Category Archives: college basketball

Autonomy a Game Changer in College Athletics

ncaaA lot could be taken from the award of autonomy for the Power 5 conferences (Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 10, Big-12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference) in college athletics.

On one hand, autonomy is viewed as a victory for student-athletes.  Autonomy grants the Power 5 the ability to to award those athletes cost of attendance, improved long-term health care and guaranteed four-year scholarships.  The value of those athletic scholarships its schools hand out to cover costs beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees.

On the other hand, autonomy is viewed as something that will widen the gulf between the “haves” (Power 5 conferences) and the “have nots” (the so-called “Group of 5″).  Critics will be quick to say that schools from the “Group of 5″ (Mid-American Conference, American Athletic Conference, Sun Belt, Conference USA and Mountain West) will not be able to keep up with the Clemsons, Florida States, Alabamas, Auburns, Oregons, and Notre Dames (considered a “Power 5″ school thanks to its affiliation with the ACC).

Either way, I think this will be fascinating as hell.

First of all, I think it would affect recruiting immensely.  Just imagine if Nick Saban comes into a kid’s living room promising a guaranteed four-year scholarship that will also put an extra thousand or more in his pocket.  A rep from, say Marshall, could not compete with that.  Or, in an example that hits close to home, reps from East Carolina trying to compete with reps from UNC, Clemson, Virginia Tech, South Carolina, or NC State (my Wolfpack are so bad, so maybe NCSU is not the best example).

Schools from the “Group of 5″ cannot compete with the power conferences’ prestige is one thing.  Competing with the power conferences’ wealth is another.

Another thing to think about is how this would affect other sports at even the bigger universities.

It’s obvious that this autonomy ruling affects football and basketball the most.  After all, those sports are the money-makers at most universities.

For schools in the Group of 5, there is only so much money to go around.  If they want to compete with the big boys from the Power 5 conferences, they have to do what they have to do to keep up.  That may mean cutting other sports.  I could easily see volleyball, tennis, and track and field getting the ax at some of those schools.  In some cases, baseball and softball may end up on the chopping block.

The situation at Maryland shows that even schools in the wealthier conferences are not immune to cutting sports, especially if their financial houses are not in order.  While Maryland’s troubles were due to gross financial mismanagement (thank you Debbie Yow), other smaller schools in the fold such as Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and Northwestern could still be on the short end – mainly because those schools are small private schools.

Another thing to consider is how this will affect the Title IX sports.  Shouldn’t female athletes receive the same financial perks as the football, basketball and in some cases baseball players receive?  Schools in that predicament may resort to the same sport cutting to make ends meet for women’s sports.  And know this: no school would even dare cut the women’s sports.  That is a Gloria Allred-led lawsuit waiting to happen.

Either way, however autonomy affects college sports as we know it is going to be intriguing as hell to watch.  It’s too early to tell, but I think the gulf between the “haves” and the “have nots” have gotten a helluva lot wider.

Latest Round of Realignment a Win-Win for ACC and B1G

Boz7c-KIIAA0D7nbig10-11-nav-logoThe latest round of conference realignment in collegiate athletics officially ended on July 1st.

The Maryland Terrapins departed my beloved Atlantic Coast Conference – where it was a founding member no less – for the Big Ten (along with Rutgers from the American Athletic Conference).  Meanwhile the ACC replaced Maryland with the Louisville Cardinals from the AAC.

While I am hoping the seismic plates of realignment calms down for good, I must say that BOTH conferences made out like bandits.  One conference made an athletic gain while the other a potentially huge financial gain.

Follow me for a minute.

The ACC has long played in the shadows of the Southeastern Conference.  While the ACC has made some huge gains in football the last two seasons, the SEC is still king and is perceived to be the big brother in an otherwise amicable relationship.  With the SEC gaining its own network, the folks in the ACC realized that the conference needs to be taken more seriously and make bigger gains in football.

Enter Louisville.

While Louisville would never be confused with other academically prestigious universities, it has one helluva athletics department.  The strides it has made in college football and college basketball (as well as baseball and soccer) is nothing short of amazing.  Hell Louisville comes into the ACC with the biggest athletics budgets in the conference (now over $87 million).  What Louisville will do for the ACC in football in basketball is make the conference stronger in football and perhaps the best in college basketball.

And with the possibility of an ACC channel looming, that could not come at a better time.

As for the B1G, the acquisition of Maryland (and Rutgers) was solely about money.  The Big Ten Network is a cash cow that was the brainchild of commissioner Jim Delany.  It is making tens of millions of dollars for each school in the B1G.  And with Maryland (and Rutgers) coming on board, the B1G could extend its network coverage into the Washington, DC (and New York City) markets.

