Saturday, February 29, 2020

The ultimate home court advantage

At the RAC this season, Rutgers is 17-1. Away from the RAC they are 1-8. Ohio State Coach Chris Holtmann told Yahoo, "I'm sure I've been heckled and jeered in more places; I've just never heard it so clearly."

Friday, February 28, 2020

Here is where the streak needs to start

The last few days we have gotten caught up in tracking the magic number to guarantee us a trip at least to the NIT, and that is VERY important. This is a roster that actually could make some noise in the NCAA if we get the right draw, and especially in the NIT.

However, maybe more important in the bigger picture is the fact that we won 20 games for the first time since the Beard season. And, of course, there are several games still to go.

I firmly believe that that needs to be our constant guide on the horizon. Win 20 games - every year. Do that and the rest of it will take care of itself.

The streak has just begun.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Why not do it by formula?

We have the NET, before that RPI, plus the independents like Sagarin. They come up with a mathematical formula for ranking the entire 300+ Division 1 teams in the country. And because it is based on a formula, human judgment is taken out of it. Why is the NCAA still living in the past, putting the necks of coaches and players in the hands of a bunch of old men in a smoke-filled room? Surely there is a computer guru somewhere who is smart enough to come up with a computer formula that can satisfy everyone. Then you just plug in the numbers and you have the NCAA tournament field. The only thing anyone could complain about at that point is the formula, but everyone at least is one the same playing field.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

What Pikiell is doing in Jersey

"He's built a starless team that runs nine deep and wins through blunt force" (Yahoo's Pete Thamel). In other words, Steve Pikiell is giving New Jersey the sort of blue collar team that Jersey loves to embrace. "Blunt force" - I love it. It remains to be seen if Rutgers will make the NCAA tournament, but they will be close, and that is better than what they have been for a long while.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Is a narrow win better?

If we were four games up with four games to go, we could relax down the stretch and maybe Coach could experiment with some things that might help come tournament time. However, the #1 seed is the #1 seed regardless of how wide the gap is over second place. And if the opposition is close on our heels, that keeps us sharp, keeps an edge to our play. And kids being kids, you never know what might happen otherwise. So, I am not complaining that we are still worrying about the Magic Number with three games to go. Just stay focused, Trojans.

Monday, February 24, 2020

A step ahead down the stretch

It reminds me of a few races I was in in my long-distant youth. You come out of the curve a step ahead of the next runner, going full speed, having let out the throttle. You are hoping you can hold off the competition just a little longer.

We had a chance to break contact with the field and open up some daylight, but we hit a cold spell. So now we have to finish the race with the competition's hot breath down our collars. That's what makes a season fun. You have to earn it.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Personally, I like it

This is as wide open a season heading down the stretch as I can recall offhand. There absolutely is nothing close to a prohibitive favorite for the national championship. Personally, I think that is good for the game. First of all, it makes the supposed "experts" have to work a little since there are a lot more teams to cover. And it certainly will make bracket-making more of an adventure. Maybe someone will come on late, but right now this is a wide open town.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

It all comes down to March

“They are definitely playing better basketball when it needs to be done,” Christian said. “I think if you asked Tony — maybe you guys should ask him — would you rather play your best basketball in November or March? I’d rather play my best basketball in March. That’s why they have a banner up there. It wasn’t like, we played great on Nov. 25th around Thanksgiving. They don’t put that banner up there. They put up the one in March.”

That is a quote from Boston College coach Jim Christian, speaking about Virginia. And he is right: in basketball it is all about when you peak.

Friday, February 21, 2020

D-III basketball

My wife and I went to Clarksville last night to watch two University of the Ozarks basketball games. Ozarks is having a terrible year on both sides, but they did win both games last night, and it was a ton of fun. In their old gym, it is like going back 50 years in time. The walls are concrete block, and the gym is LIVE. A handful of fans sounds like a houseful. The talent level is not great, of course, but they play just as hard as the D1 teams. And, for whatever reason, at neither game I have attended this season did they charge admission. So, it is a pretty good value.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

When Duke loses

Why does it feel so good when Duke loses, especially when they lose badly? I cannot speak for others, but I have a strong allergy to arrogance. Certain programs (which necessarily includes their fan base) have the stench of arrogance about them. That probably is why I dislike Fayetteville so strongly. So when an arrogant team loses badly, it is like a spray of air freshener in a stinking room. And I like good-smelling rooms. So come on, Duke, lose again!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Human nature works against the little guys

Even if we recognize a rule that the selection committee is not supposed to give any weight to when a win takes place, human nature still dictates that the small conferences are at a disadvantage. If Wake Forest beats Duke late in the year, that is a big upset and will be fresh on everyone's mind. You can say, "Don't pay any more attention to that win than the early wins," but human beings are human beings, and they will.

