Boom Goes the Dynamite: Final 4 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 4th, 2009

dynamiteWe’re back for the second to last BGtD of the season and while we’re a bit saddened by that we are looking forward to a pair of great games today. If you’ve been checking our site the past week, you’ve probably seen some of the stuff we have been doing. We have had the best bloggers for the various teams (UConn, UNC, Michigan State, and Villanova) write previews explaining how/why their team will win, our statistical analysis for both the UConn-Michigan State game and the UNC-Villanova game, and our ongoing 64-team era modern NCAA tournament, which is in the Final 4 too with results coming over the next 2 days.

I’m assuming that most of you know the schedule of games today, but here it is for the rest of you.

  • #1 UConn vs. #2 Michigan State at 6:07 PM
  • #1 UNC vs. #3 Villanova at 8:47 PM

We’ll be back around 6 PM for the start of the first game. As always, leave your questions/comments and we’ll be responding to them throughout the day.

5:14 PM: Yikes. That shirt that Blake Griffin is wearing. At least we know that if an agent is giving him any money, it isn’t going towards buying tasteful clothing.

6:00 PM: It’s finally here. In a little under 10 minutes, we should have the starting lineups. I’m going with the chalk here like I said on the Dan Levy show. Hopefully we get a pair of entertaining games.

6:10 PM: Big question for today: Will Clark Kellogg make us miss Billy Packer?

6:15 PM: Phenomenal start for the Spartans. I think UConn is too tough to let this bother them.

6:25 PM: Decent level of play so far. Neither team looks that tentative so hopefully that means we will have a good game. One thing to note is that typically we have a story about how playing in a dome affects some great shooter. I haven’t read anything like that this year partly because Wayne Ellington is probably the only star who is an exceptional shooter, but he doesn’t fall into J.J. Redick or Trajan Langdon territory.

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Bill Laimbeer: Not a Fan of the Highlighter

Posted by nvr1983 on March 20th, 2009

We were granted the opportunity to speak with Bill Laimbeer, a 4-time NBA All-Star, member of 2 NBA Championship teams (“The Bad Boys”) and former team captain of Notre Dame as part of a promotion that Coke Zero is doing for http://www.TasteTheMadness.com.

I have to say going into this interview I was a bit apprehensive. I’m not the world’s smoothest sports interviewer on the planet (as Seth Davis can probably attest to) and Bill Laimbeer has a bit of a reputation although looking back now I can’t remember any Jim “Chris” Everett moments from Laimbeer so maybe my concerns were unnecessary. It turns out that he was much friendlier than I expected and actually laughed at a few of my jokes. Even though it was part of the Coke Zero campaign, we spent most of the interview discussing basketball (college, NBA, WNBA, and even Boston fans like Bill Simmons) and not just the promotion.

One of the things that stuck out when I reviewed the interview was that Laimbeer still seems to harbor some animosity towards Digger Phelps, who coached him at Notre Dame. Looking back I probably should have dug deeper into that, but we were on a schedule. If either Bill or Digger are reading this, shoot me an e-mail at rushthecourt@gmail.com and we can get to the bottom of this.

RTC: Coming from the West Coast, what made you decide to go to Notre Dame?

BL: Well, a few reasons. One was that my parents were moving from Los Angeles to Ohio at that time after my senior year of high school. That played a little part in it. The second part was that I thought Notre Dame was a national university both basketball-wise and school-wise, and I spent most of my life in the Midwest, but I spent my high school years in California so it seemed like a good fit. And Notre Dame was on TV every other week. There was only one game a week on TV.

Laimbeer at Notre Dame (Credit: Notre Dame Media Guide)

Laimbeer at Notre Dame (Credit: Notre Dame Media Guide)

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Maybe John Calipari Was Right. . .

Posted by nvr1983 on March 5th, 2009

You may remember that one of the big stories from last year was Memphis and its inability to hit free throws. John Calipari was routinely questioned about it and shrugged it off essentially saying that his team was winning so it didn’t bother him that much. And with the national title game winding down they were in a position to bring Memphis its first title by knocking off Kansas. Then the unthinkable happened. Following the game Calipari was roundly mocked for his bold proclamations leading up to the game that free throws didn’t matter. You could definitely count us among those who made plenty of jokes at Calipari’s expense. Well it turns out that we may have been wrong. . .

