Monday, April 04, 2005

Championship Game Recap

(1) North Carolina 75 - (1) Illinois 70
Well so much for the conventional wisdom that big games do not live up to the hype. It started out as a North Carolina blowout and almost ended as another great Illinois comeback. Funny thing happened along the way, Steve Bartman stole a Luther Head pass with about a minute remaining to curse the Illini. OK maybe not, but you have to feel for Chicago sports fans. They have glory within their reach, ready to celebrate another great comeback and win a national title (heck win any title) and then it all slips away.

Well, enough with that, what happened in the game?

First things first, refereeing. Illini fans want me to say the refs were terrible, North Carolina fans don't want to hear anything of the sort. I do not believe the refs caused the Illini loss, I do believe Augustine pissed somebody off to get the treatment he did by the refs. That was not a difference maker in the game though.

Here is a question for you? How do you know when your team is taking way too many 3's? When you have a 3 on 1, Dee Brown driving and all you get off is a crummy 3 point shot. That play symbolizes why the Illini lost. They could not, no would not go inside. They had plenty of opportunities and had good success in the 2nd half when they went inside, they just pulled up their drives way too often. The guards were too afraid of blocked shots.

North Carolina on the other hand had great success on the inside, but did not pound the middle in the second half for some reason. That allowed the Illini to catch up and almost win.

If I would have told you before the game the Illini would have 8 more offensive rebounds than the Tar Heels, would you have thought that North Carolina would win? If I told you that the Illini would only shoot 38% would you have believed that the Illini would even be close?

The difference maker was turnovers. This is why I thought Carolina would lose, but guess what the Tar Heels only turned the ball over 10 times. That is why Carolina won. The Illini had 2 big runs, the first was in the beginning of the game which was fueled by turnovers, the second was around the midway point in the second half which was fueled by turnovers (and great 3 shooting). There were not enough turnovers to sink Carolina.

Give Carolina credit, they took it to the Illini early and never let them get ahead. They made the shots when they needed to and had the defense at the end of the game to shut down the Illini.

Championship Preview

How often in sports do you get the matchup that everyone expects and wants. (Well not everyone, but the majority anyways). This is it. This game has it all. #1 vs #2. An Illinois team that never won it all vs a coach who hasn't won it all. Conference bragging rights. The ACC and Big 10 are 2-2 in this tourney and the winner will give their conference the best overall tournament record. With that said onto the keys of the games.

Key 1: Foul Trouble. Louisville got Powell into foul trouble in the first half and he was ineffective. They could not duplicate that feat in the 2nd half and Powell took over the game. Powell almost always gets in foul trouble and North Carolina has to make it happen again. Illinois usually does not get teams into foul trouble, McCants would be the only candidate, but I don't see it happening.

Key 2: Defense. Illinois plays it, incredibly well. McCants does not. The rest of North Carolina defends OK. North Carolina needs a defensive effort like the second half of Michigan St. and not like the Wisconsin game. If North Carolina does not play defense like that second half of the Michigan St. game, Illinois is going to score a ton of points and most likely win easily, yes easily. If Roy Williams looked at the game tape from the Arizona Illinois games he will see that Illinois isn't nearly as good defensively if you get upcourt quick on offensive and move the ball around the perimeter. It wasn't so much that Arizona pounded the inside as much as they had Illinois off balance and then were able to stroll right into the lane for easy shots. That is why Arizona had success inside and Louisville did not. If North Carolina stops to set the offense and then tries to go inside, Roy Williams really is learning impared and probably never will get that championship.

Key 3: Rebounds. North Carolina has such a huge advantage here. All the Illini can do is to hope to limit North Carolina to as many 1 shot trips as possible. I know the Illini outrebounded Louisville. That was Louisville. This is North Carolina.

Key 4: Turnovers. Illinois usually does not turn the ball over, North Carolina has a lot of turnovers. A fast pace will probably not help North Carolina since Illinois is used to playing a quicker pace so North Carolina can not make up for all the turnovers with easy buckets, because there will be few easy buckets tonight. Illinois is lucky that their guards are quick, they make a lot of lazy passes that can be picked off (re: Arizona), most defenders never try though since they are afraid of being burned for an easy layup.

Key 5: Fatigue Since this is the last game, this should not be a problem, but Illinois has looked tired in this tournament and Carolina has shown no signs of fatigue.

Key 6: Pace Illinois has shown they can play and win every type of game tempo. Can North Carolina succeed in a slow paced half court game?

