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Husky Men's Basketball

The latest news and analysis on Husky men's hoops.

March 27, 2008 at 9:15 AM

Picking the Pac

Three Pac-10 teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament, and if history is any guide, at least one won’t make it past the next round.
Only once has the Pac-10 advanced three teams to the Elite Eight (2000-01, Arizona, Stanford and USC) and never has the conference had every team win in the Sweet 16 round when more than one has made it that far.
The Pac-10, however, has had multiple teams in the Elite Eight four times since 1997 (97, 98, 2001 and 2007), more proof of the Western basketball resurgence of the last decade.
Not that any of that matters this weekend, when each conference team remaining will face its own separate challenges.
Here’s my quick look at each game with some special emphasis on the Cougar-North Carolina contest:
WSU-NORTH CAROLINA — If ever there has been a clash in styles in recent the NCAA Tournament, this is it. According to Ken Pomeroy, North Carolina had 75.6 possessions per 40 minutes this season, ranking No. 4 in the country, while WSU had 59.6, ranking No. 336.
The team that can best impose its style on the other team tonight will have the best chance.
And pace, more than anything, is the real difference in this game and not ability to play defense. As regular readers of this space now, I’m not a fan of those who look strictly at points allowed as a measure of good defense, as too many talking heads unfortunately tend to do.
In fact, many Cougar fans were actually beginning to grumble a little bit about the team’s defense during Pac-10 play, wondering if the loss of shot-blocking big man Ivory Clark hadn’t taken a bigger toll than imagined.
Easy to forget now, but the Cougars were seventh in the Pac-10 in field goal percentage defense (a more accurate way to gauge defensive prowess) in conference games this season at 45.5 percent behind Washington and, believe it or not, Oregon, two teams few laud nationally for their defense.
The Cougars weren’t any better in the Pac-10 tournament, allowing Oregon to hit 53.2 percent and Stanford 44.4, each above their season averages.
Suddenly in the NCAA Tournament, however, the Cougars have been stellar, allowing Winthrop to make just 30.8 percent and Notre Dame a stunning 24.5. The question, of course, is whether the Cougars suddenly got better, or simply played two teams that were caught unaware by their style and against whom they matched up really well.
It’s probably a little bit of both — surely, the Cougar seniors are playing at the top of their game right now — though how great the percentage leans one way or the other could tell a lot about how much success WSU can have tonight.
Winthrop simply looked like a team over its head while Notre Dame seemed pretty unathletic and one-dimensional, with few other options once the Cougars shut down its main threats. WSU was also allowed to play pretty physically inside on Notre Dame. calls that could go the other way tonight with the game in Charlotte (ask Husky fans how NCAA games played on the East Coast against East Coast games tend to be officiated).
North Carolina is maybe the most talented team the Cougars have played all season (UCLA might argue that point) with more offensive options. And WSU tended to struggle this season against talented, multi-dimensional teams, going 0-7 against UCLA, Stanford and Arizona, the three conference teams whose starting fives probably possess the most raw talent (USC might argue that point, as well, and the Cougars swept the Trojans this season, though USC was not really at full strength for either game).
Of course, Husky fans know well how much tourney momentum can even the playing field. The Huskies were an even bigger underdog than the Cougars are tonight in 1998 for their Sweet 16 game against UConn that went down to the last play.
Conversely, few teams looked better heading into the round of 16 than USC a year ago after the Trojans routed Arkansas and Texas in Spokane. The Trojans then made the cross-country trip to the Meadowlands to face North Carolina in the Sweet 16, took a 16-point lead early in the second half, then wilted as the Tar Heels rallied for a 74-64 win.
Not sure WSU can take a 16-point lead, but it would be no surprise to see the Tar Heels struggle early against the Cougars’ pace. Ultimately, however, the Tar Heels will just have too much for the Cougars. Call it 69-58 North Carolina.
(For another look at this game from a Times writer, check out Bud Withers’ capsule preview here).
WESTERN KENTUCKY VS. UCLA — WKU has one shot at winning this game — hitting three-pointers. The Hilltoppers made 20-44 in the first two rounds, and 39 percent for the season, 26th in the nation. And that happens to be something UCLA has given up at times this year as the Bruins ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in three-point field goal percentage defense in conference games only at 37 percent, ahead of only Oregon State. But it’s hard to figure how Western Kentucky will stop the Bruins on the other end despite ranking 13th in the nation this year in defensive turnover margin. And obviously falling behind early won’t rattle the Bruins, who are showing an uncanny ability to pull games out. I don’t think they’ll need any miracles tonight. UCLA 71, WKU 52.
STANFORD VS. TEXAS — These two teams play Friday night in another clash of styles — Stanford has one of the best inside games in the country, Texas flourishes on the perimeter. Historically those are the kind of matchups that usually favor the team with the better big men. But this game is in Houston, and the college game is more guard-centered than ever, and the Cardinal seemed a little more mortal than expected against Marquette. If guard Anthony Goods snaps out of his tournament shooting slump (5-17 in the first two rounds) the Cardinal could romp. But I’ve just got a feeling that the Longhorns are going to prevail. TEXAS 73, STANFORD 69.

Comments | Topics: UCLA


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