The High School to College Jump Debate… Righting the Ship

March 1, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

The NBA may be peaking in terms of popularity right now, but make no mistakes – it is an organization in very serious trouble.

The league has been hijacked by players, it is hemorrhaging money, and now the limited population of truly talented athletes in the league have all decided to migrate east, creating what is sure to be an extremely top-heavy NBA.

The league is enjoying a spike in popularity, but how long can that popularity be sustained? There are only so many superstars that are worth the media attention lavished on LeBron James and Dwayne Wade during this past off-season. Now that Carmelo Anthony has signed on with the Knicks, the only thing left for the talking heads in the sports world to talk about is, “Where will Chris Paul sign?

Things just aren’t like they used to be.

Comparisons to the “good ol’ days” often point to the fact that the league’s biggest stars from back in the day would have never teamed up to play on the same team. The notion that Magic would have taken his talents to Boston to team up with Byrd, or that Jordan would ever put on a Knicks uniform to share the same court with Ewing is just absurd. These were hyper-competitive athletes who wanted to share none of the glory.

There has clearly been a change in mentality between the stars of yesterday, and those of today. It has completely altered the climate of professional basketball.

That change has been the talent level of the B and C class talent.

Superstar talent may be comparable to the golden days, but supporting casts in the NBA are a shell of what they once were.

NBA Lite

Thanks to the miracle of NBA expansion, the league has officially reached its saturation point. The league has outgrown the boundaries that would have allowed it to remain competitive, and the limited pool of real NBA-worthy talent is not enough to stock the ocean that is the current NBA.

Talent is watered down to such a point now that the current NBA draft format (which is only two rounds to begin with) is completely irrelevant. With the exception of a small handful of lottery players, most of the draft class from each new season spends the first two to three years of their professional careers either in the D-league, or playing foreign ball. It is not until after some REAL development has taken place that a player (no matter how promising they might be) will actually get an opportunity to test their mettle in the big leagues.

Where in previous years a team might have three or four role players with genuine talent, the teams of today are lucky if they have one guy who can truly hold his own in helping to hoist the elite up.

So who can blame the athletes with REAL talent from wanting to team up?

Guys like LeBron James are no longer expected just to be great players, they are expected to act as mentors and trainers who must take on the responsibility of developing those players around them. They cannot focus solely on their game, because they have to make everyone else better.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Denver Nuggets are the perfect example of this fact. Before their superstar saviors came to town, they were the bottom-feeders of the league. While those superstar saviors were in town, they realized elevated levels of success, but nothing truly satisfying. Now that those superstar saviors are gone, they have sunk back into the depths of irrelevance.

They enjoyed a boost in winning percentages because they had a difference-maker on the court, but that boost was short-lived because those difference-makers didn’t want to have to do everything. While they want to be the best guy on the court, they don’t want to be the ONLY guy on the court. So they have sacrificed their shot at EXCLUSIVE glory so they can at least have a shot at glory.

Fixing the problem

The good news for NBA fans is that the upcoming CBA expiration provides the perfect opportunity to fix the league’s problems. Who would have thought that inspiration for that fix would come from the same organization blamed for the overhyped condition of sports in America today – ESPN?

Last weekend, analysts Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis, following one of their broadcasts, discussed a recommendation that was so well received that Michigan State’s head coach, Tom Izzo, has decided to propose it to the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

The recommendation was that the NBA should implement an ultimatum of sorts to prospective NBA draft entrants. For those who feel they are truly ready to make the immediate leap from high school into the pros, they deserve that opportunity. The one-year waiting period will be waived, and they can follow in the footsteps of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and several others who have gone on to superstardom.

For those who are not ready, though, they will have to commit to a THREE-year (as opposed to one) stint in college.

This is actually a brilliant proposal that would boost the level of play, not only for the NBA, but also for college basketball (although the benefits for the NCAA are irrelevant to the topic at hand today).

For starters, this would actually not be an unprecedented policy. In fact, it is exactly the same policy held by the MLB. Although the NFL does not offer an immediate entry into their ranks, they still require a three-year wait.

The greatest benefit that the NBA would realize is that it would no longer have to assume the responsibility of developing athletes who are SUPPOSED to be NBA-caliber talent. As evidenced by the current state of talent in the league, it is obvious that the league stinks at developing talent anyway. Why not let players grow-up in college, at someone else’s expense, so that when they DO join the professional ranks they do so as matured athletes who are ready to hit the ground running.

This elevation in entry-level talent coming into the league would help boost the level of competition across the board. Teams would be able to populate their rosters with a better class of athlete, and the support-starved stars of the game today will feel less pressure to take on the role of team savior.

