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Coaches Hurt The Most By New Foul Rules

This year the NCAA revised its rules about defensive contact. It has been well documented that while fouls have increased, the increase is relatively small. But one thing we have not talked much about is the fact that the foul rules have not impacted all coaches (and teams) equally.

As a starting point, I thought it might be nice to look at long-tenured coaches (5+ years D1 experience) in the major conferences and sort them by how often their teams typically foul. Some coaches teach their teams to be more physical and aggressive and thus you might expect the rules to impact these coaches more. In the next table, I sort by the defensive free throw rate (the number of free throw attempts allowed per field goal attempt on defense). The table shows each coach’s career defensive free throw rate prior to this year. At the top of the list we have aggressive coaches like Frank Martin and Tony Barbee. Their teams have typically been exceedingly physical. At the bottom of the list we have coaches like John Beilein and Mike Brey whose teams typically play defense without fouling.

The table also lists this year’s free throw rate for each of these coaches. As it turns out, the new foul rules have not systematically hurt the aggressive coaches more. Some aggressive coaches, like Frank Martin, have struggled to adapt to the new rules and seem to be fouling at an exceedingly high rate. But others, like Mike Anderson, have adjusted. Also, some coaches that rarely foul, like Roy Williams have seen their team struggle to adapt to the new rules.

Def. Free Throw Rate

Schools

Career

This Year

Frank Martin

Kansas St./South Carolina

45

61

Tony Barbee

UTEP/Auburn

45

48

Pat Chambers

Boston U/Penn St.

42

45

Kevin Willard

Iona/Seton Hall

41

39

Mike Anderson

UAB/Missouri/Arkansas

41

44

….

     

Fran McCaffery

UNCG/Siena/Iowa

28

32

John Beilein

West Virginia/Michigan

28

27

Mike Brey

Notre Dame

27

31

Roy Williams

Kansas/North Carolina

27

42

Thad Matta

Xavier/Ohio St.

25

29

It also does not appear that the new rules are uniquely harming coaches whose teams gamble for steals like like Shaka Smart, Oliver Purnell, and Rick Pitino. While Purnell’s team is fouling at a career high rate, Shaka Smart’s team is only fouling a hair more than last season, showing less of an increase than the NCAA average. And while Pitino’s team is fouling at a higher rate, it isn’t unusually high. His team had an even higher foul rate during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.

Now that doesn’t mean that these teams have not been hurt by the rule change. In next week’s column I plan to talk more about changes in turnovers and talk about one team in particular that has completely changed its defensive philosophy thanks to the new rules.

But let’s stick with the free throw rate for today, because clearly a substantial uptick in fouls committed can be a major hindrance to winning. The next table shows the major conference coaches with the biggest increase in defensive foul rate this year. As it turns out, coaches with a wide variety of defensive styles have struggled with the adjustment to the new rules:

Def. Free Throw Rate

Schools

Last Year

This Year

John Thompson III

Georgetown

35

53

Roy Williams

North Carolina

27

42

Frank Martin

South Carolina

46

61

Bill Self

Kansas

32

45

Dana Altman

Oregon

33

46

Ken Bone

Washington St.

32

43

Steve Donahue

Boston College

29

40

Steve Lavin

St. John's

29

40

Now, not all of these differences can be attributed to the new rules. Maybe Frank Martin’s roster is particularly slow-footed this season. Maybe North Carolina has been behind in more close games causing them to foul more. But when you look at the historic track record, these coaches have been very consistent in their defensive free throw rates. The next table suggests that this is more than just normal fluctuations in personnel and game scores. These coaches are struggling to teach their teams how to play defense with the new rules:

Defensive Free Throw Rate

D1 Average

John Thompson

Roy Williams

Frank Martin

Bill Self

5 yrs ago

36

33

25

49

35

4 yrs ago

38

34

25

47

31

3 yrs ago

38

38

25

45

32

2 yrs ago

36

36

22

42

33

Last Year

36

35

27

46

32

This Year

41

53

42

61

45

Of course, in Kansas’ case, the new rules have been a bit of a wash. That’s because the new rules have also greatly benefited teams with superstar athletes. Just look at the jump in offensive free throw rate for Kentucky and Kansas relative to their historical norm:

Offensive Free Throw Rate

D1 Average

John Calipari

Bill Self

5 yrs ago

36

40

40

4 yrs ago

38

44

41

3 yrs ago

38

36

39

2 yrs ago

36

42

40

Last Year

36

42

40

This Year

41

58

52

Some of the teams with big jumps in offensive free throw rate this year seem a little odd to me. (Seton Hall has shown a huge uptick in getting to the line, but that was mostly due to the first two games of the year against Niagara and Kent St. and doesn’t seem to be a permanent trend.) But if you believe the change in enforcement will benefit athletic teams, the above table provides some evidence that this has happened.

