Morning Five: 07.28.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 28th, 2011

  1. It’s roughly 16 months away, but when is discussing the tropical paradise of Maui a bad thing?  The Maui Invitational released its roster of invited teams for its November 2012 island tournament, and one of its attendees, Butler, is still basking in the glow of a report stating its last two NCAA Tournament championship game runs were worth over a billion dollars in media publicity.  Well, the publicity train continues to roll, as Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs will join North Carolina, Illinois, Marquette, Mississippi State, Southern California, Texas, and host Chaminade in what promises to be another strong field.  It’s difficult to project any team two seasons out these days, but you can more than likely expect that, at a minimum, UNC, Butler, Texas and Marquette will all have strong squads in 2012.
  2. Get ready to see a whole lot more Pac-12 hoops on your television no matter where you live.  Starting about a year from now, the Pac-12 Networks will launch seven new channels for its fans, starting with a national network (presumably similar in scope to the Big Ten Network) but also with six regional networks featuring the six geographic areas where two schools are located (Washington, Oregon, NorCal, SoCal, Arizona, Mountain).  The national network will be available on the digital sports tiers outside of the local markets, which means that if you get the Fox Regionals, you’ll probably get the Pac-12 Network.  The networks will show roughly 35 football games and 100 basketball games each season in addition to the games already picked up by ESPN as part of its new $3B, 12-year deal.  Commissioner Larry Scott has crafted some innovative, forward-thinking deals to get his conference more notoriety; now he just needs to ensure that the product is something that people will want to see.
  3. Last season the NCAA Tournament debuted its “First Four” games, and Brad Brownell’s Clemson Tigers was one of the participants.  After defeating UAB in Dayton in the late game on Tuesday night, his team had to fly to St. Petersburg, Florida, to get to its Second Round game against West Virginia on Friday afternoon where they lost a close one down the stretch.  His primary beef is in having to play in an early afternoon slot on Friday after traveling all night after the Tigers’ first game, and it makes sense.  A few extra hours to recuperate that afternoon could have gone a long way in terms of tired and travel-weary legs, and after all, what’s the harm?  We know that CBS/Turner has heavy involvement in the selection of game tip times, but it shouldn’t be all that unreasonable to slot four teams into the sixteen late games on Thursday and Friday nights — the ratings will be fine regardless.
  4. We’re quite certain that if UCLA head coach Ben Howland could get a do-over on his 2008 recruiting class that was rated #1 in the nation, he’d take it in a heartbeat.  Jrue Holiday had one lackluster season before he was 1-and-done; Drew Gordon fell out with Howland and eventually transferred to New Mexico; J’mison Morgan never produced and landed at Baylor; Malcolm Lee played three semi-effective seasons before bailing to the NBA Draft without a guarantee.  That left Jerime Anderson as the lone survivor going into his senior season in Westwood.  A role player in the backcourt who similarly never lived up to his prep on-court hype, he was recently arrested on campus for stealing another student’s Macbook Pro.  A tracking device within the computer led police to Anderson, who was immediately suspended from the team and will miss at least the Bruins’ opener against Loyola Marymount on November 11.  If this allegation turns out to be true, we wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the final nail in the coffin of the illustrious UCLA Class of 2008.  Wow.
  5. This is one of those things that is so disheartening that you sometimes stop to wonder why you bother even to get up in the morning.  Earlier this week former Kentucky guard Desmond Allison was murdered in Columbus, Ohio, in an incident so completely senseless and illogical that it strains credulity.  According to the Columbus Dispatch, friends of Allison reported that the dispute that may have led to his murder involved a baseball cap that he was wearing while talking on the phone.   You read that correctly.  A baseball cap.  Reportedly, an ex-girlfriend of Allison’s removed the cap from Allison’s head which led to an argument between that woman and Allison’s current girlfriend.  Allison got involved in the dispute involving the cap, but soon walked away.  A bit later, three men (still unidentified) approached Allison when one of them (possibly a relative of one of the two women) began arguing with him and soon thereafter, shooting.  Allison died at a local hospital later that evening.  It’s mind-boggling, isn’t it?
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Season in Review: Top 15 Storylines From 2010-11

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2011

From Jimmer to Kemba to a Blue Devil toe that wouldn’t heal and a Rocky Top saga that wouldn’t end, it’s been another wild season for college basketball fans from coast to coast.  As we bask in the afterglow of 68 teams down to UConn’s championship, let’s take a look back at the top 15 storylines (in no particular order) of the 2010-11 season.