And give Maryland credit for this: at least it was honest about its reasons for joining the conference (all about the $$$).  Maryland’s athletic department was broke, and the B1G can give it the financial lifeline that the Terrapins sorely need.

Let me add something here: as a sports traditionalist, losing Maryland hurts like hell.  I grew up watching those Maryland-Duke and Maryland-UNC battles in basketball.  It’s just going to be so weird seeing Maryland as a member of the Big Ten.

“No country for old men” I guess…

UConn: the School of Champions

uconnStudents, alumni – and fans – have to be mighty proud to be associated with the University of Connecticut.

After all, both its men’s and women’s basketball teams won national titles this week.  The UConn men defeated the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 Monday night for the national championship.  The UConn women hammered Notre Dame the following night for their national championship.  Not only the men and women became the second tandem to win the national title in the same season, they were also the first tandem to do so in 2004.

Both teams were impressive in different ways.  The UConn men seemingly came out of nowhere in this tournament.  The Huskies were the seventh seed in their region and were not even expected in some circles to win their opening game vs. St. Joseph’s.  Keep in mind the UConn men got their asses kicked 81-48 to conclude the regular season.  the American Athletic Conference was also devalued by the NCAA Selection Committee (Louisville was a 4-seed?  Really???).

Gotta give props to head coach Kevin Ollie for pushing the right buttons and the senior leadership of Shabazz Napier.  Without those two, UConn would have fallen to St. Joseph’s in its first NCAA Tournament game.

As for the UConn women, what else needs to be said?  40-0.  An average victory margin of over 20 points in the NCAA Tournament.  Oh, and the Lady Huskies slapped the dog piss out of the Fighting Irish in the national title game 79-58.  Oh by the way, Notre Dame was undefeated coming into that game.

And love him or hate him, head coach Geno Auriemma is the best in the business.  His career coaching record is 879–133 (that’s an .868 winning percentage for those keeping score at home), and is not slowing down.  It’s pretty much his program and everybody else in women’s college basketball.

One more thing…

Since 1999, the UConn men won four national titles – and is undefeated in the title games.  The UConn women won nine national titles, the most in the history of women’s basketball program.  Jim Calhoun built UConn men’s basketball, and Ollie is keeping that train rolling.  Auriemma is the standard in women’s basketball.

Like it or not, UConn is not going anywhere in college basketball – men or women…

2014 NCAA Tourney Is Calipari’s Best Coaching

ncaaThe college basketball world’s nightmare is on the verge of coming true: John Calipari becoming a national champion (again).

That’s right folks, the poster child of the “one and done”scenario that has fans, the NCAA, and college basketball seething is one the verge of winning another national championship.  Calipari’s 2011-2012 title team at Kentucky was led by “one and dones” Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.  And while this 2013-2014 freshman-led team is not as good as the one that won it all in 2012, the stars are aligning for Calipari to take home another national title.

Haters gonna hate, and college basketball purists are going to lose their ever-loving minds.

While Calipari is perceived as a slimy individual who could coach an all-star Mafia squad, the man can coach – and he is only taking advantage of a stupid-ass rule that was collectively bargained between the NBA and its players’ union.  Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that Calipari is getting away with murder by recruiting these “one and done” team.  Last I checked, prominent coaches such as Syracuse’s Jim Boehiem, UNC’s Roy Williams, and (gasp!) Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski have/are recruited/recruiting “one and done” players and have had success with those players.

The bottom line is this: coaching is a bottom-line business, and the bottom-line is winning games and championships.  If these “one and done” players give coaches the best chance to win a championship, so be it.

Plus y’all have to give it up for Calipari’s coaching in this tournament.  He has taken a mentally fragile squad whose toughness was questioned throughout the season (remember that bad loss to South Carolina on ESPN way back when?) and has it on a potentially historic roll since the SEC conference tournament.  Calipari’s Wildcats when toe-to-toe with Florida in the SEC tournament final, upset top-seeded Wichita State (though I called that one), beat defending champion/hated rival Louisville, beat last year’s runner-up Michigan, and slipped by 2-seed Wisconsin in the Final Four.  Calipari is pushing the right buttons in getting his freshman-laden team to buy in and accept their roles when it matters the most.

It’s hard to believe that this year’s Wildcats are on the verge on winning its second national championship in four years.  That is due to Calipari’s outstanding coaching, whether we like it or not.

Union Ruling for College Athletes Bad for NCAA

ncaaThe Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday that Northwestern football players qualify as employees of the university and can unionize.

This has the potential of being a HUGE game-changer in collegiate athletics.

