Monday, March 29, 2010

NCAA Tournament Weekend 2 review -- Monk picks suck

The Monk had his worst Tournament since 2006. Next year, I will suck less. Promise.

That said, I did give Wongdoer one good piece of advice: ride Duke. With its stupidly weak draw and its tremendous efficiency stats, Duke had to be favored to win its bracket. Given the lack of interest in Duke from sports bettors thanks to its recent failures (losing to lower seeds and underperforming its seeding in each of last five years), the reward from betting Duke to play in the national title game outweighed the risk of not betting Kansas.

Let's see what The Monk got wrong, and the few things I actually got right.

(1) Rematches: I said the Xavier-Pitt rematch would have the opposite result from last year. BINGO. I also said the same for Kansas-Michigan State. That prediction could have been good, or not, if they had actually played, but KU honked in round two -- the first #1 seed to lose before the Sweet 16 since 2004. I also said that the possible Duke-Villanova rematch from last year's Sweet 16 wouldn't happen because Villanova wouldn't survive the first weekend. GOOD. And Villanova wouldn't survive because it'd lose to Richmond. WRONG.

(2) Signature games: I blew the two hinge games I predicted. I said that Wisco-Kentucky would decide the East -- if Wiscaaaaansin won, WVU would win the region; if UK won, it would beat WVU in the regional final. WRONG. Wisco was walloped by Cornell so the Wisco-UK game didn't occur. And WRONG again -- UK sucked against WVU and now the corrupt, grumpy, players-never-graduate Bob Huggins is going to the Final Four instead of the corrupt, sunny, players-barely-matriculate John Calipari.

I also said the West would come down to Syracuse-KState. WRONG. It came down to the question of whether one team could beat both Syracuse and KState. And Butler did it. KState's loss was, if possible, worse than Syracuse's because KState won the turnover battle (+7 vs. SU losing -11), caused a Butler team that can hold onto the ball to nearly double its turnover average, and lost. SU threw away the game, KSU got beat.

Some more observations:

(3) Tom Izzo is the best NCAA Tournament coach working today. Since Michigan State's first appearance under Izzo in 1998, Michigan State has made 6 Final Four appearances in 14 years, won the 2000 national title and is 35-11 in NCAA Tournament games. Izzo's teams have lost in their region to a lower seeded team TWICE in 13 Tournaments (both times in the first round) and have underperformed their seeding only those two times. Sparty has outperformed its seeding in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 and three of those years were Final Four appearances. Izzo is also 6-1 in the Final Eight, the loss was to Texas in 2003 and the Spartans were completely outmanned and out-talented but lost by just 9 (only Coach K is better since the seeded tournament began: 11-1).

The most impressive aspect of Izzo's teams is their ability to play at all speeds. In 2000, they won the single ugliest Final Four game since the 1960s -- the 53-41 brickfest against Wisconsin; in their next game they ran Florida out of the gym 89-76. Last year, they outpunched Louisville in the regional final (64-52) and then outran UConn (and how many teams can ever do that?) in the Final Four, 82-73. In 2005, they outjumped and outran a pretty capable Duke team that won the #1 seed in the South. Izzo's teams are not quite as good as they were in 1999-2001 when he had the "Flint"stones of Mateen Cleaves, Mo Peterson, et al., and that may be largely because the Big Ten has been down in recent years AND the style of the conference is generally thuggish. But Sparty always plays good defense, rebounds extremely well and executes. Izzo's bete noire, however, remains North Carolina -- the Spartans are 3-10 all-time against UNC, including 0-6 in the Tournament. Three of those six Tournament losses were under Izzo (2005, 2007, 2009) and three were in the Final Four (1957, 2005, 2009).

(4) Here are all the No. 5 seeds that have won the NCAA Tournament: .

(5) I'm disillusioned that I again agree with Bill Simmons who said this:

Wes Johnson's "disappearance" during the Butler upset. If you studied the play-by-play sheet only, you'd say to yourself, "Wow, Johnson went MIA! No shots in the last six minutes? What a choke job!" Not exactly. He was playing for a coach who made a career out of burying his No. 1 scoring option in big games (note: Syracuse fans are nodding grimly right now), and with skittish guards who lost their minds down the stretch (Andy Rautins and Scoop Jardine combined for eight shots and three turnovers in the final six minutes). As I tweeted after the game, it was like Boeheim told his team at the five-minute mark, "Guys, I want you to go out there and take the most rushed, horrible shots you possibly can." Johnson couldn't have done anything except clothesline Rautins and Jardine to get the ball. Which, actually, might not have been a bad idea.

And as I go through some of the team's close losses in the NCAAs, I think he's right. After all, SU lost to Vermont in 2005 and Warrick barely touched the ball. SU nearly blew it against KU in '03 with Anthony a minimal factor down the stretch. SU lost to Missouri in '94 and Wallace was a nonfactor (and WALLACE was SU's best player throughout his career, regardless of Moten's presence -- when Moten left, Wallace took his Moten-less team to the Final Four). And Coleman and Owens often got lost late in games in the '89 and '90 seasons. Sometimes SU just got beat (Wallace had 29 against Kentucky in '96, Kentucky had four NBA first-rounders). But if SU's best player is a forward, the team needs to run its plays for him at the end of the game instead of relying on secondary players. Boeheim did this against Georgetown in February by running a play for Kris Joseph that iced the game when K-Jo had a good matchup. But Wes needed more touches against the Bulldogs.

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