Pop Quiz Time: Which conference has put more teams and more programs in the Final Four in addition to never having a losing record in the first round in the last 12 tournaments?
Alright, I'm not one for drama, so I'll spill the beans. It's the Big 10, silly. A lot of these numbers have been mentioned throughout the week on this site, so if you've been lurking around you're already familiar with them. For everyone's sake, I will repeat them: In the last dozen years, the Big 10 has qualified nine teams in the Final Four, including six different programs. No other league can top the Big 10 in that regard.
At the front end of the tournament, the Big 10 has not been too shabby either. In the last 12 years, the Big 10 is a remarkable 48-13 in first round games. That record sounds great. I have no idea if it stacks up to other leagues, though. I didn't do research on that. Next time, I promise.
But, I don’t really care how that mark compares to other leagues. That's not why I bring it up. There are more important things than bickering numbers to death trying to prove conference superiority. Like, uh, investment opportunities, and I'd like to direct your attention to one that I've spent way too much time tossing around in my hoop-mush brain that last day or two.
Over/Under 7, the total number of wins by Big 10 teams in the 2009 tournament. Odds are even money either way.
At first blush, I thought about going 'over' all the way. Any thoughts?
In the last dozen years, the league has averaged over 8.5 wins per tournament. That's good. Last season the league had only five wins. That's bad. Only three times in 12 years, would 'over' on seven wins have been a losing bet. That's good. All three of those times have occurred in the last five tournaments. That's bad.
Based on that last fact, you can make a case taking the over would be a lousy bet. After averaging 10 wins over a seven-year span, the Big 10 has netted less than 6.5 wins per tourney the last five postseasons. The more recent trend within those numbers say to expect less than seven wins.
I feel comfortable bucking those recent numbers. With seven entrants, the league has its most teams in the field over the last dozen years. By most accounts, the Big 10 is top-to-bottom stronger now than in any of the previous five seasons. We have more league teams, coming from a stronger league. Big 10 teams ought to be able to outperform its recent tournament production. Right?
I can't get past that first round winning percentage: 48-13. That's four first round wins each year and more than half way to seven after the first round. Only once in this span has the Big 10 not had a winning record in the first round.
That was in 2006 when the league logged a 3-3 mark in first rounders. That season, Indiana, Ohio State and Illinois snagged opening round wins with Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa losing. Those latter two are intriguing because the Hawks lost to Northwestern State on a dramatic last second shot that sprung one of the tourney's biggest upset. As for MSU, they were the first victim of the stirring George Mason Final Four run, losing to the Patriots in a 6/11 game.
Based on the rest of the history, isn't it reasonable to expect at least a 4-3 winning record in the first round over the next two days? I think so. If the favorites all win the next two days, that's exactly the record the Big 10 will have after round one. The Daily Gopher predicts a 5-2 record for the Big 10 in the first round. Uh, yeah, I'll take that mark, too.
The problem arises after the first round. We've all memorized the brackets by now. You know that if chalk holds form, only one Big 10 can expect to advance as far as regionals. Michigan State, the only team with a top-4 seed, would have to reel off a Final Four run to eventually win this bet.
The Big 10 going over seven wins can be broken down into three fronts: Can the Spartans play up to their seed, can the league's two 5-seeds outperform those numbers (or anyone else, really), and can the remaining four clubs notch a split in their first round games.
I feel strong about the Spartans playing to their seed. After a Functional Do Not Play in the opener against Robert Morris, they would face the winner of the BC/USC game. They'd run BC off the court, but it wont matter. They'll be playing the Trojans. This will be a tougher game than whomever MSU would likely play in an eventual Sweet 16 match up, probably either Kansas or West Virginia. Sparty has already picked the Jayhawks apart clean this season. As for West Virginia, the Mountaineers don’t shoot well enough, brick a lot of free throws and its hard to believe their edge on the offensive glass wouldn't be negated during 40 minutes of classic Izzo-Ball. It all goes back to the second round game against the Trojans. This team is finally peaking with freshman phenom DeMar DeRozan finally hitting his stride and giving this club four legit double digit scorers. Still, the Big 10 regular season champion should be able to ease by here. That's 3 wins.
Can either of the five-seeds make a run?. Absolutely, especially if you're talking about Purdue. The Boilers will easily dispatch Northern Iowa in the first round. I hate to sound so sure about a game in the traditional 5/12 upset window. But, I tend to agree with the intimations that hint Northern Iowa as one of the Missoui Valley's weakest entrants in recent seasons. In the second round, I have bad visions of Washington's Jonathan Brockton being a load to handle or Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnardo blocking Robbie Hummel into the fourth row of seats. Nevertheless, the Boilers will have too much firepower and defense for those squads. Can they get by UCONN in the regionals? Probably not, but this team has as much talent and versatile parts as just about anyone else in the field. They're peaking as a team, and in the case of pivot man JuJuan Johnson, individually at just the right time. I think they find an extra gear in this tournament. They notch at least 2 wins.