If the student-athletes are able to withstand future legal challenges from universities and the NCAA itself, then those athletes will be able to command the following: suitable working conditions, appropriate times for practices, and most of all MONEY.  The working conditions could be anything from clean training facilities (see the mess at Grambling State University), to tricked out locker rooms.  Look at the common denominator in the recruiting arms race in collegiate athletics: flashy, tricked out facilities.  Check out Oregon’s and Florida State’s facilities (newly built or planned) to get an idea.  Simply put, if a school’s facilities are not up to snuff, it’s getting left in the dust on the recruiting trail.

Remember those instances at Michigan and Ohio State when they got popped for too many practices a few years back?  Could you imagine unionized student-athletes bitching about having to practice too much, and not allowing for a life outside of athletics?  Seems far-fetched I know, but you never know.

And of course there is the issue of student-athletes getting paid.  I have been on record of being staunchly against those young people getting paid.  Student-athletes have the type of perks that average college students would give an arm and a leg for – free room and board, access to the best training facilities, better medical care, better dining hall facilities (and food), better living quarters, and – most importantly – access to the best coeds.  As a guy who had part-time jobs in college in order to pay for books and dates, I think that student-athletes get what the need – if not more – from the universities they attend.  Otherwise an inner-city kid, for example, would not be able to attend an institution such as Stanford, Duke, and Michigan.

As for the universities, I think this is potentially bad for colleges everyone.

Most colleges barely break even with their athletics budgets as it is.  If colleges start paying football and basketball players, what about the baseball, lacrosse and volleyball players?  What about women’s sports?  You think the Title IX would be licking their chops over this?  Those colleges that barely break even would pull a Maryland and go broke.

This would also create a bigger gap between the “power conferences” (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) and the “lesser ones”.  You think St. Bonaventure and the like could compete with the likes of Duke, Louisville, Ohio State, Syracuse and Florida for basketball recruits?  Good luck with that one.

All of that said, I think the NCAA needs to blow itself up and start the hell over.  It has some of the silliest rules I have ever seen – remember when some kids got popped for eating too much pasta at a graduation banquet?  Deadspin has a list of some of those stupid-ass violations.  Here is a snippet:

FOOTBALL

Feb. 1, 2012

Violation: Assistant coach Bruce Kittle sent congratulatory text to a student-athlete who had signed with OU.

Feb. 1, 2012

Violation: Assistant coach Cale Gundy sent two congratulatory text messages to a student-athlete who had signed with OU.

May 14, 2012

Violation: Assistant coach Jackie Shipp sent a text message to a recruit who was a junior at the time.

Sept. 12, 2012

Violation: Assistant coach Bruce Kittle sent contact information for one recruit to another recruit, who was a junior at the time, when he meant to send it to assistant coach Josh Heupel. Resolution: For the four violations above, the football staff was precluded from having any written or telephone contact with recruits for two weeks and Kittle, Gundy and Shipp were provided detailed rules education. Contact for the three assistants involved was self-imposed. The NCAA expanded the noncontact period to the whole staff.

Nice job NCAA.

At any rate, couple student-athletes being able to unionize with the on-going Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, the NCAA is entering precarious times.  What happens to the NCAA the rest of the way will be “must-see TV”…

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview

ncaaMarch Madness is here!  The college basketball conferences have finished, and the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket had been announced on CBS and ESPN (by the way, ain’t it cool that you could watch BOTH online – for FREE?!).

There were a few surprises this time around – my alma mater NC State making it, Iowa getting an 11-seed and a play-in game while BYU got a 10th seed, and SMU getting snubbed were the main notables.  However, I liked the fact that Wichita State was awarded with a top-seed for its undefeated season heading into the tournament – and the fact that the Shockers were placed in the hardest region so they could prove their undefeated season wasn’t a fluke.  I also liked Virginia getting a top seed over Michigan.

All in all, I think that this may be the most exciting tournament in recent memory.  Let’s get this preview started – shall we?

South Region

Top four seeds:

  1. Florida
  2. Kansas
  3. Syracuse
  4. UCLA

Dark horse:  Pittsburgh

Analysis:  This is a decent bracket, but not as brutal as the Midwest Region (more on that later).  While Pitt and New Mexico are playing their best basketball right now, Florida is by far the big dog of the region.  Syracuse has the talent to push Florida in the South Region, but the Orange have been spotty down the stretch.

Final verdict:  Florida should moonwalk out of this region.

