Blog musings for a Thursday:
Good work: The NCAA tournament selection committee is made up of 10 sitting administrators (athletic directors and conference commissioners) in college athletics. In the vast majority of seasons, the selection committee does a really good job. Reasonable minds can differ over the inclusion or exclusion of teams and their seeding. But the vast majority of the time, the committee gets it right.
Something needs to be clarified in our discussion about the committee and its basketball experience, however. I have noted that of the 10 committee members, only four have any real basketball experience. I believe it would be best if all 10 had significant basketball experience. But even without such experience, the committee can do -- and does -- a good job. When I suggest it would be "best" to have a committee with the most possible experience, that is exactly what I mean, and it is all that I mean. It doesn't take a basketball genius to make the right selections and seeding, but it certainly would be best if we could have that experience in the process. That should be hard to argue with.
Having it both ways: Although the committee does a good job, it gets to have it both ways. When there are upsets and the brackets are turned upside down, the committee basks in the glow of the populist feelings of joy and the bouquets that are thrown the NCAA tournament's way. And when the brackets go according to seed, the committee falls all over itself, telling us what a good job it did in seeding. The NCAA tournament is idiot-proof. It cannot be screwed up. It is a near-perfect event, no matter what happens, and that is why it is the best sporting event on the planet.
Players and officiating: Why is it that some players seem to struggle relatively in college and seem to perform better at times in the NBA? I think the reason is the way the college game is called. And I am not laying this at the feet of the officials, either. We have a problem in our game, and we need to figure it out. How do we make the game less physical yet retain its flow? The NBA has a "freedom of movement" initiative that has worked wonderfully, and college basketball needs to figure out a way to do the same thing. We have some truly outstanding officials in college hoops, but they need to be held to a higher standard and need to be held accountable. They can do it because they are capable and good enough to do it. And if they don't get on board, they need to be forced to find another job. Until we get the same freedom of movement initiative in the college game, the game will not be as good as it can be.
Bad bubble: I have said since the beginning of the season that there is no truly great team in college basketball. And in the past few weeks, I've said that this is the weakest pool of at-large candidates I've seen since working in college basketball. And it seems as if most people are starting to agree. This is not a good year for "greatness." That is not necessarily such a bad thing, as it might make for a more volatile and unpredictable NCAA tournament. But we don't have 65 really good teams for the field. And we don't have a whole lot of "great" players in the game right now. We have some good ones, but how many drop-dead, surefire NBA All-Stars do you see in college right now? Not a one. Could John Wall be one someday? Or Evan Turner? Maybe. But maybe is the best you are going to do with any player in this year's game.
Focus on whom you beat: When trying to distinguish between two teams at the end of the at-large line, and you cannot tell from your best basketball judgment which team is better, you need to focus on whom a team has beaten. For bubble teams, it doesn't really matter whether a team has suffered a bad loss or two. Whether you can get through bad or average teams without stumbling is of zero consequence for the NCAA tournament. Bubble teams don't get to play bad or average teams in the tournament; only the high seeds do. Bubble teams have to pull an upset against a good team. And if you have proved you can do that by beating really good teams during the regular season, you should have an edge over a team that has not.
The lefties: The more I watch New Mexico's Darington Hobson play, the more I really like him as a player. The long lefty has the chance to be the first player at New Mexico to lead the Lobos in scoring, rebounding and assists in the same season. Another lefty, Nevada's Luke Babbitt, is similarly impressive. Babbitt is a tougher Adam Morrison, and he compares favorably to Duke's Kyle Singler. He's a really good player.
Not better: I am not a big believer that Notre Dame is better without Luke Harangody. I hear those who say the Irish are better off without him, but I just don't buy it. Have the Irish collectively picked up the slack to overachieve for a time? Yes. Notre Dame is 3-2 without Harangody, but in the long run, it will really miss the big guy.
What to do with Purdue: No matter what happens with Purdue the remainder of the season, the Boilermakers will make the NCAA tournament. Even if they lose the rest of their games, selection is assured. The only adjustment the committee will make because of the injury to Robbie Hummel will be in seeding. There is nothing more difficult for the committee to process than a late-season injury to a key player.
Don't sleep: Where did the phrase "Don't sleep on" come from? I often hear people say "don't sleep on Siena" or "don't sleep on Virginia Tech" as if we are a bunch of narcoleptics who nod off during games and miss these really good teams.
Duke's defense: This year's Duke team is one of the better defensive teams Mike Krzyzewski has coached, but the Blue Devils are defending a bit differently. Duke still puts good pressure on the ball, but it is not denying as far out on the floor and is doing a better job of containing and loading up on the ball side. And the rebounding is much better. Part of that is size, but the other part is positioning. When the Blue Devils deny on the perimeter and in the post, they are three-quarters in front of their man. But when a shot goes up, Duke is three-quarters behind and rebounding is made more difficult. The trade-off has always been turnovers and the disruption of opposing offenses. This season, Duke has been able to guard the 3-point line and effectively rebound, and it is giving up fewer points per game than at any time since it joined the ACC.
Maryland treasure: Coach Gary Williams should be in the Naismith Hall of Fame, and he shouldn't have to wait. There are only three faces on the Mount Rushmore of ACC coaches, and they are Dean Smith, Krzyzewski and Williams. North Carolina's Roy Williams will join that trio in short order, but no coach in the league's history has challenged the entrenched power of the ACC the way Williams has. In the 66 years of Maryland basketball before Williams took the helm, the Terrapins averaged 14 wins per season, went to 10 NCAA tournaments and had 12 20-win seasons. In the 21 seasons under Williams' leadership, Maryland has averaged 21 wins per season, has gone to 14 NCAA tournaments and has had 12 20-win seasons. Before Williams, Maryland had never sniffed the Final Four. Yet, Williams has been there twice and won the 2002 national championship. In the past 14 years, Williams has not won fewer than 19 games in a season, and his is the only program in the ACC that can say that.
Syracuse positives: Although Kansas still may be the best team in the country, Syracuse looks like the favorite in a tournament setting. The Orange are a great passing team, an outstanding transition team and a terrific defensive team. Plus, it has two of the nation's best subs in Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine. What has been underplayed has been just how effective the Syracuse big men are. Rick Jackson is playing the best basketball of his career and has great hands, seals well in the post and finishes plays with contact around the rim. When Syracuse plays high-low, it is almost impossible to keep Jackson from catching the ball. And between Jackson and Arinze Onuaku, the Syracuse big men shoot well more than 60 percent from the floor.