Mail: Bill Self's accomplishments at Kansas, darkhorse title teams, more
Note: Seth Davis will periodically answer questions posed to him over Twitter, Facebook and emails sent through SI.com. Be sure to check out his Hoop Thoughts column every Monday and to send questions during his Twenty for Tuesday Q&A on Twitter at @SethDavisHoops. Tweets have been edited for clarity. Trolls have not been included.
It must be that time of year again.
The phrase “March Madness” does not just apply to the NCAA tournament (which technically ends in April anyway). It also applies to what is commonly referred to as the coaching carousel, where coaches are hired and fired at such rapid pace that next season, many well-informed fans will do a double take and ask themselves, “When did he start coaching there?”
The impending turn is always cause for rampant speculation, most of it ill-informed. Here’s a sampling of questions I got during my weekly Twenty for Tuesday chat on Twitter this week:
[daily_cut.college basketball]Which coach’s seat is burning right now? — Gio (@gionysports)
Seth, is Tom Crean on the hot seat if Indiana misses NCAA tourney? — Keith Rupley (@rupley77)
Who are some candidates for the Alabama job if Anthony Grant is not retained? — JJR (@jjrUA)
Does Brian Gregory make it pass this year for Georgia Tech? — Chad Miller (@chester9113)
Does Memphis fire Josh Pastner and hire Lionel Hollins — Sergio Catron (@FWHS_COACHSERG)
What are your thoughts on Andy Kennedy? Should he stay or leave Ole Miss? — Matthew Hall (@Matthew_Hall32)
I don’t blame fans for indulging in this—they are fans, and therefore they have the right to be irrational—but I find it distasteful when my media colleagues put out “hot seat” lists as if these coaches are targets in a video game. Many of these lists are laughably off-base. We read all season that some coach is on his way out of a job, only to see at the end of the season that his contract has been renewed. Likewise, when a job does come open, we see a ton of names listed as possible replacements, yet the actual hire often comes as a surprise.
Remember last season, when everyone was saying that Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford was on his way out? Now those same people are saying he should be Big 12 coach of the year. At the start of last season, Texas’ Rick Barnes was thought to be a dead man walking. Then the Longhorns exceeded expectations, and he was a hero. Now they’re losing, and he’s toast again. And wasn’t it just a few months ago that Maryland’s Mark Turgeon was supposed to be on the proverbial hot seat? You have a better choice for Big Ten coach of the year?
I readily concede I am not a big “news breaker” on the college basketball beat. There are others who are far better at that than I am. Frankly, I’m too chicken I might be wrong. If someone has hard information that a coach is going to be fired, then that is a legitimate story. But what is the point of firing off names just because you think there’s a chance a coach could be in jeopardy?
All too often, we forget there are actual human beings behind these headlines. They have family and friends who read these stories, and they are hurt by them. These coaches also have assistants who have families, and who draw a much lower salaries. Doesn’t it seem a little barbaric to offer odds on whether they will lose their jobs for the sake of entertainment? Don’t we owe these people just a little bit more respect and empathy?
Of course, it doesn’t help that so many fans have unrealistic expectations. All too often, they assume that all their favorite program has to do is switch coaches like it’s changing channels, and all will be well again. My response to those fans is, if you’re going to get rid of the guy you have, you better be sure they can get the guy you want. Because there are over 350 Division I schools, and Shaka Smart can only coach at one of them.
So feel free to keep sending me your hot seat questions, but don’t expect me to answer them, at least not until I have some concrete information (which will usually be broken first by one of my competitors). It may be a part of our business, but it is unseemly. There are lots of really exciting games to comment on these next five weeks. I hope you’ll excuse me if I sit this topic out.
Now on to the rest of the Twitterbag:
Is UK actually saving college basketball? The story keeping college ball afloat. — Cody Baker (@RealCodyBaker)
I will probably draw the ire of other fan bases by saying this, but I’m gonna say it anyway: I am rooting really hard for Kentucky to get to the NCAA tournament undefeated. Not that the tournament needs a gimmick to get people’s attention, but this will be a huge story. Unlike last year, when Wichita State ran the table in the regular season, the fans have a sense that this Kentucky squad has a legit chance to be the first NCAA champion to go wire-to-wire since Indiana did it in 1976. The fact that it’s Kentucky, with its Big Blue swagger and polarizing head coach, only makes the story spicier. Kentucky is either going to be the first undefeated champ in 39 years, or it’s going to wind up on a very short list of the best teams never to win a title. Either way, these Cats are going to make history.