The end result is that all of the teams in the league would get better. The depth of talent from the five starters to the pine-riders and the D-leaguers would make the game more competitive, and stars of the league might be more compelled to resume the competitive nature of their predecessors, staying put and striving for individual glory, rather than a shared piece of the ultimate prize.

This proposal, which is now being championed by one of the most respected coaches in basketball today, is one that will benefit the entire game of basketball. It will make the players better, and it will make the league better.

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg! Bookmark and Share

The Freshman on the Pre-Season All-American Team Debate Verdict

November 10, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Optimist Prime.

While I completely agree with Optimist Prime’s main point that these types of pre-season honors do not really matter, it became clear to the editorial staff here at TSD that a great many fans do in fact care deeply about a freshman being allowed to appear on a pre-season All-American team.

Before diving into the arguments I do want to call attention to one point from Optimist Prime that I vehemently oppose. The notion that basketball is an individual game is flat wrong. It is true that the individual nature of the reward we’re debating today is inescapable, but the irony lies in the fact that the sport – especially at the collegiate level – relies heavily on team achievement, and much less on the abilities of a single player. Team’s have a hierarchy of talent, but college basketball isn’t great because each team is just a disjointed conglomeration of individual talent. Successful teams work together flawlessly, and the vast majority of championship teams prove that out.

As Optimist points out, in total fairness, the freshman did not appoint himself to the team. Rather, a membership group of sports media elite did that. That is not the player’s fault. It is, however, proof that the “award” is ridiculous. Fair point, Optimist Prime.

But, regardless of the award’s fairness from a media standpoint, it is counter-intuitive – and it should be counter-culture – to lavish anyone with awards and esteem who has done nothing to earn it. Barnes may become a great college player, but it’s impossible to agree that he would then, retroactively, deserve the pre-season All-American team honors as a freshman. Freshmen have not proven anything on the court in a college atmosphere, a fair and acknowledged point from Loyal Homer.

If the purpose of the award is to give the nod to players who show tremendous potential, then have a freshmen All-American team (which does exist). But, and the winning arguer Loyal Homer so succinctly stated, to include a freshman in the overall pre-season All-American cheapens the entire team.

Sure, I understand the game of college basketball has evolved. Freshman now rule the roost in part because an early departure for the elite players is now standard practice. But NBA draft prospects are completely different that All-American honors. There was a simpler time when professional prospect didn’t influence a college player’s perception at all. The All-American award harkens a simpler, more pure time in sports, and giving a freshman the nod for is a deep and irreversible stain.

Maybe this Sports Geek is old school, but whatever happened to earning an award? With respect to Optimist’s argument that Barnes has been evaluated at countless camps in the off-season and AAU environments over the course of his prep career, Barnes hasn’t won a game with a last minute shot in Cameron Indoor. He hasn’t gone on the road in Little John Arena and beaten a pesky Clemson club in conference with a tough road game. He hasn’t proven his mettle in a conference tournament or propelled his team to a berth in the NCAA Tournament. He may appear to have the pedigree to accomplish those feats, but let’s ease up on the praise and awards until he proves worthy. It might be old fashioned, but it’s also the right thing.

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg! Bookmark and Share

The Freshman on the Pre-Season All-American Team Debate

November 9, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Optimist Prime.

It is always an honor for a team and an individual player to be named to the pre-season All-American team. This pre-season is no different, as four veteran college basketball players have earned their way on to the high profile and well respected pre-season All-American team.

This season’s team consists of the following players:

  • Kyle Singler, Duke, C/F, Senior
  • Jacob Pullen, Kansas State, G, Senior
  • Jimmer Fridette, BYU, G, Senior
  • JuJaun Johnson, Purdue, C/F, Senior
  • Harrison Barnes, North Carolina, F/G, Freshman

The team is chosen by a panel consisting of 65 national media personalities. One player in particular sticks out of the lineup. Barnes is a true freshman for North Carolina. He has never once bounced a round orange call on the hard wood in a college game atmosphere. Yet, the 65 national media personalities that chose the players for this team honored him with All-American status.

Did the panel get it right? Do freshman deserve to be included on the Pre-Season All-American team?

Optimist Prime believes that a freshman like Barnes should be allowed to be named to the team while Loyal Homer will argue that a freshman has not yet earned the right to be called All-American, even on a pre-season team.

Convince a pragmatist a freshman belongs on the team. Good luck.

