Team of the 2000s: Wrap-Up and Honorable Mention

Posted by rtmsf on August 23rd, 2009

teamof2000(2)

Direct Links to the Top Ten.

1.  UNC
2.  Kansas
3.  Florida
4.  Duke
5.  Michigan St.
6.  UConn
7.  UCLA
8.  Memphis
9.  Syracuse
10.  Maryland

Intro.  Welcome back.  We wanted to use this post to wrap up the loose ends with an endeavor such as this one.  Let’s talk about our methodology, the teams who were easiest/most difficult to place, the Memphis quandary, and the teams who were on the outside of the top ten looking in.   As always, feel free to disagree in the comments.

Defending Our Methodology.  One of the more interesting things about releasing these rankings has been the reaction from various fan bases. Some have been very measured in their response and criticism (such as the people in Lawrence, Kansas) while others have been a little more vitriolic (fans of another program in the center of the country). Most of the criticism has been directed at our methodology. There seemed to be quite a bit of confusion on this, so let’s clear it up immediately.  Some people have misinterpreted our table (below) as if the listed criteria were all considered totally and equally in how we ranked teams. Nothing could be further from the truth – rather, the table  was intended to be used as a tool showing the universe of relevant statistics that our panel might find useful when making their decisions.  There was no formula that a panelist was obliged to follow – instead, each panelist had complete discretion to consider or ignore any statistic he deemed important (or irrelevant).  Once each panelist submitted his list, we then took a holistic view of the world when determining where to rank certain teams.  Obviously we all considered winning percentage, NCAA Tournament success, conference achievements, etc., but in varying degrees.  That’s what makes these debates work – while one panelist may think that the NCAA Tournament is all that really matters and wants to weight teams almost exclusively on that metric, another panelist may want to give more substantial weight to the regular season.  Here’s the thing, though – reasonable minds always differ, and both conclusions are completely ok.  We believe that this sort of subjective analysis – review the available stats, pre-rank a list, reconvene to discuss, finalize the rankings – gives such a ranking system more credibility than simply weighting and re-weighting a formula until everything “feels” right.  For those of you who wanted a completely “objective” ranking system… well, here’s an example we did last spring that shows how the BCS formula would have applied to the NCAA Tournament.   Hint: F4 participants Villanova and UConn wouldn’t have even been invited to the Ball. In sum, we think that our methodology resulted in a solid, defensible list of the top ten programs of the 2000s.  Not everyone can be happy, but we’re comfortable with the results.

team2000s final list

Hardest Teams to Peg.  There were three teams that the panel had the hardest time nailing down – #4 Duke, #5 Michigan St., and #8 Memphis.  Both Duke and MSU received a #1 vote in our initial analyses, although to be fair, those were outliers among the panel.  Memphis was equally contentious, with half of the panel initially placing the Tigers in the top seven, while the other half didn’t even have them ranked at all.  It probably makes sense that we’ve received the most criticism based on these difficult-to-peg teams.

Easiest Teams to Peg.  On the other hand, the top three teams – #1 UNC, #2 Kansas, #3 Florida – were unanimous in order (although not in ranking).  Every panelist rated those three in the same order relative to one another, and the lowest any of the four teams were rated was fourth.  Interestingly, criticism died down on the placement of these teams.  Perhaps our panel was representative of what Average College Basketball Fan would choose as well?

What About Memphis? After the news that the NCAA vacated Memphis’ 38 wins and title appearance from the 2008 season, there was some buzz about what we should do with our list.  By our estimation, Memphis was rated as the #8 program of the 2000s, but if we removed that year, they most undoubtedly would have dropped out of the top ten.    After some internal discussion, we’re unwilling to go there.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First and foremost, we don’t want to.  We watched Memphis play its way into the national finals, we saw Derrick Rose clang his first FT with nine seconds left, and we remember the shocked look on Calipari’s face in the interview room afterwards.  We also remember Michael Redd’s shooting in 99, Marcus Camby blocking everything in sight in 96, C-Webb calling timeout in 93, and several other vacated performances over the years.  Those games and moments happened.  They’re seared into our memory.  The NCAA can vacate whatever it wants, but we’re not going to join forces with them in their legal fiction.  Which brings us to our second point on this topic.  The NCAA’s application of these penalties is so wantonly inconsistent that if we gave credence to this one while ignoring such wholesale violations known to the general public – Sam Gilbert at UCLA and Reggie Bush at USC should immediately come to mind – that we’d be doing our readers a disservice.  We recognize that cheating at some level happens nearly everywhere, but our stance is that if the NCAA doesn’t catch it and punish the school prior to the games affected, then we’re not going to join them in their after-the-fact erasures.  Sorry.  Memphis stays at #8.

