Ty Lawson toe injury update (3/24)

From UNC Basketball, a quote from UNC assistant coach, Joe Holladay, commenting on North Carolina’s practice on Monday.

“I saw him today. We didn’t do a whole lot today, but we put up a lot of shots. He participated in everything we did [in practice today]. He’s sore, but he always moves around like an old man … He’s moving around a little cautiously and is able to shoot the basketball, which is a good sign because there for a week he couldn’t even come up on his toe to shoot. So I think he is doing as well as can be expected.”

It’s a good sign (for Tar Heel fans) that he was able to shoot after hearing a “popping” sound in his toe against LSU on Saturday.

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Bracket update and Sweet Sixteen preview

Those of you that followed my picks, or at least leveraged my analysis to some extent, should find that you’re still alive in your pool. Unless, of course, your pool is so big that even if all of your picks come in, there is someone who’s already ahead of you that has predicted the same outcome.

I’m in three moderately sized pools – 26, 31 and 105 brackets – and I’m still very much alive in each one. Essentially, I need to get three of my Final Four picks – Pitt, UConn, Louisville and Gonzaga – to come in, and Pitt needs to win it all. Granted, with the way the Panthers are playing (and the Bulldogs, to a certain extent), I don’t feel great about my chances, but I’m still alive and that’s all you can ask for. If I had it to do all over again, I think I’d take UConn to win it all. They have been by far the most impressive of the top seeds. Still, if I’m right and it’s a Pitt/UConn final, you have to like the Panthers’ chances after already beating the Huskies twice this year.

If you’ve been following our coverage, you’ll probably know that the 2+ point Sagarin favorites got off to a rough start in the first round (21-8, or 72%). Normally, this system hits at about an 85% rate, so it makes sense that it bounced back in a big way (12-0) in the second round, making it 33-8 (80%) through two rounds. (Keep in mind, even though the Sagarin ratings change throughout the tourney, I’m sticking with the pre-tourney ratings when calculating overall records because that’s all we have to go by when we’re filling out our brackets.)

The Kansas/West Virginia game was a tough call, but I sure didn’t think that the Mountaineers would lose to Dayton. Since I entered three pools, I picked Kansas in one pool to go to the Elite Eight instead of West Virginia, and needless to say, my margin for error is a bit wider in that bracket.

But enough about my brackets – let’s move on to the preview of the Sweet Sixteen. I’ll give my thoughts on each of the eight games, provide some statistics and maybe recommend a wager or two for the gamblers out there. Any Sagarin stats I refer to from here on out are the updated numbers, because I’m going to try to predict the future instead of measuring the past.

THURSDAY’S GAMES

#5-seed Purdue vs. #1-seed UConn (in Glendale, AZ)
Tip-Off: 7:07 PM ET
Sagarin Ratings: UConn (93.81), Purdue (87.70)
Line: UConn -6.5

The Boilermakers got off to a great start against Washington and held off a late run with some solid defense. Meanwhile, UConn has coasted, outscoring their two opponents 195-113. The Huskies will be challenged in this game because Purdue isn’t going to give up. They’re going to keep coming at you, so if you don’t stay focused for 40 minutes, you may be in trouble. But the bottom line is that UConn has more talent, and they should be a six- or seven-point favorite. Purdue’s best bet is to run an effective pick-and-roll, which is a good way to pull Hasheem Thabeet away from the basket and potentially get him into foul trouble. Thabeet will probably be covering JaJuan Johnson, so if he screens for E’Twaun Moore 20 or 30 times over the course of the game, the Bollermakers might be in business. The Sagarin difference and the line are about the same, so I wouldn’t recommend putting any hard-earned dollars on this game. UConn should be able to pull this one out, but unless the Huskies run them off the court, Purdue should have enough grit to keep it close.

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Fake controversy mars end of Western Kentucky-Gonzaga game

There was some controversy at the end of the Western Kentucky/Gonzaga game. WKU head coach Ken McDonald tried to call a timeout, but the refs didn’t see him. There was one Hilltopper — A.J. Slaughter — trying to call a timeout, but even he didn’t look like he was sure about what he was doing. He was facing the middle of the court sort of half-heartedly calling a timeout instead of looking around and trying to get the attention of the ref. Moreover, Jeremy Evans grabbed the ball out of the basket and inbounded the ball almost immediately, so the refs did their job by trying to get down court. If McDonald wants his team to call a timeout there, he needs to cover that in practice. The clock stops on a make at the end of the second half, so there’s no rush to get the ball in. The players on the court have time to take a breath and look to the bench. Since Evans inbounded the ball so quickly, there wasn’t time for that to happen.