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg! Bookmark and Share

The Tom Izzo Decision Debate… Izzo Isno Mercenary

June 17, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

It has been well documented in this space that I am a fan of Tom Izzo. In fact, the other writers here at TSD poke relentless fun and me both in their articles and during production meetings because of it. For the record, I have no ties to Michigan State University or to Izzo personally. I do, however, have a great deal of healthy respect for the man. Simply, he is one of the best coaches ever in the history of college basketball. Exactly half of his teams have made the Final Four in the last 12 seasons. Twelve! Outside of John Wooden and Dean Smith – two legends – only Izzo has had more sustained, consistent success. It is a powerful and true statement.

It makes perfect sense for Izzo to stay put in East Lansing and continue building a program he has engineered to national prominence. Izzo is a practical coach; you see it in his decision making during games and his management of various personalities on this team. Even in recruiting. Some coaches go after the elite type players where academics are a question mark. Not Izzo. Izzo recruits players for four years. He expects that. It is a rarity, but a practicality, that college basketball is largely missing.

If a person is one of the best active coaches in college basketball, and has the opportunity to become one of the best in history, why would they potentially compromise that rare legacy based on twice the salary and a professional superstar’s silence?

As alluded to already, Izzo is in rarified air when it comes to the greatest college basketball coaches of all time.

John Wooden, one of my all-time favorites, coached at two universities in his entire career. Few remember his early days at Indiana State (1946-1948), but his legendary coaching days at UCLA from 1948-1975 are well documented. His level of sustained success as a coach in college basketball is thought to be unapproachable again. His ten national championships will likely never be repeated by any coach.

Dean Smith has the second most wins all time as a head coach in college basketball, and coach North Carolina into national prominence from 1961 to 1997. He won national championships 11 years apart, and was a regular winner of conference and regional tournaments. He is an institution in the state of North Carolina. His ability to stay in one spot and be successful, though, has extended his institution status well beyond the confines of a single state and promoted him to legend throughout basketball.

The reality is, Tom Izzo is in the conversation with these coaches. Part of the successful model Izzo is following by making the right decision to stay at Michigan State is coaching at one institution for a long period of time… like Wooden and Smith. He is still relatively young at 55 years of age, and has only been head coaching at Michigan State for 15 seasons. He will have ample opportunity to win additional championship and reach many more Final Fours. When all is said and done, Izzo will be in the conversation as one of the five best coaches in college basketball history. If he were to abandon this path to assured legendary status now, his accidental ambition would be compromised. The potential of coaching LeBron James and winning an NBA title simply is not worth that.

Another reason Izzo is smart for staying at MSU is because his style of coaching is far better suited for college basketball than professional basketball. Simply, the motivations for collegiate athletes and professional athletes (who often become mercenaries, bouncing from team to team for more money or playing time) are different.

College athletes do not have leverage with coaches. Coaches are in control and can punish, reward, inspire, and motivate accordingly. Izzo is a master at this. When he needed to bench his best player, point guard Kalin Lucas, early last season for not being the type of team leader the team needed, he did. He had every possible button to push at his disposal. In the professional ranks, can any of us imagine Izzo getting away with benching LeBron – either from the fans OR media OR players? If Izzo believes that is the right decision to make, in college he has the power to make it. In the NBA, a notoriously and frustratingly player’s league, he does not.

Professional athletes are mercenaries. Loyalty to team or cause takes a back seat to earning potential and contract value nearly every time. Rare is the case when professional basketball players turn down a big contract because they BELIEVE in what their team is doing. Izzo is the type of coach that must never be in a position where he has to convince a player to believe. Trust is important. Back to our previous analogy, would LeBron trust Izzo that sitting on the bench, healthy, is in the best interests of the team? No.

The NBA is full of players that demand more money or more playing time, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are no random exception to this obvious truth. The quality of character which Izzo pursues in the players he recruits would be a more difficult pursuit in the NBA. Izzo would simply be a coach in the NBA, not a coach and GM as he is in college. The difference is stark and no easy adjustment.

Despite Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert’s best efforts, Izzo is not the type of coach to simply be plugged in to coach up professional assets. He’s an emotional person, he’s a believer. The NBA strips players and coaches of the idealism college basketball thrives on, and Tom Izzo has mastered. Yes, Izzo made the right decision by staying true to who he is as a person – a legendary college basketball coach in the making.

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg! Bookmark and Share

The Tom Izzo Decision Debate… Izzo Izz NOT Making the Right Decision

June 17, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Sports Geek.

Tom Izzo is allegedly a great coach. Our very own Sports Geek even goes so far as to laud Izzo on his ability to coach up teams to perform better than their raw talent would otherwise dictate. Sports Geek also gushes worshipful praise upon Izzo’s hallowed visage for his ability to stay strong and find success, even when the odds appear to be against him.