The Celebrated RTC Panel
The Celebrated RTC Panel

Honorable Mention (in no particular order).

  • Pittsburgh.  Pitt was an oddity when it came to evaluating them for our countdown.  There was considerable variance among the voters as to where the Pitt program landed, and because of that they were one of the first teams to whom we awarded this “honorable mention” status.  Still, after the votes had been submitted, in the ensuing discussion it wasn’t that hard to move Pittsburgh out of the Top 10.  Make no mistake, it’s been an excellent ten years for the Pitt program, but in order to make a decade’s-end Top 10 list there are certain things you simply HAVE to get done.  Of their eight trips to the NCAA tournament, six of those saw Pittsburgh with at least a 4-seed (five of them were #3 or better).  The result?  Zero trips to the Final Four and only one Elite Eight.  It’s not like the Panthers didn’t have their chances.  True, it’s not easy to lose a coach like Ben Howland (who took Pitt to the Dance in 2002 and 2003) and the program deserves credit for a hire like Jamie Dixon, who didn’t miss a beat. And it’s not easy to lose to a Howland-coached UCLA team in 2007 in a #2-vs-#3 seed Sweet 16 game when you’re playing them in San Jose.  But if you want to be considered among the elite, you HAVE to beat 10th-seeded Kent State in the Sweet 16 when you’re a #3 (2002).  You HAVE to beat Pacific in the first round of 2005, even if you are on the low side of an #8-vs-#9 game.  You CANNOT LOSE to 13th-seeded Bradley in the second round when you’re a 5-seed (2006).  And perhaps the most painful — when you’ve earned a 1-seed after an incredible 28-4 season playing in the Big East, when you’re playing in your first Elite Eight in 35 years, you MUST beat the 3-seed, even if it is an in-state rival in the form of a very tough-nosed Villanova squad.  Dixon faces a bit of a rebuilding task in the upcoming season, but they ended the 2000s strong.  It’s because of that strong finish, that trend of improvement, that people – especially Pittsburgh fans – may be surprised to not see the Panthers in the Top 10 for the last decade.  As we start the new decade with the upcoming season, Dixon has the Pittsburgh program poised to move into that elite category.  As far as the last decade, though, they came up just short.
  • Illinois. On three of our personal Team of the 2000s rankings, Illinois barely missed the cut, meaning if the Bruce Weber-led 2005 squad managed to topple North Carolina for a national championship, they’d likely be included in the top ten. Illinois has also flamed out a bit at the tail end of the decade, finishing with a losing record in 2007-08 (16-19) before rebounding to a 24-10 mark in 2008-09 and eventually falling victim to a 12-5 upset by Western Kentucky. Bill Self and Bruce Weber have built a phenomenal program throughout the decade, though. The 2004-05 team featuring Deron Williams, Luther Head, Dee Brown and James Augustine was one of the top teams of the 2000s, flirting with an undefeated mark until Ohio State knocked them off in Columbus, then pulling off one of the most sensational comebacks in NCAA Tournament history in the Elite 8 against Arizona. Illinois has tied or won the Big Ten three times in the 2000s and finished as high as second three more times. What holds Illinois back from garnering a spot on the list? They haven’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament or won a conference title since that special 2004-05 campaign. Borderline teams have experienced more success in March, both in the Big Dance and in conference tournament play, than Illinois. For example, Maryland has two Final Fours, a national title and never finished with a losing record in the decade. Illinois hasn’t won the Big Ten Tournament since 2004-05. With packed recruiting classes ahead and a top-notch leader in Weber, Illinois will look to turn around a program that hasn’t been nearly as feared since watching Carolina cut down the nets on that fateful April night four years ago.
  • Gonzaga. The Zags undoubtedly were the most successful mid-major of the decade (moreso than Xavier and Butler), but their overall profile simply didn’t have enough juice to vault Gonzaga into the top ten. They dominated the WCC, winning the league eight times en route to an average of 26+ wins per year, an outstanding 80% winning percentage, and ten straight NCAA appearances.  But when it came to the NCAAs, Mark Few’s squads were only able to make it to the Sweet Sixteen four times.  And how many times in the decade were they able to advance past the third round?  Um, try zero.    Nevertheless, we believe that Gonzaga rates a tick higher than other such notable programs as Louisville, Wisconsin, Arizona and Oklahoma (all of whom made one F4) because they were so consistently good despite their scheduling limitations.  The worst Zag team (2006-07) still had 23 wins, and as a result of the weaker schedule of the WCC, their average NCAA seed was easily one of the lowest on our list.  Yet, as we all know, Gonzaga has tried to load up on high-impact RPI games during the nonconference slate, and we give them credit for that.  Fans of the other programs may quibble with this selection, but we can live with including at least one mid-major for consideration as the Team of the 2000s, and Gonzaga is our choice.
  • Arizona.  The obvious question here for Wildcat fans is how can a team that made the NCAA tournament every year for the past decade (and 25 straight if you don’t take away their vacated 1999 appearance) not be considered one of the top ten programs of the 2000s behind four teams that failed to make the tournament twice, two teams that failed to make the tournament three times, and another team that failed to make the tournament four times?  While the answer probably won’t satisfy Wildcat fans, it comes down to a few key things for us:
  1. Barely having a winning percentage at 70% despite playing in the Pac-10. Save the whining, West Coast people. The Pac-10 has only been one of the best conferences in the nation once in the past decade (2008 comes immediately to mind).
  2. Averaging 1.7 wins per NCAA Tournament appearance, which is lower than any other team in the top 10. The only team that they are close to is Syracuse and the Orange have a national title (wouldn’t be in the top 10 without it).
  3. Mediocre performance in the Pac-10. The Wildcats had 2.5 regular season conference titles (one being a split title) and 1 postseason conference title (since it was started in 2002). Like we said before, the Pac-10 might have the most attractive co-eds in the nation (although the SEC has a strong case), but the Pac-10 pales in comparison to the ACC, Big East, Big 12, SEC, and the Big 10 over the past decade in terms of the quality of their basketball teams.
  4. You could argue that the Wildcats got lucky with many of those NCAA tournament bids, most notably two years ago when they got in ahead of an Arizona State team that had a very strong case for being in above their rival.
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Calipari to Kentucky