West Region

Top four seeds:

  1. Arizona
  2. Wisconsin
  3. Creighton
  4. San Diego State

Dark horse:  Oregon

Analysis:  Arizona, like Florida in the South Region, is the class of the West Region.  The only team that I see giving them some trouble is Oregon.  After all, the Ducks beat the Wildcats the last game of the regular season at home, and they had a good run in the Pac-12 tournament.  The problem is that Oregon is SO much better than their 23-9 record indicates.  Creighton and Doug McDermott are a nice story and will be fascinating to watch, but I do not think the Blue Jays will get past Oregon in the Sweet 16.

Final verdict: Arizona shouldn’t sweat it, even if Oregon has something to say about it.

East Region

Top four seeds:

  1. Virginia
  2. Villanova
  3. Iowa State
  4. Michigan State

Dark horse:  North Carolina

Analysis:  Some people think that the South Region is in the easiest region of the NCAA Tournament.  I would disagree.  Virginia does not have an easy path to the Final Four.  Teams like Michigan State and North Carolina should put a little bit of fear in the Cavaliers.  Speaking of Michigan State, the Spartans are peaking once again at tournament time.  The way that the Spartans beat down Michigan in for the Big Ten tourney title served notice that they are to be reckoned with.

Final verdict:  Michigan State will beat Virginia in the Sweet 16 en route to winning the South Region.

Midwest Region

Top four seeds:

  1. Wichita State
  2. Michigan
  3. Duke
  4. Louisville

Dark horse:  Kentucky

Analysis:  Well, Wichita State, here’s your shot at the big time.  In fact, the Shockers get their shot in what is hands-down the toughest region in the tournament.  Michigan as the #2 seed.  Duke as the #3 seed.  Defending champion Louisville as the #4 seed.  Oy, good luck with that Shocker Nation.  I’ve got some bad news for you Shocker fans, not only will your team not make the Final Four, it will not make it out of the second round.  That would be Kentucky taking out the Shockers.  Look, it’s been a great run for Wichita State, and it is deserving of a #1 seed.  However, the Shockers have not seen the athleticism they will see in the tournament – and it will manifest itself early.

Final verdict:  Louisville will take out Duke in the Elite Eight to reach the Final Four.

Final Four picks:  Florida, Michigan State, Arizona, Louisville

2014 National Champion:  Florida

Should the Fan Bear Some Responsibility for Altercation w/ Smart?

indexThere is a time for everything in life.

There is a time to respond to something.  There is a time to restrain from doing something.  Both of those statements collided in last night’s Oklahoma State-Texas Tech men’s basketball game.

During the waning moments of the game, Oklahoma State do-it-all guard Marcus Smart fell into a crowd under the basket after fouling a Texas Tech player on a breakaway layup.  As Smart was about to turn and walk back onto the court, a Texas Tech fan shouted something to Smart – which caused Smart to stay in the crowd.

What Smart did next was not so smart: he shoved the middle-aged fan in the chest before being restrained and ushered back onto the court by his teammates.

Look, I agree that Smart should have put his hands on that fan – no matter what the fan said.  It is a no-win situation where the player would have much more to lose and next to nothing to gain.  It’s kinda like a celebrity dealing with a member of the paparazzi.  If the celebrity sees that the paparazzi dude keeps hanging around and goading him, and said celebrity snaps and beats the hell out of the paparazzi, guess who comes away looking worse?  The celebrity.

However, there is something that needs to be said concerning fan decency or lack thereof.  Jeff Orr, the Texas Tech fan who almost incited an on-court riot with Smart, later admitted “I kinda let my mouth say something I shouldn’t have, I feel bad”.  So if the fan in question admitted that he said something stupid, I am almost afraid of finding out just what was said.

Was it something racist?  Something about Smart’s family?  I dunno, but it was apparently serious enough for Smart to put his hands on him.

I think there needs to be a point where fans should be dealt consequences for their actions during sporting events – especially when it comes to fan interactions with athletes.  Just because fans pays certain amount of money for tickets, doesn’t give them carte blanche to act a fool.  If Orr did say something abusive – or worse, racist – then he should be dealt with accordingly.

UPDATE: Smart has been suspended for three games, and he has accepted his punishment like a man – and good for him.  And Orr has apologized for calling Smart “a piece of crap”.  Here’s more:

“I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere apologies to Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, Tubby Smith and the Texas Tech Men’s Basketball program.  My actions last night were inappropriate and do not reflect myself or Texas Tech — a university I love dearly.  I regret calling Mr. Smart a ‘piece of crap’ but I want to make it known that I did not use a racial slur of any kind.  Additionally, I would like to offer my apologies to Texas Tech fans that have been embarrassed by the attention this incident has created.”

Thankfully Smart and that fan did the right thing and apologize.  And while Smart accepted the punishment handed to him, let’s hope Orr accepts what should be (and better be) coming his way.

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