Yet, when Izzo’s feet were held to the fire, he shied away from an opportunity to advance his career, nay, his legacy. This “legendary” coach, who has undeniably had success in college, just didn’t have the guts to take the leap to try and coach the “big boys” when the real pressure was on.

Why the sudden and apparent cowardice? Izzo could not get CONFIRMATION that LeBron James would be playing in Cleveland. If he had gotten that confirmation, he would be packing his bags for Lake Erie as you read this article. But since that guarantee was unavailable to him, he will instead remain a big fish in the little pond of college basketball.

Translation – Izzo just didn’t want to have to put forth the EFFORT of possibly having to rebuild a successful team in the NBA. Instead, this coach whose alleged greatness comes from his ability to build, coach up, and maintain a successful basketball program tucked tail and ran when the opportunity came for him to put his money where his mouth was.

Tom Izzo would rather “safely” coach college kids against the likes of Thad Matta, Ron Zook, and Fran McCaffery than he would test his mettle in coaching better, professional basketball players against better coaches like Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, and Stan Van Gundy.

Sports Geek will argue that Izzo is one of the few coaches who has the unique opportunity to finish his career in the very place he started. He will also argue that NCAA coaches have not traditionally found success after attempting the transition to the pros. Both of those are feeble attempts to justify a decision to play it safe, rather than make a decision to challenge yourself to do something great.

And it is not like he would be coaching the New Jersey Nets.

Consider the situation that was presented to Tom Izzo.

On one hand, LeBron James stays with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In that case, Izzo inherits the best player in the NBA, on a championship-ready team, with the undying support of one of sports’ greatest fan bases and all for an owner who has publicly promised to do everything in his power to make the Cavaliers a championship team (which, in fairness, he has absolutely backed up).

That sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.

On the other hand, LeBron James decides to leave Cleveland and play elsewhere. In that case, Izzo would STILL inherit a tremendous supporting cast that is just one superstar short of NBA championship contention. He would also STILL be coaching for a very passionate fan base, AND working for an owner who PROMISED a championship (note – that promise did not come only on the condition that LeBron stays in Cleveland).

As owner of the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert has committed to winning a championship – no strings attached. If LeBron James leaves Cleveland, Gilbert would not just throw his hands up in the air with an attitude that “we tried our best” and then just pack it in and call it quits. Instead, if LeBron suits up elsewhere next season (and that is still a VERY big IF), Gilbert still has the means and the motivation to keep the Cavaliers in contention.

Let’s be real – LeBron James does not EQUAL a championship. Yes, his talent puts his team in a great position to PLAY for a championship, but in the 64-year history of the NBA there have been 64 different championship teams, and NONE of them included LeBron James.

Tom Izzo had an opportunity to do something that very few basketball coaches will ever find, and that is to coach in the NBA. The fact that other college coaches such as Rick Pitino and John Calipari failed to make the transition is poor and cowardly justification for Izzo not to try, especially when considering Pitino’s teams in New York and Boston, and Calipari’s New Jersey Nets, were nowhere NEAR as well-equipped as the Cavaliers for success, with or WITHOUT LeBron James.

Izzo had the opportunity to coach some of the most talented basketball players in the world on the game’s biggest stage – for a LUDICROUS salary – all of which would have been supported by an owner with some of the deepest pockets and arguably the most ambition in all of the NBA. And he turned it down. Why? Because he only has a CHANCE of having LeBron James on his team, rather than a guarantee.

No matter how successful Izzo may be in his future seasons at Michigan State, it will not compare with the success that he could have found in the NBA.

When you consider the qualities that have made Izzo a great coach for the Spartans, along with the opportunity that he was being presented with, it seemed to be a perfect fit.

Izzo made the wrong decision!

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg! Bookmark and Share

The Connecticut Women’s Basketball Winning Streak Debate… I’ll Take Irrelevant Sports Trivia For $400, Alex

April 6, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

I do not care what sport we are talking about, a win streak of 77 games (and counting) is legendary. The feat that the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has already accomplished, even if it should end tonight, is nothing short of amazing.

As a result of this historic run, the Lady Huskies and the University of Connecticut stand to benefit greatly. The attention this accomplishment has garnered for their women’s basketball program, and their school in general, along with the accolades already won by the team, will help to maintain successful recruiting for the program for many years to come. That, however, is where the benefit stops.

I won’t go so far as to say that this story is “bad” for women’s college basketball in general. I don’t think this story will cause any fans to LEAVE the game. However, it will not technically be “good” for the sport either, because when all is said and done this will not have changed public opinion or interest for women’s college basketball one way or the other.

