Category Archives: college basketball

Thoughts on the 2015 NCAA Tournament’s Opening Weekend

ncaaThere were lots to love about the first weekend of the 2015 NCAA Tournament‬: a few upsets here, a couple of shockers there (sorry Kansas).  And my bracket has officially been shot to hell (gee thanks Michigan State for eliminating my Final Four pick).

Meanwhile, I think what stands out the most is the following:

The Big 12 Conference may have been a bit overrated.

Save me the rhetoric over the conference’s high RPI rating as a whole (it’s the best).  And yeah seven of those teams made the tournament, and rightfully so based on the regular season.

But no conference worth its weight would have only two of its seven teams make it to the Sweet 16.  I mean, let’s count the ways – shall we…

  1. Kansas getting smacked by 7th seeded Wichita State in the second round*.
  2. Oklahoma State (whose presence was a bit debatable) losing to Oregon.
  3. Baylor and Iowa State being upset by two double-digit seeds (Georgia State and UAB, respectively).
  4. Texas getting spanked by Butler.

I mean after all, such a MIGHTY conference shouldn’t be losing to such teams – especially in the first round*.  Speaking of Kansas, think Bill Self and company are still looking down their noses at Wichita State?  Then again, the Jayhawks would probably be more afraid to schedule the Shockers.

The Atlantic Coast Conference may have been a bit underrated.

All I have been hearing all season is how the ACC is so damn top-heavy, that outside of the conference’s top five teams (Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame, UNC and Louisville).  In fact, some of those same “experts” claimed that the sorry-ass Big Ten was more “balanced” (really?).

But as my alma mater NC State would demonstrate, teams in the second-tier of the ACC are not exactly chopped liver.  Just ask Villanova.

Besides, there is a reason why the ACC is 11-1 in the tournament, with five of its six teams in the Sweet 16.  The Big 12 nor Big 10 could make the same claim.

The so-called mid-majors represented yet again.

As with the case of prior years, the mid-majors made some noise in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.  UAB beating Big 12 tournament champ Iowa State.  Georgia State beating Baylor (sorry Big 12 fans).  My alma mater NC State beating top-seeded Villanova.  UCLA beating SMU on a “turrible” goaltending call.

While Gonzaga was not that big of a surprise per se, seeing Xavier and Wichita State in the Sweet 16 was cool to see.  The latter doing it had to be especially sweet to fans of the Shockers (see my clowning of Kansas above).

The Pac-12 Conference acquitted itself pretty well.

Three of the four teams from the Pac-12 are in the Sweet 16, which is one fewer than the so-called “tougher” Big 12 and Big 10 conferences combined.  Arizona, Utah, and UCLA are playing good basketball right now.

Speaking of UCLA, it had been intriguing to see the Bruins advance to the Sweet 16 – bad goaltending call notwithstanding.  While it is probably going to get curb-stomped by Gonzaga in their Sweet 16 matchup, UCLA is having a good tournament run nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Arizona might have something to say about Kentucky’s unbeaten streak.  It is playing in LA for the Sweet 16, which is not only a Pac-12 hotbed, but it will be a HUGE homecourt advantage for the Wildcats.  I’d be shocked if Wisconsin beats them in the Elite Eight, should both advance that far.

Never bet against Tom Izzo in the NCAA tournament.

Another year, another year Coach Izzo has his Michigan State Spartans in the Sweet 16.  This year has been more impressive because this year’s squad is nowhere near his best.

His Spartans beat a #2-seed Virginia team that on paper is light years better than this #7-seeded Michigan State.  The Cavaliers do what his Spartans do best, and do it better.  However, the Spartans were in control of the game from start to finish in winning what was essentially a road game in the second round*.

Once again, Izzo proved to be one of the best coaches in college basketball.  Tom Izzo is the man.  Period.

*- I do not believe the play-in games in Dayton are part of the tournament.  All four games feature mediocre teams who may have no business in the tournament, let alone advancing very far.  They do call them “play-in games” for a reason…

2015 NCAA Tournament Preview

ncaaThe 2015 NCAA Tournament is here (whoo-hoo!!!).

