Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The ultimate embarrassment

Kentucky lost a recruit to - Rutgers? Four-star center Cliff Omoruyi is going to the Scarlet Knights, and Kentucky Sports Radio says he was a "one time Kentucky prospect." I am sure Sleezipari will object that the grapes were sour, but that was his own folks saying that.

Rutgers is the anti-Kentucky. They are blue-collar. They emphasize defense and rebounding. In addition to Omoruyi, next year's recruiting class contains a trio of lowly three-stars who fit Steve Pikiell's system. But Omoruyi is a New Jersey kid, and he stayed home. He took the steak over the sizzle. Let's hope he makes the KY folks live to really regret his choice.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The forgotten aspect of recruiting

From reporter Jerry Carino on SBNation:

"The most underrated, misunderstood behind success in college basketball is fit. I don't think the casual fan who gets caught up in recruiting rankings appreciates how vital that is. Rutgers was a monument to fit this past season, because [Coach] Pikiell puts the concept first and foremost in his program-building."

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The silver lining

We all had rather have skipped The Virus this year. But there was a silver lining. It inadvertently emphasized the regular season, because that was all there was to emphasize. There are even conversations about who was the National Champion, just like folks used to argue about the Helms Foundation title. That is a rough way to have to go to accomplish it, and it likely will not last, but it has happened.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Jay Bilas got it right

He named Lew Alcindor as the greatest college player ever, and indicated that it was not really even a close vote. I agree. Those of us who watched him play saw firsthand just how dominant he was.

"Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) is the greatest college player EVER. Period. No reasonable debate. To even suggest otherwise is foolish."

"He's the greatest offensive weapon in the history of the game," Bilas said. "He led UCLA to three national championships and let's be blunt, it wasn't because the other players were so great. They were very good, but it's because they had Lew Alcindor and everybody else didn't. Wherever Lew Alcindor went to college, they were going to win three championships and he was going to be the most outstanding player, wherever he went."

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Steve Pikiell COY

Rutgers' Head Coach Steve Pikiell has been named Coach of the Year, and it is hard to see anyone else deserving it more. They finished 20-11 this season, and would have had a chance to win more games if the post season had happened.

Consider the magnitude of this accomplishment. The Scarlet Knights last went to the NCAA Tournament in 1991 - that is 19 years if you are counting. The last time they had a winning season was 2006. The last time they had double-figure conference wins was 1991. He turned the RAC into one of the most intimidating home court advantages in the nation.

And he returns 8 of his top 9 players for next season.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Good year for the little guys?

Pre-season polls are very unreliable, particularly in this surreal off-season. However, NBC's first offseason poll lists four teams not from the Big Six conferences: Gonzaga, San Diego State, Houston and Richmond. So, looks for the little guys to make some noise this season, since they did not really get a chance to do it this past year.

Monday, March 23, 2020

It's always the coach

Last year after their national championship, virtually all the pundits picked Virginia fairly well up in the pre-season rankings. This is not usual. It is hard to forget the year before. However, I thought they were unduly optimistic. When a team loses three players of the caliber of those the Hoos lost, who were not freshmen, it is going to take more than a raw freshman to replace them. The rankings, it seems, were a tribute to Coach Tony Bennett. "Any team coached by him is going to be good, no matter who is playing," the sages were saying.

As it turned out, they were perfectly right - it just took a while for it to come true. Virginia is like Wisconsin in that they develop players. Their recruits are generally not one-and-doners, and they stay, and they get better under some of the best teachers in the game. By the time the final AP Top 25 poll was issues in this truncated season, Virginia was back up to 16th, after having tanked out of the poll earlier in the season. Jay Huff started playing like a monster in the middle, and the Hoos went on a late-season winning streak.

So, pundits, I will say that you were right, and I was wrong. Virginia was that good, but we just had to give Coach Bennett time to do what he does best, which is to teach basketball.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Double disappointment

It could be possible that the virus will not only have knocked all of us out of the enjoyment of the post-season, but it may do considerable harm to certain programs. Key players may move on before their eligibility is finished. It may hinder recruiting significantly. We are poised upon the possibility of one of the best seasons we have ever had, and possibly THE best team we have had. So far we have lost a couple of subs, but what if a couple of key starters decide to move on because of all the uncertainty? That would be a blow we would not likely soon forget.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Grim resolution

This year's team got robbed - of the chance to do something special. We did half of it, i.e., being regular season champs. But we had a chance to go to the Dance and maybe even make a little noise there. It won't happen because of the virus.