Forgive my bluntness, but the VAST MAJORITY of the sports-viewing public simply does not care about women’s college basketball, and this is not a story that will attract new fans to the game.

Want proof that nobody cares about this story? Just scan the front pages of major sports news outlets on the Internet and try to find ANY reference to the streak OR to women’s college basketball in general. As I write this article, here is what you will find (keep in mind that the streak is still alive, and the championship game takes place TODAY):

Sports Illustrated’s front page has stories about Duke’s national championship, the NBA Hall of Fame inductees, several stories about various baseball games, and a story about the Lakers’ head coach, Phil Jackson, being fined $35K for criticizing referees. No women’s college basketball here…

ESPN has, in addition to the coverage of Duke and Phil Jackson’s fine, stories about Donovan McNabb’s contract negotiations with the Redskins, Milwaukee Bucks’ center Andrew Bogut’s hand injury, and Tiger Woods’ denial of taking HGH. No women’s college basketball here, either (Editor’s Note: Interetsing because UConn’s championship game is ESPN’s primetime content tonight.)…

Those headlines are basically the same for Fox Sports, CBS Sports, and Sporting News as well.

None of those outlets even MENTION women’s basketball, even though the championship game is today and UConn’s win streak is still alive. In fact, the reference I could find on any major sports outlets’ front-page is at USA Today, where there is a small blurb linking to a story about the matchup between UConn forward Maya Moore and Stanford forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike, but you have to scroll about half-way down the page to find where it is buried.

The fact is that this run, no matter how impressive it has been, has not garnered any interest at all for the sport of women’s basketball. Anybody who watches the championship game tonight would have watched it whether this streak was at stake or not. NOBODY will tune in because of the streak… it is as simple as that.

Do you remember Ken Jennings?

His record-breaking championship run on the game show Jeopardy warranted the occasional anecdotal reference while it was ongoing, but it did not drive fan-interest in the overall product. Seriously, can you name one person who NOW watches Jeopardy because they became a fan after being drawn in by the story of Ken Jennings? Can you even find one person who knows how long Jennings’ streak was, how much money he won, or who beat him? I can’t.

Just as Ken Jennings’ championship run has amounted to nothing more than a pop-culture trivia tidbit of information, the UConn Lady Huskies’ win-streak will amount to nothing more than a sports trivia tidbit of information (which after a couple years, ironically, will only be remembered by the likes of Ken Jennings).

This is a tremendous accomplishment, and it is one that the women of UConn should be EXTREMELY proud of. The sport of women’s college basketball, however, needs much more than a simple story about a record win-streak if they hope to drive fan interest. When the Lady Huskies lose again this win streak will become nothing more than another statistic. It will fade into dust-covered irrelevance and we will not hear about it again until another team comes along (probably not for another 30 years) to challenge their record.

By the way – Lost and American Idol are both on tonight!

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg! Bookmark and Share

The Dropping Mid from Mid-Major Debate… I See Your True Colors Shining Through

April 1, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

All over this great nation of ours society has forced many of its schools to conform to a lifestyle that they can no longer abide by. No matter how much society tries to ignore the writing on the wall, they simply cannot deny the truth that is as plain as the nose on their collective faces.

Mid-major conferences have been pretending to be “MID” for long enough, and they cannot live that lie anymore. It is time that we all start recognizing them for what they really are – MAJORS.

You can try to deny it all you want. You can scream that it is not right, or not normal. You can talk about how “mid” major programs are not supposed to compete with the big boys, or that they CANNOT compete with the big boys. You can use flawed logic that “mid” majors should only play to a “mid” level performance, because that is how it has always been, and that is how it SHOULD be. What you cannot do, though, is deny the facts.

March Not-So-Madness

It seems that the 2010 March Madness tournament has finally given these once downtrodden teams a voice, and their indomitable spirit has shone through!

For starters, the 2010 Sweet Sixteen featured representatives from ELEVEN different conferences. Joining the “regular” party-goers this year were contingents from the Ivy League, Missouri Valley, Horizon League, Atlantic-10, and the West Coast Conferences.

The tournament favorite Kansas Jayhawks fell to the MVC champion Northern Iowa Panthers.

Ohio Valley champion Murray State upended SEC Vanderbilt’s tournament hopes.

Ivy Leaguers from Cornell stormed through the Big Ten’s Wisconsin Badgers.

