Final Four Sneak Peek?

Dec. 3, 2019: The Big Time

Feast Week 2019 was stuffed with surprises: Duke falls to Stephen F. Austin at home, Sparty has no answer for Virginia Tech, and Michigan returns from Nassau as the hottest team in the land—and the one that nobody saw coming. The tryptophan of a thousand turkeys couldn’t have calmed the excitement that unfolded over the past seven days. And, while Thanksgiving has come and gone, the party is just beginning on the hardwood. 

Tuesday, December 3! You better be there when Duke, Michigan State, and the Wolverines keep the three hottest storylines in college basketball going as they take the floor in games that will give us a taste of March in early December. 

Michigan vs Louisville

Michigan will try to extend their win streak against top-ten teams to three as they head south to face Louisville, the new number one. This game will be a raging inferno as both the Cardinals and the Wolverines will enter with chips on their shoulders. 

On one hand, head coach Juwan Howard and Michigan will look to prove that their dominant wins over North Carolina and Gonzaga were not flukes and that they are indeed a championship contender. On the other hand, Louisville will want to show a national audience that they didn’t simply back in to the top spot, that they are the best team in the NCAA. Both make strong arguments for their side, but only one will come away with the early bragging rights . . . and the number one ranking.

What To Watch For:

  • Louisville junior Jordan Nwora, 6’7” forward and the Cardinal’s leading scorer (21.9 ppg), will be the wild card in this one. Michigan held Gonzaga’s Filip Petrusev to his lowest point total of the season, but Nwora’s ability to hit the deep three may stretch the stingy Wolverine defense to its breaking point. 
  • Keep an eye on Michigan’s lengthy freshman Franz Wagner. Wagner’s size (6’ 8”), range, and growing confidence will help him be a difference maker on the perimeter against the Cardinals. 
  • If this one stays close, it could come down to who wins the battle in the low post between Michigan’s John Teske and Louisville’s Steve Enoch. Both can defend, both can score, and both can change the outcome of a game

Duke vs Michigan State

The Blue Devils and Spartans will enter the Breslin Center in East Lansing as fallen giants eager to erase the impact of shocking upsets incurred during Feast Week. While Michigan and Louisville will be driven by the thirst for perfection, Duke and Michigan State will be inspired by some early-season desperation as they seek to avoid a loss that promises lasting damage. `

What To Watch For:

  • Vernon Carey, Jr., Duke’s 6’ 10”, 270 lb. freshman center, gains confidence every time he steps on the court. Tuesday could be a big-time coming out party on a big stage. If he continues to progress as the hub for the Blue Devil’s inside-out offensive attack, the Spartans may be in for a long night. 
  • The battle between the point guards, Duke’s Trey Jones and Michigan State’s Cassius Winston, a pre-season All-American, will be epic. Winston is the total package, but Jones majors in getting his counterpart into foul trouble. Tom Izzo will sit Winston with two fouls, and when he is off the court, Sparty struggles. 
  • The recent injury to Cassius Stanley will send Duke scrambling to replace his scoring output. This is good news for the Spartans; their loss to Virginia Tech exposed their weakness at defending a team with multiple options for points on the perimeter. 
  • Michigan State loves the three-pointer, and they are accurate when they have time to get set. Look for the Blue Devil defenders to smother the Spartan shooters and give Carey an opportunity to grab more than ten defensive boards. 

Tuesday night will provide as much college basketball excitement as one could hope for so early in the season. Both games deserve the blockbuster label as both are prime-time toss ups. I expect the Wolverines and the Blue Devils to come out on top in nail-biters.

Tennessee vs Memphis: The End of a Basketball Rivalry?

The 13 Memphis Tigers’ win over 19 Tennessee on Saturday ended the Volunteers’ streak of 31 consecutive home wins and started a conversation on whether this in-state rivalry will be continued in the coming years. 

It makes perfect sense for the Vols and Tigers to play each season. The game is a natural rivalry that pits east Tennessee against west Tennessee. Such regional interest can certainly draw attention and a crowd. Furthermore, this matchup brings together two schools with basketball programs that have become increasingly prominent. Thus, as yesterday’s game proved, the Tigers and Vols has the potential to be a headlining, nationally televised event.

There are several reasons why this series should be continued. So, why is there talk of calling it quits?

