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Old 03-10-2003, 09:52 PM   #1
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Default Sports Central Newsletter - #98 - Dissecting the Big Dance

The Sports Central Newsletter
March 9th, 2003 - Issue #98

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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|

- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "The NBA Savior"
- What's New at Sports Central?
- Feature Article: "Dissecting the Big Dance"
- Marquee Matchups (NBA)



Hello folks,

The beginning of March signals the time where NCAA office pools are rampant and upsets shock the world. To prepare and educate you for the brackets soon to be released after Selection Sunday, SC's Brendan McEvoy has a solid article in this week's newsletter, "Dissecting the Big Dance," to get you started thinking about brackets and seeds -- as if you needed the motivation! Hope you enjoy it, and, as always, let us know if you have any comments.

Until next time,

- Marc James
mailto:[email protected]


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|-- THE O-FILES--|

"The NBA Savior"

By Brad Oremland

Michael Jordan has saved the NBA again. This time, he has saved it from himself.

When Jordan retired at the peak of his career for the second time, he left the National Basketball Association without a compelling figure. Tim Duncan was quietly asserting himself as the best player in the league, but he was too bland -- and in too small a media market -- to really capture fans' adoration. Karl Malone? Past his prime and coming off a wrestling match against Dennis Rodman. Shaq put some people off with his personality, and he never had the complete game that Jordan did. The public craves a star who can hit free throws and down game-winning three-pointers, not just a big man who dominates the lane.

Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter were only two of the young stars cursed by the "next Jordan" tag. When Michael returned as part-owner of the Wizards, he was the biggest story in the NBA again. How could the league progress with off-court talent more compelling than the guys playing the game?

And then, as he has for a decade and a half, Jordan saved the league again, by suiting up with the Wizards. He still has his moments -- this year's All-Star Game and his recent run of 30-point games come to mind -- but he's clearly not the best player in the league anymore.

And that's what has saved the NBA. Now instead of comparing Kobe to M.J., we compare him to Tracy McGrady. As Jordan makes his NBA farewell tour, it's being treated like one; he's officially progressed into legend. The Wizards are fighting for a playoff spot, and Jordan may not even be the best player on his own team, but he's being revered for what he was. And other players are being revered for what they are. And that's the way it should be.

As Jordan passes into history, the league owes him one final debt of gratitude.


Brad welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:[email protected]?subject=O-Files



Revisiting the new articles for the period of 03/03/03 - 03/09/03:


COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Casting a vote for Sweetney
By Eric Williams

March is again upon us and with that comes the end of another brilliant college basketball season. While this is a time that many teams use to focus on strengthening their NCAA tournament resumes, individual players also use this time to try and further their claim as the best player in their respective conferences, and for a select few, in the country.



MLB: The good, the bad, and the ugly
By Tony Arnoldine

The showdown is rapidly approaching and the Boys of Summer are gearing up for another year. Right now, every team is on top, but it won't be that way for long. SC's Tony Arnoldine points out the good, the bad, and the ugly of the 2003 MLB season.



NFL: Ranking the AFC uniforms
By Kevin Beane

Remember when football was played with leather helmets and gray sweaters (or, if you were really bold, blue)? SC's Kevin Beane doesn't. So he gets in touch with his softer side, admits he ponders the uniforms, and grades them all. Find out if your team made passing marks or failed miserably.



NBA: Bulls showing signs of recovery
By Marco Santana

The Chicago Bulls have been the laughingstock of the NBA since Jerry Krause's ill-advised dismantling of the championship team in the late '90s. But SC's Marco Santana says they have shown signs recently that they are ready to re-join the NBA as a formidable team and make an impact on the rest of the league.



COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Dissecting the Big Dance
By Brendan McEvoy

The NCAA Selection Committee meets in a few weeks. The office pools start shortly after that. Get prepped for your application of bracketology. But you don't have to waste time surfing for trends and statistical data. SC's Brendan McEvoy has cut through the red tape and done the research for you. And he's betting the house on it.



