Saturday, April 28, 2012

The NBA Blog: 2012 Playoff Predictions

2012 NBA Playoff Predictions

We’ve come to the end of one of the strangest regular seasons in NBA history: 66 games in 4 months. 

We’ve seen a season threatened and a lockout end. We’ve seen the league take control of a franchise and then sell it. 

We’ve seen things come together in New Orleans and come to an end in New Jersey. We’ve seen a franchise rise by accident in Los Angeles and hopeful plans fall apart in Sacramento. 

We’ve seen trades that were made and trades that were not made (and trades that were made and then were unmade and then were remade). 

Some players took a while to recover from the lockout; others never did recover. Some players came back late; others went down early. 

We witnessed one of the most surprising and unique rises to superstardom in the history of American sports, and the whole world watched as a neat little story turned into complete insanity…and then barely seemed to notice as it basically disappeared. 

It’s been a year of amazing individual runs and inexplicable slumps. It’s been a year of commendable resiliency and shameful apathy. 

This was no ordinary year. Keeping players fresh became such a priority that “rest” became a perfectly reasonable explanation for why a certain player was in street clothes on the bench instead of in uniform on the court. Win streaks came to an end, not when a hot team had an off night or ran into a team that played a perfect game, but when that streaking team decided to bench all of their starters. 

Despite the extraordinary precautions, many a player went down to injury anyway. By the end of the year, avoiding injury became more important than scoring titles and home court advantage. 

It wasn’t just the playoff teams that were sacrificing wins. It seemed like just about every team that wasn’t in contention for the playoffs was trying to lose as many games as possible. The one non-contender that actually was trying to win games (or even just a game) simply couldn’t do it, despite being run by a man who once upon a time simply couldn’t be beaten. 

Near the end of this most queer season there came a moment when I realized that we’d never see another one quite like it. In the midst of what appeared to be the typical late season battle between two teams who might see one another again in the playoffs, one of the all-time freak shows—a man now calling himself World Peace—scored a basket and then without warning swung his elbow into an opponent’s ear for no apparent reason at all. 

Despite hysterical claims that the innocent bystander might miss the rest of the season (if he was lucky enough to live through the horrors of what may or may not have been a concussion), he soon recovered and became just another key player being voluntarily withheld from action in the final few games of the year. 

The word eventually came down that World Peace would be suspended for 7 games. In most situations, that would be an utterly bewildering statement, but as I saw it come across the scrawl at the bottom of the screen on my TV, it made total sense. And the majority of fans and media members seemed to agree. That’s when I knew that this truly was the strangest regular season of all. 

It has been a strange season but also an interesting season. It’s been a good season. The best part of all was that a regular season that usually drags on way too long came to an end 16 games earlier than usual. This meant that the start of the real season got here quicker. And now it is about to begin.

Playoffs Preview

The NBA postseason tends to be a bit more predictable and less susceptible to “madness” than the other major sports. In recent years, we have often heard claims that “this year’s playoffs may be the most wide-open and potentially wild in many years.” That prophecy never really came true…until last season. 

First a #8 seed knocked off a #1. Then the 2-time defending champs were swept in the 2nd round. Finally we saw the rarest of rare sights in the NBA: a true surprise champion. 

Coming off perhaps the strangest regular season in history, you might expect this year’s postseason to be just as wild and unpredictable as last year, if not more so. It could end up that way. But I just don’t see it. 

Truly this regular season has separated the weak from the strong. And while there doesn’t appear to be a clear overall favorite, there does seem to be a clear line of demarcation between the contenders and the pretenders. That, of course, would decrease the chances of any major upsets, in addition to lessening the chances of a surprise champion. 

Who knows? Maybe I’m talking out of my ass and in a couple of months this way-too-long intro will appear not only superfluous but downright foolish. But as my faithful imaginary readers know well, this is a risk I’m quite willing to take, since the chances of anyone other than us going back and reading this are remote in the extreme. 

