Addressing an onslaught of ACC questions and more of your mail (cont.)
I keep hearing about Michigan State without Lucas and the Ohio State record without Turner. I realize that Turner is one of the top five players in the country and Lucas is pretty good himself, but how come nothing is ever written about how Wisconsin is playing without Jon Leuer? He's Wisconsin's leading scorer and only post presence and is a huge loss. He could have easily been the difference in Wisconsin's two-point loss at Purdue and nobody seemed to give Wisconsin a break for that loss, yet MSU is granted a free pass for losing to Illinois without Lucas. Doesn't seem right.
I've tried to give Wisconsin as much credit as I can, but I'm happy to re-enforce the message for Jeff's sake. There is no doubt the Badgers have played admirably well without Leuer, who was having an all-Big Ten-quality season when he injured his wrist on his non-shooting hand during a win over Purdue on Jan. 9. The Badgers have gone 6-3 in his absence heading into Thursday night's game at Minnesota, largely because guys like Jordan Taylor and Keaton Nankivil have taken advantage of the opportunity to get some of his minutes. (This, incidentally, is the quintessential quality of a Bo Ryan-coached team. He always seems to have somebody ready to plug into a hole created by graduation or injury.)
The good news for Wisconsin is Leuer started practicing again this week, so there's a good chance he will be available for games soon. That means the team he will play for will be even better than the one he was playing for a month ago. And that means Wisconsin will be one tough out in the tournament. You'll note, Jeff, that when I broke down the media's mock bracket on Monday, I had Wisconsin advancing to the Elite Eight.
What does it say about a team that shows the ability to win games not only when it is playing well, but when it is playing badly? An example is Kansas versus Colorado -- not exactly the best effort that Kansas can give, yet despite the horrid free-throw and perimeter shooting, the Jayhawks were able to make the defensive play at the end of the game to force overtime and then pull away in overtime for the win. Doesn't a win in that scenario say more about their chances come March than the blowout of Missouri a week earlier?
I could not agree with you more, David. You may recall that several weeks ago, I passed along the following Zen Hoop Thought: "A good player knows how to play well when he's not playing well." The same can be said for a great team -- and Kansas is a great team. The Colorado game is a good example, but Monday's win at Texas A&M is an even better one. The Aggies are a solid team, they were playing at home, they and their fans were hyped to the gills, the Jayhawks got seven points from Sherron Collins and made just 1-for-10 from three-point range ... and still found a way to win. You have to dig out that kind of a win at some point during the NCAA tournament, and no team in the country is better at playing well when it is not playing well (though Kentucky is growing up fast in this regard). That's why the Jayhawks are my pick to win it all.
I am a huge St. John's fan and follow every game waiting for them to turn the corner, but after a promising start with wins over Temple, Georgia and Siena, they have fallen off and remain a bottom feeder in the Big East. I know the conference is tough, but I see schools like Seton Hall, South Florida and others achieve big wins against the top-tier programs in the conference and I am beyond frustrated with our being on the cusp but unable to make the next step. I appreciate what Norm Roberts has done in the wake of the Mike Jarvis era, but I think it is time for a change of direction. What are your thoughts on the situation at St. John's and what candidates would you look toward as potential replacements?
This is a common lament, Russell, and I wish I had an easy answer for you. I have written in the past about the depth of St. Johns' problems, and why it will be difficult (more likely impossible) to re-capture the glory years of Lou Carnesecca.
Norm Roberts is now in his sixth year as coach, but to be fair the first two really shouldn't count given how depleted the program was in the wake of Jarvis' departure. Even so, four years is enough to prove to fans that the program is headed in the right direction. As for what is going to happen with Roberts, I know most people assume he will not make it, but Jim O'Connell of the Associated Press, a St. John's alum who knows the program as well as anyone, told me recently that he believes Roberts has a good chance of coming back. The way Oc sees it, there is only one person that will have a say into whether Roberts will be retained as coach, and that is Rev. Donald Harrington, the St. John's president. Harrington is far less concerned with the team's performance on the court than its performance in the classroom and in the community. There are no more scandals at St. John's, no blaring headlines to embarrass the university. As long as that is the case, Roberts will have a fighting chance to keep his job.