Wisconsin in the Paint

Even though Wisconsin has lost three of its last four games, I am not ruling the Badgers out as a Final Four contender. I watched all 80 minutes of basketball they played this week, and I’m more in love with Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky’s game than ever.

One of Bo Ryan’s strengths is making players go through every drill, regardless of whether they are a forward or guard. Big men have to shoot, small players have to learn to post-up. And Wisconsin exploits these unexpected abilities with great success. For this year’s big men, it isn’t just the shooting. What makes forwards Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky special is their driving ability. Because they are such great three point shooters, opposing big men have to close out on them. And Dekker and Kaminsky are two of the only big men I have ever seen who can consistently get from the three point line to the basket without a turnover or an ugly charge.

Kaminsky’s scoring moves around Minnesota’s Elliot Eliason on Wednesday were insane. Pump-fake, dribble by initial defender, spin past second defender, bank home the shot. Dekker is so agile, the defense doesn’t know what hit them. And when they are on the floor together and running the offense, Wisconsin is almost unstoppable. The Badgers had 17 points before the first four minute time out on Saturday against Purdue.

The problem, as we learned this week, is that as well as Wisconsin operates with both these guys on the floor, if Kaminsky is in foul trouble, Wisconsin is not nearly the same team. Against Minnesota, Kaminsky picked up two fouls in the first minute, and Bo Ryan elected to go with the 6’7” Nigel Hayes for his offense. But Minnesota exploited Hayes’ lack of size by pounding the ball inside with Maurice Walker. While Walker has been playing limited minutes, because of the size mismatch, he exploded for a season-high 18 points in the Gophers win.

Then on Saturday, while the Badgers hung on for victory, Kaminsky’s foul trouble was still an issue. Rather than go small again, Bo Ryan went with the 6’10” but rarely used Evan Anderson. But Anderson was no panacea because of his offensive limitations. After the 17 point scoring output to open the game, Wisconsin’s offense stalled out.

The problem is that Kaminsky and Dekker are really the same player. They are both gifted offensive players, who should be playing a weaker post player to avoid committing fouls. But you can’t protect them both. And as Wisconsin showed in the previous week against Indiana and Michigan, if Wisconsin is too passive and just lets players go to the rim un-checked, then dribble penetration can kill them too.

And thus I’m starting to believe that Wisconsin’s upside depends significantly on the defensive play of Frank Kaminksy. At 7 feet tall, Wisconsin needs him to be a defensive stop-gap. But they also need him to stay on the floor for his offense. When he can pull off both, the sky is the limit.

Winning with Young Players is Very Hard

Texas head coach Rick Barnes has earned a lot of praise this week after his team won its fifth straight Big 12 game. But I don’t think anyone has fully articulated why his coaching has been so impressive this season. I’ve watched a lot of Texas this year (because of all the close games in November), and this is one of the most inconsistent rosters I have ever seen win games. You never know what you are going to get from anyone in the lineup.

Sure, Javan Felix is going to take a lot of shots, but he doesn’t always make them. Demarcus Holland plays a ton of minutes, but his offensive output has completely disappeared in Big 12 play. The only upperclassman, Jonathan Holmes, might be the streakiest shooter on the team. And Cameron Ridley and Connor Lammert are both explosive offensive rebounders, but I’m shocked at how often they fail to finish inside given how often they grab boards 2 feet from the basket. Now all that inconsistency is to be expected given the youth on the roster. But to manufacture close wins and come-from behind wins all season with that inconsistent lineup, has truly been an impressive coaching feat.

There is a decent chance Texas is over-achieving and will run into a losing skid at some point in February. But with no seniors in the lineup, the future is incredibly bright. 2012 Top 20 recruit Cameron Ridley has really been a rock with his scoring and rebounding over the last four games, and if he can start to deliver that consistently every night of the year, Texas could have a Top 10 team next year.

Bullets

-As if Rutgers hasn’t found enough ways to lose, they dunked in the pregame warm-up line on Saturday and were given a pre-game technical foul by the refs. You just cannot make this stuff up.

-Announcers often ask why no one in college tries for a 2-for-1. Well, keep in mind that the clock does not stop on scores in the first half. Even if you score with 40 seconds left, if the opposing team fumbles the ball for five seconds, they can easily inbound the ball with 35 seconds left on the clock and deny you a final possession. There is no magic time in college basketball to make sure you get two possessions.

-Oklahoma St. point guard and future lottery pick Marcus Smart kicked a chair in frustration during Oklahoma St.’s narrow win over West Virginia on Saturday. Later he tweeted an apology to his teammates. It will be interesting to see how scouts spin this event going forward. If scouts decide he has real anger issues that could hurt his draft stock. But I suspect that some folks will eventually spin this as more evidence of Smart’s competitive drive.

