Monday, March 22, 2010

Sorry, But Gotta Link This First

I haven't posted squat recently, choosing to simply enjoy this past weekend. For all my loyal readers (I love you three guys), I apologize. But before I unleash a bevy of thought provoking and well articulated and vastly entertaining pieces covering as much of the madness as I'm able, I have to draw whatever attention to this article from ESPN that I can:

It's an insider story, so you gotta pay. But 20 bucks for a year subscription to the magazine and all the juicy insider stories (not being facetious, actually juicy) is worth it. It's part of a series entitled "Dance Lessons." The basic premise is to look at "tournament truths" many subscribe to that may or may not have much basis in reality. This particular article, "NBA Talent Required?" debunks the incredibly popular, often parroted view that you need at least three NBA draft picks on your team to win a national championship. After all, that's the way it's been the past three years, so that's the way it is.

Wrong. I'm saying this directly to you Gary Parrish from CBS Sports, even though I know you will never, ever read this. Turns out that just since 2000, four squads have won a national title with teams that had 2 or fewer draft picks. Duke and Syracuse both did it with just 1 in 2001 and 2003. If you go back just one more year to the 99 UConn champs, Rip Hamilton was the only draft pick from that squad. And, as the article points out, the championship often determines the draft pick, rather than the other way around.

I make a special point of calling out Parrish because he loves the NBA Talent = National Titles truism. He even made up some meaningless statistic about how every team for the past umpteen years that has won a national title had three or more NBA players on their team. The trouble is, he didn't count whether or not they got drafted the year their respective college team won it all. In other words, you could have a title team that has 1 player drafted in that year's draft. Then, 2 years later, a sophmore from that team gets drafted. Then, after 2 additional years, a red shirt freshman who sat on the bench during the title game 5 years ago, also gets drafted. This criteria is so broad that it's meaningless. There are probably a dozen or more teams that would meet this standard every single year. Please shelve the cliche, and focus on more than what draft experts are chirping in your ear.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shit is Annoying

Onuaku is day to day my ass. Syracuse is giving me fits while looking at this bracket. They should get by Vermont no problem, despite chatter that it might be a problem. But that's why chatter is just chatter. After that, Wesley Johnson, Andy Rautins and the rest of the Orange should have what it takes to get past Gonzaga or Florida State. That puts them in weekend number 2. Frankly, I think the Cuse will have more trouble without Onuaku against Gonzaga or Florida State's bigs than they will against UTEP, Vanderbilt, Butler or Murray State. Thus we have the Elite 8, and a likely matchup against Kansas State. Can they beat the cats without Onuaku? No. With him? No question. So, I'm left taking a coin flip on one of the most important picks of my bracket. Annoying.

What else is annoying? Glad you asked. That Baylor is a trendy Final Four pick. For all of us who had them as a trendy pick before it was trendy, now we're just also rans. And I was high on Baylor back in December. Damn that soft ass 1 seed for Duke, and the 2 seeded Villanova Wildcats who really feel more like a 5 seed (and should have been so ranked, in this bloggers' mind). Well, you know what, I actually like Duke's chances. No, they shouldn't have been placed in the softer than soft south bracket. But they are. And they can win it. So nah!

Big East getting mad love All right, Big East is blah, blah, blah. We get it. They got 3 1 seeds last year. This year, they have a 1 seed, two 2 seeds, two 3 seeds, Marquette at the 6 line and Louisville at 9. Please explain to me how a team like Villanova, with a similiar profile to a team like Michigan State and Maryland, without a share of a conference title and with a similiar early and dissapointing exit from a conference tourney lands a 2 seed while Maryland gets a 4 seed and Michigan State gets a 5. There is no justification for it. And, no, the Big East is not head and shoulders above either the Big Ten or the ACC this year. You can point to past tournament success to justify Big East love, but when you are ridiculously overseeded year after year, you better have something to show for it. More to come on this vent later.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Quick Look at Some Not So Dark, Dark Horses

At the risk of sounding redundant, Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse = Final Four contenders. There is nothing that has transpired, or will transpire during the course of these conference championships that is going to change my mind on that. Not Syracuse's loss to Georgetown in their first Big East Tournament game, nor Kentucky trailing at half to Alabama. I've never viewed lackluster performances in conference tourneys from teams that are likely already recieving a 1 seed as that big of an indictment. Especially not when they're playing teams that still do have something to prove. (Of course, if it turns out Onuaku is a no go for Syracuse for the NCAA Tournament, that would be sufficent to change my mind.)