Following up John Branch’s article on the remarkably constant free throw percentages over the past 50 years, Jack Styczynski decided to look deeper into free throw percentages. Styczynski, who was perturbed by Branch’s statement that ““there is little correlation between free-throw percentages and winning percentages”  looked through the NCAA’s basketball database and compared the team free throw percentages to the teams that made the Final 4 since 2000. Here is a summary of his findings:

  • In 2005 and 2007, none of the teams in the Final 4 were in the top 50 in team free throw percentage.
  • Last year, UNC (#13) was the only team in the Final 4 that ranked in the top 50 in Division I in free throw percentage.
  • In 2006, national champion Florida (#34) was the only team in the top 50. Apparently Billy Donovan decided to stop working on free throws the next year (and it didn’t matter).
  • Michigan State was the only other national champion to finish in the top 50 (#27 in 2000) during this period.
Rumeal Robinson hit some of the biggest FTs in NCAA history
Rumeal Robinson hit some of the biggest FTs in NCAA history

While all that historical information is nice, we at Rush the Court like to look to the future (namely this March and April) so I broke down the free throw percentages of the top 25 teams in the nation through the games that ended on March 3, 2009. I used the ESPN/USA Today rankings, which are slightly different than the AP rankings, but they have the same teams so we’re looking at the same sample either way. Using the NCAA’s statistics for games through March 1, 2009, the 50th best free throw shooting team (Seton Hall) was shooting 72.6% so I’m using that as the cut-off for this analysis. I have listed the free throw percentages and color-coded the teams into groups: red (<70%), yellow (70-72%), and green (>72%) .

fts-as-of-03-03-09The narrow range of the yellow group (2%) indicates how closely bunched together some teams are, but there are standouts for better or worse. UNC is by far the best free throw shooting team at 2.5% higher than Villanova (76.5% vs. 74.0%), which is the next best FT shooting team in the top 25. Syracuse is on the other end of the spectrum having the worst FT shooting (64.4%) of any team in the top 25, which has to worry Jim Boeheim a little bit. The primary cause of Syracuse’s poor free throw percentage is Arinze Onuaku, who shoots a horrific 31.1% (last in Division I for a player shooting over 100 FTs). The rest of Syracuse’s team isn’t that bad at the line (70% from the FT line). In any case, you can assume that you won’t be seeing much of Onuaku if Syracuse needs to seal a game from the free throw line. If anything, Rick Pitino should be more concerned as Louisville only shoots 64.7% and they lack someone like Onuaku who can be hidden on the bench late in games. For some perspective on these percentages, last year’s much-maligned Memphis team shot 61.4% from the free throw line.

What does all this mean? According to Branch’s article and tournament performance since 2000 it doesn’t mean much, but I do know that John Calipari would like to spend a little extra time in practice at the free throw line if he could go back to last year.

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06.19.08 Fast Breaks

Posted by nvr1983 on June 19th, 2008

Along with all the news/hype surrounding decisions on whether or not to enter the NBA Draft, there are other college basketball headlines:

  • Title IX rears its ugly head in a different form than we are used to seeing. The NCAA handed down a 2-year probation sentence to Southeast Missouri. The more interesting thing about it is that it seems like more serious violations came from the women’s program. Are teams really cheating in women’s college basketball?
  • Ten cities have submitted their names for the 2012-2016 Final 4. The list seems pretty standard with the exception of Phoenix (never hosted one before) and Arlington-Dallas-Fort Worth (couldn’t they just pick one?).
  • In news that probably falls under the “Who?” category, Tennessee Volunteer reserve Ryan Childress recently underwent successful knee surgery. We wonder how Bruce Pearl will replace his 2.3 PPG and 2.4 RPG if Childress has to miss any time.
  • Apparently, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt was quite animated during the most recent Knight Commission. While I agree with some of what he said, I think the point about concerns regarding maintaining eligibility as a reason that many athletes don’t take higher level classes is ridiculous. I don’t think anybody who is taking Theoretical Physics is going to be worried about meeting a minimum GPA. My favorite part of the article is Len Elmore blaming the straight to NBA trend as the reason why the Lebron James has “no mid-range game”. Does anybody think Lebron wouldn’t have just bulldozed his way to the basket if he had stayed in college for 4 years?
  • It’s really too bad that Kansas guard Sherron Collins isn’t going pro – next year could be very difficult for him on the road in the Big 12 after he lost a civil lawsuit for allegedly “exposing himself and rubbing against [a woman] despite being told repeatedly to stop.”  Whattayagot Mizzou?
  • Air Force head man Jeff Reynolds earned a five-year extension today after his scintillating 16-14 first season.  To be fair, last year was one of the best first seasons from a new coach in the history of AFA’s program.
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Where Near Chokes Happen.

