Friday, March 31, 2006

Why the NCAA Tournament is Great

There is one thing that the NCAA men's basketball tournament brings to the fans that no other major sporting event does--the realistic hope of a Cinderella team.

Think about it--there are surprise champions in other sports, and a team that had a fairly non-descript regular season can get hot and win the NBA or NHL (is that still considered major) championship, but that hardly qualifies them to be considered a Cinderella story. College football does not allow for this phenomenon either

George Mason--now THERE's a Cinderella story. The fact that they actually made it to the Final Four is historic, but there are other teams at or near that level that got close. How many of you had ever heard of Gonzaga before they nearly beat eventual champion UConn in the 1999 Elite Eight? How about Kent State's recent trip to the Elite Eight? Throughout the years, there are teams from nowhere that have won two or three games in the big dance and screwed up a lot of brackets.

The REALISTIC hope of a team from nowhere beating powerhouse programs like George Mason has done this year is what makes the NCAA basketball tournament the best sporting event in the country. Sports Illustrated senior writer Frank Deford waxes philosophic about that topic in the column I've linked below.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Quite a Mess at Duke

You won't see me write a lot about lacrosse on this blog--I'm only a casual fan. Unfortunately, though, this story from NCAA men's lacrosse deserves attention, but not because of anything happening on the field.

Three Duke University lacrosse players have been accused of pulling an exotic dancer at a private party off-campus into a bathroom, then beating, choking and raping her. The dancer was african-american, and she says her attackers were white.

The school and Durham police are investigating the charnges. DNA samples have been taken from 46 of the 47 players on the roster. I had no idea there were 47 players on a lacrosse roster. The one african-american player was exempt from e suspicion--ironic isn't it?

For those of you not familiar with Durham, the school hardly blends with the community. Unlike nearby Chapel Hill, where the University of North Carolina fits seamlessly with the upscale college-town surroundings, Durham is nearly a 50/50 mix of whites and african-americans with some very poor, rough sections. Many of the Duke students come from hundreds of miles away and pay $43,000 per year in tuition. The fact that three of those white students are accused of attacking an african-american girl has that segment of the Durham population severely pissed and has prompted protests in town.

The school has suspended the lacrosse season until someone either comes forward or investigators finger the perps. The players have closed ranks--the report indicates none of them are cooperating with the investigators.

Before patting the school administration on the back for taking decisive action, consider this. According to ESPN, at least 15 members of the team have previously run afowl of the law during their time at Duke. These charges, none of which resulted in jail time, all came from drunk and disorderly behavior. I know boys will be boys and I know college students drink, but this is quite a pattern of bad behavior.

As this investigation unfolds, the school will likely have to answer why this was tolerated and if that tolerance helped lead to the events of March 13.

Folks, this is the type of mess that no one is likely to walk away from unstained. The amount of carnage and the number of ruined careers for both students and administrators remains to be seen, but rest assured there will be some.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Coaching Dominoes Begin to Fall

The highest profile coaching position open, the one at Indiana University, has been filled with a fairly high-profile coach. ESPN is reporting that Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson will be named as the new coach, replacing the departed Mike Davis.

I find this a very interesting hire. For one thing, this completely pulls up the final roots left by the Bob Knight coaching tree. I think that is a very wise move for Hoosiers' basketball. Knight is gone for good and they need to forge a new identity for their program.

Sampson has a strong track record, reaching the Final Four at Oklahoma in 2002 and only missing the NCAA's once in 12 seasons. He also coached the U. S. under-21 team to the World Championship last summer.

He also has a stain on his resume, however. Oklahoma is currently on the final year of a two-year self-imposed probation where they reduced scholarships and prevented Sampson from going on the road to recruit last summer. There were issues with impermissible contacts with recruits over a period of several years, and the potential remains of further sanctions being handed down by the NCAA next month. During Sampson's tenure, the Sooners also did not post a very high graduation rate.

This is also a departure from the Knight era, one possibly heading in the wrong direction. I'm not saying Sampson is a bad guy. What I do know of him clearly does not point to that. His teams generally play hard and maximize their talent. Oklahoma did appear to underachieve this season, however, and there has been a lot of player momement in and out of the Sooners' program over the past few seasons, particularly involving junior college players. It seems like an odd time to get the call from a big time program still trying to replace a legendary coach, but it could be quite fortutious for Sampson.

It remains to be seen if he will change his approach at Indiana and, if so, still be effective. That will be one of the stories I'll be keeping a close eye on in the coming months.

Now who gets the Oklahoma job? The dominoes will now start to fall at a rapid rate .

Monday, March 27, 2006

The CourtMaster Has Questions

In my latest Duke Basketball Report column, I look at some of the questions that will be answered in the ACC next season. I also share my thoughts on the legacy of J. J. Redick after another poor showing in the NCAA tournament.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Cinderella at the Big Dance

With no gimick, no hype, and no flash, George Mason has become one of the more improrable participants in college basketball's Final Four with their thrilling 86-84 overtime win over #1 seed Connecticut.

Sports Illustrated calls the Patriots "the Greatest Cinderella Story in the History of College Hoops." Does that sound like overhype? Name a bigger Cinderella--I sure can't.

Clearly UConn was one of the most talented teams in the nation, but no team has shown more heart and toughness than the guys from a coummuter school in Farifax, Virginia.

The thing I like the most about George Mason is the way they have approached this whole experience. Rather than having a chip on their shoulder for being previously ignored or their coach Jim Larranaga complaining about the distractions caused by suddenly interested media, they have chosen a unique path. They're having fun. Read some of the quotes from this AP story for evidence of that.

Having fun--what a concept! It seems to be working out okay for the Patriots, doesn't it?

On the other hand, how pissed do you think Hofstra is NOW about not making the NCAA Tournament? The Pride is the last team to beat George Mason, posting a convincing victory over the Patriots in the CAA semi-finals. They fell onto the wrong side of the bubble and wound up getting knocked out of the NIT by another CAA school, Old Dominion.

Oh well, everybody can't be happy. Just ask UConn coach Jim Calhoun (classy in defeat) or anyone associated with the Huskies tonight.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Hey Seattle--Enough With the Whining!

Just when the whining out of Seattle regarding the officiating in the Super Bowl was starting to quiet down, columnist Art Thiel stirred up another round in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer this morning.

Thamel had these comments referring to the University of Washington's overtime loss Friday night to Connecticut in the Sweet 16:

Northwest sports-conspiracy theorists, if you still have your ticket from the line after the Super Bowl, please take your place in the usual and accustomed positions.

That would be:

Bent over.

Again, another Seattle team on the national stage took a hosing from execrable officiating.
Again, a big game was lost to a higher-profile team that the powers would prefer advance.

I don't know Art, but I've got two words of unsolicited advice for him regarding his conspiracy theory thoughts--shut up.

I did not see enough of the game to offer an opinion regarding the officiating, and certainly not toward any issue of bias. The most critical call, a technical foul on Washington's Brandon Roy that sent him to the bench with 13 minutes left, was even disputed by UConn's coach Jim Calhoun, a classy thing for him to do.

Speaking of class, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar took the high road after the game, saying "You're going to get calls, you're not going to get calls," he said. "That's part of the game."