And while I won’t use this time to bitch over undeserving teams getting in the tournament (Indiana and Purdue I am looking right at your asses), I will use this space to give the people what they want: a comprehensive NCAA preview that is second-to-none.  Well, maybe second to A FEW…

At any rate, here is how I see the 2015 NCAA tournament turning out:

(By the way, join my NCAA Tourney Pick’em challenge NOW…)

Midwest Region

Top four seeds

  1. Kentucky
  2. Kansas
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Maryland

Dark horse: Wichita State

Analysis:  Kentucky is the prohibitive favorite to win the NCAA title, and I do not see any squad in this region that will challenge them.

However, there are some intriguing matchups.  I am looking forward to the possibility of Wichita State and Kansas getting it on in the second round (Bill Self and the Jayhawks can’t run from the Shockers much longer).  Maryland had its best season ever, and Notre Dame is looking to build off its ACC tournament title.

Having said all that, this region is nothing more than a bunch of sacrificial lambs for Kentucky.

Region Winner: Kentucky

East Region

Top four seeds

  1. Villanova
  2. Virginia
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Louisville

Dark horse: Northern Iowa

Analysis:  I know Villanova had a gaudy record this season, and the Big East is not a bad conference on paper, but I don’t think the Wildcats are #1-seed material.  Let’s be honest here, the Big East is not the Big East from my childhood.  Butler and Creighton, as well as watered down Marquette and a so-so St. John’s?  Pul-leeze.

I think this region will come down to Virginia and Louisville.  Both teams are tough as nails, and hails from the ACC: one of the strongest conferences in college basketball.

Northern Iowa poses a credible threat of preventing an all-ACC regional final from happening, and a Louisville-No. Iowa Sweet 16 matchup would be epic.

Region Winner: Virginia

West Region

Top four seeds

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Arizona
  3. Baylor
  4. North Carolina

Dark horse: VCU

Analysis:  Wisconsin is one of a few teams that could take out Kentucky.  It is long, big  and fundamentally sound.  Unfortunately it is in what is arguably the most difficult region seeded with the likes of UNC, Arizona, Baylor, Oregon, Arkansas and VCU.

As we all know, the tournament is all about matchups, and I do not see the Badgers matching up well with the likes of UNC, Baylor and Arizona.  I wouldn’t be surprised if UNC takes out Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.  In fact, I expect the Tar Heels to do just that.

I will be keeping my eyes on VCU.  Led by head coach/soul brotha #1 Shaka Smart, the Rams can’t be counted out and are riding high after winning the Atlantic-10 tournament.

This should be an entertaining region to watch.

Region winner: UNC (I just threw up in my mouth)

South Region

Top four seeds

  1. Duke
  2. Gonzaga
  3. Iowa State
  4. Georgetown

Dark horse: SMU

Analysis:  Outside of Iowa State – and MAYBE Gonzaga – I do not see any team challenging Duke in this region.  Sure the Blue Devils wet the bed in Raleigh last season, falling to Mercer (Mercer?!) in the opening round.  I just do not see any team who could counter Jahlil Okafor in the post and backcourt tandem of Tyus Jones and Quin Cook.  And Duke has the depth to put together a nice run.

If picking UNC to go far is bad enough, thinking Duke will go deep into the tournament nauseates the hell out of me.

Region winner: Duke

My Damn Final: Kentucky 80, Duke 75

Syracuse Hoops Got Lucky

syracuseAt first blush, I thought that the NCAA dropped the hammer on Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse basketball program. Boeheim was suspended for nine ACC games (including the one this past Saturday) and his basketball program will be losing 12 scholarships over a four-year period. Syracuse was placed on a five-year probation.

And last, but certainly not least, the NCAA vacated 108 of Boeheim’s wins.

That led me to opine on Facebook that I feared that not only Boeheim’s legacy would take a huge hit, but the suspension could very well be his swan song.

After revisiting it though, things could have gone MUCH worse for Boeheim and the Orange.

Look at the charges the NCAA levied against Syracuse:

“Over the course of a decade, Syracuse University did not control and monitor its athletics programs. And its head men’s basketball coach failed to monitor his program.”

There’s more.

The NCAA mentioned that the violations included academic misconduct, extra benefits, failure to follow the drug-testing policy and impermissible booster activity. Add to that Boeheim’s failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor his staff, and the school’s lack of institutional control.

That is ONE STEP closer to the dreaded “lack of institutional control” charge.

I don’t know about you, but those charges normally carry more than just a probationary period and loss of a few scholarships.