In an Epic Season-Long Battle, Kemba Smiled Last

  1. Kemba vs. Jimmer.  The national Player of the Year race hasn’t been this exciting since Adam Morrison of Gonzaga and JJ Redick of Duke took turns outdoing each other from opposite ends of the country back in 2006.  Yet these two one-name guards, Kemba from the Boogie Down Bronx and Jimmer from a tiny town in upstate New York, electrified fans nationwide with their unique ability to take over games at Connecticut and BYU, respectively.  Kemba Walker, the cocksure Husky guard with the ball on a string and a crossover dribble to make defenders cry, carried UConn to 32 wins, a sterling 14-0 record in knockout games and the school’s third national championship in what was supposed to be a “down” year.  Fredette, the nation’s leading scorer at 28.9 PPG and owner of a deadeye jumper pure out to 30 feet,  inspired fans to call their cable companies to add The Mountain to their channel lineup.  While it was The Jimmer who swept the NPOY awards (which are based on regular season performance only), we here at RTC factored Kemba’s Big East Tournament MVP and NCAA Tournament MOP performances into our selection of the UConn superstar as our 2010-11 Player of the Year.
  2. A Tourney to Remember, a Championship to Forget.  On the opening Thursday of the NCAA Tournament, still the first “real” day of the Dance to most people, five of the first eight games of the day ended on the final possession.  In addition to close games, there were upsets aplenty in the first weekend, as Butler (knocking out #1 seed Pittsburgh), VCU, Marquette, Florida State and Richmond all broke through as double-digit seeds into the Sweet Sixteen.  The fun didn’t stop there, wither Arizona and Kentucky beating #1s Duke and Ohio State, respectively, in the Sweet Sixteen, followed by VCU shocking the world with its destruction of #1 Kansas in the Elite Eight.  The combined seed total of #3 Connecticut, #4 Kentucky, #8 Butler and #11 VCU was the highest ever in a Final Four, and although the two semifinal games were hard-fought and exciting, the 53-41 championship tilt between UConn and Butler was widely regarded as an ugly finish to what had been a tremendous tournament.  Butler’s 18% shooting for the game was the worst-ever in a championship, and the meme that the national sports media was that such a dud represented some kind of fault in the sport itself.  Last year’s Duke-Butler championship and 2008’s Memphis-Kansas games were awesome — where were those people then?
  3. Kyrie Irving’s Toe.  In early December, there was some talk that preseason #1 Duke, with All-Americans Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler returning to join wunderkind point guard Kyrie Irving, could go unbeaten this year.  All of that discussion ended on December 4 when Irving sprained his toe during what appeared to be a routine play in a win over Butler.  The young player with an explosive extra gear in the open court suffered damage to a ligament and bone that made cutting, running and jumping without pain very difficult.  Subsequently, after sitting out over three months resting and rehabilitating the unusual injury, Irving returned to the court during the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.  While at first it appeared that Irving could be the x-factor needed to put Duke into the driver’s seat in a crowded field of national title contenders, there was some question as to whether his return to the lineup threw off the delicate chemistry that Coach K and his players had engendered throughout the season.  The Devils were thoroughly dominated by Arizona and Derrick Williams in the Sweet Sixteen — Irving played well with 28 points against the Wildcats, but his backcourt mate Nolan Smith only managed eight points while committing six turnovers. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Travelogue: New Orleans, Part I

Posted by jstevrtc on April 1st, 2011

RTC Senior Editor John Stevens covered the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in New Orleans for us last week. In addition to watching Butler emerge as the Southeast Region champion, he also had time to check out a little bit of the city. Occasionally on RTC we like to get out of our comfort zone and write up a travelogue of our experiences for your amusement. He’s home and (we think) fully recovered from the both the amazing basketball he saw and his time in the Big Easy, so here is Part I of John’s sumbission from New Orleans.