Nice job coach. Even Thiel admitted that, despite the calls that when against Washington, they still had plenty of opportunity to win the game. He concluded, however, by returning to the low road:

Unfortunately for the (W)Huskies, there is no reward for gallantry, no bracket advance for playing well beyond one's talents. Just as there is no alternative for justice denied.

Ask the Seahawks. Sometimes better isn't enough.

Hopefully his readers will follow the example of Coach Romar and not a writer who was up well past his bedtime when he wrote this column.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Expand the NCAA Tournament Field? No!

I was recently interviewed for an article in the Augusta (VA) Free Press by Chris Graham, a co-host of the ACC Nation radio program. He asked me, along with Jerry Palm from and Dan Bonner, who is an analyst for CBS' tournament coverage and a familiar face and voice to ACC fans, our thoughts on the possibilities of increasing the size of the tournament field.

Given our different backgrounds, we approached the issue differently but came to the same condlusion--don't do it.

More Tickets to the Big Dance?

Duke Quits-Redick Chokes?

I was surprised that LSU defeated Duke last night. LSU doesn't play with a great deal of basketball IQ, but they may have the best collection of athletes of any major college team in the nation. I haven't seen a lot of teams that can swarm all over ballhandlers and block shots from any angle like the Tigers. Just imagine if they could actually run a half-court offense.

I was shocked by the way Duke wilted toward the end of the game. They appeared to just roll over and let LSU put a fork in them. Even Coach K seemed subdued, sitting somewhat passively watching the youthful Tigers take the game away from his veteran team. I thought the Blue Devils were tougher than that. I was wrong.

I wasn't all that surprised by J. J. Redick's troubles, although I figured he'd shake loose for a quick burst that would tip the game in Duke's favor. It was bad that he shot 3-18, but it was even worse that he lost his composure. The often overshadowed Shelden Williams (in my opinion the third best player in the nation behind Redick and Adam Morrison) put the team on his back for most of the game, but they weren't going to win without something from Redick.

Redick had nothing. As was the case vs. Memphis and Temple earlier this year, Redick couldn't get his shot off against long, athletic defenders. Unlike those game, both of which Duke won, Redick started forcing shots and making bad plays. As the game went on, he wasn't just a non-contributor. Redick was outright hurting his team.

I'll be writing a lot more about Duke in my Duke Basketball Report column that will be linked here Monday morning. I'll close this post with this thought. Although Redick's game from November through February grew by leaps and bounds over his career at Duke, his performance in the NCAA's didn't. The Blue Devils lost to Kansas in the 2003 Sweet 16, Redick's freshman year. In that game, he shot 2-16; 3-18 isn't much of an improvement.

There are players in every sport who fail to match their outstanding regular season play with clutch play in the post-season. J. J. Redick is now a lifetime member of that club.

Here's an article written by Sporting News Radio host Chris Russell that is inspiring some lively discussion. I think he is being a bit harsh toward Duke but he does make some excellent points.

I am also posting a link to the cover picture from today's New York Daily News showing the embrace between Coach K and Redick when J. J. came off the court for the final time last night.

Crying Games

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Reminder: It's All About the Money

I've written about this before, but this article in the Tampa Tribune brings it to light again; why did all of those schools change conferences over the last three years--money.

This example shows how South Florida benefitted from the move into the Big East this year. The Bulls won a total of one conference game, yet will receive between $600k-$675k as their share of receipts from the Big East's cut of NCAA Tournament money.

South Florida's football program, which played in the fairly nondescript Meineke Car Care bowl, took in about $3 million as their share of Big East bowl money.

What is the driving force in major college basketball and football?

Money--pay attention!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

USBWA Coach and Freshman of the Year

The USBWA announced these two major awards today, and I'm happy to say the winners in both cases were who I voted for; North Carolina's Roy Williams as Coach of the Year and Tyler Hansbrough as Freshman of the Year.

I have written throughout the season what a superlative job I thought 'ol Roy did this season. He never allowed his players to buy into the idea of a rebuilding season, setting the bar high for them then pushing them to clear it. Although I'm sure Williams feels the Tar Heels' stay in the NCAA tournament was too short, it does not diminish his accomplishments this year.

There were other good freshmen this season, but I can't think of one in a major conference who was pushed into becoming the focal point of his team's attack from day one. Hansbrough responded with passion, consistency, and maturity. He often rose to the occassion against Carolina's tougher opponents, but even when he didn't Hansbrought did not allow that to bring his energy level or focus down for their next game.

I'm glad enough of my colleagues agreed with me to send both of these honors to Chapel Hill.

Missouri Valley 1, Nantz/Packer 0

During their verbal assault posing as an interview with NCAA Selection Committee Chairman Craig Littlepage on Selection Sunday, one of the main targets of CBS announcers was the quantity of teams from the Missouri Valley Conference (four) picked at the exclusion of teams from the power conferences.

Guess who looks smarter now? In this piece from Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Tony Barnhart, Nantz and Packer offer no apology for accosting Littlepage that night. They do, however, acknowledge that Littlepage and his committee appear to have done a better job than they originally gave him credit for.

I admit sharing much of Nantz and Packer's scepticism that night, especially toward George Mason. Well, all the Patriots have done is knock out two of last year's Final Four teams, something I doubt any other school has done before. I admit it, I was wrong. In sifting through the carnage of my brackets over the past few days, that has become one of my more frequent phrases.

I work with two people connected with George Mason one alum and one current student. Neither of them are particularly interested in college basketball, but they both came in Monday morning beaming at the Patriots' success over the weekend. Big-time athletic success does have an impact in how people view their school, even those who are not boosters or even serious fans.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I Hope They Never Make a Mistake

Louisville assistant coach Kevin Willard (his dad, Ralph Willard, is the Holy Cross head coach) was offered the head position at Delaware, then he wasn't. His boss, Rick Pitino, is royally pissed. I don't blame him.

Apparently Willard blew away the committee interviewing candidates at Delaware, in part because of his honesty in disclosing the fact that he had plead guilty of a DUI charge two years ago. There has been no record of Willard having any similar incidents before or since. That appeared to satisfy the selection committee who offered him the job, but according to the ESPN report, there were a few complaints because of Willard's DUI and the contract offer was pulled.

It doesn't make Delaware seem like a very appealing place to work from where I sit. The leaderhip there certainly failed to show much strength of conviction or support for their selection. I would love to work for a boss that stood up for me like Rick Pitino did for his assistant, especially given the fact that Willard was trying to leave Louisville. I've never been a big fan of Pitino, but he proved to be a stand-up guy in this situation.

I hope Delaware's next choice hasn't been caught doing anything more serious than jaywalking.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Grading the CourtMaster

In this week's Duke Basketball Report column, I look back at my preseason predictions and grade myself. Overall, I didn't do too badly, but I did shoot a few noteable airballs.

I also review how the ACC is faring in the NCAA and NIT tournaments and have a few words of unsolicited advice for NC State fans who are bailing out on Coach Herb Sendek.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Observations from Another Big Day of Hoops

I didn't have a crowd with me this Saturday as I watched the games, so I have to come up with my own material. Let's see if I'm up to the challenge.

