Friday, March 20, 2009

Thoughts On Day 1

A lot of chalk: This isn't a surprise. If you look at my bracket previews, most of the games took place in areas of the bracket that I expected a lot of chalk. The only real upset was one that a lot of people saw coming: Western Kentucky over an Illinois team that really struggled to score without Chester Frazier. One thing that I didn't understand was why they tried to play such a conventional game without him. It's not a coincidence that they started their comeback once they started to press, throwing fresh bodies all over the floor and forcing Western Kentucky to try to run. If they'd done that earlier they probably would have won. A surprisingly poor effort out of Bruce Weber, who is usually a good in-game coach.

In addition to the Western Kentucky win, the only other two "upsets" were a couple of 10 seeds, but I think most of us had those two 10 seeds winning. And at some point the talking heads on television will understand that it's not an upset when a 9 seed wins. If anything, it's an upset when an 8 seed wins, considering the fact that they've only won 46% of the time during the modern Tournament format (since 1985).

Expect more upsets today: First of all, you have more likely upset opportunities: you've got two 12 seeds (Arizona, Wisconsin) and an 11 seed (Utah State) that I picked in my previews. You've also got three games with 3 and 4 seeds where the favorite is vulnerable and the underdog is dangerous, meaning that we could potentially see another scare like Villanova and Memphis had (Xavier, Kansas, Syracuse). Also, while I have no stats to back this up, my impression has been that Day 2 is often the opposite of Day 1 with respect to upsets. If a lot of big teams go down on Day 1 then the big teams are all very vigilant and motivated on Day 2. If Day 1 goes chalk then the top teams are more likely to come out complacent and expect to just waltz to victory. Of course, the close games for Villanova and Memphis might have scared some teams straight, and maybe my impression of this behavior is just a figment of my imagination. As I said, I've got no numbers to back this theory up. But it's just been my general impression over the years.

Don't draw too many conclusions from Memphis/Villanova: You see this a lot, with top teams coming out expecting that all they need to do to win is to put on their uniforms. You can't do that in the NCAA Tournament, especially against potentially dangerous teams like American and Cal State Northridge. Both Memphis and Villanova proved that they were elite teams in the final minutes, when they finally woke up. We'll get a much better sense of these teams in their next game. I have Villanova losing because I just think that UCLA is the better team with the higher ceiling, but I think all of us have Memphis surviving at least one more round. We'll see how easily they handle a Maryland team that looked very good against Cal, but won't look as good when they face a team with more height and length, like Memphis.

Don't draw too many conclusions from UNC/UConn either: For one thing, they were both playing terrible teams. Unlike Memphis and Villanova, who were playing teams they could have potentially lost to, UNC and UConn could have completely sleepwalked to a 25 point victory against their opponents. And both of those schools like to run up the score on teams. One misconception that a lot of people have is that they don't understand the vast difference in quality between some of the 14/15/16 seeds. We know that, for example, there isn't a huge difference between 6, 7 and 8 seeds, so we just unconsciously take the same point of view for the other seeds that are similar. But there is a huge gap between some of these smaller teams. American University went 8-7 against the RPI Top 200 with an RPI of 72nd and a 14-7 road/neutral record. Radford, on the other hand, went 3-10 against the RPI Top 200 with an RPI of 131st and a 9-7 road/neutral record. Morgan State was also the weakest 15 seed (3-8 against the RPI Top 200). In addition, certain teams are just more dangerous than others - you can have a case where Team A and Team B are exactly equivalent against an arbitrary opponent on average, but Team A has a far better chance of pulling a miracle upset over a 2 or 3 seed because of their style of play. American is the type of school that is dangerous, Radford is not.

UCLA is still dangerous, even though they barely survived VCU: I've talked about how I picked UCLA to the Sweet 16, and think that they're the fourth most likely team to win that whole region, and so it might be discouraging that they barely survived the 11 seed in round one. But I would make a few arguments against that. First of all, VCU is just a very dangerous team, and we all remember what happened the last time they got into the Tournament, when they were also an 11 seed and Eric Maynor single-handedly toppled Duke, and then took Pitt to overtime in the second round. Second of all, it was very encouraging to finally see UCLA get off to a fast start. They are finally showing the sense of urgency that I've been begging for all season long. They actually started to relax in the second half, when they had a fairly big lead, which does sound like something UCLA would do. Trying to cruise to victory is the same characteristic as getting out to slow starts, it's all about not focusing except when you think you need to focus. At this level of play, you've got to focus for all 40 minutes. I would think UCLA isn't going to do that with a second half lead against Villanova. It's going to be tough beating Nova in Philadelphia, especially since they looked very good in the second half against American and should be focused after that first round scare. But I still think UCLA is the slight favorite in the second round game.

Blake Griffin really must be infuriating to play against: It's remarkable how many dirty plays have been exacted upon him this season. I even spoke about this all the way back in early December, when USC's Leonard Washington was thrown out of a game for a dirty elbow against Griffin. As I mentioned back then, I can imagine why Griffin is infuriating to play against, because he is extremely physical and is constantly throwing his body around without getting called for fouls. We all have played against guys like that who drive us nuts. But I've never ever seen a guy get hit with as many cheap shots as Griffin. I don't want to blame the victim here, because obviously there is never any excuse for a cheap shot like he got yesterday, or like he got from Washington, but it can't possibly be a coincidence. It's got to have something to do with Griffin's style of play.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think that ucla relaxed in the second half. All season long when they pull the air out of the ball and burn time off the clock they tend to not get good shots off. This team is at its best when they are pushing the ball. Also ucla has trouble against above average defensive centers and Sanders is very good defensively. If he was more polished offensively then unfortunately I think they would have won. On a side note: if Shipp had played this well last year I think that ucla would have won the championship.