We'll begin this week's mailbag with a missive from
I'm not sure whom Andrew has been listening to, but I can assure you that this TV analyst believes that not only is Villanova for real, but this team is better than the one that reached the Final Four last season. We all know that the Wildcats have terrific guards, but I also think most people understand that the Wildcats are pretty strong inside and getting stronger by the day -- especially as freshman center
Which leads me to the biggest reason I believe Villanova can win it all: depth. There are 11 players on this team who are averaging nine or minutes, and all but one is averaging 11 or more minutes. Ten guys played double-figure minutes in 'Nova's win over Seton Hall Tuesday night. Yes, the depth allows Villanova to wear teams down, but the real value is that it gives Wright so many combinations to exploit matchups, overcome foul trouble and go with a hot hand.
It also seems from afar that this team has great chemistry, with everyone eager to do his part. (Funny how winning breeds good chemistry.) For example,
There is one more reason to love Villanova, and it's the biggest one of all:
That effusive enough for you, Andrew?
Now on to the rest of the Mailbag.
This is actually a better question for
From a basketball standpoint, I'd give a slight edge to the Big East. The three schools that joined the ACC have made barely a ripple in hoops, but just by bringing
The answer to Tom's question is a simple no. USC's postseason ban includes the Pac-10 tournament, so the Trojans will not have the chance to win the league's automatic bid.
The more intriguing question is whether the Pac-10 really will send only one team to the NCAA tournament, which would be the first time that has happened to one of the big six conferences. One of the reasons I thought it would be hard for this conference to gain an at-large bid was the fact that it looked for a time like the Trojans were putting together an at-large-worthy resume. After losing five of their last seven games, however, that is no longer the case. You might think that Arizona is playing its way into the picture since it is tied with California atop the league standings, but the Wildcats' win over Cal was their first over a team ranked in the top 50 of the RPI all season. Yet they have four losses to teams outside the top 50, including one to No. 200 Oregon State. Since Cal is the only team in the league ranked in the top 50, that means Arizona needs to remain in first place plus win Feb. 25 at Berkeley to have a legitimate chance.
Meanwhile, Cal's status as an at-large candidate is not nearly as strong as its No. 23 RPI ranking might indicate. The Bears do not have any wins against the top 50 of the RPI (best win: No. 87 Arizona State), nor do they have any top-50 teams remaining on their schedule. The best-case scenario for the league would be for Cal and Arizona to remain in first place and both reach the Pac-10 tournament final. Even then the loser will have to sweat it out on Selection Sunday.
I'd like to think that officials do a good job most of the time, but there's no question that they blew two calls at the end of the Louisville-West Virginia game that cost the Cardinals a chance to close out a very important road win. Judgment errors will happen from time to time, but there is no excuse from the way the refs administered the penultimate possession. When referee
The subsequent explanation provided by the Big East was even more ludicrous -- namely, that the officials did originally call it West Virginia's ball, but nobody bothered to tell either team. If nobody knew the call, how can you say they made the call?
There's no recourse that can be done to fix this, nor should there be. Stuff happens. I understand Pitino's frustration afterward, but I also think that coaches overly fixate on referee errors as opposed to the dozens of things that happen during the course of a game that decide the outcome, including coaching mistakes. Still, since Louisville was also victimized two weeks ago by the violation that wasn't called in the last minute of a loss to Seton Hall, it's perfectly understandable why a guy in his situation would vent his frustration at the zebras. I'm only disappointed I didn't get to listen to the telephone call I'm sure Pitino placed to Big East commissioner
I make no apologies for waiting until Vanderbilt beat a ranked team before
It's nice to make shots, but to advance in March you have to overcome an off shooting night with defense and rebounding. Not saying Vandy can't do it. Just saying it remains a question.
Barring a complete collapse during the second half of the conference season, New Mexico will be playing for a seed this month, not a bid. The Lobos are ranked 15th in the AP poll and 11th in the RPI. I also think they're a dangerous tourney team because they have so much talent on the perimeter, led by the versatile Hobson, who is in the top five of the Mountain West in points, rebounds and assists. Not only can the Lobos shoot the three but they are very stingy with the ball. (They lead the conference in made threes and fewest turnovers.) The main concern with New Mexico is its lack of size, but so far the Lobos' guards have done well enough on the boards that it hasn't hurt them too badly. As long as they don't go up against a dominating center (and there aren't many of those), the Lobos will be a tough out.
Finally, I got a bunch of mail regarding
Looking over my initial list, I feel very comfortable with my top four, but you can definitely make a case that these should have been my bottom two. I took a good look at Hayward because I think so highly of him. (You might recall at the start of the season
There were three more suggestions for players who definitely did not warrant being mentioned in my top six, but I'm always up for giving guys who toil in obscurity a little taste of the limelight, courtesy of their biggest fans:
Thanks for the suggestions, guys. We'll dip into the 'Bag again next week.