-During the Tennessee at Florida game, some Florida fans threw something on the court and the public address announcer in the stadium said that if anything else was thrown on the court, Florida would be assessed a technical foul. Jimmy Dykes “This strikes me as such an odd announcement. If I’m a Tennessee fan in a hostile environment, I’m seriously considering throwing something on the floor right now.”

-Marquette remains limited offensively, but Todd Mayo is becoming the clutch perimeter scorer the team needs to compliment Davante Gardner. His shots twice allowed Marquette to come from behind and go to OT this week, although Marquette split those OT contests. (Villanova also really should have beat Marquette in regulation, but Villanova’s Tony Chennault was called for a charge on the game-winning buzzer beater. Replays showed that the secondary defender had his foot in the restricted circle so the charge should not have been called.)

-Speaking of late game comebacks, there were two crazy but incomplete comebacks on Sunday. After trailing by 15 points and 10 points with 90 seconds left, Minnesota pulled within 2 points with 2.7 seconds left but still lost at Nebraska. And Temple came back from 19 points down to tie the game against Cincinnati in the final minute only to lose on a foul in the final seconds. Perhaps the coaches can build on this, but in the grand scheme of things, there are no moral victories. Malik Smith (filling in for an injured Andre Hollins) had 29 points in the losing effort for the Gophers and Dalton Pepper had 33 in the losing effort for Temple.

-My infinite frustration with Purdue’s AJ Hammons continues. Noting my earlier discussion about Wisconsin’s limited front court depth, Hammons picked up three fouls in his first two minutes of game time against the Badgers. The third over-the-back-foul in the first half was particularly egregious.

-Duke’s Jabari Parker got an insane ten offensive boards on Saturday. That is impressive against any team. But I don’t think enough people have noted how terrible Florida St. is at grabbing defensive rebounds this year. Despite being the second tallest team in the country (behind only Kentucky), Florida St. ranks 322nd on the defensive glass. The Seminoles clearly challenge for too many blocks and fail to box out, but it is still a mystery how a team with so many big and talented offensive rebounders can be so poor on the defensive glass. Duke has looked better in recent games, but we will learn if they have made real progress as the Blue Devils travel to Pittsburgh and Syracuse this week.

Harvard Watch

The box score said it all. Steve Moundou-Missi, 2-for-11, Wesley Saunders (returning early from an injury), 3-of-14, Siyani Chambers, 1-of-8, Brandyn Curry, 1-of-7, Kyle Casey, one point before fouling out. It is hard to imagine Harvard’s current lineup of talented players playing any worse than they did in this week’s loss to a mediocre Florida Atlantic squad. A blowout win against Dartmouth did little to heal the wounds from that game, but Harvard now faces the long grind, six weekends of Friday/Saturday contests to an Ivy League title.

Conference Play In Full Force

Ban Tournament Talk Until At Least February

I hate bracket projections this time of year. North Carolina is 0-3 in the ACC. Teams with losing conference records rarely make the tournament. But wait, the tournament isn’t held this time of year! What exactly are you projecting?

Many of us try to get away from the bracket projections, but we still fill game stories with discussions of quality wins. But even that bothers me. With teams going on the road for the first time, our evaluations of teams are very much in flux right now. Are we really certain what a quality win looks like at this point?

A few weeks Oregon was undefeated, had multiple wins over power conference teams, and with Dominic Artis and Ben Carter returning from a suspension, the sky was the limit. Now with three Pac-12 losses in a row, Oregon looks like a team with some serious questions on defense. Oregon has given up 129, 118, and 121 points per 100 possessions in their last three games and their defense has fallen to 150th nationally.

Even Oregon’s rotation is a question mark right now. Who should have the ball in crunch time? In the final seconds against Stanford, both Johnathan Loyd and Dominic Artis had the ball with a chance to win or tie the game, and neither converted. Who should take the shot in that situation? And who should be playing in the post for the Ducks? Ben Carter is shooting just 20% since returning from his suspension, and Waverly Austin looks equally inept offensively. Should the team just go back to Richard Amardi, whose dominance on the boards makes up for his more limited size?

Meanwhile a Missouri team that was so dominant early, lost at home to Georgia, and nearly lost to Auburn. In fact, Saturday’s 2 point win at Auburn is more controversial than you might think. Remember the St. John’s vs Rutgers Big East tournament game from a few years ago when the officials walked off the court and ignored a player travelling and stepping out of bounds with time still left on the clock? We nearly had the same ending in the Missouri vs Auburn game. Jabari Brown looked like he might have taken an extra step and stepped out of bounds with time left on the clock, but the officials were not looking at his feet in the final seconds.

Meanwhile other teams look like real contenders again. Iowa has been throttling opponents and finally picked up a marquee win at Ohio St. And Virginia has been throttling its opponents in ACC play. Let’s see more of this play out before we decide what qualifies as a quality win.