The far more interesting aspect is how well teams with work left to do rise to the challenge. Whatever arguments you choose, or choose not to listen to, there is a lot more fluidity to the top 25 than there has been in a while. Duke, West Virginia, Georgetown, Ohio State, Kansas State, Baylor are all teams with legitimate Final Four hopes. And some of them are making impressive cases for themselves.

Your Other 1 Seed Candidates (not chopped liver) At the moment, Duke, Ohio State and Kansas State probably have the best shots left at grabbing the final 1 seed (assuming Syracuse doesn't slip from the 1 seed category, opening up 2 slots).

Duke struggled a little with Virginia, before putting them away 57 to 46. So long as they make the ACC championship game, however, I think they have the best shot at the 1 seed, and they're deserving of it. If they win the ACC tourney, obviously there isn't any debate. From what I've seen coming down the stretch from Duke, I do feel like this is a different Blue Devils squad than in years' past and one that has developed enough of an inside game that they could be a serious threat.

Ohio State Whatever struggles Duke had in their first ACC Tourney game, it was nothing like Ohio State's. They needed a last second miracle shot from Evan Turner at half court to put the Wolverines away, 69 to 68. Next up is Illinois, who got off to a hot start against Wisconsin and held on. This is going to be an incredibly interesting matchup. Illinois is probably safely in the tourney now, but I don't think they're going to play like a safe team. This also begins the tournament endurance test for the Buckeyes who again played David Lighty, Jon Diebler, Evan Turner and William Buford all 40 minutes in today's contest. If they can race through 3 days of the Big Ten Tournament and emerge victorious with 4 starters averaging that much playing time, I will bench my fatigue concerns for them in the NCAA Tournament. If they slip up, it's full on fatigue fretting.

Kansas State Jacob Pullen and company are fresh off of a bodacious booty spanking of Oklahoma State. Watching that game, you really got the impression that Kansas State is gelling into a highly tuned, higly functioning team. They are the anti-Texas. They won 83 to 64, with no shortage of offense. But, it was team offense. 20 assists on the game, passing up bad shots for the open man. And they paid attention to the basics, outrebounding Oklahoma State 41 to 25. Assists and rebounding aren't the sleek, shiney elements that every team is focusing on when they come into these games. It's the teams that are paying attention to them that win. I would absolutely love to see a Kansas State vs. Kansas Big XII Championship game.

Others, For Your Consideration

Georgetown Let's face it, Greg Monroe made Syracuse look downright silly. He only had 15 points, but his passing hurt the Orange just as badly as they desperately tried to swarm him again and again. And Chris Wright played like the best guard in the country last night. Make whatever case you want for Sherron Collins, he could not have been nearly as effective as Chris Wright was when moving at those speeds. I know Georgetown hasn't been consistent. But, if they can buckle down for the Big East Tournament, why not that other tournament that starts in a week or so.

West Virginia So the Mountaineers did what Syracuse, Villanova and Pittsburgh all couldn't last night in the Big East Tournament. They advanced. It might have taken another one of these last second miracle 3s that are cropping everywhere from Madison Square Garden to Conseco Fieldhouse, but as the other top 3 seeded Big East teams can attest, a win is a win. West Virginia does not have a true point guard and that is a legitimate deficency. Still, strong inside play, length, athleticism and crippling defense can go a long way towards compensating. Other than Syracuse, I don't feel particularly bullish about any other Big East team's Final Four chances. If I'm going to be surprised, however, I'm looking at West Virginia or Georgetown to do it. Sorry Villanova.

Baylor The Bears "beared down" on Texas last night in a dominating 86 to 67 win. Has Texas really fallen this far due to inconsitency and confusion that feels like it could have only been ordered up by FEMA? Well, yes. That doesn't mean that Baylor isn't legitimate. Baylor really has all the pieces they need for the NCAA Tournament. LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter are two of the best guards in the nation, and you can double that as far as Ekpe Udoh goes at center. Pay attention to the winner of the Kansas State vs. Baylor game tonight, because the victor just might have what to give the Big XII two Final Four teams.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bad Show UConn

St. Johns 73 Connecticut 51 Yup, that just happened. UConn, the bubble Big East team that could, just plopped out a whole load of can't. I would say this safely eliminates UConn from any tournament talk. The sad part is that the Huskies weren't even close to being competitive. They had 18 turnovers, but it felt like so many more than that. They turned it over sloppy and with a wreckless disregard for the number of points St. Johns was wracking up on them even without their help. When Gavin Edwards turned it over on back to back possessions, Calhoun looked about as disgusted as I've ever seen him look.

St. John's played the role of home city heros, led by the great play of Sean Evans who put up 19 points and grabbed 9 boards. Up next for the Red Storm is Marquette.