Western Conference

First Round
#1 San Antonio over #8 Utah (4-0)
#2 Oklahoma City over #7 Dallas (4-1)
#3 Los Angeles Lakers over #6 Denver (4-2)
#4 Memphis over #5 Los Angeles Clippers (4-3)

Second Round
#1 San Antonio over #4 Memphis (4-1)
#2 Oklahoma City over #3 Los Angeles Lakers (4-2)

Conference Finals
#1 San Antonio over #2 Oklahoma City (4-3)

Eastern Conference

First Round
#1 Chicago over #8 Philadelphia (4-2)
#2 Miami over #7 New York (4-2)
#3 Indiana over #6 Orlando (4-0)
#4 Boston over #5 Atlanta (4-2)

Second Round
#1 Chicago over #4 Boston (4-2)
#2 Miami over #3 Indiana (4-2)

Conference Finals
#2 Miami over #1 Chicago (4-2)

NBA Finals
#1 San Antonio over #2 Miami (4-3)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The College Basketball Blog: 2012 NCAA Tournament Recap/Wrap-up/Breakdown Part XVII (Final Notes)

(XVII) Final NCAA Notes

Weird Year for #2 seeds: Missouri was just the 5th #2 seed to lose in the 1st round since the field expanded in 1985, and the first since 2001. Just hours later, Duke joined them as the 6th #2 seed to lose in the round of 64, as two #2 seeds went down in the 1st round for the first time ever. However, the two remaining #2 seeds both reached the Final Four, with one of those #2 seeds reaching the championship game.

Historically Bad: In my opinion, Missouri’s loss to Norfolk State in the 1st round is easily the worst loss in modern NCAA Tourney history (1985-to the present). For me personally, it is the single biggest college basketball upset I have ever witnessed. In terms of the spread, the Spartans’ 21-point upset was the largest in NCAA Tournament history (at least officially).

For perspective, when Lehigh shocked Duke a few hours later in another #15 over #2 stunner, they did so as just 11-point underdogs. Mizzu (-21) was the 2nd biggest spread of the entire tournament (only Kentucky (-25) against Western Kentucky in the 1st round was bigger).

The Tigers entered the tournament ranked #3 in the country with a #10 RPI and a record of 30-4, coming off of winning the Big XII Tournament (the 3rd ranked conference in the RPI). Norfolk State was #127 in the RPI; 5th worst among tournament teams. They had finished 2nd in the MEAC (ranked #30 among 33 conferences in RPI) during the regular season, going 25-9.

Mizzu had lost only 4 games all season, with 3 of those losses coming to Kansas (on the road in OT) and Kansas State (twice). Norfolk State, on the other hand, had been swept by Delaware State (15-14 overall) and finished behind Savannah State in the MEAC regular season standings. Savannah State was knocked off early on in the MEAC Tournament and Norfolk State ended up winning to get into the Dance.

On December 18th, the Norfolk State Spartans lost 68-36 at Illinois State. But that inglorious score wasn’t even the first one that jumped out at you when you checked out Norfolk State’s schedule. That would be their November 30th loss at home by 12 points to Elizabeth City State. Yes, Elizabeth City State of…some level below Division-I. MEAC teams had lost their first game of the NCAA tournament in each of the last 10 years.

Missouri wasn’t just one of the best teams in the country; they were perhaps the most experienced team in the nation. Mizzu’s 7-man rotation consisted of 5 seniors, a junior, and a sophomore. The only freshman on the roster hadn’t played since New Year’s Eve. This was Mizzu’s 4th straight trip to the tournament.

Despite all of this, the Tigers trailed Norfolk State by 6 points with 2:17 to go, and they only had a chance to hit a game-tying 3 at the buzzer because the Spartans missed 4 of their last 5 FT’s.

This was easily the most memorable moment of the tournament for me. It was the most surprising college basketball result I had ever seen. It was a historically awful loss. It was a once-in-a-generation upset. Simply put: it was inconceivable.

The Dukies Are Done: People were naturally going to compare Duke’s loss to Lehigh with Mizzu’s loss to Norfolk State, but Missouri’s choke was really on another level.

