LITTLE ROCK — Making room in the computer bag for a Daily Racing Form, material requested more than two months ago from Las Vegas was discovered.
After further review, as they say in the NFL, the thoroughbreds’ past performances and college basketball scores are equally confusing. Proof of the poor handicapping will go undocumented unless one is inclined to check out the wallpaper in the half-bath. Almost 20 games into the college basketball season, I’m still in the dark about the NCAA Tournament.
In early December, a co-worker went to Vegas for business and returned with a handful of future bets available at the Golden Nugget. Until the folded sheets were discovered this week, I didn’t know Indiana was the early 5-1 favorite and that only three other teams were less than 15-1 — Louisville at 7-1, Kentucky and UCLA each at 8-1.
No thanks on Kentucky or UCLA, already a four-time loser.
The Wildcats were the most talented team in the country last year and came through on cue. This year, they are not as good. After John Wall, Brandon Knight, and Marquis Teague, Kentucky is hurting at point guard, a shortcoming underlined Tuesday night in a loss to Alabama. The Wildcats should continue to improve and the shot-blocking skill of Nerlens Noel will carry the Wildcats past a couple of opponents in the NCAA Tournament, but that’s it.
This year, there is no Kentucky. A half-dozen teams, maybe more, can win. Watching college basketball is not an every-night thing and that prompted a look at box scores from losses by some of the cream. In basketball, stats say plenty and there is a constant theme emphasizing shooting percentages and turnovers above all else:
—Butler 88, Indiana 86: Butler had five more turnovers than Indiana, but made 11 3s, one more than the Hoosiers attempted.
—Wisconsin 64, Indiana 59: The losers had a big edge in rebounding, but shot 37 percent from the field vs. 45 percent. Wisconsin took 10 more 3s than Indiana, and made four more.
—Syracuse 70, Louisville 68: No. 1 at the time, the Cardinals doubled the Orange’s turnovers and and also made only 12-of-21 free throws. In the final 1:58, Louisville missed a shot, had one blocked, and suffered two turnovers.
—North Carolina State 78, Duke 73: The Blue Devils shot 36 percent from the field and made only 8-of-29 3s. The Wolfpack shot 44 percent, including 5-of-11 from long range.
—Ohio State 56, Michigan 53: The winner of 14 straight, Michigan made 18-of-47. The Buckeyes shot 44 percent.
—Michigan State 67, Kansas 64: Both attempted 48 shots and the winners made one more field goal. Kansas also missed six of 18 free throws.
Interpreting results from box scores may be myopic, but putting the ball in the basket and limiting turnovers are at the heart of most every game between evenly matched teams. The razor-thin margin was illustrated again this week by Syracuse 57, Cincinnati 55.
In the final seconds, a contested rebound was batted through the basket. Credited with the winning tip-in, Syracuse’s C.J. Fair admitted he might have had help from the Bearcats. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin kissed off the winning basket with “Stuff happens.”
Following the Syracuse loss, Louisville coach Rick Pitino described his team as good, but not great, and offered an accurate perspective on the college basketball landscape.
“ … I haven’t seen a great team in college basketball yet this season,” he said. “There are some very good teams that are going to evolve into great teams over the next six weeks, and I hope we’re one of them.”
Forced to take a stand, his Cardinals would be the pick to win April 8 in Atlanta. At 7-1, Louisville is no bargain.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.