Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/28/2008 12:52:00 AM
On The Night Of The Sub, Carolina Keeps Rolling
HOUSTON -- Thoughts while watching the games on an off-night in Texas ...
• North Carolina's offense is getting insanely efficient. The stats site Basketball State kept points-per-possession data on 10,478 Division I games (nearly every one) this season, and get this: The Tar Heels' performance against Arkansas in the second round (1.54 PPP) ranks fourth overall, and their performance against Mount St. Mary's in the first round (1.51 PPP) ranks sixth overall. The next-most-efficient performance by any team in an NCAA tournament game belongs to the Razorbacks, who scored 1.29 PPP against Indiana -- but that ranks 51st.
On Thursday night, Carolina's offense came down out of the stratosphere, scoring 1.046 PPP against Washington State. Which at face value doesn't look phenomenal -- until you consider that Wazzu's vaunted defense held Notre Dame to 0.68 PPP in the second round. There's only one team in the nation with a more-efficient offense (and a better D) than the Heels: Kansas. The fact that I picked anything other than a KU-UNC meeting in San Antonio (I had Tennessee in my original bracket) was not smart. Fans and media members aren't the only ones salivating over the prospects of that game: Scalpers would have a field day with one of the toughest Final Four tickets in years.
• When you're a No. 2 seed that's two games away from the Final Four, changing point guards 33 games into your season is not a golden idea. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl explained his rationale for moving Ramar Smith off the point and starting J.P. Prince there against Butler and Louisville, saying, "I just thought that the point-guard play we were getting wasn't going to win a national championship. So if we make the decision and it doesn't pay off and I'm sitting here in front of you and explaining why I made that choice and we lost the game, I could go to bed going, 'It's OK.'"
Perhaps Pearl was thinking just that on Thursday after a 79-60 loss to the Cards. But here's the counter-rationale: There was also no way you were going to win a title starting a lanky wing player (Prince) at point who lacked experience and had twice as many turnovers (four) as assists (two). Smith may not be an all-world point, but he was back running the show for much of the Louisville game after the Prince experiment failed early. The reality was that Smith was still the Vols' best option, and they dug themselves a deep early hole by tinkering with the rotation.
• Orlando Mendez-Valdez (of Western Kentucky) will probably go down as the best hyphenated NCAA tournament name of all-time. It easily tops Douglas-Roberts, Caner-Medley or Fuss-Cheatham, and as long as Horatio Sanz' Vasquez-Gomez-Vasquez character from Saturday Night Live never acquires basketball skills, Orlando should be safe. His 12 last-name characters (plus the hyphen) fill up the back of a jersey like no other name; if Douglas-Roberts was in the same font size on Memphis jerseys, it would go down to Chris' shorts.
• Thursday was the night of the sub. North Carolina's Danny Green, whose name is nearly always appended with the words "one of the best sixth men in the country," came up huge for the Heels while Tyler Hansbrough started slow against the Cougars. In 23 minutes, Green had 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting as well as five rebounds and three steals. (Unlike his boxing double, Green appears to have a fine career left ahead of him.)
Meanwhile in Phoenix, Xavier's B.J. Raymond came off the bench to drill two huge threes -- including the game-winner in overtime -- in a 79-75 win over West Virginia. And in the nightcap, James Keefe -- James Keefe! -- was the surprise of UCLA's win over Western Kentucky, scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 boards in 25 minutes.
• Thank you, Bill Raftery, for reprising the "Send it in, Jerome!" with a "Send it in, Joe!" after a monster Joe Alexander dunk on Thursday. I know Gus Johnson has become something of a cult hero amongst tourney junkies -- and he is good -- but I'd be fine if Raftery and Verne Lundquist called every game from here on out.
I was hoping you'd offer a thought on your previous comment that Louisville wouldn't "put much of a scare into Tennessee." Hey, we all make mistakes (I had Georgetown in the FF), but I'd say that one deserves a mea culpa.
The tournament would so much more enjoyable if Raftery and Lundquist replaced Billy Packer and Jim Nance. Billy Packer's nasty, ignorant attitude sucks the life out of every game he calls and Nance is totally useless on play by play.