Archive for Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Unknown UNI better than its stats

March 23, 2010

So much for that theory.

A week ago in this space, while previewing the Midwest Region of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, I wrote: “Look for Kansas to handle any seed lower than eight, including No. 9 Northern Iowa. Although the Panthers have an impressive 28-4 record, they have faced just two NCAA tournament teams all year and aren’t really battle-tested.”

Hmmm. Guess the Panthers weren’t subscribers to that concept.

The Missouri Valley Conference champs (regular season and postseason) looked plenty tournament-ready in disposing of the Jayhawks, the No. 1 seed in the entire field.

The 69-67 UNI victory busted brackets nationwide and broke the hearts of KU fans throughout the Sunflower State.

Not too long after watching Kansas’ once-promising season crash and burn, I was listening to a song by Motion City Soundtrack and one line of the band’s lyrics kept looping in the background as I replayed the second-round exit in my head: “So don’t think you know a thing about a thing you know nothing about.”

Now, I had seen Northern Iowa play a little this season but only for a few minutes here and there — and definitely not for an entire game.

So why did I think I knew a thing about UNI?

The pre-madness numbers and résumés definitely favored juggernaut Kansas, not the mid-major Panthers.

KU averaged roughly 19 more points, two more steals and four more blocks than UNI. Kansas’ rebound margin was plus-6.8 a game; Northern Iowa was at plus-three. The Jayhawks’ average assist to turnover ratio was 17:13 while the Panthers averaged 11:11.

Entering the dance, the No. 1 seed shot 49 percent from the floor, held opponents to 38-percent shooting, and made 7.3 three-pointers a game while hitting 41 percent from distance and limiting its foes to 33 percent from behind the arc.

The No. 9 seed made 43 percent of its shots while its opponents hit 40 percent. From three-point range UNI shot 35 percent, made 6.6 an outing and held its opponents to 33-percent shooting.

But the biggest advantage (on paper) was KU’s schedule. The big boys had played 15 games against NCAA tournament teams, going 13-2.

The Panthers had played just two teams in the field — they beat Siena and Old Dominion.

None of that mattered.

All the statistics and background information doesn’t mean squat when the game tips.

I thought I knew all there was to know about UNI because of a pile what proved to be useless data.

I should’ve listened more intently to Motion City Soundtrack before predicting what would happen when the Jayhawks and Panthers squared off.

As far as Kansas goes, that’s a squad I knew plenty about. I saw all 34 of the Big 12 champ’s games before NCAA tourney time, many in person.

When you watch college basketball analysts on television, there’s a lot of talk about whether teams “pass the eye test.”

Clearly, I forgot about that examination when I looked at the bracket and figured Kansas was on its way to a Final Four.

Although the Jayhawks almost always won, not once during the season was I overwhelmed by what I saw — not a single jaw-dropping, “Did that just happen?” moment.

The resonating thought was, “This team’s good, but it isn’t nearly as impressive as the KU team of 2008, or the 2002 and 2003 teams.”

All three of those seasons, of course, KU made the Final Four and two years ago Kansas cut down the nets as national champs.

The 2009-2010 squad didn’t have that chance because it lacked the edge of those other Jayhawk teams.

How often did you see this Kansas team really play with urgency and put away a quality opponent? The only time that happened was against Temple, way back on Jan. 2.

The Jayhawks were talented enough to beat every team they played and because they knew it, they often relied on that fact alone to get them a victory.

Most of the time it worked. But that approach only has to fail once in March for the season to implode.

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