Illinois, the other 5-seed in the Big 10 may be in trouble, especially without guard Chester Frazier. At some point, that will cost them. They're a trendy pick to go down in the first round, but there's enough left over guard play, combined with interior play from Davis and Tisdale to squeak by Western Kentucky. You know the Illini will find a way to make this game ugly and thwart the Hilltoppers up tempo game. That's what they do. I don’t know how much more we can expect out of the Illini. Let's hope they get out of the first round and give us the sixth win.
That leaves the other four clubs, none seeded higher than 8th, to find a way to earn a 2-2 first round split. Only one team, Ohio State, is favored, so they experts in the desert are trying to push me in the direction of something less than a 2-2 split. Let me make a case for each team.
The Buckeyes size and ability to create a physical half court game will grind Siena's up temp greyhounds to a halt. They wont be able to roll up and down the floor against Matta's club. He wont let that happen. Wisconsin and Florida State appears to be a coin flip and the Badgers have a lot more tournament experience. It's a tough draw for the Badgers and some are expecting a Champs Sports Bowl Redux, but Bo Ryan has a strong March track record. Leonard Hamilton and the first-time dancing in over decade Seminoles do not. Clemson was besieged by in fighting in the wake of their ACC Tournament loss and may have peaked way too early this season. The Tigers aren't playing their best ball right now. The President might like Clemson, but Kodos likes Michigan. I dont know about you, but I dont want to go against powerful aliens. In the Texas-Minnesota 10/7 game, I like Rick Barnes to out recruit Tubby Smith, but not to out coach him. Two wins out of this bunch is not unreasonable.
That gives us eight victories and a winning ticket on the Big 10. What does everyone else think? Am I crazy for taking this bet or not. I cosign this open letter to Big 10 players to prove the doubting punditry class wrong. While we're debating, here are a couple interesting prop bets that caught my eye.
Win Totals in other Leagues
The Big 10 win total is set at 7. How about the other leagues?
The Big East's bar is set the highest with 15.5 wins. The ACC's bar is 11, the Big 12 is 8 and the Pac 10, 6.5. The SEC is just 1.5, which is somewhat attractive because would anyone be shocked if Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi St came up with two first round wins between them. The Vols and Tigers are favored, albeit slightly. Conference USA is 2.5, so if you have Memphis in your Final Four, why not throw down on this over? You're already projecting it to hit. The West Coast Conference is also 1.5. That looks like easy money especially if you factor Gonzaga as a Sweet 16 team. The drawback is the juice. The odds on the over are -240, meaning to win $100, you have to be willing to put up $240. That's a big loss to absorb if the Zags can’t get out of the first weekend. I'd be crying like Adam Morrison if I lost with those odds. Away from total conference wins, the O/U on total wins by #1 seeds is 13.5.
What kind of scrooge picks against upsets happening
This kind of scrooge might. Considering how much we all love seeing March upsets, picking opposite that likelihood smacks of betting against the shooter at the craps table. That's bad karma. But, wagering that nobody seeded 14th or worse to win a game conforms solidly to history.
Here's the bet: Will a 16-15-14 seed win a game? I am salivating at this one. A bet of 'No' only comes at favored odds of -120. This seems too easy. No 16-seed has ever won a game and only 4 #15 seeds have pulled out a win. Teams seeded on one of these lines are 19-269 in the tournament since the current seeding process began. Is Vegas slow playing me on this one? Do they know something about Morgan State, North Dakota State and American that we're not seeing? I don’t know, but I would expect odds on this to exceed -200. This close to even, I feel obligated to play it and hope the overwhelming historic evidence plays out the way its supposed to.
My one worry is North Dakota State beating Kansas. The Bison are seeing a lot of love. Many feel the slipper may fit. KU has been victimized before under Bill Self. Our mid-major guru Jerry at the JCCW goes as far as placing NDSU is on his surprisingly short list of mid major upsets. Maybe I'll put some coin on the Bison and back myself up here. Otherwise, I don’t care if it makes a sound like Billy Packer by rooting against Cinderella. Besides, she's a bit of a Butterface anyway.
Who cares if Binghamton wins, but can they take a lead?
Isn't this the equivalent of betting the coin toss in the Super Bowl. Think about. Duke wins the tip and dorky Kyle Singler drains a trey. Do you have any chance of winning this bet if you're backing Binghamton? This bet can be over quickly either way. Duke is favored by 22 in this one, so you know the Bears aren't clawing back from a hole to take a second half lead. It's probably not relevant to this prop, but its worth noting that Duke is 0-4 against the spread in their last four frst round games. I'm just mentioning it, that's all.
Head to head wins
Just about every Book out there gives you the chance to take schools, heads up against each other, for most total wins during the tournament. I could not find Michigan matched up with anybody, or that many Big 10 schools on the lists. The most UM relevant prop out there in this regard is Clemson vs. Texas, where the Tigers are a solid -150 favorite to have more wins than the Longhorns. I don’t know if this makes me feel more sure the Gophers can take the Horns or less sure about the Wolverines chances tonight against Clemson. Or both. Both first round games go off at the same time this evening. I have to think I can combine a bet on the side of both of those games and find a way to insure myself through this total win prop. I have all day to figure out the math, so we'll see.