The most damaging piece of evidence for power conference traditionalists, though, was the collapse of their mightiest conference, the Big East. Of the seven teams from the Big East that are no longer in contention, FIVE of them fell at the hands of “mid” major schools, including top-seeded Syracuse losing to Butler (Horizon League). Second-seeded Villanova lost to the St. Mary’s (West Coast). The Georgetown Hoyas, after earning a three-seed in the tournament, were EMBARRASSED in their first-round matchup against Ohio University (who finished the regular season as the NINTH PLACE TEAM out of the MAC). Rounding out the Big East’s undoing, Notre Dame was toppled by Old Dominion (Colonial), and Pitt lost to Xavier (Atlantic-10).

Regular Season Stereotypes

In a feeble attempt to counter this argument, traditionalists will point to the regular season as proof that the old standards NORMALLY hold firm, and that flukes are BOUND to occur in a tournament where 65 games take place. DO NOT BUY INTO THAT FLAWED ARGUMENT!

The regular season is structured specifically to favor power conferences, and “mid” majors are put at a disadvantage before they even step on the court. Think about it. When was the last time Duke travelled into the MEAC to take on a school like Bethune-Cookman? How about NEVER!

“Mid” majors are constantly forced to travel far away from home into hostile environments where foreign officiating crews will govern their play – not exactly a level playing field. Yet, the power conference schools are unwilling to return that favor and put their own reputations at risk by travelling into a “mid” major program’s neighborhood. Proponents of this system claim that powers have nothing to gain and everything to lose by putting their records at risk against teams that they perceive as being a lesser class than their own.

If these power conference programs were TRULY confident that they were superior to the “mids” then they would not be AFRAID to put their status on the line. The REAL TRUTH of the matter is that these programs KNOW the gap between powers and “mids” has been narrowed, and they are relying on myths and stereotypes to propagate a system that artificially manufactures a separation in class, rather than embrace a field of OPEN competition to truly determine who is the best.

For proof, look no further than Kansas and Cornell. During the regular season, Cornell travelled into Kansas to take on the Jayhawks. In a game played at Big XII’s own Phog Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, KS, officiated by a Big XII crew, the Big Red from Cornell stood TIED with Kansas with only 0:17 seconds left in the game, before Kansas finally EEKED out a win at the foul-line.

Fast-forward to the NCAA tournament, where games are instead played on neutral courts with neutral officiating crews, and what happens – Kansas loses to a “mid” in the second round, and Cornell reaches the Sweet Sixteen over Temple (ranked #17 in the country) and Wisconsin (a power conference team that was ranked #13 in the nation).

Just imagine what would have happened if the Cornell-Kansas game was played on a neutral site, or at Cornell.

I know there will be teams at the bottom of these “mid” major conferences that struggle, but how is that different from the power conferences, with teams like Northwestern who have NEVER been to March Madness?

Am I saying that power conferences are worse than “mid” majors? Of course not, but it is time to stop treating “mid” major schools as if they were second-class programs that cannot match up against “real” Division I programs.

The curtain has been pulled back, the myth has been busted, and the lies have been exposed. It is time to demand equal rights and recognition for teams and conferences that are truly EQUAL!

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg! Bookmark and Share

The Best 2010 NCAAB Championship Game Debate… There Should Be a First Time for Everything

March 29, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

Duke and Michigan State have made the Final Four… yawn!

In no way are my comments intended to diminish the impressive accomplishment that both schools have made. But let’s be honest – it is nothing new. And in this March Madness tournament, where the unprecedented has become the only precedent, there just is not any room on my wish list for programs and coaches who visit the Final Four with the same seeming regularity as my weekly trips to the grocery store.

Their counterparts, however, in the collection of 2010 NCAA Tournament Regional Champions are about to experience something altogether new.

It has been more than 50 years since the West Virginia Mountaineers last reached the Final Four with a shot to compete for the national championship, and 2010 marks the first time since the Calvin Coolidge administration that the Butler Bulldogs are in consideration for the nation’s top basketball prize. In this tournament of firsts, it only seems fitting that the championship matchup should pit two teams against each other that are competing for their first ever tournament title.

More important is the fact that both West Virginia and Butler are more deserving of the crown than Duke and Michigan State.

To begin with, neither of these teams should be a surprise as Final Four participants. Although Butler is coming out of the mid-major Horizon League Conference, they are the owners of the longest active winning streak in the country with their last loss coming at the hands of UAB BEFORE Christmas last year! Throughout the season they faced off against (and defeated) some of the top teams in the country, including victories over Ohio State and Xavier, both of whom were Sweet Sixteen teams.

As for West Virginia, the Mountaineers simply have too much talent on the floor to be stopped. In a year where much of the talent within the “usual” Big East powerhouses would be lacking (I TOLD YOU SO!), the combination of Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, and Joe Mazzulla was more than enough to carry the Big East banner deep into the 2010 tournament. Behind their seemingly re-invented head coach, Bob Huggins, this Mountaineers team has played like a team of destiny all season long.

