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Archive for the ‘NCAA Tournament’ Category

One shining moment

Posted by Jeff Nusser on April 8, 2008

Well, now that we know Tony Bennett is sticking around for at least one more season (no surprise here), maybe we all can finally relax, kick back, and suspend our Cougar angst just long enough to exhale.

In the first of what will be a couple of looks back at this season — which I can now finally let go of since the champion was finally crowned last night — join me in watching One Shining Moment … again. I never get tired of it.

I count three four WSU appearances in the video. Enjoy.

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Posted in Around the 'Net, NCAA Tournament, News, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

And the winners are …

Posted by Jeff Nusser on April 8, 2008

Congratulations to Morgan Knows and CliftonParkNYInterloper, the winners of our inaugural WSU HOOPS Bracket Challenge! Each scored 133 points out of a possible 192, capped off when Kansas won the championship last night.

That’s pretty darn awesome if you ask me, especially since I could only muster 87 points, good for ninth place. But I take solace in the fact that I did beat Jo~Jo, who finished 15th with 75 points.

What doomed me, ultimately, were two things.

First, when I filled out my bracket, I didn’t totally believe what I had pretty much believed all year: That Kansas was the most complete team in the country. They just had too many head-scratching performances for my liking, but in the end, good Kansas was able to overcome bad Kansas for enough of the time to win the championship.

Second, I had spent the better part of the year completely convinced — and telling anyone who would listen — that there was no way Memphis could win a national championship because their free throw shooting would be a problem at some point. Heck, you can tell by looking at my bracket that I was convinced they couldn’t even get deep in the tournament because of it.

Then, the Tigers started making all their free throws, and I was completely convinced that I was totally wrong about them, and heading into last night I was sure they were going to beat Kansas — which appeared to be true for 38 minutes.

Of course, we wouldn’t even be talking about Memphis’ free throw shooting if Kansas hadn’t played lights out for those final two minutes and Mario Chalmers doesn’t hit the miracle shot of his life. (Although, to be fair, the guy is a 46.7 percent 3-point shooter who was able to get square to the basket, so I’m not sure “miracle” is entirely accurate.)

And I guess that’s what bums me out about this morning. That game was incredible, but I feel absolutely awful for Memphis, which had the game in its grasp. Because of that, people are saying the Tigers collapsed. I don’t see it that way. Kansas has showed over and over this year that when it is hitting on all cylinders, it’s easily the best team in the country — just ask North Carolina. And after sputtering for the middle part of the second half, the Jayhawks started clicking once again, and not even the awesome defense of Memphis could withstand the onslaught.

So give credit where credit is due this morning, and resist the urge to use words like “choke” and “collapse.” Even if Memphis could have done more to win the game, Kansas took it.

Posted in Bracket Challenge, NCAA Tournament, News | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Domination by elite teams becoming more regular

Posted by Jeff Nusser on April 6, 2008

If you took the time to listen to me blab on that New York guy’s radio show back in February, you might remember me saying that the reason the NCAA Tournament is so spectacular is that you get a wild first couple of rounds (complete with unexpected upsets), but by the time you get deep in the tournament, the cream has risen to the top and the heavyweights duke it out for the ultimate prize.

Although there weren’t a ton of early upsets this year coupled with a surprising number of blowouts, this obviously has become the ultimate example of that with four No. 1 seeds making it to the Final Four. This continues a recent trend of a handful of national powers making up the bulk of the tournament’s final weekend (table courtesy of John Gasaway at Basketball Prospectus; more on him in a second):

Snootiest Final Fours
1985 to Present

       Avg. Seed
2008     1.00    (North Carolina, Memphis, UCLA, Kansas)
1993     1.25    (North Carolina, Michigan, Kentucky, Kansas)
2007     1.50    (Florida, Ohio State, Georgetown, UCLA)
2001     1.75    (Duke, Michigan State, Arizona, Maryland)
1999     1.75    (Connecticut, Duke, Michigan State, Ohio State)
1997     1.75    (Kentucky, North Carolina, Minnesota, Arizona)
1991     1.75    (Duke, UNLV, North Carolina, Kansas)

Gasaway explores this phenomenon, and what might explain it, which I found highly interesting. He chalks it up to the freshmen, and their opportunity to contribute not just because of the forced year in college, but because of the voids left by other early defectors. I think that only partly explains it. After all, North Carolina and Kansas don’t have any of those heralded freshmen — they’ve got deep squads filled with guys who are very good, but not quite good enough to make that jump so fast.

My take? It all comes down to how many athletes a team has. It’s a tall order to win six games in a row (or even the four in a row it takes to get to the Final Four), and teams are going to have an off performance somewhere in there. Supreme athleticism — while no guarantee of success (hello, Kansas State and USC) — allows very good teams to overcome games in which they perform below their normal level. Memphis had Mississippi State, UCLA had Texas A&M, Kansas had Davidson.

Speaking of Davidson, I think my theory applies there, as well, despite their No. 10 seed and “mid-major” status: It took some superhuman efforts by Stephen Curry for the Wildcats to get as deep as they did. Without Curry — a good athlete who somehow got missed by the ACC — there is no possibility of the Elite Eight.