The day started out on a flat note when I watched Maryland's season mercifully end with a loss to Manhattan in the NIT. It was depressing seeing an announced crowd of less than 5,000 withness a lethargic "effort" by the Terps. I thought Maryland fans did a good job generating excitement last year when they hosted NIT games, and not coincidentally the Terps won all three. There was little interest in this game, little energy in the building, and only a token effort by the team. Has it only been four years since Maryland won the national championship? It seems a LOT longer than that.

Does Adam Morrison every shut up on the court? I know there is a lot of talking between players during the game, but I have yet to see him this weekend when he wasn't running his yap. He may be the best player on the court, but he is probably also the most obnoxious--too bad.

Josh McRoberts of Duke is showing me a lot in the post-season. He can handle the ball quite well for a big man and he seems to have a nice all-around game. He could blow up next year when he will be THE man inside with Shelden Williams gone. He's a bit of a hot dog at times; hopefully he'll grow out of that.

I think March Madness on Demand one of the greatest things ever, as long as you have a high-speed Internet connection. Not only can you watch out-of-market games live (like the Albany-UConn game last night), but you get a highlight package and full game replays after the games are over. It MMOD was a woman, I would marry it. Here's hoping the CourtMrs doesn't pick tonight to catch up on reading this blog.

Mike Davis just kills me. I saw him interviewed during the CBS pre-game show, and he took credit for his team's turnaround by making the decision to step down as coach and announce it before the season ended. He wants people to believe that's why he did it, but I'm not buying. Davis hasn't shown me the ability to be a stand-up guy and put others' interests ahead of his own, and I don't believe he did it this time. Since it worked out well, though, he'll take the credit. I wish he would just disappear, but I'm sure he will be coaching somewhere next year.

Two coaches who I don't think have received enough credit this season are Mark Gottfried of Alabama and Ben Howland of UCLA. Gottfried's roster has been gutted with injuries and academic issues, and he is down to seven scholarship players. His team struggled at times during the regular season, but dug down deep enough to earn an NCAA bid. The Crimison Tide showed their toughness on Thursday by fighting off a furious rally from Marquette to advance into the second round.

UCLA has also been decimated by injuries this season, but the Bruins have shown a toughness not seen in Westwood for many years. Give Howland a lot of the credit for that--his Pitt teams were also known for their toughness. He hasn't had time to recruit his own players yet, but he has taken the players he inherited and got them to buy into his mindset. I think the Pac-10 is going to have to take the Bruins very seriously again.

There are not yet any Cinderella candidates in the Sweet 16. We'll see if one emerges tomorrow.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Who has heart?

George Mason has it. Despite playing with suspended starting guard Tony Skinn, the Patriots posted their first NCAA tournament victory ever by pulling away from Michigan State 75-65. Mason played the game at a comfortable pace and took good shots. They made 60% from the floor, making up for 46% free throw shooting. Even more telling, they outrebounded the Spartans 32-23. For Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, whose teams are known for their toughness and domination of the glass, that statistic, along with the final score, had to be particularly galling.

Northwestern State has it. The 14th seed Demons from Natchitoches, Louisiana never backed down from the Big Ten champion Iowa Hawkeyes. Northwestern State won the game on a ridiculous fadeaway three-pointer from the baseline by Jermaine Wallace with .5 seconds left. This was after the Demons had missed a three but secured the offensive rebound. Northwestern State shot only 38%, but took 19 more shots than the Hawkeyes thanks to forcing turnovers and grabbing offensive rebounds. When it came down to crunch time, the Demons crunched Iowa, ending the game on a 27-9 run.

Albany has it. Sure they lost, but they were a #16 seed playing mighty Connecticut, they were supposed to be a mere appetizer for more tasty opponents to come. The Great Danes thought differently and amazingly held a 10-point lead with 11 minutes remaining in the game. At this point the mighty Huskies finally decided to play and outscored Albany 32-9 over the balance of the game. I thought it was a shame for the team that put forth the most effort to lose, but overwhelming talent can make up for lackadasical play.

The NCAA tournament has it. The next time I hear someone say the best 65 teams should make the field and not grant an automatic bid to smaller conferences, I'll remind them of George Mason, Northwestern State, and Albany today. They displayed the heart and spirit that makes the NCAA basketball tournament the best sporting event in America.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Up in Flames

That's the current status of my brackets. I told you I suck, but this is bad even for me. As I write this, 11 games are final and I have lost eight of them. Among the losers were Seton Hall and Oklahoma, two of my Sweet 16, and Marquette, one of my Elite Eight. So what have I learned?

Don't be hatin' on the SEC. I had five of the six teams from that conference losing in the first round, but four of them have already made it through the first round. Winthrop gave Tennessee everything they could handle but still lost 63-61. The Vols made only 5-23 three pointers, but Chris Lofton bailed them out by knocking down a baseline jumper with only .4 seconds left in the game. I underestimated Florida and LSU and overestimated their opponents, South Alabama and Iona. The Gators showed plenty of poise, holding onto the ball and taking good shots. They pulled away for a 76-50 win. LSU also took over the second half in their 80-64 win over Iona. The Tigers posted 20 assists on 27 hoops and controlled the boards to post a decisive victory.

Alabama really showed me a lot in their win over Marquette. The Crimson Tide, with only seven available scholarship players, overwhelmed Marquette in the first half, then withstood a second half run by making clutch plays down the stretch. Raise your hand if you had ever heard of Jean Felix before today. I didn't think so. He came off the bench to knock down 8-11 threes and scored a career high 31 points for Alabama. Felix becomes the first unheralded star of this year's tournament.

Another unheralded star, this one from the 2003 tournament, returned to the big dance tonight. John Goldsberry, a senior for UNC-Wilmington, set an NCAA tournament record vs. Maryland in 2003 by making 8-8 three-point shots. The Seahawks lost to the Terps on Drew Nicholas' last-second shot, and tonight was UNCW's first trip to the tournament since then. The Seahawks moved out to an 18-point second half lead over George Washington, then watched the Colonials take the lead with a 19-0 run. At that point, the game swung back and forth with GW prevailing in overtime 88-85. Goldsberry made 4-7 threes this time, scoring 14 points and dishing out 7 assists. He wound up with a career scoring average of 20 points per game in the NCAA tournament, but no victories to show for it.

Gonzaga continues to squeak by against inferior teams, sneaking by Xavier tonight. They may indeed make it past the first weekend of the tournament this year, but no further.

Then again, what do I know. Excuse me while I crawl up in a corner and lick my wounds.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lower Seeds I Like: DC and Minneapolis

Picking up where I left off yesterday, I'll share with you the first round upsets I've picked on my brackets in the Washington, DC and Minneapolis regions.

Washington, DC Region

#9 UAB over #8 Kentucky. Not much of a reach here. Despite UAB's ugly performance Saturday vs. Memphis in the Conference USA championship game, they did recently knock off the Tigers in Birmingham. Kentcky is not nearly as athletic as the Blazers, the Wildcats don't shoot well, and they don't have a player with a cool nickname like UAB point guard "Squeaky" Johnson. Kentucky needs to slow the game down and have center Randolph Morris work the Blazers over. I don't see it happening--UAB could run away with this one.