Next, when comparing the tournament roads that each of the respective regional champions took to get to the Final Four, Butler and West Virginia have clearly faced off against the tougher competition, and both have survived intact. Butler had to take on and defeat both of the top two teams within their region (Syracuse and Kansas State) in order to continue the nation’s longest active win-streak. West Virginia was handed the task of beating the Kentucky Wildcats, a team which led the rankings as the nation’s top program for much of the 2009-2010 season (at least when Kansas wasn’t).

Compare that to Duke, who coasted into the Final Four as the beneficiaries of the weakest regional draw in the tournament, or to Michigan State, who played lesser-ranked teams in both of their Sweet Sixteen (against ninth-seeded Northern Iowa) and Elite Eight (versus sixth-seeded Tennessee) matchups.

While Butler and West Virginia were busy taking care of the so-called best teams in the country, Duke and Michigan State simply sat back and let other teams do all the hard work, while they just cleaned up the scraps.

Butler and West Virginia have already proven to be the best two teams remaining in the tournament, because they have both BEATEN the teams previously recognized as the best in the tournament. A championship game featuring these two teams would provide one of the most entertaining and dramatic tournament finals in memory.

If we have learned anything from the 2010 March Madness tournament, it is that the “establishment” needs to be shaken up a little bit. What was once considered gospel in the world of college basketball can no longer be counted on. The tried and true principles that we have assigned to the game of college hoops for years no longer seems viable, and we are now forced with redefining our criteria for recognizing the top teams in the country. It is time to see some new faces on top of the heap, and what better way to cap off this season of revolution than with a Butler-West Virginia national championship?.

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg! Bookmark and Share

The 2000-2010 Best NCAAB Tournament Coach Debate… Living in the Wild Wild West

March 24, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

Oh, what a difference a weekend can make.

This time last week, basketball fans everywhere were filling out brackets. Basketball know-it-alls around the country were confidently making their can’t-miss picks for the tournaments. You could hear them at water-coolers everywhere:

“The Big East is the best conference going into the tournament! They have eight teams, and any one of them can make a run!”

“Kansas is far and away the favorite to take this tournament!”

“The Pac-10 teams are ALL down this year!”

Then the weekend happened. The only sound heard in living rooms and sports bars alike was that of brackets being busted.

Of the eight Big East “monsters” that were all seeded as favorites in their matchups, only four survived the first round, with two more falling before the Sweet Sixteen. Kansas, the number one seed overall, was bounced by mid-major Northern Iowa, and the Pac-10’s only two entrants. California and Washington turned in some very exciting performances with the 11th seeded Huskies reaching the Sweet Sixteen over top-ten ranked New Mexico.

NOBODY could have guessed the carnage that so many underdogs would have wreaked on the 2010 NCAA Basketball championships. In fact, reports that, out of the 4.78 million entries in their online bracket challenge, there were none (that’s ZERO) that had predicted all of the Sweet Sixteen teams (Editor’s note: One dude has a perfect bracket on CBS), and only four people out of the nearly five millions even picked 15 out of 16 correct (but there were more than 6,000 who went 0 for 16).

With the upheaval of the past weekend, the question must be re-asked: Which region of the 2010 March Madness Tournament is NOW the toughest to win?

In looking at the sixteen teams still alive and vying for the national crown, the four which pose the toughest collection of competition for each other live in the Wild West.

Each region claims strong teams, and each also boasts a great story, from Cornell’s run in the east to Northern Iowa’s toppling of the giant in the Midwest. The West, though, possesses the strongest collection of FOUR teams still remaining.

With all due respect to programs such as Northern Iowa, St. Mary’s, Cornell, or even Washington, their success has been surprising, and by all accounts should be short-lived. As much as I would love to see each of those teams advance deeper into this tournament, the EXPECTED result (although I will acknowledge that this tournament has provided anything BUT expected results) is that their 15 minutes is quickly drawing to a close now that they are facing progressively more talented competition.

Because of those EXPECTED outcomes, each of those double-digit seeded teams creates a seemingly weaker spot in the “Road to the Final Four.” Realistically, if I had to choose between Syracuse or St. Mary’s as my opponent, I would pick St. Mary’s.

Each of the regions in the March Madness tournament holds at least one of those double-digit seeded “weaker” team in it except for one – the West Region. The West may have two teams from mid-major conferences remaining (Xavier and Butler), but these teams are mid-major in name only. Both have proven all season long (and consistently over several seasons) that they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Like Gonzaga and Memphis (at least while John Calipari was coaching on Beale Street), these two programs are worthy of power-conference status.