However, in some ways Lehigh’s victory over Duke was just as historic. Duke just doesn’t go down in the 1st round and they don’t go down to teams from Low Major conferences. For the Blue Devils, this was just their 3rd First Round loss in 28 trips to the tournament under Coach K. It was pretty amazing to see the Dukies suffer such an embarrassing defeat: in the 1st round; as a #2 seed; to a #15 seed from the Patriot League. And it really wasn’t that close.

Gators Great but Could Have Been Greater: For the 2nd year in a row the Florida Gators made a run to the Elite 8 and had a trip to the Final 4 seemingly in their grasp before letting it slip away. Last year they lost to a Butler team that they were clearly better than, in a game they appeared to have won several times. This season they had Louisville against the ropes and were in complete control until choking down the stretch.

Michigan State’s Startling Exit: I’m still trying to figure out exactly what happened to the Spartans in the regional semifinals against Louisville. They got outplayed, outworked, outmanned, and outhustled. They looked slow. They were just awful.

Michigan State had only lost by double digits twice all season but they lost by 13 to Louisville. MSU averaged 71.6 points per game this season; against the Cardinals they scored just 44 points. Draymond Green fired seven 3-pointers, hitting only 1, and turned the ball over 6 times.

The Biggest of the Big Programs: This wasn’t a great year for “Cinderella.” Ohio and Xavier were the only non-BCS conference schools to make the Sweet 16, and in my opinion the MAC and the A-10 are High Major conferences anyway.

It wasn’t just about the biggest schools this year; it was also about the biggest programs. The only traditional heavyweight power not to make the tourney this season was UCLA. 11 of the 14 programs with multiple national championships made the field of 68. 7 of 8 teams in this year’s Elite 8 had already won the tournament at least once before, with Florida (2), Louisville (2), Kentucky (7 at that point), Syracuse (1), Ohio State (1), Kansas (3), and UNC (5) combining for 21. All 4 of the Final 4 teams had won the tournament in previous years, with Louisville, Kentucky, Kansas, and Ohio State combining for 13.

One of the Most Unfortunate Aspects of Sport: As much as I hate silly controversies, bad officiating, maniacal rantings about PED’s, etc. the one thing I hate more than any other in sports is injuries/suspensions. I just hate it when we don’t get to find out how things might have turned out if all the key players were healthy and eligible.

There were obviously two huge injuries/suspensions that without a doubt changed the shape of this year’s tournament. Obviously I’m talking about the suspension of Syracuse center Fab Melo right before the start of the tourney and the broken wrist suffered by UNC PG Kendall Marshall late in round 2.

North Carolina was the only team that could have challenged Kentucky this season, and it’s hard for me to see how they wouldn’t have wound up playing in the national title game if Marshall hadn’t gone down. Marshall was the best point guard in the country this season and the Heels were just screwed without him.

Kendall Marshall averaged 8.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 1.2 steals, and 2.8 turnovers playing 33 minutes a game this season, but the numbers don’t tell the story. Not only was Marshall the most efficient floor general in the country, he was the only PG UNC had. He had 300 more assists than anyone else on the team when he went down.

Melo’s loss was also crucial. Just like UNC, Cuse reached the Elite 8 before falling, but they may have been able to get by Ohio State if they had their 7 footer. They took a psychological hit when he was lost just before things got under way (and it showed, as they nearly lost to UNC-Asheville. The Syracuse zone just wasn’t going to be the same without Melo, and rebounding would be an even bigger concern. Melo averaged 7.8 points, 5.8 boards, 2.9 blocks, and .566 FG% in 25.4 minutes a game. He couldn’t be replaced.

These were the two most widely publicized and discussed injuries/suspension issues, but they were not the only crucial late season losses suffered by some of the top teams.

Florida lost sophomore forward Will Yeguete late in the year (21.9 minutes; 4.4 points; 6.3 rebounds; 1.0 assists; 1.2 steals; .581 FG%) and they could have used another big body against Louisville.