Red Light District

Trailing West Virginia by two points in the final minute, Oklahoma St.’s Marcus Smart drove into the lane and kicked to Markel Brown. In a move that would make Bob Knight proud, Brown pump-faked to clear his defender, hesitated, and then calmly sunk the go-ahead three pointer. And this was simply more evidence that Oklahoma St.’s offense has turned a corner this year. With Michael Cobbins out, there are questions of whether OSU’s defense can hold up for a Final Four run. But there is no question that OSU’s offense is performing at an elite level.

OSU’s offense has improved in a number of areas, from free throw rate to turnover percentage. But the stat that sticks out to me is how Oklahoma St. went from a bad three point shooting team, at 32 percent last season, to a strong three point shooting team, at 38 percent this year.

It helps that Marcus Smart and Phil Forte have improved substantially. But as I said before, one of the simplest improvements is that LeBryan Nash is no longer taking three pointers. Nash was 12 of 50 last year, and 16 of 68 two years ago, for a career mark of 24 percent from three. This year Nash has focused on finishing around the rim, and his efficiency has reached a career high. Nash had an ORtg of 89 as a freshman, 99 as a sophomore, and 114 so far this year. These things may seem small, but when you are playing on the road against a solid team, every possession counts. One wasted Nash possession could have cost Oklahoma St. the win this weekend.

So thinking of players like LeBryan Nash, I wondered what teams could benefit significantly by putting up the red light sign up for one of their outside shooters. To date, here are some of the worst three point shooters in the power conferences who also take a high volume of outside shots. I limit my list to players with at least 40 three point attempts on the season.

Player

Team

3PM

3PA

3P%

Dave Sobolewski

Northwestern

11

64

17%

D.J. Shelton

Wash. St.

8

44

18%

Joe Jackson

Memphis

8

42

19%

Brandon Young

DePaul

10

48

21%

T.J. Warren

NC State

12

55

22%

Justin Cobbs

California

9

40

23%

M. Abdul-Aleem

USF

11

47

23%

Calvin Newell

UCF

14

54

26%

Tracy Abrams

Illinois

13

50

26%

C. Miller-McIntyre

Wake Forest

11

42

26%

Xavier Munford

Rhode Island

28

105

27%

Desmond Lee

NC State

11

41

27%

Nigel Johnson

Kansas St.

11

41

27%

Aaron Harrison

Kentucky

17

63

27%

A lot of these players are PGs, and a lot of these PGs have shot better in previous seasons. For example, Northwestern’s Dave Sobolewski’s was a career 35 percent shooter prior to this year, and his ineffectiveness is a bit of a surprise. But a few names on this list deserve some discussion:

-DJ Shelton looked extremely strong as a sophomore at Washington St., posting an ORtg of 106 and dominating the offensive boards. But at some point, someone on Washington St.’s team decided Shelton was a stretch-four. He’s not. This year Shelton’s ORtg is down to 91. Fortunately Shelton’s three point shot volume has been cut back in recent games. But for a team that attempted just three FTs at home in the narrow OT loss to Colorado on Wednesday, and a team that ranks as one of the worst nationally at getting to the free throw line, Shelton needs to be fighting for offensive rebounds and not floating on the perimeter.

-Even as a senior, I’m still not sure if Memphis guard Joe Jackson is a good three point shooter. He shot 31 percent as a freshman and sophomore which suggests he is not, but then he made 45 percent of his threes last year which seemed to suggest he had turned a corner. A 19 percent clip this year seems like a fluke, but shooting has never been Jackson’s biggest strength. What separates Jackson as an elite player however is that even when his shooting stroke is off, he still finds ways to contribute. Against Louisville he dished out six assists. And against Temple, his on-ball defense was extraordinary. Near the 16:30 mark of the second half, Jackson stole the ball from Temple’s Will Cummings on two consecutive possessions after Cummings took the ball past half-court. Most players can steal the ball in traffic, but when a player can pick the ball clean one-on-one, that’s a special skill.

-TJ Warren could be our best test case for the LeBryan Nash theory. It isn’t that Warren cannot make threes. He made 14 of 27 as a freshman. But Warren would be much better off taking rhythm three point shots within the offense. Right now Warren is one of the only consistent scorers for NC State so he seems to have the green light in all situations. But next season, when NC State has more depth and experience, I wonder if Warren can cut down on his forced shots and see his efficiency improve meaningfully.

-There were other Atlantic 10 players I could include on this list, but I included Xavier Munford to emphasize how he continues to get the Marshall Henderson rules from his coach. If anyone could improve their efficiency with more limited shot selection, it is Munford.

-Finally, I wanted to emphasize the surprisingly poor outside shot for Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison. 27 percent isn’t crippling to a team, particularly with the offensive rebounders on Kentucky. But Harrison’s poor jump shot is a bit of a puzzle at this point.