If you’re looking forward to the destination, one of the great feelings a person can have, for my money, is the series of moments right before a journey starts. Nothing screams of possibilities more than a plane awaiting its turn on a runway, an empty passport, or a camera memory card with no photos. But when RTC’s founder, correspondent wrangler and assignement hander-outer called me to talk about where I’d be traveling and what games I could possibly cover in the post-season, I wasn’t looking forward to the conversation.

John Makes His First Approach To the Quarter -- It Went Downhill From Here

I covered many games in many locales for RTC this season, and frankly, I was tired. I also remembered how I did the same thing last season, and how fatigued I was after the 10-hour car trip to the Big 12 Tournament last year. It was a total blast to cover. I loved every single moment of being there, and I can still taste the Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue. I spent way too much time in the Power and Light District. ButI always spend too much money and push my poor automobile too hard (nothing like an engine rebuild around Christmastime!). By the time I got off the phone with him, though, my defenses had been proven futile. He landed quick jabs by telling me that I was signed up for the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, the First Four in Dayton, and the Cleveland sub-regional.

Then he finished me with this right cross: “And…you’re also penciled in for the regional in New Orleans.”

As if having a media pass to the nation’s greatest sporting event in four different locations wasn’t enough, I had the opportunity to go to one of the country’s coolest cities. I’d always wanted to go to New Orleans. He knew I couldn’t resist that, the dirty dog that he is. I had more fun covering the games in Indianapolis, Dayton, and Cleveland than I thought I would, and that made me anticipate New Orleans even more. My flight to the Crescent City was at 6:00 AM on Thursday, the day of the Sweet 16 games. I barely slept the night before out of excitement. To me, the night and even the minutes before such a journey like this starts are every bit as good as being on the trip itself.

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That’s Debatable: NCAA First Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2011

As we head into the Sweet Sixteen round, let’s take a look back at some of the key questions and moments of the first two, er, three rounds…

RTC Take:  It was more interesting than it was the last nine years when it only involved two #16 seeds, but the only way to make it truly compelling is to pick teams with a little more national oomph than USC, VCU, UAB and Clemson. 

RTC Take: The fouls at the end of Butler/Pitt offset each other and the two no-calls appeared to be play-on situations in those games.  The Kalin Lucas travel probably wouldn’t have impacted the outcome anyway.  But the Texas five-second call seemed to be a fast whistle, and it essentially gave Arizona the daylight it needed to win the game. 

RTC Take:  We really liked the ability to surf between games without too much trouble, and the free online platforms worked great.  We did not like having entire afternoons on Saturday & Sunday limited to one game per window, though.  That could end up poorly in future years with blowouts. 

RTC Take:  It’s true that Barkley/Jet don’t do their homework, but the scene where Barkley razzed Pitino about Louisville losing in their first game and clowning the Big East was priceless, well worth putting up with the rest of it.  We’ve never seen someone so openly disdainful and dismissive of Pitino in his presence.  Awesome.

RTC Take:  Was Jimmer, still Jimmer.  His performance against Gonzaga was phenomenal, and although Kemba was equally awesome, we still think BYU would essentially be Air Force without Fredette in the lineup.

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NCAA Daily Diaries: First Four – Wednesday

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2011

RTC will be covering the NCAA Tournament from cover to cover this year, with correspondents at each of the fourteen sites over the next three weeks. These diaries are intended to give you insights to the games, coaches, players, fans media and everything else that you wouldn’t otherwise have known simply from watching on television. As always, feel free to offer suggestions for feedback in future versions that we can pass along to our correspondents. Here’s Wednesday’s Diary from Dayton…