The problem little schools have is that once conference play begins, barring the rare emergence of a Top 25 program in our ranks, we do not have anyone to beat to impress the committee. So, all our impressing has to be done at a time of the year that is so easily forgotten. Just the nature of the beast, but it does work against us.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Ivory's record

We all know that in the SWAC, success is a relative thing. Any team that wins more than two or three games in the non-conference season is probably headed for a banner year. So when we look at the record of UAPB's head coach George Ivory, we have to keep that in mind.

UAPB is his first head coaching gig. He had had several assistant spots in the SWAC before that. His main claim to fame is that he took the Golden Lions to the NCAA tournament in his second season (2010). That season also produced his highest win total (18) and was one of two winning seasons that he has had.

His problem is that in the last five seasons he has lost 20 games or more, and the other year he had 19 losses. And this year they stand at 3-22 already. That is unsatisfactory even by SWAC standards. However, on the plus side, he has had a winning record in conference the last two years.

I would hate to be the AD at a SWAC school. Judging success in basketball would be tough.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Memphis fizzling

Memphis is one of a handful of teams in the country that I love to hate. Ever since Calipari crawled through town there has been a trail of slime about the program - except for Tubby's brief stay there. Probably because of Calipari's influence they are a team who thinks they can buy their way to success through recruiting. So I don't like them. They exemplify the glamor and glitz of basketball instead of the hard work and perseverance. They are what is wrong with basketball.

Now, it is up in the air as to whether or not Memphis will even make the NCAA tournament, after all their national championship talk before the season. Now they are having to learn how to spell NIT. Couldn't happen to nicer folks.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

What was he smoking?

I just saw Jay Bilas argue that one-and-done made college basketball better. So, having players on our teams who don't want to be in college, care nothing about college, care nothing about the teams they are on, are just biding their time until they can get in the pros when they would already be there if they could - all that makes college basketball better? And in the meantime those freshmen get all the hype instead of those players who play and stay and pay their dues and actually get better during the time while they are in college? He is nuts.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

A lot of it is pure hype

"Dayton has lost two games this year, and unless you’ve paid close attention, you don’t know how good Obi Toppin is. If Obi Toppin played at Duke, he’d be hyped like Zion. He’s not as good as Zion, but he’s not that far off. He’s very, very talented."

The above is a quote from ESPN's Jay Bilas, and it says tons. The light in college basketball shine brightest in certain places, and in other places things are pretty dark. The glamor programs and power conferences get the press. And Bilas just admitted that even at the level of Dayton, which is in the upper tier of basketball, players get ignored.

The press is like anyone else: they are going to take the easiest route, and that is to go where the glamor is and scoop a handful of it. But come NCAA time some smaller school will emerge as the darling of the tournament because they win a game or two, and all the press will be falling over themselves to learn about them. If they had been doing their jobs, they would already have known about them.

Friday, February 14, 2020

What are the polls?

I have no problem with the polls. They give us something to talk about, and they are the collective opinions of people who are supposed to know what they are talking about.

My problem is that I don't know exactly what they are polling. Are they selecting the teams who have the best body of work over the course of the season, or are they picking the teams who would win at least 51 games if they played each other 100 times, or who would win if the teams played only once? I don't know. We can say, the Aardvarks are "better than" the Seed Ticks, but what exactly does that mean?

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Room to improve

The encouraging thing about this team is that, as well as we have done, there is still considerable room for improvement. And much of that improvement could happen even before this season is over, and certainly before the next one begins.

Markquis has improved the reliability of his ball handling as the season has progressed, but an assist/turnover ration of 1.31 is still not acceptable for your primary ball handler. But at least we are headed in the right direction. And Jaizec Lottie is at 1.52, which is not bad for a back-up ball handler.

Ruot Monyyong has attempted 32 three-pointers, which is not a lot, but that does not need to increase, seeing that he is making only 22% of them. If a big men needs to be shooting outside, it needs to be Maric.

Jaizec Lottie shoots a fair amount of free throws for the minutes he plays, but he does not make many of them. Nor does he make many 3-pointers. He could really help us if his shooting improves.

In the last half-dozen games, Jovan Stulic's 3-point shooting has taken off, after lagging all year. We needed that, and he needs to keep it up.

As a team, our perimeter defense needs some work. We are allowing opponents to shoot 36% from the arc, and they are shooting considerably more of them than we are. This is probably the Achilles heel of the team at the moment. We are vulnerable from the perimeter.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Big year for Big Ten

I just saw the most recent Bracketology by CBS. Jerry Palm has the Big Ten putting eleven teams in the NCAA field, which I believe would be a record for one conference. That is very interesting, since ESPN's latest Bubble Watch only has one team (Maryland) as a Lock, and that only very recently. What that means is that there is tremendous parity in the league, and that they are spending their weekends beating up on each other.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sir John Walker

Not too many athletes get knighted, but John Walker was one of them. He was the first man to run the mile under 3:50, and won the 1500 meters at the 1976 Olympics.

He set the New Zealand record in the mile in 1982 in a race when Steve Scott (US), Walker and Ray Flynn (Ireland) set their respective national records in the mile in the same race. All three stood for 25 years until Little Rock's Alan Webb broke Scott's record. The other two still stand.