As a side note, if you like what we do here with statistical analysis, you’ll love what they do at Basketball Prospectus, and you ought to be reading it regularly.

Posted in Around the 'Net, Breakdowns, NCAA Tournament | 1 Comment »

Bracket Challenge, semifinal leaderboard

Posted by Jeff Nusser on April 6, 2008

Well, just one game to go, and we’ve got a logjam at the top of the leaderboard. Four — four! — brackets currently are tied for first place, and if Memphis wins tomorrow, it will stay that way.

Some interesting things have emerged as we approach the championship. First, it appears most of us had a little bit of Pac-10 bias: 14 (of 23) brackets picked UCLA as the champ. Other interesting tidbits:

  • None of us picked both championship participants correctly.
  • Nobody picked Memphis to win the Tournament.
  • Just three people picked Kansas to win it all.

Since so few people picked Kansas and no one picked Memphis, most of the standings are locked in where they are. “Morgan Knows” and “CliftonParkNYInterloper” have a chance to tie for first with a Jayhawk win, while “WSU HOOPS” (not my bracket — I wish!) would jump all the way from 11th to third.

The rest of us are pretty well stuck, which isn’t all bad, at least for me. After a truly pitiful start, I’ve made a comeback to respectability by being a model of consistency: I scored 16 points in every round but the first to ascend to eighth place. Weird.

Posted in Bracket Challenge, NCAA Tournament | Comments Off on Bracket Challenge, semifinal leaderboard

Bracket Challenge, Round 3 leaderboard

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 29, 2008

Sorry I didn’t get an update of this posted on Thursday night — kinda just didn’t feel like it, if you know what I mean.

We have a new leader with 50 percent of the rounds completed, and it’s “CliftonParkNYInterloper,” as all of the Taylor Rochestie brackets apparently took the same turn Rochestie’s jumper did.

The good news is, of course, that while I’m in 19th place right now, only two brackets have the potential to score more points than mine if I win out. In fact, if I get the final seven games right, I think I win.

Look out, here I come!

Posted in Bracket Challenge, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Bummer yes; disappointment, no

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 27, 2008

So, I just got home from the restaurant. I’m not going to go too in depth, because we all saw what happened, but here are just some general thoughts to wrap up the final game of the season.

(Dang, it sucks to write that. I’m pretty sure it hasn’t sunk in yet.)

First of all, if there was any doubt about how good North Carolina is, those doubts should be firmly put to rest now. They just ran through and over the second-hottest team in the tournament with ease, mostly on the strength of that unbelievable offense. I’m not sure I can think of a college offense in recent memory that has had that kind of firepower.

We certainly didn’t help our cause; shooting 32 percent from the floor is bad no matter who you play. But when you’re depending on made buckets to keep a team from getting into its transition offense and you miss that many shots — not to mention turn the ball over a few times — that’s just death.

I suppose I might feel a little better about this loss if North Carolina had done anything special on defense to cause that 32 percent, but I just felt like it was nothing more than a bad shooting night. We can talk about not getting the ball to Aron Baynes enough, or not going hard enough to the bucket, but really what it came down to was that it was an extremely poorly timed bad shooting night. Nothing more than that.

Of course, that’s really all it takes with a team such as North Carolina.

To be sure, North Carolina’s defense is predicated by its offense — something no other team in college basketball can say, except for maybe Tennessee. And their offense is so darn good, it works for them. I mean, we held their All-American to two points in the first half … and were down 14 at the break. When you give the Heels a crack in the door, they kick that freaking thing down, whether it’s Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson or Danny Green, who just happened to exceed his season average with his 12-point first half.

A two-point game all of a sudden becomes a 10-point game, putting tremendous pressure on your offense to catch up. You start getting a little tight, you miss a few more shots … all of a sudden it’s a 17-point game. And it’s absolutely over from there, because the pace you must play to catch up doesn’t favor you, it favors North Carolina.

While I’m bummed out that we didn’t compete a little longer than we did, I’m hardly disappointed. This has been such an awesome ride, how can any of us be disappointed? Losing seven times to your in-state rival and getting bounced in the first round of the CBI with top 25 recruiting classes is disappointing. Spending the better part of two seasons ranked in the Top 25, going to consecutive NCAA Tournaments and making it to the Sweet Sixteen is not.

I’ll probably have some thoughts in the next couple of days to wrap up the season, once I’ve had some time to collect my thoughts and put it all in perspective in my mind, but now’s not the time. The only thing this is the time for is this:

Thank you, Cougs. You’ve brought immeasurable joy to our lives, something we can’t say enough. I know this isn’t the way you wanted to go out, and this probably won’t make you feel any better right now, but we love you just the same.

Posted in Game Analysis, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

GAME THREAD: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 4 WSU

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 27, 2008

Tar Heels (34-2) vs. Cougars (26-8)

Bobcats Arena (Charlotte, N.C.), 4:27 p.m. PDT
TV: CBS

All I’ve heard this week over and over and over again are questions about just how the Cougars think they’re going to be able to stop the juggernaut that is North Carolina. And quite frankly, I am sick and tired of it.