NFL: Offseason movers and shakers
By Brad Oremland

It's free agency time again, and SC's Brad Oremland breaks down the good, the bad, and the ugly of the first week of free agency. After Five Quick Hits from all over the league, he offers an in-depth breakdown of the league's most active team so far, the Washington Redskins.



NBA: Spurs staking their claim
By Bill Ingram

The San Antonio Spurs have been overlooked for most of the season, with "experts" saying the Western Conference belongs to either the Mavs, the Kings, or the Lakers. Don't look now, but the Spurs are making a strong case to be at the head of the class, says SC's Bill Ingram.




"Dissecting the Big Dance"

By Brendan McEvoy

With the NCAA men's basketball office pool just around the corner, I thought I'd research the last four NCAA tournaments and pick out some trends and share them with you, dear reader.

I'm writing this column from a hotel room in Durham, N.C., home of the Duke Blue Devils, which instantly makes anyone a smarter basketball writer.

I realized that since the matchups aren't set yet, I'd focus my energy on breaking down what makes a first-round upset. That's where the office pools are won.

First, the criteria. I don't consider a No. 9 seed beating a No. 8 seed an upset. So all upset data is computed without those games.

With that in mind, in the 102 games played in the first round of the last four years, there have been 25 upsets (nearly 25 percent of the games). So one in every four games is an upset, but it's closer to one in every three games if you also exclude the No. 1 versus No. 16 games because there's never been an upset in those matches.

In a breakdown of each seed, the No. 9 seeds have won half the time in the first round. The No. 10 seeds have beaten No. 7s nine of 16 times -- 56 percent. Only 18.7 percent, or three of the 16 No. 11s have won in the first round. But nearly half (seven of 16) of the No. 12 seeds have defeated No. 5s. Only a quarter of No. 13s, one No. 14, and one No. 15 have pulled upsets in the last four years.

So, pick half No. 9s, 10s, and 12s, and at least one 13 to move on.

Now, what kinds of teams do we select to move on? Well, I went and looked at the conference data. Obviously, we have to use common sense. Don't pick Southwest Missouri State over Maryland simply because these conferences line up in some statistical anomaly. But if used properly, this data can point you in the right direction when you can't decide on a certain match up.

The Missouri Valley Conference has pulled more upsets than any other conference in the last four years. Four teams have pulled five upsets, but the big one, No. 17 Creighton, is no longer a secret. Be careful of a nationally-ranked mid-major team. Remember Gonzaga last year. They expected a No. 3 or 4 seed. The committee gave them a No. 6 and a bad match up with Wyoming. All that Final Four talk went out the window with a first round loss. Creighton is in a very similar position.

But the other MVC team, Southern Illinois, is an NCAA regular and has pulled the upsets in the past. Keep an eye on their seeding and opponents.

The Mid-American Conference and the West Coast Conference have both defeated higher-ranked opponents four times in the last four years. In the MAC, Kent State has done it twice and Miami of Ohio has done it once. The WCC is a little misleading because three of the four upsets have been pulled by Gonzaga. No one takes the 'Zags lightly anymore. Pepperdine was responsible for the other upset.

The conference that is upset the most is the Big 12. Surprised? Well, it hasn't been any one team that has pulled the conference down. In each upset, it was a different school. All of the best were downed except for Kansas, who has a perfect 4-0 record in the first-round through the last four tournaments. Remember that. Kansas doesn't lose in the first round. I'd bet my house on it, but I don't own a house. So take that for what it's worth.

The Pac-10 and the Big 10 have both been upset five times in the first round; the Big East and Conference USA, three times each.

