Alright, I’ve had a few days to cool down about this and I’m ready to talk about it in-depth now. After John Calipari’s Memphis team choked away the 2008 National Championship to Kansas, I rushed to my computer and angrily hammered out a frustration filled post on my Facebook page. I hate writing stuff like that and I needed to cool off before I endeavored to make sense of what happened. So first, here’s who lost because they couldn’t hit free-throws over the weekend in the Elite Eight.
#6 Tennessee lost a hard fought game to #5 Michigan State 70-69, but went 14-21 from the line (67%). Two of those shots include a couple of air balls from center Brian Williams, who was 1-4 from the line. I know the Michigan State fans loved it, but I always hate seeing guys undershoot a free-throw like that. Other than that, he had a pretty good game with 11 points and 9 rebounds, 4 of which were on the offensive end. Michigan State shot 16-21 (76%) from the line.
#3 Baylor lost to #1 Duke 78-71 and shot 12-19 (63%) from the line. Duke, on the other hand, shot 23-29 (79%).
#2 Kansas State lost to #5 Butler 63-56 and went 7-14 (50%) from the line. Butler shot 14-20 (70%).
#1 Kentucky lost to #2 West Virginia 73-66 and went 16-29 (55%) from the line. But West Virginia wasn’t exactly stellar in the foul shot department as they shot 23-34 (68%).
So now we come to the issue at hand. For the third year in a row, John Calipari’s team has been ousted from the tournament. In 2008 it was to Kansas in the championship game, last year it was to Missouri in the Sweet 16, and now this year in the Final Four to West Virginia. So now I’m wondering: is John Calipari just not as good a coach as we think? I really like watching teams play, but I can’t get past the fact that they always seem to lose because of free-throws. I can maybe understand losing in 2008 when Derrick Rose missed some foul shots that would have clinched the game. He was a freshman and it was a high pressure situation and he was a pretty good foul shooter to begin with. But to have three championship caliber teams in a row lose like that? That just doesn’t happen.
I do think part of Saturday’s loss was poor coaching. Kentucky shot 4-32 from three-point range for the game, which a lot of people point to as the reason they lost. At some point, a reasonable person would have stepped in and made some threats to the next person who chucked another three. I can’t get over the fact that if 4 of those 28 misses had gone in they would have won by five points. But even then they would have gone 8-32 and that STILL sucks. And then you add the fact that they missed 13 free-throws and lost by 7 points. How is that even possible? I’ve seen lots of teams lose because they missed too many free-throws-I count 23 for this tournament-but to have that many misses from beyond the arc as well and still be that close? They crapped away a total of 97 points worth of threes and free-throws and still only lost by 7 points. What was West Virginia doing? I’ll tell you what- they were spending the first half not hitting a single two-point shot and still having a halftime lead. What a nutty game that was!
So now the big question we’re left with is what will John Wall and Demarcus Cousins do? Will they leave after one year in college for the NBA, as we’ve all thought they would ever since the season started? Or will they come back and make another run at the championship? If you’re a John Calipari fan, like me, or a Kentucky fan then you had better hope that Wall and Cousins are stung so profoundly by Saturday’s loss that they want to come back and do better.
Wow, I’m way late on the free-throw overview for the last two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, but I’ll write this anyway.
In the second round, there were nine games where the outcome was decided by less than 10 points. Of those nine games, six of them were upsets; #9 Northern Iowa beat #1 Kansas, #5 Michigan State beat #4 Maryland, #6 Xavier beat #3 Pittsburgh, #12 Cornell beat #4 Wisconsin, #11 Washington beat #3 New Mexico, and #10 St. Mary’s beat #2 Villanova. Of those six upsets, three could have been avoided if the losing teams had just hit their free-throws. Let’s take a look.
#4 Maryland went 16-20 from the line, which is a very good 80%, but still managed to lose to #5 Michigan State at the buzzer, 85-83.
#3 Pittsburgh lost 71-68 while going 11-18 from the line, which was lucky for #6 Xavier, who went 15-23.
#1 Kansas hit 13-18 from the line for 72%, which I deem acceptable for a team to shoot, yet lost 69-67 to #9 Northern Iowa. It also didn’t help Kansas that Ali Faroukmanesh hit one of the guttiest shots I’ve ever seen.
Of the other three games that were decided by less than ten points but were not upsets, two of those would have ended differently if the losing teams had hit more free-throws.
#13 Murray State’s surprise run in the tournament came to an end at the hands of #5 Butler, 54-52, as they shot 5-12 from the line.