Posted by nvr1983 on June 9th, 2008

Like most basketball fans I spent last night watching Game 2 of the NBA Finals and assumed the game was over well before it actually was. Unlike most people I also sent taunting text messages to the Lakersfans I know with 1:21 left in the 3rd quarter when Boston went up by 20. I was feeling pretty confident in my rather moronic display of hubris when Boston was still up by 24 with 7:40 remaining in the game.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten Billy Packer’s faux pas from just over 2 months ago when he awarded Kansas a place in the NCAA championship game when they went up by 26 with 27:30left in their game against UNC–the Tar Heels subsequently cut into the margin enough to make the game competitive and make Packer look like an idiot once again. To be fair, 20 points with 16:21 left and 24 points with 7:40 left is certainly a much, much bigger margin than what Kansas was working with, but nonetheless I should have turned to the Bill James Lead Calculator before I sent those text messages (not to mention the voice mails).

A quick calculation would have revealed the following “facts”:
– At the time of my text messages (20 point lead with 16:21 left), the lead was 28% safe.
– At the time the Lakers started their comeback (24 point lead with 7:40 left), the lead was 91% safe although it would have been “over” (100% safe) according to James if the Celtics had the ball at that time.

Fortunately, the Celtics survived the Lakers 3-point barrage and Vladimir Radmanovic’s 5-step breakaway dunk to win or I would still be getting text messages and voice mails right now.

Moral of the story: Before you decide to call “ballgame” (and taunt everyone you know), ask yourself “What would Bill James do?”

Update: Apparently rtmsf decided to make a post about this late last night (an advantage of being on the West Coast) and being the idiot that I am (see the aforementioned reference to taunting text messages) I decided to throw up a post without looking at the blog even though I had mentioned that he might consider writing a post about it last night. Anyways, I just went to The Big Lead and saw that our blog was linked to and realized that this was a duplicate post. Hopefully, you can at least enjoy my stupidity. Hey, it was better than the “19-0. Next. . .” text that I sent when I saw Eli Manning jogging out onto the field with 2 minutes left. . .

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Love & Collison Declare for the Draft

Posted by nvr1983 on April 8th, 2008

It looks like Ben Howland is going to have his work cut out for him if he wants to return to the Final 4 for the fourth consecutive year. On Wednesday, Kevin Love and Darren Collison will announce that they are declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with agents, which means they would be ineligible to return to the Bruins next year (barring the NCAA stepping in). Early reports also indicate that Russell Westbrook, who is projected to go higher than either Love or Collison, is going to declare soon.

Unlike many of the others players who declare early and soon realize they aren’t valued as highly as they thought (looking at you Mr. Caracter), all 3 of these guys are going to be lottery picks or close to it. Barring an unforseen injury, I can’t see any of these guys returning even before they hire their agents.

On the bright side, Bruin fans won’t have to spend thousands of dollars in 2009 travelling to the Final 4 just to see their team get trounced.

Update (04.09) – Mrs. Love is saying that no decision has been made on her son’s future plans.  Darren Collison also denied that he was leaving school early.  Looks like the LA Times may have jumped the gun on this one. 

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One reason to bask in the glow of last night’s collapse

Posted by nvr1983 on April 8th, 2008

Normally I am not one to enjoy seeing another team’s fans suffer unless they are a rival in which case I will taunt them mercilessly. However, I did not have a rooting interest (spiritual or financial) in last night’s game so part of me felt bad for Memphis as they choked away the game and the title. I just uncovered something that makes their collapse a little more enjoyable.

Hahahahahahaha

Just knowing that Justin Timberlake had to sit through the last 2 minutes of regulation and the inevitable loss in OT will make the replays much more enjoyable for me since he’s already run through Britney Spears (pre-KFed), Cameron Diaz, Scarlett Johansson, and Alyssa Milano not to mention countless other girls we haven’t heard about. At least we know that last night he experienced the same empty feeling that all of us have experienced at one time or the other. So what now, Timberlake?

Oh yeah.

Well he has that. . .

Well, at least he had to suffer until he got back to that. . .