Occupying the remaining spots in this region are top-seeded Syracuse and second-seeded Kansas State.

Syracuse was the biggest surprise story of the regular season. They began their 2009-2010 campaign unranked before playing all the way up to the top spot in the country, ultimately finishing the season in the third spot behind Kentucky and Kansas. As for Kansas State, they probably would have been a number one seed in the tournament had it not been for three losses against Kansas (who are now out of the picture and no longer a threat to the Wildcats).

In a seed-by-seed comparison, the West poses the toughest overall road to the regional championship games. Along with the East, the West is the only region with both of their top two seeds still alive, and they are the ONLY region that does not include at least one double-digit seeded team. All four of the teams in the West finished 2010 ranked in the top-25, and all four of those teams have a LEGITIMATE shot at playing in Indianapolis.

While all 16 teams remaining deserve recognition for their accomplishments this season, the toughest challenge still lies ahead for the four teams playing in Salt Lake City this weekend!

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg! Bookmark and Share

The 2010 Hardest NCAAB Region Debate… A Midwest Nightmare

March 19, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

What did I tell you?! The March Madness tournament this year will be a) one of the most competitive we have ever seen, and b) LOADED with upset potential.

Day One did not disappoint! Congratulations to Old Dominion, Murray State, Ohio, Washington, and St. Mary’s for pulling off very exciting (and very entertaining) upsets yesterday, and for screwing up a lot of brackets around the country!

Speaking of screw-ups, the Big East had a TERRIBLE showing yesterday. In four games during the first day of competition, the Big East was LUCKY to finish at 1-3, with Notre Dame, Marquette, and Georgetown on the losing end of MAJOR upsets while Villanova was fortunate to escape with their tournament lives in order to avoid a sweep!

Now that the alleged depth of the Big East has once again been exposed for what it really is – overblown hype from having too many teams in the conference – we can move forward and take a look at which region is shaping up to be the toughest of the tournament.

Even with the early departure of the Georgetown Hoyas at the hands of a “lowly” mid-major MAC team (in case you haven’t learned yet, I am a supporter of the mid-major programs), the toughest region of the tournament is the Midwest.

To start with, the Midwest Region features the Kansas Jayhawks, who entered the tournament as the top team in the country. That fact alone means that 15 out of the 16 teams in that region would have go through the best team in the country just make it out of the region and into the Final Four!

Beyond the strength of the top seed in this region the Midwest is stocked with some of the strongest teams in the tournament.

Sitting opposite Kansas in the bracket is the Ohio State Buckeyes, who are led by the favorite for the NCAA Player of the Year award, Evan Turner. The Buckeyes, fresh off of claiming the Big Ten championship, were among the teams being tossed around as possible one seeds for the tournament, and have been playing some of the best basketball in the country over the last two months of the season.

Traveling further down the region, the road doesn’t get any easier. Sitting in the fourth position in the region is the second place team out of the ACC – Maryland. In a year where the overall performance of the ACC has been down, Maryland has been one of the two teams within that conference that still played exceptionally well this season, even defeating Duke earlier this month.

After Maryland comes fifth-seeded Michigan State. Although the Spartans struggled against many of the highly ranked teams they faced throughout the 2010 season, they are led by arguably the greatest tournament coach of the last decade in Tom Izzo (Editor’s note: Stay tuned next week for that debate). Under Izzo’s leadership the Spartans are now entering their THIRTEENTH consecutive NCAA appearance. During that run of thirteen straight NCAA Tournament berths, Izzo has reached the Sweet Sixteen EIGHT different times, has been to the Elite Eight SIX times, has FIVE different Final Four appearances, and has been to the championship game twice (WINNING the title in 2000)! If anyone knows how to “dance” it is Izzo.

If that is not tough enough, consider that some of the double-digit seeds in this region are capable of some very impressive feats! Entering the region as the ten seed, Georgia Tech showed during the ACC Tournament that they are capable of playing with and beating many of the top teams in the nation (including a victory over the aforementioned Maryland Terrapins). Then at 14 sits the Ohio Bobcats who already have proven they will run with anybody after they SMOKED Georgetown on Thursday by a score of 97-83.

We learned yesterday that there is no such thing as a free ride in the NCAA Tournament for 2010, and in no region is that more evident than in the Midwest. From top to bottom, the strongest caliber of teams at each level are represented in this corner of the bracket, and the team that ultimately does emerge victorious from this gauntlet will have tested and proven their mettle against the very best that March Madness has to offer!

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg! Bookmark and Share