Past Imperfect: Y2K Chaos hits NCAAs

Posted by JWeill on March 31st, 2011

Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Each week, RTC contributor JL Weill (@AgonicaBossEmail) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the random, whacked-out, weirdo 2000 NCAA Final Four.

One Final Four team shouldn’t even be in the tournament. Another surprise team plays a grind-it-out style with no star power. A third team is a batch of mostly young kids who needed a buzzer beater to even get out of the first round. The last team at the Final Four – call it the favorite — is powered by a short point guard and a slasher who seems to be getting better by the game and a bunch of spare parts.

2011? Nope. Try 11 years earlier, when a bunch of random happened to college basketball.

It was a watershed moment for the sport. Or so we thought, anyway. Everything had changed, forever. It was the era of parity, the New World Order for basketball. There would be no kings anymore. Fear the Tulsas and the Wisconsins and the Iowa States from here on out. But other than that wacky March and early April of 2000, for the most part the college basketball world has actually been a pretty normal place ever since. Yes, there have been a few Final Four interlopers in the interim: George Mason, Indiana, Georgia Tech. But mostly it’s been a whole bunch of Duke and Florida and North Carolina and, well, Duke. But forgive yourselves if you weren’t able to accurately predict the future way back then. After all, this was right after all the world’s computers should have melted down, wreaking untold havoc on all humanity, wasn’t it?

Havoc was exactly what it looked like, though, in bracket pools everywhere in the Spring of 2000, thanks to a motley crew assembled in Indianapolis for the 2000 NCAA Final Four that was about as unpredictable as they come. Of the quartet, only Michigan State was “supposed” to be there, the only No. 1 (or 2 or 3 or even 4, for that matter) seed to even make it past the Sweet 16. The combined seeds of the four teams to reach the RCA Dome came to an astounding 22, far surpassing the total for any other single Final Four. Well, until 2011, that is.

Dick Bennett masterminded the slow-down style that Wisconsin used to reach the 2000 Final Four.

The Spartans were familiar with the Final Four, having made the tournament’s last weekend the season before only to lose to Duke. After that game, seniors-to-be Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson determined they would not be denied a second time. Of course, that’s always easier to say than it is to do. Michigan State trailed in the second half of three of its tournament games before reaching the semifinals. But each time the Spartans’ blend of experience, talent and football toughness – intentionally bred by their football-loving coach Tom Izzo – proved enough to overcome both deficit and, eventually, the opponent.

This was, in fact, the team that defined Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State. After so many Final Four appearances and so many wins, fans and pundits have come to expect Izzo’s teams to play that Izzo style of gritty bruiser ballet. But while the 1999 Spartans did leap past Kentucky and into the Final Four, it was this group in 2000 that established the base line for all the Michigan State units that followed.

But even if Michigan State was the prohibitive favorite on Final Four weekend, the underdog has upset the status quo enough times that there was no reason to take for granted the Big Ten champions would waltz to the crown.  First standing in their way was a familiar Big Ten foe in an unfamiliar place.

Today, Wisconsin is a well-known basketball school. Under coach Bo Ryan, the Badgers have competed in 10 straight NCAA tournaments and finished in the top half of the Big Ten each of those seasons. But it wasn’t always this way. It took a decidedly unconventional coach to lay the groundwork for the annual Big Ten contender we see now. Before Dick Bennett took over the reins of the Badger basketball program in 1995, it had been to one NCAA tournament since 1947. One. The markedly unflashy Bennett came to Madison, Wisc., with a record of consistent, slow-building success at Wisconsin-Green Bay. Taking over a program where basketball mostly seemed like what happened between hockey season and spring football practice,. Bennett started from scratch and built a team that might not always look pretty but whose toughness and spine would please any hockey or football fan. And most importantly, the Badgers began to win.

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Morning Five: 08.18.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 18th, 2010

