Monday, March 30, 2009

NCAA Tourney Weekend 2 = what we learned

For the first time since 1987, the Big East has two Final Four teams. It was favored to have three -- but Louisville lost to Michigan State with an awful performance. Since the last time the Big East actually had two Final Four entrants, the Big Eight/12 has turned the trick three times, the SEC three, the ACC four, and the Big T(elev)en five times. So now, we can welcome the Big East back to the group of MAJOR major conferences and raise it from the second tier major status it had held with the Pac-10 and the C-USA (before Louisville, et al. left for the Big East).

As for the stat geeking -- a neutral result this year. The offensive efficiency ratings for UNC, UCon, Villanova and MSU are 1, 12, 19 and 23; their defensive efficiency ratings are 18, 3, 15 and 9. That's a slight edge for defense, but not much because once again all the Final Four teams are Top 25 offenses. Contrast that with the fluke year of 2006 when three of the Final Four teams were outside the Top 25 in offensive efficiency.

As for The Monk: any year whose final two digits are divisible by 3 is just a disaster. In '03, I went 1-for-4 (Texas, although I got 6 of the Final Eight), in '06 I went 0-for-4 (no mitigating factors) and this year I hit just 1 of 4 Final Four teams (UNC, but I hit five of the Final Eight). Yeesh.

Some quick hits for the coming weekend.

(1) Carolina should win. It has the best team and the most talent. Oklahoma was a #1 seed threat all year, and the Tar Heels dismantled the Sooners just as much with Tyler Hansborough on the bench as it did with Psycho T on the court, and also stretched its lead from 19-12 to 61-40 while Blake Griffin took over for OU and scored 23 points in the last 28 minutes of the game. BTW, Carolina shelled Michigan State 98-63 at Ford Field, the Final Four site, earlier this year. And no, you should definitely not expect Villanova to come out and run UNC off the floor like KU did last year.

(2) I'm officially tired of UCon -- that's one "n" not two. If the Huskies don't get a year in the NCAA brig for their recruitment of Nate Miles, I'd be very displeased considering that the hands of their coaching staff are dirtier than Syracuse's when the Orange went in the dock for 1993 for recruiting violations relating to the recruitment of (the late) Conrad McRae. Unlike SU, a UCon (former) assistant coach (Tom Moore, now Quinnipiac's coach) has not only been caught with recruiting violations, but admitted them. And I'm tired of Jim Calhoun being a perpetual grump.

(3) This is the third straight year that all four #1 seeds survived to the Final Eight. That also happened in 2003 and 2001. But don't bet the straight #1 seed line for the Final Four in the future. In 2001, '03, '07 and '09, only 7 of the 16 #1-seeds won their regional final and those #1 seeds are just 5-9 against teams seeded #3 or #2. Add in last year's all #1 Final Four, and the #1 seeds are 11-9 in those seasons, but 8-9 against teams seeded #3 or #2 (in '01, Mich. State beat a #11; in '03, Texas beat a #7; in '08 KU beat a #10).

(4) If you needed any reinforcement even after UNC's Tourney title in 2005, the top team in the ACC is North Carolina. Not Duke. This reality had been in the works from the day Roy Williams took over at UNC, but the turnaround is complete. Carolina is a choked lead in the 2007 regional final away from this season's appearance being its third-straight in the Final Four. Duke hasn't escaped the third round since Williams' first year at UNC. And next year, Duke's main recruits are . . . a big white beanpole center and a face-up power forward, the exact type of players that the Blue Devils have not won with for five years running.

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