Prediction: Illinois. Why? because Illinois will control the tempo and turnovers will kill North Carolina.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Initial thoughts on the North Carolina/Michigan St game

Will try to get full writeups later on.

  • looks like North Carolina spotted Michigan St. a half before playing
  • First Half: Michigan St. big on the offensive boards, too many North Carolina turnovers, Michigan St takes it to North Carolina on the inside
  • Second Half: North Carolina huge on the boards on both ends of the court, too many Michigan St turnovers, North Carolina just pounded the Spartans on the inside
  • Both halfs: Terrible shooting by Michigan St.
  • Nightmare scenerio for Big Ten fans, after going up 2-0 in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge II it is now 2-2 with North Carolina having a chance to sweep all 3 top Big 10 teams.
  • Michigan St. like Louisville should have had big leads at the end of the first half, I don't think a big lead by Michigan St. would have mattered the way North Carolina played in the 2nd half.

Initial thoughts from the Illinois/Louisville game

  • Louisville blew their chance in the first half.
  • Garcia, yuck!
  • Powell, oh my gosh!
  • Weber outcoached Pitino and made the right 2nd half adjustments
  • The Illinois defense was great in the second half
  • Louisville helped Illinois with terrible shots around the 5-6 minute mark which just let Illinois further bleed the clock
  • Would Powell have had this great of game if he missed the 3 at the buzzer that put Illinois up by 1 early in the 2nd half?
  • Louisville owned the boards the first 35 minutes, Illinois cleaned the boards when it counted during the last 5 minutes.
  • Packer was well behaved during the first game. Still annoying, but well behaved.

Proving Maryland Eastern Shore (last in RPI) is the best team in the country

Maryland Eastern Shore beat
MD Baltimore Country which beat
Maine who beat
Northeastern who had a nice win against
UMass who somehow beat
UConn who beat
Indiana who beat
Ohio St. who shocked

Give the little guy with 2 wins a chance. Obviously they are an elite basketball school. Just a bored thought while waiting for the Final 4 to start.

Friday, April 01, 2005

North Carolina vs Michigan St. Preview

(1) North Carolina vs (5) Michigan St.
This is going to be an interesting game. The big question of this game is "Will North Carolina be able to run over the Spartans or will the Spartans be able to slow down the game and dominate the boards like they have all season long?"

Key 1: Pace. As said above North Carolina likes to run. It is the reason they beat Wisconsin. They score so many easy buckets in transition, that teams have to play great just to hang with the Tar Heels. North Carolina had trouble scoring against the set defense of Wisconsin (no problems in transition though). Michigan St. is able the run, but they will not be able to keep up the entire game at a fast pace. As long as the spurts of Carolina are short and few this will not be an advantage. Michigan St. does not have a chance if this is the case.

Key 2: Rebounding. Michigan St. is a great rebounding team. They usually have the advantage on the boards. For the season, North Carolina has averaged 4 more rebounds than the Spartans. This is a must for Michigan St. If they get beat at the boards it will be a long night for Spartan fans. If will mean the Tar Heals will have the speed and the size plus extra possessions as a bonus.

Key 3: Defense. After the Wisconsin game I am not sure what to think of the Tar Heels. Lets look at the times Wisconsin scored over 80 points this season. Western Carolina 89, UNC Greensboro 85, North Carolina 82. Must be a Carolina thing. Not good company to be in. On offense N. Carolina has a + 10 PPG advantage while Michigan St. has a +6 PPG advantage over the Tar Heels. Michigan St. has a huge advantage here.

Key 4: Shooting. Michigan St. must shoot well. They are not as good of a shooting team as North Carolina. If Michigan St. has a good night they will win (50%+). Plain and simple. You only need to be on one night to eliminate someone. Michigan St. needs to at least shoot in the mid 40s to stay competitive. Anything under 40% and they are done. North Carolina has a greater margin of error than the Spartans in this area.

Key 5: Turnovers. Michigan St. takes care of the ball well, North Carolina can play a little too fast and loose. Michigan St. has a huge advantage here. North Carolina can not get careless when they push the ball up the court.

Key 6: Free throws: Michigan St. is great from the line. North Carolina is OK. Is North Carolina going to shoot like they did in the ACC tourney where they lost or like they did against Wisconsin when they sealed the deal?

Prediction: Michigan St. Defense and turnovers are going to be the difference. North Carolina is not going to be able to run and they will lose a close one down the stretch.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Margin of Victory Revisited

A while ago I posted how margin of victory was a strong predictor of which teams will be cutting down the nets at the end of the season. How do the Final 4 teams stack up?

