• March 31 | 1:15 p.m. PT
The readers weigh in
Now that I’ve solved the recent mailbag problems (sorry to those sending e-mails; feel free to collect your thoughts, muster up a good insult or two and send away), today’s a good day to post reader responses. Nothing else going on, right?
But first, a quick treat: It wouldn’t be the Final Four without a shot of John Wooden. The legendary UCLA coach gave a lengthy interview to NPR recently. Click here for the story and a link to the audio. Yes, Wooden’s 96-years-old. I hope I sound that good when I’m 56.
Anyway, onto the mail.
As an African American student at GU during the '70's for undergrad and early '80's for law school, I was greatly influenced by "Big John" Thompson and his philosophies. The things he said floated around our community and often prompted us to think deeper. Pride is not a sufficient word to describe what many African American students felt about Thompson.We also had the priveledge to see his sons at games and were again proud that the "world could see" a Black man was a family man. At this time, the campus had not adjusted to a "Black" presence and racism was not hidden. My expereince at GU was enriched by John Thompson. As a mother, I am now sharing my GU expereince with my sons and daughter as we watch Big John and John III. I can't help but think, maybe one of them may become a Hoya too...
— B.J. Jones
Good read. I always marvel at the depth of character of men in hard times and wonder where they got it. I could not help noting "Pops" is a II and it would be interesting to see how much he was motivated by a Mr. John Thompson I.
— Don Love, Mt. Aukum, Calif.
I'm not sick of hearing about John and his son. See there are some black dads that raise that black son right. All black men don't go to jail.
— William O'Neal, East Chicago, Ind.
Come on! What about the Drew's of Valparaiso and Baylor?
— William Oakley, Jenks, Okla.
Are you serious about Eddie Sutton not being in John Thompson II's league? Thompson did win a national championship, but outside of the Ewing era, how successful was he in the tournament? His three Final Fours were consecutive with the same players. Sutton made it to three Final Fours in three different decades. Also, Thompson was forced to resign because the program was faltering. Sutton resigned because of issues off the court. He had great teams his last couple of years as a college coach. I am not going to say that Sutton was the better coach, but they are definitely in the same league.
— Wes Turybury, St. Paul, Minn.
Good article, save it a few years you might have missed the boat on Bennett.
Your paragraph on Dick and Tony Bennett is disgusting and demeaning. You are a basketball wannabe that couldn't shine Dick Bennett's shoes. Having a laptop should be a crime in your case. Because you measure how significant a coach is on the high profile games, you miss the all important fact that building programs and giving kids that wouldn't be recruited by these big dog schools and coaches is what has made the game as competitive as it is today. Nobody and I mean nobody has done that better than Dick Bennett. He is a freakin' basketball god. You are a goof.
— Sincerely, Jane L Stroede, Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
The perfect coach for UK would be Billy Donovan. He was an assistant coach with Rick Pitino at UK (the best modern day coack UK has had). He plays a style of basketball that is both fun for the players and entertaining for the fans. He knows how to coach and he can recruit. He would be the best of all the coaches as I also like his temperment with the players and fans.
— Ed Shanks, Concord, N.C.
Mike, Before you crown KU for next year's NCAA tourney you might want to look at Georgetown's roster — they have only two seniors and neither of them got on the floor against UNC the other night. [Patrick] Ewing, [Jeff] Green, [Roy] Hibbert and [Jonathan] Wallace are juniors; [Jessie] Sapp and [DaJaun] Summers are underclassmen. This means that if none of the Gtown players pull an Iverson and leave Gtown early, they have all their starters and their first 3 off the bench back next year... Hoya Saxa...
— Richard Ferri, Ulster Park, N.Y.
What an incredible choke by UNC. I am a UNC fan and i really had a hard time with this one. I've never seen this team settle so much for jumpshots in the last 3 minutes. The final shot that [Wayne] Ellington missed to win was a bad shot on any coaches sheet. The score was tied and there were 4 seconds left. Why heave up a three? You only need a foul shot. Georgetown had been fuling UNC all game and that is supposed to pay off down the stretch. The fact that they did not attack the basket in the last three minutes cost them the game and allowed the lid to go onto the basket. Bottom line, you can't settle for jumpshots at the end in a tie game.
Charlie, Brooklyn, N.Y.
This is not the time to hammer on the North Carolina kids. You could learn a thing about class from Roy Williams. These kids have gone thru a lot this weekend and they have my prayers. If this is the only way that you can get people to read your garbage, find something else to do. I am a Kentucky Wildcat fan who respects the class of the Tarheel Program.
— Ted Martin, Corbin, Ky.
If the players were missing close shot after close shot, I must wonder why you would think it was an incredible rally. There is no question but that the Georgetown players created the frenzied environment for UNC to play...near the end. But it was more "choke" than "huge rally." UNC had seasoned players...who should have responded to this critical time...in a critical game...but they didn't. AND...the Hoyas were given easy shots...close in shots...no defense from UNC...and simply took advantage of the swing in statistics and odds...that is, for a team of the caliber of UNC to go cold...while the Hoyas went red hot, but moreso, given those easy baskets...with few misses. That is my read...of those last few minutes of a game UNC should have won in regulation. But..in the final analysis...it was probably a bit of both...choke...and...rally.
— Jack McConnell, Portland, Ore.
• March 30 | 5:30 p.m. PT
Fathers and sons
I know, you’re sick of all the John Thompson(s) stories.
But here are two more worth your time, courtesy of the Washington Post.
Michael Wilbon’s damn fine column illustrates how JT III and Pops are different, both as coaches and as reflections of their times. Pops had to deal with social issues; JT III can focus on coaching. The other is a feature from Camille Powell about how the Hoyas are a reflection of JT III’s calm demeanor. Give ’em a read.
Wilbon closes with this nugget:
“One can only hope John III can recruit and teach and coach with minimal cultural aggravation and without the weight of the world coming down on him. And if he can exist with that relative luxury, and simply have to negotiate the normal difficulties of his chosen profession, John III probably will be a better coach than his father, who helped make it so.”
JT III has a mighty tall mountain to climb to be a better coach than his dad. Pops is a Hall of Famer who reached three Final Fours, won a title in 1984 and whose 596 career wins is among the top 50 all-time, regardless of classification. He’s one of the game larger-than-life figures, because of his record and off-court influence.
JT III is among the game’s premier current coaches:140-71 in seven seasons at Georgetown and Princeton, and 72-29 in three seasons with the Hoyas, including a Sweet 16 and a Final Four. Not too shabby, but he’ll need a few more seasons to match dad.
But it made me wonder: Are they the best father-son coaching pair in college hoops history? Are they even the best with son currently coaching? After all, there are plenty of sons with famous coaching dads right now.
Washington State’s Tony Bennett, 37, took over for his dad, Dick, and was named AP coach of the year in his first season (only Indiana State’s Bill Hodges has done that, and he had Larry Bird). Despite the honor, I’d take JT III over Bennett, since JT III’s a proven commodity by now. Bennett may be a one-year wonder. And his dad, Dick, was good but nowhere near Big John.
Eddie Sutton won 798 games in stops at Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State, but never won a title (though he went to 3 Final Fours with two different teams). His sons, Sean (22-13 this season at Oklahoma State) is still feeling his way, while Scott (144-102 in eight seasons at Oral Roberts) has made two straight trips to the Big Dance. More wins, but not as good in March.
Jeff Capel III doesn’t career record over .500 (95-96) but showed signs of promise at Oklahoma this season. His dad won 201 games at North Carolina A&T and Old Dominion and had 3 NCAA tourney appearances. Good, not great.
Providence coach Tim Welsh hasn’t been consistent with the Friars (145-126 in 9 seasons, but more than 200 overall), and his dad, Jerry, won more than 500 in his career at Potsdam State and Iona, but that’s about it.
Murray Bartow has won 179 games at UAB and his current stop, East Tennessee State, but hasn’t approached the success of his dad, Gene, who was 647-353 at Memphis, UCLA and UAB. Two Final Fours for dad (like Sutton, with two different teams), including a title-game appearance, but no title. Both Thompsons prevail in this one.
A couple of minor mentions here: Tom Davis just retired at Drake, two wins shy of 600 and no Final Four appearances. His son, Keno, takes over next season. Ex-Minnesota and Gonzaga coach Dan Monson is looking for a job. His dad, Don, won 216 games at Idaho. Neither are close.
For dads who thrived, but their sons struggled (with rules), we have these two: Butch Van Breda Kolff won 482 games and rode Bill Bradley to the 1965 Final Four. His son Jan is persona non grata at St. Bonaventure, though he says he did nothing wrong. Ray Meyer’s DePaul program was legendary (good for 724 wins), but was a classic underachiever in March. His son Joey was forced to resign at the school.
Frankly, the Thompsons’ only real competition comes from the Ibas.
Ex-Oklahoma A&M coach Hank was 764-339 in 41 years (also spent time at Northwest Missouri State and Colorado) and won back-to-back NCAA Tournament titles in 1945 and ’46, the first coach to do so. He, along with John Thompson II, is one of the game’s legends. He coached three U.S. Olympic teams and had one of the first dominant big men in Bob Kurland. If there’s anyone that can compete with Pops, Hank Iba’s the guy. But I’d take Thompson because of his success in college basketball’s more competitive era and for building one of the game’s premier programs, particularly in terms of recognition.
And besides, JT III’s Final Four berth, makes him an easy choice over Iba’s son, Moe. Moe was a two-time Big 8 coach of the year at Nebraska and won 239 games at Memphis and TCU. His lone NCAA Tournament was the 1986 Cornhusker squad that lost to Western Kentucky.