Walker was appointed a Knight Commander of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2009 Queen's Birthday Honours.

John Walker runner 1975.jpg

Monday, February 10, 2020

Hardest recruiting job?

Which SBC school would be the hardest one to recruit to? Well . . . I am not sure, of course, but I am guessing it might be ULM. It is a fairly good distance from any semi-major metropolitan area, and mainly in a not-very-picturesque rural area. I do not know just exactly what young athletes would like in a hometown these days, but I am guessing that Monroe probably is not it. But then again, maybe the town does not matter much, as long as the campus is right.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

College as minor leagues

In football and basketball (but not so much in baseball), the college games act as a de facto minor leagues for the professional system. But how well do they work? Perhaps OK as far as the pros are concerned, but it seems to me that college basketball is getting the short end of the stick in the matter. Changes are in order, but any changes probably will be in the wrong direction.

Down the stretch

If we win half our remaining games, we tie for the SBC regular season championship. And since two of those games are at home against the bottom-feeders from Louisiana, we are in a good position to do so. Also, if we win two more games we make it to the 20-win plateau, which has not been that common in our program's history, and needs to become the new "normal" if we are to get to where we want to be.

The regular season championship has long meant more to me than getting to go to the NCAA. If the first place, winning an entire season title is much more difficult to do than winning a handful of games because you happen to get hot at the right time. In the second place, sure, the bright lights of the NCAA are nice for the program, but there is virtually zero chance of even making it to the Final Four. On the other hand, in the NIT there is a real possibility to doing some major damage.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Specializing in the unrecorded stat

I have long said that one indication of good defense is the fact that opponents cannot get off a shot. But other than shot clock violations, that stat does not get tracked. "He is a good defender because he keeps the guy he is guarding from shooting."

In his weekly Bubble Watch, John Gasaway said this about Rutgers' defense: "Rutgers is the rare D that takes care of business on the defensive glass while forcing a higher than average number of turnovers. Opponents record a very low shot volume against this defense."

You can't shoot a high percentage if you can't even shoot.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Walker's complaint

Darrell Walker complained about his situation after he started trying to land a college head coaching job, and could not, "Didn't I coach at the highest level?" What he said was true, but that was not exactly an argument in his favor.

In the first place, he won only a third of his games in the NBA. In other words, he was a loser there. In the second place, the college game is substantially different from the pro game. In the NBA there is no recruiting. And, evidently, there is not much in the way of defense. There are egos in college ball, but not nearly what there are in the pros. And the pro game is 100% entertainment. Even if they lose, the players still make a jillion dollars, so the motivation factor is entirely different.

No, being an NBA coach is not an overly strong argument for being a successful college coach. But Walker took a D2 stop in Atlanta and won there, and after that he could make at least a plausible argument that he could coach in college.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

How to get out of a scoring drought

It amazes me when I see teams hit a shooting drought, and their remedy for it seems to be to blast away interminably from the 3-point line. Yes, sooner or later the drought will break, but in the meantime you have lost the game.

Every team needs what I call a Plan B - some other offensive scheme to get the offensive juices flowing again. And logic tells me that you break the plague of missing shots by taking shots that are more makeable - meaning closer to the goal. Get in the habit of making shots again, and then move out. Seems like common sense to me.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Monyyong is the difference

I think there are two huge differences between this year's team and last year's. First, last year the Trojans' only role was to be a supporting cast to help Rayjon Tucker make it to the pros. This year we do not have that shackle around our ankles. 

The other difference is Ruot Monyyong. Not only is he a strong inside game, but he is a legitimate rim protector, which we have not had in a while. Having one of those just makes a huge difference in how a team approaches defense.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Purely on defense

Last season Virginia had a good offensive team. They were not flashy, but they were efficient. Their defense was, as always, among the best in the nation.

This year their defense is again among the very best in the country, but their offense is in the bottom third. Can they make the NCAA tournament on, basically, one leg? Maybe, maybe not. But the fact that we are even talking about the possibility that they might shows how good their defense is.                              

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Expecting big things in track & field

With the new coaches we have brought in, I am expecting the Trojan track program to make a steady ascent. We have a couple of real headliners on the coaching staff now. It will take them some time to lure better-quality recruits into the program, but they will get there. If we can keep the coaches here, I think it is almost inevitable that track will get better.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

More tranfers?!

Big Ten ADs are proposing loosening the transfer rule. This might (or might not) be good for the athletes, but it is terrible news for coaches and fans. Continuity is a huge factor in being either one of those. Coaches need to be able to plan ahead, and fans need to be able to fantacize. If you are letting players pop in and out of programs at a whim, it severely damages both of those.

If you are wanting to help players, then teach them to grow up. Tell them that life is hard, and they need to make good, informed decisions and then live with the consequences. What they do NOT need to be doing is shuttling their commitments every time some little thing does not go their way.

Sure, players need to be able to transfer, but there needs to be a cost. If I earn an academic scholarship to Blue University, and decide I want to transfer to Red University, is that decision going to be without consequences? I doubt it.