Editor’s Note: We are aware there are better pics of Miss Biel online, but we try to keep a family-friendly blog here so you’ll have to use Google Images for that stuff.

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Perspectives on an Epic Title Game

Posted by nvr1983 on April 8th, 2008

I provided my instant (revised) analysis very early this morning and rtmsf will be providing his a little later today. I thought I would provide you with some of the thoughts of various other sportswriters.

-At the Alamo, this was one to remember: Bob Ryan, who most of you may know from his frequent appearances on ESPN, offers his thoughts on the game and the Kansas team, which may get lost in all the talk about missed FTs and Chalmers huge shot.

-It takes more than talent: Stewart Mandel on one of the biggest title game collapses ever.

-The Shot Heard ‘Round the World: RTC’s most well-known fan (and SI writer/CBS college basketball studio analyst) Seth Davis provides a short Q&A in between the game and his early-morning wakeup call to be on Mike & Mike.

-Chalmers, Kansas get One Shining Moment: Pat Forde on the defining moment of the tournament (with apologies to the Davidson fans).

-Calipari: We let national title ‘slip out of our hands’: Andy Katz with one of the million columns on how Memphis let the title slip away.

-Chalmers’s Effort on Both Ends Keys Jayhawks’ Win: Camille Powell credits Mario Chalmers’s play on both ends for the title, which most writers missed because everybody has focused so much on his 3 with 2.1 secs left.

-Plenty of Twists, One Final Turn: John Feinstein, author of the famous “Season on the Brink”, offers his perspective on the title game.

-Without Collins, there are no Chalmers heroics: Dana O’Neil credits Sherron Collins with keying the Jayhawks’ win on Monday night.

-Self should ignore the dollars and stay at Kansas: Gene Wojciechowski implores Bill Self not to leave Kansas for Oklahoma State and Boone Pickens’s money.

-Sharp Defense Gives Jayhawks Edge in Matchup of Top Guards: Joe LaPointe argues that it was defense that led Kansas to victory. We agree although the missed Memphis FTs didn’t hurt. . .

-A Dominant Half by Rose Falls Short by One Shot: Thayer Evans breaks down Derrick Rose’s performance that was one shot (either Chalmers’s 3 or a made FT by either Rose or Chris Douglas-Roberts) away from being named MOP.

- Mario’s Miracle: Kansas Is The Champ: Luke Winn breaks down the Jayhawks’ comeback/Tigers’ collapse and Chalmers’s huge shot.

- Rock Chalk, Champions: Grant Wahl offers his extensive analysis of the Jayhawks victory. This is probably the most thorough piece we have seen on the championship game so far.

- What is the Best Shot in NCAA Tournament History?: SI’s Andy Gray offers his take on the top 5 shots in NCAA tournament history. We’d be interested to hear where you think Chalmers’s shot ranks.

- NCAA Championship Grades: It seems fitting to end our link post with title game grades (courtesy of Bill Trocchi) for the student-athletes.

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The Day After. . .

Posted by nvr1983 on April 7th, 2008

In the interest of full disclosure, I had a draft for this ready with a little over a minute left in the game congratulating Memphis for winning the game and making their FTs when it mattered since they had made their last 4 when Chris Douglas-Roberts stepped to the line. . .

After 2 blowouts in the semifinals, we finally got a close game. After a first half that lacked any real flow to it with both teams playing well offensively in spurts but never at the same time, the game took on the character we all expected with up-and-down end-to-end action. As we expected, Kansas dominated inside while Memphis won the perimeter battle. The shot charts for Kansas was particularly astounding as for most of the game Kansas scored nearly 70% of its points in the paint with most being lay-ups.

A couple of observations:
1) Billy Packer was right. As much as we hate to say it, he was dead-on when he said John Calipari should stop setting up picks for Derrick Rose since the Jayhawk big men showed absolutely no interest in staying on the guy setting the pick. This essentially put Rose up against a double-team every time without the pick man rolling to the basket hard. Bill Self almost cost Kansas the title when he switched to the box-and-one to help slow down CDR, who was destroying Brandon Rush at that point. The box created enough separation that the Tigers’ screens were useless so they stopped setting them, which freed up Rose to go by his man. I don’t understand why Calipari would even set the picks for Rose, who can blow by anybody at this level by himself. Picks can make it easier, but not when the opposition doubles the ball and the pick man doesn’t create a good passing angle. Fortunately for Memphis, Self made it easy for Calipari by switching to the box-and-one. Rose took over the game almost from the moment that Kansas switched to the box-and-one.

