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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Joe Lunardi = stat geek

Joe Lunardi = stat geek
Posted by Dan Wolken

Look, I give ESPN’s Joe Lunardi full credit for finding a way to take a pretty fruitless exercise — projecting the NCAA Tournament bracket — and using it to turn himself into a quasi-ESPN celebrity when he’s not doing his real job as a college administrator at St. Joseph’s.

But the dude has to stop with all this talk about a perfect season for Memphis. After the Tigers beat Georgetown last Saturday, Lunardi immediately went on ESPN and started babbling about Memphis running the table. And today, he posted an article on ESPN.com — it’s a subscriber-only article, so I won’t link it here — flat-out predicting that Memphis would be 34-0 entering the NCAA Tournament.

My advice to Lunardi: Stick to what you know best, which is posting your bracket five minutes before the real one comes out, then proclaiming for the next full year that you’ve projeted 64 of 65 teams correctly. What a racket.

Anyway, the problem I have with people like Lunardi is that when you see basketball strictly within a prism of numbers and RPIs and power ratings, the game becomes two-dimensional. It’s hard for them to wrap their arms around emotion, timing, injuries, luck, officiating, and all the other little factors that make the game three-dimensional.

Here’s a more appropriate way to look at Memphis. After what should be a very tough test Saturday, the Tigers go into a very manageable portion of their schedule with Siena, Pepperdine, East Carolina, Marshall and Rice (the latter two on the road). It’s the four games after that — Southern Miss (home), Tulsa (road), Gonzaga (home), Houston (road) — that will tell us a lot about what chances the Tigers have to go undefeated. Southern Miss, of course, nearly beat the Tigers at home last year. Tulsa will be a tough environment against a team that always plays well against Memphis (last year’s game at Tulsa was teetering on the edge until midway through the second half, when a couple buckets kind of turned momentum). Gonzaga, of course, is projected to be a difficult game. And winning at Houston will be a handful, as that game could very well determine whether Houston is an NCAA Tournament team or not, much like UAB two years ago.

If Memphis rolls through that and gets to 20-0 on Feb. 1, then we can start to entertain conversation about an unbeaten season. Until then, it’s a ridiculous exercise that will only set you up to look silly. Then again, when you’re a recruiting guru or bracketologist, nobody really holds you accountable for bad predictions.

Posted Friday, December 28th, 2007 at 12:04 pm

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