I’m not sure how many more stories can be written about the Thompsons. Comparing teams from father and son won’t work for much longer because of JT III’s success. And soon, we won’t have to keep comparing styles — which are exceedingly different.
So what’s left? Merely this: No matter who you compare them to, the Thompsons have to be considered the best father and son coaches in NCAA history. And the way JT III is going, there won’t even be any other contenders soon.
• March 29 | 9 p.m. PT
Getting a hoops fix
The Final Four press conferences aren’t until tomorrow, which means there’ll be a glut of stories and new features on Friday. We’ll have those here.
From previous days, stories on Oden vs. Hibbert, Arron Afflalo’s quest for revenge, Florida’s multitude of NBA-caliber players and the pressure on the Gators, or Thad Matta’s greatness, were available pretty much everywhere.
Friday should bring different storylines. Or at least new quotes.
Until then, enjoy these links.
• After you’re done with that, check out their fabulous story on the ’83 Final Four game between Louisville and Houston. Phi Slamma Jamma vs. the Doctors of Dunk. This was a game that certainly lived up to the hype. SI.com’s Grant Wahl offers his best from the last 10 years.
• How Hoya Paranoia changed college basketball (Or, how Georgetown used to be the scariest team in America).
• Ohio State has been to 10 Final Fours. The question is, should it be more?
• Watched the first half of the McDonald’s All-American game last night and came away with the usual impression: these kids can jump, but who knows how good they really are? Also, even with Josh McRoberts leaving, this year’s class will give Duke 7 McDonald’s guys next season. No more talk about how little talent Duke has.
• Baron Davis wishes UCLA had more black students. Seems reasonable when less than 100 of 4,700 incoming students are black.
• Finally, a little something for the hometown crowd: Wyoming’s women are in the NIT title game, but that may not be as impressive as selling out 15,000 tickets for Saturday. The record crowd before March 22? 5,025. Population of Laramie? 26,956.
• March 28 | 10:10 a.m. PT
Living up to the hype
For hype, nothing beats the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. One week of rehashing the AFC and NFC title games, player features, stories on coaches, etc., then another week that stems off Super Bowl media day. Hype machine in overdrive.
This week is close — how many features can one do on Georgetown then and now or on Florida’s repeat quest? — but doesn't have the overwhelming media crush of the Super Bowl.
But it did make think: How often do the Final Four games ever live up to that hype?
Most of the memorable final weekend moments are from the title game when players either hit the big shots — Indiana’s Keith Smart and UNC’s Michael Jordan with those baseline jumpers or Louisville’s Pervis Ellisons and Michigan’s Rumeal Robinson sinking last-second free throws — or when a player falters, like Michigan’s Chris Webber calling a timeout he didn’t have or Duke’s Trajan Langdon dribbling off his foot.
Those are replayed moments because they involve titles, but they’re also some of the better games we’ve seen in the last 25 years during Final Four weekend. The Saturday games usually stink.
The odds of someone getting blown out this weekend aren’t good — Florida vs. UCLA, Georgetown vs. Ohio State are predicted to be close games on kenpom.com — but recent history tells us otherwise. I don’t know if it’s the pressure, one team getting hot or the other team just unable to hang with a superior opponent.
Florida crushed George Mason and UCLA whipped LSU last season. Illinois and UNC both had easy times with Michigan State and Louisville. Kansas and Syracuse rolled in 2003. Indiana and Maryland had easier times in 2002 than the final scores would indicate. It goes on.
By my recokoning, only the 2004 games (UConn edged Duke in a game most people figured for the defacto championships and Georgira Tech held off Kansas) and Duke’ 22-point rally past Maryland in 2001 have been the only three games this decade that lived up to expectations.
The ’90s closed with a flourish (every game in ’99 — UConn over Ohio State, Duke beating Michigan State — and ’98 — Kentucky needed OT vs. Stanford and Utah topped UNC — were great) and started strong with Duke’ remarkable win over UNLV in the ’91 Final Four, while Kansas stunned Carolina.
Even caught Michigan’s 1989 win over Illinois in the Final FOur on ESPN Classic on Tuesday. Great game that featured future NBA players like Glen Rice, Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Loy Vaught, Terry Mills and Kenny Battle.
(That’s what I’m hoping for this weekend: Games that showcase the future NBA talent. Let’s hope Roy Hibbert vs. Greg Oden turns into something special. Arron Afflalo trying to reddem himself against Corey Brewer could be great.)
But those are just a few of the games that stick out to me. What are your prevailing memories on the Final Four? Does the title game always overshadow the Saturday games because it’s usually the better game? Send an e-mail and we’ll post them Saturday.
• March 26 | 8:20 p.m. PT
What are the odds?
Final Four trivia and odd coincidence time.
Florida’s got a rematch with UCLA in the Final Four, a rematch of last year’s title game. It seems like it shouldn’t happen, but has been pretty frequent in past NCAA Tournaments.
(This post doesn’t include the early-round games. Villanova beat Florida in a 2005 second-round game, and the Gators beat the Wildcats in the Elite Eight last season. Those happen quite a bit.)
Cal and Cincinnati played each other in ’59 and ’60 Final Fours, Cal winning both. Ohio State and Cincy played in back-to-back title games in ’61 and ’62, Bearcats won both. UCLA topples Houston in ’67 and ’68 Final Fours. Duke beat Kansas in ’96, Kansas beat Duke in ’88; Kansas tops UNC in ’91, UNC wins in ’93 (not exactly rematches, but close enough).
And the closest to this year’s version, UNLV whips Duke in the 1990 title game and the Devils beat UNLV in their 1991 Final Four rematch. I’m not here to make a prediction, though. (My bracket is a debacle — not a single Final Four team! — and I learned after that first weekend to stop picking against Florida. So no more predictions this season.)
So here’s my favorite tidbit from this year’s tourney:
Florida, Georgetown and Ohio State all played in the same half of the Minneapolis (Midwest) Regional last season. The No. 7 Hoyas KO’d No. 2 Ohio State in the second round, then No. 3 Florida beat Georgetown. Three teams from the same region end up in the next year’s Final Four? That should be a rare occurrence — except it’s happened twice before.
In 1997, No. 1 Kentucky beat No. 2 Utah in the West Regional final. Utah was coming off a win over No. 6 Stanford. All three ended up in the 1998 Final Four (Where the Wildcats beat the Utes for the crown).
In 1994, Arkansas, UCLA and Oklahoma State were in the Midwest Regional, but didn’t play each other (Bruins upset by No. 12 Tulsa, which also beat No. 4 Oklahoma State, but lost to the No. 1 Hogs).
Anyway, it’s kind of a worthless tidbit — it relies on good teams coincidently landing in the same region and winning out the next season — but pretty fun. As a guy who loves Trivial Pursuit, its gold.
• For those who have tried to e-mail lately with the mailbag, my apologies. Technial errors prevented anyone from using it. Anyway, for those Kentucky fans who wanted to e-mail coaches candidates, fire away. Any other criticisms, send those too. Responses coming later this week. Promise.
• March 25 | 8:30 p.m. PT
There are painful losses, then there’s UNC loss to Georgetown
It wouldn’t be the NCAA Tournament without a few comebacks. Heck, it wouldn’t be the Elite Eight without a few comebacks.
Illinois trailed by 15 with four minutes to play against Arizona in 2005. The same day, Louisville overcame 20-point deficit to West Virginia. Kentucky rallied from 18 down to beat Duke in the 1998 South Regional Finals. (Do any of those compare to Duke overcoming a 22-point deficit to Maryland in the 2001 Final Four?)
So Georgetown was in good company staging its 11-point rally to force overtime before beating UNC for the East Regional championship. (Odd that UNC had a big rally of its own to beat USC in the East semis.)
But the question is out there: Did the Hoyas make the plays or did the Heels simply choke? After all, UNC missed 22 of its last 23 field-goal attempts.
Watching my Jayhawks miss close shot after close shot vs. UCLA was bad enough. Yet UNC’s finish was downright painful, unless you’re a Hoyas fan (Or had Georgetown in your bracket; neither for me). Just watching a team miss shot after shot induces cringe after cringe. How does that happen? What causes that lid to go on the basket?
So how do we remember this game? Choke job or incredible rally? My guess is by rally. Final Four teams are lodged in our NCAA Tournament memories. The losers simply internalize the emotions as motivation for the next season. (Well, and the fans agonize over what went wrong.)
After all, for the next five days we’ll be talking about Georgetown and its chance at a title, not UNC and its finish.
OK, so we’ll also be talking about Florida and its repeat quest. I just assume that’s a given.
• March 25 | 1:30 p.m. PT
Two of four
Don’t get me wrong, UCLA earned its way into the Final Four with its 68-55 win over Kansas. The Bruins’ fabulous perimeter defense that stifled Kansas’ guards ended any discussion about the NCAA’s best defense (even if KU still in the top spot on kenpom.com). Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins (hindered by a bum left knee) combined for 13 points on 5-of-21 shooting. That trio averages nearly 29 a game, but couldn’t even match Darren Collison’s output, let alone Arron Afflalo.
The Bruins also beat the Jayhawks on the boards (31-28) and kept KU from capitalizing on 17 steals by getting 15 of their own, usually right after a KU steal.
UCLA also made the big plays when it needed to, like the three 3-pointers as the shot-clock expired (two by Afflalo, one ridiculous step-back, across-the-body heave by Collison) and another just before half by Josh Shipp.