NBA Lockout 2011, Oh The Humanity

So, as this Sports Illustrated article points out*, the NBA could be headed towards a lockout in 2011. Long story short, as many as half of all NBA teams are running defecits this year. So the NBA is very unlikely to offer the players' union the same deal they've got going now. On the flip side the players' union is claiming that they won't except anything less than the current deal. Stalemate, thy name is spoiled athletes and David Stern...who also is probably pretty spoiled.

The ramifications for college basketball are as obvious as they are annoying. Think of your favorite player this year who isn't quite a lottery pick, but who has some legitimate NBA interest. If you were in their shoes would you stick around to mature for another year and develop your game if you were concerned that next year there might not even be a draft? Didn't think so. I think I speak for all college fans when I say get your shit together, NBA.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday, A Weekend Retrospective

dsThis is the last Sunday before Selection Sunday, the greatest day of the year. So, what did we learn this weekend? In case you weren't tuned in (which, come on, you really should have been) here is what the weekend had to offer:


Louisville 78 Syracuse 68 Louisville and Rick Pitino likely punched their ticket to the dance with this quality win. But, if you're looking for a knock on Syracuse, I wouldn't read too far into this one. They had a 1 seed locked before this game ever tipped, they already had the Big East title and they had already played their senior day at home. If I were a player for Syracuse, I would be wondering why this game was even necessary. Meanwhile, Louisville was desperate for this to even get a whiff of the NCAA Tourney. So, yes, Louisville won. But, Syracuse is still Final Four bound, at least in my mind.

Duke 82 North Carolina 50 Embarrassing. That's all you can really say for the Tar Heels, who are going to be watching March Madness from home this year, barring a wholly unexpected ACC tourney win. Duke is for real. Period. The addition of Zoubek in recent games has been a reason to take notice of the Blue Devils. This isn't the same Sweet 16 ceiling team of years' past. If you're waiting to see the proof, I understand. But you're missing out on an Elite 8 or better team.

West Virginia 68 Villanova 66 These teams have identical records, but if you're looking for a deep Big East Team that isn't Syracuse, take West Virginia. I will take strong inside play over a team of guards every time.

UTEP 52 UAB 50 UTEP is obviously in the dance, UAB is out. It's too bad, because I really liked UAB. They're out and UTEP is the better team. Depending on the matchups, don't be shy to pencil UTEP far.

Baylor 92 Texas 77 I believe that all of the Longhorns' problems stem from a lack of Pittman. Texas has a fever and the only prescription is more Pittman. In the loss to Baylor, he only got 4 points and Texas has really run out of time to figure it out. They've lost 8 of their last 14 and if you were holding out hope for them, as I was, it's time to let it go. Meanwhile, Baylor has won 9 of 11 and is a legitimate threat with Ekpe Udoh inside and Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn on the perimeter.


Kentucky 74 Florida 66
Florida gave Kentucky a tough game, but they ultimately still have work to do to get in the tournament. Meanwhile, Kentucky proved that they were more than the sum of their freshman. While Demarcus Cousins was in foul trouble for most of the game, Patrick Patterson stept up on senior day and displayed just how many options the Wildcats have. Don't buy into the youth argument so many raise against Kentucky. If they lose in the tourney, it's because they got beat, not because this team doesn't know how to handle the pressure.

Northern Iowa 67 Wichita State 52 Bubble teams from the power 6 everywhere rejoice, the MVC only gets one bid, as the favorite Northern Iowa knocks off Wichita State. Northern Iowa is a great, deserving team that could go a few rounds. So is Wichita State. Such is the nature of the game, however, that a team like Arizona State will likely get the nod before Wichita State does. My vote would go to the Shockers, but I don't get a vote.

Michigan State 64 Michigan 48 If Derrick Nix plays more than 10 minutes and Raymar Morgan contributes, Michigan State wins. There are really a lot of intangibles that either line up, or don't, for the Spartans on any given night. But, if those two are contributing inside, everything finds a way to fall in line for the Spartans. If they can win the Big Ten Tourney, look for the Spartans to be a factor in the dance. If not, the Sweet 16 could be their ceiling.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Don't Ruin it for Everyone Zona

On ESPN's rumor page right now, the word is that Arizona's players are none too excited about the possibility of an NIT apperance.* Lamont Jones and Derrick Williams both went on record as saying they would rather sit at home than play in the NIT, assuming they don't make the NCAA Tournament. I can understand where they're coming from. The NIT has become known as the losers tournament and as such has come to be a little lightly regarded. That's exactly why college basketball fans need it. When your rival school misses out on the NCAA Tournament, assailing them with NIT chants is about as fun as it gets. No, your team didn't make the important tournament, but your team still has to be paraded in front of the nation in a tournament that doesn't really matter. It's become a time honored tradition. Don't ruin that for everyone, Arizona.