Posted by nvr1983 on March 30th, 2009

After a weekend full of speculation about who would replace Billy Gillispie as the next head coach at Kentucky it looks like we finally have our answer in the form of John Calipari. Our sources had been mentioning Calipari as a potential replacement for Gillispie as early as a week ago, but that was obviously delayed by the fact that his Memphis team was still playing in the NCAA tournament. Fortunately, for the administration at Kentucky, even after last year’s title game collapse against Kansas, Calipari still didn’t think it was worthwhile having his team work on free throws and as a result they were bounced by Missouri in the Sweet 16 (their lack of defense against Missouri didn’t help their cause either).

95204093_memphis_v_houston

Although the details of the deal have not been released yet, it would be safe to assume that Calipari is at around the $3 million/year figure that our source was saying it would take to lure him away from Memphis (9pm update: ESPN is now reporting the offer is 8 yrs/$35M). In addition, Kentucky will have also have to come up with the money to compensate for the $5 million bonus Calipari would have collected had he finished his contract at Memphis, which ran through the 2012-13 season at $2.5 million/year. (Break open those checkbooks Wildcat boosters!).

What might be even bigger than the physical switch of Calipari for Gillispie on the sidelines is the potential chain reaction this could have on the Memphis/Kentucky recruiting classes and Tyreke Evans. Going into today, Kentucky only had one 5-star (Daniel Orton) and one 4-star (Jon Hood) recruit who had signed a letter of intent to play in Lexington. With the addition of Calipari, the Wildcats would almost certainly get DeMarcus Cousins (the #2 overall recruit) who has committed to Memphis, but did not sign a letter of intent, and potentially Xavier Henry (the #3 overall recruit) who signed a letter of intent at Memphis, but could petition the NCAA for a release (4-star recruit Nolan Dennis has stated that he has an agreement with Memphis that he will be released from his letter of intent if Calipari leaves). In addition, they would suddenly be in the running for John Wall (the #1 overall recruit) who has not committed to a school yet, but is said to be very high on Memphis Calipari. Adding 2 of those 3 to a Kentucky lineup that leaned heavily on Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks this year would almost certainly make the Wildcats go from a NIT participant to Final 4 favorites. If Calipari were able to pull off a miracle and get Henry released from his letter and bring all three with him to Kentucky to go with Patterson, Meeks, and Orton, the Wildcats would suddenly emerge as the prohibitive favorites and the fans in Lexington might start having visions of the 1996 Kentucky team running through their heads for the next six months.