But I’ll always remember how hard it was for Kansas to simply hit a shot. KU made 8 of its first 13 shots. Then midway through the first half, starting with a swooping Brandon Rush drive to the basket, a lid — also called UCLA defensive pressure — was put on the basket. The Jayhawks missed 28 of their last 43 shots. End of story.
(Last Kansas thought for this tournament: Does KU become the team to beat next year? At this point, every player is likely returning. If Florida, Ohio State, UNC and UCLA lose guys like Noah, Horford, Oden, Wright and Afflalo, KU will have the most talent around. Of course, it arguably had the most this season...)
So the Bruins make their record 17th Final Four appearance. At this rate, it seems like Ben Howland has taken last year’s run to the title game, improved the defense and made his team tougher. If Afflalo maintains that shooting touch and UCLA’s interior defense doesn’t fall apart, there’s no reason it shouldn’t play for the national title.
Of course, it’ll be interesting to see what happens once the Bruins leave the state of California. In 13 games out of the state this season, the Bruins are 9-4.
I’m going with C.
In 24 minutes vs. Memphis, Oden scored 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting and had nine rebounds. He doesn’t force the issue, intimidates anyone even going near the hoop and is the most efficient offensive player around (that jump hook gets better every day).
OK, enough Oden fawning. Time to gush about Mike Conley.
He and the rest of the Buckeye freshmen were fabulous Saturday, but the only surprise was that David Lighty and Daequan Cook were good. They’d been struggling lately while Conley gets better and better. He’s quick, smart and spots the open man.
Frankly, for as good as Oden is, Conley will be the driving force behind a potential Ohio State title.
• March 23 | 9:30 p.m. PT
Clash of the titans
Love the movie and the matchups on Saturday. My only question: Who’s Medusa and who’s the Kraken? (Because I’m casting my Jayhawks as Perseus.)
It’s just like the seeding committee intended with No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 2 UCLA in the West Regional final and No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Memphis in the South Regional final. Combined records this season: 128-15. If the Sweet 16 games were any indication, we’re headed for a couple of tight games that should come down to the wire.
(The last time we had a day like this was 2002 when it was No. 1 Maryland vs. No. 2 UConn and No. 1 KU vs. No. 2 Oregon. For what it’s worth, only Maryland-UConn was close.)
Kansas vs. UCLA is the marquee matchup (according to me and the TV times) largely because of the teams’ tradition. The Bruins, with their 11 NCAA titles, are March’s premier team, while the Jayhawks are one of a handful of schools with two titles and have the fifth most Final Four appearances.
It also should be the lower scoring of the day’s games because it features the two superior defensive teams.
Everyone’s seen what UCLA has done in its three tourney wins (Pitt scores 55, Indiana 49 and Weber State 42), but Kansas actually leads everyone in adjusted defensive efficiency (82.0 to 84.4 points allowed per 100 possessions on a neutral floor against an average opponent). The Jayhawks aren’t as physical when it comes to their man-to-man defense, but shouldn’t be seen as an offense-only team. (Though they do that well, too.)
My key player for the game? UCLA’s Josh Shipp. He’s been the third wheel in that Bruins offense most of the year (behind Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison) but Afflalo’s shot has been garbage lately and he’ll have to provide more scoring punch than usual. He’ll likely be guarded by Brandon Rush, who is the same size, but not as explosive.
One last thing to watch: Kansas has shoot over 50 percent from the field and is over 60 is effective FG% in its three tournament wins. That surely can’t last against UCLA, but if KU did it vs. Southern Illinois, nothing’s off the table. For its part, UCLA was more efficient in beating Pitt.
Ohio State vs. Memphis? Well, it’s not exactly chopped liver.
The have the two longest winning streaks going (25 for Memphis, 20 for OSU) and are both coming off 1-point Sweet 16 wins. Memphis plays the “no respect” card, while the Buckeyes have been playing with fire.
Then there’s the Greg Oden-Joey Dorsey matchup. Dorsey’s already proclaimed himself “Goliath” and Oden “the little man.” Not so sure it’s smart to antagonize a guy four inches taller, but that’s Dorsey’s business.
What to expect here? Mike Conley must be on his game, breaking down the Memphis defense and the Tigers have to hit their 3s. They were shaky vs. Texas A&M and that outside shooting was the only thing that kept Memphis from last year’s Final Four.
Big day. Sunday is nice (No. 1 Florida vs. No. 3 Oregon and No. 1 UNC vs. No. 2 Georgetown would be dynamite any other year; it’s also the first time four top seeds and 3 No. 2 seeds are playing in the regional semis), but this is the day.
At least until next Saturday...four No. 1 seeds in Final Four?
• March 22 | 10:15 p.m. PT
Oregon gets its shot
Spent most of the season a non-believer in Oregon. I still wouldn’t call myself a convert — but every day the Ducks look a bit better. But are they good enough to get to the Final Four?
On the surface, the Ducks seem similar to last year’s Florida team. Oregon had the fast start (won 18 of first 19 games), had a nasty stretch during conference play (lost 4 of 6, five of which were on the road), then caught fire late in the season. The Ducks have won eight straight, including a Pac-10 tourney title where they smoked USC.
In the NCAA Tournament, Oregon held off N o. 14 Miami (Ohio), then whipped No. 11 Winthrop and now face No. 7 UNLV with an Elite Eight berth on the line.
Last season, Florida won its first 17, lost five of 11, then closed fast with an SEC title and a clubbed No. 14 South Alabama, No. 11 UW-Milwaukee and No. 7 Georgetown to start its tourney run.
Then again, that’s where the similarities end.
Florida’s big men (Joakim Noah and Al Horford) can rule the game, while defensive stopped Corey Brewer usually frustrates the opponent’s top scorer.
Oregon is the opposite. The Ducks are a good offensive team with a guard-heavy offense loves shoots the 3-pointer — and they swear it won’t be a problem in St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome. It better not be.
All but one of the Ducks’ starters shoots better than 40 percent from beyond the arc. And it’s not like center Maarty Leunen is awful, making 39 percent of his 93 attempts this season. The big threats are even better thus far in the postseason, too. Guards Bryce Taylor (11 of 16, 69 percent), Tajuan Porter (18 of 33, 55 percent) and Aaron Brooks (13 of 27, 48 percent); all three were around 43 percent in the regular season.
But that’s also why it’s hard to embrace the Ducks. Teams that rely on the 3-pointer can go cold in a hurry, thus that mid-season skid for Oregon and the dome concerns.
Against UNLV, the Ducks’ lack of height won’t be a huge concern — neither team starts a player taller than 6-foot-9 — though UNLV coaches are confident its squad matches up favorably vs. the Ducks’ gunners.
If the Ducks’ perimeter defense maintains its form (opponents have shot 40 percent from the floor the last six games) they should be able to handle UNLV and advance to the Elite Eight where they’d likely play Florida.
And Florida would have serious matchup problems against the Ducks, making for one of the tournament’s most interesting games. The 6-11 Noah would likely guard Leunen, while the 6-9 Horford would be matched up against 6-6 Malik Hairston. Both Leunen and Hairston can play on the perimeter, which would bring both Florida defenders out of their comfort zone. (But unless Hairston and Leunen are hitting from the outside, it won’t do any good because Noah and Horford will kill those two in the paint.)
And if Brewer guards Taylor, Aaron Brooks and Tajuan Porter would both present problems for Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey.
But all that’s if the dome doesn’t mess with the Ducks’ shooting vs. UNLV. And right now, that’s a big if.
• March 22 | 1:45 p.m. PT
Smith’s fast break
And now, Smith is the new coach at Minnesota.
(Funny side note: my buddy WalkDog e-mailed me Tuesday and said Smith should take the Gophers job because he’d be a God compared to the flack he takes at Kentucky. I’m now asking WalkDog his picks to win the Final Four, World Series and NBA playoffs.)
To all this, I wish Tubby luck at Minnesota (where he’ll probably struggle for a few years, but eventually make the Gophers a Big Ten contender) and wonder who fills his role at Kentucky— because this is going to be a job with massive expectations.
The names who pop up right away include Marquette’s Tom Crean, Memphis’ John Calipari, Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Florida’s Billy Donovan, an ex-Kentucky assistant. (For what it’s worth, the early leader on our message boards is Donovan.)
But it’ll be more than four names. This is one of college basketball’s premier jobs and there’s no reason Kentucky shouldn’t be able to get the exact candidate it wants. Early reports indicate Kentucky is likely to turn to a coach from a BCS school and avoid any mid-major guys.
Check back later for our analysis of the guys in the running and who has the inside track. For now, e-mail me who you think would make the perfect Kentucky coach. I’ll post the e-mails this weekend.
• March 19 | 8 p.m. PT
Who needs the NBA?
Certainly not Tim Floyd, Lon Kruger and John Calipari. The Sweet 16 is the place to be in March, not fighting for that eighth playoff spot.
If you’re Floyd and Kruger, this year’s NCAA Tournament reaffirms your place as an astute basketball coach. And it cements Calipari as one of the best in the biz — if not giving him the (probably) unwanted title of best coach to never win a title.
So the question is, of the three Sweet 16 coaches who failed in their NBA tenures, which one would you want coaching your team?
(This discounts Louisville’s Rick Pitino, simply because his team isn’t still around. Pitino’s six wins shy of 500 career victories, has a title and five Final Four berths with three different teams to his credit. He’s one of the best ever, let alone from former NBA coaches.)
