MSU's many issues, the key to Georgetown and much more (cont.)
Seems to be a consensus that the ACC is far weaker than in recent memory. What has caused this dilution in the quality of the conference? Why would adding some football schools mess up other programs?
-- Scott, Chicago
As I wrote in this week's Hoop Thoughts, in my two-plus decades of covering this sport, I have never seen the ACC this bad. It's not just that Duke is the only ranked team. (I've been ranking North Carolina for weeks now. Don't worry, the rest of the world will soon catch up.) But the bottom of the league (Virginia, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech) is atrocious. Even the second-tier teams have been beset either by injury (Virginia Tech) or underachievement (Florida State's loss at Auburn).
However, I would caution against assigning out any reason to this other than the fact that these things run in cycles. I remember back in the mid-90s the ACC only put three teams into the NCAA tournament. (Of course, that's when the league had nine teams, not 12.) It was only a few years ago that we were all writing stories about the great resurgence of the Pac-10. That league is only starting to come out of its two-year down cycle. The Big East seems to be cycle-proof, largely because when you have 16 teams, you're bound to have a few really good ones. But it's only a matter of time before we start wondering what happened to the big bad Big East.
If there is a trend working its ugly hand here, Scott has touched on it. Adding Florida State, Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech may have been great for football (though ACC football ain't no great shakes these days, either), but it has diluted the basketball product. If the ACC ever adds more teams, it will be done also for football reasons. And that will make the basketball even more sucky. I mean, how many total Big East basketball games do you think TCU is going to win over the next five years? I put the over/under at 12.
Is Missouri a serious Final Four contender even without their No. 1 recruit Tony Mitchell getting cleared by the NCAA? Or do you think they need another talented big like Mitchell suited up to help make a truly deep run in the NCAAs? And if you know anyone at the NCAA, will you please tell them to rule on Mitchell already? This is getting ridiculous!
-- Michael Corleone, Raytown, Mo.
First of all, Michael, I have no idea if that's your real name, but if it is, you are my new best friend. (And don't ever ask me about my business.) Second, it amazes me how certain cases (Enes Kanter, Josh Selby) can be parsed and bloviated ad nauseum, yet another case of a top recruit (Tony Mitchell) on a top team (Missouri) goes totally unnoticed. I plead as guilty as anyone.
For those who are not familiar with Mitchell's situation, he is a 6-8 forward from Dallas who was ranked 12th in Class of 2010 by Rivals.com. Mitchell has never been declared ineligible, but he was not academically cleared by the NCAA in time to be play at Missouri for the first semester of his freshman year. As far as I can tell that is still the case: Mitchell is not ineligible, but he's not allowed to play. Only in the NCAA's America.
One source at Missouri indicated to me recently that they are still having problems getting transcripts and other information from the private school Mitchell attended in Florida before returning to Dallas. But the folks in Columbia seem to be pretty much in the dark as to where this thing stands. Mitchell has until Jan. 25 to be cleared, as that's the last day to enroll at Missouri. While poking around the Enes Kanter situation last week, I asked a couple of people at the NCAA what the latest was. Not only did they not have an answer for me, they didn't even know about the case. That's not their fault -- it's their job to answer questions from the media, not track every eligibility case, and they obviously have not been getting a lot of questions. I'll try to get a better answer for you soon as to where this stands, and I hope to have an update by the time I hit the airwaves on CBS this weekend.
Now to the other part of Michael Corleone's question. (I know it was you, Fredo! You broke my heart!) Yes, Mizzou is a Final Four contender, even without Mitchell. Like a lot of teams, the Tigers will have a hard time surviving a real bad shooting night, especially since they're not a very good rebounding team. (The Tigers were 4-for-16 from three-point range in their loss at Colorado, and they were beaten on the boards by 13.) We'll know a little more about them in a couple of weeks because they are about to hit a tough stretch in their Big 12 schedule. They should have an easy time with Nebraska at home tonight, but check out their next seven games: at Texas A&M, Kansas State, Iowa State, at Texas, at Oklahoma State, Colorado, at Kansas. It's gonna be fuuuuunnn.
One interesting query sent to my Facebook page:
According to BracketAnalystics.com, 69 percent of the time, two teams from one conference make the Final Four. Which conference is most likely to do so this year?
-- J.C. Corrigan
Wow, just what the world needs: another bracket analysis site. I'll check it out. That is an amazing stat, though -- I would not have guessed it. Tell you what, J.C. I'll take the Big East, and you can have the field. See ya in Houston.
And finally, here are two questions that were submitted via Twitter:
How do you see UGA finishing this season? My Dawgs deserve the top 25.
When you're a good team with high aspirations and you lack a signature win, you must beat the best team in your league when it comes to your gym. Period. So mad props go to Mark Fox's crew for knocking off Kentucky in Athens over the weekend. I had promised that if they won that game, I would put them on my AP ballot. I was obviously not the only one as Georgia entered the poll this week at No. 24.
Obviously the most important thing that has happened to this team is that junior forward Trey Thompkins, who missed the first three games with a high ankle sprain, has returned to form. Players will tell you that a high ankle sprain is extremely painful, and even after you get back on the court it takes a while to shake off its ill effects. The first two games Thompkins played were against Notre Dame and Temple in the Old Spice Classic, and they were the only two games the Bulldogs have lost. Fortunes can change very quickly in this sport, and Georgia has another big game tonight at Vanderbilt. But at this point, I'd say that if the Bulldogs can stay healthy, they will be primed for a very satisfying NCAA tournament.
Is Tennessee the team that is currently unranked that has the best chance of making a deep run in the tournament?
First of all, we can't even be sure the Vols will get into the tournament at all. The committee doesn't technically include a team's record in its last 12 games as part of its criteria, but I still think the members place added value on what happens late in the year. That said, I think it's pretty obvious that among unranked teams you'd have to go with Michigan State, who I'm guessing won't be unranked for long. There are actually a few pretty good unranked teams right now, while somehow teams like Louisville, Kansas State and Cincinnati are in the Top 25. Baylor, Florida, UNLV, Vanderbilt, Saint Mary's, North Carolina, Gonzaga, West Virginia, St. John's -- all of those teams are capable of at least making it to the second weekend. It's gonna be a wild and wacky tournament. Then again, it always is.
Read ya next week, Hoopheads. In the meantime, cheer up!
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