So, we were robbed. The team might become depressed, or we might get a fire in our guts because we were robbed and come out determined to make it happen next season. And since we return all five starters, we should be the heavy pre-season favorites. And this time no excuses - unless we all catch cholera.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Why this team was special

I think we can accurately say that this team was special, at least within the context of Little Rock. After all, we do not have many regular season championships to our credit. But what made us special?

If have often said that you cannot have too many true point guards or centers on a roster, simply because they are the hardest players to find. By the end of the season, we had the strongest complement of big men I have ever seen in this program. I think we can safely say that we were dominant inside, at least on most nights. We did not have any too many point guards, but the ones we had were good.

So, we had a good bracket on both ends of the roster, and that was our strength. These days shooters are a dime a dozen, and athletic mid-height sorts likewise. But a big man who can actually play is hard to find.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Some solace to the Hoos

Yes, the season did get cancelled. Just when they were getting going. But at least the Virginia Cavaliers can grab a silver lining out of the current confusion: they get to be The Reigning Champs for TWO years.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Bad programs with a good sport

Some schools are just not known as being sports powerhouses, for whatever reason. University of the Ozarks is such a place. I was told that their enrollment this year was around 900, which is up considerably from the 600 that it was for years. Obviously, even at the D-III level, there are just not many bodies to choose from.

But occasionally an inept sports program will have a pretty good sport. That was the case with Ozarks baseball, until the Bug axed all college sports. They were 11-5 overall and 6-3 in conference in the early going, which is a pretty good record by baseball standards.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Load up the schedule!

At our level, there are two ways of getting to the NCAA tournament: win the conference tournament (which is unusual) or get an at-large invitation (which is downright rare). Even in a good year the odds of winning the tournament are against you, but they are much better than those of getting an at-large. Those have been at a real premium from the Belt.

So . . . if you think you have even an outside shot at an at-large berth, then load up your non-conference schedule as heavy as you can, even if you have to play on the road, play 3 for 1 swaps, or whatever. You can't win them if you don't play them, and the times to play them are the times you think you might actually win them.

This next year is one of those years. Let's do it.

Monday, March 16, 2020

National Champion - Kansas

This blog officially declares Kansas to be the 2020 Regular Season National Champion. And this particular season, I am as official as anyone. So there!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Residual attendance effect

I will be very interested to see what this virus shutdown does to next year's attendance at college basketball games. I will not predict, because I do not know. Will folks come out of the gate in a rush because they were deprived of March Madness. Or will they shrug and say, "Oh well, I had to miss last season, and I survived it, so I'll try it again"?

The thing we forget is that for a large percentage of people, the Tournament IS college basketball to them, because that is the only time they pay any attention to it. So they just skipped the entire season.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The virus

OK, I will be the jerk, that politically incorrect individual who says it. I think a panicked reaction is always the wrong reaction, and, like the rest of the country, the NCAA acted in a blind panic with regard to the NCAA tournament, and especially about cancelling everything for the spring. If this had been the black death or cholera, then maybe, but it is not. There, I said it, and I meant it.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Rutgers got the rawest deal

The Scarlet Knights had not been to the NCAA tournament since 1991. That is 19 years. None of the players could have remembered that far back. And it looked likely that they would get an at-large bid. And then the panic-mongers shut down the tournament. Life just isn't fair sometimes.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A very real danger

Habits are easy to form, and some of them form quickly. Right or wrong, not everyone looks kindly upon the NCAA's panic-driven cancellation of the end of the season, and so they bid the court goodbye with a bad taste in their mouths. And there will not be much sports of any sort, even on television, for some time. That gives people time to find other forms of entertainment. And they could find something they enjoy even better. We have few enough fans as it is, despite everything we can do - even despite winning the conference title. We certainly did not need this happening to us at this fragile point in our program history. We do not need to be surprised if our meager supply of fans gets even more meager at the start of next season - assuming next season does start.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Bringing in the alums

We were shorthanded earlier in the season, but nothing comparing to what Georgetown has faced. Through dismissals and injuries, they are down to six healthy scholarship players - just in time for the post-season. They were on the bubble for a good while, but just couldn't sustain the pace in one of the most brutal conferences in the country. So any former players who stop by for a visit are likely to be drafted into filling a spot in the practice.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Prosser's record

