Backdoor Cuts: Vol. IIIPosted by rtmsf on December 9th, 2009
Backdoor Cuts is a college basketball discussion between correspondents Dave Zeitlin and Steve Moore (and this week guest player Mike Walsh) that will appear every Wednesday in Rush the Court. This week they challenge each other to write about the conference challenges while excessively using the word “challenge” — before the new guy decides to monopolize the column for “Holy War” purposes.
DAVE ZEITLIN: With the Big Ten/ACC challenge finished, the SEC/Big East challenge coming up and the Pac-10/Big 12 challenge going on forever, we thought it was time to hear who your favorite RTC writers believe to be the best conference this season. Let’s call this the Dave Zeitlin/Steve Moore Challenge. Only nobody wins. And there’s no hard work or sweat involved (except maybe for Steve, whose fingers sweat when he types too fast). Here goes anyway:
Before the season started, it seemed like the Big East and ACC would be a little bit down, while the SEC and Big 10 would be a little bit up — and I think, for the most part, that’s held up so far. But even with Coach Cal (Steve’s hero), Billy Donovan and everyone’s favorite orange Jew leading a reloaded SEC East, I don’t think the conference has made up enough ground from its woeful 2008-09 performance (when only two teams finished in the top 50 of the RPI). The ACC is clearly down after losing the challenge to the Big 10 for the first time ever, and, despite their challenge triumph, I don’t think the Big 10 should stand at the top, especially after Evan Turner’s unfortunate injury. The Pac-10? Please.
So where does that leave us? I think the discussion at this point should come down to the Big East and the Big 12. The Big East may be a little down from last year when they were stacked top to bottom, but the conference still has three teams (Villanova, Syracuse and West Virginia) in the top 10. The Big 12, meanwhile, might boast the best two teams in the nation (Kansas and Texas) while also featuring teams like Texas Tech, which is coming off the biggest win in the coaching career of Pat Knight, who I like far better than his father.
So … Big East or Big 12? Big 12 or Big East? Even though I grew up watching the Big East and rooting for ‘Cuse, I’m going to give the nod to the Big 12 right now. Now I’ll let Steve crunch some numbers for you and disagree with me.
STEVE MOORE: What, no America East/Ivy League challenge? Oh…wait, that happened Tuesday night when Penn lost AGAIN to those fighting Great Danes of Albany.
As the official RTC correspondent for the ACC, I can say that the Big Ten/ACC Challenge didn’t really say much about the strength (or lack thereof of the ACC). Duke is still a better team than Wisconsin, but playing in Madison is tough. The real swing came at the bottom of the ACC (Florida State, Virginia, etc.), which is much weaker than the bottom of the Big Ten.
For my money, the Big East is the best conference in the country, and it’ll be hard for anyone to compete with that over the next few seasons. Continuing — and this is a very abstract belief on my part with no real evidence to back it up — the league seems to have more programs that are intent on competing year-to-year, i.e. not necessarily recruiting guys who are clear one-and-doners, but going more for the long-term kids. Look at the roster Jay Wright has at Villanova, or Syracuse, or West Virginia. Lots of sophomores, juniors and even the rarest of college basketball species: SENIORS! Sure, the bottom of the Big East is pretty putrid (see DePaul, South Florida), even though they all have winning records right now on a steady cupcake diet.
Texas and Kansas are obviously great teams, and the Big 12 is clearly in the discussion. But it’s really hard to even have this debate so early in the year. Texas Tech’s win over Washington was nice, but I can’t take the Big 12/Pac-10 Challenge seriously considering how terrible the Pac-10 is this season.
That’s it for my abstract, totally baseless arguments on the subject. At least for now. I’m tired, and have no brain space for stats and numbers. I’ll leave that to the Ivy Leaguer…
DAVE ZEITLIN: Ooh, low blow. I just got back from the Penn-Albany game, which was pretty depressing for me and the 25 other fans there (though, on the bright side, some dude scalped me third-row tickets for half-price). But in between your horrible insults, I think you make a good point. There should be challenges for other conferences. The Ivy League and Patriot League would make perfect “challenge” partners, as someone on this site once suggested. So would the America East and the Colonial Athletic. What’s stopping this from happening?
Let’s take this one step further. I think there should be challenges for other things, too. How about the “Smart/Stupid Challenge” that pits the teams with the best graduation rates (think all the nerd schools) against teams with the lowest graduation rates (think anywhere Bob Huggins coaches)? Or what about the “God Awful Challenge” that matches up the worst teams in the Pomeroy ratings? Who wouldn’t pay (more than 50 cents) to watch a Chicago State-Alabama A&M battle?
This would also work for coaches. The “Facial Hair Challenge” can match up all the mustachioed coaches like this guy against the bearded coaches (help me out, are there any?). The “Age is Only a Number Challenge” can pit Butler and its 15-year old coach Brad Stevens against San Diego State and head coach Steve Fisher, who may or may not have died five years ago. And “The Saint/Sinner Challenge” would feature Coach K (who is the greatest guy in the world — just ask him) and Isiah “Destroying a college basketball program is my new goal” Thomas.
Got any more, Steve?
MIKE WALSH: Steve isn’t here right now. Rumor is he’s hanging around Perkins these days wearing his Plymouth-Whitemarsh Senior High School golf shirt, because he heard that worked for Tiger. However, if Steve’s lovely wife happens to be reading this, then he’s definitely NOT at Perkins trying to pick up a waitress. He’s at the store … buying Christmas presents … for you … lots of ‘em.
At any rate, I’m Dave and Steve’s buddy Mike and I’ll be filling in for Mr. Moore today. And by filling in I mean ignoring whatever those two have been talking about and writing about whatever the hell I want.
Big 12 or Big East? Big East or Big 12? Who cares? Tonight, only one challenge matters: Atlantic 10 vs. Big East, Philadelphia vs. Main Line, good vs. evil, St. Joe’s vs. ‘Nova. That’s right, kids, the Holy War is upon us!
When these two teams take to the fabled floor of the Palestra (where ALL Big 5 games should be played, by the way, unless you ask a certain school that rhymes with Schmillaschmova) all signs would point to the Wildcats keeping their record unblemished. The ‘Cats are ranked No. 3 in the nation, while the Hawks have three wins on the season. ‘Nova has no shortage of experience on their roster, with senior guard Scottie Reynolds recently being named Big East player of the week, while St. Joe’s is green … we’re talking Al Gore, Incredible Hulk, cheese left in the back of the fridge green here. Five underclassmen, including three true freshmen, are seeing significant playing time for the Phil Martelli this year. But here is the great thing about the Holy War: None of that crap matters!
Weird stuff happens in this series. I want to see how the Hawks’ freshmen respond to their first taste of Palestra magic. I want to see how SJU seniors Darrin Govens and Garrett Williamson handle the emotion of their final chapter of this heated rivalry. I want to see Phil Martelli’s polished head and Jay Wright’s polished outfit. But most of all, I just want to see these teams on TV … oh wait, did I forget to mention that I haven’t actually had a chance to see either of these teams yet? Yeah, believe it or not, St. Joe’s games aren’t televised down here in Virginia all that much, and I’ve caught about 5 minutes of a ‘Nova game while flipping through the channels a while back. So, truth be told, I have no idea what’s going to happen tonight, but I do know that it won’t be as bad as that 103-65 beatdown the ‘Cats put on Penn earlier this year, right Dave?
DAVE ZEITLIN: Another shot at Penn? Seriously? I get it, they’re bad this year. Can we try to stay on topic now? Wait, what is our topic?
Either way, I’m glad to have another newspaper hack (and one of the funniest guys I know) joining our nonsensical college basketball ramblings. It’s even a little bit cute that Mike, a diehard St. Joe’s fan, thinks his Hawks have a chance to win tonight. I’m not sure about that one. But at least we can agree on this: the Hawk will flap his wings the entire game… and also that the Palestra can certainly make magic happen. But let’s save that for a later column.
For now, I’ll take the hint from both of you that it’s too early (and somewhat meaningless) to predict the best conference. But I still think those early-season challenges are fun — just not as fun as the “Graduation Rate Challenge” would be.
Enjoy the “Holy War,” everyone. For Mike’s sake, root for the Hawks to keep it within 30.