Early awards debates, legitimate title contenders and more (cont.)
Seth, your discussion about strength of schedule has me wondering what the actual process is for schools to create their schedules. Does the head coach control that? How far in advance are games scheduled? Do schools look at the opponent's future rosters to gauge how good (or bad) they will be when deciding on scheduling that team?
Excellent question. Each school puts together its own nonconference schedule. At many places, the head coach has broad discretion, though often times the athletic director will push him towards scheduling tougher opponents who will bring in more revenue. The schedules get done during the offseason, but many of the games are played as part of multiyear contracts. The most common is a home-and-home, but you will often see a series signed in a "two-for-one" deal, meaning a three-year deal where one team (usually the more prominent one) gets two games at home and plays one on the other team's floor.
I'm sure it will shock Chris to learn that the upper echelon schools have a major advantage when it comes to putting together a nonconference schedule. That's because they have huge budgets to play what are known as "guarantee games," wherein they pay a mid- or low-major school upwards of $75,000 to come to their home gym and play a game with referees that the home school has basically selected. I often hear coaches from lesser programs complaining that the big boys can just "buy" a bunch of wins. Needless to say, if you're coaching at a quality mid-major program like Northern Iowa, BYU or Butler, it's darn near impossible to get a high-caliber opponent to come to your gym and play. If the big boys are going to deign to play those guys, they will do it either at a tournament that plays at a neutral site, or schedule a neutral-site road game (e.g., Illinois playing at the United Center instead of Champaign, or Duke playing at Madison Square Garden, a.k.a. Cameron North).
People have tried to legislate fairness into this process, but the top-tier schools are always going to have an advantage over everyone else. That is, until I get appointed dictator of the sport. (Could happen any day now.) One of my first edicts would be to assign the last five teams from BCS conferences to receive at-large bids to the NCAA tournament to play true road games the following year against the top five mid-majors who were excluded. Wouldn't that be fun?
I think this year it's really possible that a team arrives undefeated to the NCAA tournament. (I know it is the old discussion.) Kentucky won games with troubles when they were adjusting to the competition, and now they have more experience and the most terrible rival in the remaining schedule, Tennessee, is decimated. It will not be easy, but I think it is really, really possible (much more than for Texas).
What, you didn't know Hoop Thoughts was all the rage in western Europe? I'm almost as big in Germany as David Hasselhoff.
The fact that Seņor Cecilio sent me this e-mail before Texas lost at Kansas State underscores what I have been saying not just for weeks but for several years: There will never be another team that goes wire-to-wire undefeated and wins the tournament. I know never is a long time, but there is a reason nobody has pulled it off since Indiana last did it in 1976. It is even harder to do in today's media-hyped environment, and you know that machine will not be receding anytime soon. Two other changes since 1976 are the slew of early entries to the NBA, which prevents a team from becoming so dominant, and the far greater number of games being played. (Back then, games didn't even start until around Thanksgiving.) I've also long averred that it is better for a team not to go into the tournament undefeated. It's hard enough to win those six games without that added pressure. Remember, these are college kids -- they're not professionals and they're certainly not robots -- and at some point an undefeated team stops playing to win and starts playing not to lose.
As for Kentucky, their time to lose will come soon, and I think it will more likely be against a team that nobody expects will beat them -- like Auburn, which erased a 19-point deficit at home last weekend to close to within three with 30 seconds to play before losing 72-67. The Wildcats are too young and have had too many close calls to make me believe they will enter the tournament with a spotless record. Believe me, they will be much better off if they lose, and even though John Calipari would never say that out loud, I'll bet he agrees with me wholeheartedly.
Ask and ye shall receive. Your wish to just once see a player block a shot toward a teammate was answered by Al-Farouq Aminu of Wake Forest during an overtime victory over Maryland (video here).
I'm not sure Aminu intentionally blocked this shot to his teammate -- it looked to me like he had to jump as high as he could to get his fingers on the ball -- but it is a great play, especially since he also ran the floor and finished with a dunk at the other end. Nice find, George.
Since Rashad Anderson left Storrs a while ago, UConn has not had a legitimate three-point threat and it has been a huge problem. Why hasn't Jim Calhoun recruited and kept a good shooter? I thought he had one last year in Scottie Haralson, but he ran him out of town.
First of all, let's keep in mind that UConn made the Final Four last year, so the team's lack of a three-point shooter could not have been a "huge" problem. Plus, while A.J. Price was not recruited to be a three-point shooter, by the end of his career he was very good from behind the arc (40.2 percent as a senior). Jerome Dyson was also shooting a respectable 34.8 percent before he was lost for the year. As for Haralson, he only made 26.9 percent from behind the arc in 4.1 minutes last season, so I doubt he would have made much of a difference.
Having said all that, the Huskies' poor shooting is one of many concerns right now. (For my thoughts on Calhoun's temporary leave, click here.) They are ranked eighth in the Big East in three-point percentage (34.9) and dead last in threes made per game (3.8). I've long felt that a team not making threes is akin to playing four-on-five because you're not using every part of the game to your advantage. Another way to look at it is to think of outside shooting in hoops like putting in golf. If you're rolling in a lot of 15-footers, that erases a lot of wayward drives. And right now, UConn is slicing a lot of drives into the woods by committing a lot of turnovers and failing to get more offense from its frontcourt.
Even though the final score of Thursday night's Indiana-Michigan game looked impressive from a Michigan standpoint, I still question whether the team's talent and on-court chemistry meshes well with John Beilein's style of offense and defense. He was able to recruit well to his system at West Virginia, but I'm not sure it will be as easy to do at Michigan. The fan base expects to get high school All-Americans, not the Kevin Pittsnogles and Mike Ganseys of the world who fit his system better. Are Beilein and Michigan basketball a better match than Rich Rodriguez and Michigan football?
Jon makes some excellent points, but the one I would take issue with is his assertion that Beilein will not be able to recruit well enough to Michigan. U of M still is a very big brand in college sports, and Beilein should have a much easier time convincing guys to play for him than he did at West Virginia.
Jon's point about the fan base calls to mind something I've been saying ever since Beilein took over the job. Beilein's offense is so hard to defend precisely because it requires a very unique set of skills. Thus, I would encourage Michigan fans not to judge his recruiting by where the players are ranked on the various websites, but rather by how the team performs on the court. I also mentioned in a recent column that it must be tough for Michigan fans to watch Ekpe Udoh blossom into a first-round draft pick at Baylor after transferring from Michigan because he did not have the perimeter skills necessary to flourish in Beilein's system.
Sunday's win over UConn should give fans like Jon hope, but there is no doubt the Wolverines have been a disappointment this season, largely because of their surprising inability to make threes -- the very facet of the game around which Beilein's offense is built. So while I do expect that Beilein will be able to recruit the players that will enable Michigan to challenge for a Big Ten title, it obviously hasn't happened yet. And until it does, the fans will continue to wonder whether he is a good fit in Ann Arbor.