An Undefeated Season For Kentucky Is Good For College Basketball

I’m rooting for the 2014-15 University of Kentucky basketball team to remain undefeated this season and you should too. Unless that is you’re member of the ’72 Miami Dolphins and just hate fun or one of those overly nostalgic types who long for the days of Lew Alcindor when freshman sat out a year and players still shot at a peach basket. (Remember, back then there was also no such thing as a three point line and dunking was considered a sin so be very careful what you wish for.) Those days have long since passed and the swooshed-out mercenaries that Coach Cal brings into Lexington each year remain the most accurate representation of big-time modern day college basketball that we have. Therefore as fans we should celebrate their accomplishments not bemoan or belittle their ethics and character simply because we don’t appreciate the way they treat college like a 6 month long audition for the NBA.

If you want to blame someone blame the NCAA. Or the NBA. They’re the ones who perpetuate this system and unless they institute changes (two and done or retain eligibility after playing in the D-league) the Kentucky/Kansas/Duke/Carolina/UCLA’s of the world will keep on recruiting one and done talent.

Furthermore, an undefeated season for Kentucky is good for college basketball because we, and I use the term “we” liberally here because a lot of us weren’t even born back then, haven’t seen a team run the table since the Indiana Hoosiers in 1976. That’s a long time to wait for another undefeated college basketball team therefore the longer Kentucky goes without losing a game the more sports fans will take notice and celebrate the accomplishments of a group of players who, frankly, would be deserving of our praise.

So be like me and cheer on the Wilcats as they cruise through the mediocre SEC and on into March Madness. And no, the University of Kentucky basketball team would not beat the Philadelphia 76ers.

Maybe just the New York Knicks.

Instant Bracketification: National Championship

For starters, those were two incredibly entertaining national semifinal games Saturday night and it’s a shame that we’re still fixating on those two blown calls. Both the charge against Syracuse’s Brandon Triche and the jump ball that worked against Wichita St. were judgement calls made by the officials which over the course of the long season have a way of balancing out. True, the timing with both calls was unfortunate and maybe it’s time to eliminate the possession all together to avoid falling prey to a referee’s discretion. Plus, as far as the charge/block call, eliminating the charge circle would only add to the confusion but officials should be much more aware of how easy it is for a defensive player to sneak in late and sell a questionable charge call.

Wichita St surprised pretty much everyone on the planet when they came out and fought the heavily favored Louisville Cardinals all the way to that final controversial jump ball. The Shockers did not allow Louisville to get to the basket while initiating an all out assault on the offensive glass, converting multiple three point plays. Reserve guard Luke Hancock hit a few key threes down the stretch saving the day for head coach Rick Pitino, who had a pretty spectacular weekend when you consider that he was elected into the hall of fame and had a horse qualify for the the Kentucky Derby.

Having the few extra days to prepare for the Syracuse 2-3 zone was a huge benefit to Michigan head coach John Beilein who also had the luxury of a sure handed, smart passing big man in Mitch McGary. McGary was able to occupy the high post, creating plenty of space in the paint for Tim Hardaway Jr. and Caris LeVert to slash to the rim for a few easy buckets. And Trey Burke didn’t even play all that well. The Wooden Award winner is going to need to step up his game tonight as the Cardinals continue their all out assault on the Michigan ball handlers travelling across the timeline.

In the end, I worry about Louisville’s depth tonight because they’re prone to early foul trouble and with the absence of Kevin Ware star guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith will be under even more pressure to play smart basketball and keep themselves on the court. Also, will Gorgui Deng be able to neutralize McGary on the low post or will the Michigan frosh continue his improbable run through the tournament? If McGary can draw a few early fouls on the shot blocker Deng then that will really help to open up the interior for Burke, Hardaway, and co.

For Michigan, how are they going to react to that second half run we’ve come to expect from Louisville during this 15 game winning streak? If they’re able to recover from a string of Russdiculous threes then the national championship is headed to Ann Arbor. Michigan wins with a timeout to spare.

view from Atlanta courtesy of @ESPNCBB

Instant Bracketification: Final Four Edition

I remember when Tim Krumrie broke his ankle in Super Bowl XXIII and as horrifying as the slow motion of his dangling appendage was, it pails in comparison to the stomach turning agony of what happened to Louisville’s Kevin Ware on Sunday night. To watch the scene unfold after Ware crumpled awkwardly to the ground, his shin shattered at a near 60 degree angle, was to witness both the pain and beauty of athletic competition.

The reason many of us play organized sports is because of the camaraderie that develops with teammates and the self sacrifice involved in achieving a collective goal. To be clear we are not talking about war, there is no comparison between the beaches of Normandy and the hardwood of Indianapolis, but the scene in Lucas Oil Stadium after Ware’s injury, with his teammates huddling around him holding his arms as he was lifted onto a flat board stretcher, was as touching and inspring a moment as I can remember witnessing. If this overly sentimental hyperbole makes you nauseous I apologize. But be honest, upon hearing that all Ware could say to his Louisville teammates as he was lying flat on his back with a compound fracture, an injury that he may never fully recover from, was ‘Just win the game’ it’s impossible not to be overwhelmed by this simple act of selflessness.