In that vein, I’m going to kick this game thread off by going in a different direction and asking a simple question that probably wasn’t asked even once to Roy Williams in the past week.

What in the heck is North Carolina going to do to stop us?

In terms of adjusted offensive efficiency, the Cougs are the second best offensive team North Carolina has faced this year — right behind Duke.

The defense gets all the play, but the offense is what has made this team a legit Final Four threat. And I hope Carolina thinks they’re going to stop us the same way Winthrop and Notre Dame thought they were going to. I hope they think they’re going to run on us the same way Notre Dame did — the same way Gonzaga, Cal, USC and Oregon thought they were going to. Because unless they figure out a way to stop our offense, they won’t be able to.

What people don’t realize is that we don’t slow it down to give ourselves a fighting chance, like we did four years ago. We slow it down because that’s how we beat you. We slow it down to wear you out. We make you work for 35 seconds, only to give up a Kyle Weaver layup or an Aron Baynes dunk.

We slow the game down because we use it to break your will to beat us. Unless you play in the Pac-10, and are committed to winning this battle of wills — as UCLA and Stanford were — you have no concept of what that’s like.

Until you play us. And then, by the time you realize what is happening to you — that it’s so much more than some gimmick to stay close with more gifted teams — it’s usually too late. You stand there and think, “We’re losing to these guys?” (Just ask the Fighting Irish, who I think still are probably baffled as to how they lost that game.)

Carolina is not a team that wants to play defense for 35 seconds. Carolina is a team that wants to end possessions quickly by either inducing its opponents into quick shots and securing the rebound or getting a steal. In either case, it usually leads to a fastbreak for them, the heartbeat of their offense.

And therein lies the key — the reason why I think this is the most beatable No. 1 seed for the Cougs, despite the athletic disadvantage. We are the 20th-ranked shooting team in the country and the ninth-ranked team in the country in turnover percentage. Carolina has not played even one team that ranks that highly in either category this year. Take care of the basketball and make some shots — which the Cougars absolutely can do against this porous defense — and the Tar Heels can’t run. No matter how badly they want to.

Roy Williams thinks his team can be equally effective winning a halfcourt game. But when he says, “I wouldn’t say I’m not a fan of (the Bennett style). I’m a fan of basketball going up and down the court,” he actually is communicating a much different thing. He’s telling fans and his players that the Heels don’t want to win the way we want to win. And if we force them to win that way, they won’t believe they can do it. They think they’re above winning a half-court game. To the end, Williams and the Heels think they’re better than us — not just athletically, but in every measurable respect.

And that tells me one thing: They’re not convinced that we really can beat them. Heck, I’d be surprised if they really thought we could even hang with them. The fawning in the national media, the adoring home crowd at the arena yesterday, the belittling of our style of basketball … it all sends the message that WSU doesn’t belong on the floor with North Carolina.

But we know we do. We’ve proven it in the past. You want to know why UCLA played the way it did in two games this year against the Cougs? Because we spent three years banging on the Bruins’ door. You want to know why Arizona came out so fired up in its two games this year? Because we beat those Wildcats twice last year.

You think the Heels are going to have any clue about that kind of desire on their first try?

Me neither.

Bring it on.

Posted in Game Threads, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , , | 10 Comments »

Can the Cougs overcome the fear factor?

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 26, 2008

I’ve said since the beginning of this tournament that North Carolina might be the most beatable No. 1 seed in the Dance for the Cougs. A lot of people thought I was nuts (and I must admit, I’d probably rather be playing Memphis right about now), but nothing that happened in the first two rounds of the tournament has led me to believe that the Cougs can’t beat the Heels.

The question, though, is this: Do the players believe they can beat the Heels?

You would hope that the answer would be a resounding yes, but unfortunately, history this season suggests that it’s at least valid to ask the question.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Breakdowns, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , , | 9 Comments »

In their own words: Sweet 16 Sound Off

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 26, 2008

Vodpod videos no longer available. from sports.espn.go.com posted with vodpod

Posted in NCAA Tournament, Video | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on In their own words: Sweet 16 Sound Off

So, about that road contest

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 26, 2008

A lot of people have come up with a lot of reasons why the Cougars won’t be able to hang with North Carolina, and a lot of them are valid.

Then, when they run out of rational reasons (if they had any to begin with), they throw this in for good measure: “Well, North Carolina just has to get on a bus and drive down the road; those Cougars, they have to fly aaaallllllll the waaaaaaay from PULLMAN — which, incidentally, is in the middle of nowhere — to North Carolina to play in front of a hostile crowd. That’s just too much!”

Hogwash.

There are a lot of things this Cougar team has proven this season, and one of them is that they simply are not phased by traveling to another team’s arena.

No decent non-conference opponent wanted to come to Pullman this year to play a game in a style that’s been compared to a root canal. Scheduling was difficult, so Tony Bennett did the only thing he could to toughen his team up: Play a lot on the road. It was lamentable early in the season, but it has paid dividends, as statistics show that the Cougs learned to perform equally well in both friendly and hostile confines.

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Posted in Breakdowns, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »