Posted: Wednesday March 2, 2005 6:09PM; Updated: Wednesday March 2, 2005 6:16PM
OPENING THE MAILBAG...
Brendan Plavich's last second 3 against Indiana could doom the Hoosiers' tourney hopes.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Grant Wahl will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
How will the NCAA tournament committee treat controversial games involving so-called bubble teams? Two instances that immediately come to mind: 1) Indiana's loss to Charlotte due to a timekeeper's error, and 2) Arkansas's loss in OT at LSU when the officials ruled an Arkansas three a two at the end of regulation. -- James Roberts, Little Rock, Ark.
I know that Indiana's Mike Davis, for one, has already argued that he counts the Charlotte loss "a win." (You'll remember that the 49ers Brendan Plavich caught a pass, dribbled and nailed a half-court Hail Mary when only 0.7 seconds remained on the clock.) But when I asked Bowlsby about the matter he had this to say: "We won't change the outcomes of games. To challenge a win or a loss is not something the committee is prepared to do." And so Davis has one more reason (along with an unfriendly RPI and a tough-luck loss at Wisconsin on Tuesday) to pile up the angst.
Reader Perry Littrell of Champaign, Ill., pens a thoughtful response to last week's question: Would Bill Self have gotten any more out of Illinois using his high-low system (and the players he recruited) than Bruce Weber has using his motion offense? Perry writes:
I don't think Self could have gotten as much out of the Illini as Weber has. Not taking anthing away from Self, but Roger Powell, James Augustine and Jack Ingram aren't the type of big men Self needs for his system to work as smoothly as Weber's. The Illini frontcourt players are excellent in the motion offense because of their athleticism. They move well without the ball and can shoot from most anywhere on the court, but they don't have the true post-up, bang-'em-down-low presence that Self needs in his offense. Wayne Simien does, and the Jayhawks are doing just as well as they would have if Roy Williams was still coaching there. I think the better question is: Could Williams have led this Kansas team any better than Self has?
Good points, Perry. Let me start by saying that the success of the three main players in the 2003 coaching merry-go-round (Illinois, Kansas and North Carolina) is a testament to terrific coaching jobs by Weber, Self and Williams. All three have kept their teams in the top 10 for the entire season (and put them in national-title contention) despite having to adapt players they didn't recruit to their respective systems. Still, it's striking to me that certain players (e.g., Simien, Ray Felton, Dee Brown) appear better suited for their new coaches' systems than the ones they signed with originally. Weber made this exact point to me recently when we got to talking about why Brown took so long to accept him as the new coach. "I'm not sure why," Weber said, "because I told him we'd run motion and push the basketball. If I'm Dee that's great. 'Dee, you ran the high-low with Brian Cook [under Self]. Were they posting you up?'"
Yet from the players' perspectives, there's one thing you have to remember: Players don't commit to systems (or schools, for that matter); they commit to coaches. "Coach Self and the staff were my people, so when they left it hurt," Brown told me. "With the new guy coming in, you didn't know what to expect. Some people can adapt to change, and some people don't like it. I'm just one of those guys who likes doing the same thing."
As for your question about whether Williams would have gotten more out of this Kansas team than Self has, that's a tough one. There was no tighter bond in college basketball than the one Williams had with his players at Kansas, which is why the breakup was so painful. (It's interesting that Williams still talks to his former KU players while Self, despite having warm feelings toward his Illinois players, hasn't done so.) Whether such bonds translate into performance on the floor is up for debate. The older Kansas players may not look at Self as a father figure, but it's clear that they have accepted him as their coach. If you accept the theories of another UNC coach (women's soccer wizard Anson Dorrance), guys -- as opposed to women -- will play hard for each other (and coaches) whether or not they like them personally.
That discussion could take us down a long and winding road. So let me just say that I don't think Williams would have gotten much more out of this Kansas team than Self has.
What is Pittsburgh's problem against RPI teams ranked between 50 and 100? The Panthers were supposed to be better than this. -- Coy Ross, Pittsburgh, Pa.
