Tag Archives: Kentucky WIldcats

Crossing the Line

With only two teams left in the NCAA tournament, and a whole bunch o’ craziness behind us, I’m not really into it.   I acknowledge, at the outset, that part of this might just be sore-loser syndrome; Syracuse — my pick to win the whole thing — got bounced in the second round (and the pain was magnified by the fact that my budget for the next three months assumed that I would win my tournament pool — which, I have to admit, is nobody’s fault but my own).

Still, though, simply as a fan of the game, I’m not feeling this tournament.  I mean, I’m all for a good upset now and then to keep things exciting, but I think there’s a thin line between a good amount of upsets and complete chaos, and I think we’re now on the wrong side of that line.  Whether this is a one-time fluke, or a manifestation of a larger problem, is yet to be seen.

Unfortunately, there are some signs indicating that the college game is heading for trouble.  To get into a discussion about the state of the game, it probably makes sense to start at the foundation, and all big-time college sports are built on a shaky foundation.  The problem is that, in theory, the athletic teams are comprised of student-athletes, but, in reality, especially in men’s basketball, today’s athletes don’t seem so worried about being students.  I’m not one of those dudes who romanticizes previous eras; seasons played before the game was integrated are, in my opinion, illegitimate.  And I can find things to criticize about the game during each of the decades since.

That said, the game is not as good now as I remember it being in the past.  In my mind, the “golden era” of college hoops was the late ’70’s – mid ’80’s, when Magic, Larry, Isiah, Michael, Ewing, Mullin, and Derrick Coleman were doing their thing.  Even though a bunch of those guys left school before graduating, the sense was that they were student-athletes.  I don’t want to sound naive, and I’ll acknowledge that I have no idea whether Larry Bird, Derrick Coleman, or Chris Mullin actually went to class.  But at least they faked having a real connection to their schools.  It’s not like they showed up, played a season, and disappeared without even completing their second semesters.  Now that’s the norm at some of the big-time programs, like Kentucky.  Considering that all big-time college sports are built on a shaky foundation, consistently forcing fans to question the legitimacy of what’s being presented to them as “college basketball” is like playing with fire.

But that’s only part of the problem.  The number of guys who are capable of being “one-and-doners” is small enough that it wouldn’t have a broad impact on the game if there weren’t other issues.  But there are.  The main one, in my opinion, is that the game is so unpredictable that deep storylines don’t develop.  As I’ve blogged multiple times, the “experts” don’t have a clue what’s going on.  It’s now standard for a team that was hardly ever — if ever — ranked in the Top 25 to make the Final Four.  Some people look at this fact and see excitement, I look and see chaos.

See, I like a good storyline or two.  I like teams to emerge as powerhouses during the course of a season, and then clash in the tournament.  I like teams that get better as the season goes on, peaking around the time the tournament begins.  But when the teams who limp into the tournament wind up bullying around the teams that bullied their opponents around all season, it suggests that the season is close to meaningless.

Sure, there will always be good storylines, given the nature of the game.  When two traditional powerhouses play, it’s a story, even if they’re having sub-par seasons.  When a powerhouse plays an upstart, it’s the ol’ David v. Goliath storyline.  And when two upstarts meet in an important game, it also makes for compelling theater.

The problem is that those storylines exist by default; if that’s all the game has to offer, then it is in a damaged state.  In order to really grasp people, the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight need to include multiple teams with a few pro prospects on each, multiple traditional powerhouses, and multiple teams that have gotten fans’ attention over the course of the season.  If the teams people got familiar with while watching for months are not the teams still playing in the Elite Eight and Final Four, it fosters a sense of confusion that borders on complete chaos.

There’s plenty more venting to do, but I’ll stop. For now, I’m going to watch UCONN play Butler, and let the basketball fan inside of me enjoy a hard-fought game.  But, come next November, when the polls come out, and ESPN starts hyping the “big-time” teams it wants me to watch, I’ll be watching the NBA.  And when CBS starts broadcasting The Road To The Final Four, I’ll be in my car on The Road To Something Else To Do.  At the rate things are going, I see little reason to pay attention to the regular season.

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Marching Towards March

Ah, February… Scarves, gloves, shovels, hats, frozen windshields, slippery roads, and yellow snow.  At least the college basketball season is heating up!