#10 Seton Hall over #7 Wichita State--This pick illustrates where I fall on the topic of where the Missouri Valley Conference rates. It was one of the highest in the RPI rankings, but I think those numbers were much less reflective of how good teams were this year than in recent seasons. The Shockers are a decent team, but they got whipped by Michigan State and lost to George Mason during the Bracket Buster event. Seton Hall came back from the dead after being humiliated by Duke early in the season. The Pirates play tough defense and have wins over NC State, Pitt, West Virginia, and Syracuse. The Hall wins a tight, low-scoring contest.

#15 Winthrop over #2 Tennessee. This seems to be one of the sexy upset pickets this season. Tennessee staggered down the stretch, and the Eagles are tournament tested. They won at Marquette early this season and hung tough with Alabama and Memphis. Winthrop defends the three very well (31.7%) which the Volunteers heavily rely on.

Minneapolis Region

#9 Wisconsin over #8 Arizona. Neither team is exactly rolling into the NCAA's with much momentum, but I think the Badgers are a lot tougher than the Wildcats this year. Arizona doesn't shoot the three-pointer very often, but they won't get cheap hoops because Wisconsin doesn't turn the ball over. If the Pac-10 wasn't down this year, I don't think Arizona would have even made the NCAA's.

#14 South Alabama over #3 Florida. This matchup looks a lot like the Winthrop-Tennessee game to me, except these two teams have very similar styles. That makes sense since South Alabama's coach John Pelphrey was an assistant on Gator coach Billy Donovan's staff. The Jaguars are the veteran team here with five seniors and a rotation that goes 11 players deep. This should be a fun game to watch unless you are a Florida fan.

#10 Northern Iowa over #7 Georgetown. The Panthers have lost five of their last seven, but they posted wins over Iowa and LSU (in Baton Rouge) earlier in the season. Norther Iowa also has an unheralded star in Ben Jacobson and a strong rebounding front line. Ironically given their history, the Hoyas are not particularly physical and don't have any tournament experience. Their Princeton offense will struggle to get good looks against the Panthers.

Of my upset picks yesterday and today, Seton Hall is the only team I pick to reach the Sweet 16. If my picks are right (there's a leap of faith or an exercise in delusion) they would play Winthrop in the second round, a game they should win.

The action tips off shortly after noon eastern time on Thursday. I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Lower Seeds I Like: Atlanta and Oakland Regions

Is it too simple to call these regions East, West, Southeast, and Midwest? Apparently, although Washington, DC, Oakland, Atlanta, and Minneapolis fit into those categories very nicely, don't they.

Anyway, rather than write a tedious essay droning on about each first round game, I'm going to cut right to the chase--what lower seeds will win? Today, I'll give you my picks for the Atlanta and Oakland regions. On Wednesday, I'll give you my first round upsets in the DC and Minneapolis regions.

In Atlanta, I only have two upset picks, one a very mild one.

#9 UNC-Wilmington over #8 George Washington. I know GW got hosed being dropped to an eight seed, and I know their big man, Pops Mensah-Bonsu has been out with a knee injury. This is a good team, but one that seemed to lose their edge even before Pops was hurt. The Colonials rely on their athleticism to force tempo and get transition hoops off of turnovers. If you can get them in a grind-it-out halfcourt game, they will take bad shots and make mistakes trying to force the action. I think the Seahawks, with three seniors who were freshmen on the UNCW squad that nearly knocked defending champ Maryland out in the first round in 2003, is just the team to do that. They are sound defensively (only 38.9% field goal shooting allowed) and disciplined enough to control a slow game.

#13 Iona over #4 LSU It's probably going to come across that I don't like the SEC because I have a lot of their teams going out early. It's not that, I just don't think they either have good matchups or are ready to succeed in the post season. LSU falls into the latter category. While the Tigers' coach John Brady has obviously done an excellent job recruiting talented players, they usually seem to fall short of their potential. They are just the type of team, relying on their physical prowess, that is susceptable to a veteran, guard oriented team, and that's just what the Gaels are. Iona's star guard Steve Burtt is the sixth leading scorer in the nation (25.2 ppg). The Gaels also have the MAAC defensive player of the year, Rocky Soliver. This is a bad matchup for LSU. A cool note here--Burtt is the second leading scorer in school history, behind only his father Steve Sr., who playerd in the early 1980's

I've only got one upset in the Oakland region:

#11 San Diego State over #6 Indiana Part of this pick is no doubt motivated by my dislike and lack of respect for outgoing Hoosiers coach Mike Davis. As I have written before, I think he is a whiner who is reluctant to take nearly enough responsibility for the struggles the program has had the prior couple of seasons. Teams have a way of emulating their coach, and I think Indiana has not always played very tough or stepped up during crunch time. I like the Aztecs in this matchup in part because they have a couple of big bodies to throw at Indiana star Marco Killingsworth. I also think the Hoosiers will have trouble keeping up with the fast pace San Diego State plays at, a radical departure from the Big Ten.

I've got a bunch of upsets on the other side of the bracket. Check back tomorrow for those.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The ACC Basketball CourtMaster Awards

My Duke Basketball Column is loaded with goodies this week. I hand out my CourtMaster awards (the Courtys), review how the ACC is set for play in the NCAA and NIT brackets, and tell you why I don't love Boston College and why a LOT of people don't love J. J. Redick.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

An Early Peek at the Brackets

Was that an uncomfortable interview that Jim Nantz and Billy Packer had on CBS with NCAA selection committee chairman Craig Littlepage? It was obvious they had some serious concerns with the selections, particularly the skewing toward teams from the non-power conferences.

There also seemed to be some inconsistency. How do George Mason and Air Force make it in over Cincinnati from the Big East and Florida State from the ACC? How do they get in over Missouri State, which now holds a dubious record for being the school with the highest RPI (21) to be left out of the dance? No, really, I'm asking. Littlepage

In fairness to the committee, it was the toughest year I can remember to pick which schools bubble to burst. There were a lot of teams that looked an awful lot alike, and sorting them out had to be difficult. That being said, I don't think they did a particularly good job. I have more comments about that later this week. Here's the NCAA official policies regarding the selection process.

Coming on Monday, I'll be posting my weekly Duke Basketball Report column. On Tuesday and Wednesday I'll break down the regions and give you my game by game picks. One piece of advice--do NOT use these as the basis for making any wagers or filling out sheets for your bracket pool. It's not that I'm morally against gambling, it's that I suck doing this and I don't want innocent people to suffer.

With my disclaimer out of the way, here's my Final Four:

Duke, Ohio State (not #1 Villanova), Memphis, and Connecticut. I like UConn beating Duke for the championship.

You want sleepers? Marquette #7 in the Oakland region is the only one that jumps out of me. Michigan State, #6 in the Washington, DC region has the potential to beat any team in the nation, but also to lose to almost any team. I don't see them putting together a string of wins, but they deserve some consideration in your bracket.

Start working on your excuses to get out of work Thursday and Friday. I always recommend not using a death in the family because you can go to that well too often and kill off the same family member more than once. That's very bad form. You've got some time, be creative.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Final Thoughts from Championship Saturday

8:40 Syracuse is off to a smoking hot start, making 10 of their first 14 hots. They lead 25-10, but we’re goint to stick with it. I suspect Pitt will come back and make a game out of it. Given the way they play, it probably won’t look pretty.