Granted that it is a pretty obscure record, but former Wake Forest head coach Skip Prosser holds it. He is the only coach to take three teams to the NCAA tournament in his first year coaching at the school: Loyola (MD), Xavier, and Wake Forest.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Value of roster continuity

Not so awfully long ago it was an exceptional situation when a player transferred to another school. You came, you signed up, and you stayed. Rosters tended to change only incrementally as players graduated, or occasionally dropped out. There was loyalty to the brand. Fans knew the players because the players had been there for several years. Fans felt much more of a vested interest in the roster because of the continuity. Players were playing for the old Alma Mater. Now we are into the Rent-a-player Era. One and Done. Or maybe Two and Transfer.

There already is a sound of weeping and gnashing of teeth among the basketball elite because the ending of One and Done will diminish the quality of the play in college basketball. Perhaps so. But I still think that Four-star Senior is likely to be better than a Five-star Freshman. And anyway, what basketball may lose in talent it will more than make up in the values inherent in continuity and school loyalty.

College athletics is theoretically about student-athletes, that is, students who are paying their way through school by playing ball. Does anybody really pretend that One-and-doners are students, in any real sense? Oh, sure, they have to go to classes for a little while, but that is totally irrelevant to them, because they have no intention of staying in school nor of making their living from what they are being forced to study for a brief period.

We have a system for non-student athletes. It is called the minor leagues. Most professional sports have some sort of such system for players who want to play, but have no interest in getting an education. Those players belong in the pros. Students belong in college.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Save us from Dick Vitale

Vitale has to be the worst color man ever. Yelling "Oh baby" every few seconds is not providing anything for the fans. The color guys is supposed to be explaining things from a basketball standpoint so we fans can understand better what is happening. Vitale is just obnoxious and irritating.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

You just never know

Northwestern is 2-17 in the Big Ten, but they are currently leading #20 Penn State by ten points with six minutes left. You just never know in college basketball, and that is what makes it so much fun.

Friday, March 6, 2020

The sissies of basketball

The guys who draw the most fouls have the most bruises at the end of the game. They are down in the thick of things, drawing body contact, taking one for the team. Three point shooters are the white collar workers of basketball, out on the perimeter, protected by that nonsensical three-shot rule, the untouchables of the game. "Naughty, naughty - you're not allowed to touch me, because I'm special. Go sit on the bench while your coach chews you out for a three-shot foul."

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Everyone knew

They didn't count Bill Russell's blocks in college, but everyone knew who was the MVP. In his second NCAA championship with the San Fransisco Dons, blocks were not an official stat, but from the film it has been calculated that, in addition to 26 points and 27 rebounds, he had 20 blocks.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Mick Cronin for COY?

Cronin may not get Coach of the Year, and may not deserve to, but he certainly deserves to be in the conversation. Given the empty coffer he inherited at UCLA and the drastic culture change which he instituted (Tinseltown to Blue Collar), getting the Bruins back on track should have been a multiple-year project. But here he has them in the NCAA conversation in his first season. And they are closing fast. It is not the same Bruin team we have seen in the past few years, but they are not a bad joke any more.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Danny Hodge

Some of you oldtimers will remember wrestler Danny Hodge. He was an outstanding high school and college wrestler. He was the only amateur wrestler to have been on the cover of Sports Illustrated while still an amateur. The Dan Hodge trophy is the wrestling equivalent of the Heisman. One remarkable feat he accomplished is pictured below. While he was 80 years old, he crushed an apple with one hand on the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

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Monday, March 2, 2020

The Great Triumvirate of Golf

In these modern days, we might be tempted to think this title would refer to Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player - but we would be wrong. It goes back further than that. This particular title refers to Harry Vardon, John Henry Taylor and James Braid, who dominated golf in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The trio combined to win The Open Championship (we call it the British Open) 16 times in the 21 tournaments held between 1894 and 1914. In the five years when they did not win, one of them was second.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Regular season champs!

I have always felt like being regular season champions is a much more desirable title than tournament champs, since it involves doing well over a larger number of games. And it probably would be, except for the fact that the leagues all send the tournament winner to the NCAA tournament. Anyway, it feels very, very good to be the outright Sun Belt regular season champions. We are going to post season, somewhere or other. And if the NIT ends up being the place, this team is good enough actually to make some noise there.