#5 Texas A&M lost 63-61 in overtime to #4 Purdue, shooting 10-17 (59%) along the way.
As the tournament progresses, the number of teams losing due to free-throws diminishes as the field does (DUH!). Well, it does almost all the time. This year, the number actually increased from the second round to the Sweet 16. Of the eight games played, half of them were decided by less than ten points and all of those losses can be attributed to misses at the free-throw line. Interestingly, all of these instances occurred in the West and Midwest regions; all the games in the East and South regions were double-digit wins for the higher seeds (#1’s Kentucky and Duke, #2 West Virginia, #3 Baylor). Of the four close games, half of those were upsets.
#3 Ohio State lost to #6 Tennessee 76-73 and went 14-19 from the line. That effort was good enough for 74%, but the Volunteers shot a cool 12-15 for 80%.
#1 Syracuse lost 63-59 to #5 Butler, but missed 4 foul shots (10-14, 71%). Meanwhile, Butler hit 15-21 for 71%.
#9 Northern Iowa could have continued their surprise run in the tournament, but lost to #5 Michigan State 59-52 as they went 14-21 from the line (62%).
#6 Xavier took #2 Kansas State to two overtimes, but eventually lost 101-96 in the game of the tournament so far; they went 22-29 from the line (76%)
I don’t think I’m saying anything extravagant when I say that the first day of this year’s NCAA Tournament was quite possibly the best day of basketball ever. Most of the games were tightly contested and were in doubt right up to the end, and as a result we had seven upsets-#14 Ohio over #3 Georgetown, #9 Northern Iowa over #8 UNLV, #13 Murray State over #4 Vanderbilt, #11 Washington over #6 Marquette, #11 Old Dominion over #6 Notre Dame, #10 Saint Mary’s over #7 Richmond-and another near upset when #2 Villanova needed overtime to beat #15 Robert Morris. While those games may have led to some wrecked brackets, it was sure a whole lot of fun to watch because the competitive level of the games was so high. It was a reminder of why we love March Madness so much. Day 2 wasn’t as crazy, but the upsets kept coming- #10 Missouri beat #7 Clemson, #12 Cornell beat #5 Temple, and #10 Georgia Tech beat #7 Oklahoma State. In all, eight double-digit seeds won opening round games games, topping the record of six set back in the early 90’s. Read More…
Took it long enough to get here, right? The first day of action has been very exciting. #7 BYU beat #10 Florida in two overtimes, #2 Villanova needed an overtime to outlast #15 Robert Morris, and #13 Murray State just beat #3 Vanderbilt at the buzzer. And it’s only going to get better.
As it happens, my spring break coincides with much of the tournament, so I’ll be able to watch a whole lot of games this time around. Also, I will once again be keeping up with every single free-throw taken by every team in the tournament. For those of you who don’t know the back-story, I have become a little obsessive over free-throws ever since my Memphis Tigers lost to the Kansas Jayhawks in the 2008 National Championship game due to their inability to hit freebies at the end of the games. So last year, I was just curious to see how many teams missed more free-throws than the number of points they lost by. Now, sometimes they didn’t matter. Teams who made all their free-throws didn’t always win, just as teams who missed a lot of free-throws didn’t always lose. Still, there were plenty of games that would have ended differently had teams hit their foul shots and the tournament would have been much different. For example, #16 ETSU would have beaten #1 Pittsburgh if they had shot well from the foul line. I’ll go back on my Facebook page and get the complete results later.
Last night, amid all the March Madness hoopla (see what I did there?), the latest installment of ESPN’s “30 for 30” series of documentaries debuted. Titled “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks” and directed by Dan Klores, the show chronicles the intense rivalry between the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks during the 1990’s, which I consider to be the best decade, mainly because that’s when I got into basketball. It’s a great tribute to one of the best rivalries in NBA history and a welcome look back at how the league once was. At times, I found myself actually laughing at Miller’s theatrics and what all the Knicks and Pacers players thought of one another at the time. It also serves as a sad reminder that there are not really big rivalries like that in the league today. Sure, the Celtics and Cavaliers play one another tough and the Magic and Lakers are starting to really dislike each other, but it’s just not the same.
If you were unfortunate enough to miss it, “Winning Time” will be re-airing several times between now and May. For complete information, head over to the “30 for 30” home page, where you’ll find schedules and clips from all the shows.
This post can also be found on Celtics17, a Boston Celtics blog which I regularly contribute to, by following the link on the right side of the page.