Now, for some conflicting information. Of the big conferences (ACC, Big East, Pac 10, Big 12, SEC, and Big 10), Big 12 teams when ranked a five-seed or lower have won the most games (nine) in the last four years. But the Big East, SEC, and the Big 10 are the only conferences with winning records in the same scenario, 7-6, 5-4 and 6-5, respectively.

But look a little deeper and you'll see that the Big East and the SEC have not fared well in the last two years. With the exception of Notre Dame, the Big East is 1-4 when ranked a No. 5 seed or lower (the lone win being Syracuse in 2001 against Hawaii). SEC teams are 0-3 in these circumstances in the last two years. The rest of the conferences maintain close to a .500 record with the same set of constraints.

Now, moving on in your bracket to the next round, I did some cursory research of the trends of upsets moving on deeper into the tournament. The trends would suggest that the number of low seeds making it to the Round of 16 and the Elite Eight are growing. Three teams that pulled first-round upsets last year made it to the round of 16, compared with one the year before and two the year before that. Two teams made it to the Elite Eight last year, compared with none in the last two years and only one in 1999.

And there is qualitative data to back up the statistical trend: college athletes leaving early and thus diluting the talent pool, and mid-major schools having experienced seniors going against the traditional powers, who are led by sophomores and freshmen.

And while this could be the first year, no first-round upset team has made it to the Final Four. In fact, in each of the last four years, half of the No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four -- two last year and two the year before that.

So, absorb the data. Give it a day or two to sink in. Apply it with common sense and maybe you'll be taking home some extra cake to blow on DVDs or a big-screen TV.

If I win the pool, I think I'll put it towards a down-payment on a house. Then, when I bet the house on my college hoops analysis, it can pull some weight. Know any Realtors in Durham?


We welcome your feedback on this column: mailto:[email protected]?subject=Feature_Article


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--> National Basketball Association

By Steve Goldstein

San Antonio Spurs (42-18) at Minnesota Timberwolves (40-23)
Wednesday, March 12, 8:00 EST; Target Center; Minneapolis, MN; TV: None

Wednesday's battle between the Spurs and Timberwolves is just the latest opportunity to compare the MVP chances of Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Garnett has more flash than Duncan, whose leaping ability will never be confused with Kobe Bryant's. But Duncan clearly carries the Spurs on his back night after night. Meanwhile, Garnett has been Minnesota's best player for at least four seasons, but this is the first year he's taken an obvious leadership position. The result is that the T-Wolves are finally a playoff threat.

Garnett and Duncan are 1-2 in the NBA in double-doubles. Both stars come to play every night, and -- like a great starting pitcher without his best stuff -- both have positive impacts on their teams even if they're not shooting well. Both pass well out of the double-team, both play solid defense, and both want the ball at the end of the fourth quarter. In short, Garnett and Duncan are probably the best players in the league this year, though a very convincing argument can be made as well for the aforementioned Bryant.

Neither the Spurs nor the Timberwolves are full of all-star performers. Role players dominate both rosters, and they're playing well. Point guard Troy Hudson has been a pleasant surprise for Minnesota, replacing the injured Terrell Brandon. Once he got into shape, Wally Sczerbiak's shot has been falling. But, most surprising of all, center Radoslav Nesterovic has been giving the T-Wolves productive minutes in the paint.

The Spurs have some more familiar names in their supporting cast. David Robinson was once one of the league's top-five players. Back injuries and age have caught up to him, but Robinson still takes some defensive pressure off of Duncan, a valuable asset in the postseason. 20-year-old point guard Tony Parker has shown great maturity this year. He schooled Sacramento's Mike Bibby in a big game two weeks ago. Defensive stopper Bruce Bowen has added to his repertoire this year, as well, shooting 45 percent from beyond the three-point arc.

[ Game Breakdown ]

Offense -- Minnesota
Defense -- San Antonio
Coaching -- Minnesota
Intangibles -- San Antonio

Prediction: Timberwolves 98, Spurs 94


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(Thanks for reading! Next issue is set to come out on 03/23/03.)

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