Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My What Short Memories We Have

It's a funny thing, memory. As a quasi-judicial officer, I have had people reiterate the following advice many times, in re making presentations-- "People remember the first thing they hear and the last thing they hear, and that's about it." Alas, the national media, and even the NCAA tournament selection committee, seem to be displaying the same capability for memory as your average layperson. Teams that won their conference tournaments are the hot picks to make it to the Final Four and were given top seeds. Thus, UNC, OSU, Florida, Kansas, (all one seeds), and Georgetown, Memphis, Oregon, (two, two and three seeds respectively) are the hot picks to go all the way.

Teams that performed poorly in the last week or two, or ended the pre-tournament season with a thud are ignored or written off. Here I mean teams like UCLA (which went 15-3 in the Pac Ten, made the Final Four last season with a less talented team, and was ranked #1 this season, and which no one is now talking about), Pittsburgh (second in the Big East regular season, made it to the Finals of the Big East Tournament, and ranked in the top ten all season), and my team, the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Bucky went 13-3 in the Big Ten this season, came within a missed free throw of winning the league, made it to the conference tournament final beating two other NCAA tournament teams in not-so-close games, was ranked #1 and has been in the top ten since December. But according to some unnamed prognosticators, they're one of the worst #2 seeds in history, the highest seed that's most likely to make a quick exit (which may be true for reasons to be discussed momentarily), lack athleticism, and play poor offense. And, even if the Badgers play true to their seeding and make the Elite Eight, the Florida Gators will undoubtedly trounce them. Yeesh. The national love affair with les Badgers (evinced by the ABC special, the HBO "we're so ethical" Real Sports production, the Rick Reily article on Bo, the #1 ranking) seems to have ended quite quickly.

Seriously folks, people need to get a grip. Let's not fall into the trap of only remembering what just happened, but rather look at the whole picture. Kem Pomeroy does a pretty good job of analyzing teams based on their entire performance over the course of the regular season. He has Bucky rated 7th nationally. That sounds about right to me, particularly without Brian Butch. He has us ranked as the fifth most efficient defensive team in the country, and (shockingly?) the twentieth most efficient offense. (Remember, this analysis accounts for the pace of the game.) So our #2 seed is actually quite appropriate, and the gnashing of teeth should stop. We're a good team, even without Butch, and should be expected to do some things in the tournament. Chins up, please.

Now some of the criticism stings a bit because it's a tiny bit true. Specifically, we're not the most athletic team, across the board, especially when compared to other teams in the top ten. A-Tuck is world class guy, Landry's strong, lanky and can jump, Stiemsma is quite athletic for a guy that size (as evinced by his block on Oden on Sunday), Flowers is very athletic, the Hoft is strong and pretty quick for a 6'7" guy, Kam is very speedy, and Pop Hughes is phenomenal. So we're actually pretty decent. But we lack a big rangy leaper like Julian Wright (Landry's our closest), so sometimes the dunks come far and few between, and thus no one is going to mistake us for North Carolina. But we have plenty of athletes, you naughty little silently racist writers.

Also, the complaints about our offense are again, mostly unfounded. Folks don't seem to recognize that all six of our last games came against three of the top thirteen defensive teams in college basketball (that's out of 300 odd D-I teams). Even after playing those tough teams, we're rated 20th nationally in offensive efficiency. Now putting that aside, we certainly did play poor offense against OSU. Oden tends to kill off an inside game when he's in, so we ended up taking a lot of outside shots (23) and not making many (4), hitting only 17% of our threes. If we make a normal percentage, say 33%, it's a nine point swing and thus, a game. Also, don't forget that we were in the game until the last 8 minutes of so. Plus, what really killed us overall was the atypical number of turnovers (17 or 18 I believe) UW committed. Several led to easy baskets for Ohio A&M. We call back three or four of those, instead attempt some sort of shot, and we're looking at an eight point swing, easy. Accordingly, I am convinced that our offense in that game was an anomaly. So the criticism "Wisconsin can't score" is largely B.S.

However, what does stings the most is the "Wisconsin is the high seed most likely to get bounced from the tournament" because that actually looks about right. But that's not because we're bad. Rather, it's because the eight teams in our Elite Eight bracket are pretty good. Now you might think I'd be talking about Oregon, which is on a hot streak. Hmmm, not so much. Oregon's a good team that shoots well from outside, but they're just ok defensively (49th in Pomeroy's ratings). The Ducks played fantastic defense in the Pac Ten Tournament, but I find the chances of that holding up after a season of questionable D to be suspect. And iffy defensive teams don't tend to do well in the tourney. No, the team I'm most worried about is our likely Second Round match-up, Georgia Tech, which Pomeroy has rated 14th, features two first-round NBA draft picks in Young and Crittenton, and has the 13th most efficient offense in the country. Trouble. So out of any high seed, we have the toughest likely second round game. Hopefully my father (the Pops) and I will be able to turn the kharmic tide with our attendance at the United Center on Sunday. I know UNLV has the higher seed, but Pomeroy has them rated as slightly above average on both offense and defense. The one thing they do very well is not turn the ball over on offense. And we're not a team that bases it's offense (like Marquette, for example) on forcing turnovers. So, I'm less worried about that possible game.

Also trouble is a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with the filthy papists of Notre Dame, Pomeroy's 17th rated team, which has the nation's 6th most efficient offense, largely due to a fine bevy of outside shooters (shooting nearly forty percent on the season). And the bellicous Irishmen nearly beat Georgetown, one of the hot picks to go all the way, in the Big East Tournament Semis. That type of match-up reminds me of the Indiana and Missouri State games, unfortunately.

Most of the other top eight seeds seem to have easier second round match-ups than our potential showdown with the Yellowjackets. Only UNC's game with Sparty (should they beat the filthy papists of MU), and Kansas's game against the KY jelly or 'Nova (at which I should be in attendance) measures anywhere close to the potential difficulty of the Badgers' potential second round opponent. Thus, in the interests of having your team be the secondary beneficiary of any upsets (Bucknell's defeat of Kansas two years ago was huge), I'll be cheering for some UNLV boosters to put the fix in come Friday. Or for the Rebels to simply pull off the upset.

In terms of other seeds, Georgetown actually looks like it has the easiest road to the Elite Eight--none of its potential eight opponents is rated in Pomeroy's top thirty. (Mark it in your brackets.) Also, unfortunately, Ohio A&M is a virtual lock to make it to the Elite Eight. Florida's game against either Purdue or Arizona should be decent and they'll have a very tough match-up with Maryland if they both make it to the third round, while Memphis probably wishes they were a three seed in a different bracket, so they wouldn't have to play Texas A&M in the round of sixteen, should they make it that far. I'd pick A&M there.

Anyhow, speaking truth about Bucky's rough road probably gives you the bit of the gloom and doom you may have thought I'd avoid. Sorry. To say it again, if Georgia Tech and Notre Dame get through, they're going to be very tough outs.

Anyhow, in effort to send you out happy, I wanted to pass on a quote that brightened my day. We're getting into non-quantifiables here, but I thought what the Hoft said after the OSU tournament final mishap boded quite well. Specifically, his line that "Somebody is going to feel our wrath . . . ." I hope he pronounced it "Whraath" as that's how I prefer it.

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