Yes, Cody’s question is over the top. College basketball does not need “saving.” The NCAA tournament isn’t just afloat, it’s flying high. But for those who try to question whether it’s good for college basketball to have a dominant team, I would urge you to look at the big picture. If Kentucky is perfect when this tournament tips off, it’s going to be a great story, and the whole world will tune in to see what happens.
Who's your biggest true darkhorse that could win it all? — Chris Avery (@cavery23)
Chris knows my weakness: lists. I’m going to define the term “true darkhorse” in the darkest terms. This time last year, UConn was unranked. Unranked! So I’m going to look beyond this week’s AP top 25 and give you my top five candidates to pull off a miracle run:
1. St. John’s. For the second straight season, the Red Storm are surging down the stretch. They have a dynamic—dare I say, Napier-like—combo guard in D’Angelo Harrison, an elite rim protector in Chris Obekpa, and an emerging star in 6’6” senior forward Sir’Dominic Pointer.
2. Dayton. The Flyers only have six scholarship players, none of whom is taller than 6’6”. Yet, they have speed, efficiency and a great deal of toughness. They also made a surprise run to the Elite Eight last year. That’s a nice memory to carry into the postseason.
3. Georgetown. The Hoyas would probably be ranked if they were in an easier league. They’re not the best three-point shooting team in the world, but they have an older guard who can control tempo and score in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, and you won’t find a player in the tournament who is as wide and skilled as Joshua Smith.
4. VCU. The Rams haven’t been the same defensive team as they were before Briante Weber got hurt, but they still present a difficult challenge with their havoc fullcourt pressure. Senior guard Treveon Graham has been hobbled by a high ankle sprain, but if he’s fully healthy, he is capable of taking over games.
5. Iowa. The Hawkeyes have had a Jekyll-and-Hyde season, but when they are at their best, they are really good. They’ve also been very good on the road, which bodes well. Aaron White is a difficult matchup with his size and skill, and this team’s defense has come a long way the last two months.
Bill Self and what he has accomplished at Kansas ... what compares, if anything? — Eddie Karon (@eddiekaron)
It’s hard to make an exact comparison to other situations, but I will restate what I wrote on Twitter after the Jayhawks finished their scintillating comeback against West Virginia to clinch the outright Big 12 title: This streak, 11 years in a row and counting, is one of the most impressive in all of sports. That’s right, not just college hoops. I’m talking all of sports.
When you think about trends in college basketball over the last two decades, the number one thing that comes to mind is the proliferation of underclassmen departures to the NBA draft. More recently, the number of players who transfer between programs has spiked dramatically. So the hardest thing is to sustain a high level of success. Yet, Self has done it not just a couple of times, but 11 freakin' times in a row.
Shoot, it’s incredible that Kansas was able to win a title in the Big 12 just this year. In case you’ve forgotten, this team lost two players who were chosen among the top three picks in the NBA draft. It also lost its starting point guard, senior Naadir Tharpe. The current recruiting class is pretty good, but nowhere near the caliber of last year’s. Moreover, KU played that game Tuesday night against West Virginia without freshman forward Cliff Alexander, who is sitting out because of an NCAA issue, and its best player, Perry Ellis, who missed the second half because of a knee injury. Granted, the Mountaineers were also down two starters, but the Jayhawks still erased an 18-point second-half deficit to win and clinch the conference title outright.
My buddy over at CBSSports.com, Gary Parrish, told me that the next longest conference streak in America is two. That’s right, two. When this streak ends, it is unlikely we will ever see anything like it again. What Bill Self has done in Lawrence isn’t just impressive, it’s historic. And in today’s day and age, it should be darn near impossible.
When filling out your bracket are there ever any instances that you just have to flip a coin? — Blake Bernier (@lac80)
It’s funny that Blake asks that question, because I don’t think I’ve ever revealed my method for filling out the bracket.