Calipari’s résumé is the most impressive: Best win percentage, a Final Four and two Elite Eights, plus a perennial power in Memphis, which is in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. The Tigers are 65-6 in that time with just one C-USA loss and don’t figure to slack off anytime soon.
More compelling is that Calipari is a top-notch recruiter, does his part to connect with the fans and has become one of the more personable coaches around. (On ESPN’s Outside the Lines, he appeared with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi coach Ronnie Arrow and sang Arrow’s praises throughout, extolling Arrow’s JUCO national titles. He was a riot a few weeks earlier talking about the lack of accountability in the NBA, which means lots of people can get really rich. That’s what the big-time coaches do: entertain us knuckleheads in the media.)
But all of that gives Calipari baggage. Some say he runs a loose program at Memphis and UMass’ 1996 Final Four berth was vacated by the NCAA for Marcus Camby accepting $28,000 from agents. And an enraged John Chaney will forever be linked to Calipari.
Calipari wins, but his reputation isn’t squeaky clean.
Kruger actually has the most career wins and is one of five coaches to take four different schools to the NCAA Tournament (K-State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV). He’s got a Final Four berth (1994) and an Elite Eight appearance (1988) and few would dispute his coaching abilities.
But you’re never sure if he’s ever going to stay in one place very long. He coached K-State for 4 years. He was at Florida for 6. Illinois for 4. It’s his third season at Vegas, but he’s already rumored to be a candidate for the Minnesota job.
So you never know what Kruger wants.
As for Floyd, few coaches have taken the beating he has. His disastrous tenure with the Bulls (49-190 in four seasons) nearly erased from people’s minds the job he did at Iowa State, where he guided the Cyclones to three straight NCAA Tournaments, which included wins each year and a Sweet 16 berth in 1997.
Once Floyd quit to take the Bulls job, he became an afterthought because of Larry Eustachy’s success with players primarily recruited by Floyd.
After two seasons at USC, Floyd already has made the Trojans a Pac-10 contender and has one of the country’s premier recruits next season, O.J. Mayo. (More on that in a second.) Probably because of the Bulls debacle, Floyd has talked openly about desire to turn USC into a national title contender, which should be a tall order because of the talent he already has in place and the facilities the school now has to attract players.
Still, out of the three, I’ll take Floyd. His recruiting is as good as the other three, plus he’s long been one of the game’s best X’s and O’s coaches. He’s the blend of Calipari and Kruger.
Now we’ll see if he can pull of his best coaching job by upstaging Roy Williams’ loaded Tar Heels. Well, maybe his second best job...
• March 18 | 10 p.m. PT
Close, but no cigar
Here’s the question: Do you prefer close games or upsets?
After 48 games, we’ve seen three true upsets (a team seeded at least five spots higher wins, like when No. 7 UNLV beats No. 2 Wisconsin) and just two double-digit seeds win games (No. 11 seeds VCU and Winthrop).
But far, far more games that came down to the final minute or went to overtime. Seven first-round games were decided by five points or less, with six more in the second round. Saturday alone featured Butler’s 62-59 win over Maryland, a sloppy 54-49 UCLA win over Indiana, Texas A&M’s 72-69 win over Louisville and those amazing overtime games:
Sunday wasn’t nearly as dramatic, though most games were closer than the final score indicated.
Now, what will the Sweet 16 have in store for us?
Using kenpom.com’s expected win percentage and final score, only three of the eight Sweet 16 games will be that close — though none of them are expected to be blowouts.
Texas A&M and Memphis should be the best game of the bunch. It features two teams top 10 teams, both in the polls and in efficiency. A&M’s Acie Law will be the best player on the court, but he’ll be tested by Memphis’ depth, much the way he was by Louisville’s full-court man-to-man defense. Law got a huge boost from teammate Dominique Kirk, though. To hold off the Tigers, Kirk and shooting star Josh Carter will need to be on their game.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that UCLA and Pitt is projected to be close. That’s not so much because Pitt is UCLA’s equal, but because the Panthers and Bruins both focus on defense, which keeps the final score lower. If it stays close, I expect UCLA to have the edge — but only because it should have the home-court edge in San Jose.
Oregon has a slight edge over UNLV, the lowest rated team remaining in terms of efficiency. But this game will be close only if the Rebels’ defense can extend its perimeter defense. Few teams rely on the three-pointer the way Oregon does and if the Ducks are hitting, UNLV won’t be able to hang around. After all, Oregon is a far more difficult defensive challenge than Wisconsin without Brian Butch.
As to the rest, kenpom.com projects at with 78 percent certainly that the favored teams (UNC, Kansas, Georgetown, Florida and Ohio State) will win.
How close will they be? Most project to about eight points, but I think Ohio State and Georgetown will both come down to the final minute. (The Buckeyes because Tennessee should be able to run its offense without Greg Oden affecting it too much and the Hoyas because Vandy has the athletes to match up on defense.)
UNC and Kansas should be the only teams who win by comfortable margins.
And where does that leave Florida? For my pool, I’d love to see Butler win. Heck, in terms of seeking out a great Cinderella story or David taking down Goliath, it’d be great to see the Bulldogs win. But I’m done picking against Florida. Butler dictates the pace as well as any team in the tournament and has the guy in guard A.J. Graves who can make the clutch shot, if needed.
The odds of that happening, though...not in this year’s Cinderella-less Big Dance.
• March 17 | 9:30 a.m. PT
That was the opening round?
Better let Harry Doyle express my thoughts.
OK, so there were actually two upsets (technically five, but a No. 9 seed beating an 8 doesn’t count) with No. 11 seeds, Winthrop and Virginia Commonwealth giving us at least a glimmer of what the NCAA Tournament is expected to be.
The good news? The last time this happened in 2000, things got better with the weekend games.
That tourney had no first-round wins by any 12, 13, 14, 15, or 16 seeds and just one 11 seed that won. But once the weekend hit, two top seeds (Arizona and Stanford), three No. 2 seeds (St. John’s, Temple and Cincy) and three No. 3 seeds (Oklahoma, Maryland and Ohio State) all lost. You thought last year was bad for your bracket? Think about that kind of bracket busting.
(That also was the season the Final Four featured two No. 8 seeds in UNC and Wisconsin, which, along with Florida and eventual champ Michigan State, made for the least-impressive Final Four in tourney history. Combined records for those four teams was 100-42. Last year’s was 120-23. Like I said, strange tourney.)
ANYWAY, as Billy Donovan would say, what happen last year doesn’t mean anything for this season. We probably won’t see 8 of the 12 top seeds lose on Saturday and Sunday.
Still, all of the top seeds have tough second-round opponents, while all of the two and three seeds should be in games that come down to the final five minutes. Even better is that we get to see all of the four vs. five games, which — theoretically — are the most evenly matched games among title contenders during the first weekend.
Even if we don’t have a bunch of upsets, at least we should be done with the blowouts. And that’s always good news for us Big Dance junkies.
• March 16 | 4:30 p.m. PT
OK, maybe I’m a little too focused on this Tennessee-Long Beach State game, but I can’t help it. Once the Vols hit 57 by half and 90 points with 10 minutes left, they automatically became the team that knew it was putting on a show for everyone and kept at it.
A big thanks to Bruce Pearl’s bunch on a day with only 1 upset (thus far).
So a big thanks also goes to Winthrop.
Winthrop was a trendy pick to beat Notre Dame and the Eagles look like a team that should at least make the Sweet 16, if not the Elite Eight. Those three guards (Terrell Martin, Chris Gaynor and Michael Jenkins) and a decent big man inside (Craig Bradshaw, who owned Luke Harangody) will make the Eagles capable of beating Oregon and the Wisconsin-UNLV winner.
ANYWAY, back to the Vols’ track meet.
Bruce Pearl continues to cultivate a fan base (fans who like offense, at least) by refusing to allow Tennessee to slow the pace. Sure, Long Beach St. closed to 41-35 late in the first half, but that was an aberation. The Vols owned this game and didn’t even need that many possessions to do it.
They won 121-86 and needed just 77 possessions to do it. That’s because their PPWS was 1.39 (hitting 43 of 73 shots) with two guys, Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith, over 1.60 PPWS. That kind of scoring output demands efficiency, and the Vols delivered.
(NCAA fact for the day: It was the most points in the opening round since Reggie Theus and UNLV torched San Francisco 121-95 in 1977’s opening round and the most from two teams since Loyola-Marymount out-ran Wyoming, 119-115, in 1988.
Personal NCAA fact for the day: I watched every minute of that Wyoming game, which came in the same season Fennis Dembo was on the cover of SI. Watching from my house in Cheyenne, Wyo., I thought Fennis & Co. would at least make the Sweet 16 again, but little did we know what Loyola-Marymount would become. Paul Westhead ... grrrrr.)
ANYWAY, now that the Vols showed off their offense, what can we expect for a second-round game vs. Virginia?
After all, the Cavs were nearly as efficient (1.30 PPWS) in their win over Albany, with J.R. Reynolds (28 points, 1.77 PPWS) and Sean Singletary (23 points, 1.32 PPWS) leading the way. Somehow I doubt both teams will top 100 points — maybe the high 80s...
• March 16 | 1 p.m. PT
Rooting for the little guy and offense
Memphis and UNLV held on and Virginia embarrassed and over-seeded Albany in the early games Friday. But right now, No. 11 Winthrop is crushing No. 6 Notre Dame, No. 15 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has held No. 2 Wisconsin to single digits (5 points!) for the first 10 minutes and No. 10 Creighton is trying to make a run against No. 7 Nevada.
