Friday, March 27, 2009

March Madness Tidbits

With the field for the Elite Eight almost set, I look at some of the teams that have made it this far and realized how...predictable this year's tournament has been. In the Sweet Sixteen alone, all four regions saw their top three seeds advance, and of those four three of them saw their fifth seed or higher advance as the final member of each region's Final Four.
  • Arizona: Ill admit it, I was one of the few people who believed that you would be able to make it past day one of the tournament this year. However, when I saw Wake Forest lose on day one, I realized that 'Zona had a great chance to make a run in the tournament. Unfortunately, you had to play Louisville at some point, but I commend Nic Wise, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Russ Purnell for the job they did getting the 'Cats this far.
  • Purdue: Another team that people were not that high on for some reason, yet they ran to the Sweet Sixteen and played a tough game against UConn only to come away a loser.
  • Missouri: Ah, Mizzou. I'll admit that I was excited about the possibility of a Mizzou run, and a date with Memphis in the Sweet Sixteen from the first time I filled out a bracket this year. This run will be remembered as, possibly, the best stretch of Missouri Basketball in school history.
  • Pittsburgh: Once again, Pitt, you tried to lose and failed. That makes three straight rounds where you have tried to lose and failed. If you really want to lose that badly, then REALLY lose. Otherwise, play the whole fricken game amd actually look like you are trying to succeed.
  • Duke: You went a round longer than I expected, though I still am convinced you should have lost to Texas. Villanova completely dismantled you with hustle and execution, both on offense and defense. The thing is: had 'Nova stayed focused the whole time, Coach K would forget about the 30 point loss to Clemson earlier this year.
  • Syracuse: The Orangemen proved me wrong. I believed that their fatiguing run through the Big East tournament would finally catch up with them after a first round victory, but they made it to the Sweet Sixteen. I give credit not only to Jim Boeheim, but his players as well. They played hard throughout the postseason, and showed the definition of Big East Basketball.

The Solution to NCAA Recruiting Troubles

In light of the most recent batch of recruiting mishaps, this time involving the pristine Connecticut Huskies and Jim Calhoun, we are once again reminded of how recruiting violations are not just rarely committed deeds. I am positive that if the NCAA examined every single Division-I school, they would find all sorts of recruiting violations at big schools and small schools. The thing is, it seems almost commonplace for coaches to allege that the "had no idea it was going on", and that there is seemingly no way to police these schools to keep everyone in-line with the rules of recruiting.

So I got to thinking about this issue, and thought of something. What if the NCAA created/immensely improved on a division of people whose only jobs were to monitor each school's recruiting progresses? They would do this by tapping the coaches' phone lines, and handing out registered cell phones to the coaches explicitly for recruiting, with pre-set limits on minutes and text-messages, and with the ability for the all-powerful NCAA to monitor the call history and text history of each phone.

Now, I know that this seems like a complete invasion of privacy but it would completely eliminate any possible excuse that a coach could use to get around this system, particularly why they made x many more phone calls to a recruit than the NCAA limit. Then, if a coach went outside of these guidelines, it is not a matter of whether he knew these 'evil recruiting deeds' were being done or not, seeing that he had to know if he took the steps to avoid using the NCAA registered and tapped phones.

Personally, I think that UConn will receive a minor punishment. I do not think that they will receive Indiana-esque sanctions, since Nate Miles was already expelled from the University but also never played a single basketball game while he was there, so no wins or tournament titles could really be taken away from Connecticut. I think that they will have a restricted number of scholarships, which hampers a coaches recruiting efforts since the overall size of he recruiting pool has not changed yet the key draws to his program are more limited than they were before, so he must be more selective in his recruiting process and possibly miss out on a few big-time recruits.

The NCAA needs to take some sort of measure to try and combat the ease with which schools get away with these 'recruiting atrocities', or they need to just get rid of the rules alltogether since we will never be able to fully tell who is really abiding by the rules and who is not.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sweet 16 Match-ups Part Two: The Refs Hold the Key

Another match-up that could be entertaining to watch will be the Villanova Wildcats taking on the Duke Blue Devils. In the second round, Villanova came out and destroyed UCLA by roughly 20 points, while Duke barely survived Texas. The key to Duke's survival was the officiating by the referees of that game.

