Early awards debates, legitimate title contenders and much more
What is it about meaningless awards that give our life so much meaning?
Each Monday, every conference announces its player and rookie of the week awards, to be followed by end-of-year awards for player, rookie and coach. The season also ends with a slew of conference awards for player, rookie and coach, joined of course by a bevy of all-conference and All-America teams (including the all-important SI.com All-Glue Team). It never ceases to amaze me how much time, energy and space is devoted to what is really a silly and subjective exercise. And thank goodness for that. Otherwise, a guy like me would have to go out and get a real job.
Though there is no single award in college basketball that comes close to matching the hype of football's Heisman Trophy, the debates over national player and coach of the year override any other discussions. Those debates have already begun in earnest, as evidenced by the many e-mails I received about them this week. To wit:
Jason's question is very timely, even though James played poorly in the Longhorns' loss at Kansas State Monday night. I would say Wall is still the man to beat, but while many of us nattering nabobs had proclaimed him to be the runaway favorite, there is no question he has come back to the pack -- and there is a case to be made that James is the leader of that pack. Over his last four games, Wall has averaged 16.5 points on 42.6 percent shooting, but he also has 17 turnovers to go with 19 assists. Meanwhile, in the four games before his nine-point, seven-rebound outing at Kansas State, James averaged 22.3 points (on 54.2 percent shooting) and 12.3 rebounds. Overall, their numbers are very similar: Wall is averaging 17.1 points, James is scoring 17.3. Wall obviously has more assists and James more rebounds, but surprisingly it is James who has the higher three-point percentage: 37.0 percent to Wall's 34.0. You also have to wonder how many voters will give James an edge because he's a senior, even though he only came back to Austin this year because he wasn't projected as a high enough draft pick.
Of course, neither might end up winning the award because Ohio State's
As for the COY, there is no doubt Dixon has done a terrific job at Pitt, but I am a wait-and-see kind of guy. The Panthers' win at Syracuse was as good a win as any team has had this season, and while I would never pooh-pooh a road win inside the conference, their subsequent victories at Cincinnati and UConn, plus their overtime comeback win at home over Louisville, do not include a win over another team that is currently ranked. They've got Georgetown at home tonight, so maybe I won't be as skeptical if they win that, but I just want to see how they play over the long haul before I do any anointing.
But really, is the case for Dixon that much stronger than the case for Kansas State's
But if you really think about it, this thing shouldn't even be close. (WARNING!! SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT!!!) As I said on my new show
I've always felt that people didn't give nearly enough weight to recruiting when voting for COY -- even though everyone recognizes it is by far the most important part of the job. Not only did Calipari bring in the best freshman class in the nation (whatever you think about his methods), but he had to install a new system with the returning vets and take the whole show against a very demanding schedule. Despite all this, he is the coach of the last remaining unbeaten team in America and the team that will surely ascend to the No. 1 ranking if it beats Arkansas at home on Saturday. You can dope out this contest any way you want, but from where I type, the choice for coach of the year is easy.
I'm sure this is not the end of those debates -- I can just hear the dissenters pecking away at their keyboards now -- so I look forward to updating my take the rest of the season.
In the meantime, let's dip into the rest of the mailbag:
While I have taken over
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?
What, you didn't know Hoop Thoughts was all the rage in western Europe? I'm almost as big in Germany as
The fact that Señor 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
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.
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.
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
Having said all that, the Huskies' poor shooting is one of many concerns right now. (For my thoughts on Calhoun's temporary leave,
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
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.