8:52 The Big East game is reminding us of games from the early days of the league, when the contests sometimes more closely resembled a rugby scrum than a basketball game. That was back in the 1980’s when John Thompson and his Hammerin’ Hoyas were running wild. The quality of the games has improved considerably since those days, and coaches aren’t focusing on recruiting thugs so much anymore.

9:00 We all grew up in the 1970’s, and it’s that background that led the CourtMrs to ask, “Why do they wear those stupid shorts?” “They’re cool,” I said. “No they’re not,” she replied, “they look like women’s coulotts.” I suppose it takes secure men to wear women’s clothes on the basketball court.

9:15 Trolling message boards during halftime of the Big East game, I see a thread titled “Why do people hate Coach K and Duke?” Steve said, “Do they want all the reasons, or just the top 40?” I’m so glad I didn’t smother him with the pillow.

There’s still some basketball left tonight, but unless something earth-shattering happens, Steve gets the last word.

Thoughts on Championship Saturday-Part 4

6:20 We’re watching the A-10 and Pac-10 championship games right now. The CourtMrs is very concerned about Xavier fans at the A-10 with the inside of their mouths all blue. She’s a sweet lady and worries about oral hygene.

6:35 Robin opined that the NCAA play-in game gets too much attention. I offered the idea that the whole concept was a waste. The NCAA was afraid to eliminate one at-large bid when the Mountain West received an automatic bid a few years ago. Is it really worth the aggravation just so one fewer team will bitch on Selection Sunday? I don’t think so.

6:40 Our discussion turned to the issue of whether the NCAA tournament should be expanded to include more teams. Steve seemed insistent on adding teams, Robin offered lukewarm agreement (he thinks that makes him sound wishy-washy, but he was decivisvely lukewarm), and I disagreed. They felt that it would reduce the bitching from teams that were left out, while I feel it would merely change the levels of those that are upset. The only way to eliminate that would be to accept Billy Packer’s inane suggestion of including every team, and we all agreed how silly that would be.

6:45 The guys officially expressed the view that my constant blogging was getting on their nerves. At least that’s how I took the threat of damaging my laptop.

7:15 We’re just sort of killing time waiting for the pizza to arrive and the Big East championship game at 8:00. Both the current games, Cal-UCLA and Xavier-St. Joseph’s are competitive, but we just don’t care who wins. The MAC game is on, but Toledo vs. Kent State is just not doing anything for us.

7:55 After feasting on pizza, we are getting reengaged with the games. The CourtMrs is quite troubled by the poor color and very bad hair that St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli sports. I’m sure he would be touched by her concern.

8:00 Steve’s lovely wife Janice arrived and helped us with the pizza. Robin was gracious enough to step up and accept the blame for Duke winning today. The Blue Devils were winning until he showed up, but his arrival obviously changed things. We appreciated him shouldering the blame.

8:15 The end of the A-10 championship game was exciting. The homecourt timekeeper didn’t give Xavier a break on the last play, but the Musketeers came up with clean blocks on St. Joe’s last two shot attempts. Great clutch plays by Xavier. Maybe now Coach Martelli can get some sun.

8:20 After some discussion, we decided to root for Syracuse in the Big East championship, with apologies to my good friend Sandy, a Pitt alum. I pointed out to the surprise of everyone that Syracuse was now known as the Orange and were no longer the Orangemen. The CourtMrs said, “But they can’t even grow oranges in Syracuse. It’s too cold.

“They grow frozen oranges,” I said.

More later.

Thoughts from Championship Saturday-Part 3

4:10 In between games at the ACC tournament, we checked out the end of the Big 12 semifinal between Texas and Texas A&M. Robin astutely pointed out that with what seems like more teams on the bubble than usual this season, it would pique interest nationaly in games like this one involving other bubble teams. It should also lead to increased ratings tomorrow night for the selection show.

4:13 Watching North Carolina’s Wes Miller start out with two quick three-pointers, I mentioned that I was confident he was the only player to ever succesfully make the move from James Madison to North Carolina to play varsity basketball. I didn’t even look it up.

4:48 We’re following the Big 10 on the small screen, and things have not picked up in their second semifinal, Indiana vs. Ohio State. The Big 10 may have the highest conference RPI, but they are playing some of the ugliest basketball that’s been played this week.

4:51 We’re noticing that, not surprising, there is not a lot of support in Greensboro for Boston College. We wonder if the tournament will ever wind up in Boston. Heading that far up north in early March would not be a trip many fans from Florida or North Carolina would want to make. Then again, next year the tournament will be in Tampa. How does that happen? There’s not a ACC school within 250 miles of that city, but at least it should be warm.

5:10 Both games we were watching were on commercial, so I started flipping the remote (I’m a guy, that’s what we do). I landed on our local Fox Sports Net channel, and they were showing college wrestling. I pointed out that the Big 12 was the premiere wrestling conference in the nation. They patiently waited without comment for me to put one of the games back on.

5:40 Boston College has opened up a 14-point lead over North Carolina. We all feel Carolina has the best chance to beat Duke since they did last week, so we are not happy. Steve said he’d be happy to give Duke the trophy now as long as they promised not to actually play the game and force him to watch it. No dissenting opinion was offered. The Big 10 game still stinks, so we’re hanging in there with the ACC. We just can’t work up any enthusiasm for the Big 12 Nebraska-Kansas matchup.

5:45 I checked the three digital Fox Sports Net channels and found nothing but women’s basketball. If they eliminated women’s sports, would they just shut down Fox Sports Net?

6:10 Steve was very upset that North Carolina allowed Boston College to run down the shot clock with under a minute to go. He felt that was poor coaching by Roy Williams. He wouldn’t shut up about it until the game was over, which it mercifully was within a few minutes. I was able to put down the pillow I would have to use to smother him, and that pleased me. There would have been the investigation, probably a trial, and it could have really interfered with watching the NCAA tournament. Robin was also relieved he wouldn’t have to testify, and the CourtMrs wouldn’t have to worry about checking into conjugal visits in prison.

More later.

Thoughts on Championship Saturday-Part 2

1:35 My friend Steve arrived just in time for the big games—the ACC semifinals. It’s time to get serious.

1:36 The CourtMrs, my wife Brenda, just asked “so what is a Demon Deacon, anyway?” A five minute discussion of unique college mascots ensued. So much for getting serious.

1:52 I just saw Wake Forest’s Harvey Hale bring the ball up court and wondered, “Have there ever been any good basketball players named Harvey?” Seriously, I’m asking.

2:05 Steve started trying to make a case for Wake Forest earing a NCAA bid if they beat Duke. I threaten him with a time-out. He correctly points out that the Deacons are better than either Albany or Vermont who are competing for the America East automatic bid. I totally agree wth that, but reminded him that the NCAA is not about the best 65 teams, it’s about the conference winners and the 34 best teams left over. What makes the NCAA Tournament what is is, besides gambling on the brackets, is the inevitable Cinderella stories, David knocking off Goliath, etc. I hope the NCAA never loses sight of that appeal.