The First Four, Wednesday – by John Stevens

Throughout the whole first half of the Alabama State vs. Texas-San Antonio game, the lament was frequently heard: “What on EARTH are we going to write about from this game?” UTSA came out and just socked the Hornets right in the collective jaw with easy drives into the paint and a defense that induced several unforced errors out of ASU. The halftime lead for UTSA was 27. And I know it sounds cliche’ to say it, but it’s true in this case — it wasn’t even THAT close. Melvin Johnson had 25 at the half — his CAREER HIGH, and ASU only had 21! — mostly on drives to the hole, silky fade-aways, and free throws. Everyone in the place shook their heads, wondering how they were going to endure watching another half of a spanking of this magnitude. Then, ASU coach Lewis Jackson began switching his defenses, Jeffery Middlebrooks started draining threes, and Chris Duncan started crashing the glass in force. The Roadrunner lead had shrunk to nine points late, but the Hornets could get no closer. Johnson only took four shots in the second half, and added just four points to end with 29. Despite the comeback by ASU, the matter was decided early. Johnson was just too good in that first half, and the Hornets simply took too long to shake off their jitters. That may have included the coaches — at one point in the first half, ASU received a technical foul for having six players on the floor. UTSA deserved the win, but I like the way ASU represented itself in the Dance by not just caving in. When they took the floor for that second half, there wasn’t one kid in an Alabama State uniform who thought that game was over.

My first tweet from UD Arena tonight complimented the Alabama State band. By far, the BEST I’ve ever seen and heard. Not only are the song choices original, but that wall of brass that comes from their section just makes you want to cry, and the young fellow on the drum kit will definitely put your subwoofer to the test. From the moment they played their first note, they had the whole arena in their pocket. I was simply one of a legion of listeners in the place who felt that way tonight.

People were tweeting, texting, and talking during the USC vs. VCU game about how they thought it was hard to watch, it was reminiscent of Wisconsin/Penn State from the Big Ten Tournament last week (I was at that game, and it was worse), and they couldn’t stand it. I would agree…but only for the first half. In the second, we saw guys try to take control and lift their squads, and I can always appreciate that. Jio Fontan (14/2 asst) got more aggressive in attacking the hole. Jamie Skeen (16/9) put his team on his back for several stretches, hitting mid-range jumpers and threes in succession, and Nikola Vucevic (11/13), frustrated on offense on this night, concentrated his efforts on defense and the glass. The chess match between coaches also got interesting, as Shaka Smart switched to a zone defense (on which more in a moment) and just flummoxed the Trojans, helping the Rams to distance themselves from USC late in the second half. It was almost as if the Trojans didn’t know what had hit them until it was too late.

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NCAA Daily Diaries: First Four – Tuesday

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2011

RTC will be covering the NCAA Tournament from cover to cover this year, with correspondents at each of the fourteen sites over the next three weeks.  These diaries are intended to give you insights to the games, coaches, players, fans media and everything else that you wouldn’t otherwise have known simply from watching on television.  As always, feel free to offer suggestions for feedback in future versions that we can pass along to our correspondents.  Here’s Tuesday’s Diary from Dayton…

The First Four, Tuesday – by John Stevens

What a privilege to be in attendance for history. Assuming the First Four sticks and they bring it back every year, we can say we were at the first First Four. It took a while for UD Arena to fill, but not only was the 6:30 PM ET start time a tad early for a Tuesday night game, but the interstate highways near the arena are undergoing construction, resulting in several bottlenecks and resultant standstills. If you were hoping to slide in just a few minutes before tipoff of either game, there’s no way you made it. By the late second half of UALR vs UNCA, the place was about 80% full.

Here’s how cruel fate can be: when UAB (and VCU, for that matter) were announced as having made the Tournament, you probably heard what ESPN’s Jay Bilas thought of it. That soundbite, by now, is famous; you know, the one where he slams the committee for letting those two teams in ahead of Colorado and Virginia Tech, even wondering if the committee was aware that basketballs were, in fact, round. On the drive up here today, I was listening to ESPN radio play a clip with the response by UAB’s senior guard Aaron Johnson, the Conference USA Player of the Year. In it, Johnson said, “Nothing stopped me from dancing in my room when they announced us, and even when Jay Bilas was talking down about us and everything, we’re just happy to get to play.” That’s a great response, a kid sticking up for his team and his school. There is no other response. Late in the game against Clemson, the matter all but decided, Johnson hustled back to defend what turned out to be a run-out layup with an and-one opportunity for Clemson. Johnson fell awkwardly, but the play happened right in front of me and it looked like a simple cramp. Wrong. Johnson broke his tibia on the play. The replay showed a left limb that simply should not move the way a foot and leg should. When he was taken off the floor, he tried to restrain his tears. He failed. He and his trainers went right by me en route back to the locker room. The look on Johnson’s eyes was not just one of immense pain. It was one of soul-consuming fear, a look of a kid who wondered if he’d ever walk normally again, let alone ever play basketball for money, as he was poised to do someday. A broken tibia entails an arduous recovery and a long rehab. We hope he makes it all the way back, and fulfills his dreams. The most evil aspect of this was noted in a tweet by Mid-Majority’s Kyle Whelliston — and that’s the fact that if UAB wasn’t selected for the Tournament, Johnson doesn’t play in this game.

