basketball kansas basketball

Bracketological breakdown, 2010 edition, volume 1!

It's March, and the mad­ness of the sea­son has over­tak­en me. Thus, I won't be offend­ed if you are about to click back to Twit­ter, or your RSS reader.I'll start by not wast­ing anyone's time com­plain­ing about this year's tour­na­ment pair­ings. That path is well-trav­eled.1 And well it should be! The pair­ings are out­ra­geous! Kansas was pun­ished! Ken­tucky, Duke, and Syra­cuse — they've all got gold­en tick­ets to Indi­anapo­lis. Right? Right?

For starters, I'm glad I'm not Kentucky

For so many rea­sons. Let's look at the round two match-ups. Texas and Wake For­est have been ter­ri­ble — hor­ri­ble — over the past cou­ple of months. But, they're tal­ent­ed, and each could gel for just long enough to beat any­one in the coun­try, includ­ing Ken­tucky. Is this unlike­ly? High­ly. Is it more like­ly that Cor­nell will grind their way past Tem­ple, Wis­con­sin and Ken­tucky? Per­haps. But indulge me: Texas actu­al­ly match­es up pret­ty well with Ken­tucky, size-wise and tal­ent-wise. I think that it's pos­si­ble that they could get moti­vat­ed (ever so briefly) to not be embar­rassed by them. Am I pick­ing Texas over Ken­tucky? Maybe not. Texas coach Rick Barnes is nev­er in dan­ger of out-game­plan­ning any­one. He's nev­er been accused of hav­ing his team ready to play, and his teams are always threat­en­ing to under­per­form. Let's not for­get this. Still, I wouldn't want to be a Ken­tucky fan, not in this tour­na­ment, or in any life­time. Because let me be frank: I don't think I could face a world with­out read­ing, with­out lit­er­a­cy. I just don't think I could do it.

Which reminds me, did you hear that Coach K was born in the year of the Ratfaced Bastard?

Eerie, right? Not sure what his astro­log­i­cal sign is, but I'm rel­a­tive­ly sure that all the major media fig­ures kiss its ass.

But Duke didn't get an easy road, either

I know, most peo­ple say that Duke has the eas­i­est path: a #4 seed in free-fall after its star blew out his knee (Pur­due), and a #2 seed that lost six of its last ten (Vil­lano­va). I say: Thank you for notic­ing, world, but look at the #3 seed: Bay­lor. This team got pun­ished for play­ing cup­cakes ear­ly — Hardin Sim­mons? Texas Arling­ton? South­ern? Hart­ford? Coach Scott Drew, c'mon. You asked for your crud­dy seed. But then Bay­lor played a tough con­fer­ence sched­ule, didn't lose a game by more than 7 points, and they absolute­ly light it up (119 points per 100 pos­ses­sions — 5th in the coun­try). Enough about Bay­lor; Duke may not even get there. Louisville will give Duke every­thing they can han­dle in round 2; per­haps more. Rick Piti­no v Coach K, in the sec­ond round? Fans' brains might explode. Which coach do I hate more? Minds will boggle.

Back to the Wildcats

Kansas State. Are they good enough to reach the Final Four. Yes. Can they beat Syra­cuse? Quite pos­si­bly. How do you beat Syra­cuse? You pun­ish the zone. And K‑State has two guys who can do this — Pullen and Clemente. What about the glass? Two more guys: Wal­ly Judge and Cur­tis Kel­ly. They can hold their own under­neath. Ken­Pom has K‑State ranked 5th in the coun­try in offen­sive rebound­ing per­cent­age at 40%. They gath­er 40% of the rebounds on their offen­sive glass. That's huge. And they play great defense. Did I men­tion I wouldn't want to be Syra­cuse? I wouldn't. Espe­cial­ly because a big guy might be hurt. Or, he might not be. March mad­ness, baybee!