7th Time's a Charm

Maryland vs. Duke 9 pm on ESPN Maryland hosts the Duke Blue Devils on senior night at the Comcast Center for a share of 1st place in the ACC. If they didn't already have enough motivation, there's also the matter of their 6 straight losses to Duke. That counts as some serious motivation. What is Duke playing for? Sole possession of first place in the ACC? You could argue that the possibility of a 1 seed is motivation enough. But 1 seed or 2 seed, that Sweet Sixteen is the same monkey on those Devils' back.

Kansas vs. Kansas State 8 pm on ESPN 360 How this game ended up on 360 is anyone's guess. Maybe they just haven't been paying attention to Jacob Pullen and his beard's antics that have K. State in 1 seed contention if they pull off a monster upset at Kansas. Either way, watching the game via computer will be nothing new to me. That is my oft relegated way to catch a game when my girlfriend has control of the television and there happens to be a rerun of House on...

Monday, March 1, 2010

As Their Frontcourt Goes, So Go The Spartans

The single biggest factor in Michigan State’s win over Purdue on Sunday was their dominance in the paint. That’s the kind of obvious analysis that you don’t have to pay a dime for. With Robbie Hummel out, the Spartans had a size advantage that they had to exploit in order to be successful. 28 points for Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green, coupled with 44 rebounds did the trick. The advantage would not have been as great if Hummel had played, but that should be an afterthought for Michigan State. Regardless of the circumstances of that particular game, focusing the preparation on the bigs was one of the best things possible for this team at this time. Hummel or no Hummel, there is no reason that Michigan State should not be getting a much better performance from their frontcourt.

Up to this point in the season, their guards have defined State’s style of play. The Spartans have been a pretty good jump shooting team, judicious with their 3s, without much interior scoring to speak of. Which is a shame, given that when Michigan State's frontcourt outscores their backcourt the Spartans are 7 and 1 in Big Ten play and 10 and 1 overall. That statistic is even more dramatic when you consider that one loss happened on the road at Illinois. Kalin Lucas, the prolific scoring point guard, was out that entire game. So why has their interior play been so notably absent at times this season?

The reasons for that appear obvious. All the size at center left after last year’s national title run. Seniors Idong Ibok and Marquise Gray may not have seemed like great losses at the time, but that was experienced size that Michigan State now lacks the luxury of. The lost impact of Goran Suton was more obvious at the time and is no less important now. Freshman centers Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman obviously were not plug in and play time ready to pick up the slack.

Yet, all of those factors still don’t justify the on court product. Many hoped Delvon Roe was poised for a break out year his sophomore season, after playing his freshman year fresh off of knee surgery. It hasn’t happened. He hyper extended his knee, is playing through pain, and will likely require surgery again this summer. While he can still be a factor, State will need to find other avenues to fill the void. The biggest, most consistent answer is Draymond Green. He’s a great distributor, with ball handling skills and a nice jump shot. Most are quick to dismiss Green’s post ability, given his height at 6'6. After watching Green go up on JaJuan Johnson on Sunday, I’m not one of them.

The height difference also tends to cloud how similar of a player Green is to Suton from last year. People seem to conveniently forget that while Suton was able to play with his back to the basket that wasn’t where he was the most comfortable. He always looked more natural squaring up to the basket and taking a jumper, much the same as Green. That capacity to draw defenders out, coupled with his passing skills often led to chip shots for teammates, again, much the same as Green.

Raymar Morgan is the other key. The senior has been inconsistent, and if you could trademark that phrase in relation to Morgan you would be a millionaire in no time. Part of it is his tendency to withdraw when his game isn’t there, instead of continuing to attack. That’s hard to adjust for, because it’s self-inflicted. But Kalin Lucas and State’s guards need to make a commitment to keep going to him, regardless of slumps. Because when Raymar is contributing, State wins. In games where he has scored 15 points or more, they’re 8 and 1. When he’s scored 10 or more, they’re 13 and 1.

Then there’s Derrick Nix. He’s young, but that isn’t the reason he isn’t getting more minutes. His conditioning isn’t there yet, so even when he’s having a good game, you typically don’t see his playing time break the 15-minute mark. If that’s what he can give, fine. Use him for all of it. He is a big body who knows how to score. Yes, his free throw percentage is atrocious, but it didn’t stop him from getting a nice 3 point play from an and 1 against Purdue.

Serious challenges face Michigan State’s frontcourt and that is all the more reason to make the extra commitment to it. State is not as good of a team when the guards make up all of the offense and the Spartans can't always fall back on them. There will be days when you’re starting point guard turns the ball over 8 times. If you still want to win, get the ball to your big men.