Calipari to Kentucky as good as done and more coaching carousel news (cont.)
My Thoughts on the Allegations Against UConn
First things first: UConn, like any accused party, is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Right now, this case is in the hands of the school, which is conducting its own investigation. The school will then turn over its findings to the NCAA and recommend whatever penalties it believes are warranted. The NCAA's enforcement staff can gather its own information, but until it receives UConn's report, the NCAA will not officially launch its own investigation, which would begin with a letter notifying the school that an investigation has begun.
That said, make no mistake, these are very serious charges as laid out in the Yahoo! story written by two of the most dogged and reputable reporters in the business, Dan Wetzel and Adrian Wojnarowski. What strikes me about this story is that usually the central figure in these cases only works for an agent -- a "runner," as they're known. The O.J. Mayo case comes to mind. In that situation, Rodney Guillory, who had attached himself to Mayo at a young age, was accused of taking money from agents in hopes he would steer Mayo to become a client. That's the way these things usually go down.
In this case, however, the central figure, Josh Nochimson, actually was an agent, certified as such by the NBA Players Association. Not only was Nochimson an agent, but he was an alum of the school -- and also a former student-manager for the basketball team. That is a devastating set of facts. For the UConn coaches, including Jim Calhoun, to have extensive contact with Nochimson when he was apparently ingratiating himself into the lives of players whom UConn was recruiting boggles the mind. Calhoun can talk all he wants about the NCAA's 508-page manual, but these are not arcane, obscure rules we're talking about here. These are major, obvious and important rules that are designed to at least keep a veneer of amateurism over the whole stinking process known as recruiting.
As I've said many times, agents are a huge, pervasive and corrupting problem. Agents are to college basketball what steroids are to baseball. The NCAA has said it wants to crack down on agents, and if these allegations are proven true, it will present the NCAA with a golden opportunity to show it's serious. Again, UConn deserves a fair hearing, and maybe the school will produce information that will show things are not as bad as they look. But right now, they look really, really bad. I don't expect this will have any effect on the Huskies' performance at the Final Four, but if these allegations hold, UConn is going to be hit with some major penalties.
And Finally, My Thoughts on the Final Four
The cream has risen.
That's what this 2009 NCAA tournament has boiled down to, and that's how it will boil over this weekend in Detroit. Stand back, look at the big picture, and ask yourself who have been the best two teams in America, beginning to end, this season. The answer should be obvious: North Carolina and Connecticut. It only seems right that those two should meet on Monday night in Ford Field.
This is, of course, not meant to take anything away from Michigan State and Villanova. Those two teams have had fine seasons. Villanova reminds me of the 1997 Arizona team that won a national championship. Those Wildcats went 10-8 in the Pac 10, but rode a perimeter-oriented lineup featuring Miles Simon, Mike Bibby and Michael Dickerson to the title. Michigan State, meanwhile, pulled off the shocker of the weekend, not just by beating Louisville but by dominating them. The Spartans have had a terrible time holding on to the ball this season, yet they only committed 12 turnovers against the Cardinals -- and those turnovers led to exactly zero fast-break points.
Still, Villanova does have a bit of a weak underbelly up front. DeJuan Blair had 20 points and 10 rebounds against them. They will again be facing a tough inside player in Tyler Hansbrough, but unlike Pitt, the Heels can rotate a few other big men at Villanova, including 7-foot freshman Tyler Zeller, who missed most of the season with a broken wrist but is now able to give North Carolina a few helpful minutes off the bench. And while Pitt was overmatched by Villanova's speed on the perimeter, North Carolina's guards should be able to negate Nova's most important asset. I'm not saying Villanova can't win the game, but they'll need some help from North Carolina (missed shots, foul trouble, injury) to make it happen.
As for Michigan State, the Spartans were able to slow down Louisville and make it grind it out uncomfortably in the half court. UConn, on the other hand, is perfectly comfortable playing that type of game if it has to. The Spartans' greatest asset will be Goran Suton's ability to force Hasheem Thabeet to defend him on the perimeter, where he is less effective and prone to foul trouble. I would expect UConn to put Stanley Robinson on Suton and let Thabeet jostle inside with freshman forward Delvon Roe, but if Suton is still shooting the ball like he did last week, the Spartans will have a puncher's chance.
In the end, the best two teams will also be the last two standing. This has been another wonderful college basketball season. It deserves a most wonderful ending.
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