ATB: Ohio St. Rising

Posted by rtmsf on February 3rd, 2009

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UNC’s Ginyard Out for the Year. No surprise here, but UNC made it official todayMarcus Ginyard’s stress fracture will keep him out of the lineup for the rest of this season.  A lot has been written about UNC missing Ginyard’s sticky defense, especially on the perimeter, but at least statistically, the Heels are playing better defense this year than last (even though it’s a marginal difference).  Where Ginyard is missed is at the three-point line, where teams are shooting a better-than-expected 32.4% against them.  As anyone who has watched this game before knows, hot three-point shooting in March has sunk many a good team, so this would be the one area where a Heel fan should worry the rest of the way – it’s unlikely to improve.

Game of the Night. Ohio St. 80, Purdue 72 (OT). We just can’t figure out the Big 10 this season.  As soon as we thought Michigan St. was ready to run away with the league, they lost home games to Northwestern and Penn St.  Then we thought Illinois might be poised to move into the top position before they laid a gigantic 36-pt omelet at Minnesota last week.  Ok, so what about Purdue?  It appeared they were well on their way to taking over the league when Robbie Hummel’s back went out again.  So what about Ohio St.?  The Buckeyes are still a couple of games behind MSU, but Evan Turner is really coming on (averaging 26.3 ppg in his last three), and BJ Mullens (17/8 tonight) is finally showing some of the promise that being a Burger Boy bestowed. Right now OSU looks like an NCAA Tournament team, and with Thad Matta’s March history, we wouldn’t want to face this team as they continue to grow.

Deconstructing Marquette. Marquette 76, Depaul 61. MU improved to 9-0 in the Big East, which we still contend is the best top-half of a conference we’ve ever seen.  So how are they doing it?  Well, for one, fortuitous scheduling within the league.  Thus far the Golden Eagles have managed to avoid UConn, Pitt, Louisville and Syracuse, while catching Georgetown and Notre Dame in slumps.  Still, you don’t win nine consecutive in this league without doing something right, and Marquette is getting tremendous in-conference production from its quartet of Jerel McNeal (24/5/5 assts), Wesley Matthews (19/5), Lazar Hayward (15/7) and Dominic James (13/4/5 assts).  In fact, McNeal, Matthews and Hayward each rank in the top 60 players in the nation in efficiency during conference games, so you know that these guys are absolutely ripping it up.  What else?  Well, their offense is very efficient (#6 nationally) and they don’t turn the ball over much, but other than that, nothing jumps out statistically about this team (which might be a sign).  All we know from watching them is that their guards seem to have a sense of the moment, and often make big shots in the clutch.  Remember last year’s R32 game against Stanford?  Big shot after big shot went down – it took a Brook Lopez fadeaway roller to knock Marquette from a trip to the Sweet 16.  This is truly a team that plays better than its individual parts, and although we keep waiting for a team with size to give them trouble, we’re still waiting.

Other Scores As We’re Less than Six Weeks From Selection Sunday.

  • San Diego St. 68, UNLV 66. HUGE win for SDSU at UNLV tonight to take the lead in the Mtn West.  The Aztecs are in good position to win this league now, with only one really tough road game remaining (at Utah).
  • Georgetown 57, Rutgers 47. Yeah, Georgetown won a game for the first time in three weeks, but it’s still troubling that the Hoyas were outrebounded by 3 against a 1-9 Big East team.
  • Mississippi St. 66, Kentucky 57. It appears that the SEC has figured out that Kentucky is a two-man team offensively (15 each for Meeks and Patterson).   That’s three losses in a row for the Cats, two of which were at home.  MSU hit fourteen threes in this one.
  • UNC 108, Maryland 91. UNC torched the Maryland defense for 60 first-half points and sixteen threes (Ellington had seven alone) in this one – maybe Bob Knight is holding out for Gary Williams’ job, because this Maryland team is just… bad.
  • Kansas St. 65, Iowa St. 50. Don’t look now, but K-State is actually starting to come on a little bit lately with four straight wins in the Big 12.
  • Northern Iowa 61, Bradley 58. Another impressive road win for this year’s Drake in the MVC.  UNI owns a three-game lead and only has one tough road game remaining (@ Illinois St.).
  • Florida 97, South Carolina 93. SC’s Devan Downey nearly pulled off the win by himself (33 pts on 7-9 threes), but Florida managed to put all five starters in double figures in a game that featured little to no defense (but was entertaining).
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UNC: Let’s Not Go Sucking Each Other’s [redacted] Just Yet