Yet, the game I’m loving right now? No. 5 Tennessee leads No. 12 Long Beach State 57-45 at halftime. Keep in mind, Michigan State’s win over Marquette Thursday night was 61-49.
Even better? The 49ers are actually more efficient on offense than the Vols, with a 1.48 PPWS at halftime (63 percent from the field, 17-of-27). Tennessee simply forces more turnovers (though its 1.29 PPWS is pretty damn good).
Can the Vols hit 120 points? It’d be the first NCAA tourney game to do so since Loyola-Marymount put up 149 on Michigan in 1990. Keep on runnin’!
• March 15 | 10:30 p.m. PT
Shooting up the charts
Stephen Curry’s huge day in the loss to Maryland should cement him as one of the top 10 players in the country next season. You score 30 points on D.J. Strawberry and that’s good for preseason All-America talk.
The Davidson freshman was somewhat of a known commodity to before he came into the game, but not before his freshman season. It’s been written about how the ACC was stupid for not recruiting him, (Virginia Tech asked him to be a non-scholarship, practice-only player) and about how prolific his shooting was entering the opening-round NCAA Tournament game.
But after Thursday’s game, it’s clear Curry is forever more than just Del’s kid. Like a guy who can elevate Davidson to mid-major status that Butler, Nevada and Air Force has this season.
If the NBA draft gets the group of underclassmen expected to declare (Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Julian Wright, etc.), the returning players on the shortlist for All-America honors will include UCLA’s Darren Collison, UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough, USC’s Gabe Pruitt, Michigan State’s Drew Neitzel, Alabama’s Ronald Steele and an good crop of freshmen like O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon and Derrick Rose.
Other tournament thoughts?
• Who knew one pass would seal Oral Roberts’ downfall?
• Indiana should give it to D.J. White more.
• Thursday’s most efficient team? North Carolina’s 1.38 PPWS in its 86-65 win over Eastern Kentucky crushes the field of Georgetown (1.28 PPWS), Pitt (1.28), Boston College (1.25 PPWS), Michigan State (1.27) and Ohio State (1.24 PPWS).
• March 14 | 5 p.m. PT
The perfect bracket
Is a longshot. Mathforum.org calculates the odds at picking a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket at 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to 1. Odds of winning that monster MegaMillions jackpot were 360 billion to 1. Just something to keep in mind.
That said, I think I got a pretty good one here. I’ve made picks for every game and detail some with a little more info when needed. I considered seedings, records, RPI, scoring margin, efficiency and odds to win, but let’s not kid — in the end, all of that only changed my mind on a few games. My Final Four has two No. 1 seeds, a No. 3 and a No. 4 and I have a No. 1 and a 2 seed losing on the first weekend, so there’s something for everyone.
First-round winners: No. 1 North Carolina, No. 9 Michigan State (Tom Crean hasn’t won a Big Dance game without Dwyane Wade), No. 5 USC (barely), No. 4 Texas, No. 6 Vanderbilt, No. 14 Oral Roberts (Caleb Green and Ken Tutt need to combine for about 45, but it should happen.), No. 7 Boston College (Jared Duley is better than Jarrius Jackson) and No. 2 Georgetown.
Second-round winners: No. 1 UNC (pulls away in final 5 minutes), No. 4 Texas, No. 6 Vandy (midnight for Cinderella) and No. 2 Georgetown.
Sweet 16 winners: No. 1 UNC (too deep, though the Heels don’t have anyone who can guard Kevin Durant. This game’s won because Ty Lawson emerges as a true point guard and the ’Horns won’t be able to contain Brandan Wright and Tyler Hansbrough.) and No. 2 Georgetown (who has yet to be tested).
Regional winner: North Carolina. The Heels have too much depth for the Hoyas, who are disciplined and bigger, but Jeff Green can only guard so many Heels at once.
First-round winners: No. 1 Ohio State, No. 8 BYU, No. 5 Tennessee (wheeeee!), No. 4 Virginia (nice gift for the Cavs), No. 6 Louisville (had to flip a coin on this one; I love the Cardinal big men, but wonder if their guard can handle the pressure), No. 3 Texas A&M, No. 10 Creighton (Wolf Pack favored by one, but guard Kyle Shiloh may not play and the Jays rate better in efficiency and the inside-outside combo of Anthony Tolliver and Nate Funk may actually be better than Nick Fazekas and Marcellus Kemp. Maybe. Tough call here.) and No. 2 Memphis.
Second-round winners: No. 1 OSU (the only top seed who got an easy second-round game), No. 5 Tennessee (Cavs’ guards not as good as Vols’ Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith), No. 3 A&M and No. 2 Memphis (should get a test, but pull away).
Sweet 16 winners: No. 1 OSU (Buckeyes won regular-season game thanks to Oden and a late 3-pointer. This game could go either way, but Oden’s better now than in Jan.) and No. 3 A&M (love Acie Law and the Tigers haven’t a defense like this all season).
Regional winner: A&M. Like I said, I love Acie Law, even over a fab frosh like Mike Conley. The Aggies have the firepower to counter the Buckeyes, but man ... do they have enough big men to throw at Oden and get him into foul trouble? This game comes down to the hotter 3-point shooter: A&M’s Josh Carter or OSU’s Jamar Butler (or Ron Lewis; Daequan Cook has been worthless lately).
First-round winners: No. 1 Florida, No. 8 Arizona (talent has to pull through), No. 12 Old Dominion (tough call, but Butler isn’t the same team that won the Preseason NIT; it split the regular-season crown with Wright State and lost the tourney title game), No. 4 Maryland (the biggest game in my bracket; Terps could lose — love Davidson, but why seed them here? Why not against Virginia? — but too much talent and Gary Williams must be tired of not playing in the Big Dance the last two years), No. 11 Winthrop (another danger pick; Irish win they could end up in the Final Four), No. Oregon, NO. 7 UNLV and No. 2 Wisconsin.
Second-round winners: No. 9 Arizona (here me out: Arizona’s offense is just as good as Florida’s and the ’Cats have just as much talent, plus the Gators tend to fall asleep on defense. Also, if Corey Brewer guards Marcus Williams, that leaves Chase Budinger free to torment Lee Humphrey and neither Al Horford or Joakim Noah can guard Ivan Radenovic on the perimeter. Most importantly, Mustafa Shakur is better then Taurean Green.), No. 4 Maryland, No. 3 Oregon (if Notre Dame’s 3s didn’t sink the Eagles, the Ducks’ will) and No. 2 Wisconsin.
Sweet 16 winners: No. 4 Maryland (odds of Arizona beating two efficient offensive and defensive teams? Slim.) and No. 3 Oregon (with Brian Butch, Badgers win. Without him, Ducks too good on offense to lose — but only if Aaron Brooks continues to let his teammates play.
Regional winner: Maryland. Terps have enough swing players to guard all those Ducks. Also, edge goes to Gary Williams over Ernie Kent.
First-round winners: No. 1 Kansas, No. 8 Kentucky (Scottie Reynolds gassed and ’Nova can’t check Randolph Morris), No. 12 Illinois (Va. Tech gets hosed with this matchup; Illini better defensively and they get to play in Columbus, Ohio), No. 4 Southern Illinois, No. 6 Duke (Devils down, but not out), No. 3 Pitt, No. 7 Indiana (revenge!) and No. 2 UCLA.
Second-round winners: No. 1 Kansas (’Cats can’t shoot, thus score), No. 4 Southern Illinois (even better defensively than the Illini), No. 6 Duke (life is three things: death, taxes and Devils in Sweet 16) and No. 7 Indiana (point guard Darren Collison spraining his ankle was enough for me. Well, that and imagining the field day D.J. White should have inside against the Bruins. UCLA’s perimeter defense better be in shape for the Hoosiers’ guards).
Sweet 16 winners: No. 1 Kansas (all about defense so far) and No. 6 Duke (which makes me a little sick, but the Devils can handle White inside and that should be enough).
Regional winner: Kansas. This turned out to be a gimme region for the Jayhawks.
Kansas beats Maryland (rematch of 2002, but this time Jayhawks have the superior personnel; they also have better defense and offense, so that helps...) and UNC beats A&M (my love affair with Acie Law only goes so far when you can’t counter UNC’s sheer numbers.
Champion: Kansas over UNC in a championship game that would be a ratings bonanza and one for the ages, with Julian Wright and Brandon Rush outplaying Brandan Wright and Tyler Hansbrough.
OK, so I’m a KU grad, but here’s why I go with Kansas: better guards (give me Sherron Collins, Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson over freshmen Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, even with Bobby Frasor and Marcus Ginyard off the bench) and something you can’t give enough weight to — this team has lost in the first-round the last two years. One year would be something to shrug off. Two years weighs on you. Time for the Jayhawks to stop underachieving.
• March 12 | 11:15 p.m. PT
Matchups to love
There’s always a handful of games to love as fans and writers for one reason or another. Here are 10 first-round games to watch and six more to hope for in later rounds.
The best first round game — and one few people have spotlighted thus far — should be No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 Long Beach State in the South Region on Friday. And by best, I mean most entertaining and hopefully most exciting. Because I doubt there will be much defense played.
The last NCAA Tournament game that had both team score more than 100 points in regulation was a 2004 win by UAB over Washington. The Vols and 49ers should blow that away for a few reasons:
Bottom line, I hope to see — heck, expect to see — a game that features nothing but offense and reaches triple digits on Friday afternoon. It’s just a shame it’s not Thursday to serve as Friday’s “Did you see that game?” water cooler/e-mail talk.