According to ESPN’s Myron Medcalf, discontinuing the Tennessee-Memphis game could have something to do with comments that Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway made following his loss to the Vols last season. He writes, “After last year’s loss to Tennessee, Hardaway accused Tennessee players of approaching his players with ‘fists balled’ and called Barnes ‘low class’ for complaining about flopping in the Vols’ 102-92 win. He also said, ‘I’m not a dude who likes to mess around about anything,’ a comment directed at Barnes.” 

Certainly, one can understand that these comments may have rubbed Barnes and the UT administration and fanbase the wrong way. Even Hardaway admits that his reaction to the game “‘wasn’t a good look’” (Medcalf). However, he urges everyone to see past his emotionally charged response and realize that continuing the series is the best for all involved. 

Not surprisingly, he cites reasons similar to those listed above in support of drafting a new contract with Tennessee for future games. Following the game yesterday, he said, “‘[T]his rivalry needs to stay, not because we won today but because it’s just a great rivalry. So many people that live in Memphis that went to (Tennessee) that I know. Family that went to (Tennessee). . . . There’s ties both ways. Even though it kind of got out of hand last year, I think it should continue’” (Medcalf). 

Of course, we can expect that games between rival schools, especially two of Tennessee and Memphis’s caliber, will always be on the verge of “getting out of hand.” Therefore, it is logical to question whether last season’s post-game issues are really behind Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes’s reluctance to comment on any plans to enter a new contract with Memphis in the immediate future. 

On this matter, Barnes said, “‘I’m not saying we will or we won’t (extend the series). I’ve got respect for Memphis. I know all about the history of Memphis basketball. I know a lot about Penny Hardaway .  . . . We’re always going to do what we think is right for us’” (Medcalf).  

Barnes’s last sentence is the correct thing to say in front of reporters, but it does leave the door open for negative speculation. This leads to the question of the hour: Is renewing the rivalry with Memphis for another three years “right,” or good, for the Tennessee basketball program?

There are three facts that we must consider when answering this question: 

  • Memphis hired Penny Hardaway as head coach before the 2018-19 season;
  • By the beginning of the following season, Hardaway secured the top recruiting class in the nation;
  • Five of the ten new additions to the Tigers’ roster are from either Memphis or Nashville.

Rick Barnes is, no doubt, familiar with these facts. They are likely the reasons why he was, to quote Medcalf, “noncommital” when discussing the future of the series with Memphis. 

Although Memphis has a rich history in college basketball, the influx of top recruits  suggests that Hardaway’s return to his alma mater may bring a new era of national prominence to the Tigers. Moreover, their 9-1 start this season, with the win over then-19th ranked Tennessee, demonstrates that Hardaway’s squad can compete. 

This is especially true given that their win over the Vols came when they were shorthanded. The presence of center James Wiseman (19.7 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game) and Lester Quinones (10.3 ppg and 3.5 assists per game) may have widened the gap between the Vols and Tigers. 

This may be what Barnes has in mind when he thinks about what is right for Tennessee where it concerns Memphis. 

At this point, there is nothing for the Vols to gain by playing Memphis every year other than potential bragging rights. Hardaway’s first recruiting class showed that he has the ability to secure the best players in Memphis and Nashville. Tennessee cannot afford to miss out on talented recruits from the western end of the state who see the Tigers compete with, and even beat, the Vols each year.

As this season has shown, Tennessee, while being a top-25 program, is not at the place where they can reload their roster immediately after losing top-level talents such as Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. There will still be rebuilding years in Knoxville.

With this being the case, as much as Penny Hardaway wants to see the Memphis-Tennessee series continue next year, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t. 

6 Gonzaga: Best of the Rest

The “Best of the Rest” series has proven to be the kiss of death for highly ranked teams who want to be considered among the elite in college basketball this season. One day after 4 Maryland fell to Penn State, 5 Michigan dropped a road conference game to an Illinois team that is on the verge of becoming a serious contender in the  highly competitive Big Ten.  

Any time a top five team loses to an unranked opponent, there is cause for excitement. However, the problems with Michigan’s game that were brought to light in the previous “Best of the Rest” should have prepared us to see the Wolverines struggle against the Fighting Illini and their big freshman center Kofi Cockburn.

So much for Michigan. Now, on to the third installment of “Best of the Rest.”

6 Gonzaga

The Bulldogs have put together a nice resume this season. Other than their loss to Michigan in The Battle for Atlantis, they have been perfect, scoring ten wins in eleven games. Among these were impressive showings against then-11 Oregon and then-22 Washington. 

While the Michigan loss can help or hurt Gonzaga, depending on the Wolverines future performance, their veteran roster and the fourth-best scoring offense in college basketball will allow the Bulldogs to determine their own fate this season.