In the post game, Greg Anthony and Seth Davis argued about whether or not the refs were to blame. Anthony said, “Absolutely the officials missed it on this occasion. There’s no doubt about it. You’ve gotta have some assumption there as an official and still if that play continues, Seth, you’ve at least gotta give them the benefit of the doubt.”

Davis disagreed by pointing out that there was only one player signaling for a timeout and he didn’t do it emphatically. Meanwhile, he said, they inbounded the ball right away and the refs are running down court.

Davis is absolutely right in this case. The officials are trying to officiate the game. They aren’t looking at every player to see if they are halfheartedly calling a timeout. They’re not even supposed to be looking at the coaches to see if they want a timeout, especially when the team inbounds the ball immediately. Their focus is supposed to be on the action.

The bottom line here is that the Hilltoppers were ill prepared for this scenario and that McDonald’s fault. Period.

TSR’s running diary of March Madness, Part III

One thing that I failed to mention in yesterday’s recap was #13-seed Cleveland State’s upset of #4 Wake Forest. Now the headline at Fox News reads “Cleveland State Shocks Wake Forest” but the win isn’t really shocking at all. The Demon Deacons’ uneven play has led to several so-called “upsets” this season; they lost to Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina State in ACC action. They were a combined 7-1 against the top five teams in the conference — Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Florida State and Boston College — so clearly Wake is a team that has a tendency to play to the level of its opponent.

But give Cleveland State credit, they came out like gangbusters, hitting three three-pointers in the first two minutes to give the Vikings a 9-0 lead. This is a team that only averages 4.9 made threes per game, and the Vikings had five in the first 10 minutes of action. (Oddly enough, they only made one more over the last 30 minutes.) The two teams played evenly for most of the game, and Wake Forest managed to cut the lead to six with 11:09 to play, but Cleveland State went on an 11-1 run over the next four minutes to push the lead back to 16.

This win is considered the first big upset of the season, but I was more surprised by how Dayton upended West Virginia, a team that numbers-wise — and I’m talking Sagarin and Pomeroy numbers — looked like it had the tools to make a run. Bracket-wise, I’m not doing all that well. Florida State, Ohio State, Utah State and Butler lost by a total of nine points and each had a few chances to move on but failed to capitalize. My picks aren’t dead yet by any means, 14 of my Sweet Sixteen and seven of my Elite Eight are still alive, so like anyone, I just need to hit two or three of my final four and have my overall winner (Pitt) come in. (And given how Pitt played against East Tennessee State, I’m not feeling all that hot about that pick!) Another key is that potential Gonzaga/North Carolina matchup next week. It would really help if Ty Lawson stayed hobbled, allowing the Bulldogs to pull the upset. It will be interesting to see if he plays today against LSU.

On the whole, my picks are suffering because teams with a 2+ point Sagarin advantage are just 21-8 (72%) so far this year. Usually, this system is right about 85% of the time. I was also just 1-3 when I picked games another way. I trumped a 2+ point Sagarin advantage in the Marquette/Utah State game, thinking that the Aggies would pull the upset (which they almost did) because the Golden Eagles were without Dominic James. I picked FSU because of the 3+ seed advantage (which is right 75% of the time) and picked Butler because of the team’s stellar road/neutral record (and a lack of confidence in LSU and the entire SEC). My picks lost those three games by a total of eight points. The game I nailed was the Oklahoma State win over Tennessee, and I picked the Cowboys because of better guard play. Byron Eaton came through big time.

I’ll be back later on (on this post) to blog some of the day’s action…

5:41 PM: I haven’t posted today because there wasn’t anything really to post about. Villanova spanked UCLA. UConn destroyed Texas A&M. The Wildcats were basically playing a home game, and ‘Nova jumped all over the Bruins. UCLA just couldn’t match Villanova’s athleticism and energy, and if Duke is fortunate enough to get past Texas, ‘Nova will give them all (or more) that they can handle. UConn just looked great. If 7’3″ Hasheem Thabeet can stay on the court, he’s a serious game-changer in the middle.

But the game of the day so far was the Washington/Purdue matchup in Portland. It’s frustrating when you’re rooting for a team and they trail the entire game but get it close at the end. It’s almost like they get off to a crappy start and have to expend so much energy just to cut into the lead that they don’t have the energy (or the poise, in this case) to tie the game up or take the lead. The Huskies squandered so many chances to regain the lead, and they essentially wasted their virtual home court. We have to give a ton of credit to Purdue for having the mental focus to come out so strong and be able to play the tough defense necessary to close the deal. There were no easy shots for Washington, and that’s a big part of what made the second half so frustrating for Husky fans.