More first-round fun?
• No. 8 Marquette vs. No. 9 Michigan State: This is the one most people have picked up on. Spartans coach Tom Izzo vs. his former assistant, Tom Crean. Beyond the coaching intrigue, it should be a defensive game — the Spartans don’t get enough credit for their defense, while the Eagles are tough along the perimeter — but a little lackluster unless Drew Neitzel comes through with a nice game.
• No. 4 Maryland vs. No. 13 Davidson should be called the Lefty Driesell game.
• I’ve already written about how Tubby Smith shouldn’t be on the hotseat. Well, I’m not sure that stance reflects reality when Kentucky is an 8 seed. It’s even worse when the ’Cats face a dangerous Villanova team that has one of the game’s best freshmen in Scottie Reynolds. Tubby may be Kentucky’s “basketball coach,” but a loss isn’t going to do him any favors.
• No. 10 Texas Tech vs. No. 7 Boston College won’t be high scoring. But it will have two teams playing precise, pass-oriented offense. Purists, enjoy.
• A twist on the coach showdown for the first round is No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 15 Weber State. Bruins coach Ben Howland graduated from Weber State in 1979 and led the Wildcats to two NCAA Tournament appearances. He was a defensive standout, which explains his coaching philosophy now. Fun tidbit aside, UCLA should stomp his alma mater.
• Duke is down, and the Devils haven’t had a first-round loss since 1996. VCU has the shooters to make it happen.
• Speaking of shooters, No. 6 Notre Dame has plenty. No. 11 Winthrop is downright stingy in its perimeter defense. I’ll enjoy seeing which prevails.
• No. 7 Indiana and No. 10 Gonzaga was a pretty sweet game last season despite Adam Morrison’s offensive struggles. It also ended the Mike Davis’ era at Indiana and set the stage for Kelvin Sampson to take over. This year, the Hoosiers should get their revenge – and oddly enough prevent the Zags from getting a rematch with UCLA, the team that KO’d them from last year’s tourney. And the committee says it doesn’t set up these matchups…
• I like No. 12 Illinois vs. No. 5 Virginia Tech for two reasons: It’s a 12-5 game and a rare occasion when two teams from major conference face off in that instance, which usually features a BCS team vs. a mid-major (and makes the upset much more fun). True, USC vs. Arkansas is another BCS 12-5 showdown, but that game won’t be close. It should resemble Texas A&M’s win last year over Syracuse as a 12, or when No. 12 Missouri beat No. 5 Miami in 2002. And that would set up …
• The first second-round game I’m rooting for, No. 4 Southern Illinois vs. Illinois. This give Illini coach Bruce Weber a chance to see his ex-team up close (Weber left the Salukis after the 2003 season. Does the Mo Valley’s best team beat a middle of the pack Big Ten team? Put it this way: if they switched uniforms, you wouldn’t know which players were “major” and which were “mid-major.”
• No. 1 Ohio State against No. 9 Xavier would pit Buckeyes coach Thad Matta against the team that was 3 points from the 2004 Final Four. OK, maybe I like the coaching matchups a little too much, but I think this stuff is fun.
• No. 8 Arizona (if it gets past Purdue) has the talent to beat No. 1 Florida. I’m praying for the Wildcats to play the Gonzaga role of the 2003 double overtime classic.
• If No. 2 Georgetown faces No. 3 Washington State in the Sweet 16, the score may get into the 50s. But I have my doubts.
• Same goes for UCLA vs. No. 3 Pitt. But there’s plenty of background details to build up that game.
• Is Illinois against No. 1 Kansas too much to hope for? Will Bruce Weber be around by then? And will Bill Self care to talk about Illinois?
• Bonus game that everyone [read:me] wants! No. 1 UNC vs. No. 4 Texas. Two of the nation’s most efficient offensive teams going at it. Kevin Durant trying to carry the Longhorns past one of the country’s deepest teams. What’s not to love?
• Last thought: Since when did people start saying “score the basketball?” Why can’t the talking heads simply say “score?”
• March 12 | 11 a.m. PT
Madness setting in...
Been up to my ears in NCAA Tournament duties, so here’s a short post for now with a longer post coming later on highlighting the Big Dance’s best matchups.
What did I do yesterday? Well, after watching my Jayhawks start the Big 12 Tournament championship game like they were trying to lose, it was spent editing and formatting Ray Glier’s bracket info, then putting up our brackets, which — chest out, head swelling — are the sharpest looking ones on the Net.
Finally, put the finishing touches on our tournament guide, which includes the Big Dance’s top scorers, big men, shooters, clutch players and defensive stoppers.
Other thoughts from Sunday:
• Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is right to complain about the Orange’s tournament omission. ’Cuse was one of the strongest bubble teams around last Thursday, but somehow sank below Arkansas, Texas Tech and Stanford. The Orange were tied with Marquette and ahead of Villanova in the Big East standings, were the only team that has beaten Georgetown in the last month and won more games than the Hogs, Raiders and Cardinal. (Most perplexing to me is Arkansas. Stan Heath’s squad played great in the SEC Tournament, but beating Vandy and Miss. St. in two days shouldn’t get you in.)
• Giving UCLA and Georgetown two seeds wasn’t a diss by the committee since the Bruins won’t have to leave California and the Hoyas would play their East Regional final in East Rutherford, N.J.
Anyway, more to come later.
• March 10 | 11:30 p.m. PT
It all comes down to Sunday
Which means the NCAA Tournament seeding committee has its work cut out for it.
There are about eight teams who could arguably be a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance and five of them play in conference tournament championships on Sunday. Wins would give Florida, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio State and Wisconsin the last impressions on the committee, but one can never know if Sunday afternoon is too late.
So does Georgetown, which trashed Pitt Saturday for the Big East Tournament title to go with the regular-season crown, get an edge? What about Memphis’ sweep of the C-USA titles to go with a gaudy 30-3 record. Does UCLA’s wretched finish to its season derail the best regular-season résumé of any team?
Assuming Sunday does matter, and all the favored teams win, conventional wisdom around the net (like here) indicates those four teams — Florida, Kansas, North Carolina and Ohio State — would be the 1 seeds.
Except it’s not that simple.
There are two easy calls: Memphis and Ohio State.
Memphis (30-3, RPI 8, SOS 73) has no shot because it has just one marquee win, coming over Kentucky on Nov. 22. Since then, the Tigers have lost at Tennessee and at Arizona and have just five wins over top 100 teams in Ole Miss, Gonzaga and Houston (3 times). Tigers are likely a 3 seed.
If Ohio State (29-3, RPI 1, SOS 24) beats Wisconsin for the Big Ten title, it’ll secure the top overall seed for the NCAA Tournament on the basis of five wins vs. the RPI top 25 (Tennessee, Michigan State (twice) and Wisconsin (twice, if Sunday goes its way) and a sweep of the league regular-season and Big Ten titles.
But even if the Buckeyes lose, they’ll still deserve a No. 1 seed because they haven’t lost to any team but the elite ones: Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida, all of which came on the road. (More to consider? OSU hasn’t lost since Jan. 9 and the UNC loss was without Greg Oden. The loss to Florida was Oden’s first of the season.)
Ohio State may not have the panche of UNC or Kansas because it doesn’t register blowout wins, but it’s the one team that has looked like a top seed for the last two months.
Now the hard stuff.
North Carolina (27-6, RPI 3, SOS 5) beats N.C. State and it’s a top seed. If not, the Heels are a 2 seed — unless Florida and Kansas both lose. UNC has six wins vs. the RPI top 25 (Ohio State, Tennessee, Kentucky, at Arizona and twice over Duke), second most in the NCAA, and an ACC regular-season title to its credit, which means a lot since it’s the No. 1 league in RPI. But to finish a season 6-4 (with a loss Sunday) is a non-no for being a 1.
Florida (28-5, RPI 7, SOS 48) is starting to look like the team that won last year’s crown, which counts for a lot in top seed perception. I doubt committee members would admit it, but being the defending champ goes a long way. Florida beats Arkansas for the SEC title — a sweep of regular-season and tourney crowns in the 2nd toughest league — is too tough to ignore, despite the Gators’ 7-3 finish to the regular-season. However, a loss to Arkansas would likely bump Florida to a No. 2 seed — but only if some other things happen.
Like Kansas winning the Big 12 title. The Jayhawks (29-3, RPI 13, SOS 75) are one of the hottest teams around, having won 13 of their last 14, but only one of those games was against a top 50 opponent (Texas, a home win). KU is another team that just feels like a top seed, but frankly, its resume isn’t more impressive than anyone else except for Memphis. KU has just one win vs. the RPI top 25, though that win is Florida. But losses to Oral Roberts (at home!) and DePaul are one setback and the pitful Big 12 also hurts KU as its 7th in RPI.
So say the Jayhawks beat Texas for the tourney title to go with a regular-season crown. That’s one more vs. the top 50, but I’m not sure KU looks better than Georgetown.
The Hoyas (26-6, RPI 10, SOS 22) swept the Big East titles and have won 15 of their last 16 games. The Big East is rated 5th and the Hoyas’ five wins vs. the RPI top 25 are behind only UNC and UCLA and the same as Wisconsin. Georgetown will get lots of consideration as a top seed and would probably grab one if Florida, UNC and Kansas all lost.
And don’t forget Wisconsin (29-4, RPI 5, SOS 43). The Badgers beat Ohio State for the Big Ten Tournament crown and a 1 seed is a done deal. They had back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Ohio State in late Feburary, but a win over OSU would be its second vs. the Buckeyes and their 6th vs. the RPI top 25. However, without Brian Butch, Wisconsin won’t win.