The Good

Gonzaga can absolutely score. With five players averaging more than ten points per game and two more at 9.7 and 9.9, the Bulldogs have one of the most potent offenses in the country. 

An important part of their attack is their remarkable ability to shoot the three. Guards Ryan Woolridge and Joel Ayayi are hitting 58.8 and 39.1 from beyond the arc. Forwards Corey Krispart (41.9%) and Killian Tilley (40.7) are able to stretch opposing defenses with their long-distance game. 

The Bulldogs’ three-point accuracy has a brilliant secondary effect. When defenses move to the perimeter to defend the deep shots, they leave forward Filip Petrusev open in the low post. As a result, Petrusev has scored 15.8 points per game.

The Gonzaga defense is a two-edged sword. They can cut defenses from the inside and the outside. What makes this particularly lethal is that they have the experience to know how to adjust and pile up points. There are no one-and-done players on this squad.

The Bad 

This season, Gonzaga has majored in blowing out inferior opponents, but their three games against ranked teams have told a different story. 

In the blowout loss to Michigan as well as their wins over Oregon and Washington, the Bulldogs struggled to keep effective big men from scoring. Oregon’s C.J. Walker scored 12 off the bench, Michigan’s John Teske scored 19, and Washington’s Isaiah Stewart scored 21. 

Additionally, while Gonzaga has the ability to match scores with any team and pull ahead with the three, they are forced to do this against capable offenses and have a hard time getting stops. If the Bulldogs don’t address their defensive issues, these problems will grow more pronounced as they face every time they face tough competition. 

The Verdict

The weakness of Gonzaga’s conference schedule will allow them to dominate; however, each time they encounter a team that is capable of scoring with them, the game will likely go down to the wire. Therefore, it is hard to imagine them rising to the number one ranking this season. 

19 Tennessee: Trouble with the Offense

If the Emerald Coast Classic showed us anything, it’s that Big Orange has a big problem: Other than Lamonte Turner, no one is taking ownership of Tennessee’s offensive production.

And . . . a blowout win over Florida A & M was not enough to say that this issue has been resolved.

Against Florida State, Yves Pons starred as “The French Freak,” scoring 13 points while putting on a levitation act with two jaw-dropping dunks. He also showed nice range by sinking two threes. Fast forward to VCU. Pons asserted his will with uncanny athleticism early but faded to the background as the game progressed. To be fair, he put 9 on the board; however, he quickly went from “Who’s that guy?” to “Where’s that guy?” Pons can dominate, but will he? 

In both games, Jordan Bowden played the role of the unknown hero who questions whether it is time to unleash his powers. The answer is clear—YES! It is actually past time. Bowden is on the cusp of something special, but he needs to trade his current role for that of a two guard who scores over 15 points per game against tough competition. If he can’t, come March, the Vols will be heading back to Knoxville after the first round. 

This brings us to John Fulkerson and Lamonte Turner, the mystery players among the Tennessee starters. 

The Fulkerson mystery is straightforward: Is he the player who averaged 15.5 points in the low post against Washington and VCU, both worthy opponents, or is he the player who scored 2 points in 29 minutes versus Florida State? Because most of his 17 points in the VCU game came on open shots under the basket, it’s reasonable to wonder if that performance may be the exception, not the rule. But, Fulkerson has the moxie to prove otherwise. 

Lamonte Turner is a mystery because he has to do too many things when Tennessee has the ball.  So, it’s unclear what his role is on the offense. Although he is a solid point guard, against Florida State and VCU, the Vols leaned too heavily on his ability to shoot and drive when they needed points.

If this continues, Rick Barnes may opt to play freshman Josiah Jordan-James more at the point to let Turner create scoring opportunities for himself. But, when this happened late in the VCU game, one thing became clear: Turner is a one, not a two. Another bit of clarity: Tennessee will not go far if Turner is forced to be something that he is not. 

It’s time for someone other than Lamonte Turner to step up and score big on Rocky Top. 

5 Michigan: Best of the Rest

The first installment of “Best of the Rest” predicted that 4 Maryland was on the verge of taking their first loss because of their tendency to start slow on offense. This prediction came true last night at Penn State as the Terrapins fell 76-69 in a big upset and an even bigger win for the improving Nittany Lions. 

After finding itself down 5-0, Maryland evened the score only to find themselves on the wrong end of a 9-0 run. Thanks to the Terrapins’ staggering 20 turnovers, Penn State held the lead throughout the game and removed Maryland from the ranks of the unbeaten. 

