Here we are, Hoopheads: The last college hoops mailbag of the season. It has been truly an honor and a pleasure filling in for Grant Wahl this season. Hopefully, after Grant returns from his sabbatical you all won't put too much pressure on him to live up to the standards I've set over these past five months. I've thoroughly enjoyed my exchanges with you all, especially since my editors wean out all the really mean e-mails.
So with Selection Sunday now just a couple of days away, allow me bid farewell by dipping into the e-mailbag one last time.
You may recall it was 10 years ago that Gonzaga got on the map with their run to the Elite Eight. In honor of this anniversary, I have a few questions about them. What are their chances of making it to the Elite Eight this year? What are the chances Mark Few will leave Gonzaga for a head coaching position at a major program this season? If Austin Daye and/or Matt Bouldin leave school this year for the NBA draft, will this be the end of their run? --Bob Javinsky, San Francisco
It's good to get a Gonzaga question, because this team has really fallen off the radar since they got blown out by Memphis at home -- even as they won 15 of their last 16 games and the West Coast Conference tournament, yet again. Funny, but I can remember when Gonzaga was ranked in the top five and people were asserting that this would be the best team Few has ever had. Now, nobody is talking about them as a potential Final Four team. Maybe it's better for them to slip into the tourney under the radar, so they won't have to deal with the pressure of expectations that have tripped them up in the past.
To answer Bob's questions in order, I'd put their chances at an Elite Eight at about 15 percent. They'd probably have to knock off a one or two seed in the Sweet 16, and I don't see that happening. I love that Gonzaga can score, but they are still suspect defensively, and they have very little inside presence because their big men (Josh Heytvelt and Austin Daye) play like they're 6-foot-2 guards.
Regarding Few, the only jobs I can see him leaving Spokane for are Arizona or Oregon, if Ernie Kent doesn't hold on. Even though Few grew up in Oregon and is an alum of that school, I don't think that's reason enough for Few to leave Gonzaga for Eugene. He's in too good a situation to leave for sentimental reasons. He has to believe he's going to a better job, and I'm not sure Oregon qualifies. But as I've written before, Arizona is a different story. The question is, given the current economic environment, whether Arizona is ready to pay enough money to lure Few away from Gonzaga. Also, if Arizona really wants to splurge, they may go after Tubby Smith. Or if they want to save money, Reggie Theus might be the best option.
Finally, regarding Bouldin and Daye, I honestly can't imagine either one is going to enter the draft. Daye is the better long-term prospect, but I don't know that he would be a first-round pick. Regardless, this program won't drop back one iota. Few has done an excellent job recruiting players who can thrive in this system, and he has enough young talent in the fold (Steven Gray, Demetri Goodson, Robert Sacre) to have a strong foundation to keep winning.
By the way, Bob, nice work reminding us of the 10-year anniversary of the first tourney run. Always brings to mind my buddy Gus Johnson's epic call after the Zags beat Florida in the Sweet 16 by one point: "The slipper still fits!" God, I love this month.
I'm a Wake alum and obviously biased, so everybody ignores me when I say that if Wake wins the ACC they could/should be a No. 1 seed. I know Wake had an ugly mid-season swoon, but look at that résumé. Beat UNC, beat Duke, beat then undefeated Clemson (twice) and are 5-1 against top 50 teams, plus good road wins against BC and BYU. Plus, they're the hottest team in the ACC, having won six of their last seven conference games. --Andrew Adamsbaum, Denver
I would never say never this time of year, but honestly it's hard to envision a scenario where Wake Forest could end up as a No. 1 seed. Certainly, if they won the ACC tournament they would have to be considered, especially if they beat Duke and North Carolina en route to the title. But here are two things working against the Deacs: Four of their five losses came to teams ranked outside the top 50 of the RPI (at Miami, vs. Virginia Tech, at North Carolina State, at Georgia Tech), and their nonconference strength of schedule is ranked 267th. So for Wake to get to the top line, not only would the Deacs have to win the ACC tournament, but among UConn, Pitt, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Louisville, several would all have to lose no later than the semifinals of their respective conference tournaments, and Memphis would have to fail to win the Conference USA tournament. Not impossible, I suppose, but not likely.