2) Rose should be the #1 pick in the draft. I love Michael Beasley’s game (and his “We’ll beat them [Kansas] in Africa” quote), but I just think Rose will be a much more valuable commodity at the next level as there are a lot more good PFs than PGs in the NBA. When Rose gets a full head of steam, he’s unguardable. He may struggle his rookie year adjusting to life in the NBA (the $106 per diem will buy a lot of Gummy Bears) due to his tendency to be a little bit out of control at times and the fact that he will finally play against guys who are on the same level as him. However, I can only think of two guards (Deron Williams and Chris Paul) that I would take over Rose for the next 5-10 years and that’s only because they are proven commodities while Rose still has to prove that he can handle himself at the next level. That said, as ridiculous as Chris Paul has been this year, Rose has a higher ceiling than either of them. While Rose was unable to close the deal, I don’t hold it against him (look to CDR for that) as he showed me more than enough during the tournament to make me a believer.

3) The Kansas inside game disappeared late in the 2nd half. For the first 30 minutes of the game, it seemed like I was going to be writing the Tigers 2007-2008 obituary by talking about how they got destroyed in the paint. It was probably a combination of Kansas not working hard enough to get the ball inside and Memphis packing it in late in the 2nd half. Either way, this (along with Self’s bizarre decision to go box-and-one) almost cost the Jayhawks the title. After Mario Chalmers hit his miracle 3 to force OT, Kansas reestablished itself inside and cruised to victory.

4) Heart attacks sky rocket in Lawrence and Memphis tonight. Ok. I was trying to write this paragraph during the last 2 minutes of the game to post before going to bed. Originally it was “Memphis hits the FTs when it mattered” (4/4 at that point) then it was “Rose = $$$” when he stepped to the line. This observation obviously didn’t want to be written so I’ll move onto #5.

5) FTs killed Memphis. This should have been the #1 point and it will be the headline of this game as long as people talk about it. It’s sort of humorous that the media finally stopped hounding Calipari about the Tigers’ FT shooting coming into this game and they laid an egg in the biggest moment. The last minute-plus was basically the anti-Rumeal Robinson as CDR was the guy that Memphis fans wanted to be in that position. After going 11/14 before the last minute-plus, Memphis finished 1/5 giving Chalmers the chance to hit a 3 that will only grow in legend in Lawrence, Kansas.

6) Holy $&!% I can’t even begin to come up with a word to describe how big that 3 by Chalmers was. The only other thing I can compare it to is Keith Smart’s shot in 1987 to help Indiana beat Syracuse. While this didn’t officially win the game, for all intents and purposes Chalmers shot won the game. There was no way Memphis was going to come back after they choked away the game at the line and Chalmers hit that shot. I would criticize Calipari for not taking the foul at that point, but it appears they Rose tried to commit a foul but it wasn’t called. After the shot, the game like this post-mortem was over.

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News & Notes: April 7, 2008

Posted by nvr1983 on April 7th, 2008

Since there is a rather important game tonight and I need to get something done today before that, I will keep this relatively short. As you may or may not be aware, there are other things going on in the college basketball universe today and we’re here to keep you informed.

- Oklahoma State preparing to offer Self a job: Somehow Bill Self has managed to keep this brewing media storm to a minimum leading up to tonight’s game. That certainly wasn’t the case the last time a Kansas team was in the Final 4 and its coach was a potential candidate for another position. I don’t think it will play a factor in the game, but it is something to watch for in the early minutes of the game to see if it is affecting the Jayhawks. If you happen to forget, don’t worry because the CBS guys will probably remember you about a hundred times before, during, and after the game tonight.

- Oregon State to name Craig Robinson as its new coach: This normally wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy as Corvallis hasn’t exactly been a college basketball hotbed lately although it has some history with two Final 4 appearances (most recently in 1963) and two well-known NBA players (Gary Payton and A.C. Green). However, since this is an election year and because Robinson is the brother of Michelle Obama (wife of probable Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama), we figure this will get a decent amount of ink. Robinson had a mediocre record (30-28) during his 2 seasons at Brown. We think Barack’s brother-in-law is in for a very rude awakening as the Pac-10 is a little different from the Ivy League. Robinson certainly has his work cut out for him as the Beavers went 6-25 last year including earning the distinction of being the first team since 1978 to go winless in Pac-10 competition. Maybe I’m a little weird, but my first thought when I heard the news was if it would be a recruiting violation to use Barack to recruit players.