So much for the Terps. Now, on to the second installment of the “Best of the Rest.”

5 Michigan

The Wolverines came out of Feast Week blazing hot. They scored wins over Iowa State, then-6 North Carolina, and then-8 Gonzaga. This launched Michigan into the top-5 and first-year head coach Juwan Howard into the national spotlight. 

A loss to 1 Louisville brought the Wolverines back to earth a bit, but a recent conference win over Iowa allowed them to land on their feet and solidified their position near the top of the college basketball rankings. 

The Good

Michigan has one of the most balanced, and high-scoring, offenses in the country. While they do not have one go-to scorer, four Wolverines, Isaiah Livers, John Teske, Xavier Sullivan, and Eli Brooks, average over ten points per game. Of course, the balance that the Wolverines have enjoyed would not be possible without Sullivan’s keen passing—his 8.6 assists per game is second in the NCAA. 

On the defensive side, Michigan features an aggressive approach that works to limit their opponent’s success at scoring from the perimeter. Expect to see several steals and blocks per game when watching the Wolverine defense. 

Finally, Michigan’s bench is one of the deepest in college basketball and typically makes a noticeable contribution on both ends of the court.

The Bad

There is little to say about Michigan’s performance that is negative, but their games against Louisville and Iowa raised a few questions. 

First, the underwhelming loss at Louisville was a stark contrast to the Wolverines’ dominance in the Battle for Atlantis. One problem was noticeable from the opening tip: Michigan could not get settled in front of the hostile crowd at the KFC Yum! Center. Thus, their potent offense could never ignite. Keep an eye out for how they perform in later road games.

Will they rise to the occasion or continue to wilt?

Second, talented big men have had great success in the paint against Michigan. Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie scored 20, Louisville’s Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch had 22 and 13 respectively, and Iowa’s Luka Garza dropped an astounding 44 points. The majority of their points came from twelve feet in. There is no question that Michigan center John Teske is one of the best defensive centers in the Big Ten, but these big numbers inside will eventually cost the Wolverines.

The Verdict

There is a lot to like about Michigan. Opponents will find their offense difficult to slow down and their aggressive defense maddening. It will be interesting to see what happens when the Wolverines take the show on the road against Big Ten opponents with strong big men.

Tonight’s match-up at Illinois will be an early test. The Illini’s freshman center Kofi Cockburn improves each time he hits the court. The same goes for Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson: he will pose serious difficulties for the Wolverines. 

Regardless of these weak spots, Michigan has earned the benefit of the doubt with their play this season. So, expect them to remain near the top of the polls. 

Butler vs Baylor: Preview

1 Louisville, 2 Kansas, and 4 Maryland will be in action, but the biggest matchup in college basketball tonight will feature the 18 Butler Bulldogs and the 11 Baylor Bears. Although neither have cracked the top ten this season, both have proven themselves to be teams on the rise to this point in the season. 

Butler (9-0) is one of the eight teams that remain undefeated and is riding high after their fourteen-point win over Florida last Saturday. The Bulldogs are led by senior guard Kamar Baldwin (16.6 points per game). However, Butler is not a one man show on offense. Two more more Bulldogs, Bryce Nze and Sean McDermott, have double-figure scoring averages.  These three scorers along with point guard Aaron Thompson (6.1 assists per game) give Butler a balanced offensive attack that opposing defenses have found difficult to shut down.

Like Butler, Baylor features a balanced offense but has two players who score on par with Baldwin: Jared Butler (18.6) and MaCio Teague (15.4). What distinguishes Baylor, though, is their aggressive play on defense. The Bears average 9.3 steals per game and 4.8 blocks. To say the least, Baylor poses a challenge on both ends of the court.

Baylor’s wins over Villanova and Arizona have solidified them as one of the best one-loss teams in college basketball. Butler, in contrast, has yet to receive fully the respect that their undefeated record commands. 

Tonight, one thing is sure—either Butler will retain its spot among the unbeaten or Baylor will pick up its third win over a ranked team. 

This should be a good one. 

3 Maryland Terrapins: Best of the Rest

Much of the talk about college basketball this week has been focused on two teams: the 1 Louisville Cardinals and 3 Ohio State Buckeyes, and rightfully so. 

Louisville rose to the occasion last Tuesday by throttling 5 Michigan, the nation’s hottest team coming out of the Feast Week tournaments. 