What strange statistics at halftime of UAB/Clemson. At the break, UAB was 2-12 from inside the two-point arc, but 7-15 outside of it. Clemson, by contrast, couldn’t hit from three-point range, shooting 1-7. Inside the arc, they fared much better in the first half, hitting a blistering 14 of 20 shots! In the second half, the Tigers fared slightly better from range, hitting 3-6, but a couple of those were late-minute bombs from subs. With just about three minutes remaining, Clemson had shot only two treys, hitting one of them. It’s not something Clemson does well to begin with, and this is the time of year where one of the best things you can do is know yourself. By now, teams should know their strengths and weaknesses, what to avoid, and the best way to play up what they do best. If you don’t have long range shooters, hey, don’t shoot a lot of threes. Not that seven three-point attempts is a lot for a half, but you know this was a point emphasized by Clemson head coach Brad Brownell at halftime. His team followed through, and put the Blazers away easily in the second half on the strength of good shot selection — and, of course, multiple turnovers by UAB.

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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Tuesday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 15th, 2011

Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay so we may as well get used to it. The road from 68 pretenders to 16 contenders begins on Tuesday night at the First Four in Dayton, and we’ll be breaking down every game for you throughout. Here’s tonight’s two games, and keep in mind that we’ll have a correspondent with RTC Live at every single game in this year’s Big Dance.

#16 UNC-Asheville vs. #16 Arkansas-Little Rock – Southeast Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – 6:30 pm ET on truTV.

Primm & UNCA Are Primed for Tonight

The NCAA Tournament tips off with the first round in Dayton tonight. Arkansas-Little Rock is making its third NCAA appearance, its first in 21 years since losing to UNLV in the first round of the 1990 Tournament, while UNC-Asheville is here for the second time in its history. These teams play a vastly different style of basketball and whoever can impose their will on the game will likely win. The Bulldogs of Asheville are much better defensively, ranked #89 in efficiency and first in the Big South Conference. They’ve won six straight games and no opponent has scored more than 63 points against them during this streak. Asheville likes to play at a quick pace and ranks tenth in defensive turnover percentage. They have to speed up this game and create a positive turnover margin in order to take Little Rock out of their comfort zone, a halfcourt setting. Turnovers have been a problem for Asheville (15 per game) with their two best players, guards Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm, accounting for six of those combined. With center D.J. Cunningham injured, Asheville has to depend on its backcourt almost exclusively. The Trojans shoot 39.7% from three (#12 nationally) but this guard-oriented team gets very little production inside. South Florida transfer Solomon Bozeman is by far their best player, averaging 16.5 PPG on 46.4% shooting from distance. If the shots aren’t falling, Little Rock will have a tough time winning this game. Guards control tempo and that will determine the outcome tonight.

The RTC Certified Pick: UNC-Asheville.

#12 Clemson vs. #12 UAB – East Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – 9 pm ET on truTV.