2:23 Just saw a nice closeup of Coach K working one of the game officials. Oh wait a miunte, he doesn’t do that. He doesn’t even like the word. Sorry, my mistake.

2:28 J. J. Redick had a rough first half against Wake. He twisted his knee and missed some game time, but fortunately was able to return to the game. Redick didn’t get a call late in the half and came out for the final few seconds. The cameras caught him yelling “F**k everybody.” Geez, J. J., even at Maryland the fans only wanted to f**k you, not everybody. Wouldn’t that tire you out even more?

2:38 Michigan State is beating Iowa 25-22 at halftime of a Big 10 semifinal. I’ve got two TV’s hooked up and that game is on the small screen. The last time I looked, neither team is shooting over 30%. There are some games neither team deserves to win, and I think this is one of them.

2:55 My friend Robin arrived, and Wake Forest’s Justin Gray immediately picked up his fourth foul. Since we’re rooting for the Deacons, this development was not welcomed. It was suggested that he not get too comfortable if that was the kharma he was going to bring in.

3:00 Robin saw my comments about players named Harvey and remembered Harvey Catchings, a center for the Philadelphia 76ers in the late 70’s, early 80’s. As a reward, he is invited to sit down and the CourtMrs fetches himi something to drink.

3:12 We’ve been noticing what seems to us as an unusual puffiness under Coach K’s eyes. Steve speculated that he was on steriods. Would that be a bad thing? Did he get hooked up by Barry Bonds? We need to sic those guys from the San Francisco Chronicle who just wrote the book on Bonds on the case.

3:17 With the slick look and dark suit that Iowa coach Steve Alford has today, doesn’t he look like he could make a cameo on “The Sopranos?” Bada bing!

3:25 Duke’s Greg Paulis is showing that he will be an outstanding point guard. He is a pretty good one right now.

3:38 We just finished a spirited discussion about why players wear undershits beneath their jerseys. I suppose we’ve already checked out on this game (a Duke win) haven’t we. By the way, for you youngun’s, Patrick Ewing started that trend when he played at Georgetown. He had a chest cold and wore one to absorb the sweat.

3:44 J. J. Redick made a comment during his post-game interview that got my pro-Maryland crowd riled up. In referring to the one ACC tournament he played in where Duke lost (in the 2004 final to Maryland), he mentioned that the Blue Devils might have been tired or let up a little bit. Let up a little bit! He could not admit that his team got outplayed and out-toughed by the Terps that day. It’s that kind of arrogance that leads to fans absolutely loathing Duke in general and Redick in particular.

More later.

Thoughts from Championship Saturday-Part 1

As I wrote last night, today is my favorite day of the college basketball season. There is a lot of it, most involving good teams with the occasional sleeper (like Wake Forest) mixed in. My two best friends, my wife, and one of their wives spent the day soaking up all the hoops we could. Here’s how it went. All times are eastern.

11:40 How would you like to have tickets to the Conference USA championship game, which started at 10:35 local Memphis time? Are you kidding me? I know they did this to get their game on CBS, but again, are you kidding me? I wonder how many fans would be there if Memphis was not playing.

11:55 I saw the first “bracketology” update from ESPN with Joe Lunardi. He had Hofstra, Michigan, Maryland, and Utah State the last four out. I’m not a big fan but I liked that list. He had my school, Maryland there, but I gave up on the Terps chance for the dance early in their drubbing by Boston College last night. I’m not a Tommy Amaker fan, so I would be happy to see the Wolverines drop to the NIT. Hofstra should not get in ahead of my Terps, so that’s a good call too. Knowing nothing about Utah State, it’s okay with me if I don’t have to learn to pick my brackets.

12:20 I love UAB’s Squeaky Johnson. Any player who wears #0, has that do, has that nickname, and his game—how can you NOT love him. Nice pirouette when he got called for a questionable foul too.

12:25 The CBS studio crew of Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg, and Seth Davis (one of the better studio teams on any network) went through their projected #1 seeds. I agreed with Davis, ranking in order UConn, Duke, Memphis, and Villanova. Kellogg should be slapped for suggesting Gonzaga was even a consideration. The bottom line here, though, is that the difference between #1’s and #2’ is, in my opinion, extremely overrated. I know some #2’s have lost in the first round, while a #1 never has, but it’s still not worth all the fuss made over it.

12:40 I checked in on ESPN2 and found the America East conference championship, the traditional opening game on Championship Week Saturday. I have some moderate interest since Vermont’s coach is Mike Lonergan, who was a Maryland assistant last year. They are getting whipped by #1 seed Albany, the Great Danes. Who thought of that for a mascot? Of course, that’s coming from someone whose school is represented by a turtle.

12:55 CBS analyst Dan Bonner correctly pointed out the potential mistake made by a Memphis player who recovered a lose ball and called timeout while lying on the floor. He had the possession arrow in his favor, and Memphis could regret having the timeout later in the game. It was just another example of a player not being sure what to do next, and stopping the game so his coach could figure it out for him. Coaches bear a lot of responsibility for this trend, claiming to want players to think themselves while they try to pull their strings from the sidelines whenever possible. Yes, this is one of my pet peeves. I may cover some others during the day.

My guests are due soon. More later.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Some You See Coming, Some You Don't

I saw NC State's early exit coming. They came into the ACC tournament with a three-game losing streak and injuries. One of the wounded, Cam Bennerman, came back today and scored 23 points in the Wolfpack's semifinal loss to Wake Forest. Ilian Evtimov, however, is still hobbled with a tendon problem in his foot, scored only six. Compounding State's problems was the 40-21 edge the Demon Deacons enjoyed off the boards. State rallied from a 17-point hafltime deficit to make a game out of it, but they stagger into the NCAA tournament with more questions than answers right now.

I did not see Wake Forest's resurgence coming. The Deacons had lost 10 of 12 before their win over NC State to close the regular season. Oddly enough, it was Wake that kept their poise in the second half of their first round win over Florida State while the favored Seminoles fell apart. The Deacons then took it to the Wolfpack today, getting some unlikely contributions along the way. Center Kyle Visser, buried deep on the bench most of the season, pulled down 10 rebounds and Justin Gray dished out 10 assists, a season high. Perhaps the seniors like Gray, Eric Williams, and Chris Ellis decided to make one last stand. This surge will extend their season into at least the NIT, a tournament they just might win.

I saw Tennessee's early exit from the SEC tournament coming, although not at the hands of South Carolina. Like NC State, the Volunteers peaked a few weeks ago and will head into the NCAA's having lost three of their last four.

I did not see a Big East tournament final matching Syracuse and Pittsburgh. The 'Cuse are on an emotional roll, winning all three games in the tournament in the final moments. It's likely to be an ugly championship game tomorrow night, but it will be intense and, if the Orange are playing, it should go down to the last minute.

Saturday is my favorite day of basketball of the entire season. The tournaments are down to the power teams with a few upstarts. We should see some compelling hoops.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Unsung Stars

Two players have impressed me tonight--Quincy Douby of Rutgers and J. R. Reynolds of Virginia. A co-worker lobbied for him when I was filling out my All-American ballot, and in hindsight I should have given him more consideration. Douby averaged 25 points per game this season, a number lost in all the hype surrounding J. J. Redick and Adam Morrison, not to mention the fact that he plays for Rutgers.