The Drama of Losing

At this point in the season, I often find the games between struggling teams as fascinating as the games between winning teams. On Saturday, Virginia Tech’s Adam Smith missed a step-back game-tying two with 1 second left against Boston College. Tech’s Jarell Eddie cursed and shook his head, and walked down the court in disgust. You could clearly tell how much the game meant to him. There is no tanking in college basketball. There is no reassuring paycheck to heal all wounds. (At least in principle.) All the effort and all the practice is for the glory of the win. And when losses begin to multiply, the pain on the player’s faces is real.

Perhaps the most painful sight for me this week was watching Penn St.’s Tim Frazier. Some people pegged Frazier as a pre-season all-Big Ten player. And statistically, he has delivered. Frazier is averaging 17 PPG, 7 APG, and 4 RPG. And while his season has had some nice moments, taking a dominant Pittsburgh team to the wire in the ACC/Big Ten challenge, and beating St. John’s in OT, Penn St. is once again 0-4 in the Big Ten.

In the first week of the conference season, Penn St. built a double digit lead at home against Michigan St. But Michigan St. went on a 32-8 run to start the second half and the game became a laugher.

On Wednesday, Frazier and fellow ball-handler DJ Newbill again built the lead against Minnesota. But DJ Newbill fouled out. And then Frazier fouled out. And when Frazier went to the bench, Minnesota pounced. They pressured the ball-handler. They forced steals. And the Gophers came from behind to steal a game that Penn St. had led throughout.

Thus when Frazier picked up his 4th foul with 13 minutes left in a tight game against Indiana on Saturday, history was repeating itself. As Frazier headed to the bench with four fouls (he eventually fouled out), you could see the realization hit him. The chance to lead his team to victory was no longer in his hands.

When I see a player like Frazier, I find myself asking how these guys work so hard. How is it Frazier can give it all so often, only to realize that the margin is so slim? Penn St. now hits the road. Losses seem likely. But the beauty of college basketball is that these athletes so often take adversity and throw it to the side. When you are 18-23 years old, hope is always just around the corner. And when you are playing for your school, the journey isn’t always about the destination. Sometimes winning even one conference game would mean a lot.

Overcoming Adversity

With Butler falling to 0-4, it is easy to write off Georgetown’s win at Butler as just another game. But Georgetown’s overtime effort was one of the most impressive cases of overcoming adversity I have seen this year. In OT, Georgetown was without five of its key rotation players. Joshua Smith was suspended due to a recent academic issue, Jabril Trawick was out with a broken jaw, and Nate Lubick, Moses Ayegba, and Mikael Hopkins had all fouled out.

That meant Georgetown had former walk-on John Caprio on the floor for major minutes and Aaron Bowen played a key role as well. Bowen has long struck me as Georgetown’s biggest weakness in the rotation. Bowen has some explosive leaping ability, but he has no shooting touch whatsoever, and he kills Georgetown’s spacing because smart teams like Butler will basically leave him wide open on the perimeter.  But late in the game Bowen had a brilliant spin-move in the paint for a bucket and-one. Meanwhile, Caprio also earned a free throw trip with a solid drive. And the two combined for the game’s breakout play. With Georgetown nursing a 1 point lead, Caprio double teamed in the post, caused a tip, and the ball was passed to a streaking Bowen for an emphatic fast-break dunk. When the 9th and 10th best players in your rotation can make plays in OT, that’s sometimes what it takes to steal a win on the road.

Duke’s Offense was Bad, but the Defense Remains the Long-Run Concern

If you look at Clemson coach Brad Brownell’s career, he has always had very solid defensive teams with offensive questions. And thus it wasn’t particularly shocking to me to see Clemson hold Duke to its worst offensive performance of the season. We’ve mostly seen it with Florida St. in recent years, but when a team plays great defense, they can find a way to upset a few heavyweights, particularly at home.

But as bad as Duke’s offense was, the truly disturbing fact was that Duke couldn’t get any stops late in the game. Clemson kept getting the ball inside and getting chances for old-fashioned three point plays. A lot of people have argued that Duke’s poor defensive stats have been inflated by the Vermont game, and that the team has really turned the corner defensively. But after a promising three game stretch against UCLA, Eastern Michigan, and Elon, Duke’s defense is back to looking porous. Clemson doesn’t have many go-to scorers, outside KJ McDaniels, and if a team like Clemson can score 114 points per 100 possessions against Duke, I stick by my earlier statement. Duke simply doesn’t have enough quality interior defenders to make a deep tournament run this year.

Bullets

-Iowa St.’s Dustin Hogue and Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler are two of the best transfers to join the Big 12 this season, and I’m not sure I have seen a more physical battle this season than the one these two engaged in on Saturday. Spangler won the day with 7 offensive rebounds and 8 defensive boards and the team victory, but this wasn’t a case where Hogue got pushed around. This was a battle of two very strong players playing grown man basketball. The rematch in Ames should be spectacular.

