We begin our weekly mailbag with an East Coast native who pledges fealty to a West Coast team.
Joe is right: I haven't paid the Wolf Pack much attention, but when a team enters February with an undefeated league record, even biased East Coast writers can't help but take notice. So I definitely plan on watching this team more in the coming weeks.
Joe's query made me wonder what other undefeated teams deserve some serious props. Is it me, or is there an unusually high number of teams outside the power conferences who haven't lost a league game yet? I don't care what conference you're in. It is very, very hard to be perfect in early February.
Early March, of course, is a different story. If there are still a lot of perfect conference records at that point, then it is going to be a very exciting week leading into Selection Sunday. You know the drill: Bubble teams have to root for schools like Nevada to win their conference tournaments, because if they lose they get tossed into the at-large pool. I think we're long past the point of dismissing teams outside power conferences just because we haven't seen them play that much.
So, then: Who among the conference undefeateds poses the largest risk should they lose in their postseason tournaments? I've listed them in order of bubbliciousness. This group obviously does not include Kentucky, which is the only undefeated team in a power conference. I think it's pretty safe to say the Wildcats will still earn an at-large bid even if they don't win the SEC tournament.
Keep in mind that when I assess everyone's at-large chances, I am assuming they finish the regular season undefeated but lose in their conference tournaments.
On to the rest of the 'Bag ...
I'm happy to remedy this oversight. The Owls aren't just good, they're actually not bad to watch. They have a reputation for being a half-court team, but they're scoring more than 74 points per game and they're ranked 111th nationally in tempo. And Tony is correct about the impact of Michael Eric's return. The 6-foot-11 senior from Nigeria is a strong kid and a monster rebounder. He returned a week-and-a-half ago after missing six weeks with a knee injury. He's an important piece to this team, because the Owls depend heavily on their perimeter triumvirate of Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez to make three-pointers.
The largest question in play here is just what we should make of the Atlantic 10. This is one wacky league, and not in a good way. It looked like Dayton was ready to take command after beating Xavier to take sole possession of first place, but since then the Flyers have lost three straight, including two at home to lowly Rhode Island and Duquesne. Xavier is either not the same team it was before the fight with Cincinnati, or maybe it's just not as good as we thought it was in the first place. You know who's in first place right now? La Salle, that's who, with a 6-2 league record. But the Explorers are 17-6 overall.
I think the Atlantic 10 will send at least two teams to the NCAA tournament, and I think Temple will be one of them. But one thing we've learned about this league is to expect the unexpected. I promise, I'll be watching.
I'm pretty sure the folks at UConn don't feel like they're getting the white glove treatment.
A lot of people -- especially Kentucky fans -- are asking why Boatright can just serve a little time and pay back the money, while Enes Kanter was declared permanently ineligible. The answer is pretty simple: Boatright received money that the NCAA deemed to be impermissible, but he was not directly compensated by a professional organization for competing. That's a pretty bright line, and it's clear that Kanter crossed it.
Look, these cases are never as simple as they seem. One thing we know is that no matter what happens, the NCAA is going to get criticized. They were too lenient with Cam Newton, too harsh on Kanter, too erratic with Boatright. The real solution to all these problems is for people to stop cheating in the first place. Someone wake me when that happens.
Finally, I've been writing and commenting quite a bit about officiating lately. Here are a few questions on the subject:
I don't like this play any more than John does, but I think it would be going too far to insert a technical foul for flopping. The important thing is that the referees get the call right.
I actually saw a worse situation than this one in the Duke-Clemson game, when a Clemson player blatantly faked getting hit in the face with an elbow from Mason Plumlee. Replays clearly showed Plumlee never touched the kid, but when the refs went to the replay monitor, they still assessed him with a flagrant-one foul. The refs didn't just get it wrong in real time, they got it wrong after watching the replay. Pathetic.
Larry is referring to
As to Larry's point, I don't disagree that some referees excessively showboat when they make a call. They have a whistle and a book full of hand signals, and that should be enough. However, I think the biggest problem right now is the behavior of the coaches. Too many of them waste energy working the refs instead of coaching their teams. Besides being unpalatable to the eye, I think this has a negative effect on their teams. A coach who spends a lot of time complaining to the refs is communicating to his players that it doesn't matter how hard they play, they are not going to win because they're getting hosed by the zebras. In addition, if the coach is screaming and cursing, why wouldn't his players assume it's OK for them to do it as well?