Ty Lawson ended up starting (and North Carolina pulled away in the second half), but the story will be how that big toe responds over the next few days. He was not himself out there — he didn’t have the same burst and he was clearly bothered by the injury. It was funny to see the Duke fans going nuts when LSU was keeping the game close. I’m sure the North Carolina fans would do the exact same thing if the roles were reversed. It’s what makes that Duke/UNC rivalry one of the best in all of sport.

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TSR’s running diary of March Madness, Part II

My apologies for not posting during the last round of games last night, but JC and I got into a 45-minute debate about whether I was as good as Luke Walton when I was in my prime. This has been an ongoing “discussion” for the last two or three years and, simply stated, we’re just never going to see eye to eye. The debate took an ugly turn last night when he said that I “couldn’t hold Luke Walton’s jock,” which is a true statement if he’s talking about the present. But I was talking about my prime, and in my prime I could most definitely hold Luke Walton’s jock.

Luke Walton is in the NBA because his dad is Bill Walton. Is he a good player? Of course. You can’t hang around the league if you are a complete fraud, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a thousand players out there that are just as good as he is. JC’s pro-Walton argument is that he’s a “great interior passer” (whatever that means) and that Phil Jackson, who is a brilliant coach that has won forty seven championships, says he’s a good player, so he must be good. (For the record, I’ve never heard Phil actually say that he’s a good player, so this may in fact be an urban legend.) I think that the Lakers are stuck with him because no one wants his horrible contract and Phil tolerates him because he’s a willing passer on a team full of prima donnas.

He has an assist to turnover ratio of 2.3 to 1. If a player is in the NBA solely for his wonderful passing ability, I’m expecting a A/T ratio of at least 3:1. Sure, Walton’s A/T ratio is fourth-best amongst small forwards, but he trails Shane Battier and Tayshaun Prince in this category and neither of those guys is known as a “great interior passer.” Hell, he’s barely ahead of Ricky Davis in this category. Ricky Davis! The guy who once took a shot at his own basket in an attempt to get an extra rebound to give himself a triple-double. Ricky Davis!

This probably sounds like sour grapes, but I don’t care — I could hold Luke Walton’s jock when I was in my prime.

Anyway, back to the tournament. Gonzaga and Villanova both got off to rough starts, but they settled down and eventually went on to win by double-digits. Despite having them in my Sweet Sixteen, I was sort of rooting against Villanova because JC has them going to the Final Four in his pool and after he said that I couldn’t hold Luke Walton’s jock, it would have been nice to see him lose one of his deep picks. He’s also a big UCLA fan, so I started a V-C-U chant at the bar (complete with Y-M-C-A-esque hand gestures) when the Rams made their run.

Western Kentucky pulled of the classic 12/5 upset, which isn’t a huge surprise considering how Illinois has been up and down this season. On the whole, Jeff Sagarin’s 2+ point favorites were 11-4. That’s not bad, but it’s not near his usual success rate of 85%. We’ll see how he does today.

I’m going to start watching the games here in a minute — check back to see what’s going on in the world of March Madness.

10:57 AM: It was weird to see my former coach, Bo Ryan, on television after he took the Wisconsin job, but it’s even stranger to see a former teammate, NDSU’s head coach Saul Phillips, roaming the sidelines at the NCAA tournament. The Bison are hanging in there against Kansas.

11:40 AM: Well, Utah State gave Marquette a helluva run, but the Golden Eagles move on. I finally got one of those 8/9 games right — Oklahoma State beat Tennessee is a tight one. Sagarin had the game as a pick’em, but I picked the Cowboys because they have better guard play, and it helped them today. Byron Eaton had the go-ahead bucket that sealed the win for OSU.

3:52 PM: Sorry for the delay, but I was laid up with a little stomach problem. Must have been something I ate. Anyway, I TiVo’ed the late set of the early games (yeah, that makes sense) and I have my first bracket buster — West Virginia lost to Dayton. I had the Mountaineers going to the Elite Eight in my official picks, which really hurts, but isn’t a complete dealbreaker. I did take Kansas in my other pool, so hopefully the Jayhawks can come through. Now if Pitt had been the first #1 seed ever to lose its first round game, then I would have had to tear up my bracket. There’s nothing quite like watching your overall winner struggle in its opening around game against a #16 seed while one of your Elite Eight picks can’t get over the hump. Did you see Jamie Dixon’s face after ETSU cut the Pitt lead to two? Can you imagine what was racing through his mind as he was faced with being the first coach ever to guide a #1 seed to an opening round loss? He looked like he was about to crap his pants. Needless to say, I’m not feeling great about my picks, but we’ll see how things shake out. There’s still a lot of basketball to play.

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