Emptying the March Madness Notebook

As I watched games on TV and in person last week in San Antonio, I kept notes on things far and wide. There were x's and o's notes. There were notes on players, teams and coaches. There were notes (and pictures!) about mascots. This week has been nuts, but before we get to games tonight, it's time to empty the notebook.

Sights and Sounds
After the round of 64, I caught up with two winning point guards: Baylor's Kenny Cherry and Creighton's Austin Chatman. They faced off in the round of 32, a huge Baylor win. After that game I spent a few minutes with Baylor's Cory Jefferson.

When I took this picture, I didn't realize how good it was. It was just a quick snap. However I accidentally framed the picture with the Canadian flag in the top corner. Melvin Ejim is Canadian. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

Seriously. What the hell is this? This is not okay. (It's Providence's mascot. It shouldn't be.)

Teams no longer with us
I was sitting with my friend and fellow Syracuse alum Mike Meltser Sunday night when I decided to finally run the numbers I've been curious about. I knew Trevor Cooney was shooting about 31% in conference. That's awful, but it gets worse.

In the Notre Dame game, Cooney went 9-12 from three. If you take out that game, Trevor Cooney shot 26% in conference. Most players who shoot that much aren't allowed by their coaches to shoot from deep. Syracuse's offense was designed for Cooney to shoot threes. I'm not saying that's a mistake as Cooney's clearly a capable shooter, however this is two years in a row in which he lost his shot and never really got it back. This above all else is why Syracuse is home.

Going after Aaron Craft off the dribble was a deathwish for four years. He had the ability to dominate a game without scoring like few guards we've seen in the last decade of college basketball. Craft has some of the best hands I've ever seen and getting passed him was like trying to run around the Great Wall of China. So naturally his career ended as someone got a step on him. A week later, I still can't believe it happened. Or as my friend Gary Parrish put it:

It's hard to judge how well the committee did as the tournament plays out because they aren't doing a predictive exercise. They're doing a reactive exercise to what's happened during the season. That said, BYU getting smoked by Oregon proved they didn't belong. SMU did, but getting three more games at Moody Coliseum hasn't been so bad for the Mustangs.

What a weird situation in the Nebraska-Baylor game. The officiating, led by the notroriously horrific Karl Hess, was horrific. How Miles got thrown out was a total joke, which I’ll explain in a minute. But I’m more concerned conceptually with Miles first technical. It's really hard and a very fine line but Tim Miles was ahead of his team in being hacked off about the refs. That’s bad. It gives your team an excuse. As a coach, you’ve got to tell your guys to play through it. I talked with Kenny Cherry after the game and he said it’s 100% something they talked about once they realized how tight the whistle was. It showed. You’ve gotta stand up for your guys, but you can’t get lost in the officiating like Miles did. His guys followed. They got whacked.
When in doubt late in games, always foul and extend the game. It is absolutely brutal for the fans, but until there’s a rule change where that’s no longer the strategy down the stretch, fouling early is the right play. St. Louis was toast. They fouled. NC State missed a ton of free throws. They get back in the game. Win it in overtime. Especially when it’s 1-and-1. That’s real pressure.

Every detail matters in March. I still don't know why TJ Warren is in the game with 4 fouls when NC State had to foul. He fouled out. The Wolfpack had to try and complete the comeback without the ACC Player of the Year. That's poor coaching in my eyes.
Nobody is better out of timeouts than Bill Self. He steals points on dunks and layups, many of them lobs.  I can think of at least 3 plays yesterday and I was barely watching until the last 10 minutes. They resulted in 7 points. Kansas won by 11.

I was so lucky to be in San Antonio Friday night. I had a courtside seat to what Bryce Cotton did and Bryce Cotton deserved better. At least a chance to fling one from half court. He was the only reason they had a chance for the majority of that game and the game basically ended with the ball going off his hands out of bounds. Most of the time sports are awesome, fair and karma seems to exist. None of that happened with Cotton.
If you missed Luke Winn's piece on Wichita State in Sports Illustrated, I highly recommend it. Link here.

NBA Draft Implications

Duke's Jabari Parker told Andy Katz that his career is incomplete, and that could affect decision on whether to return for sophomore season. It’s easy to say that because it’s true, but it probably won't affect it enough to come back when he’s a lock to be a top 3 pick.
That said, don't be surprised when one player does exactly that. I know for a fact that Embiid saying he hasn't made up his mind isn't lip service because he's telling people privately he hasn't made up his mind. Embiid doesn't feel ready to leave school. College is about more than just your development in sport and Embiid realizes that. He's barely spent any time in the United States and he's said all year he just doesn't feel ready to be on his own out of the college structure. It's very similar to what Marcus Smart felt last year.
That was a bad end for Andrew Wiggins but don't overreact to it. He played all year with mediocre guards and someone getting you the ball matters. They were particularly brutal Sunday outside of Connor Frankamp hitting shots to keep KU alive. That said, the more concerning number is six, not four. Six is the number of shots he took. Four is the number of points he scored. Be more assertive. Then again that goes back in part to the guards. Wiggins defensive level is outrageous for a college freshman. That, plus a high amount of offensive raw skill is why he's a top 3 pick.
He also cares. He took every ounce of blame after that loss. That matters to me too. To me, he's a guy who's very coachable and can learn. He wanted to get better. He did. My only concern with Wiggins makeup is his shyness. The pressure is going to be there. He's gotta be able to deal with it. That said, it's a minor concern. He turned 19 a month ago. He's still so young. He'll grow up and mature and likely will be fine.

Tyler Ennis leaving Syracuse isn't surprising at all. Ennis's stock skyrocketed this year as he was unimaginably good in clutch situations through 25 games. The miracle shot against Pitt was a fun highlight, but he didn't turn the ball over in a clutch spot through 25 games. That's unreal for a freshman. Yes, he struggled in a few games late but that level wasn't sustainable. His appeal to NBA scouts is in his control. He understand pace. He has a deft touch around the rim. His game isn't reliant on athleticism, meaning the jump in athleticism from college to the NBA isn't the end of his effectiveness. He'll be in the lottery, perhaps even the top 10.
In Summary
I asked Dana O'Neill Saturday if that was the best first two days of the tournament we've ever seen. She said she couldn't think of a start of a tournament that was better. Then we got more amazing games Saturday and Sunday. It all starts up again tonight. All hail March and all its madness.