Backdoor Cuts: Vol. IV

Posted by jstevrtc on December 16th, 2009


Backdoor Cuts is a college basketball discussion between RTC correspondents Dave Zeitlin, Steve Moore and Mike Walsh. This week the disgruntled fans each pick a new team to root for — and start a friendly competition in the process.

DAVE ZEITLIN: So I know what I want for Chanukah (or, as you guys like to call it, Weird Christmas). I’ve decided I want a new college basketball team to root for.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Penn will always be my No. 1 team and I know better days lie ahead.  But let’s be honest: the only thing my Quakers are competing for this year is whether or not they can become the worst team in Division I (if they aren’t already).  Combine this with the fact that my favorite baseball team is the Mets (don’t say anything, Steve), my favorite football team (the Giants) just gave up approximately 3,500 points in one game (seriously, Steve, be quiet) and neither of my fantasy football teams made the playoffs…and I forget where that sentence was going because I just started crying.  Please, Fake Santa of Chanukah, give me a winning team to root for this holiday season.  Just one.

Here’s my own criteria for picking a new team:  I want the school to be relatively close — as in, driving distance from my home in Philadelphia (sorry, most of the country).  Obviously, the team can’t be any kind of rival of Penn’s (as much as I like Fran Dunphy at Temple).  It can’t be a perennial favorite to win a national championship (that’s no fun) but it also can’t be a team that has no shot of winning it all (rooting for one-mid major is enough).  And even though I’ve followed this conference most of my life, it can’t be any team from the Big East.  (Before going to Penn, I was a big Syracuse fan; I’d feel like an abusive boyfriend going back to them now, but I’d feel like even more of a jerk rooting for one of their rivals.)

So where that does that leave me?  Based on my complex formula, I think I have to go with a middle-of-the-pack ACC school.  And after careful consideration, I realize there’s only one that makes sense.  And the winner is…drumroll please…I don’t hear a drumroll…seriously, give me a drumroll…fine, I guess when you’re writing by yourself and there are no drummers nearby, you’re just not going to get one…Maryland!

Fear the Zeitlin!

Fear the Zeitlin!

I’ll explain more about why I chose the Terps later. But, first, I want to hear who you guys would pick, considering you both root for teams that aren’t making the Big Dance. We can even make this a competition throughout the season. A Chanukah/Christmas competition. Or something.

STEVE MOORE: You may have gotten one of your Weird Christmas wishes when your boy Glen Miller got fired today. Maybe Penn can adopt the Princeton offense (too soon?).

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Backdoor Cuts: Vol. III

Posted 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…

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Backdoor Cuts: Vol. II

Posted by rtmsf on December 2nd, 2009


Backdoor Cuts is a college basketball discussion between correspondents Dave Zeitlin and Steve Moore that will appear every Wednesday in Rush the Court. This week they review the horror film Binghamton: 2009.

DAVE ZEITLIN: So I have this friend who’s about as optimistic a sports fan as they come. How do I know this? Because he watches nearly every single Kansas City Royals game, and is convinced each summer they have a good team. (They’ve had only one winning season since 1994.) It’s no different when he talks about the college basketball team at his alma mater. He’ll text me as soon as the schedule comes out, claiming the mid-major he roots for will surprise some big-name squads. He’ll predict big things from players I’ve never heard of. He’ll take moral victories out of 20-point losses. If you ask me, rooting for an underdog with that kind of attitude is admirable. But the last time I talked to him about his favorite college basketball team, he took a different tone. It was jarring but predictable. “They should just cancel the season,” he said with a sigh. His favorite team is Binghamton, and this is the point of the story where you should feel bad for my friend, who after these all years may finally need to look for the It’s-time-to-give-up switch.

binghamton hoops 1

By now, everyone knows the almost unfathomable plight of Binghamton basketball. From Division I newcomer to Division I upstart to Division I laughingstock, the Bearcats managed to follow the program’s first NCAA tournament berth last season with the kind of disaster that terrifies even John Cusack and the little girl on his back. After just about every impact player was dismissed from the program (RTC gives a nice recap here) for juicy stuff like stealing condoms, getting in bar fights, selling crack, the head coach responsible for bringing these guys in was put on paid leave for essentially giving high school players his business card a day after the NCAA contact period ended — which almost seems akin to Al Capone getting arrested for a speeding ticket. (Also, paid leave? Can I get paid to destroy a basketball program and then do nothing all day? Is there a listing for that on Monster?)

While the Binghamton implosion has faded somewhat from public view, there are still many things to discuss here. There’s the issue of the right and wrong ways to build a program (guess which way Binghamton did it) and there’s the issue of how Binghamton was even able to field a team this season (though these guys did pretty well with just a handful of players) just to name a couple. But first I’ll let Steve, a fan of a rival America East school, take his digs. Just try to remember my poor friend.

STEVE MOORE: Back in college at Boston University, I covered the men’s hoops team for the school paper during one of Binghamton’s first seasons in Division I. They struggled a little then, but they seemed to have everything in order, and were far ahead of their don’t-call-us-SUNY-school brethren — Albany and Stony Brook — who joined the America East at the same time. They had a beautiful on-campus facility being built, some solid recruits in the pipeline, and a seemingly bright future. They locked up the rights to host the conference tourney for a few years, and everything seemed on track.