Where does this leave UCLA (25-5, RPI 2, SOS 8)? The last team to lose its last two games before the NCAA Tournament and still land a top seed was Ohio State in 1991. And those two losses (Washington and Cal) really hurt the Bruins’ image, despite having the most wins vs. the RPI top 25 (8). UCLA has all the qualities of a top team: it won its regular-seaosn title (Pac-10 was 3rd in league RPI) and played a brutal non-conference schedule. But those two losses are killing the Bruins’ perception. They would need Florida, UNC and Kansas to lose and hope the committee doesn’t want to ship Georgetown out West.
There you go. The favorites win and Ohio State, UNC, Florida and Kansas are the top seeds, probably in that order. My prediction? One of those won’t win (Florida) and Georgetown grabs a top seed. Now onto the brackets!
• March 9 | 9 p.m. PT
Pop, pop, pop
Stanford, Air Force, Alabama and Clemson are really sweating bullets now. And that’s just for starters.
It was one thing to see Butler lose in the Horizon Final on Tuesday. But with Xavier and Nevada both falling on Friday, the bubble picture is ready to burst.
Nevada (playing without guard Kyle Shiloh) lost to Utah State for the second time in 10 days. The Wolf Pack have been an NCAA lock for some time (27-4, 14-2, RPI 24, SOS 117), but have probably dropped to a 7 or 8 seed now.
Xavier (24-8, 13-3, RPI 33, SOS 82) is probably an 8 or 9 after losing to Rhode Island. The Musketeers don’t have the lofty AP Poll spot like Nevada, but their résumé actually has more impressive wins (over Villanova, Illinois and K-State, which gives Xavier some edge in bubble talk with Illinois and K-State).
So that’s the two teams who are probably set. But those losses have made it hard on several others.
Who sweating the most? Well, it’s quite a list.
Good to go
Illinois (23-10, 9-7, RPI 31, SOS 32) should be OK after beating Indiana. Another win on Saturday over Wisconsin would make the Illini a lock. Big Ten gets another with Purdue (21-10, 9-7, RPI 41, SOS 54). Florida State (20-12, 7-9, RPI 42, SOS 17) could’ve used that win over UNC on Friday, but beating Florida, Virginia Tech, Duke and Maryland is huge. Drexel (22-8, 13-5, RPI 44, SOS 101) gets lots of credit for beating Villanova and Syracuse on the road, though they could easily drop down to this next group.
Outside looking in
Stanford (18-10, 10-8, RPI 66, SOS 28) was once solid before losing 7 of their final 11 games. Same goes for Alabama (20-11, 7-9, RPI 48, SOS 40), which has lost 6 of its last 8 and Clemson (21-10, 7-9, RPI 47, SOS 47), 10 of its last 14. West Virginia (21-9, 9-7, RPI 59, SOS 97) has that win over UCLA, but not much else.
Slightly longer shots include
Air Force (22-8, 10-6, RPI 32, SOS 79), who was once a mid-major to watch. Not as many watch the NIT. UMass (23-8, 13-3, RPI 61, SOS 127) had hoped to be another A-10 team in, but its lone big win over Louisville won’t be enough. And Michigan (21-11, 8-8, RPI 55, SOS 27) needed to beat Ohio State once in the last week.
Need to keep winning
Arkansas (20-12, 7-9, RPI 37, SOS 13) has to win the SEC tourney. That could save Stan Heath’s job. The again, so do Mississippi (20-11, 8-8, RPI 57, SOS 67) and Mississippi State (18-12, 8-8, RPI 58, SOS 26). K-State (22-10, 10-6, RPI 56, SOS 95) needs to beat Kansas on Saturday. Oklahoma State (21-12, 6-10, RPI 44, SOS 36) would need to win the Big 12 tourney. I know, those wins over Texas A&M, Texas and Texas Tech are nice, but the Cowboys didn’t win a single conference road game.
(I couldn’t find a story to corroborate this, but I’d heard earlier that no BCS school with at least 22 wins has ever been left out of the Big Dance. Be interesting to see how that shakes out.)
• March 8 | 6:30 p.m. PT
UCLA’s résumé this season speaks for itself. Five wins against the RPI top 25 teams (only UNC has more) and nine against the top 50. The Bruins are No. 1 in RPI, 6th in strength of schedule and are 10-1 in non-conference games. That’s a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, to be sure.
Except for the gigantic but that has emerged from the last two games.
Losing a regular-season finale to Washington could have been ignored. UCLA had wrapped up the crown and was on the road. A stumble was almost expected. Yet, an inexplicable defeat to Cal in the Pac-10 Tournament does two things:
For the first time all season, the Bruins aren’t a lock for a top seed in the Big Dance. (Seriously, all season. They beat BYU, Kentucky and Georgia Tech in their first four games.) Compared to Ohio State, UNC, Florida and Wisconsin, UCLA’s body of work for this season is just as good — and still better than Georgetown, Pitt, Kansas and Texas A&M.
Things could change in the next few days (tournament titles), but it’s hard to see UCLA being denied a top seed since it had the best case before the game. Wisconsin and UNC both had recent two-game losing streaks and Florida has lost 3 of 4, while that second group hasn’t beaten the same quality of teams.
The other thing? The team bickering and general play entering the NCAA Tournament.
Point guard Darren Collison took a lot of heat after the Washington loss, particularly for his lackluster shooting and poor decision making. Junior Arron Afflalo wants Collison to stop shooting so much.
“He has to do the best he can to not get caught in his own percentages and make sure everyone else has it going because that's the point guard's duty,” the Seattle Times reported.
The L.A. Times had a slightly different quote. “He had some shots roll in and out,” Afflalo said of Collison. “But as a point guard he has to control the ball and handle what everybody else is doing. He can not and should not worry about his own opportunities.”
For the record, Collison was 2-of-15 with 5 assists and 3 turnovers vs. the Huskies. Afflalo was 4-of-14, including 3-of-10 from beyond the arc.
The Cal game wasn’t an improvement for either player. Collison ended 5-of-15 with 6 assists and 7 turnovers, while Afflalo was 1-for-7, the one make coming in OT.
One bright spot? Afflalo didn’t point any fingers after Cal.
“It’s hard to swallow, that’s for sure,” Afflalo said after the game. “It’s going to be a long week. The way I played tonight was a majority of the reason why we lost.” He also ripped himself for not being able to handle Cal’s Ayinde Ubaka. “What did he get, 29 points? That’s unacceptable.”
Even before the game, UCLA seemed like the kind of team few people were picking to win it all, despite playing great defense to go with some pretty good offense. They’ve been consistent all season, winning tight games, doing the little things well and occasionally having the big rout.
But not having a post presence except for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (who doesn’t have a ton of size, but can bang inside) will be problematic in the Big Dance. Lorenzo Mata isn’t the answer to players like Joakim Noah, Greg Oden or Roy Hibbert, which makes it even tougher on guys like Collison and Afflalo.
And if they struggle again, it’ll be a short March for UCLA.
• Make sure you read USA Today’s fabulous series of stories on college basketball coaches’ salaries. It covers every coach in last year’s NCAA Tournament and spotlights annual salaries, bonuses, housing compensations and even spotlights the top-paid women’s coaches. The best part is probably the random incentives some coaches have, like Albany’s Will Brown, who has to write 40 weekly stories, usually about 300 words, all for his school’s website. For $7,000.
• March 7 | 6:40 p.m. PT
Maybe not for West Virginia, which started slow, then righted itself against Providence. A win Thursday would be even better, though.
Syracuse is in slightly better shape than the Mountaineers after beating UConn, but beating Notre Dame would make Jim Boeheim relax. The main thought from this game, though? Sure, the Huskies probably weren’t headed to the Big Dance, but it seems strange to think that this made it all but official.
Strangest of all? Kentucky playing on the first day of the SEC tournament.
• Yes Jerry Wainwright, this morning’s Big East game was that ugly.
• “No truth to the rumor” that Steve Alford’s days at Iowa are numbered, the Des Moines Register reports.
• Sigh. I’m tired of the stories from teams feeling “dissed”, but I suppose it works. Both Florida schools used it as motivation and ended up with national titles.
• On that note, here’s some wishful thinking for Gator fans.
• Finally, here’s a fabulous post from SI.com’s Luke Winn, who has great advice when it comes to filling out your bracket. Beware those inconsistent teams.
• March 6 | 8:30 p.m. PT
The hot or not debate
Today’s burning question: How important is winning a conference tournament?
That’s easy if you’re a bubble team. As Ken Davis writes in his latest column, conference tourneys are the last chances bubble teams have to impress the NCAA Tournament seeding committee and boost that Big Dance résumé.
That’s the easy answer, but doesn’t help when it comes to predicting NCAA Tournament success. After all, a bubble team rarely makes a Big Dance run — for every George Mason or West Virginia there are others who barely make an impression.
So what does winning a conference tournament mean to a title contender? Specifically, how important is it for a team to enter the NCAA Tournament on a winning streak?
It helps, but winning the regular-season crown (or sharing it) is a better indicator of NCAA Tournament success.
The recent numbers, since 1998:
That includes 42 times when a team won the regular-season and tournament titles.
The only time it’s a wash is when it comes to winning it all: In the last nine tournaments, a team that has won its league tournament also won the Big Dance six times. Six teams have also won it all and won regular-season titles in that span.