No team in the nation has left me more flummoxed than Pittsburgh. There's obviously a ton of talent there, and winning on the road at UConn, Syracuse and Boston College (by 22!) is a remarkable achievement. So too, in a negative way, is losing at home to West Virginia, Georgetown and Bucknell. It may be nothing more complicated than a motivation issue, which appears to be what has kept Chris Taft from meeting high expectations all season long. Bottom line: If I were a team seeded anywhere from 10 to 12 in the NCAA tournament, I wouldn't mind seeing the Panthers in a first-round matchup. But if they can make it to the second weekend, you never know what might happen.
A team that's very hot right now that no one is talking about is Charlotte. The 49ers went undefeated in February, play smothering defense and shoot well. They have the most underrated player in the game in Eddie Basden. They have a decent front line with Curtis Withers finally coming around and you can't forget about Brendan Plavich who's deadly on 3s. How come they get no love? -- Nathan Greer, Sarasota, Fla.
I refer you again to the 'Bag dated Nov. 24, 2004, we were asked to name potential top 10-teams by season's end that weren't in the top 25 at the time:
"I was really high on Charlotte coming into the season, so I'm not going to let a disappointing home loss to Rutgers on Monday dump me off the bandwagon completely (though the 49ers shooting woes could be a real concern). As for other possibilities, I like Boston College. Call me a Hub homer now that I'm living here, but I think the Craig Smith-led Eagles have the toughness and the experience (four returning starters) to be a potential top-10 team."
Assuming Buffalo wins its final two games against Ohio and Akron, how far into the MAC tournament do you think UB will have to go to get an at-large bid, or must they win the MAC in order to dance? -- Bob Whitaker, Amherst, N.Y.
Reggie Witherspoon's revival of the Bulls is one of the great stories in college basketball this season. But unless the "new-and-improved" RPI carries more weight than I expect, Buffalo will probably have to win the MAC tournament.
Can we still refer to Len Bias now that the word "bias" has been eliminated from the column? -- Don Nelson, Pittsburgh, Pa.
That's funny. Only if the name Len comes beforehand.
I feel compelled as an Illinois State alum to tell you that teeth were added to our "Redbird" in 1995 following many complaints from the student body that the mascot did not look mean enough. -- Chris Vannaken, Peoria, Ill.
Considering all the changes made to the red bird mascots at Louisville, Illinois State and the Phoenix Cardinals, it makes you wonder why anyone would choose a Redbird/Cardinal in the first place. Then again, who says all mascots have to be fearsome?
FOUR RANDOM THINGS
Gonzaga's Adam Morrison told me Monday he has no plans to leave school after his sophomore season despite being on several NBA draft projection websites. Other Gonzaga news: The school is now saying that the correct pronunciation on Derek Raivio's name is Rye-VEE-o, even though all his coaches and teammates are still calling him RAV-ee-o. Meanwhile, I've now seen firsthand why coach Mark Few is so reluctant to leave Spokane, having visited his newly-built, wood-and-glass, lodge-style house overlooking a majestic valley outside town over the weekend.
We don't recommend too many books here at the 'Bag, but if you want a heck of a read check out Transition Game, the latest book by L. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated.
As much as I enjoyed watching Washington in its electrifying victory over Arizona, I fear the Huskies will be extremely vulnerable to any team in the tournament that has a fearsome big man. Arizona's Channing Frye lit up UW for 30 points, and almost all came easy.
Nice to see Illinois make this week's cover of SI. It's only the third in-season cover for college hoops since 1999 following Kentucky's Cliff Hawkins (2003) and Saint Josephs' Jameer Nelson (2004). And for anyone in Illini-land who's freaked out by the "SI jinx," remember that it never hurt Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods or Muhammad Ali. (Or the New England Patriots last month.)
SEPARATED AT BIRTH
The always-reliable Ted Singer of Chappaqua, N.Y., sends us:
Utah's Andew Bogut and freestyle skier/MTV host Jonny Moseley.