The team that will break my heart: Cornell

Every year I pick a team like this. They're good. They play under con­trol. They've got a sys­tem. All the ingre­di­ents are there for sur­prise. Sub­text: They played very well against Kansas. Okay, let's face it, they out-played Kansas for 20–25 min­utes in the hal­lowed hall of Lawrence, and they came up short (bare­ly). Texas A&M, Bay­lor, Col­orado, Kansas State and Mem­phis also played very well against the Hawks, and lost. Sub­text: I also have these teams doing well in the tour­na­ment. Caveat! Any­way, every year, I pick a team like this to get out of the first round, and they lay an egg. I'm look­ing at you, But­ler team of 2008. This year's heart­break­er is espe­cial­ly obvi­ous to avoid because Tem­ple is a good team who could eas­i­ly … force the afore­men­tioned egg? To emerge? Any­way, Tem­ple is a great defen­sive team, though you wouldn't have been able to see any evi­dence of that against … Kansas! Yes, they lost to the Jay­hawks at home. By 32 points.Did I men­tion that this brack­et break­down was from the point of view who has watched 34 Kansas games, and rough­ly 20 total oth­er games. Caveat!1 I will offer one sug­ges­tion: Why not just fac­tor their media desir­abil­i­ty into the RPI? Your team's win­ning per­cent­age x their opponent's win­ning per­cent­age x their oppo­nents' oppo­nents' win­ning per­cent­age x the like­li­hood that your team will draw a large, rich audi­ence to the Final Four week­end equals their seed. It's obvi­ous­ly a fac­tor in every year's brack­et. Last year, North Car­oli­na was invit­ed to do the Ten­nessee Waltz all the way to Detroit. In oth­er words, they had it easy. In oth­er news, the nation loves them some Tar Heels. It's worth men­tion­ing that adver­tis­ers tend to pay more when the Heels are play­ing. And of course CBS is for-prof­it enter­prise. You get the point. We all do. It's time to be up-front about it.Okay, wait. One more thing. I will post some­thing about the absurd lop­sid­ed­ness of the pairings:

You want to make mar­gin­al No. 1 Duke's road that easy? Seed­ing the brack­et is tough, but come on. The South reeks of a com­mit­tee that lost the for­est for the trees, and Ken­tucky, Syra­cuse and Kansas — espe­cial­ly Kansas — will suf­fer. So much for being the over­all No. 1. If we can't reward Kansas for its excel­lence with some­thing bet­ter than this, then the anti-expan­sion folks' main point is offi­cial­ly moot. The reg­u­lar sea­son doesn't matter.

More here.

basketball kansas basketball

Basketball / It's bracket time

2008 NCAA tournament bracketYou prob­a­bly can't tell, but I've been wor­ry­ing over my picks for the last cou­ple of days.

My patented approach = tossed out the window

I've filled out 20+ brack­ets in my life, and each year I take basi­cal­ly the same tack: At least one #1 seed goes down rel­a­tive­ly ear­ly; every Big 12 team rep­re­sents. This most­ly works, but it gets com­pli­cat­ed because I also gen­er­al­ly want Duke to flame out ear­ly (and with the great­est pos­si­ble degree of humil­i­a­tion), and I expect the Pac 10 teams to eat shit as well. His­to­ry has not been kind to this approach. Did I men­tion that I usu­al­ly send Kansas to the Final Four at least as well? So yes, I usu­al­ly lose what­ev­er pool I've entered.

Instead, I predict that history will be made in a couple of ways

Of course, I still have Duke flam­ing out and Kansas win­ning, but I've twist­ed a cou­ple of the oth­er valves in my strat­e­gy engine:

  1. All 4 #1 seeds make the Final Four. In every case, I couldn't imag­ine any one of them los­ing. North Car­oli­na is play­ing in their home state all the way through. Mem­phis is good, and they're mad, and I don't think they're going to have to face Texas, so who are they going to lose to? Pitts­burgh? Bob Knight thinks so, but I'm not so sure. Kansas is also good, and they're focused, and I just hope that Bill Self has them ready to go. UCLA is the only team that, to me, seems vul­ner­a­ble, if only because K‑Love's back may be hurt. Then again, Ben How­land is a wily bas­tard, and I wouldn't put it past him to use a very minor injury to start mess­ing with the minds of future oppo­nents, a la Bill Belichick.
  2. The Pac 10 per­forms. I dare you to look into the sea­sons that each of the teams played. They played good teams, and they per­formed pret­ty well. I've got USC in the Elite Eight. Crazy? Maybe. But they fin­ished the sea­son pret­ty strong, even though Waz­zu obvi­ous­ly had their num­ber. Which is why I have Waz­zu advanc­ing before los­ing a tight one to UNC.
  3. The Big 12 fiz­zles. K‑State is reel­ing, and I've got them los­ing to USC. Okla­homa looked awful quite a few times this year; I wouldn't be at all sur­prised to see St. Joe's stick it to them. I've got Texas los­ing to Stan­ford, only because I have a hard time see­ing Damion James sin­gle-hand­ed­ly deal­ing with the Lopez bros. On the oth­er hand, I do have Bay­lor and A&M win­ning in the first round, and I've got Kansas win­ning it all. So it's a minor fizzle.