But the stories in the last few seasons had gotten a little different, at least from what I read from afar. Friends I knew who covered the team recently told stories about the arrogance and insanely huge ego of head coach Kevin Broadus, and anyone who looked at their roster knew it had more than a few shaky names on it. There’s nothing wrong with scooping up transfers from other schools, but to do so with total disgregard for personal history is irresponsible. And it ended up setting this program back by five or 10 years.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Backdoor Cuts: Vol. I

Posted by rtmsf on November 25th, 2009


DAVE ZEITLIN: Everyone these days has a voice. And sometimes, it seems, most people try to use that voice in the most loud and obnoxious way possible. This column won’t be like that. Yes, this column will be a running dialogue between two people (myself and fellow RTC contributor Steve Moore) that will focus on angles, trends, players, coaches, fans and everything else in our favorite sport (which, if you haven’t already guessed, is college basketball).  But we promise not to Stephen A. Smith you, or act like these guys. When we do have debates, they will be civil and funny — and in most cases, I will be right. But, really, our goals with this column are simple. If we can just generate excitement about college basketball, get fans of this site thinking, and end the threat of nuclear war forever, we will have done our job.

Why should you read us? Well, for starters, the column will appear in THE place to get your college basketball news, (that’s a plug, people). Secondly, we’re both award-winning sportswriters for Philadelphia-area newspapers (yes, we know no one reads newspapers; why do you think we’re writing this column?). Thirdly, we both really, really like college basketball. (Like a lot. Like in unhealthy ways. Like we may or may not sacrifice non-vital organs for the chance to touch Gus Johnson’s larynx.) And finally, you should feel bad for us since we both root for mid-major teams that have little to no chance of winning a NCAA tournament game. I root for the mighty Penn Quakers of the Ivy League (hence the name of this column), while Steve roots for Boston University, whose best all-time basketball player is Mike Eruzione, who played hockey. This column is our salvation.

Throughout the season, we will flood you with topics from around the college basketball landscape, while splicing in semi-informed opinions and slightly irrelevant historical and pop culture references. But we wanted to start with an interesting news story that is just coming across the wire: a study that finds that college basketball referees tend to show biases in certain situations. The study basically says that a) refs favor the home team; b) refs try to even the score; c) refs do like to make “make-up” calls; and d) Duke gets every call no matter what because how can you not be terrified of this man? I have a few thoughts on this right off the bat, but I’ll let Steve — the Robin to my Batman, or Billy Packer to my Jim Nantz — take the ball and run with this one to start.

STEVE MOORE: First of all, how come you get to be Batman? Secondly, I’ve touched Gus Johnson’s larynx, and it wasn’t all that memorable. Bill Raftery’s onions, however…well that’s a different story.

Anyway, Dave did a good job of introducing our lame attempt at analysis and humor, so I won’t try to one-up him there. Except to point out that people do read newspapers (like my grandfather), and that Mike Eruzione is a national hero who doesn’t appreciate being mocked. I asked him.

Now to the topic at hand. I didn’t need a professor to tell me that referees are biased, especially toward home teams or when they know people are watching on TV. The question really is: Does it matter? I would argue that it doesn’t, and that it’s actually better for the game this way.

Do you really want your officials to not have a mind of their own? With all these debates about out or safe, strike or ball, or handball-that-destroyed-the-hopes-of-an-entire-Guiness-drinking-nation, we always hear people say “I just want them to get the call right.” Well in basketball, the only calls we have that are similar to those are whether a shot is released before the buzzer — and we already allow replay for that situation. Everything else is subjective, and open to interpretation by reasonable men (and women) who work just as hard as the players.

Every basketball fan knows that the home crowd sways officials — that’s why there’s such a thing as homecourt advantage. And make-up calls are a part of the game that we may scream about as fans, but they work out in favor of your team just as often as they hurt (unless you’re playing Duke). I was all set to come out and say that officials should be fair and never let the crowd influence them, etc., etc. And I’m sure none of them do it consciously. But think about it: Would you really want every game officiated by a robot? By an objective observer who doesn’t understand anything about flow, rhythym, or a certain spot in the game? Whether you like it or not, a foul in the first half is not the same as a foul in the second half — and it shouldn’t be. Let the players play. That’s another mantra we always hear. Well, by the strict definition of the rule book, there is likely at least one foul on EVERY POSSESSION in a college game. Everyone moves their feet on screens, everyone travels, everyone palms the ball, and everyone uses their hands on defense. But smart officials understand what they’re looking at, and know when something needs to be called.

Are there bad refs? Of course. Do good refs have bad nights? Absolutely. But part of the fun of being a hoops fan are those throwaway arguments, like “you’ll never get that call on the road.” Why do you think places like Cameron are so tough for opponents? It’s because officials get a little gun-shy with the whistle since they don’t want to hear it from the crowd. It’s human nature, and it’s part of what makes college basketball great.

Your move, caped crusader…

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story