Based on your mailbag, it seems like we're headed toward March Madness becoming the basketball version of the BCS. No one (including you) seems to give what you deem a "very good" Niagara team a chance of getting an at-large bid. And yet, mediocre teams such as South Carolina or Florida are considered because they get to play in conference games that improve their RPI. What bothers me the most is that teams like Penn State and South Carolina that played atrocious nonconference schedules are capable of playing much higher levels of competition, whereas small conference schools can't get teams from the Big Six conferences to play them. --Brian Rosenwald, Philadelphia
Brian has hit on the classic conundrum facing the tournament and the game in general. On the one hand, I think we all agree that the committee should not be in the business of playing politics. Their task is to select the 34 best at-large teams regardless of conference. Yes, that means not unfairly favoring the BCS leagues, but it also means not including an inferior mid-major just because it makes us all feel good.
On the other hand, we must always, always remember that while the NCAA tournament is ultimately about crowning a champion, it is not only about crowning a champion. The one thing that makes this event different from all over playoffs around the world is our fascination with the Cinderella. It doesn't matter that a 15 seed has defeated a two only four times. What matters is that it could happen. So you better watch.
Think of this way. One of the all-time iconic images of NCAA tourney lore is Bryce Drew's miracle buzzer beater that beat Ole Miss in the 1998 tournament. That was a first-round game! I guarantee you a lot more people will remember that George Mason went to the Final Four than who won that year. (Florida, by the way.) And yes, the main problem these teams have is that the big boys who lobby so hard for their own inclusion are too chicken to play true road games against dangerous mid-majors. Yes, Siena lost all four nonconference games it played against teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI, but two of those losses were on the road (Pitt and Kansas), and two were on a neutral court (Tennessee and Oklahoma State). Fortunately, the Saints removed all doubt by winning the MAAC tourney, but if they hadn't, they might very well have been left out. And that would not have been good for the tournament.
I have a simple solution. The last four at-large teams from the BCS conferences should have to play road games the following year at the first four non-BCS teams left out of the at-large pool. Think there's a chance that rule will pass?
As for Niagara, I'd love to see them in the tourney, but it ain't gonna happen. Their nonconference schedule wasn't nearly as strong as Siena's, and they have three losses to teams ranked outside the top 100.
Does the committee actually use the "eye" test in determining the 34 at-large teams? If so, shouldn't they leave out everyone from the SEC except LSU and Tennessee? I agree with your South Carolina analysis. My eyes say Rider (one of the quickest teams I've seen), Illinois State (how 'bout that kid with the Mohawk) and even Creighton should be in. -- Mike Demo, Milwaukee
Once again, a faithful reader has hit on one of the hot-button issues in selection land. Yes, the committee uses the "eye" test on some level. I guarantee you the members of the committee watch as much basketball as anyone in the country. They are each also assigned a set of leagues that they must monitor extra close for injuries and other personnel issues, and then report those facts to the rest of the committee. Last year, they added a January meeting, on top of the weekend-before-selection conference call, so they can discuss all the leagues and all the teams and make fully informed decisions. Trust me, these guys don't miss a thing.
After watching all that basketball, it's only natural that they apply the "eye" test when making their final votes. This underscores the high degree of subjectivity in all of this. Sure, they're surrounded by reams of RPI data, but they're not told what to emphasize. Some look for good wins, others look for bad losses, still others weigh road games heavily or strongly consider strength of schedule ratings. And when it comes down to the last few teams (who are basically dead even anyway), they simply ask themselves, if I were a coach and had to play one of these teams, who would I least want to play?
The one aspect of Mike's question I would find fault with is grouping all the SEC teams under one umbrella. Conference affiliation means nothing, for better and for worse. What matters is who a team played, who it beat, and where those games occurred (home, road or neutral).
Given Billy Donovan's recruiting and coaching skills, plus the aura of the twin titles, why hasn't Florida done better? --Dave, Westfield, N.J.
The easy answer is that Florida graduated all of the players who brought those two titles to Gainesville, and it takes time to reload (if not rebuild). And while it might be frustrating for Florida fans to see Kansas reload so quickly after winning a title, the truth is that as good a recruiter as Donovan is, it's still harder to recruit players to Florida than to Kansas. The main difference is a player like Cole Aldrich is more likely to be willing to sit for a season at a place like Kansas than at Florida.
That said, I do think Donovan could do a better job recruiting more blue-collar bruisers such as Justin Hamilton and Udonis Haslem instead of relying on players who are high on skill but low on muscle. And yet, assuming that all of Florida's players come back next season (and where would they go?), the Gators could very well begin the season as a top 10 team, maybe even a top five team. Everyone they have will be a year better and stronger, and they'll be adding three really good players: Kenny Boynton, a tough scoring guard from Florida; Eloy Vargas, a highly skilled 6-11 freshman who got hurt during the preseason and never made it back into the rotation; and Vernon Macklin, a 6-6 forward who transferred from Georgetown and should give the Gators the physical presence on the glass they so desperately need.