Remem­ber: You heard it here first. Prob­a­bly not.

basketball kansas basketball

Basketball / Jayhawks, predictions, bracketometry

Man, this year is going to be good, not only because the teams are good, but because there are good sto­ries out there. I tell myself that I don't care about sto­ry­lines, but at some point, I absorb them. I repeat them. They become part of my con­ver­sa­tions. All the extra­ne­ous detail from those play­er mini-pro­files being pro­duced by CBS will become cement itself in my mem­o­ry; like Mateen Cleaves' from 2000 tour­na­ment: his sto­ried high school career in Michi­gan, his drunk­en dri­ving, the tough love of father-fig­ure/­coach Tom Izzo. Why do I remem­ber this? Why do I care? Who knows? As Dick Vitale would say: It's March Mad­ness, baby!

Let's start at the top

Mem­phis is the rarely defeat­ed team with killer ath­letes and a dick­head for a coach; North Car­oli­na has play­er of the year Tyler Hans­bor­ough and the elec­tri­fy­ing "Car­oli­na break" (for­mer­ly known as the Kansas break), but it's also got some glar­ing incon­sis­ten­cies; UCLA has good bal­ance, a great coach, good defense, and a stone killer in fresh­man Kevin Love; Kansas has expe­ri­ence, Dar­nell Jack­son, and a recent his­to­ry of flame­outs [cf. Buck­nell, Bradley] to overcome. 

Mid-major blah blah blah

As usu­al, there are also a host of mid-major teams with chips on their shoul­ders. But­ler had Flori­da on the ropes last year; this year, they have to trav­el to Birm­ing­ham as a #7 seed to play South Alaba­ma (a #10 seed); if they win, they earn the right to play anoth­er fired-up south­east­ern team, Ten­nessee. And Gon­za­ga (#7) has to trav­el three time zones to play a team that's dri­ving three hours with­in its home state, David­son (#10). It appears that the tour­na­ment com­mit­tee is no longer amused by fun­da­men­tal­ly sound, deeply expe­ri­enced, sin­gu­lar­ly focused mid-major teams tak­ing down high seeds in the ear­ly rounds. An inter­est­ing development.

Mid-major dis disclaimer

By diss­ing mid-majors, you think I'm play­ing with fire, but I'm not. Oh, no. I've already been burned. Twice. There's noth­ing left to burn. I'm a black­ened husk. It began in 2006; I wrote a long email about "the myth of mid-majors" to my friends. Then, I trav­eled to Austin, where I watched the the Jay­hawks mail in a first-round game against Buck­nell. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, some­one for­got to tell Buck­nell that they were sup­posed to climb inside the enve­lope and dis­ap­pear. To the delight of the entire bar from which I watched, they held off the Jay­hawks and advanced. The next year, it was Bradley. I was in a hotel in Albu­querque. Alone. Ago­niz­ing.

Kansas & UNC earn a right to stay close to home

Both teams get to stay local, but each gets test­ed by an inter­est­ing foe. UNC doesn't leave the state until they trav­el to San Anto­nio for the Final Four, but they need to beat Ten­nessee — a team that beat Mem­phis, a team with a legit­i­mate claim to a #1 seed — before they get to San Anto­nio. Kansas tours the Mid­west, head­ing to Oma­ha, then Detroit, but they need to beat George­town — a con­sis­tent, grit­ty team that is well-suit­ed to stick it to the incon­sis­tent Jay­hawks — before cut­ting down the region­al nets. Seems fair, mostly.But does this obsess­ing over geog­ra­phy real­ly mat­ter? I don't know. On a pure­ly philo­soph­i­cal lev­el, the cham­pi­on has to win six games, peri­od. Geor­gia won four games in three days to take the SEC tour­na­ment; they'd won a total of four games in two-plus months of con­fer­ence play. The Fab 5 advanced to the Final Four through Atlanta and Lex­ing­ton in 1992, Phoenix and Seat­tle in 1993.

