Arts & Entertainment

Picking Splinters: Into the Magic Mailbag



Here it is, the second week of the tournament, and Cinderella’s ride to the ball is back to being a Halloween decoration. Goliath is peeling David off his heel and using his sling to pick his teeth.

The upset? So last year. Chalk is the new black in 2009, but that means there should be some very interesting games from the Sweet 16 on. Let’s look at a few questions from the Magical Mailbag in anticipation of the weekend’s action.

Is Pitt about to bow out of the tournament? They’ve looked terrible.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that how teams play in previous games has little impact on their next tournament game. Sure, Pitt’s looked shaky, but Oklahoma State was a terrible matchup for them, with a small lineup that forced the Panthers into a ton of turnovers, thereby making one of Pitt’s strengths into a weakness. I don’t think Xavier can do the same.

Are there any upsets you see in the next round?

All of the No. 2 seeds play No. 3 seeds, so that’s not much of an upset even if one of the twos does fall.

UConn could be in some trouble though. Purdue’s perimeter strength may counteract some of Hasheem Thabeet’s usual influence on the game. Additionally, when a favorite is trailing they sometimes get away from their own style of play and mimic the underdogs. The subliminal thinking seems to be that since they’re the favorite, anything the underdog can do, they can do better. Remember when Villanova was losing to American in Round One? The Wildcats turned that game into a jump shooting contest because the Eagles were splashing every jumper they took. But as soon as ‘Nova remembered it had a tremendous interior advantage against the Eagles, they righted themselves and pulled away for the win.

UConn is a terrible perimeter team, getting just 18.3 percent of its points from beyond the arc, which ranks 331 in the nation. If the Huskies rush jumpers instead of working the ball to Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, there’s a very real possibility of an upset.

More disappointing conference performance: Big Ten or ACC?

Hands down it’s the ACC. The Big Ten was the No. 2 conference in the RPI, but that’s a little misleading. The RPI is heavily weighted by strength of schedule, which itself is broken down into two parts: Who a team plays and who those opponents play. The Big Ten-ACC Challenge, as well as some other key non-conference games by Michigan and Minnesota (wins over UCLA, Duke and Louisville) really boosted the Big Ten’s RPI profile, but anyone who watched the conference this year would not have been impressed compared to the ACC or the Big East.

The ACC on the other hand, was the No. 1 conference in the RPI and appeared to have several teams capable of making it to the Sweet 16, but Wake Forest slept on Cleveland State, Clemson pulled its disappearing act, Florida State lost its snooze fest against Wisconsin and B.C. fell by the wayside against USC. That’s a lot of potential falling to some pretty mediocre teams in Round One.

What’s the most overblown comment we’ll hear from announcers this weekend?

Depth is a popular aspect that commentators love to praise. Truth is, it really doesn’t mean that much. I just wrote an article for ESPN Insider on the topic. On the average, D-1 teams use their bench players for about 30 percent of the available minutes. We found that over the last five years, only four Final Four teams have been above that average. So when President Obama nixed the Oklahoma Sooners in his bracket because they only played seven guys, he may have done so for the wrong reason. The real culprit of a Sooners loss is more likely to be their inability to get Blake Griffin the ball against the Orange’s 2-3 zone.