- Xavier’s Lavender arrested: Ok. Let me get this straight. You’re a good college player, who might have a prayer at making a NBA roster if you play well at the Chicago pre-draft camp and things fall right. Getting caught with pot while being “drunk and disorderly” is pretty low on the list, right? Have fun in Europe, Drew. We suspect that his agent will probably try to get him on a team based out of Amsterdam.

- Gordon to declare for NBA Draft: This would have been higher up on the list except everybody knew it from the moment the Hoosiers went out in the first round. We enjoyed seeing Eric in Bloomington for the first two-thirds of the season before he went in the tank much like the rest of his team.

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Memphis Chasing History?

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2008

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that we have an affinity for historical context when it comes to college basketball.  We like to think about how teams and players match up statistically in the NCAA Tournament given the parameters of greatness already set by precedent.  For example, much has been already written about this year’s F4 perhaps being the strongest of all-time, illustrated by the combined 143-9 record coming into last weekend and the four #1 seeds.  We love that stuff. 

To that end, we could be on the verge of another historic college basketball event the likes of which we haven’t seen for a generation.  Memphis currently sits at 38-1, which already gives the Tigers the record for most wins in a season, but if they win their 39th tonight versus Kansas they’ll be able to make a claim of greatness that only one team has been able to make since the UCLA run ended in 1975 – with a victory, they will become the first one-loss team in the post-UCLA era to win a championship.  Only the 1976 Indiana team (32-0) would surpass the final record that Memphis is contemplating tonight.

Memphis players Joey Dorsey (32), Andre Allen (15) and Kareen Cooper (42) celebrate with teammates during the closing minutes of a victory against Rice. The Tigers players live together in two adjacent houses and also work and eat with each other.  

Memphis Tigers – All Time Great Team?

Now, why does this matter?  We think it is important because a 39-1 record would squarely place 2007-08 Memphis into the argument of one of the greatest teams of the post-UCLA era.  This is especially true given the caliber of opponent that they have beaten in the last three rounds (#5 Michigan St., #2 Texas, #1 UCLA) and how they have beaten them.  A 50-20 halftime score against Michigan St.; a clamping down of Texas and DJ Augustin in their home state; and rendering the vaunted UCLA defense completely ineffective on Saturday.  Additionally, Memphis’ scoring margin of +18.6 this season would rank it #2 in the last ten years of champions (Duke 2001: +20.2), so this team is all kinds of legit in historical terms.     

It’s also interesting to consider that outside of the unbeaten 1976 Indiana team, no other team in the modern era has managed to win a title with less than 2 losses!  Here are the results for the group of teams with zero or one loss entering the Tourney.

1977 – San Francisco (29-1) – lost first round to UNLV
1979 – Indiana St. (33-0) – lost title game to Michigan St.
1988 – Temple (29-1) – lost regional finals to Duke
1990 – Lasalle (29-1) – lost second round to Clemson
1991 – UNLV (34-0) – lost semifinals to Duke
1996 – UMass (35-1) – lost semifinals to Kentucky
1997 – Kansas (32-1) – lost regional semifinals to Arizona
1999 – Duke (37-1) – lost title game to UConn
2004 – St. Joseph’s (27-1) – lost regional final to Oklahoma St.
2005 – Illinois (37-1) – lost title game to UNC
2008 – Memphis (38-1) – ???????

Without question, Indiana St., UNLV, UMass, Kansas, Duke and Illinois were on the verge of greatness had they won the national championship.  We think Memphis is on that same plane.  While it’s true that CUSA sucks and doesn’t provide much in the way of competition for the Tigers during the regular season, Memphis challenged itself this year with nine OOC games against NCAA Tournament teams, including UConn, Arizona, Gonzaga and Tennessee.  They certainly have the talent to be in the argument with many of those other one-loss teams, and their performance to date (despite all the naysayers, ourselves included) substantiates its inclusion among the pantheon of great teams should they pull it off tonight. 

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One last shining moment for this season. . .

Posted by nvr1983 on April 6th, 2008

After Saturday night’s blowouts, we can only hope that tonight’s title bout will give us a great game to finish off the season. I think both teams have too much talent to get blown out, but I never would have expected UNC to fall behind 40-12 before nearly making Billy Packer look like an ass (again).