Posted by rtmsf on December 7th, 2008

Yeah, like most everyone else, we’re equally in awe of what Carolina has been able to do thus far in the season.  We are on record saying that the Heels wouldn’t be able to get through a pretty tough first month of the season without taking an L due to the loss of Marcus Ginyard and Tyler Hansbrough to injuries, and we couldn’t have been more wrong.  The Heels have been nothing short of awesome through the first quarter of the regular season, beating eight opponents (two of which were in the preseason top 10) by an average of 30.4 points per game.

Their offensive and defensive stats are through the roof thus far.  They average nearly 100 pts per game (97.0), shooting 51% from the field and 41% from three.  They are #2 nationally in points per possession (1.207) and percentage of trips where they score at least a point (59.7%).   They share the ball amazingly well (#2 nationally in assists – 21.7) and have a preposterous nearly 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio (1.87).  The Heels also rebound with the best of the country (#8 nationally) and play defense with abandon (holding opponents to 37.3% shooting and forcing 19 turnovers per game – 14th nationally).   Put simply, this team is playing GREAT basketball.

The Heels are Posterizing Everyone in Their Path

The Heels are Posterizing Everyone in Their Path

photo credit:  Jim Hawkins/AP

So the question is begged – why do we need to finish out the season if we know that Carolina is far-and-away the best team?  Well… because it’s still early.  December 5th is a light year away from April 6th in college basketball time, and  a lot can and will happen in the interim.  Other teams will improve, and UNC, while looking indomitable at this point, could eventually suffer from the fatigue of increasing pressure to win every game and/or simply a rough night in March.  That’s the beauty of our game.  Short of a major injury, we can rest assured that the Lakers and Celtics will more than likely be back in the NBA Finals due to the sport’s seven-game series playoff format.  But in a one-game situation in the NCAA Tournament, much like the World Cup and NFL Playoffs, an inspired underdog can accomplish the unthinkable and take down the seemingly unbeatable favorite (witness last year’s Super Bowl for just such a recent example).

For proof of this, let’s take a walk down memory lane for a brief history lesson.  Below are a handful of teams who, like this year’s Tarheels, were seemingly invincible for the entire season.  That is, until they ran into a plucky team who had enough heart and made just enough plays in the right moments to block the favorite’s manifest destiny.

