would look like if the U.S. entered a recession, or worse.

To be sure, not many are predicting a recession. However, Alan Greenspan hinted at one on Monday (although he was apparently less alarmist than headline-writers such as those of the Associated Press, who wrote "Greenspan Warns of Likely U.S. Recession"), and even BusinessWeek admits that the next few weeks could "be a contest between recession-spooked worriers and stockpickers with visions of high-priced buyouts." Moreover, as Barron's Alan Abelson wrote:
The almost universal conviction is that Tuesday's plunge was not the start of a full-fledged bear market. Even the savviest sage we know, who has been unequivocally skeptical for a spell now, thinks the odds are against it being the start of a bear market. He reckons there's one more big move up likely and, after that, perhaps a few month hence, stock prices will begin their journey to the nether depths.

Perhaps. But we wonder. That virtually everyone agrees that Tuesday wasn't the start of a bear market strikes us as more than reason enough to suspect it just might be.

Courtesy:Bigpicture, as Barron's is Sub. Req.

(It should also be noted that a bear market does not equal a recession, as Prof. Paul Samuelson noted: "Wall Street indices predicted nine out of the last five recessions.")

As Mr. Bush's father famously knows, the American people tend to blame their president for recessions; but at 34%, how much more "blame" can Bush 43 be expected to withstand? And more ominously, what would further-reduced approval ratings do to Mr. Bush's standing both at home and abroad?

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Dripping Water 3

The Secretary of the Army, Francis J. Harvey, apparently resigned yesterday.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Romney on the Radio

Although there appear to be a dearth of references to it in the blogosphere, Mitt Romney had a positive/bio radio ad this morning on the Imus in the Morning Show on WTKK (96.9 FM). The station does have some reach into southern New Hampshire, and perhaps Romney's advisers are trying to counteract this recent NH poll:
McCain - 28 percent of likely New Hampshire voters
Giuliani - 27 percent.
Romney - 13 percent.

Source: WMUR/CNN

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Dripping Water 2

The head of the group of military hospitals that includes Walter Reed, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, has apparently been relieved of his command.

Dripping Water

VA Secretary Jim Nicholson (blogged earlier here) is not the only one in trouble over medical treatment for Iraq/Afghan vets. The Post reports this morning that:
But as far back as 2003, the commander of Walter Reed, Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, who is now the Army's top medical officer, was told that soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were languishing and lost on the grounds, according to interviews.

NFL's No. 1?

Discussion about the NFL draft centers around which quarterback will go first - LSU's JaMarcus Russell or Notre Dame's Brady Quinn. Quinn appears to be the more-finished product, although Russell has more "upside potential." SI's Peter King writes in the magazine this week:
The top of this draft looks a lot like 1998's. That year Washington State's Ryan Leaf was the big, strong guy with a great deep arm; Tennessee's Peyton Manning was the heady passer who hadn't won the big game in college. Manning went No. 1 to the Indianapolis Colts, Leaf No. 2 to the San Diego Chargers. Nine years later Manning sits atop the football world, and Leaf is a college golf coach in West Texas. "The repercussions of this pick will last for years," said Browns general manager Phil Savage. "You're picking a flavor, basically. Brady's probably the safer pick. He's been so well-schooled in every aspect of quarterback play, and we've had three or four years to evaluate him because he's played so much college football. And people in this league respect [Notre Dame] coach Charlie Weis. They'll listen to him about Brady. Maybe there's more upside with JaMarcus because he's so physically gifted. It's a tough call."

But a better analogy might be the 1993 draft, where the Patriots used the first pick to pick the bigger, stronger, Drew Bledsoe, and the Seahawks chose Notre Dame's Rick Mirer at #2.

While Bledsoe went to one Super Bowl by himself, and helped the Patriots get to Supe XXXVI, it's fair to say that he will ultimately be seen as a disappointment. Mirer, in contrast, lasted just 3+ years as a starter, and was a bust.