#1 North Carolina +18.2
#2 Louisville +17.3
#3 Illinois +16.5
#5 Michigan St. +14.0

Like I said margin of victory won't predict the winner, but the corrulation is very strong as to who has the best chance to be the last team standing at the end of the year. This year proves the case once again.

Case closed.

Illinois vs Louisville Preview

(1) Illinois vs (4) Louisville
This is the early game on Saturday. Check back tomorrow for the North Carolina/Michigan St. preview.

Key 1: Louisville was successful against West Virginia because they were able to get easy buckets on transition. Illinois had problems with Arizona because they were not able to get set on defense and allowed easy buckets in the paint. With that said, Illinois should be able to stop the easy buckets on transition that fueled the Louisville comeback. Louisville must not let the Illini get set on defense. This is the key to breaking them down.

Key 2: Illinois had success with Arizona when they stepped up the pressure on defense, especially on the perimeter. This is something that Louisville may have trouble with. If Illinois can contain the speed of Louisville and contest the shots on the perimeter they will have a good night. Louisville must remember this formula, lazy pass = 2 points for Illinois.

Key 3: The key for Louisville is to get those points in the paint, unfortunately that is not their game. One has to wonder if the middle was open for Arizona because there was so much focus on Stoudamire or if the Illini truly are that vulnerable on the inside. Garcia better watch out, if Williams can handle Stoudamire, then he can easily handle Garcia. O'Bannon and Dean must step up big for Louisville again.

Key 4: Foul trouble. If Garcia fouls out against the Illini, Louisville is going home. Louisville has to take it to Powell, he has shown to be prone to foul trouble all year. They can also put Augustine in foul trouble, but the Illini showed that they can win without him. While Augustine was good in the first three rounds, he had a terrible game against Arizona.

Key 5: Injuries. Is Augustine and Head at 100%?

Key 6: Turnovers. Arizona exposed the Illini passing game by stepping into the passing lanes and picked off lots of passes for turnovers and easy baskets.

Prediction: Illinois (Not as high scoring as you would think, in the 70s only)
Louisville will not be able to expose Illinois on the inside. Williams will handle Garcia. Illinois has a defense suited for handling quick teams and guards. Louisville does not have the defense to stop Illinois. With two great offensive teams, defense will be the difference.

Monday, March 28, 2005

I love this game

Conference Tournament Records

Sorry NBA, you don't deserve this tag-line. If you don't love NCAA basketball after this weekend you never will.

The following was the 4th best game of the weekend. If this is the 4th best game out of 4 games you know you are ready for something special:
Syracuse Regional
(1) N. Carolina 88 - (6)Wisconsin 82
I thought for sure N. Carolina would blow the Badgers out of the building. I figured they would wear down Wisconsin like they did Iowa St. Near the end of the 1st half it looked like I would be right, with North Carolina up 11. Wisconsin went on a 11-0 run to finish the second half. Wisconsin looked good early in the second half going up by 5. The killer was a 40 second sequence in which Wisconsin went from up 5 to down 3. North Carolina just had too many easy buckets the entire game, especially early. McCants sealed the deal down the stretch with a big 3 and a few huge blocks. Who would have thought that N. Carolina would score 88 points against Wisconsin and be in a dog fight.

The following was only the 3rd best game of the weekend. An overtime thriller and a 20-point comeback and only the 3rd best game of the weekend. As Dick Enberg would say Oh My!
Albuquerque Regional
(4)Syracuse 93 - (7)West Virginia 85
Went to visit my family this Easter. It was great to sit and watch basketball with my Dad again. When the half came and West Virginia was ahead by 13, we looked at each other and said Syracuse is going to win even though they had a huge lead. West Virginia had amazing 3 point shooting, 18 for 27. They had 18 3's. That is 56 points from the 3 ball. They had only 8 2 pointers. The problem with West Virginia was that they were slow on the transition defense. There were two occasions when Louisville looked like they were 1 against 3 on the transition, but they were able to outrun the other two defenders for an easy 1 on 1 basket. When the 3's stopped falling it was all over for West Virginia. My guess was that West Virginia tired out from the grueling schedule of the last 3 weeks. I thought West Virginia might pull it out when Garcia fouled out late when West Virginia still had a lead, but Louisville fought through it for a hard earned victory.