What would happen to Memphis? Disaster. Tyreke Evans, who has seen his NBA draft stock rebound after slipping during his difficult adjustment to the college game, would most likely head to the NBA leaving the Tigers without a true star for the first time in years (Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson are both seniors). Losing such a great recruiting class (one of the best since the Chris Webber-led “Fab 5″) would be a crushing blow to a program that has risen up from playing in Conference USA to become one of the premier programs in the nation in the past 5-10 years. The next question for Memphis is who will replace Calipari on the sideline. Current reports indicate that Calpari is pushing for his long-time assistant Tony Barbee to be named as his successor, but it’s likely that the Memphis AD will look to lure big-names such as Mike Anderson or Tim Floyd to what has become one fo the premier coaching destinations in the country.

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Was Nate Miles’ Restraining Order the Best Thing That Could Have Happened to UConn?

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2009

As it stands today, the #1 West seed UConn mens’ basketball team  is sitting in Glendale, Arizona, awaiting its Sweet Sixteen matchup against Purdue on Friday night, having obliterated its sub-regional opponents by roughly 1000 points in two blowout wins.  It’s still relatively early, but the Huskies appear to be the favorite going into the rest of the Tournament, with their scoring threats at every position and their game-changing defensive presence in the middle known as Hasheem Thabeet.  Scarily, UConn isn’t even at full strength, as two players who were on the roster at the beginning of the school year are no longer playing for the Huskies - we all know about Jerome Dyson’s injury, but what about the other guy… Nate Miles? 

You remember Miles, right?  Jim Calhoun brought the troubled-but-talented 6’7 wing player in from Toledo as a freshman, but he was expelled from UConn in early October for violating a restraining order based on an accusation that he assaulted a female student.   Sixteen minutes after the restraining order was issued, mind you.  He then re-surfaced at a JuCo in Idaho, where he dropped in 19 ppg this season.  So why is this all relevant now? 

A Yahoo Sports investigation led by Dan Wetzel and Adrian Wojnarowski issued a comprehensive report today outlining the sordid tale of how Miles was ‘delivered’ to UConn by a former team manager turned agent named Josh Nochimson, and how current and former UConn coaches (including Jim Calhoun) may have pulled a Kelvin Sampson and egregiously violated the recruiting contact provisions with Miles throughout 2006 and 2007.   From the report:

The University of Connecticut violated NCAA rules in the recruitment of former guard Nate Miles, a six-month investigation by Yahoo! Sports has found.  Miles was provided with lodging, transportation, restaurant meals and representation by Josh Nochimson – a professional sports agent and former UConn student manager – between 2006 and 2008, according to multiple sources. As a representative of UConn’s athletic interests, Nochimson was prohibited by NCAA rules from having contact with Miles and from providing him with anything of value.  The UConn basketball staff was in constant contact with Nochimson during a nearly two-year period up to and after Miles’ recruitment. Five different UConn coaches traded at least 1,565 phone and text communications with Nochimson, including 16 from head coach Jim Calhoun.  UConn may have committed major recruiting violations by exceeding NCAA limits on phone calls to Miles and those closest to him, records show. The NCAA allows a single phone call per month to a prospect or his family in a player’s junior year of high school. That limit was exceeded over several months from late 2006 into 2007.

This makes the Kelvin Sampson and Rob Senderoff thing at Indiana look tame by comparison. 

UConn released a statement that doesn’t really say much, but what they should be saying (at least privately) is THANK THE F#%&ING LORD!  Consider…  the Huskies may well be on their way to their third national title in the last eleven seasons.  At worst, they appear a strong contender for another F4 appearance.  If Miles was still on this team, suddenly the entire house of cards could have come crumbling down.  Even if UConn ultimately won the 2009 championship, there would be a strong likelihood that much of their season would be later vacated, Chris Webber-style

Ironically, Miles' Restraining Order May Have Saved UConn's Season

Ironically, Miles' Restraining Order May Have Saved UConn's Season (Unlike C-Webb's Michigan Teams)

Not now.  Now any punishment that UConn will take over this admittedly serious set of violations will be prospective, and it should not affect this year’s Husky team (unless the NCAA digs up some other violations impacting current players).  We don’t mean to be callous, but in a tradeoff, wouldn’t most UConn fans take that deal?  You can win the 2009 title, but you’ll have to face a 1-year postseason ban and scholarship reductions at some future point.  Yeah, thought so.   So congratulations, Connecticut fans, there is a silver lining in what was otherwise not your best day. 