Need examples? Last year’s regular-season champs in the Final Four were UCLA, LSU and George Mason (G.M. and LSU both shared). UCLA and Florida won tournament titles.
In 2005, UNC, Illinois and Louisville all won regular-season crowns, while Illinois and Louisville were the tournament winners (Michigan State never did get past the Illini).
So what’s that say for this season? If you’re looking champs among the BCS schools, that’s UCLA, Kansas, Georgetown, Florida, Virginia, UNC and Ohio State. Mid-major champs like Southern Illinois, Memphis, BYU, Nevada, Butler, VCU, Winthrop or Davidson normally wouldn’t be in the discussion, but in a George Mason world, it’s worth considering all the contenders.
And making sure you keep an eye on those tourney winner when deciding on a champ...
• And when looking for a potential Cinderella, consider Oral Roberts.
• ACC officials say the refs handled the Duke-Carolina ending “exactly the way you would want them to handle it.”
• Looking for Cinderella? Michael Wilbon is. How hard, I’m not sure.
• And make sure you send us the March Madness fan photos!
• March 3 | 5:30 p.m. PT
Saturday’s hoop thoughts
On a day that featured several enjoyable games and a couple really well played games, the thing that stick in my head most? Kevin Durant, 25 first-half points.
It was bad enough that our local CBS affiliate didn’t carry Kansas vs. Texas and the East Coast channel our work uses had the Georgetown-UConn game. (To say nothing of the NCAA not allowing radio stations to broadcast games over the Internet.) But keeping track of a game with live updates and not being able to rage at the TV while Durant was torching my Jayhawks was excruiating.
OK, maybe it saved me from breaking the TV, but still.
Finally, when CBS switched from the Georgetown-UConn game, Kansas had made its 15-4 run to start the second-half (Bill Self must have threated everyone in Allen Fieldhouse with bodily harm since Texas shot about 200 percent during the first half) and Durant was about the go down with an ankle injury (he returned but wasn’t the same).
All that simply made for an amazing finish until Kansas won itself a Big 12 title and maybe even a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
In all, a decent way to start the day. For me.
(KU’s win means it’s all but guaranteed a No. 1 or 2 seed in the Big Dance, which decreases the chances of something like this or this happening again. Then again, KU could play Belmont in the first round. The curse of the B’s would tear apart Lawrence...)
• After that we had the aforementioned Hoyas claiming the top seed in the Big East tournament (first win over UConn since ’97). If not for the Syracuse loss, Georgetown would have the inside track to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
• UCLA mailed it in against Washington. Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison combined to shoot 6-for-29 from the field. Also wondering if Lorenzo Mata will be a liability later on.
• How did Michigan’s Courtney Sims miss that dunk? Could be the end for Tommy Amaker.
• Wisconsin’s last-second win over Michigan State makes me hope for more of the same in the NCAA Tournament (though the Badgers will desperatly miss Brian Butch).
• Virginia misses a chance to clinch the ACC crown by losing at cellar-dwelling Wake Forest? Ouch. Cavs remain a hot-cold team — a sketchy pick for your bracket.
• Arizona’s the same way — ’Cats love the ole defense — but Lute Olson still clinched his 20th straight 20-win season.
• Butler breathes a big sigh of relief.
Finally, I’m here to help when it comes to getting ready for the hoops onslaught next week:
And have I mentioned we’re looking for fan photos?
• March 2 | Noon, PT
Some people are just too hard to please
Our college basketball expert gets questions every year on how much longer Tubby Smith will be at Kentucky. And every year those questions amaze me.
Tubby’s in his 10th season in Lexington. In that time, he’s won a national title, been to three NCAA Tournament regional finals and never missed a Big Dance. He’s won more than 75 percent of the time and got to 100 win at the school faster than anyone except Adolph Rupp. Also, there have been five SEC regular-season crowns, five tournament titles and one season where the ’Cats were 16-0 in conference play, the only SEC team to do so.
Yet it’s never enough for some Kentucky fans.
Wildcats athletics director Mitch Barnhart added fuel to that simmering fire when he released a statement acknoledging fans’ displeasure with Tubby’s coaching performance this season. Tubby, to his credit, said “I’m not going to defend my record or anything else.”
As he shouldn’t. SI.com’s Seth Davis wrote an interesting piece that didn’t defend Tubby outright, but detailed the team’s recent “struggles” that provide the source of most fans’ displeasure — namely, the Wildcats don’t own college basketball anymore.
I know it’s one thing to complain about your team. We haven’t won a title recently. Our coach screwed up that game. Why can’t we play defense? Who taught him how to shoot? But it’s another thing to complain about a coach like Tubby who is behind one of the game’s elite programs.
Yes, Kentucky hasn’t been a top 10 team the last two seasons. Well, it spent the entire 2004-05 season in the top 10 of the AP poll and just missed a Final Four that season after losing in double OT to Michigan State in the South Regional final. Two seasons not in the top 10 isn’t a reason to complain. Especially when the ’Cats played the toughest schedule in the nation this season.
Yes, Kentucky hasn’t been to a Final Four since Tubby won a title in his first season in Lexington. Much is made of this this since Tubby won that ’98 title primarily with players Rick Pitino recruited. Do you hear North Carolina fans complaining about the title Roy Williams won in 2005 mostly with players Matt Doherty recruited?
Davis also points out that Kentucky’s recruiting isn’t what it should be. To be blunt, recruiting is a crapshoot. You can grab those McDonald’s All-Americans and still not win because those recruits may be overhyped. Example A: Current ’Cats Randolph Morris and Joe Crawford are McDonald’s players. Yet Kentucky lags behind Florida in the SEC, who has just one such guy in Corey Brewer. (And yes, Brewer wanted to attend Kentucky, but both Morris and Crawford were more hyped than Brewer. What was Tubby to do?)
Bottom line, maybe Kentucky could be better. But it’s going to the NCAA Tournament — again — and the way it plays defense it could very well make run to the Final Four.
And maybe that would get people off Tubby’s back.
• March 1 | 10:30 a.m. PT
Player of year, redux
We’re out of superlatives when it comes to Texas’ Kevin Durant. Deservedly so after his Longhorns stunned No. 7 Texas A&M in double OT Wednesday night.
More and more people are starting to get used to the idea of Durant as the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft (even though he’s still says he may stick around for another season) and realizing that this once-in-a-lifetime player probably just earned himself All-America honors and a likely Big 12 Player of the Year award.
And that’s probably how it should be, even if he does share the award with A&M’s Acie Law IV. Co-players of the year would make nearly everyone happy (unless you’re the Kansas Jayhawks, who may win the Big 12 but be upstaged by their rivals).
But what about this? Durant is the Big 12 Player of the Year — few have been as dominating in league play as Durant, who averages nearly 30 points per Big 12 game — but Law could be national player of the year.
Chew on that for a minute.
Law (who, as my buddy Terry puts it, is a great player on a team with very average players) doesn’t put up the sheer numbers (18.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.4 apg) that Durant does (24.9 ppg, 11.5 rpg) but few players do.
Besides, if one really wants to crunch the numbers, note that Law has better shooting percentages and is as effective offensively (116.5 ORtg) as Durant (117.5 ORtg), who doesn’t have to run his team’s offense. They both dominate in areas they should (Law in assists, Durant in rebounds) and play a ton of minutes in the process.
The Big 12 has a precedent for this. Texas’ T.J. Ford won the Naismith Award and the Wooden Award his sophomore season when the ’Horns reached the Final Four in 2003 — but he wasn’t even the Big 12 Player of the Year, which was split by Kansas’ Nick Collison (coaches’ pick) and Oklahoma’s Hollis Price (media pick).
ANYWAY, Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker is considered the front-runner for PoY, but he’s below Law and Durant in nearly every offensive category.
So if the numbers are a wash, it has to come down to team performance and perception, right? Well, A&M and Texas split this season. Law scored 21 points and dished 15 assists in the Aggies’ 100-82 Feb. 5 win (Durant had 28 points, 15 rebounds).
Last night’s game had plenty of drama, but it was just a good, not great game stat-wise for either player; Law outscored Durant, 33-30, but Durant had 16 boards to Law’s 4 assists. (A double OT game should see star players score 30 points if they don’t foul out.)
But A&M doesn’t even have a chance to win without Law’s 3-pointers at the end of regulation — which came over Durant — and the first OT. It reminded me of the way Law dominated Kansas in the final minutes of A&M’s stunning win in Lawrence. And that perception of Law as a big-time player who hits clutch shots will undoubtedly help him in the eyes of voters (he missed the shot at the end of the second OT, but is it possible to hit three in one night?). Meanwhile, before beating A&M, Digger Phelps was on TV bemoaning Durant’s poor game against Villanova — which is absurd, but is probably an indicator of the bias Durant has to work against.
(Not that I agree with the perception; I’m just saying what it likely is and how it can affect awards like this.)
The Aggies have been consistent all season and remain a good bet to reach the Final Four. And that’s mostly because of Law. Texas has struggled at times, but its recent improvement is the result of Durant’s supporting cast finally coming through instead of him carrying the load. Durant hit some late FTs, but D.J. Augustin and Damion James were just as important on Wednesday.
To me, that’s the difference. Not the stats, not the perception, but the season of results that Law has helped the Aggies produce with limited talent around him.
Law ensured A&M was a top 10 team all season, similar to what Tucker does with Wisconsin. As much as I like Durant, Player of the Year should really come down to those two players. So let March give us the final answer.
(And just watch Arron Afflalo led UCLA to the title. That would be a lot of work and arguing wasted...)
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