-UMass had trailed by as many as 13 points, and had finally taken a 1 point lead. There was a 6 second differential between the game clock and the shot clock and UMass had the ball. St. Bonaventure was hoping for one more shot to win on the road with a clean stop. But Chaz Williams remarkably turned a 1 point lead into an insurmountable lead. First, Williams drove and was fouled with just 11 seconds left. Then, on the ensuing inbounds play, he was able to get around his man, tip the ball, and cause a turnover. And with UMass making two more free throws, the game was sealed. Williams had a supbar shooting night, but star players find ways to win games even when they aren’t shooting well.

Harvard Watch

With Wesley Saunders out (with a short-term injury), Brandyn Curry played more minutes at Connecticut. But Curry still isn’t 100 percent, and his 2 for 12 performance was extremely costly in the narrow road loss.

I thought the most interesting development in the game was that while no one believes UConn’s front-court is dominant (except perhaps Central Florida), Harvard struggled to score around Connecticut’s 7’0” Amida Brimah. Harvard forward Kyle Casey tried to draw him out of the paint with some long jumpers, but that seemed like a low percentage shot, and Harvard’s overall offense seemed ill-equiped to deal with a team with a large post presence.

The problem is that even with Harvard’s biggest lineup, they don’t really have anyone who can post up a 7’0” defender. Perhaps the answer is to give a greater look to Zena Edosomwan. Tommy Amaker has been bringing him along very slowly, but he may need to give more time to his young big man in Ivy League play.

Or perhaps, Harvard should eschew the bigger lineup, and just go with the smaller offensive lineup when Wesley Saunders returns.  Last year in the NCAA tournament, Laurent Rivard played the PF spot with great success. And while Rivard has struggled a bit this season, he looked great in the last minutes on Wednesday. Rivard hit a three pointer and foul for a four point play, and he also beat his man off the dribble for another huge lay-up and one.

Regardless, even if Harvard is 28th in the Pomeroy Rankings, the offensive struggles at Connecticut show that Harvard still has some things to work on. And this is particularly true against teams with quality interior defenders.

NCAA Tournament Day 2

As I stuck on truTV on Friday night and soaked up the replays of Florida Gulf Coast’s Chase Fieler taking alley-oop dunks from Brett Comer, I was reminded that it isn’t just the great basketball that makes the NCAA tournament special. It is the other moments as well. It is the sight of Florida Gulf Coast senior Sherwood Brown reveling in the moment. When he started at the school, they weren’t even eligible for the tournament. But with his career reaching his fourth year, he was going to make sure he sucked up every moment. He shook hands with the announcers. He went into the cheerleaders and grabbed a group hug. And in the locker-room, his team celebrated as a family.

Meanwhile, the dejection on Georgetown head coach John Thompson III’s face was equally dramatic. I thought his words were so appropriate. “I told these guys, no matter what people write about you, no matter what happens, I am proud of you.” And he is exactly right. People are going to act like Georgetown failed because the big name brand school with all the resources lost to the small school just joining D1. But this was still a tremendous season. This group of players with no seniors and losing a key starter to academic eligibility still made tremendous strides this season. I was still proud to watch them play this season, even if they were the Goliath knocked off the mountain-top.

And that is truly the beauty of the NCAA tournament. All these teams, win or lose have had tremendous seasons. The X’s and O’s are great. The bracket busters are great. The buzzer beaters are great. But ultimately, the window is short. The moment of opportunity is fleeting. And win or lose, the drama of it all coming to an end is always great theater.

Reckless Abandon

Ole Miss used great strategy against Wisconsin. They used full court pressure, not to cause turnovers, but to make the Badgers waste clock. And while that may seem counter-intuitive, (why slow down a slow team even further?), it worked. The Badgers didn’t have their normal time to probe for good shots. And with Mississippi also switching between man-to-man defense and zone defense to confuse the Badgers even further, Wisconsin had to settle for more bad shots than usual. The Badgers ended the season with a horrific shooting performance. Jared Berggren was 2 of 10, Ryan Evans was 2 of 8, Ben Brust was 2 of 9, Traevon Jackson was 2 of 10. And that was easily enough for a hot Ole Miss team to advance.

In the locker-room, the interview with Ben Brust said it all. In near tears the sophomore noted that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to end for his 5 senior teammates. They were his brothers. They were the only team to beat Michigan and Indiana twice. They had put in too much work, and too much effort to see the team lose without putting up a fight.

Meanwhile, despite Mississippi’s Marshall Henderson’s horrific 1 for 11 start, his coach never chided him. He simply said, “This is your half, take advantage of the moment.” And Henderson responded with 5 of 10 second half shooting.

Indeed this was probably another take-away from Friday. The unbridled teams win in the tournament. Florida Gulf Coast played without fear and Marshall Henderson wins by playing with reckless abandon.

