The NCAA Tournament

Why More Freshmen Mean Fewer Upsets
The stadium scene.
March 19 2007 1:40 PM

The NCAA Tournament

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Josh and Bryan,

Can a freshman point guard take his team all the way? Probably not. Most play like Georgia Tech's Javaris Crittenton did against UNLV—he was so brutal the NCAA may take the Final Four out of Atlanta as payback. But the backcourt youngsters have had flashes of brilliance through the first two rounds. You know about Ohio State's "other freshman," Mike Conley. The triple jumper's son not only stunned Xavier in OT, his steal of a late inbounds pass set the stage for OSU's buzzer-beating heroics. You mentioned Louisville's Edgar Sosa—before the two missed freebies, he was brilliant against A&M's Acie Law IV, who may be the best player in the country. And while Augustin showed his callowness, credit a less-heralded freshman, USC's Daniel Hackett, for outplaying D.J.

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Josh, I think you're overstating the new paradigm for upsets. Butler and Southern Illinois, small schools that play a slow-it-down, old-school style, both made it to the Sweet 16. The only reason they didn't pull upsets this year is because they earned high seeds. George Mason's run to the Final Four last year may not have gotten more mid-majors into the tourney, but it appears to have earned them some seed respect from the selection committee.

Despite the success of Butler and the recent failures of Duke, the lack of upsets this weekend shows the gap is widening again between major and mid-major. Duke is merely in a valley of poorly scouted recruits. I fear they'll be back with a vengeance. What's here to stay is the new NBA rule mandating a year of college play. That strongly tips the balance of power toward the power conferences and programs—after all, few stud prospects are going to play their sole season in the Missouri Valley Conference or Horizon League. And don't forget that the über-star now brings a coterie of other top recruits with him. The Odens and Durants like to have a Conley or Augustin along to ensure good shots in good spots.

You make a good point about the missed free throws. I wish I could prove the number of late missed freebies is unusual, but I don't have any stats to firmly back that up. The free-throw percentage stat, while generally useful, needs to be dissected further. Why can't CBS provide more pertinent numbers, like second-half percentage, or percentage in the last five minutes? Unless the player stepping to the line is a 90-percent shooter (like Butler's A.J. Graves) or a 50-percent shooter (like the whole Memphis team), then season free-throw percentage is a poor indicator.

Here's my beef with CBS: They're paying a cool billion dollars for exclusive tournament rights—can't they hire a couple of stat-minded types like Ken Pomeroy to break down the tournament? It's as if CBS thinks showing the games (and pummeling viewers with the same five ads for three weeks) is enough. CBS Sportsline needs to be beefed up—the theme of the Web age is too much is never enough. Isn't that why Al McGuire invented the Internet?

Two more notes from a weekend on the couch. As I pointed out this time last year, Lee Humphrey is the key to a Florida repeat. When his threes are dropping and the Gators can work you inside and out, they are impossible to beat. When Humphrey is off, like he was against Purdue, they struggle. The Boilermakers were just what Florida needed—a tough-as-nails bunch that slowed it down and made the Gators earn every bucket. That test passed, it's hard to see Florida not making the Final Four.

And as Wisconsin's Alando Tucker put it so aptly, "you can't underlook anybody." His Badgers should've been bounced in the first round, so the UNLV loss wasn't a shocker. Tucker didn't realize that, although Vegas may not have Richard "The Fixer" Perry and his hot tub anymore, they do have Kevin Kruger and his grad-school loophole, not to mention three or four excellent defenders. That and some actual made free throws down the stretch were enough to bounce the favored Badgers.

Bryan, you're a betting man. How are your brackets holding up?