The undefeated question
Is it good for teams to go into NCAAs without a loss?
Posted: Thursday January 10, 2008 12:04PM; Updated: Friday January 11, 2008 12:03PM
We have a pretty big story potentially brewing in college hoops. North Carolina, Memphis and Kansas are all undefeated. Here are the number of games remaining on their schedules against teams ranked in the Top 25:
Memphis -- 1 (vs. Tennessee)
Kansas -- 2 (at Texas, at Texas A&M)
North Carolina -- 3 (vs. Clemson, vs. Duke, at Duke)
After losing at home to North Carolina and Charlotte, Clemson will probably not be ranked next week, so that leaves a total of five games against ranked teams between the big three. And none of those games is taking place until next month. So we are virtually certain to enter February with at least one team undefeated. You'd have to believe there's a realistic chance that one of those teams -- most likely Memphis, since it competes in the weakest conference -- will be the first team to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated in 17 years.
(Note: Vanderbilt and Washington State are also undefeated, but I don't think anyone realistically believes either team has a shot of entering the NCAAs without a loss.)
This brings us to the question that arises whenever a similar scenario presents itself: Is it a good thing for a team to go into the NCAA tournament undefeated? Or are teams better off losing at least once along the way to alleviate the pressure?
Personally, I think this is a no-brainer. I say it's better not to be undefeated.
For evidence, I cite the simple fact that no team since Indiana in 1976 has run the table. The Hoosiers completed that perfect mark in a much different media age than the one we're in now. The pressure, the scrutiny, the hype -- it is all exponentially greater now than it was then. The last team to enter the tourney undefeated was the 1991 UNLV squad, which lost in the Final Four. Saint Joseph's managed to go through the regular season without a loss in 2004, but then got pummeled in the opening round of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Whenever I make this point, I seem to be in the minority. I certainly understand the counter-argument. I would never suggest that any coach go into a game and tell his team, "Hey boys, let's take a dive in this one so we don't go into the NCAA tournament undefeated." Any true competitor wants to win every game. But I also believe that if a team hasn't experienced losing, then it doesn't achieve the kind of growth that can only come about through adversity. And at some point, instead of playing to win, you start playing not to lose.
The bottom line is, it's hard enough to win six games in the NCAA tournament. There's no reason to make it any harder by doing something silly like win all your games.
Thanks to my enterprising colleague Kevin Armstrong, the whole country now knows what a poor example Wagner coach Mike Deane is setting not only for his own players, but for anyone who cares about college basketball. In protest of this season's emphasis on bench decorum, Deane has taken to strapping himself in with a seat belt during games. Aside from the fact that anyone who needs a seat belt to control himself should not be in a position to educate student-athletes, but the reality is that out-of-control, undisciplined coaches such as Deane necessitated that bench decorum be emphasized in the first place.
Just understand two things: One, there is no new rule on bench decorum. The rule has always been there. The only change was to add it to the annual preseason points of emphasis for officials. Second -- and here's the most important part -- this emphasis came about at the explicit direction of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. That's right: The coaches themselves wanted to be policed more strictly. So when Deane rants that the "NCAA put a bounty out on coaches," he is either grossly misinformed or willfully dishonest.
I happened to get a hold of the DVD the NCAA's men's basketball committee sends out to officials every year, and here is what NABC president Jim Boeheim said to the refs about this issue: "The NABC, working in conjunction with the Collegiate Commissioners Association and the men's basketball committee, have unanimously passed a resolution endorsing a zero-tolerance policy relative to bench decorum and the enforcement of the coaching box. For the good of the game, you must set the tone for bench decorum by enforcing the coaching box. The rule is there. The support is there. You, the officials, must make the call, and we the coaches must adjust."
Like any new wrinkle, the implementation of this directive has not always been smooth. The most blatant misapplication came during Tennessee's game at Xavier, when Vols coach Bruce Pearl was given a technical foul late in the game for jumping over the line for five seconds before hopping back. Still, as Boeheim said, "we the coaches must adjust."
Apparently, Deane has adjusted with a cheap stunt like installing a seat belt. While he's at it, perhaps he should stick some duct tape over his mouth.