With all due respect to Coach K, for what he has done over the course of his Hall-of-Fame career, the true reason that his team beat Texas was because of his constant complaining to the officials. I realize that, as a coach, you want your players to be protected. There is nothing wrong with that. But there is point where constantly harassing the officials just takes it too far. Personally, I believe that Duke players are given a good amount of calls because they are Duke players, Coach K is their coach, they have to be good and they have to be right. I have seen moments where officials have made horrible traveling calls in favor of Duke, then on the next trip down the floor I see Kyle Singler pick up his dribble, and it looks like he will play some DDR before then taking a shot. (This is not meant as a knock on Singler, he is one of the two kids on Duke's current roster that I respect). But, had the Texas game been called fairly, I do not believe that Texas big man Dexter Pittman would have picked up some of those cheap fouls, and instead of riding the bench and seeing his Longhorns lose by five, Pittman would have been in the game and led his team to a victory.

Now, entering the Villanova game, I am positive that Coach K will have Villanova's tough play in mind, as he will probably begin harassing the officials before tip-off about calling any form of contact between his players and 'Nova players as a foul. Whether the refs actually listen to Coach K or not will have the greatest influence on the outcome of this basketball game. If Villanova is allowed to play the style of tough, aggressive, Big East basketball that they played against UCLA, then they should have a 10+ point victory. If Coach K gets his way again, and by doing so any 'Nova player diving for a steal is called for a foul, then Duke will win.

You can look at their tempos, their styles of play, their offenses, it all does not matter if the officials call the game Duke's way. Personally, I believe Duke is vastly, and I mean VASTLY overrated this year, and that Villanova is actually the much better team. Duke has a lot of players who can hit an open jumper (Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer for starters), but no real big man. Singler is a small forward who Coach K has playing power forward. Gerald Henderson is an athletic freak, there is no way around that, but I do not believe that he is the superstar that Dick Vitale makes him out to be. As much as I would like to make a prediction for this game, I truly cannot until about five minutes in, when I will have a chance to see how the game is being called.

Sweet 16 Match-ups Part One: The Battle of the Tigers

So as I sit and twiddle my thumbs in the doldrums that make up the days that pass by between each round of March Madness, I can't help but think about some of the match-ups on display in this year's Sweet Sixteen. We will see a match-up of run-and-gun teams, a display of recent and historical powerhouses, legendary coaches, and special players.

By far the most exciting match-up to watch should be the game between Memphis and Missouri. When the seedings came out, and I saw that the Mizzou Tigers were a three seed, I was stunned. I had been keeping an eye on them all year. I saw them beat Kansas and Oklahoma at home, but I also saw them get flattened by the very same Jayhawks a month later. Nonetheless, they have come out of the gate ready to play and have not disappointed. As for Memphis, I was surprised that they were not given a number one seed, though my guess is that the commitee decided UConn's strength of schedule gave them a better argument than Memphis' in-conference wins. This game will feature two teams that utilize the "40 minutes of hell" tempo on both sides of the ball, so we should see scores in at least the high 70's. Ultimately the keys will be these to determine the winner:
  1. Can Missouri keep up with Memphis in the first half?
  2. Can either team's full-court trap defense be succesful?
  3. Can Memphis hold off Missouri's strong second-half surges?
If Missouri can keep up with Memphis in terms of first-half scoring, you have to like Missouri's chances. Mizzou's main trouble has been their first-half of basketball games, and it is usually where they dig themselves into a hole. Key number two is important because both teams have full-court defenses that thrive off of traps and forcing turnovers, and if one team's defense is more succesful than the other team's, look out. The third key is important assuming Memphis does not go into halftime up by 20 points. Missouri on the season has averaged close to 60 points in the second-half of their games. Coach John Calipari will make sure his Memphis team is aware of that heading into the game, and will surely remind them of it at halftime. If Memphis gets a little too lackadaisical in the second-half, thinking that their lead is secure, then they will blink and will not make the Elite Eight.

Ultimately, I think Memphis will win this game. This is no knock on the lovable Missouri Tigers, but I do not think that they have a defensive answer for freshman phenom Tyreke Evans, or for Memphis' staggering depth in the front-court. Missouri has two main scoring outlets in Demarre Carroll and Leo Lyons, both of whom have played very well all year, but unless they get help from everyone else, I don't think Mizzou will pull out a win. I think Missouri will make it more of an entertaining game than most people think it will be, but barring any Memphis meltdowns, Missouri will be heading home after Thursday's game.