Stitt Is Happy to be Dancing Again

The most stunning and controversial inclusion into this year’s field was UAB, whose conference tournament quarterfinal loss to East Carolina was believed to have sealed their NCAA fate. Instead, the Blazers’ stellar RPI boosted their credibility in the eyes of the committee enough to warrant a spot in the newly instituted at-large play-in games in Dayton. They’ll take on Clemson, a team whose late-season wins over Virginia Tech and Boston College aided their cause. The Tigers new head coach, Brad Brownell, always sported formidable defensive units during his time at Wright State; his debut season at Clemson has proved no different as the Tigers rank ninth in the nation in defensive efficiency. Clemson has held opponents to a meager 44% from two-point territory and 32% from three-point range. The Tigers also boast a capable senior inside-outside duo in Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant, the latter ranking near the top of the nation in effective FG%, offensive rebounding and shot blocking. But the real matchup to watch involves Stitt against UAB point guard Aaron Johnson, a true floor general in every sense of the word. Johnson ranks fourth in the country in assist rate and the onus will be on Stitt to make life miserable in the halfcourt for Johnson. Both teams are below average when it comes to offensive efficiency when compared to other NCAA Tournament participants. Which point guard performs better between Stitt and Johnson could very well determine the outcome. We’re more trusting of Clemson’s talented supporting cast – Andre Young, Tanner Smith, Devin Booker and the aforementioned Grant to name a few – to make life easier for their point guard.

The RTC Certified Pick: Clemson.

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NCAA Informally Exploring Idea of a Season Tipoff Event

Posted by rtmsf on November 18th, 2010

Yesterday the NCAA held a teleconference featuring Gene Smith, the current Chair of the Men’s Basketball Committee, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, and Butler head coach Brad Stevens.  The media was afforded the opportunity to ask questions of the three in a structured format, and while we didn’t have a question ourselves, there were quite a few interesting nuggets that came out of the event.  Rather than simply posting the complete transcript, we pulled out the parts that we found most compelling for the sake of simplicity.  (note: entire transcript can be found here)

Three Big Names in the Sport Fielded Questions Yesterday

The line of questioning that perked our ears the most revolved around the longstanding RTC complaint that the regular season trickles out in fits and twitches rather than exploding onto the sports scene as it should.  All three interviewees in this teleconference agreed that such a thing is worth exploring. 

  • Gene Smith:  [This was discussed as] a casual conversation we had in our meetings in New Orleans last week.  We were sitting around and realized that the games started, we were watching games.  We really thought it would be nice if we had, at the beginning of the basketball season, an event of some nature that brought attention and awareness right off the bat on the first games right away.  We’re blessed right now with the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon just concluding.  While that was going on, there was a great deal of excitement.  In the first week, it didn’t seem to have the energy and excitement that we felt the start of the season should have.  So it’s really a discussion we thought we needed to keep on our radars as we move forward.
  • Coach K:  I’d be in favor of that.  I think what happened yesterday was great for the game.  It actually felt like the start of the basketball season.  People watched those games, and they were great games.   We should have an official start to the season and not let it start from November 4th or 8th.  Nobody really knows when it starts.  To kick it off like that was tremendous.  That was a tremendous thing ESPN did. 
  • Brad Stevens:  Yeah, I think it’s really good.  I say I’d like to see us play a little bit better when we open a place like yesterday.  But I think it’s a great thing for college basketball.  It brings awareness to college basketball.  I think people get excited about it.  Like Coach Krzyzewski said, people now know that the season has kicked off.  I think sometimes towards the waning parts of the football season, or at least the regular season, all of a sudden pops up a college basketball game.  It’s like, I didn’t realize that was going on. 

Let’s hope that the NCAA continues its recent trend of listening to its constituents — the schools, coaches, and the fans — and figures out a way to make something like a true season tipoff event happen.  Another area of inquirey that all three gentlemen addressed was how expanding the NCAA Tournament to 68 teams next year may impact the decision-making process of the Committee. 

  • GS:   It’s really hard to speculate what that moment will bring for us.  Our policies and procedures on selecting and seeding and bracketing will pretty much stay the same.  We’ll move through our process.  Now, as opposed to stopping, we’ll go to 37 at‑large.  I just don’t see us changing anything.  I still believe there’s going to be that 38th and 39th team that feel they should have been the 36th or 37th team.  To my view, it will be a continued level of excitement from that perspective.
  • BS:  It helps four teams.  I don’t know which four teams it helps.  I don’t know they’re in any given league.  I found it to be the case, I think they look at it really objectively and [Smith] addressed that.  What we try to do is we try to go out and schedule the best schedule that we possibly can, which in the coaching fraternity they call me crazy for doing that, so that we at least have a shot to qualify for the tournament in two ways.  At the end of the day it’s going to be the next four best teams, and certainly there’s going to be some arguments, there’s always going to be No. 69 and 70.  But four more teams have a chance to get in.  I don’t think it necessarily helps one program or another. 