  1. It was unsettling kind of day, as two lawsuits involving high-major coaches were settled yesterday.  Perhaps they saw Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s fifteen seconds of infamy and decided to hedge their bets, but former Seton Hall head coach Bobby Gonzalez and current Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy both settled their ongoing lawsuits yesterday.  Gonzalez was embroiled in a wrongful termination suit with Seton Hall after getting the axe in March on the heels of a  public blowup with the law school dean, claiming he was owed two more years of salary.  Kennedy settled his defamation suit against a cab driver and valet over a dust-up in 2008 where the pair accused the coach of using racial slurs because the cabbie wouldn’t allow the five people in Kennedy’s group into his vehicle (the max is four).  Details of both settlements were not released, which is just as well for everyone involved.
  2. While on the topic of lawsuits, the Pitino/Sypher saga won’t die in Louisville.  Defense attorney James Earhart now claims that he has new information that specifically leads him to believe that some of the prosecution’s witnesses perjured themselves while under oath.  He’s asking for a 45-day extension to further research these allegations and believes that it will ultimately lead to a mistrial on appeal.  Maybe this is Earhart’s way of saying that it might have been a good idea to call some witnesses who could have impeached their testimony during the trial?
  3. The legacy of John Wooden will live on in the form of the contents of his den — all the hundreds of pieces of memorabilia that the Wizard held onto over the years — which will be moved en masse over to the UCLA campus for fans to enjoy as a virtual Wooden terrarium.  We’ve already got plans to visit UCLA’s JD Morgan Center later this year to see this.
  4. We had the privilege of seeing all six of Butler’s NCAA Tournament games live last year, and in each game more than the last, we came away impressed with the poise and abilities of the Bulldogs’ Shelvin Mack.  Luke Winn writes that Mack, more than any other player on the summer circuit of camps and USA Basketball, has elevated himself to the point where he’s getting rave reviews from veteran guards in the League.  Case in point: Mack was chosen over quite a few big names for his spot on the USA Select team, players such as Scoop Jardine, Scotty Hopson, Jacob Pullen and Jimmer Fredette.  Could Mack, Ronald Nored and Matt Howard propel Butler toward another Final Four next year?  They may be closer than conventional wisdom says even after losing star forward Gordon Hayward.
  5. Fanhouse put together a cool idea — figuring out who should make up the College-Forever team.  Using the general criteria of great collegiate players who barely earned a cup of coffee in the NBA (or none at all), who would populate your top three teams of the modern era (1985 to present)?  We only saw one major omission, and that was Arkansas’ Scotty Thurman, who despite a brilliant college career never logged a single second in the NBA.  Nevertheless, he was an absolute assassin for Nolan Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell” Razorbacks, winning multiple games with his smooth stroke in late-game situations, most notably from the wing over Duke in 1994.  He should have been on the first-team over Ed Cota, and at worst second-team.  Cool concept, though.
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30 Days of Madness: The Show-stopper

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2010

We’ve been anxiously awaiting the next thirty days for the last eleven months.  You have too.  In fact, if this isn’t your favorite time of year by a healthy margin then you should probably click away from this site for a while.   Because we plan on waterboarding you with March Madness coverage.  Seriously, you’re going to feel like Dick Cheney himself is holding a Spalding-logoed towel over your face.  Your intake will be so voluminous that you’ll be drooling Gus Johnson and bracket residue in your sleep.  Or Seth Davis, if that’s more your style.  The point is that we’re all locked in and ready to go.  Are you?  To help us all get into the mood, we like to click around a fancy little website called YouTube for a daily dose of notable events, happenings, finishes, ups and downs relating to the next month.  We’re going to try to make this video compilation a little smarter, a little edgier, a little historical-er.  Or whatever.  Sure, you’ll see some old favorites that never lose their luster, but you’ll also see some that maybe you’ve forgotten or never knew to begin with.  That’s the hope, at least.  We’ll be matching the videos by the appropriate week, so all of this week we re-visited some of the timeless moments from the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.  Enjoy.

NCAA First and Second Rounds

Dateline: 1999 NCAA Tournament First Round – #3 North Carolina vs. #14 Weber State

Context: There was just something about this game that made it special.  Maybe it was the fact that it was the last game of the First Round on an action-packed Thursday night, lasting well after midnight in the east.  Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Carolina, while not a great team that year, was still Carolina and had won every one of its first round games in what seemed like a hundred years.  Perhaps it had something to with  the fact that the Heels had been to two straight Final Fours under steady-as-she-goes Ed Cota and were a trendy pick for a third in a row (they would go yet again in 2000 before the Doherty era began), or that Weber’s coach was a dead man walking, with an agreement in place to let him go after their next loss.  But most likely, we just loved that the best player on the court, a silky-smooth 6’5 Weber State guard by the name of Harold Arceneaux, had a jazzy sounding name that took off when we learned he was also called “The Show.”  (He was so unknown that even after the game CNNSI still couldn’t even get it right)  Arceneaux was indeed the show on this night, dropping threes, splitting defenders, driving for layups and generally terrorizing the Carolina defense to the tune of a masterful 36-point (on 14-26 FGs and 5-7 3FGs) night. He even made the winning defensive play by stealing the long inbounds pass that UNC hoped would lead to a shot to tie or win at the buzzer.  You won’t see this performance talked about much this week during the endless loop of March memories as it’s lost a good deal of its sheen over the decade since, but we remember you Harold and wonder who will take the mantle of “The Show” this year.

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09.14.09 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on September 14th, 2009

In the last week or so, we’ve noticed that the days are distinctly shorter than they were, which means only one thing…  darkness.