This might be looking a little ahead, but I was wondering, with Davidson's disappointing season, do you think Steph Curry will declare for the NBA draft, or do you think he'll take one last run at the tourney next season? --Dave, Ottawa, Canada
As much as I'd like to believe Curry will come back to Davidson, I think there is zero shot that will happen. The Wildcats may have had a disappointing season, but that's not his fault. Curry will be a lottery pick and should be a borderline All-Star in the NBA. College ball will sure miss him.
Finally, it is fitting to end the 2008-09 Mailbag season with some reactions to my 10th annual all-Glue team. I only had a limited number of spots on the team and there were many, many good candidates. Let's start with what was by far the most thorough, most passionate and most convincing case for one of the players who did not make my list:
It is an absolute crime that [Memphis senior forward] Antonio Anderson has never made your All-Glue Guy team. He is the epitome of the term. After reading the descriptions of this year's team, I see characteristics of all the players in AA. He always guards the other team's best perimeter player, and in almost every case he shuts them down. His leadership has shown through on many occasions: demanding and making the last second layup to win the Tulsa game, fully embracing and endorsing Tyreke Evans as the point guard, calming the team down through words or making key baskets. Several times, I've seen him come into the huddle and calm down Calipari when he's going crazy. He will become the first player in UM history to have 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in a career. He is also on track to become [along with fellow senior Robert Dozier] the winningest player in NCAA history. Perhaps you can honor him with a lifetime achievement Glue Guy award for consistency over a four-year career. --Brent Rezinger, Memphis
A lifetime achievement Glue Guy award? Now that's brilliant. As it stands, Anderson has definitely earned the title of best Glue Guy never to be named to the All-Glue team. (I should call that the Colin Montgomerie award.) I think Brent probably would have had a better case last year. The reason I left Anderson off is I really see him as the heart and soul of this Memphis team -- a star player, not a role player. Let's face it, calling someone a Glue Guy is sort of damning him with faint praise. Players embrace that role more out of necessity than choice. Still, given that Anderson is Memphis' third-leading scorer, and so much of the offense is built around freshman Tyreke Evans, I probably should have had him on the team. Sorry, Antonio. Sorry, Brent.
How could you leave Chester Frazier from Illinois off the team? I would give him the nod over [Michigan State guard Travis] Walton because Walton has a superior cast of players. Frazier is the lead dog of a bunch of mutts. --Scott Watson, Chesterfield, Mo.
Again, a worthy suggestion, and again, this Glue stuff is in the eye of the beholder. One of the rules I go by is a glue guy cannot be the starting point guard. I've made one or two exceptions over the years, but since point guard is the most important position on the floor, by definition it can't be filled by a "role" player. I do agree with Scott that Frazier is a terrific defender, but since Walton was just named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (admittedly a reflection of his playing on the league's best team), I believe my choice has been validated.
Here are my thoughts on other names you all submitted for consideration:
Jeff Adrien, UConn (Lee Feder, Waterbury, Conn.) He was the leader for captaincy in December, but over the course of the season Adrien emerged as arguably UConn's most valuable player. Played himself out of Glue consideration.
Chris Wright, Dayton (Drew K., Middletown, N.J.) Sorry, this guy is a budding superstar. Maybe on a team with better players he'd be the sticky man, but on the Flyers, he's the featured performer.
Brady Morningstar, Kansas (Johnny Trumble, Olathe, Kan.) Nice player, but a little too offensive-minded for Glue consideration.
Joe Krabbenhoft, Wisconsin (Bruce Stefanski, Appleton, Wisc.) Very, very hard to leave him off. He was on my first names out list along with Anderson and Syracuse's Paul Harris. Maybe I was more influenced than I should have been by the uncalled flagrant foul he committed against Purdue guard Lewis Jackson.
Dave Neal, Maryland (Jonathan Fusfield, Rockville, Md.) Nice player with All-Glue potential, but it's hard to really consider someone on a team that at this point wouldn't make the NCAA tournament.
Danny Green, North Carolina (Kevin Brewer, Clemmons, N.C.) Has some Gluey traits, but the real Glue Guy on this team was supposed to be injured forward Marcus Ginyard. If he were healthy, he'd be on the team -- and the Tar Heels might still be undefeated.