Sweet 16 thoughts
My picks, coaching changes, W. Kentucky's chances
Posted: Tuesday March 25, 2008 12:20PM; Updated: Tuesday March 25, 2008 2:51PM
Greetings, Hoop Thinkers. Like you, I am still recovering from a wondrous four days of wall-to-wall hoops. When you get down to the Sweet 16, you just gotta rip and run. Herewith my thoughts on the week that was and the one about to be:
If you look at all the teams that matched up against No. 1 seeds in the second round, you could have made a case that Arkansas was best-suited to put up a good fight. That the Hogs were never within spitting distance of North Carolina should let you know just how dominating the Tar Heels looked over the first two games. Ty Lawson was terrific (no turnovers in either game), but as I've said before, I think North Carolina is benefiting immeasurably from being without Lawson for seven games. His absence forced everyone else into unfamiliar roles and got them accustomed to playing with Lawson's backup, Quentin Thomas. Lawson came back early enough to play himself into form, but his legs are more fresh than they might have been had he played a complete ACC season. If the Heels aren't the team to beat, I'd like to know who can beat 'em.
It was a shame to see Indiana fall apart in the wake of Kelvin Sampson's firing. You can't blame Dan Dakich for what happened -- anybody in that situation would have had enormous difficulty -- but the Hoosiers' collapse does raise the question of why Dakich was named interim head coach in the first place. There is really only one answer to that question, and a pretty lame one at that: He is an IU alum. So he got the job even though he only joined the staff as director of basketball operations last fall. Meanwhile, Sampson's top assistant, Ray McCallum, who came with Sampson from Oklahoma and whose name has never come up in any of the NCAA's allegations, was passed over. Dakich has a reputation as a good coach and a good guy and I know he'll find work somewhere (it may still be as an assistant at IU), but I don't know anyone who thinks that he'll be named permanent head coach. At this point the smart money is still on Washington State's Tony Bennett, but that's just an informed guess.
Speaking of Bennett, I can't say enough about the job Washington State did in collaring Notre Dame's high-octane offense. Washington State and Wisconsin have similar profiles, which shouldn't be surprising since Bennett's dad used to coach in Madison. The one question I have with the Cougars is whether they can run with North Carolina. Last year, they were more capable of putting points on the board, but Washington State will have a hard time winning 85-80. The Cougars need to try for 65-60.
Bruce Pearl obviously knows his hoops and is more familiar with his personnel than I am, but I have to question his decision to bench his starting point guard, Ramar Smith, in favor of small forward J.P. Prince the first two rounds. Smith may be playing poorly, but at least he resembles a point guard. Prince is simply ill-suited to play the position (witness his seven turnovers against Butler) and almost cost the Volunteers the game with that unforced traveling error on the final possession of regulation. Pearl was forced to play Smith at the point in overtime and it paid off -- barely. This is a situation that needs to be corrected fast, because if Butler was able to force the Volunteers into committing 20 turnovers, imagine what Louisville's Pitino-ized pressure is going to do to them.
The next time someone scoffs at the argument that guard play is overrated in the NCAA tournament, they should watch a DVD of Davidson's upset of Georgetown on Sunday afternoon in Raleigh. The Hoyas had one of the best centers in the country in Roy Hibbert, yet he spent most of the game in foul trouble and grabbed just one lonely rebound. In fact, Georgetown was able to build its lead over the Wildcats once Hibbert went to the bench with two fouls midway through the first half. One good sign for Georgetown moving forward is the play of freshman guard Chris Wright. He came back two weeks ago after missing most of the season with a badly sprained ankle. He gave the Hoyas some quality minutes Sunday and should be an impact player in the league next year as long as he remains healthy.
Allow me to make two points about Stephen Curry. First of all, his name is pronounced "STEFF-en." It's not STEVE-en, or stef-FON. Second, let's not be too hard on Seth Greenberg for declining to recruit the kid to Virginia Tech, even though his dad played there. Curry was in the backyard of every ACC team and nobody bit. Just goes to show how much guesswork goes into this stuff.
Wisconsin is not a great team, but it is a very good one when its starting guards, Michael Flowers and Trevon Hughes, are making outside shots. That gave the Badgers a dimension they don't usually have, enabling them to get past Kansas State in the second round even though the Wildcats have two future lottery picks in Michael Beasley and Bill Walker. Wisconsin does have a consistent dead-eye off the bench in Jason Bohannon, but if Flowers and Hughes continue to provide a scoring lift, Wisconsin could well find itself playing in San Antonio one week from Saturday.
I still like Kansas to come out of this region for the simple reason that the Jayhawks, unlike the other three teams remaining, can play different styles. Villanova and Davidson need to run; Wisconsin needs to walk. But KU can win either way. And they will.
On another Kansas-related note, I am still hearing that Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder is considering jettisoning Sean Sutton so he can make a run at Bill Self, an OSU alum. And if Holder can't get Self, word is he's deeply interested in Kentucky's Billy Gillispie. Why would Holder think he could pry away coaches from two of the most storied programs in college basketball history? Because he has Boone Pickens, the billionaire alumnus who donated $165 million to the Oklahoma State athletic department two years ago. I've heard some crazy contract figures being tossed around -- anywhere from 10 years, $30 million to five years, $20 million, which is tip money for Pickens -- but at the end of the day I have a hard time envisioning either Self or Gillispie leaving their current gigs. It would be a shame if Oklahoma State fired Sutton, who did a very respectable job this season under trying circumstances, all in a careless effort to buy a big-name coach who ends up turning them down.