Final thought here: it’s nice to see that Yahoo Sports took it upon itself to do the NCAA’s work here.  A simple FOIA request – that’s all it took?  You’d think that the NCAA’s army of investigators could figure out that one by themselves.  Easy, low-hanging fruit at these public universities.  Or, maybe not. 

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 03.15.09

Posted by nvr1983 on March 15th, 2009

dynamiteIt’s officially here. . .Selection Sunday is upon us. Time for a bunch of whining and complaining by grown men about how their team that went 20-12 deserved to get in or for Billy Packer to rip some mid-major for getting in at 26-7 over an ACC team that went 17-15. Thankfully, the slate today is a little lighter to let us get some work done on our NCAA tournament preview. We’ll be covering all 4 games today and we will be doing a separate live blog (RTC Live style, but we won’t be inside the Selection Committee room although give it time). Here are the games today in chronological order and a brief synopsis of what is at stake in each game:

  • 1 PM: #22 FSU vs. #8 Duke on ESPN, Raycom, and ESPN360.com: This is only for seeding purposes. FSU is probably a solid #5 after knocking off UNC yesterday. A win here might be able to move them up to the last #4 seed. Duke is pretty much locked into a #2 seed. There is no way they are getting a #1 seed and they won’t fall to a #3 seed because the two teams above them and three teams below them in the rankings all had worse weeks.
  • 1 PM: Tennessee vs. Mississippi State on CBS: This is the biggest game of the day because of its implications on the bubble. I’m guessing 95% of the people who have any rooting interest in this game will be pulling for Tennessee. The Vols are solidly in the field at a #7 seed in most predictions and I can’t see them jumping much higher, which would essentially mean they should be ranked, if they beat a good, but not great MSU team. The Bulldogs on the other hand can wreck a bunch of teams NCAA dreams by winning the SEC title.
  • 1 PM: Texas-San Antonio vs. Stephen F. Austin on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: The winner of this game will end up with a 14 or 15 seed. SFA might be an interesting first round opponent since they actually had a decent RPI for a Southland team (#79) and boast a win over #94 North Dakota State. Honestly though, unless you’re a fan/grad of one of the schools, you’re not going to be watching this over the other two games.
  • 3:30 PM: Ohio State vs. #24 Purdue on CBS: Another game that is about seeding. I think Purdue has moved up about as far as it can after destroying Illinois in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. Ohio State has a chance to move up to a 7 if they can win this after knocking off Michigan State yesterday.

12:20 PM: Ok. Some quick questions for you that ESPN.com posed this morning:

  1. Which teams are the #1 seeds?
  2. Is UConn better off as a #2 seed?
  3. Which conference will send the most teams to the NCAA tournament?
  4. Will the SEC really only put two of its teams into the NCAA field?
  5. Will Arizona’s 24-year bid streak finally end?
  6. Which teams will be seeded higher than you think?
  7. Which teams will be seeded lower than you think?
  8. Which mid-major teams will the big boys hope to avoid in the first round?

Let me know what you think and I’ll give you my thoughts in a little bit.

12:45 PM: Why does CBS drag these Selection Committee people onto the show? I know they’re trying to hype up the Selection Special at 6 PM, but they add absolutely nothing. They just give generic, PR firm answers. I almost prefer the bickering that ESPN has arguing whether or not a team deserves to be in.

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The Fraud 5 or Fab 5?

Posted by rtmsf on October 15th, 2007

The Detroit Free-Press reported today that Jalen Rose is responsible for the following monstrosity memorial to the Fraud 5 Fab 5, Michigan’s controversial, engaging, frustrating, overachieving and underachieving teams of the early 90s. 

Fab Five billboard

We’re no Mitch Albom, so you won’t see a treatise on five people you meet in Michigan or basketball played in heaven here today, but we do recognize that the team represented on the billboard above was probably the most widely discussed yet schizophrenic college hoops team of the past two decades.  When focused, the team was without question one of the best conglomerations of talent in one class ever assembled; when not, they were as maddeningly frustrating as they were enticing.   

Were Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson the Fab 5 or the Fraud 5?  Ultimately, it depends on your perspective.  We took a shot at comparing the two below. 

Fab 5 or Fraud 5

For a recap of the group and their effects on the game at large, check the below ESPN clip: 

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