On a historical note

Last year, Kansas got shipped two time zones west­ward and played what amount­ed to an away game against UCLA. I was there, sur­round­ed by cologne-wear­ing, hair-gelled, Steve-Lavin-look-alike douchebags who roared with every impos­si­ble fade­away prayer hit by Arron Affla­lo (not mis­spelled), and every brass-balled pull-up j by Dar­ren Col­li­son. It has tak­en me some time to admit that UCLA may have been the bet­ter team, a fact that wasn't made any more com­fort­ing by Bill Walton's pod-rhap­sody about the beau­ty of UCLA's win [mp3]. The tour­na­ment committee's cal­cu­lus: Kansas wasn't a clear #1 seed, so they need­ed to trav­el across the coun­try to beat UCLA in their back yard in order to prove they belong in the Final Four. Which brings me to this year's Mem­phis team.

This year, Memphis gets sent through the fire

Don't you get the feel­ing that the tour­na­ment com­mit­tee smells blood with Mem­phis? The Tigers were ranked #1 for a lot of the year, and they lost just ONE game all year. Except. Except they have the mis­for­tune of play­ing in a weak con­fer­ence, and their one loss hap­pened to come at home against a team that got its ass hand­ed to them by Texas. For this, they get sent to Hous­ton for the South region­al final, where they may in fact meet up with Texas. (Is there any way that the crowd won't be heav­i­ly pro-Horn?) The tour­na­ment com­mit­tee is clear­ly say­ing: Show us what you've got, Der­rick Rose and Joey Dorsey. Show up what you got, John Cali­pari! [Here it is again. John Cheney threat­ens to kill John Cali­pari. Thank you, YouTube]. Who knows? Maybe it's a sort of karmic pay­back for Dorsey refer­ring to him­self as Goliath, with Greg Oden as David dur­ing last year's tour­na­ment. Dude, if you're Goliath, then sur­vive this rock-sling­ing gauntlet.

Rick Barnes can recruit, but can the dude coach?

Two things I noticed about Barnes dur­ing the Big 12 final: (1) The guy either can't con­sis­tent­ly set up a decent play off a dead ball, or his play­ers just can't exe­cute one. I find it hard to believe that DJ Augustin, one of the most tal­ent­ed play­ers I've seen in a long time, can't exe­cute a play. So I'm left with the impres­sion that Barnes is just a bad game-plan­ner. Too many times, his team came out of a time­out with some crap play that result­ed in a bad shot or turnover. Augustin can often bail Barnes out by hit­ting lots of bad shots, but how far can this take them, real­ly? (2) Even worse, Barnes rides his stars, and they suf­fer against deep­er teams. Augustin played all 40 min­utes in the Big 12 tour­na­ment final and he aver­aged 39+ for the sea­son. He fin­ished with 20 points, scor­ing only 2 in the sec­ond half and miss­ing all nine shots that he took. AJ Abrams is no help; he can spot up and drain threes, but he's my size and needs to run off a bunch of screens to get an open shot, and there­fore he does lit­tle to ease the bur­den on Augustin. 

Ol Roy on the horizon for the Jayhawks

While I love all of this, I'm also focused on the prospects of my team. To para­phrase a once-great Kansan, I could (most­ly) give a shit about sto­ry­lines. As a Kansas fan, I'm pri­mar­i­ly wor­ried about Port­land State break­ing new ground as a #16 seed. Let's take care of that one. Then I'm wor­ried about UNLV; then Clem­son; then George­town. Then: Ol Roy?In the Final Four, there's the poten­tial for some great, great match-ups, which I'll detail in anoth­er post. Too much needs to hap­pen between now and then.