Back to business, Wichita St plays angry but the Cardinals play fast and unlike the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Shockers elite 8 opponent, Louisville can fill it up. Siva and Smith are as good as any guards in the country at getting to the basket and Deng is a human eraser around the rim. Sometimes teams will experience an emotional letdown following a traumatic event but Louisville didn’t show any signs of being distracted during their second half demolition of Duke so it’ll be best not bet against them in Atlanta.

On the other side of the bracket, Syracuse and Michigan are two incredibly long, athletic teams riding a couple of impressive win streaks. In theory the Wolverines shouldn’t have as much of an issue as Indiana di in trying to navigate Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. John Beilein is a master technician of the zone defense and has years of experience taking on the Orange back during his days with West Virginia. If anything this game will come down to the Michigan defense being able to pester rangy tweeners like Southerland and Fair. Michigan in a mild upset.

photo courtesy of businessinsider.com 

March Madness: Follow The Money

Your sports infographic of the day comes from of all places the New Yorker that final bastion of meandering profiles and incongruent animal cartoons. This particular interactive feature charts out March Madness results by budget with a specific eye towards determining whether or not the money a college basketball programs spends and earns determines their success in the NCAA tournament. For instance, Kansas, the top seed in the south region, has $13M in expenses compared to $16M in revenue. Conversely, Western Kentucky, the Jayhawks second round opponent, spent only $3M with $3M in revenue. So, was money the primary reason Kansas defeated Western Kentucky by a final score of 64-57 or are there other more important factors involved?

In my opinion it’s hard not to listen to Deep Throat and “follow the money” as programs like Kansas can afford to spend more money to attract the best coaches who’ll then be given access to vast amounts of recruiting resources which will help them attract the nation’s best high school basketball talent. If each round of the NCAA tournament was played as best of 7 series then you’d normally see the bigger budgeted programs win out. But because it’s single elimination schools like Florida Gulf Coast, $1M expenses, can defeat two schools, Georgetown $10M and San Diego St $4M, that spend a lot more money. The irony is that with FGC’s improbable run to the Sweet 16 school regents are scrambling to raise the cash necessary to keep coach Andy Enfield around for a few more years.

Take a look at this New Yorker article, it’s really interesting and who knows, may come in handy as you fill out the remainder of your bracket. – JL

view of the NCAA Money Bracket courtesy of @NewYorker 

Instant Bracketification: Sweet Sixteen Edition

Welcome back to work America as we gear up for the Easter holiday and another heavy dose of college basketball starting Thursday. I took a quick glance at the brackets this morning and here is what I could come up with for a quick preview of the Sweet Sixteen.

Midwest (Indianapolis)

(12) Oregon is the best example of the NCAA selection committee screwing up tournament seedings as the Ducks are obviously much better than a #12. (2) Duke is led by Mason Plumlee a really athletic, active big man who reminds me of those super zombies from Will Smith’s I Am Legend. My original pick (3) Michigan St. is still going strong, even after that unfortunate towel throwing incident, amd I won’t switch directions even though with each game (1) Louisville suffocates their competition it is becoming increasingly likely that the Cardinals roll into Atlanta without so much as sweating through a single digit game.

West (Los Angeles)

 (9) Wichita St. is a well coached mid major representing the Valley Conference, the best conference nickname name in all of collegiate athletics, well ahead of the Big Ten’s Legends and Leaders, and (13) La Salle, or “The Salle”, is named after my 2nd favorite European explorer right behind Jacques Cartier who “discovered” what is now known as the St. Lawrence River. Neither of these teams stand a chance against either (2) Ohio St. who lives to fight another round thanks to Aaron Craft’s last second 3-pointer against Temple, and (6) Arizona. Fans are generally split on Craft with race being brought up as a factor in how you potentially view the Buckeye point guard. White, black or orange the kid always plays the game at full speed and has the cojones to take the big shot, which is part of the reason I’m sticking with my original pick of OSU.

East (Washington) 

(4) Syracuse is flying under the radar right now mostly because they played their second and third round games out in San Jose but also because all people can talk about is the looming NCAA bombshell that could potentially invalidate all the Orange accomplish this March. I’d love to pick (3) Marquette, my 6th favorite explorer, but find it hard to go against (1) Indiana even though the Hoosiers will face a stern test in (2) Miami. And regarding my earlier pick of UNLV, I was under the incorrect assumption that the Running Rebels were still being led by Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson which is why I mistakenly took them to reach the Final Four.

South (Arlington, Tx)

(4) Michigan is today’s trendy pick after blowing out yesterday’s soup du jour VCU and here’s hoping the basketball team has more success in Cowboy Stadium than the Wolverine football team which was destroyed by eventual national champions Alabama in Arlington last fall. (1) Kansas is solid but not flashy which is the exact opposite of (15) Florida Gulf Coast, a school that even Siri believes doesn’t exists. The Eagles are now unfortunately facing some minor backlash following their jubilant dismissal of San Diego St which should be expected from older internet trolls who long for the days of Vince Lombardi and “act like you’ve been there before and you’ll be there again”. The (3) Florida Gators and Billy Donovan have been there before and are the best bet to get there again this year.

Semifinals

Michigan St over Ohio St

Florida over Indiana

National Championship

Florida over Indiana

view from Arlington, Texas courtesy of @gashaheen