Ohio State’s stock rose dramatically after dominating then-seventh-ranked North Carolina, holding the Tar Heels to a meager 27.4% from the field and out rebounding them 48-32. 

These teams, along with Kansas (despite an opening-night loss to Duke), seem poised to battle for the top spot over the next several weeks. The question then becomes: Who are the best of the rest? 

What follows will be the first installment of a series that will take a look at several top-ranked teams and make arguments for and against them as potential number-one squads.

4 Maryland

The Good

The Terrapins are one of the most experienced teams in the nation. They returned five players from last year’s team who averaged more than twenty minutes per game and two more who played over ten minutes per game. 

Furthermore, these guys are good. Senior guard Anthony Cowan, Jr. (16.6 points per game, 4.4 assists) is one of the best offensive players in the Big Ten. Forward Jalen Smith has averaged 13.6 points per game and 10.1 rebounds. When you add two more starters who have double-digit scoring averages, you have a top team that can score in bunches. 

The Bad

Maryland often has to score in bunches. Despite being one of the most explosive teams in the country, they flirt with disaster with inconceivably low-scoring first halves. For example, they had to erase a fifteen-point second half deficit against Illinois and needed a late rally to pull past Temple. 

Illinois and Temple are not slouches, but if Maryland is to become a number-one caliber team, their numerous offensive weapons need to learn how to come out of the gate firing.

The Verdict

A tendency to start cold on offense will soon remove the Terrapins from the ranks of the unbeaten and perhaps from the top ten. 

Out-of-Conference Excitement: Florida vs 24 Butler

Florida looks to pick up a road win in their quest to return the top 25 today when they take on the #24 Butler Bulldogs. Butler, however, will attempt to hand Florida its third loss of the year as they seek to extend their eight-game winning streak and their undefeated season.

Florida and Butler have achieved the exact opposite of their preseason expectations so far. Several picked Florida to be among the top teams in the nation, but this prediction seems questionable at this point as the Gators suffered an eighteen-point loss to then-unranked Florida State and came up short against a surprising UConn team. In contrast, Butler keeps winning despite being picked to finish near the bottom of the Big East. This means that each team will show up with one point to prove—that they belong near the top of the college basketball rankings.

What To Watch For:

  • Butler’s Kamar Baldwin (17.1 ppg) and Florida’s Keyontae Johnson (13.6 ppg) will be the most exciting players on the court. Baldwin is one of the best scoring guards in the Big East and can explode on defenses (he scored 33 on Ole Miss in his most recent game). Johnson is an athletic, big-bodied forward (6’5”, 245 lbs) who drives the lane with the power of a blitzing linebacker and finishes with finesse.
  • The battle for points in the paint will be interesting as Kerry Blackshear, Jr.,Florida, and Bryce Golden, Butler, can both score. Look for Golden to shoot the three occasionally and for Blackshear to show off some nice moves in the low post.
  • There are two offensive wild cards in this game. If Florida point guard Andrew Nembhard scores over ten points, the Gators will win. If Butler forward Sean McDermott scores over ten points, the Bulldogs will win.

This should be an interesting out-of-conference battle that comes down to the wire. Although most seem to favor Butler by a few points, I think Florida’s depth will help the Gators take home a much needed win. 

Early ACC Shootout: Duke vs Virginia Tech

Duke will return to action for the first time since walloping Michigan State when they travel to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils will be looking to extend their latest win to three while the Hokies will try to avoid their third consecutive loss since their upset of Michigan State. 

Both teams feature explosive offenses, but they use different methods to put points on the board. One one hand, Virginia Tech (76.2 points per game ) lives by the three-pointer and supplements their outside attack with effective cuts to the basket by point guard Wabissa Bede and 6’7” shooting guard Landers Nolley II. On the other hand, Duke (84.1 points per game) has a number of shooters, including Tre Jones and Matthew Hunt, but showcases an effective inside-out approach with the ever-improving freshman center Vernon Carey, Junior. 

In addition to their offensive attacks, both the Blue Devils and Hokies have smothering defenses that pose difficulties to opponents night in and night out. So, this early-season should feature plenty of steals, picked off passes, and points in transition.

Look for the Hokies to put up a good fight but fall a bit short as they will struggle to find an answer to Duke’s size, variety of shooters, and Carey in the paint.

