Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Did You Really Believe in #HarperMania?

I'll admit that I didn't always. Even late Sunday night, as Ray Harper's Hilltoppers again upset their way into the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship, I'm not certain that I actually believed that it could happen again.

And yet it did. 

My favorite college basketball player, George Fant, really did come back and play great Monday night against Florida International, and my main man from Bremen, Lilburn Ray Harper Jr. (a.k.a., "the sultan of Hot Springs;" a.k.a., "Mr. March;" a.k.a., "#DietCokeHarp;"), really did coach the Tops to their second-consecutive NCAA-tournament berth in the 13 months since he became the really-no-kidding head coach.

Hells to the yeah, indeed. HooRayRay! And GO! BIG! TOPS! This is a blast.


  1. This is one of the most amazing things I've seen in college basketball.

  2. Looking at Pomeroy's numbers, it appears that the key to Western's success was that they significantly improved their defense. During the Sun Belt regular season, their defensive efficiency was 102.4 -- in other words, they were giving up 102.4 points per 100 possessions. This is quite bad -- the Tops were the 7th-best defensive team in the Belt.

    But look at their defensive numbers in the four tournament games:

    La-Monroe: 91.0
    S. Alabama: 94.0
    Ark St: 82.0
    Fla. Int'l: 95.0

    So in each of the conference tournament games, they held their opponent to less than one point per possession.

  3. Western also did better with their three-point shooting. In 20 Sun Belt games, the Tops made only 34.1 percent of their three-pointers. But in the tournament, they shot 40 percent from three-point range.

  4. They also shot fewer three-pointers. In the Sun Belt regular season, three-pointers accounted for 38.1 percent of Western's shots. In their first tournament game, against Louisiana-Monroe, they kept bombing away -- 45.8 percent of their shots were three-pointers. But that was a pretty easy win, and they were red-hot (they made 11-22 three-pointers in that game).

    In the last three games, however, they were much more careful about taking threes. In those games, the Hilltoppers took three-point shots only 28.5 percent of the time.

  5. So basically, once they got to Hot Springs, the Hilltoppers were a very different team than the one we saw most of the year. Instead of slacking on defense and firing away from three-point range, they played very solid defense and took high-percentage shots. It's probably not as much fun as their normal style, but it is certainly more efficient.

  6. This also shows that WKU's record is somewhat misleading. If they had played like this all year, they would have had a better record in the Sun Belt.

  7. The beat writer for the Bowling Green paper has been saying All Along™ that the key determinant here is the presence or absence of the team's point guard, Jamal Crook. WKU was 8-2, and then Crook broke a foot in five-point loss to Murray State in December. There were other injuries, too. Anyway, by the time Crook, who was the starting point guard for the previous Louisville Ballard High team that made it to the state final, returned to action, the Tops were 11-11. And then it took a while for him to round back into condition.

    Anyway, with the offense struggling in the semifinals against Arkansas State, Chad Bishop of the Daily News Tweeted out, "Know why this WKU offense struggling so much? Yeah yah do. No Crook."

    Before Monday's championship, WKU had played 23 games with Crook (16-7 record) and 11 without him (3-8). In the games in which Crook had played, WKU averaged 70.3 points per game on 44.4-percent field-goal shooting; its average scoring margin was plus-5.2, and its average turnover margin was plus-0.4. In the games that Crook missed, WKU averaged 61.0 points per game on 39.8-percent shooting; its average scoring margin was minus-6.4, and its average turnover margin was minus-4.1.

    I really wish I had taken the basketball-coaching classes that Johnny Oldham and Jim Richards still taught at WKU when I attended there in the 1980s. My guess is that what's going on is that Bishop is right: The offense struggles when Crook is not there to run it. So what happens is that, more often, somebody settles late in the shot clock for some bad three-point opportunity. And as Coach Rece Davis (a yeoman on the mike) reminded us the other night during the awful UK-Georgia game of which I vowed to never speak, your bad shot is the first pass of your opponent's fast break.

    And so maybe it's not that RayRay has made some NFL Strategy-ish philosophy change but that this team has to find a way to keep Crook on the floor. Here's a Tweet from somebody in Bowling Green who appears to operate a web site called "thebracketboard.com" and lists as his motto, "If a problem comes along, you must bracket:"

    cort basham ‏@bracketboard
    Oh yeah, almost forgot: #CrookMatters #CrookMatters #CrookMatters #CrookMatters #CrookMatters #CrookMatters #CrookMatters #CrookMatters
    8:49 p.m. - Mar 11, 2013

    1. Thanks. I'm just rolling with Chad Bishop and @bracketboard here.