The second best game of the weekend. What a weekend. A double overtime game is only the second best game. I can't imagine ever getting another weekend of basketball like this again. It just can't happen.
Austin Regional
(5)Michigan St. 94 - (2)Kentucky 88 2OT
80% second half shooting by Michigan St. is only worth a double over time win, Amazing. Michigan St.'s offensive rebounds were the difference. With Kentucky ahead by 4 in the first overtime and starting to take the game over for good, Michigan St. had an amazing offensive possession where they got 6 or 7 shots on one possession before making a 3 pointer. After that, Michigan St. turned the momentum around and eventually won in double overtime. It was just a small sequence, but was indicative of what made the difference in the game. Not sure how Kentucky forced double overtime with the Michigan St. shooting in the second half, but nothing made sense this weekend.

And now for the granddaddy of them all. I nominate this as the best NCAA tournament game ever.

Chicago Regional
(1) Illinois 90 - (3) Arizona 89
I can't remember ever seeing a comeback of this nature against an opponent as good as Arizona is. Have you ever seen a comeback like this when there was so much on the line. This was one of those games that you will remember where you were when you saw it, especially if you were an Illini fan. Even if you weren't an Illini fan you have to appreciate the effort. I love a team that never gives up.

The entire game Arizona absolutely dominated Illinois inside. Dominated isn't the word, controlled, pushed around, owned, destroyed, obliterated, killed the Illini inside maybe a better term. Illinois controlled Stoudamire, but that was about all the Illini could do on defense. Somehow the Illini held with Arizona for 32 minutes until Arizona went up by 15. You know the rest. Illinois did not panic. When you go back and watch the game you will see that this was the most controlled last minute comeback you will ever see. Being #1 overall was a huge advantage for Illinois. People in Los Angeles thought they were going through another minor earthquake, but it was just feeling the affects all the way from Chicago from the stadium shaking and almost crumbling to its foundation. You could barely hear Jay and Dick annoucing and you could tell that they were yelling right into their mike.

The comeback was due to Illinois making almost all their shots down the stretch and 3 Arizona turnovers. When watching the reply I still was expected Arizona to win the game even though I knew the result. Just amazing. With Stoudamire not getting the ball at the end, Arizona did not know how to run the offensive, which led to the Illini pulling out the victory and a Final 4 appearance. Illinois almost blew a 6 point lead with around a minute to go, which would have been too cruel an irony and would have driven Chicago insane. After Steve Bartman and the Cubs this would have done the city in.

This game had everything except a 3 second game ending highlight for the future promos.

To sum up the day.

  • We have a team that can't get above 60-70 points giving the #2 team in the country a fit even though they scored 88 points.
  • 18 3's and a 20 point lead is good for an overtime loss.
  • 80% shooting in the second half is only good for a double overtime win.
  • A 15 point lead with 4 minutes remaining, 14 point lead with 3:30 remaining, a 8 point lead with around a minute remaining and the ability to score at will on the inside in good for an overtime loss.

What an amazing weekend. This was the best weekend College Basketball has ever seen.

2005 NCAA Tournament Conference Records

Only tracking conferences that have 3 or more bids (tracking the records of a 2 bid or less conference does not accurately reflect the strength of a conference)

The results are current through all regional games. Only the final 4 teams are left.

ACC/Big 10 Challenge II
Big Ten 2

Conference Record Win %
Big 10 11-3 .786
ACC 10-4 .714
Conference USA 7-3 .700
Pac 10 5-4 .555
Big East 7-6 .538
Big 12 6-6 .500
SEC 4-5 .444
MVC 1-3 .250

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Syracuse/Austin Regional Semi-Final Recap

ACC/Big 10 Challenge II
(5) Michigan St. 78 - (1) Duke 68
(6) Wisconsin 65 - (10) NC State 56
Where did all that talk about the Big 10 having a down year go? How about the talk about the Big 10 leaders not being tested in the regular season?

So far Big Ten 2 ACC 0.

Big 10 fans don't get too excited, North Carolina can roll through and knock out the remaining Big 10 teams and make the score ACC 3 Big Ten 2, but enjoy the victories, the Big 10 deserves it after getting knocked all season.

(1) North Carolina 67- (5) Villanova 66
That travel call at the end of the game was the worst call in the NCAA tournament since Chris Weber called a timeout without any timeouts remaining. Ironic that both calls greatly benefit North Carolina. Couldn't tell if Ray travelled or not, what I do know is that if the same situation occurs in 100 more tournament games, it will never be called, nor should it have been called. Give North Carolina credit for making a nice comeback, probably would have won anyway, but the teams should have decided the outcome not the refs. Awful.