  • 1984 UNC (28-3, 15-1 ACC) - We can start with a former version of the Heels.  Bob Knight’s Indiana team shot 65% from the field (69% in the second half) to take down Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins’ Heels in the second round of the NCAAs.  To this day, old-time Heels fans lament an injury to Kenny Smith’s wrist that limited his effectiveness in the postseason.  UNC had only a 1-pt loss at Arkansas and a 2-pt loss to Duke in the ACC Tourney prior to the NCAAs.  Of the 28 victories, only four were by single-digit margins.  This team was nasty.
  • 1985 Georgetown (35-3, 17-2 Big East) – We still can’t fathom how this absolute beast of a defending national champion with Patrick Ewing and Reggie Williams lost to Villanova in the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history.  Still, they did, as Villanova hit a ridiculous 79% from the field against a defensive dynamo that regularly held teams well under 40%.
  • 1987 UNC (32-4, 16-1 ACC) - UNC, led by all-american Kenny Smith and super-frosh JR Reid, lost in the regional finals to Syracuse by 4 pts, in a game where Derrick Coleman and Rony Seikaly destroyed the Heels on the boards to eke out the victory.  Their only other losses were at UCLA (5 pts), at Notre Dame (2 pts) and in the finals of the ACC Tourney vs. NC State (1 pt).  While not as dominant as the 1984 version, this team was everyone’s choice to win the national title.
  • 1991 UNLV (34-1, 20-0 Big West) - The best team we’ve ever seen that didn’t win the national title.  Simply an astonishing combination of talent and experience on the cusp of the early-entry era.  Duke, who had lost by 30 in the NCAA Final to this same team one year prior, became Duke on this night – roaring back behind Mr. March, Christian Laettner, to win the game in the final minutes 79-77.  UNLV, who placed all five starters on the all-Big West team (four 1st teamers), had beaten its opponents by an average of 27.5 pts per game coming into the national semis, including a whipping of #2  Arkansas at the old Barnhill Arena by a score of 112-105 (the final was much closer than the game actually was).
  • 1997 Kansas (34-2, 18-1 Big 12) – We still contend that this was Roy Williams’ best team (even better than the 2005 UNC national champions).  A two-pt double-OT loss at Missouri was the only blemish on a near-perfect season until upstart and eventual national champion Arizona, led by Mike Bibby and Miles Simon, pulled off an 85-82 upset in the regional semifinals of the NCAAs.  Raef Lafrentz, Paul Pierce and Jacque Vaughn led a balanced attack that absolutely devastated most of its oppenents, many of whom were ranked (9-1).
  • 1999 Duke (37-2, 19-0 ACC) – With the possible exception of 2006 UConn (who we find overrated), this was the last college team that was absolutely loaded with A-grade NBA talent. The lineup featured two NPOYs (Elton Brand, Shane Battier) in addition to draftees Will Avery, Trajan Langdon and Chris Carrawell.   Future all-star Corey Maggette came off the bench.  Only four teams all season were able to stay within 10 pts of the Devils, who crushed teams by an average of 24.6 points per game.  Had this team won the title game against UConn, it would have been on the short list of greatest teams in the modern era.
  • 2002 Duke (31-4, 16-3 ACC) - This team didn’t have the outrageous statistical profile of its predecessor three years prior, but it was the defending national champs and boasted Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Carlos Boozer in a balanced attack that seemed destined for back-to-back titles.  That is, until this team’s only bugaboo, FT shooting (68.9%) popped up to bite them in the Sweet 16 against Indiana.  Two one-pt losses, a three-pt loss and a 14-pt loss to national champion Maryland were the only blemishes on this team’s resume.

So there you have it.  Our memories don’t go back further than the 80s, but we’re sure there are probably some other great historical examples of this phenomenon.  Leave them in the comments if you wish.  Of course, there are just as many (if not more) dominant teams that actually got it done and won the national title – which one will the 2008-09 Tarheels become?  To answer that question is why we will continue to watch.

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Preseason Polls Released

Posted by rtmsf on October 31st, 2008

Prediction:  by the end of the first week of December, UNC will no longer be #1 in the major media polls.

No way, there’s too much pressure and they have too many good teams to handle before we even get our advent calendars.  Oh, and did you hear, a small piece of their offense will be out for a while with a stress reaction?  Even if this substantial piece never misses a game, which is extremely unlikely, he’s going to miss practice and be out of ‘game shape’ for a while.  And no, we’re not talking about Marcus Ginyard, but his loss hurts too.

Here’s Carolina’s early schedule – you tell us how they’re going to come out of this unscathed…

  • v. Penn  (11.15.08) – easy enough at home, right?
  • v. Kentucky (11.18.08) – this home game suddenly becomes extremely interesting if TH is out or still ailing – Patrick Patterson will wipe up the inside.
  • @ UCSB  (11.21.08) – UNC fans will remember the west coast stopover game before Maui in 2004-05 well.  Trap game.
  • @ Chaminade  (11.24.08) – Maui Invitational first round – easy W.
  • v.  Alabama (probably) (11.25.08) – UNC should be careful to not sleep on an athletic Bama team, but will probably win regardless.
  • v. Notre Dame/Texas (probably) (11.26.08) – either of these teams could defeat a less-than-full-strength UNC in Maui.
  • v. UNC-Asheville  (11.30.08) – easy home win.
  • @ Michigan St. (Detroit) (12.03.08) – 40,000 people could watch this game at Ford Field, and UNC will absolutely need to be at full strength to win this game vs. MSU.

There are at least three opportunities for the major upset here, and if Hansbrough and/or Ginyard are out for any of those games, go ahead and mark it down.  UNC will not enter the second week of December #1 and unbeaten.