Normally, I am given the official bracket between 15 and 30 minutes before the start of the Selection Show on CBS. During that time, we are usually on air filling time between the end of the Big Ten tournament final and the top of the hour. Thus, I don’t have a lot of time to pontificate and cogitate on my choices. I generally have a good idea of which teams I like, which teams are my hot upset picks, and which highly ranked teams I consider to be vulnerable. So what’s a tele-pundit to do? I look at the bracket and fill the entire thing out in about five minutes.
Part of this is because I think it’s silly to overthink this exercise. It’s all pretty much a crapshoot, anyway. But the bigger reason is that this is all the time that I have. I need to give my Final Four picks, sleepers, etc. to the production folks so they can build the graphics for the end of the show—all during a period of time when we are on air. It’s not quite flipping a coin, but it’s not much more intricate, either.
I’ll also say this for all you bracket filler-outers. My best advice for winning your pool? Don’t follow my picks. (I know, I know, I’m Captain Obvious.) It’s not just because I hate your favorite team, it’s because I like to pick upsets. Staying conservative and going with chalk is nice strategy for winning an office pool, but it makes for boring television. I will never make a pick I don’t genuinely believe have a chance of coming true, but I do like to find opportunities to take some chances. If they come through, you’re a genius. If they don’t, you can get in line with the rest of the suckers who were wrong.
And if it’s one thing I know about when it comes to filling out a bracket, it’s how to be wrong.
What happens with Duke re: Suliamon situation? — Dylan Gardner (@dylancgardner)
I gave my thoughts on the Sulaimon situation during an interview with my colleague Maggie Gray on SI Now this week. Lots of headlines have indicated that Sulaimon was the subject of “allegations” of sexual assault. But that is not true. The Duke student newspaper reported that people in the basketball office were made aware of remarks that two female students had made at a retreat, but that information was presented not by the women themselves, but by a third-hand account. Neither of those women came forward themselves to report, either formally or informally, their stories. They never gave their claims to Duke’s Office of Student Conduct, and they never went to the police. So it’s hard to criticize Mike Krzyzewski or other Duke officials for not acting on such limited information.
There are two very unfortunate realities here. The first is that we live in a society where women are understandably afraid to bring these types of charges against famous, well-liked athletes. This is a tragedy. Yet, it is also undeniably true that these famous athletes are targets for allegations that may be untrue, and once they get branded with the phrase “sexual assault,” it is very difficult to prove a negative. We saw this to be the case with the story about the University of Virginia that was published in Rolling Stone recently. We also saw it nine years ago when charges were brought against the members of Duke’s lacrosse team. Most of the media had the players convicted before the trial even began, yet those charges proved to be false. The only person who ended up serving time in that case was the prosecutor.
There has also been a widespread assumption that these conversations led to Krzyzewski’s decision to dismiss Sulaimon from the program. I would be careful about connecting those dots. Clearly, everything about Sulaimon’s tenure in the program went into that decision, but I still believe that the final straw was something that occurred during Duke’s trip to Notre Dame.
In the end, it’s hard to know what to make of this situation. If Rasheed Sulaimon or any other person (famous or otherwise) committed sexual assault, I hope he is brought to swift justice. But absent any more developments, it’s hard to see where this story goes from here.
Loved your article yesterday. Thoughts on making six fouls to foul out? — Bryan Heidemann (@Bryan_Leo8386)
I was very gratified to see the response to my special report on Monday about the scoring crisis in college basketball. Many of you agreed with my ideas, many of you didn’t, but at least it got people talking. More than anything, we need to have an honest, out-of-the-box conversation to identify the problems the sport faces and the best way to solve them.
I have seen this idea about six fouls floated about in the past. But I disagree. I understand the desire to want the better players to stay in games for longer, but that is not really a big problem right now. It’s one of the things that makes basketball unique. A player can only commit five fouls, which forces a coach to strategize about how to manage the situation. Going to six personals would not make it easier for players to stay on the court. It would only make it easier for them to commit more fouls—and the last thing college basketball needs is more stoppages of play.