He almost single-handedly beat Syracuse with 41 points at the Carrier Dome last month, and has not scored less than 18 points in a game since the opener. Douby kept his team in their Big East tournament game with Villanova for a half with 24 of the Scarlet Knights' 33 points. He is a good looking basketball player who could emerge as a star if he returns to Rutgers (with a new coach) for his senior season.

Since I cover the ACC, I have seen Reynolds play several times, but I've always paid more attention to his more dynamic teammate, point guard Sean Singletary. Reynolds is not as athletic as Douby, but he has the same type of silky smooth shooting stroke (say that five tmes fast after a couple of beers). He averages 19 points, having shaken off a slow start this season to post 22 consecutive double-digit scoring games. Also a junior, he will be one of the top returning guards in the ACC next year, and I will be paying attention.

He's not really an unsung star, in fact I think he has been somewhat overrated, but no player has meant more to his team this week than Syracuse's Gerry McNamara. He hit the game winning three-pointer with 10 seconds yesterday vs. Cincinnati, then forced overtime with another three vs. Connecticut today, a game the Orange won. He only made 3-14 shots, but handed out 13 assists. Syracuse's season was on the line when they arrived at Madison Square Garden, and McNamara made sure their NCAA dance ticket got punched. You've got to love players who come through like that at crunch time.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Indiana Is the Key to This Year's "Coaching Carousel"

A backdrop to March Madness is always the speculation of how the annual "coaching carousel" will play out. We are entering the time of year when schools that fell short of their goals decide to "move in another direction," preferably winning, and change coaches. Open season on coaches started early this year with the vacancies popping up at Missouri and Indiana.

While Missouri, despite Quinn Snyder's best efforts, is still an attractive job, I believe it is Indiana that will be the main focus of carousel watchers over the next few weeks. Just like the North Carolina opening started dominoes falling three years ago, the Hoosiers' job could do just that this year.

In this piece by CBS Sportsline's Gregg Doyel regarding the Indiana vacancy, one of The CourtMaster's favorite writers, he makes the obligatory mention of Steve Alford, but also tosses out names like John Calipari and Rick Pitino--two serious coaching heavyweights. A move by any of those three would be fascinating in and of itself, but also trigger a chain-reaction that would likely result in several coaching moves. For example, in 2003 Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina, Bill Self left Illinois for Kansas, Bruce Webber left Southern Illinois for Illinios, and Matt Painter was promoted at Southern Illinois.

There is a potentially interesting twist here, though. Former Hoosier start and current New York Knicks president Isiah Thomas was seen on the Indiana campus on Tuesday and was spotted walking into the office of the president. Why would the president of an NBA team want to become a college head coach? Have you seen the Knicks play recently?

I don't know of a single objective person who doesn't think Thomas has turned the Knicks into an absolute train wreck, and this could be his escape hatch. It worked for Pitino, who was with the Boston Celtics before taking the Louisville job. Thomas, however, has made Pitino look like the second coming of Red Auerbach. I doubt anyone would be happer than Knicks fans if he was hired by Indiana.

Thomas coached the Indiana Pacers a while back and wasn't bad. I think he could be a successful college coach. Hoosier fans would certainly embrace him, a factor which would be appealing to AD Rick Greenspan after all the grief he'e heard about Mike Davis over the last couple of years.

I'll be watching the carousel spin as it begins to pick up speed, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

USBWA All-American Team

The US Basketball Writers Association just announced their first and second team All Americans.


J. J. Redick, Duke
Adam Morrison, Gonzaga
Shelden Williams, Duke
Brandon Roy, Washington
Randy Foye, Villanova

I've got no problems with this group--I voted for all five of them and feel they are deserving.


Rodney Carney, Memphis
Leon Powe, California
P. J. Tucker, Texas
Dee Brown, Illinois
Rudy Gay, Connecticut

Carney is the only player in this group I voted for. I seriously considered Powe and Tucker and don't have much of a problem with them making it.

I also considered Dee Brown, but found him far too inconsistent to rank among the ten best players in the nation. His shooting percentage is 37% and only 32% for three-pointers. His 5.6 assists are solid, but not nearly enough to make up for his horrendous shooting, which has deteriorated as the season progressed.

Then there is Rudy Gay, the only player whose name being on this list really pissed me off. As I've grown older (not old, mind you, just older--big difference), my tollerance for some things has diminished. I watch a lot more games with the sound muted than I ever used to, for example. Another pet peeve is watching a gifted athlete coast through solely on the basis of his talent and playing hard only when the mood strikes him. That is what I've seen of Rudy Gay. He is clearly one of the most talented playes in the nation and can, when inspired, make plays few others in college basketball are capable of. He has had a few outstanding games this season, but has more often just blended into the woodwork of the court. In Sunday's 84-80 win by Connecticut over Louisville, he made only 1-6 shots, grabbed only three rebounds, and committed three turnovers. In my opinion, he has had far too many games this season where he has not been a factor to merit All-American recognition.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The CourtMaster Picks the ACC Tournament

In my latest Duke Basketball Report column, I go game by game through the ACC bracket and pick the results. I also update my NCAA projections coming from the conference and talk about J. J. Redick's recent struggles.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

#1 Seeds Are Locked In

Is there any doubt which teams will earn #1 seeds in the NCAA tournament? I don't think so. Duke, UConn, Memphis, and Villanova have, in my humble opinion.

Duke has lost their last two games, but falling at Florida State and to North Carolina at home is hardly enough to fall off their #1 perch. UConn, although they appeared to be only mildly interested in their game vs. Louisville Saturday, is still clearly one of the four best teams in the nation. Memphis lost at UAB this week, but their only other two losses were close ones to Duke and Texas--they're a solid #1. Although they play different styles, it's hard to pick a clear favorite between UConn and Villanova. I wasn't sold on Villanova before the season started, but I am now. Guard play is critical in the post season, and the Wildcats have great guard play. They should have beaten North Carolina in the Sweet 16 last year.

There was some discussion about Gonzaga sneaking in and taking one of those top seeds. I just finished watching the Zags squeak out a win on their home court vs. San Diego in the West Coast Conference tournament semi-finals and I have one word to say about that talk--stop it. Gonzaga is undefeated in their conference, but if they were really up at the level of those other four teams, they would have dominated. The Zags were not often dominant, and I don't think they will make it past the first week of the NCAA tournament--the fifth straight year they will have failed to do so.

Another top ten team that won't make it past the NCAA's second round is George Washington. They won their 18th in a row yesterday, an absolute gift from Charlotte. If they play a disciplined team that will slow down the tempo, the Colonials will go down.

I'm not sure anything was really decided at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, but it was nice to see such large crowds for a mid-major conference. There are six MVC teams being considered for the NCAA's. I'm not sure I can get my arms around more than four getting in. After watching some of the games this weekend, nothing there really wowed me.

George Mason's loss in the CAA semi-finals should assure at least two teams from that conference will make the NCAA's. Should Hofstra win, UNC-Wilmington could still earn a bid and make it three teams.