Now, on to the polls, where UNC was a unanimous #1 in the AP Poll for the first time EVER (nope, not even 1991 UNLV, 1992 Duke or 2007 Florida), and also unanimous in the Coach’s Poll.  No pressure or anything…  FYI – UNC has been preseason #1 six times in its history (incl. this year) – the results of those seasons are: 1982 (Natl. Champs), 1984 (S16), 1987 (E8), 1994 (R32), 2008 (F4) – all that’s missing is a first-round loss or a title game loss.

Here are the polls.

We plan on doing some broader-based analytics of preseason polls in a general sense next week, but for now, here are a few things that we noticed right away.

  • Biggest jumps from AP to Coaches – Georgetown (+4) and Duke (+3)
  • Biggest drops from AP to Coaches – USC (-3) and Wake Forest (-3)
  • Coaches tend to vote by available talent + belief in other coaches’ abilities – what does this say about Tim Floyd and Dino Gaudio in relation to JT3 and Coach K?
  • Overrated – UConn, Duke, Oklahoma, USC
  • Underrated – Wisconsin, Florida, Georgetown, Gonzaga
  • All 25 teams in both polls are duplicates, but it’s interesting that Xavier was #26 in the AP vs. #30 in the Coaches.
  • We’re a little surprised to not see St. Mary’s and Baylor ranked over teams like Villanova and Kansas, but whatever, that’s their poll, not ours.
  • Alabama gets 16 AP votes but a donut in the Coaches – Mark Gottfried, much?  And LSU is getting too much love for simply getting a new coach.
  • Conference Breakdown – Big East (7 + 2 others receiving votes); ACC (4), Big 10 (3), Big 12 (3), Pac-10 (3), SEC (2), CUSA (1), SoCon (1), WCC (1).
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Tyler Hansbrough Out Indefinitely

Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2008

Big breaking news out of Chapel Hill tonight…  The nation’s top returning player on the unanimous #1 team will be out indefinitely with something called a ‘stress reaction‘ of his right shin.  Although the injury isn’t serious as of now, without appropriate rest it could continue to inflame and deteriorate into a much more serious stress fracture of the bone.  From ESPN:

The reigning Associated Press player of the year did not practice Thursday. Instead, he underwent an MRI that revealed the stress reaction, which if not properly treated could lead to a stress fracture, team spokesman Steve Kirschner said.  “He’ll be ok,” Hansbrough’s father, Gene, told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz. “His leg’s been bothering him for a couple of weeks. It’s a stress reaction and he needs to rest a bit. He just needs time to let it heal. There is no reason for him to limp through it.”  According to ESPN medical analysist Dr. Michael Kaplan, the MRI likely showed increased uptake in tibia (leg bone) suggesting a stress reaction. An overload or overuse type phenomenon occurs with inflammation and, ultimately, fatigue failure with stress fracture. This is a precursor condition to stress fracture. A period of rest is mandatory for tissues to quiet down or worsening injury will result.

Psycho T Can’t Wear a Mask For His Shin (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The timetable for Hansbrough to return to action is officially “indefinitely” but the realistic timeframe sounds like a month or so, which means the Heels will be without two starters (including Marcus Ginyard, out with – what else – a stress fracture) for their game vs. Kentucky, an away game at UCSB, the Maui Invitatonal games (Notre Dame, Texas, Alabama) as well as the ACC/Big 10 Challenge game against Michigan State at Ford Field.  These weren’t going to be easy games for UNC anyway; assuming Hansbrough is out for all of them, they might just lose several. 

More importantly, UNC fans can’t feel comfortable with this news even if Hansbrough appears to be at full strength by January.  Call us a pessimist, but these are the kinds of nagging injuries that warriors like Hansbrough invariably try to come back from too soon, which end up recurring or at minimum never completely healing throughout the rest of the season.  Stay tuned on this story, because if Psycho-T is out or even at half-speed, the 2008-09 season is wide open…

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Injury Bug Continues at Louisville

Posted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2008

Wow, it’s not even officially Midnight Madness yet, and key players on national title contenders are already dropping like flies.  Last week we had the news that UNC’s stalwart defender on the wing, Marcus Ginyard, had a stress fracture in his foot and will be out until December.  Tonight we find out that Louisville’s Terrence Williams tore his medial meniscus in his right knee and will be out of action for 4-6 weeks.  From Card Chronicle:

U of L head coach Rick Pitino had much larger fears when he first heard about the injury.”We were positive it was going to be an ACL,” Pitino told Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports. “He landed on it the wrong way. The good news is he’ll be back in four weeks.”  Williams landed awkwardly on his right knee and heard a pop, a sound which prompted Pitino’s initial angst. But an MRI taken at Jewish Hospital revealed only the meniscus tear.  Williams will have surgery tomorrow.  “Knowing T-Will, he’ll be back in three weeks,” Pitino said. “He’s in great spirits. He thought it was an ACL, too.”