On Friday Illinois played with reckless abandon as well. Freed from the dreaded Big Ten defensive teams that deny fast-break points at all costs, the Illini played like the aggressive team John Groce tried to build early in the year. (I.e. when the team started 12-0 and took three point shots without fear.) I heard a lot of criticism of Illinois taking 31 threes in the game because it opened the door for Colorado to come back, but I completely disagree. Illinois isn’t a great half-court team. They don’t have big guys who can score around the basket. And they aren’t a great passing team. The truth is, they are never going to get a better look than an open three in transition. And on Friday, those threes proved that more often than not in the NCAA tournament, ruthless aggression wins. (Of course those transition threes would not have been possible with great half-court defense. Illinois’s first half steals showed it most dramatically, but when Illinois’ DJ Richardson drew a 5-second closely guarded call in the second half, that might have been the biggest defensive possession of the game.)

The Day's Shocker

Style clashes were everywhere. We had bruising Villanova, going up against the 4-guard lineup of North Carolina. Wait, is that right? Had these teams actually flipped their rolls? Was it true that Villanova actually dominated the points in the paint 38-16 in this one? And yet North Carolina still won.

That was shocking. But it was not nearly as shocking as the news that UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad might actually be 20 years old. That’s right, Muhammad might have pulled a Danny Almonte and faked his age in order to look extra dominant against his competition, and improve his NBA draft stock. Muhammad will still certainly be a top lottery pick in this year’s draft (since it is one of the weakest drafts in recent memory), but I have to think teams will think twice about drafting someone who would lie about something like that for all these years.

And we also learned that sometimes depth does matter in the NCAA tournament. I thought that with all the TV timeouts that teams couldn’t get tired out. But with UCLA’s Travis Wear and Tony Parker each picking up 3 first half fouls, UCLA was forced to keep its five other rotation players in the game at all times. And you could tell at the end of each half that UCLA simply had no energy defensively. They started the game playing lock down defense against the Gophers. But at the end of the first half, the Gophers got whatever they wanted dumping the ball into the paint. Low scoring back-up centers like Elliot Eliason and Maurice Walker dominated. And in the second half, Andre Hollins could pretty much take an exhausted Larry Drew at will. Minnesota caught almost no breaks this season playing in a rugged Big Ten. But UCLA was indeed the perfect first round draw as many experts expected.

Hot and Cold

The real story of the day was the back-and-forth scoring runs. 2013 has been the year when no team has handled success well. Whenever a team looks dominant, it tends to follow that up with its worst performance of the season. And thus perhaps it was not surprising that Friday was the day of hot and cold play.

-Temple led NC State 38-22 at halftime, only to see NC State cut the lead to 74-72 with 2 seconds left. Temple held on for the victory.

-La Salle led 44-26 at halftime, only to see Kansas St. take a 60-58 lead with 6 minutes left in the second half. Again, La Salle put the game away in the final minutes.

-Illinois led Colorado 37-21 at halftime, only to see Colorado take a 44-39 lead in the second half. Illinois then ended with a run of its own to win 57-49.

Finally, Georgetown took an 18-11 lead on Florida Gulf Coast. But FGCU went on a 41-15 run to take 52-33 lead. Then Georgetown had a run to cut the lead to 72-68 before FGCU sealed the game with free throws at the end.

Coaching Questions

After a day like Friday, we could start to question the pedigree of a number of coaches. We could ask how Bo Ryan can post such great margin-of-victory numbers during the regular season each year, but never follow that up with a Final Four run. We can ask what the string of losses to teams seeded 10+ in the tournament really mean for John Thompson III. But in both cases, I think we need to cut these coaches some slack. Bo Ryan never had a true point-guard this season, so for his team to go out with an offensive swoon, shouldn’t really be criticized. His team over-achieved this year. Similarly, John Thompson III’s teams massively over-achieved. It has been clear since November that the offensive weaknesses would likely cause the Hoyas to bow out in the NCAA tournament at some point. There is a reason JT3 won the Big East coach of the year award, and it is because this 15 over 2 match-up was not nearly the mismatch it looked like on paper.

No, the coach that most concerned me on Friday was NC State’s Mark Gottfried. His inability to get his team to buy in on the defensive end is a huge concern. NC State is rarely going to have as much offensive talent as they had this season. And in the newer, stronger ACC, it may never be the preseason pick to win the league again. But without some commitment to teach defensive fundamentals, NC State will never match its fanbase’s rabid expectations.

And perhaps that is why I should end where I began. A day like Friday is as much about ending as it is about winning moments. It is hard for me to believe that NC State senior Richard Howell’s career is over. The hardworking rebounder didn’t earn playing time until later in the career because he was often over-shadowed by more skilled players. But his hustle and grit, made NC State an incredibly fun team to watch the last two seasons. Scott Wood was one of the all-time great three point shooters in the ACC. And in a league with the ACC’s history, that is quite a compliment. And in a blink of an eye, their college basketball careers are over. To see NC State go down in the first round, without a single NCAA tournament win has to go down as one of this season’s biggest disappointments.

