Tuesday, March 30, 2010

NCAA Tournament -- 2010 is an aberrant year

Checking the data reveals one conclusion -- the 2010 Tournament is nearly as much of an outlier as the 2006 Tourney.

As I noted, in five of the previous six Tournaments, all four Final Four teams were ranked in the Top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency under Ken Pomeroy's formula that accounts for field goal accuracy, turnovers, rebounding, etc. and results in a mathematical formulation of points per 100 possessions. Of the six previous years that Pomeroy charted (2004-09), only the 2006 Final Four had teams from outside the top 25 in offensive efficiency. But three of those teams were top 5 defensive teams and underdog party crasher George Mason was #18 on defense.

This year, two entrants were on The Monk's list of possible Final Four teams based on the kenpom.com top 25 rule -- West Virginia and Duke. The other half of the teams shouldn't be here: Butler is 46th in offensive efficiency (but #6 on defense) and Michigan State is 33rd in defensive efficiency (and a mildly pedestrian #25 on offense). MSU's presence is explained by its opponents -- both Northern Iowa and Tennessee are offensively deficient (#61 and 65) and Maryland's defense is substandard (#50). Butler's presence is just shocking -- even with the #6 defense, it had to beat the #8 and #13 offenses (Syracuse, K-State), both SU and K-State were top 20 defenses (#18, 19), and ultimately basketball is an OFFENSIVE game.

One more comment on the men's Tournament: CBS has to be peeved that Butler beat Syracuse and the West Virginia Inbreds beat Kentucky. This is a ratings disaster. Although sports geeks and the journalist set at ESPN and SI love the underdog/return to Final Four after 51 years nonsense, the fact is that top programs (UNC, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA) drive ratings in college sports, just like iconic teams drive ratings in the NBA and MLB (Yanks, Redsax, Lakers, Celtics). Kentucky means basketball royalty and 55 cutaways to Ashley Judd in the stands bouncing around. Syracuse means the New York market and the East Coast from DC northward for Big East school fans to root for or against the Orange. West Virginia won't drive those eyes to the TV sets.

And three comments on the women's tournament: (1) The fact that Baylor is in the Final Four is a complete disgrace. Brittney Griner should have been suspended for the year for coldcocking an opponent who she sucker punched in the Bears' penultimate regular season game. No Griner, and Baylor has no chance of getting past the second round. Instead, coach Kim Mulkey-Robinson sat Griner for a no-purpose season finale and the first round of the Big 12 tourney (which Baylor could have won with three players).

(2) Connecticut's romp through the tournament is terrible for the game this year. No matter how much ESPN has tried to pump ratings for women's hoops by showcasing the indomitable Huskies, the team's complete destruction of every opponent is just terrible television. Each of UConn's three opponents has been held under 40 points and has scored 14 points or less in one of the two 20-minute periods.

(3) This year's tournament has demonstrated why women's basketball has such a hard time gaining viewership. The notion that women players display better fundamentals than the men because they don't jump as high or run as fast is belied by reality.

First, there have been SEVEN games in which the loser scored 30-39 points for the game. That's pre-shot clock level stuff. Ten other teams failed to get out of the 40s. In the men's tournament, only three teams scored less than 50 in any game to date. And remember, the hoop is functionally larger in the women's game -- the ball is smaller so there's more room for error in shot accuracy.

Second, the shooting is cover-your-eyes AWFUL. Georgia (12-59) and Georgetown (12-70) had sixth-grade boys' shooting nights, and they're each top 20 teams! In one game, LSU shot 32% from the floor and won by 21! Last night Duke, a top 10 team, hit 23% of its field goal attempts in a 51-48 loss, Baylor hit 34% in winning that game; Stanford and Xavier both hit less than 40% from the field. Each of these teams are top 15, Stanford is the second-best team in the country.

Third, the complete bonk factor. Right now, this tournament is encapsulated by one sequence -- the failure by Xavier's Dee Dee Jernigan. She had TWO wide open uncontested layup attempts in the last 20 seconds of the game and missed BOTH. Yuck.

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