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April 1, 2012
One Game to Go
UK and KU Advance

by John Gasaway

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I realize I'm odd and the rest of the hoops world is plainly way, way more interested in uniforms than I am. That being said, even I found Louisville's postseason uniforms strange, not because they were infraorange but simply because any kind of orange is wrong for a team called the Cardinals. It would be like Kentucky showing up in turquoise.

(1) Kentucky 69, (4) Louisville 61 [67 possessions]
Watching this game in real time it seemed like the biggest deviation from normalcy was that the Cardinals were gobbling up offensive rebounds like a vintage Tom Izzo team. That they were: Gorgui Dieng personally hauled in eight of the things in a surprisingly foul-free 40 minutes, and for the evening the 'Ville rebounded 41 percent of their misses. But Rick Pitino's club was still held to a very Louisville-like 0.91 points per possession. No, the weird thing about this game was how poorly Kentucky played on offense.

Give Louisville credit. They took care of their defensive glass, and they coaxed UK into a fair number of charges. A sheer lack of opportunities helps explain why John Calipari's team scored just 1.02 points per trip on a night when they connected on a very Wildcat-like 62 percent of their twos. Make that a lack of opportunities and poor foul shooting. I already feel like I'm being kind of a broken record about this, but here I go again:

Hey, KU! When you bring Kevin Young in the game Monday night have him foul Terrence Jones! UK's sophomore is shooting 50 percent at the line in the NCAA tournament. Ordinarily a starter faring kind of poorly from the line wouldn't be big news. But with Kentucky shooting the way they do from the field and, except for last night, not turning the ball over, Jones' struggles from 15 feet away with the clock stopped -- he even looks uncomfortable at the line -- represent something of a cheat code for Wildcat opponents.

Anthony Davis recorded his latest gaudy performance, specifically an 18-14 double-double with five blocks. The "14" represents the freshman's customary level of (excellent) NCAA tournament defensive rebounding on a night when the opponent missed 45 shots and the freshman in question stayed out of foul trouble. The "18" on just eight shots represents the current reality: within an exceedingly short span of time Davis has elevated his back-to-the-basket game to the point where he's the best option for an amazing offense playing in a national semifinal, even when he's being guarded by an outstanding 6-10 shot-blocker. (Granted, foul trouble for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist helped force that Best Option crown on Davis' head. Duly noted.) And of course the five blocks simply represents Davis being Davis

I don't particularly care one way or the other what exactly Davis was shouting at the end of the game, because whatever the words were they were bellowed by a player who to my eye has that Khalid El-Amin/Mateen Cleaves/Carmelo Anthony/Joakim Noah/Ty Lawson/Kemba Walker look, the one where he's simply not going to lose.

(2) Kansas 64, (2) Ohio State 62 [68]
Louisville took a fair amount of evaluative grief last week for having the gall to show up at the Final Four with an offense that isn't particularly potent. Turns out Kansas is taking that same idea to levels we haven't seen since Butler in 2010. The Jayhawks will play for the national championship Monday night despite the fact that they've scored just 332 points in 333 NCAA tournament possessions.

Ordinarily an inability to score points is something of a disadvantage in sports, but KU has parlayed great defense and good fortune in close games into five wins. Certainly Jeff Withey deserves most of the credit for holding Jared Sullinger to 13 points on 5-of-19 shooting. Conversely I'm not entirely sure what explains Deshaun Thomas going 3-of-14, unless he was just out of sorts from being in foul trouble. If you're Thad Matta there's never a good occasion for those two to miss a lot of shots, of course, but even so the timing here was particularly unfortunate. Everyone kept waiting for William Buford to have the proverbial "big night against a good team." Well, he had it last night -- 19 points fueled by 3-of-5 shooting beyond the arc -- but his teammates were a combined 14-of-49 from the field.

Thomas Robinson tied Buford for the "led all scorers" honorific, but he needed 18 shots to do so. Far more effective for Bill Self was Elijah Johnson, who was 6-of-9 even though he too was cursed, Thomas-like, with a rare and ill-timed brush with foul trouble.

Lastly, a big tip of the cap goes out to Aaron Craft, who very nearly pulled off a project near and dear to my heart, my patented intentionally missed free throw play. With two seconds remaining in the contest, Craft made his first shot from the line to pull the Buckeyes to within two. Time for a miss! I've been stumping for this for years: instead of going through the usual ritual one uses when actually trying to make a free throw, fling the ball at the rim the instant the ref hands it to you. Your teammates should be tipped off in advance and should flood the lane as soon as the ball makes contact with the rim. With luck you'll catch your opponent off guard.

Craft did the "fling the ball at the rim the instant the ref hands it to you" part, but he erroneously tried to be the guy getting the rebound. There's a rule about your feet not crossing the plane of the free throw line until the ball hits the rim, and Craft broke that rule. In a tournament that's had its share of refereeing foibles, the zebras have been correct on every lane violation, including this one. Jamie Luckie, Tom Eades, and Pat Adams, I salute you!

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

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Premium Article Alone at the Top (04/02)

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2012-04-03 - They Were Just Better: Kentucky 67, Kansas 5...
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