Lessons from a mock tournament selection, more hoop thoughts (cont.)
Other Hoop Thoughts
You may not know that the Big 12 has moved its tournament championship game from a 3:30 tipoff on Selection Sunday to an evening tipoff the night before. The reason: the league believed it was being punished when it came to seeds because its tournament ended so close to the release of the bracket. I can think of at least one instance where that was the case. In 2005, it appeared that Oklahoma State had cemented a No. 1 seed by winning the Big 12 championship, but the Cowboys ended up seeded second in the Midwest, while Washington, which had won the Pac-10 the night before, got a No. 1 seed in the West.
It must be frustrating for Michigan State fans to see their if-it's-not-one-thing-it's-another season keep their Spartans at less than full strength. (The latest infirmity has Raymar Morgan missing the last three games due to walking pneumonia. Tom Izzo has said he'll play tonight against Purdue.) But take it as a very good sign that 6-foot-8 freshman forward Delvon Roe is rounding into form. I watched Roe play a lot during the summer before his senior year of high school, and I thought he was the best player in his class. He has had two knee surgeries since then, but while it has taken him a while to regain his explosiveness, Roe turned in his best performance as a Spartan when he had 14 points and 10 rebounds in a win at Michigan.
Suspect point guard play continues to be a problem at Xavier, which has lost two of its last three games. The Musketeers' two point guards, Terrell Holloway and Dante Jackson, combined for zero assists in a loss at Duquesne on Feb. 7. Sean Miller moved Jackson to the starting lineup in place of Holloway for Saturday's win over Fordham, but that's not the kind of shuffling a coach needs to be doing this late in the season.
In case you missed missed it, Jerel McNeal broke Marquette's 40-year-old career-scoring record last week. That kid has had an amazing season and a great career.
You can't overstate the impact Juan Pattillo's return is having on Oklahoma. Since deciding to lift his redshirt and join the team last month, Pattillo, a 6-6 former junior college All-America, has given this team exactly what it needed -- a freaky athletic glue guy who can inject great energy off the bench. Who needs the Jigsaw Man when you can make a move like that in late January?
Not only did Indiana coach Tom Crean suspend Devan Dumes for throwing elbows during last week's loss at Michigan State, but Crean also made Dumes face the media the next day. That's called teaching, folks.
Toney Douglas gets most of the props at Florida State (deservedly so; he is the team's leading scorer at 20.3 ppg). But the inside play of 7-1 freshman center Solomon Alabi has had just as much to do with the Seminoles' success. Alabi was especially effective in the team's biggest win of the season, when he had 17 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and two steals in the comeback win at Clemson on Feb. 7.
Yes, Duke has its share of problems at point guard and center, but the guy who's really hurting this team (at least from an offensive standpoint) is Jon Scheyer. The 6-5 junior guard is posting the worst three-point shooting of his career (35.0 percent) and has been especially bad in his last six games, where he has made 11-for-38 from behind the arc.
For all you bubbleologists, take a look at Virginia Tech's final five regular season games: vs. Florida State, at Clemson, vs. Duke, vs. North Carolina, at Florida State. Saturday's loss at Maryland dropped the Hokies' ACC record to 6-4. If they beat Virginia to go to 7-4, they'll need to win just one of those last five to guarantee a .500 finish. Virginia Tech has been an NCAA tournament-worthy team, but you don't want to end the regular season on a five-game losing streak.
Watch out for Dayton, folks. The Flyers are not a naturally great scoring team, but they are athletic and deep, and they play tenacious D that gets them transition opportunities. They fit the profile for a tourney sleeper for sure.
Hoop Thought from the coaching carousel: I keep hearing that the down economy is going to save a lot of coaches' jobs. At a time when schools are slashing budgets and laying off teachers, it's harder to justify paying an expensive buyout to get rid of one coach, and then forking over an even bigger salary to hire the next one.