(2) Kentucky 62 - (6) Utah 52
Does this result surprise anyone? Let me give a simple math equation. Bogut + no help does not equal a deep tourney run. Kentucky continues to win ugly. 61% shooting for Kentucky, but only 62 points. No team has more ugly wins than Kentucky. Utah (I mean Bogut) had a nice run, but Bogut can only carry them so far.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Albuquerque Regional Semi-Final Review

(4) Louisville 93 - (1) Washington 79
Louisville proved what we already knew, they are much better than a #4 seed. As retribution for their poor seeding they will have as easy an Elite-8 game as you can have against West Virginia (nothing against them, we love the play of West Virginia the past 3 weeks). Louisville was just too quick for Washington. Garcia just killed them. The foul trouble for Washington doomed any chance of a come back. Louisville just had an answer for every Washington run and was just the better team. Don't buy the garbage from the media that Washington wasn't a derserving #1 seed. Two #2 seeds didn't even make the Sweet-16, only 1 has a chance to make it farther than Washington, so don't single out Washington. Lets talk about Wake Forest if you want to talk about under acheivers or teams not getting the job done. At least Washington lost to a really good team instead of a tired team my Grandma could have outrun. Louisville will be the #2 favorite to make the Final Four behind North Carolina (if they win).

(7) West Virgina 65 - (6) Texas Tech 60
Even though it seems like I am disrespecting West Virginia, there is no team I have more respect for than West Virginia. What they have done is absolutely amazing. They went from a true bubble team to the Elite-8. They came back against Wake Forest even though they were exhausted and beat Texas Tech. Granted Texas Tech made some aweful decisions down the stretch, but West Virginia is just getting the job done. 3's were the difference here. 9 to 1 in West Virginia's favorite. Also West Virginia is playing like a team that wants to win. Texas Tech just didn't have the same passion, which is why West Virginia looked like the Elite-8 team and is the Elite-8 team.

Chicago Regional Semi-Final Recap

(1) Illinois 77 - (12) UW-Milwaukee 63
Just another day at the office for Illinois. They still have not been tested in this tournament and probably have not played their best either. Although, today's performance was much better than their games last week. Dee Brown found his touch again and Williams had a terrific game. If the guard play is this good on Saturday the Illini will have the Allstate arena nets as a souvenier and a trip to St. Louis. Illinois's defense also stepped up as expected and kept UWM under 10 3's and the shooting percentage under 40%. While UWM made a few runs the game was never in doubt. A solid performance for the Illini.

(3) Arizona - (2) Oklahoma St.
Not sure why this game was even close. If you watched this game you would swear that the scorekeeper kept adding points for Oklahoma St. everytime you weren't paying attention. (63% shooting vs 43% shooting in Arizona's favor) +10 rebounding advantage for Arizona as well (+2 on the offensive glass. Oklahoma St. went to sleep midway in the 2nd half. Arizona got easy layup after easy layup. That stretch proved the difference. I still think I am going to wake up tomorrow and see that Arizona actually won by 15.

Chicago Regional Semi-Finals Preview

(1) Illinois vs (12) UW-Milwaukee
Don't believe the hype, very few in Champaign care about UW-Milwaukee coach Bruce Pearl turning in Illinois for recruiting violations years ago. I don't think any of the current Illinois staff is still around from that.

This will come down to shooting and defense. UW-Milwaukee needed 12 3's in the first round and 11 in the second round to win their games. They have no inside game and need the long ball to beat the big guys. Illinois has shown throughout the entire season that they are prone to giving up 3's, the problem is that the Illinois defense is incredibly tough and opponents usually are not able to get points both on the inside and the perimeter. Don't expect UW-Milwaukee to get past the 60s in scoring.

The key for UW-Milwaukee is to slow down the Illini offense. They have to stop Dee Brown from getting easy baskets in transistion, but lately the rest of the Illini team has been running up the floor for easy baskets as well, so it is hard to determine where the attack will come from. Even though Illinois only showed up for a cameo appearance in Indianapolis, they should come out more motivated for the games in Chicago.

Prediction: Illinois (Probably a sloppy 10-15 minutes to start, and then Illinois takes charge)

(2) Oklahoma St. vs (3) Arizona
One of the 2 premier games of the night. Both teams love a quick pace. Both coaches are great. I have to give the edge to Arizona. Stoudamire will be the difference in this game. He can draw the defense to the perimeter while Frye is more than capable on the inside. If Stoudamire is on (like he always is) Arizona should win. Oklahoma St. is not able to slow down the pace enough to give Arizona fits. If Oklahoma St. can slow down Arizona they will have a good chance to win, but they are a quick team that like to play a quick pace.

Prediction: Arizona (Stoudamire hits a big 3 with just over a minute to go to ice it)
The pace favors Arizona.