I’ll offer my take and hopefully rtmsf will add his too later (see below).

Aside from a shaky performance at the free throw line against Mississippi State that made their 2nd round game much closer than it should have been, Memphis has totally dominated the opposition on its way to Monday night. I don’t think I am going too far into the realm of hyperbole when I say that their performance in the last 3 games has been as dominant as any team I can remember from the Sweet 16 to the National Semifinals. The even more amazing thing is that a lot of people were picking the Tigers to lose each of those games. The Tigers gave us all an indication of how far off we were in the first game of that stretch when they destroyed Michigan State in their Sweet 16 game as they led 50-20 at half. After easily beating Texas in Houston to advance to the Final 4, the Tigers had a little tougher time with the Bruins who hung tough for a half. Despite the close score for most of the game, I never got the sense that Memphis might lose the game. Of course, the poor FT shooting was at the back of my mind. As I noted in my post immediately after the game, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose completely dominated the game with Rose controlling the game from end-to-end and CDR controlling it inside the 3-pt line. Joey Dorsey also submitted what may be the greatest 0-point performance in a Final 4 by a non-PG (I can’t think of a great 0-pt performance by a PG, but just trying to be safe). Memphis also got a solid performance out of Shawn Taggert. One thing that has gone largely overlooked in the CDR-Rose lovefest was how good the Tigers played defense, which is something they have been doing all year. Perhaps it is because they are so captivating on offense or the fact that they rely on length and instincts rather than the Shane Battier step-in-front-for-the-charge style that the ESPN analysts seem to love so much. In any case, the Tigers’ defense is what really gets things going for them. Perhaps, if their key guys stuck around for another year or two or Rose came in a few years earlier (and they learned how to shoot FTs), we would be talking about this Memphis team along the lines of a 21st century Runnin’ Rebs team.

As for Kansas, like I said on Saturday night I’m not really sure what to say. They had one of the easiest paths to the Final 4 (based on opponents’ seed) that I can remember and the cruised all the way to San Antonio with the exception of the Davidson game where they looked tight. However, they made up for it on Saturday night against #1 overall seed UNC. Their performance in the first 15 minutes of the game was among the best I have ever seen at the college level. They were all over the court hounding UNC into countless turnovers as they jumped out to a 40-12 lead. The image of the game for me was little-used, but much-hyped freshman Cole Aldrich ripping the ball away from everybody’s national POY Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough. After Billy Packer declared the game was over with 7:32 left in the 1st half, Kansas fell apart and appeared to be headed towards an epic collapse when UNC brought the game to 54-50 with 11:16 left in the game. The Jayhawks survived with a late run of their own (possibly due to UNC running out of gas too). If you watched the first half of the game, you are aware of the tremendous pressure that the Kansas guards can exert. That pressure will certainly be put to a challenge against the Tigers’ talented backcourt.

A couple key things to watch tonight:
1) What tempo does Kansas want to play at? Kansas showed us on Saturday night that it can thrive on a fast pace against a very talented team. However, as you have probably read Kansas has the ability to play at both a quick (talented guards & inside guys who can run) and slow pace (guards who can penetrate & multiple inside guys with developed post games). Normally I would recommend that Bill Self flip a coin and use that to decide which way to play because Kansas can win either way, but against Memphis that is a different story. While the Tigers have talented, athletic guys at every position, they are much better when the game is up-tempo and they can use their athleticism. The Tigers lack a traditional inside game and don’t have many great outside shooters. Thus, Self should really thing about trying to slow the game down. It sounds crazy given how good Kansas looked against UNC (and it’s easier said than done), but doing so would give the Jayhawks their best shot at winning their first title since Danny Manning and Larry Brown led them to the promised land in 1988.

2) Who will guard Derrick Rose? Kansas has 2 exceptional defensive guards in Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson, who both did a great job harassing UNC in the first half. As you may have heard, Rose is a completely different beast. As good as the Jayhawk defenders are, I don’t think they can stay with Rose if it is an uptempo game. However, if Bill Self listens to me and slows the pace of the game down, Kansas can use both in addition to Brandon Rush to try to contain Rose. I am assuming Rush will draw CDR, which is a tough assignment in itself, but he will need to help off CDR if and when Rose gets by his man.