A few notes about the NCAA before the MADNESS is upon us:

1.  Jimmer Fredette.  He’s the real deal; unlimited range, and good enough going to the rim that he keeps the defense honest.  Kind of reminds me of Stephen Curry at Davidson a few years ago.

Last year, when “mid-majors” were upsetting majors in the tournament, I hoopserved that, although conventional wisdom is that those upsets happen because the mid-major teams are more likely to have a bunch of seniors and juniors who had played together for years and mastered the system they played in, the victorious “mid-major teams” generally weren’t winning with gimmicky zone defenses or backdoor cuts on offense — they were generally winning because they had the best player on the court.  (Here.)  I’m going to be sure to keep that lesson in mind when I’m filling out my bracket, and deciding how far I think BYU is going to go.

2.  Jared Sullinger on Ohio State averages more than 18 ppg, 10 rpg, and shoots better than 58%.  My kind of player (which is ironic, considering that I break out in hives whenever I come within 2 feet of the paint).  Ohio State will be limited by the fact that they haven’t played a very tough schedule, but if there’s a way to overcome that problem, it’s with a big man who likes to operate down low — like Sullinger.

3.  The Big East is very tough to make sense of.  Lots of Big East teams are, or have been, ranked very highly.  And a bunch of these teams have lost conference games, making it difficult to determine whether the Big East is (1) simply much better and deeper than the other conferences, or (2) full of a bunch of mediocre teams, none of whom will be able to generate a head of steam heading into the tournament.

I’m not entirely sure how to answer that question, but it must be worth something that:

Pitt beat Texas, the #3 team in the country, and so did UCONN;

St. John’s beat Duke, the #5 team in the country;

UCONN beat Kentucky, the #10 team in the country, and

Syracuse beat Michigan State, back when Michigan State was the #8 team in the country.  Of course, since that game, Michigan State essentially fell apart, suggesting that it did not deserve to be ranked so highly in the first place.

That’s probably true, but it only shows us that traditional rivals to the Big East, such as the Big 10, are not exactly making a strong case to be recognized as the best conference in the country.  The rankings may be off, but it has to mean something that the Big East currently has three teams in the top 10 (Pitt, UCONN, Notre Dame) and four in the next 10 (Villanova, Georgetown, Syracuse, Louisville).  Unless my calculator is broken, that’s seven teams in the top 20, in a year when San Diego State and BYU are consistently ranked in the top 10.

Basically, even though they’ve burned me before, I’ll be picking Big East teams to advance deep into the tournament.  Well… at least until they run into Jared Sullinger’s Buckeyes or Jimmer’s Cougars.


  • TigerHeel

    Funny how Tweener links to an old, on-point article about picking NCAA tourney upsets when he mentions Fredette (who reminds me of Deron Williams at Illinois) but fails to recognize his previous postings praising Izzo when reporting on Michigan State’s swoon. Izzo’s/MSU’s struggles this year recall last year’s disappointing UNC team and prove, once again, that even the best programs and coaches have a down year every now and then. The Tar Heels, by the way, are quietly playing their best basketball of the year heading into Cameron on Wednesday. Duke should win on Wednesday but expect the game to be a classic Duke-Carolina game unlike the last game between the rivals in Cameron.

    Regarding making sense of the Big East, that conference is a reflection of all of college basketball this season. Apart from the top 5 teams (as currently accurately ranked), the next 30 or so are just about interchangeable.

    My top-four conference rankings at this point: 1. Big East (by wide margin), 2. Big 12, 3. ACC (underrated) and 4. Big 10 (slipping each day). Not too much farther down the list would be the Ivy League, which is boasting its strongest teams at the top in a long, long time.

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  • Tweener

    TigerHeel! Always good to have you. A few responses:
    1. I wasn’t linking to an old article to pat myself on the back. I’m well aware that there’s stuff in old articles that makes me look bad (I picked the Cavs to make the playoffs this year!). Good dig, though.
    2. Aside from Pitt, the teams “at the top of” the Big East have changed a few times this year.
    3. What I’m looking to see is whether the Big East teams get a boost from playing all the tough competition this year, or whether it winds up meaning nothing.
    4. ACC underrated? Who’s dangerous other than Carolina and Duke?

  • TigerHeel

    FSU was looking like a good sleeper tourney team because they are so good defensively. But yesterday the Seminoles lost their best player (Chris Singleton) for the year because of a broken foot. BC, Clemson and Maryland are all solid and would be in the middle of most conferences other than the Big East, which is just stacked.

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