For Indiana, losing senior guard Verdell Jones III was more a psychological and spiritual blow than anything else. He averaged 24.5 minutes a game and scored 7.5 points with 2.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists, but his veteran presence was his biggest asset.

Michigan State also lost a key player in late season Big Ten play. Versatile freshman Branden Dawson averaged 20.6 minutes, 8.4 points, 4.5 boards, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, and .577 FG% this season. He left a big hole that the Spartans weren’t able to fill.

Finally, in one of the more underrated stories of the tournament, Duke had to play without junior forward Ryan Kelly (25.9 minutes, 11.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.0 blocks, .408 3PT%) and they certainly missed him.

Final Thought: This certainly wasn’t a “bad” NCAA Tournament (hard to imagine such a thing). It wasn’t one of the greatest, most entertaining, or most memorable. I’d say it was around average. And you know what? It’ll still probably end up being the best sporting event of the year.

The College Basketball Blog: 2012 NCAA Tournament Recap/Wrap-up/Breakdown XVI (Postseason Tournament Conference Records)

(XVI) Postseason Conference Records: Notes

Part 1: All 4 postseason tournaments included: NCAA, NIT, CIT, CBI.

Part 2: Play-in games and “final series” games included.

(XVI) Postseason Conference Records (All Included)

A-Sun: 6-2 (.750)

Pac: 17-8 (.680)

Big East: 20-11 (.645)

WAC: 7-4 (.636)

Big XII: 10-6 (.625)

SEC: 11-7 (.611)

Big Ten: 17-9 (.607)

CAA: 6-5 (.545)

ACC: 7-6 (.538)

MAAC: 4-4 (.500)

SBC: 3-3 (.500)

WCC: 4-5 (.444)

A-10: 6-8 (.429)

MAC: 4-6 (.400)

NE: 2-3 (.400)

Patriot: 2-3 (.400)

Summit: 3-5 (.375)

MVC: 4-7 (.364)

MWC: 3-6 (.333)

Ivy: 2-4 (.333)

Big Sky: 1-2 (.333)

MEAC: 1-2 (.333)

USA: 2-5 (.286)

Horizon: 2-5 (.286)

AE: 1-3 (.250)

OVC: 1-3 (.250)

Independents: 0-1 (.000)

SWAC: 0-1 (.000)

Big South: 0-2 (.000)

Great West: 0-2 (.000)

So Con: 0-2 (.000)

Big West: 0-3 (.000)

SLC: 0-3 (.000)

The College Basketball Blog: 2012 NCAA Tournament Recap/Wrap-up/Breakdown Part XV (Superfluous Tournament Conference Records)

(XV) Superfluous Postseason Tournament Conference Records: Notes

Note 1: Conference records in CIT, CBI, and NIT.

(XV) Superfluous Postseason Tournament Conference Records

A-Sun: 6-1 (.857)

Big East: 6-2 (.750)

Pac: 16-6 (.727)

WAC: 7-3 (.700)

Big Ten: 6-3 (.667)

MAAC: 4-2 (.667)

CAA: 5-4 (.556)

MWC: 2-2 (.500)

NE: 2-2 (.500)

SBC: 2-2 (.500)

WCC: 2-2 (.500)

ACC: 1-1 (.500)

Big Sky: 1-1 (.500)

A-10: 3-4 (.429)

Summit: 3-4 (.429)

USA: 2-3 (.400)

Ivy: 2-3 (.400)

MVC: 3-5 (.375)

Horizon: 2-4 (.333)

Patriot: 1-2 (.333)

MAC: 2-5 (.286)

SEC: 1-4 (.200)

Big South: 0-1 (.000)

Independent: 0-1 (.000)

MEAC: 0-1 (.000)

So Con: 0-1 (.000)

AE: 0-2 (.000)

Big West: 0-2 (.000)

Great West: 0-2 (.000)

OVC: 0-2 (.000)

SLC: 0-2 (.000)

SWAC: 0-0 (---)

Big XII: 0-0 (---)