Speaking of the latter, 12 scholarships seemed harsh at first blush until you divide it by the aforementioned four years. Given that an average roster for a men’s basketball team is 12-14 players, three lost scholarships per year only hurts the Orange’s depth if anything.

The fact that Syracuse did not receive any postseason bans (other than its own self-imposed ban this season) should give Orange fans a huge sigh of relief.

As for Boeheim himself, I still think he is one of the best coaches in college basketball. The fact that he molded Syracuse into a perennial college basketball powerhouse should be commended.

Sure the nine-game suspension and vacated wins will leave some egg on his face, but a postseason ban would have created a major stain on his legacy.

So rest easy Orange fans, your beloved Syracuse is out of the woods.

Dean Smith: a College Basketball Icon

deansmithBefore I share my thoughts on the passing of Dean Smith, let me first start by disclosing the following.

I am an alumnus of North Carolina State University (Class of 1997). Growing up in Winston-Salem, NC (ok, actually Kernersville), I was a big fan of Wake Forest basketball. And finally, I thought that only Satan smiled up the University of North Carolina basketball program.

So as you all can plainly see, I hate all things UNC – and it intensified with Smith.

I always crowed about how much preferential treatment his Tar Heel teams in the 80s and 90s received from the officials (in my mind, of course). I also thought that Smith made a pact with the devil so his teams could beat up on my Deacons and other ACC schools (another reference to Satan).

But even from my biased anti-UNC eyes, I knew what Smith meant to UNC and college basketball as a whole.

To understand Smith’s legacy, one has to realize that his legacy was bigger than what he did on the court.

That is not to say that his career was devoid of any achievements during his 36-year career at UNC. Let us count the ways…

  • He had 879 wins, which is good for 4th all-time (he was the winningest coach when he retired)
  • He had 30 20-plus win seasons, which is 2nd all-time
  • He had 23 consecutive NCAA appearances – the most all-time
  • He had 27 straight 20-plus win seasons – the most all-time
  • He had 65 NCAA tournament wins, which is 2nd all-time
  • He had 11 Final Four appearances, which is tied for 2nd all-time
  • He won 13 ACC tournament championships
  • He won 2 national championships
  • He won the Olympic gold medal in 1976

On the court, Smith’s UNC teams exhibited the importance of unselfish play. Dean’s most lasting invention: when a basket was made, the scorer pointed to the player who threw the pass. His teams were the first to huddle at the free throw line before a foul shot was attempted. Bench players on Smith’s teams would stand up and applaud players coming to the bench. Smith taught his team, and fans alike, that everyone is connected.

Another Smith invention was the infamous Four Corners offense, the delay game that iced Carolina wins. It was only after opposing coaches – and probably bored TV executives – that led the way to the shot clock in college ball.

As great as Smith’s on-court achievements are, I’d argue that his biggest achievements came OFF the court.

There was a reason why Smith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honor. Ninety-six percent of his lettermen graduated. Dean was active in politics. He fought for a nuclear freeze and against the death penalty. Smith also was a supporter of LGBT rights.

As honorable as those things were, Smith’s biggest impact was when it came to race.

Smith, after meeting with his pastor, recruited Charlie Scott – the first scholarship black player at UNC (and second one in the Atlantic Coast Conference) – in 1966. He became the ACC’s first black star. There was story where the angriest anybody remembers seeing Smith was a night at South Carolina when a fan called Scott a “black baboon.” Smith headed into the stands to confront the fan before a coach pulled him back.

There are some who call Smith one of the biggest underachievers in college sports (two championships in 11 Final Fours).  There are others who think that Smith was an overrated coach because of the talent he had accumulated over his coaching career.

Calling both of those opinions ignorant is a HUGE understatement.

Nevertheless, Smith will go down not only as a great basketball coach – but as a greater person.  RIP, Dean Smith.

 

2014-2015 College Basketball Preview

ncaaThe 2014-2015 college basketball season is already here.  As if things could not get better for guys (and some gals) in this wonderful country – with pro and college football going, as well as the NBA – we are in the state of sports euphoria.

Now there were some folks who were bitching over their conference not being previewed along with the “Power Five” leagues (ACC, B1G, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC).  To those folks I say the following: 1) “shaddup!”; and 2) “fine bitches, I’ll acquiesce.”  So now we have some of the other mid-major conferences to go along with the “Power Five” leagues.  However if you STILL cannot find your conference of choice below, then chances are that means your conference is not only inconsequential, it just might suck – really bad actually.