So as you may know, Michigan has seemed to play considerably better when they have a good amount of time to rest. But how much better? I decided to take a look at the games Michigan played this year and their record based on time between games. Here is what I came up with:
A few notes on terms that should be pretty obvious for the most part, but just making sure everyone understands:
1 Day Since Last Game would mean that they played a game the day before.
(N) means Neutral Site
I think you can figure out the rest.
From this, there seems to be a pretty strong correlation between the amount of rest/time to prepare the team gets and how well they do. 9-0 when we have 5+ days since the previous game, 16-2 when it is 4+ days? That's a stat that I'm pretty happy with. However, it's worth noting that, with a few exceptions (e.g. UCLA, Illinois, Purdue), the majority of our more difficult games took place 3 days or fewer since the previous game.
As a side note:
Despite 18 (55%) of our games being played with 4+ days since the previous game, only 10 (45%) of our games vs top 100 RPI were played with 4+ days since the previous game. Granted, that's only two games that would have a longer time since the previous game if it followed the same percentage, but that seems like it could have had an impact.
Overall, this seems to bode well for us when we face Clemson. Not so much if we go on to face Oklahoma.
For what it's worth, Clemson's losses were:
Wake Forest - 7 days since last game
UNC - 4 days since last game
FSU - 3 days since last game
Viriginia - 5 days since last game
Virginia Tech - 3 days since last game
FSU - 3 days since last game
Wake Forest - 5 days since last game
Georgia Tech - 4 days since last game
With Michigan heading into their matchup against Clemson, I'm thinking about the full court press. Specifically, what's the best way to beat it. Am I the only one that thinks this: the key to breaking the press is the second pass?
Maybe I'm simplifying things because I'm basing this on a performance I saw at my D-III alma mater where they absolutely destroyed a team in their national tournament that had basically been running a full court press for 40 minutes every game up to that point. On the inbound pass, the receiver would immediately turn and make another pass to a third player up the court, giving a 3-on-2 fast break on every possession.
Midway through the second half the other team gave up and fell back into a traditional half-court man to man defense for the first time their entire season. It was quite a moment to see them so forlorn with the defense that had brought them so far.
Far too often with the full court press we see a good first pass, and the receiver stops and looks and allows the other team to surround him. One pass does not break the press. You break the press on the second pass.
When I was twelve and thirteen I would go with my best friend every summer to Ann Arbor to participate in Michigan’s basketball camp. I have fond memories of playing hoops in Crisler even if I was a chubby, awkward adolescent with a manic jump shot. We stayed in the dorms and, obstentiously, ate too much pizza and stayed up too late. We got jock itch and figured we could solve it by blasting ice cold jets of athlete’s foot spray on it because when you’re twelve that makes sense. I met Steve Fisher, twice, as he would have his picture taken with every kid in the camp. And one day I met Jimmy King and Ray Jackson who were at the time, just being students hanging around Crisler over the summer. They were both eminently polite and nice to the throng of us that went over and asked for autographs and as they scribbled their names on my shirt I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe as the two worlds I had always known, my own and that of Michigan athletics, had somehow seamlessly blended into a new reality. Walking home from Crisler that day it had begun to rain and I hurried back to the dorm and was dispirited as I noticed the rain had caused the autographs on my shirt to run and fade into barely discernable yellow-ish scribbles.
Then a few years later it all came crashing down. We all know what happened so it’s not like a history lesson is warranted here but it hurt. Deeply so. And it would be a decade before I returned to Crisler to see a game after a work associate offered me some tickets. We drove down, got into our seats and on February 21, 2006 watched a Michigan team led by an inspired Daniel Horton knock off a highly regarded Illinois team with Dee Brown and James Augustine. Horton dropped 39 points and it felt like he couldn’t miss that night. I was seated up from the back left side of the basket and in the second half it felt as if the Michigan players were coming right at me. And as Horton drained three after three I couldn’t help but stupidly feel that, somehow, I was being told that it was alright to be a fan again.
I’ve spent the last week or so turning the simple idea of Michigan basketball over and over in my mind. I live and grew up around East Lansing where something as simple as a tournament berth hardly scratches the local papers. Where seeding is the real issue and where it’s not so much a concept of “if” as “how far” when it comes to the tournament. My friends will no doubt needle me by extolling Clemson and openly pondering how much Michigan will lose by and they don’t seem to notice that I just smile and laugh with them because they simply can’t understand that just being there is enough. Just being able to talk about Michigan losing in the tournament is a reward in and of itself. They’ll hopefully come a day to demand more out of this program; when it won’t be enough to make the tournament, but to succeed after doing so. But that day is not this day. This is enough.
I still have those pictures and that shirt locked away in a footlocker where everybody keeps things just because they hold personal, not actual, value. Every once in a while, usually after a move, I’ll dig back in there and pull out the photos and shirt. But now when I look upon the picture of the chubby kid with the bowl cut standing next to Steve Fisher I just feel flashes of anger at the rosy cheeked, balding man standing next to me. But when I pull out the shirt I always look to see if the signatures have returned or if they’ve somehow become clearer in time. And over the last couple of years the signatures haven’t actually been restored, but somehow my reverence for them has.