Addressing an onslaught of ACC questions and more of your mail
Is Greivis Vasquez one of the greatest Maryland players of all time?
The one game South Florida probably has to win to earn a tourney bid
Wisconsin's done a fine job playing without Jon Leuer, who's about to return
For some reason, the Mailbag has an ACC flavor this week. We begin with a comment that is ACC-centric but applies to a broader narrative taking over college sports right now:
As a diehard fan of North Carolina (I know, you don't have to tell me), I feel you missed what may be the biggest point of how the inclusion of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College hurt ACC basketball. What used to be one of the greatest traditions in college basketball, the round robin scheduling of ACC hoops, was sacrificed and left cold and dead at the altar of college football. It was amazing how much fun it was knowing that each team had a home and away with every other team each year, so if you lost to a school during the first half of the conference schedule, you were assured a chance at revenge. Now some teams are forced to play home and away against the best schools, and other teams get two chances at the dregs of the conference. I was outraged by the loss of round robin and time has not healed those wounds. I still miss it!
I miss it too, Eric, and we're not the only ones. Gary Williams made this same point to me last week on the phone. This, alas, is the result of conference expansion, and the ACC is not the only league that has suffered. The unbalanced conference scheduling has also made the NCAA men's basketball committee's job much more difficult. It used to be you could at least set the order of teams based on their conference record, but nowadays a team can be behind another team in the league standings yet be more worthy of inclusion in the NCAA tournament. Go figure.
I have a feeling in a couple of years I'm going to get the same e-mail from a fan from the Pac-10. Right now the Pac-10 is the only BCS league that still plays the double round robin, but if the league goes to 12 teams as expected, that will also become a thing of the past. As much as we all love college hoops, it is college football that drives the money bus, and the Pac-10 simply can't resist the conference championship football game that has been such a revenue generator for the other leagues. Bigger is not always better, but that's where everything in college sports is headed.
Here are some more ACC-related emails:
In the era of a 64-team tournament, what is the fewest number of ACC teams to be invited to the big dance? I started following the ACC when I first moved to Maryland in 1981 -- probably about the time you were old enough to start following them as a precocious child -- and this seems to be the weakest I've seen the ACC. What do you think? How few could be invited this year?
Scott's sense that this is the weakest the ACC has been in 29 years has more to do with the dearth of teams in (and at the top of) the rankings than the overall strength of the conference. This week's AP poll includes just two teams from the league, the same number representing the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West. The fact that the ACC's signature program is having an epically bad year also deepens that impression.
But let's remember, there have been two times in the last 11 years that the ACC put just three teams into the NCAA tournament. That was in 1999 and 2000. Since Boston College was added to the league before the 2005-06 season (bringing the total to 12 teams), the ACC has twice sent just four teams to the tournament, in '06 and '08. There is still a lot of basketball to be played, but I think the ACC is looking at a minimum of six teams in this year's field, more likely seven given the way Virginia Tech is playing. So while this is far from the best the league has been, I don't think you can say this is the weakest ACC we've seen in the last three decades.
In regards to Greivis Vasquez, I got into a debate over whether he is an all-time Maryland great. I have spent the better part of four seasons pulling my hair out over his turnovers and poor shot selection. However, looking into the record book, I found some shocking tidbits. Vasquez will probably leave as Maryland's No. 2 or 3 all-time leading scorer (he is on the cusp of 2,000 points) and will finish as the No. 2 all-time assist man with around 800. The Maryland fan in me wants to love him for all he has done for four years, but every time he shimmy shakes after a three-pointer, I cringe.
Would you rather that Vazquez missed more threes? I would think that would be more cringe-inducing for a Terps fan.
As Lennie's numbers demonstrate, there is no doubt that Vazquez will go down as one of Maryland's all-time greats -- maybe not Len Elmore-Juan Dixon-Albert King-Len Bias great, but great nonetheless. He is a throwback to the days when we expected players to develop and mature gradually during four years in college. Vasquez's numbers have improved every season (most notably his three-point percentage, which is up to 40.0 percent from 32.7 as a junior), but the best thing about Vasquez's development has been his poise. In the past he let his emotions get the better of him, but now he is channeling those emotions constructively. Remember, he put his name into the draft last year and almost didn't come back, but instead of playing for the scouts, he appears to be at peace out there just trying to help his team win (which in turn is dramatically bolstering his NBA stock). When I spoke with Gary Williams last week, he pointed out that Vasquez has a lot more trust in his teammates now than at any time in his career.
Greivis Vasquez is pure joy to watch. As far as I'm concerned, he can shimmy and shake as much as he wants. He's earned it.
As a Georgia Tech fan, I felt compelled to give you my two cents on [freshman Derrick] Favors' struggles. Another problem he faces is getting himself into early foul trouble. I think I remember both Favors and [Gani] Lawal getting into early foul trouble at Duke and getting blown out. Basically, it seems he gets into early foul trouble, misses much of the first half, then plays tentatively when he's in the game. I worry that teams know this and are attacking him more in the beginning of the game knowing that they can take him out of it when he commits fouls.
I have had several ACC coaches tell me off the record that it was an explicit part of their game plan to go at Favors and try to get him in foul trouble, so Pulin's analysis is spot-on. The numbers also back him up. According to statsheet.com, Favors is ranked fourth in the ACC in total number of fouls committed (71) and 12th in fouls per game (2.7), though his rankings are a little better in conference games. Still, Favors has yet to foul out of a game this season, which indicates that Paul Hewitt is doing a good job managing his minutes to keep him on the floor.
I still maintain that Favors' biggest problem this season has been Georgia Tech's guards. Feeding the post has become a lost art in college basketball, but D'Andre Bell and Iman Shumpert seem particularly lost. Favors is great at running the floor and finishing around the rim, but like a lot of young post players, he does not have a lot of polished moves on the block. Alas, his huge potential will be enough for NBA teams to select him very high in the draft, so it seems Favors will have to develop that part of his game somewhere else.