The proposal that the NCAA recently deliberated involving a banishment of the summer recruiting period was also discussed, and perhaps expectedly, neither coach was in favor of this measure.

  • MK:  First of all, I’d like to see legislation not put forward without input from coaches.  This summer the conference commissioners voted to get rid of summer recruiting, and there wasn’t anybody from basketball representing the game at that meeting, which sometimes is the reason that poor legislation is passed concerning our game.  We should always have a representative of basketball at committee meetings where they’re deciding things about our game.  Summer recruiting is essential for schools of all levels.  I think the amount of money that you would have to put into it if you didn’t have summer recruiting would be immense because you get to see so many kids during a short period of time in one area.  So it’s essential.  What we do with it, I mean, it should be a consensus with the coaches and our administrators as to what is best for our game.  You’re going to have to do something in the summer, there’s no question about it. [...] If people would cut out summer recruiting, it would be a huge mistake.  Now, what we do with it, how we go forward, let’s figure out what’s in the best interest of our game, what’s in the best interest of all the schools involved.  You’re going to need to go out in the summer.  Kids are going to play in the summer.  You’re going to need to go out or else you’re going to have to deal with more people who have no restrictions.  They’re not answerable to any authorities as far as academic authorities.  Less access that we put in the early ’90s proved to be poor for the game.  To have further less access, you know, would be utterly ridiculous to do.  We should have learned our lesson from that.
  • BS:   I’ve been in plenty of discussions with different coaches and people around.  I think the key, like Coach K said, is more access, not less access.  I think we all agree on that.  We certainly can’t eliminate the July period.  But if we can come up with a way to make it whether it means you have more access to juniors, you get more calls, whatever the case may be, then if you want to limit July or cut July back by a couple of days, add a weekend or two in April, have all kinds of scenarios that work.  But you have to make it so we can watch these games, watch these kids all in one place or at least in a few different places.  It’s very cost‑effective.  I think it’s the right thing for us to do.  I think it’s the right way to go.  I don’t think you can, again, I don’t know that 20 days is the right thing.  I think that’s a bit much personally because I think kids are tired, coaches are tired.  It’s well documented how unhealthy the whole month is from that regard.  If you could knock it back a couple days and add a couple days in April, I’d be all for it.
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Answering That All-Important Question: What About My Bracket?

Posted by rtmsf on November 18th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is an RTC contributor.

When the format of the new 68-team NCAA tournament bracket was announced back in July, we wondered exactly what type of effect this would have on our bracket pools. With just one opening round game in the past ten years (since the expansion of the tournament field from the sensible 64 teams to the odd 65 team field in 2001), that opening round game in Dayton was safely ignored by the vast majority of the college basketball fanbase. But when the NCAA announced that the First Four would not only include a couple of games between the four lowest-seeded automatic bid earners, but also two games between the last four at-large teams, ignoring the opening round games for bracket pools no longer seemed to be a viable option. With the odds of one of those final four at-large teams advancing not only past the opening round game, but then beating their higher seeded opponent in the second-round game (the Thursday/Friday set of games, which in the past was considered the First Round, but is now officially the Second Round) being fairly reasonable, we wondered how some of the larger online NCAA bracket pools would handle this situation. The early answer? Continue ignoring the opening round games.

Why Would We Ignore This?

“We’re not set in stone, but we’re leaning towards not using those opening round games, similar to what we’ve done in the past,” said Jason Waram, Vice President of ESPN Fantasy Sports. “Basically, the player would get both of those two teams (in the opening round game) for the price of one.” In other words, if you fill out your bracket prior to the completion of the Opening Round game, and you wish to select one of the participants in the opening round game to advance, say to the Sweet 16, you would get both teams. As an example, using RTC’s preseason bracketology projection of St. Mary’s/UCLA as one of the four opening round games, if on the Selection Sunday evening I wanted to fill out my bracket and pick UCLA to advance to the Sweet 16, I would get credit for a correct pick if either St. Mary’s or UCLA advanced to that round. If you were filling out your bracket after the completion of the opening round games, obviously those outcomes would be known so only the winner of that opening round game would be an available option.