This Hurts Our Knees By Just Looking At It

Since Pitino came to Louisville in 2001, it seems that his teams there have never been completely at full strength.  From David Padgett to Juan Palacios to Andre McGee to Taquan Dean to Derrick Caracter, injuries and suspensions have us wondering just what kind of deal with the devil Coach P made when he returned to the Bluegrass State – the program just can’t seem to catch much of a break in that department. 

The good news for the Cards is that it has a relatively late opening game on Nov. 22 (Morehead St.), with another week before its second game (W. Kentucky), and still another week before its third (Indiana St.).   Louisville’s first truly difficult game will be Dec. 18 (@ Ole Miss), and by all indications, T-Will should be back to 100% by then.  It’s a good thing too, because Williams does a little bit of everything for the Cards – his numbers were 11/7/5 assts including not one, but two trip-dubs last season. 

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#1 UNC Already Dodging Bullets

Posted by rtmsf on October 8th, 2008

If you want to get a Carolina fan really riled up, we mean realllllly excited, just mention how many titles your favorite team would have won had it not been for some injury to some key player along the way.  Every team has a story or two like that in their attic somewhere.  Well, for Carolina fans, their key injuries that have ‘cost’ them national championships have taken almost mythic proportions.  Just mention the words “Phil Ford” and “1977” in the same sentence (referring to Ford’s injured elbow in the NCAA Tournament), or “Kenny Smith” and “1984” in another (referring to Smith’s broken wrist suffered in January of that year), or even “Derrick Phelps” and “1994” for good measure (referring to Phelps’ concussion in their NCAA loss against BC). 

UNC Fans Are Hoping This Doesn’t Last Too Long

Let’s hope that today’s news won’t be another chapter in those annals, as UNC released news that their Mr. Everything on Defense, senior guard/forward Marcus Ginyard, will miss as much as the next eight weeks after surgery for a stress fracture on his left foot.  From the UNC Athletics site:

Doctors inserted a screw in his fifth left metatarsal. The Alexandria, Va., native was Carolina’s defensive player of the year in each of the last two seasons, was a member of the all-tournament team at the 2008 ACC Championships and has started 55 of the 107 games he has appeared in as a Tar Heel. [...] Ginyard started all 39 games last year, averaging a career-best 6.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He made both the coaches’ and media ACC all-defensive teams and was UNC’s defensive player of the game 11 times, including the NCAA East Regional title-game win over Louisville. He scored in double figures in all three ACC Tournament victories.

In other words, not an insignificant piece of their overall puzzle.  The rangy 6’5 Ginyard can defend the 1-4 positions and played 70% of the available minutes last year (third behind Hansbrough and Ellington), using his length and quickness to harass opposing scorers all over the court. 

Should UNC fans be concerned that another Phil Ford or Kenny Smith situation is afoot?   Probably not to that level, but foot injuries do have a tendency to linger, seeing as how ankles like to twist and feet like to get mashed during the battles underneath.  We know UNC can score bunches of points, but their downfall last year was their relatively average defense (#90 in eFG% and #179 in TO%) – an inability to ensure stops when they absolutely needed them – and losing a defensive stalwart like a 100% Ginyard is cause for mild concern. 

The good news for Heel fans is that Ginyard should be healed completely by January according to doctors, but those fans smitten with the idea of an unbeaten regular season should dampen those hopes somewhat.  A November home game vs. Kentucky, a trip to Maui where Alabama, Notre Dame and/or Texas await, and a quasi-away game at Michigan St. in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge will put the Heels to the test before ACC play begins, especially if their best defender is still on the bench.   

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