The year of the mid-major is still on track.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

My All-American Ballot

As a card-carrying member (I really do carry the membership card) of the United States Basketball Writers Association, or USBWA, I am invited every year to vote for their All-American team. They also collect votes for National Player, Coach, and Freshman of the Year. I'm going to give you a peek behind the curtain and see my vote.

Player of the Year-J. J. Redick, Duke. This should be no surprise for regular readers. I love Adam Morrison's game, but in my mind, you can essentially flip a coin between his and Redick's performance this year. With all alse being equal, Redick gets the lean because he did it night in and night out against far superior competition. No, that's not Morrison's fault, but if he were really a better player, then would his numbers separate from Redick's?

Coach of the Year--Roy Williams, North Carolina. I know, I'm an ACC guy and have to vote for ACC people, right? That may be the way it turned out, but I stand by this against anyone in the nation. There are other worthy candidates--Bill Self of Kansas and Ben Howland of UCLA come to mind quickly, but 'Ol Roy has done an amazing job with this team. He never allowed them to buy into reduced expecations and has pushed the right buttons all year. I think they will do some damage in March.

Freshman of the Year-Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina. It's a sweep for the ACC. I saw Hansbrough play at least ten times, and he continues to impress me with a low post game that's very polished for a freshman and an intensity that is off the charts. He's called "Psycho T" for a reason, but it's a good thing.

Here are my ten All-Americans. We were not asked to designate first or second team, just vote for ten players. The top five vote getters will make the first team.

J. J. Redick-Duke
Adam Morrison-Gonzaga
Shelden Williams, Duke (the best big man in the country)

Now it got a lot tougher. These were the only threee players in my mind that clearly separated themselves from the rest. There were at least 20 others I considered for the last seven spots. I took this very seriously--it's national recognition.

In no particular order.....

Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
Brandon Roy, Washington
Randy Foye, Villanova
Ronnie Brewer, Arkansas
Paul Millsap, Louisiana Tech
Paul Davis, Michigan State
Rodney Carney, Memphis

It was a good year for big men. I've never seen Millsap play but read a lot about him. He is a beast--not a shot-blocker like Shelden Williams but an outstanding low-post player. So is Paul Davis, not as fierce as Milsap but still a force inside, as is Hansbrough. Brewer and Carney are perhaps the most athletic, all-around players in the nation. When I was Carney shut down J. J. Redick at the Preseason NIT in November, he had to play his way off my team. He didn't. Roy and Foye are two of the better perimeter players in the nation, but they are more than just shooters. They can make their own shots, pass the ball, and play some defense.

Feel free to tell me what you think I got wrong. There is plenty of room for agruement this year.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Early Results From the Academic Progress Rate

This week, the NCAA relased the results from Year Two of using the "Academic Progress Rate."
This metric, which reaches across all NCAA sanctioned sports, is quite complicated. Very briefly summarized, it is a system of measuring the success of athletes in the classroom and penalizing schools that fall below designated benchmarks by stripping them of scholarships.

This year, 99 different teams were penalized. If you attended a school with a major DI football or basketball program, you probably won't see them on this list. Some of the big time schools did show up, but primarily in baseball and track. So what does this mean?

I had an epihany in the shower while I was thinking about that question this morning, then checked and found that columnist Pat Forde had a similar experience (although I don't know if it was in the shower or not--that's probably irrelevant).

Forde noticed that most of the schools penalized are at the lower rung of the financial totem pole when it comes to dollars spent on sports. This poses quite a condundrum. In order to have any possibility to compete with big time programs, mid and low majors sometimes take in students who are at greater academic risk. It's the big schools, however, who have the resources to establish large, expensive academic support systems to get more of their at-risk students through school.

It seems that the smaller (at least in budget) schools have two choices under this system; tighten their admission requirements or invest more money on academic support.

The first choice will only deepen the pool of talented athletes available to the bigger schools who can affort to hand-hold at-risk students and shrink the pool for smaller schools and widen the gap in the quality of teams that are fielded. The second choice would probably come at the loss of one or more teams at a school. In order to put more resources in academic support, smaller schools may very well need to stop competing in at least one varsity sport.

Both solutions ultimately provide fewer opportunities for students to receive athletic scholarships. The ones who aren't good enough to play in the big time and don't possess the academic skills to succeed with limited support could very well be out of luck, or at least out of school.

As Forde points out, the NCAA is known for developing policies that have "unintended consequences," and the APR appears to be no exception. I like the intent of this system. Like NCAA blogger Josh Pastor, I hate that the term "student-athlete" oftens draws chuckles or causes eyes to roll. (Note to NCAA media reps: please don't constantly shove that term down our throats during press time at the NCAA Tournament--it's just annoying).

I think the APR is a step in the right direction, but these unintended consequences need to be resolved. That is, assuming they were actually unintended. If they weren't, there are much bigger issues to address.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

If Your Team is On the Bubble.....

Pay attention to these early conference tournaments. Upsets here would throw extra teams into the at-large pool and reduce your team's chances of dancing.

Missouri Valley March 2-5, St. Louis--There is talk of six teams either in or on the bubble. Bradley and Northern Iowa are probably playing for their lives in the second round. If say a Drake or Evansville gets hot and wins the tournament (not likely but stranger things have happened), then one of the top six (including Southern Illinois, Creighton, Wichita State, and Bradley) are screwed.

Colonial Athletic Association March 3-6, Richmond--George Mason is a lock, and UNC Wilmington and Hofstra are on the bubble. Old Dominion is a real threat to win out which would probably knock one of the bubble teams off. The CAA wouldn't get four teams in the NCAA's, would they?

Sun Belt March 3-7, Murfreesboro, TN--Western Kentucky could get in as an at-large team if they lose this tournament.

West Coast March 3-6, Spokane, WA--Gonzaga is in. If they lose here, they'll take an at-large spot away from another team.

Upsets in these tournaments will shrink that bubble really, really small. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

March Madness-Day 1

Today is March 1, so it must be time for March Madness, right? Well, not quite, but it will be madness on this blog. I'll be posting at least once a day as the events unfold that will take us to the NCAA Basketball Championship. I might look in on the ladies from time to time, but my primary focus will be the men.

Tonight did feature an early taste of madness with Florida State's upset of #1 Duke. What was more shocking, the 79-74 score or the fact that the Seminoles attempted 40 free throws while the Blue Devils attempted only 17? This loss didn't really cost Duke anything except the chance for a perfect ACC record-they are still on track for a #1 seed in the NCAA's.

The much bigger concern has to be J. J. Redick's slump. In his last three games, he has made only 18-59 shots, just over 30%. That won't get them very deep into March. Redick has sat out only one minute during those three games and is averaging 37 minutes per contest this season. Why? Any coach in the nation except Coach K would have to answer that question.

North Carolina is playing the best basketball in the ACC right now. Since halftime of the Georgia Tech game two weeks ago, the Tar Heels have not really been challenged. They humiliated Virginia 99-54 tonight. How interesting does that Duke-NC game Saturday night become?

As for Florida State, they should be in the NCAA's if they beat Miami Sunday. They came into the Duke game with an RPI of 66, but a win Sunday gives the Seminoles a 9-7 conference record amd 20-8 overall. That HAS to get them in.