Opening it up
We haven't had a straight/no chaser 'Bag for a while, so let's dig in:
Excellent question, Ben. If last week's 'Bag featured our Magic Eight, you can call these guys the Frightening Fifteen. (Note that they have something else in common, too: they've all been successful.) Here goes:
There isn't a similar "advantage" rule in hoops, unfortunately, and in my mind that's a shame. Consider a sequence in Kentucky's win over Tennessee on Tuesday night. With Kentucky leading 54-52 with just over six minutes to play, the Vols'
I also get annoyed when a team plays great half-court offense, forces its opponent to take a tough shot to beat the shot-clock and (if it's an air-ball) has to take the ball out of bounds after the shot-clock violation instead of being able to start a fast-break in the other direction.
Good point, Scott. There seem to be a lot of really good sixth men in college basketball this year, including Westbrook, Kansas's
You have to like Drake, which went into Omaha and beat Creighton in overtime on Tuesday to go to 18-1. (The highlights looked like they were being transmitted from the dark side of the moon. Can't we get a little better TV coverage of the Valley?) I've been up-and-down on the wisdom of hiring the sons of longtime coaches to replace their dads -- sometimes it works (
The whole point of a correctly-taken jump stop (i.e., both feet landing at the same time) is that you can use either foot as a pivot once you land. But it doesn't mean you can take another step and use THAT foot as a pivot. That would be traveling.
For a long time we've advocated establishing a circle under the basket (a la the NBA) to prevent defenders from taking charges right under the hoop. But yes, the general scourge of flopping appears to be worse than ever this season everywhere on the court. I doubt Coach K actually runs drills in practice to teach flops, though the idea of it makes me recall a hilarious TV ad featuring the Italian soccer team working on flops in training. It's clearly time that the NCAA made reducing flops a (you guessed it) point of emphasis for next season. But has anyone noticed that Duke's slashers (
(And yes, that makes two soccer references in one 'Bag.)
As you might expect, I got a lot of feedback from last week's Magic Eight, not least because I left then undefeated and top-ranked North Carolina off my list of the eight teams from which I guaranteed the national champion would emerge. Here's a sampling of viewpoints (and a quick response to each):
Got a lot of questions like this one. If the NCAA tournament were full of seven-game series, the best teams would win most of the time. But the NCAA tournament is often maddeningly arbitrary, and so is my Magic Eight. As I take pains to say every year, the Magic Eight doesn't represent the eight best teams in the country. So there's no grand theory that every team has to fit, and some lower-ranked defensive teams got in while higher-ranked ones didn't. To make things interesting I decided to eliminate one of the Big Four (Kansas, Memphis, UCLA and North Carolina), and I think my reasoning for choosing Carolina was pretty sound. Reasonable minds can disagree, though.
I did think that North Carolina was overvalued when I wrote the column, and its subsequent home loss to unranked Maryland provided some support for that notion. But I'm not so loony to think that Magic Eight members Xavier and Louisville are better than the Tar Heels (even if they are capable of beating them on a given day in a single-elimination tournament). For what it's worth (and it may not be much), I think Carolina is the fourth-best team in the country right now behind Kansas, Memphis and UCLA (despite the Bruins' own home loss to USC over the weekend).
As for reader demands of logic and thoughtfulness in college hoops analysis, I'm down with that, as most of you who are regular readers will know (Magic Eight guarantees notwithstanding). But I'll also ask this: For those of you who love that college basketball determines its champion on the court (and renders polls meaningless), how comfortable are you with the fact that the best team so often doesn't win the title?
Thanks. We'll see what happens. With UNC and UCLA falling over the weekend, we're now starting to see the debate shift to whether Kansas or Memphis is the best team in the land. It's a hard call right now. Both teams are undefeated and running over their opponents, and both are tremendously deep with prolific offenses and scary defenses (the top two in the country per kenpom.com). Against teams ranked in the kenpom Top 75, Kansas has beaten five on the road (USC, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Nebraska, Missouri) and one at home (Arizona), while Memphis has beaten zero on the road, three at neutral sites (Oklahoma, UConn, USC) and two at home (Georgetown and Arizona).
The best single victory for either team is probably Memphis' win over Georgetown. But the farther we get into conference season, the more the Tigers' resume could suffer in comparison to the Jayhawks' due to their conference affiliations (assuming both teams keep winning). Give
All that said, I can't wait to see Kansas visit surging Kansas State on Jan. 30 (the Wildcats have never beaten their rivals in Bramlage Coliseum), and I'm already fired up for Memphis-Tennessee on Feb. 23.
I'm not sure who's failing to talk about Duke. The Blue Devils are playing some very good basketball right now, and the home win against a big Clemson team showed that despite its lack of size Duke can succeed against taller teams as long it creates turnovers and maximizes its speed and spacing on offense. For me, the player to watch in Durham right now is freshman point guard Nolan Smith. He is more explosive than Greg Paulus and creates more of his own offense. Not that Paulus is destined for the scrap heap. After lacking quality depth for several years, Duke is finally starting to build some, and Smith-vs.-Paulus at the point is a good problem to have.
Perhaps, perhaps not. Obviously, you can't disregard the Longhorns' wins against UCLA and Tennessee, but more recent losses to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Missouri have dampened my enthusiasm a bit. Texas looked OK in gutting out a win at Oklahoma State this week (
I took a flier on Wazzu last year and don't regret it. The Cougs are indeed better this time around, and I love to watch Tony Bennett's team do its thing on defense. The offense is pretty good too (the rise of
I guess I have less of a problem with Carolina's mediocre three-point shooting (37.1 percent, No. 94 in the country) than I do with the overarching defensive concerns. You have to remember, Roy Williams is all about pushing the ball inside as the first option every single time down the floor. Out of the 341 teams in Division I, only three teams shoot three-pointers less often than Carolina does (Michigan State, Southern Utah and Southern Miss).
I'll admit it was a pretty big reach to put Xavier in anything discussing national-title contenders, but you're nuts if you think the Musketeers aren't a contender to win the A-10. We'll get a much better read this week with Xavier facing Dayton at home and UMass on the road. Getting a split would be crucial and a sweep could be a springboard to the league title, while two losses would set things back a long ways. Asking the X to win six games in the NCAA tournament is a tall order, but remember, this is a better team than the one that should have eliminated Ohio State and reached the Sweet 16 last year.
The Spartans were in various iterations of the Magic Eight but failed to make the final cut. I think MSU is a serious Final Four contender and is still undervalued due to the ugly loss at Iowa, though I'm curious to see how
• I'm really starting to wonder: Is Texas A&M that good? The Aggies' best win came against a middling Ohio State team, and A&M is now 0-3 in true road games after feeble performances at Texas Tech and Kansas State last week. To see
• Speaking of Kansas State, I think we can put to rest the idea that
• Good for ESPN for including
• Arizona State's
• Oklahoma State's
• A note from reader
• A nomination for Luke's Winn's
We'll be back next week to answer more of your questions -- and include a fun interview with two college students who drove more than 20,000 miles to meet the best coaches in the college basketball.