So without further ado, here are the conferences in alphabetical order – sort of…

Atlantic Coast Conference

  1. Duke (damn Coach K…)
  2. UNC
  3. Louisville
  4. Syracuse
  5. Pitt
  6. Florida State
  7. N.C. State (nice to see my alma mater settle back into mediocrity…)
  8. Notre Dame
  9. Clemson
  10. Miami
  11. Georgia Tech
  12. Virginia Tech
  13. Wake Forest
  14. Boston College

Atlantic 10

  1. VCU (the name “Shaka Smart” has to be the coolest name in coaching…)
  2. Dayton
  3. George Washington
  4. UMass
  5. Rhode Island
  6. Richmond
  7. LaSalle
  8. St. Joseph’s
  9. St. Louis
  10. Duquesne
  11. St. Bonaventure
  12. Fordham
  13. Davidson (welcome to the big leagues boys!)
  14. George Mason (goes for you too…)

American Athletic Conference

  1. UConn
  2. SMU
  3. Cincinnati
  4. Memphis
  5. Tulsa
  6. Houston
  7. Tulane
  8. Temple
  9. East Carolina
  10. UCF
  11. South Florida

Big Ten Conference

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Michigan State
  3. Nebraska
  4. Ohio State
  5. Michigan
  6. Iowa
  7. Indiana (Tom Crean’s seat is red-ass hot…)
  8. Illinois
  9. Maryland
  10. Purdue
  11. Minnesota
  12. Penn State
  13. Northwestern
  14. Rutgers

Big 12

  1. Kansas
  2. Texas
  3. Iowa State
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Kansas State
  6. Baylor
  7. West Virginia
  8. Oklahoma State
  9. TCU
  10. Texas Tech (what a dumpster fire that program has become since Bobby Knight…)

Big East

  1. Villanova
  2. Georgetown
  3. St. John’s
  4. Xavier
  5. Providence
  6. Marquette
  7. Seton Hall
  8. Butler (are the Bulldogs longing for the days in the Atlantic 10?)
  9. Creighton (time to see just how good of a coach Doug McDermont’s daddy is…)
  10. DePaul

Conference USA

  1. Louisiana Tech
  2. UTEP
  3. Western Kentucky
  4. Old Dominion
  5. Charlotte
  6. Middle Tennessee
  7. North Texas
  8. UAB
  9. Southern Miss
  10. Florida International
  11. Rice
  12. Florida Atlantic
  13. UTSA
  14. Marshall

Mountain West

  1. San Diego State
  2. Colorado State
  3. Boise State
  4. UNLV
  5. Wyoming
  6. New Mexico
  7. Fresno State
  8. Nevada
  9. Utah State
  10. Air Force
  11. San Jose State

Missouri Valley Conference

  1. Wichita State (memo to Kansas: stop being a pussy and play these guys!)
  2. Northern Illinois
  3. Illinois State
  4. Evansville
  5. Indiana State
  6. Missouri State
  7. Bradley
  8. Drake
  9. Loyola
  10. Southern Illinois

Pacific 12

  1. Arizona
  2. Stanford
  3. UCLA
  4. Colorado
  5. Utah
  6. Cal
  7. Washington
  8. Oregon
  9. Arizona State
  10. USC
  11. Washington State
  12. Oregon State (ya think the Beavers miss having the President’s brother-in-law for recruiting?)

Southeastern Conference

  1. Kentucky
  2. Florida
  3. Ole Miss
  4. Arkansas
  5. LSU
  6. Georgia
  7. Auburn
  8. Texas A&M
  9. Missouri
  10. Vanderbilt
  11. Alabama
  12. South Carolina (I’m still scared shitless of
  13. Mississippi State
  14. Tennessee

West Coast Conference

  1. Gonzaga
  2. BYU (think they still want to be in the Big 12?)
  3. St. Mary’s
  4. San Francisco
  5. Portland
  6. San Diego
  7. Pepperdine
  8. Santa Clara
  9. Pacific
  10. Loyola Marymount (Hank Gathers’ death still looms over the school…)

Final Four Prediction:  Kentucky, Duke, Arizona, Wisconsin

2014-2015 Champion: Kentucky

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…

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