Why has Wake Forest stumbled this month? It isn't so much that the Deacons are young, but rather that they, more than a lot of teams, need to play with a lot of energy. Remember, this is not a great outside shooting team. They rely on tough defense and dribble drives that get them lots of free-throw attempts. For teams at the top of the rankings, these are the dog days of February. Energy is hard to come by.
I still say that when all is said and done, the Big East will get nine teams into the tournament.
I know there's been a lot of chatter about all the flagrant, flying elbows, but there is no evidence to suggest that these incidents are actually on the rise. I liken it to the outbreak of shark attack stories that occurred a few years ago. There was no statistical increase, but because each attack was covered out the wazoo it seemed like there was more of them.
When you're a bubble team, and you have a really good team on your home floor, you have to win the game. So well done, Wisconsin (beat Ohio State) and not so well done, Kansas State (lost to Kansas after being up 16 in the first half).
I am still figuring out why Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford had to apologize for uttering a profanity during a game that was picked up by a courtside microphone. It's the TV folks who should apologize, not Travis. It's not like he dropped an F bomb at a press conference. OSU athletic director Mike Holder made a silly stink about how wrong Ford was to use a naughty word. If anyone thinks that a coach using profanity when addressing his players is unusual, then I'm glad you've been shocked out of your blissful naivete.
I've been slow coming around to Arizona State ... but here I am. As well as the Sun Devils have been playing in the Pac-10, they will be an even tougher out in the NCAA tournament because they play such an unusual zone defense. (If you haven't seen it, it shifts and morphs according to the offense, much like Jerry Tarkanian's amoeba zone did at UNLV back in the early 1990s.) Teams in the Pac-10 are accustomed to playing against that zone, but ASU's NCAA opponents will not be. Also, this team is getting much more balanced scoring, which leaves them less dependent on superhuman efforts from James Harden. In the Sun Devils' wins over UCLA and USC last week, Harden attempted a combined 11 field goals.
Incidentally, you think NC State fans are suffering from seller's remorse for running Herb Sendek out of Raleigh?
Yes, Purdue got Robbie Hummel back for the Iowa game. But he shot 1-for-7 and scored two points. It's a shame to see him struggle with his injured back, because the Boilermakers can't make a run in the NCAA tournament without him being at full strength.
This Week's AP Ballot (Official rankings in parentheses)
1. Connecticut (1)
Teams in poll not on my ballot: Butler (21), Illinois (18), UCLA (20)
I'm sorry to hate on my fellow voters, but there is no logic -- none -- to have UCLA ranked ahead of Arizona. And not just ahead, but nine spots ahead. Was I hallucinating, or did Arizona just spank UCLA by 12 points last week? Yes, the game was in Tucson, but it's not like Arizona was a fluke; it was the Wildcats' seventh-straight win. It's time for voters and fans to come to a cold realization about UCLA. The Bruins have yet to beat a team that is currently ranked in the top 25. They have a chance to rectify that when they get No. 22 Washington at home on Thursday night, but for the time being, UCLA is overrated.
I'm likewise confused as to how Xavier can be ranked nine spots ahead of Dayton. I could have sworn the Flyers just walloped Xavier by 13 points last week. Once again, that was no fluke; Dayton is 23-3 with a win over Marquette in November. And Xavier also lost its previous game at Duquesne.
Most of my other differences with my fellow voters are minimal. I've got Purdue ranked six spots higher than they finished because I am still giving them a pass because of Hummel's back injury. Since it's beginning to look like this situation is not going to improve, next week I'll rank Purdue based more on their actual results. You'll also notice I dropped Butler off my ballot completely. The Bulldogs lost at home on Sunday to Loyola (Ill.), a team that came in with a 5-10 record in the Horizon League. I still think Butler is a good team, but I'd imagine the Bulldogs' next loss in their conference would knock them out of the rankings.
Seth Davis' book, When March Went Mad: Magic, Bird and the Game That Transformed Basketball, will be published by Times Books in March, 2009. Click here to preorder a copy.