What To Watch For:

  • The battle between the point guards, Duke’s Trey Jones and Virginia Tech’s Wabissa Bede will go far in determining the outcome of the game. Bede is the most exciting guard you haven’t heard of and Jones is arguably the best defensive guard in the nation. 
  • Vernon Carey, Junior, who is becoming an all-time great big man for Duke, is worth the price of admission. He is averaging 19.2 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game, and he has only played in 9 college games. No one has had an answer for him yet.
  • Can Virginia Tech, whose tallest starter is the 6’7” Nolley, a guard, find a reliable inside offense against larger, quality opponents? Their one-sided losses to Dayton and BYU suggest that they cannot. Maybe things will change tonight. 

Ohio State: One to Watch

#6 Ohio State’s gigantic road win over North Carolina on Wednesday led ESPN’s Jeff Borzello to say that they “might be the best team in the Big Ten,” and he may be right. After all, the undefeated Buckeyes’ resume includes seven double-digit wins, two of which were 25-point blowouts of top-ten teams (Villanova & North Carolina). 

While it is a bit early to make claims about who is or isn’t the best in a given conference, one thing is certain: The next month with tell us a lot about Ohio State’s ceiling. 

Beginning December 15, the Buckeyes will play seven games that include trips to Minnesota, #3 Maryland, and Indiana along with contests against a hot West Virginia and #5 Kentucky. If they make it through this stretch unscathed, we won’t have to limit our conversation on Ohio State to the Big Ten—they will have proven themselves to be one of the nation’s elite teams. 

In their wins over Villanova and North Carolina, the most obvious difference between Ohio State and these squads was their size. They are able to physically overwhelm their opponents with a vicious inside out attack on offense that features Kaleb Wesson (6’9” 270 lbs), an aggressive, rangy big man and a host of shooters who can drain the three, especially Duane Washington, who is hitting 51.4% from behind the arc. On defense, the Buckeyes’ size, physicality, and athleticism make it difficult for opponents to find clear lanes to the basket. So, they are forced to try to win with jump shots. Thus far, it hasn’t worked. 

Ohio State will pose serious problems to any team that they face this season. Although they occasionally have moments of weakness, such as a nearly five minute scoring drought against a weak defense at the end of the first half against North Carolina, their sheer dominance makes up for their deficiencies. If they handle the upcoming slate of games, there will be ample reason to believe that the Buckeyes could still be playing in April.

Anatomy of the Upset: Virginia vs Purdue

Purdue’s defeat of 5 Virginia was a stunning upset not because Purdue has no business beating Virginia but, rather, because the score was so lopsided. 

69-40. Seriously?

How does the defending national champion find itself on the rough end of such a beat down? The answer is less complicated than it may seem, and it is something that we have already witnessed in another upset of a highly ranked team this season. 

On November 25, Virginia Tech shocked #3 Michigan State in a 71-66 victory during the Maui Invitational. At first glance, this game and the Virginia-Purdue contest seem to share nothing of significance in common. However, two stats tell the tale of these upsets: three-point percentage and steals. 

What stood out even more than Virginia Tech hanging closely with Michigan State before taking the lead midway through the first half was the Spartans’ insistence on launching three-pointers despite missing far more than they hit. 

They made 8 of 23 while the Hokies made 10 of 21. 

This doesn’t sound like a big difference until you consider the percentages—34.7 percent for Michigan State, 47.6 percent for Virginia Tech. So, while nearly one of every two threes the Hokies shot succeeded, only one of every three fell for the Spartans. This meant that every Spartan shot created two more opportunities for rebounds than did each  of the Hokies’ attempts. Yet they kept shooting them, even after Virginia Tech came from behind and established a lead that they never relinquished. 

Fast forward to tonight. Virginia attempted 24 three-pointers while hitting only 4, or16.7%. The problem this posed in the first half is the same one that got Michigan State whipped: Persistently tossing bad threes against teams that are good in transition creates scoring opportunities that would not have occurred with more judicious shot selection. In short, this is the stuff that runs are made of.

Then, you add the steals. 

Michigan State had three steals and Virginia Tech had eight—more than twice as many. Purdue had twelve steals while Virginia had three. Four times as many! It’s hard to believe, but it happened. And it shows that both Virginia Tech and Purdue thought that aggressive defense would be key in trying to beat a powerhouse team. They were right.

What neither could have expected, though, is what would happen when the opportunities that stemmed from those missed threes dovetailed with  those that came from the steals. These opportunities shifted these games  in favor of the eventual winners by giving them an unusually large number of chances to score points that were not matched on the other end.  

In the end, these examples provide us with a detailed accounts of the anatomy of a most interesting phenomenon: the college basketball upset.