3) Will Dorsey stay out of foul trouble? Shawn Taggert is a nice player, but he isn’t really built to battle the big guys from Kansas. If Memphis is going to win the title, they will need Dorsey on the court as he is the only one with the strength to give the Tigers an edge in this match-up. Dorsey will have to win the battle (or at least limit the Jayhawks’ advantage) against Darrell Arthur, Sasha Kaun, & Co. if Memphis wants to cut down the nets in San Antonio.

Who will take home the trophy?

Opening Line: Pick ‘em.
Prediction: It looks like the money in Vegas is going towards Memphis winning as the line has shifted to Memphis -2, which is a pretty big shift for a game that was originally a pick ‘em less than 24 hours ago. I could see this game going either way, but in the end I think the brilliance of Rose (assuming he lays off the Gummy Bears) and solid all-around play of CDR will carry the day. Plus, as I’ve learned decision markets are usually pretty reliable indicators of what will happen so I’m going with the Tigers in a hard-fought battle.

rtmsf take:

We’re still in considerable shock at just how dominant Kansas looked vs. North Carolina Saturday night. For the first ten minutes of that game, it appeared as if KU was playing Colorado in the Phog; NOT the de facto tournament favorite led by everybody’s favorite superhero, Tyler Hansbrough. Kansas was bigger, quicker, faster, and simply wanted it more. One thing we believe was a major factor but has been left unsaid in much of the MSM was that the KU players spent the entire week hearing Roy this and Roy that and they wanted to stick it to him for leaving the program in the manner that he did (even though his departure predates all of their arrivals at KU). Of course, all of the players and certainly Bill Self will deny this forever more, but KU played that first half as if something had been stolen from them. Carolina didn’t play with the same fire and intensity, and it showed (40-12). We’ll leave it to the KU fans to provide this info, but we can’t remember the last time a Roy Williams coached team was so thoroughly and completely dominated as they were last night. If it has happened at all, we’re guessing it would have been in the 90s.

As for the other semifinal, UCLA’s tendency to endure prolonged scoring droughts ultimately proved ineffective when facing a team with the caliber of Memphis’ talent. We were surprised with just how thoroughly dominated Darren Collison was by Derrick Rose as well as UCLA’s maddening inability to get the ball to Kevin Love in the post. Part of that was the Tiger defense making it very difficult for Love to find his preferred spots, but part of it is also attributable to poor decision-making by Mbah a Moute, Collison and others. It wouldn’t ultimately have mattered, because the Bruins were an offensively flawed team and they were never going to score enough points to threaten Memphis, but it still surprised us.

So we’re now left with the two least flawed teams in the tournament. It’s been well documented that Memphis struggles with FTs, and it showed in their one semi-scare against Mississippi St. in the second round; it’s also been commonly discussed that Bill Self teams have a tendency to choke under pressure, and KU certainly had a scare against Davidson and looked shaky at times yesterday after leading by 28 points. But these are ultimately nitpicks because both of these teams are beyond excellent and filled with NBA talent all over the floor. So which of these two squads is better and will win Monday night?

The thing that really stood out to us when we were watching the Carolina massacre was just how big and athletic Kansas looked compared to UNC (a team that itself has a reputation for size and athleticism). We think that this is the one area where Memphis can be exploited. UCLA was unable to capitalize on this advantage because only Love was a capable scorer on the blocks. Kansas can get offense underneath from not only Arthur, Jackson and Kaun off the bench, but also apparently from Cole Aldrich (who looked fantastic (8/7) in his 16 minutes yesterday). We think this is the mismatch that will have Bill Self salivating for the next 20 hours or so.

Memphis will counter with the silky smooth Derrick Rose (25/9/4 assts) and Chris Douglas-Roberts (28/4), but with the perimeter defense that we expect from the KU guards (who held the UNC perimeter players to 16-47 shooting), we think that Memphis is going to have trouble finding enough offense to match the Jayhawks. Put simply, there’s absolutely no way we see that the KU defense allows 83% of Memphis’ points to come from the backcourt as UCLA did, and who among the Memphis bigs will pick up the scoring slack? Dorsey? Taggart? Dozier? If that group collectively scores over 15 pts, we’ll be shocked.

So despite what the decision markets and our compadre on this blog suggest, we’re going with the Jayhawks to cut down the nets tomorrow night. Bill Self gets his first title, and John Calipari starts to hear the ignoble distinction of being the best active coach to not win a championship.

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