  • What, no Matt Doherty?  Carolina celebrated its 100 years of basketball with a blowout extravaganza two Fridays ago featuring such UNC luminaries as Dean Smith, Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Phil Ford, Larry Brown, Antawn Jamison, George Karl, Julius Peppers and a bunch of other dignitaries, both past and present.  The tribute video they presented at the beginning of the evening should be mandatory viewing for every recruit that steps into Chapel Hill (sidenote: 2010 #1 Harrison Barnes and several others were there), but the featured event was the scrimmage, nicknamed the “Professional Alumni Game,” where the White team (starters: Raymond Felton, Brendan Haywood, Marvin Williams, Antawn Jamison and Jerry Stackhouse) defeated the Blue team (Vince Carter, Jawad Williams, Dante Calabria, Sean May and Ed Cota) 113-92.  It sounds great and all, but it was the trotting out of that old Carolina/Dean Smith warhorse, the Four Corners offense, that just about made this writer puke.  Let’s sully one of the greatest collections of collegiate talent ever put together in a single place at a single time by reminiscing and celebrating one of the biggest abominations the game has ever witnessed.  For you youngsters, the 4C was largely responsible for the implementation of the 45-second shot clock in the mid-80s, and is widely ridiculed as one of the worst inventions of the modern game.  Bad, bad idea, Heels.  As another sidenote to this Carolina joyfest, did anyone else feel that MJ’s acceptance speech at the HOF induction last weekend was completely petty and mean-spirited?  From our cheap seats, it appears that more than one Jordan Myth was defused this weekend (h/t TBL).
  • Memphis Appeals.  Last week Memphis sent its timely notice of appeal to the NCAA based on the Derrick Rose Scandal, arguing that the Tigers’ 38 wins and NCAA Tournament runner-up appearance from 2007-08 should not be removed from the history books.  Among the findings that led to the penalties, the only one that Memphis is appealing is the violation involving Derrick Rose’s SAT score.  This is presumably because it is also the most difficult one to prove (cf. with Memphis getting cold-busted for providing illicit airfare and hotels to Reggie Rose).  The school, now represented by “NCAA defender to the stars” Mike Glazier, has thirty days to present its arguments to the NCAA Infractions Committee, and their argument is going to undoubtedly hinge on the seeming inconsistency of Derrick Rose being cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse prior to his freshman season only to be later deemed ineligible after the fact.  Sadly for Memphis, in this case and in the real world, what is an apparent inconsistency is incongruent with the fact that the justice system (and the NCAA) doesn’t work like that.  The bottom line is this: so long as the Clearinghouse made a good faith effort to determine the basis for Rose’s initial eligibility (and we presume it did), the revelation of later evidence indicting Rose’s SAT provenance has no bearing on the initial assessment.  The NCAA had no basis to believe that Rose had cheated on his SATs until the allegations surfaced after his freshman year.  The real-world analogy would be if the police did a cursory investigation of someone related to a crime and found no evidence to initially support their involvement, only to receive credible information a year later that the person investigated might have indeed committed the crime.  Rose was no more “cleared” than any of us are - there is no “get-out-of-jail-free” card that we can present in perpetuity; if additional information comes to light, it is entirely reasonable for conditions to change in response.  Furthermore, the fact that Rose then ignored three letters from ETS (who administers the SAT) questioning his score, and two other letters from the NCAA requesting an interview, does not help his case.  Unless he plans on showing up to the NCAA hearing on Memphis’ behalf with evidence to the contrary (LOLable), we’re afraid that Memphis is going to be forced to eat those 38 wins and the $600K they stand to lose here.  Maybe Josh Pastner could simply request that Rose write him a check?
  • Back To Renardo Sidney.  The NCAA stated last Friday that Mississippi St.’s Renardo Sidney is not certified to play this season because his family did not turn over the financial documentation that they requested as part of the investigation into how the Sidneys afforded to live in high-end homes in the LA area.  Or as they put it, Sidney is “not certified due to non response.”  The NCAA went on to say that if or when the Sidneys send the information requested (and not a stack of random papers they found in someone’s locker), then his certification will be re-evaluated.  What does all this mean?  Basically, the NCAA doesn’t want to get caught with its pants down again, as in the cases of OJ Mayo and Derrick Rose where they certified players as initially eligible only to watch as those same players danced on the NCAA Clearinghouse’s grave en route to the NBA.  Sidney’s attorney is threatening lawsuit, and we suspect that his argument “that the Sidney family has to establish the existence of non-violations” probably has some merit, but none of this may matter given we’re only two months from the first games and the justice system moves slower than molasses.  It’s unlikely that MSU will risk playing Sidney while the wheels of justice are turning simply because they don’t want a Rose giveback of all the Ws they’re anticipating this season.
  • Vegas Watch: Big Ten.  VW got his third installment of the major conference previews up today, and once again we were invited along for the peep show.  What’s interesting about the Big Ten ratings is that we all pretty much agreed that Purdue is the best team in the conference in 09-10, but (at least for our money) Michigan St. is the team more likely to do damage in the NCAA Tournament.  Another good exercise, and the league is looking at being way up – up to seven solid NCAA bids this season.  For the ACC and Big 12 ratings and discussion, see these posts.
  • Quick HitsSlam Magazine: finished its Top 25.  Arizona St.: more than just Harden and PendergraphParrish: why Butler is no Boise.   Goodman: 25 players you should know for 09-10, and his all-americans (John Wall for POY = bold).  Incredible Shrinking Center: Memphis’ Pierre Henderson-NilesJim Griffin: RIPJohn Pelphrey at Arkansas: agreedSeton Hall: extends Bobby Gonzalez to 2015Florida St.: haven’t we heard this song before?  Travis Ford: wow, how do you get a 10-year extension after one year on the job?  Larry Eustachy: Gillispie has a diseaseFreshmen: here’s the top 20 for 09-10Memphis: down to 8 scholarship playersBlue Ribbon: go ahead and order it.
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