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February 18, 2008
Back and Forth
The Presidential Edition

by John Gasaway and Ken Pomeroy


John: Yo, hoops nation! John and Ken here, feeling presidential and hailing the new chiefs of the ACC. That would be Wake Forest, which holds the distinction of being the only team in the conference that's been able to beat Duke. Ken, what does the Deacons' 86-73 win last night say about both teams?

Ken: I think there's a danger in reading too much into this. I'm sure we'll hear that Wake found the "formula" for beating Duke. In a sense, they did, because their quickness clearly posed a huge problem for the Blue Devils. At the same time, it's worth pointing out that Wake played a great game and Duke did not. That's about as far as I want to go. Duke was a shot away from being 23-0 going into this game, so changing our minds about them now would be a lot like suddenly changing our opinion of Memphis if they lose a game.

John: I agree. Duke played awfully and Wake Forest got up for this one. Though I will say the Deacs' Jeff Teague showed me some things--he should be heard from. One very un-Duke stat: the Devils coughed the ball up 21 times in an 84-possession game. Coming into the evening they were committing turnovers on just 16 percent of their possessions in-conference. I guess Coach K really did listen to Mike D'Antoni: you can't turn the ball over if you only have it for a few seconds before you shoot.

As for Memphis, a loss in Birmingham wouldn't have changed my opinion; they're a great team. To me, the interesting question is: what happens if the Tigers really do go undefeated and win the national championship? Would they truly be Indiana-in-1976 good? Would they even be Florida-in-2007 good? Or would they be "just" a great team with a middling conference and some close wins?

Ken: That's an interesting discussion hinging on a very large hypothetical. I don't think you could put them on the Indiana pedestal, based on schedule, but they would be in a very special place in hoops history. The UAB game notwithstanding, they haven't had much last-minute tension this season. Plus, IU's tourney run was in a different era: five games with a field that wasn't as deep, due to different selection rules back then. Winning the tournament carrying a zero in the loss column in 2008 would be an amazing achievement to me, especially for a team that gets very little offense from the four and five positions.

John: Sure it'd be amazing. It hasn't been done in 32 years. I just think it's an interesting situation. It doesn't take anything away from Memphis to note that the team and the situation have to align for history to be made. For instance, very few people would expect Memphis, or any team in the country this year, to go undefeated if it had to play in the Pac-10. Which brings me to my next question. (How did I become the Mike Wallace this time around?) You wrote about the muddled middle of the ACC. What do you make of the mess below the top of the Pac-10? There figure to be more tournament teams in that mid-section than in the heart of the ACC, no?

Ken: I don't know, I think a clear hierarchy has developed. It's UCLA, Stanford and Washington State taking gold, silver and bronze from that conference. Then there's USC, Arizona and ASU, in that order, as their other tournament teams. What am I missing, Mr. Wallace?

John: Actually with the laudably tidy Pac-10, where everyone plays everyone, we can hazard some fine distinctions. If the season ended today, the Sun Devils would be a notch below Oregon by my wacky conference-only lights, and even a hair below Washington. That being said, the curious thing about the Pac-10 to me is that some of the "bad" teams have really good offenses. Take Cal. Their offense in-conference has been as good as Arizona's, so the Bears were able to post road wins at Washington State and Arizona State. Of course their defense has been pathetic. I'm just saying.

Ken: I'll add a curious observation myself. At the beginning of last night's UCLA-USC game, the FSN crew posted a graphic displaying the Pac-10 standings. The graphic had Washington State mistakenly listed as the 0-13 team at the bottom of the conference. How long does it take to shake a reputation?

John: Wow, I hope the selection committee doesn't make the same mistake. It'd be embarrassing if Oregon State went dancing. Speaking of decisions handed down by the NCAA, these are strange days in Bloomington, Indiana. Can you recall a situation like this? Speaking only for myself, I've never before known the date of a coach's firing seven days in advance.

Ken: Me neither. It can't be a fun week for AD Rick Greenspan. I do find it interesting that the circus is not affecting the team's play. Judging by Saturday night, you'd have thought it was Tom Izzo who was concerned about his employment status. It seems like the administration at Indiana has two choices to try to get some leniency from the NCAA: fire Sampson soon or declare itself ineligible for this postseason.

John: The Hoosiers will take column A there in a heartbeat. If it's a choice between keeping Sampson and seeing what this team can do next month, well, put it this way. In "Godfather" terms, Sampson is Carlo, with Greenspan/IU as Clemenza. We know the rest.

As for Izzo, I love the big lug and he's won one more national championship and been to four more Final Fours than I'll ever be able to claim. Over the past few years, though, any time his teams have run into any kind of adversity, his diagnosis has been immediate, automatic and unwavering: it's a lack of toughness! One question: is "lack of toughness" really the problem with a 2008 team that can't score because they can't hang onto the dang ball?

Ken: As long as we're talking about teams that can't hold onto the ball, I think it's time to proclaim that this season's version of Georgetown is a notch below last season's. Syracuse sat back in their zone on Saturday and again rendered the Hoyas' offense ineffective (at least in the first half). True fact: the Hoyas rank no better than 10th in the Big East in any of the non-shooting four factors on either side of the ball, looking at conference play only. Last week, you and I jointly proclaimed Louisville as "BP's Team" and now the Big East regular season is theirs for the taking.

John: I promised myself I wouldn't yell and wave my arms yet again about how woefully underrated Louisville is, but (my arms are beginning to wave) Louisville is woefully underrated! Why is this not getting through? The sad part is they were woefully underrated last year, got a low seed, and had to play Acie Law and Texas A&M in the round of 32 for goodness sake. That being said, seeding shouldn't come into play the first weekend for the Cards this March. This is the first time in a couple years that I've toyed with declaring a defense "better than Kansas." Now, with everyone healthy, they just might be.

Ken: I felt uncomfortable watching the Louisville-Providence game and not seeing a number to the left of Louisville's name. The coaches don't even have them in their top 25! I guess people just see that they have six losses and don't really understand what's going on there. Three losses were without David Padgett and the other three weren't decided until very late. Meanwhile, all of their Padgett wins have at least been in the comfortable category. Let's keep them our little secret for the next month until the selection committee gives them the two-seed they'll deserve. Any other secrets out there that you see?

John: Say hello to Mississippi State, another team outside the top 25 that's playing outstanding defense. Their case isn't as nearly egregious as Louisville's, but the Bulldogs are a lot closer in quality to Tennessee than they are to the rest of the SEC. If Charles Rhodes can play anywhere near as well as he did in the first half against Arkansas on Saturday, MSU can be our little secret for the next couple weeks and then we'll come out looking smart in March. The appearance of March smartness of course being the point of this little exercise.

Ken: Yes. Much like college teams themselves, we want to peak in March. I'll sacrifice stupidity now for some "I told you so"s later.

John: How presidential! With that, let's bring our term of office to an end.

Ken: Sounds good. Looking forward to the dedication of my Ken Pomeroy Library. Goodbye, my fellow Americans.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.
Ken Pomeroy is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Ken by clicking here or click here to see Ken's other articles.

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Game Reax (02/18)

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