Expected Wins in the Field of 64

Once again, I’m tracking the expected wins in the field of 64 using the Pomeroy Rankings. San Diego St. increased its expected wins by 0.61 by knocking off Oklahoma. (See Own Game.) And its odds increased another 0.54 because Georgetown lost and because San Diego St.’s 15 point win increased their Pomeroy Ranking slightly. (See Other.)

Biggest Winners

EW Start Friday

Own Game

Other

EW End Friday

Mississippi

0.49

1.24

0.14

1.86

San Diego St.

0.89

0.61

0.54

2.05

Florida Gulf Coast

0.13

1.10

-0.01

1.22

La Salle

0.58

0.81

0.16

1.55

Iowa St.

0.69

0.79

-0.06

1.43

Temple

0.43

0.75

-0.02

1.16

Illinois

0.83

0.77

-0.09

1.51

North Carolina

0.84

0.64

0.01

1.49

Creighton

1.06

0.61

-0.05

1.61

Minnesota

0.82

0.54

0.01

1.36

Ohio St.

2.46

0.29

0.08

2.83

Miami FL

2.08

0.26

0.07

2.42

Florida

3.36

0.13

0.18

3.67

Indiana

3.22

0.11

0.08

3.41

Gonzaga

2.77

0.00

0.12

2.89

Overall the large number of upsets today meant that most teams gained from the other results. But when Miami advanced in the East that lowered expectations slightly for Marquette. And when Duke advanced that lowered the odds slightly for Louisville.

Biggest Losers

EW Start Friday

Own Game

Other

EW End Friday

Louisville

3.56

0.00

-0.08

3.48

Marquette

2.00

0.00

-0.08

1.91

Iona

0.14

-0.14

0.00

0.00

Pacific

0.14

-0.14

0.00

0.00

UCLA

0.49

-0.49

0.00

0.00

Cincinnati

0.51

-0.51

0.00

0.00

Oklahoma

0.56

-0.56

0.00

0.00

Villanova

0.60

-0.60

0.00

0.00

Colorado

0.76

-0.76

0.00

0.00

Notre Dame

0.82

-0.82

0.00

0.00

North Carolina St.

0.83

-0.83

0.00

0.00

Kansas St.

0.88

-0.88

0.00

0.00

Wisconsin

1.72

-1.72

0.00

0.00

Georgetown

1.92

-1.92

0.00

0.00

Comparing The Conferences

The Pac-12 has been suffering through a long dark period. The Big Ten has been dominant (at least in the pre-conference schedule) for the last few years. Should we expect a change this year? Is the Pac-12’s slump over? Is the Big Ten’s boom about to come to an end?

Team-By-Team Gold Medal Winners

The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?

2012 Big East Power Rankings

Syracuse finished the regular season with a 17-1 record and were predictably significantly better than any Big East rival.

Major Conference Tournaments Day 2: Big East, Pac-12

How important is it to have Jim Calhoun on the sideline, Oklahoma's late game gamble, and other observations from Wednesday of Championship Week.

Rivalry Week Musings And More Conference Shuffling

Breaking down Duke/North Carolina, Syracuse/Georgetown, Kansas/Baylor and Florida/Kentucky, along with which conferences are improving with the new round of shuffling.

Top NCAA Coaches Of Past Five Years

There are a lot of complicated ways to evaluate college coaches, but in this edition we look at the coaches with the best per possession numbers over the last five years.

Freshmen Bring Hope

Teams that play a lot of freshmen are the most likely to improve as the season goes on, while those with a lot of experience are more likely to plateau. In this piece, we examine freshmen minutes for every major school in the country.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Dec. 12

Syracuse has yet to leave New York and have played a relatively soft schedule, with their only impressive wins coming against Florida and Stanford, but they are 10-0 and now No. 1 in RealGM’s weekly poll.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Dec. 5

Aaron Craft, Jared Sullinger and Ohio State were ready to trounce on the No. 1 slot in RealGM's rankings if not for an Anthony Davis block.

Big East Prospect Watch

With Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, Khem Birch and Mouphtaou Yarou, the Big East once again has several high-quality NBA prospects.

On The NCAA Tournament (Day 2)

Kyrie Irving's return, Gus Johnson's Mom, why Georgetown was Friday's biggest loser, plus Texas' expectations remain relatively stagnant.

Surprises And Flops, Part 2

Examining the surprises and flops this season in the Big East, ACC, Big 12 and Atlantic-10.

Conference Rankings (End Of Jan. Edition)

As we have commonly seen in recent seasons, the Big East has been the deepest conference in the country.

 

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