Given that many casual college basketball fans who fill out an office pool are used to the tournament proper starting on Thursday morning, asking players to pick just four of the games early could have caused confusion for many.  “The current format is something that people have gotten used to,” said Waram. “There is a lot of analysis that goes on between Sunday night at 7 pm eastern time right up until tipoff on Thursday, so giving the users that same opportunity to use all of that time and to get their picks in while introducing them to what the new tournament format is going to be is important.” Given that ESPN wants as many people as possible to compete in these games, keeping the requirements of the players simple is a priority. “You want to keep the fan experience simple, keep it easy and keep it fun. And the more games that people have to pick and the shorter time that people have to pick those games, the more drop off there is going to be.”

CBS Fantasy Sports has confirmed that this is their working model as well. “Although our plans have yet to be finalized, the likely scenario is that CBSSports.com won’t count any of the four play-in games,” said a spokesman. “If you fill out a bracket before those games are played, you will see both teams listed on the #16 seed line vs. the #1 seed.”  Both ESPN and CBS Sports are quick to point out that nothing is currently set in stone, but as of now, this is where they’re headed. “We’ll definitely re-assess where we are and what our colleagues within the industry do, and we’ll still talk about this as we lead up to the tournament; we’re not set in stone, but that’s definitely the way we’re going right now, to approach it like the opening round game from last year,” said Waram.

Don't Crumple It Yet -- Your Loser Might Make You a Winner!

The fact is, there is no really great solution to this problem. If you bump the deadline up until tipoff of the opening round game, you probably lose many of the casual college basketball fans who are used to having their office pool ready to go by Thursday morning. If the opening round games are merely optional, that adds a whole other level of complexity, not only to the programming of the game, but to the casual player’s perception of the bracket game. But is simply ignoring the opening round games a great solution? Of course not. To expand on our St. Mary’s/UCLA example above, if I pick UCLA to go to the Final Four, and they lose in the opening round game and their opponent miraculously advances to the Final Four, does it make any sense that I should get rewarded with a bucketful of points for essentially making an incorrect pick? This isn’t merely wild speculation, as George Mason, one of the last at-large teams to make the field in 2006 and awarded with an 11-seed, proved that it is possible for a bubble team to get hot and go on a deep run in the tournament. If the field had been 68 teams in 2006, GMU would almost certainly have been slated for one of those opening round games. Clearly, this solution is not the perfect one, but the fact is, as was the case when so many decisions were made regarding our beloved tournament over the past several months (the 68-team format, the makeup of the opening round games), this may just be the best of a bad set of choices.

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After 10-For-10, Dayton Goes Four For (First) Four

Posted by jstevrtc on September 9th, 2010

For the past ten years, the city of Dayton has been host to the NCAA Tournament’s Play-In Game (though the NCAA doesn’t really like that moniker). Affectionately known as the “PiG,” it wasn’t exactly a destination to which teams aspired after a long regular season and a conference tournament championship. If your team got into the dance, you wanted to be in the dance, you know? Despite the city’s admirable support of their Flyers — the student section in UD Arena was one of the loudest we encountered last season — among college basketball players, Dayton became a place you hoped you weren’t sent by the bracket-makers. Even though the NCAA treated it and paid schools the same as any other appearance, you didn’t want to have to play into the Tournament. You wanted to be in the Tournament.

The NCAA, the citizens of Dayton, and the people who work at the arena, however, have brought every ounce of dignity and elegance they could muster for the PiG, and they’ve done it each of the past ten years. There was never anything close to a half-hearted effort on their part. Despite the reputation of the PiG, Dayton made teams, fans, and media feel welcome. The seats were always filled.  The people of Dayton embraced the PiG. On Thursday, the NCAA confirmed that Dayton will be the site for all four of the first round games — the First Four —  that were created earlier this summer when the NCAA increased the tournament field from 65 to 68.

UD Arena, In Its Usual Sold-Out State

To this, we say bravo. It’s a great, appropriate reward from the NCAA to Dayton, and we hope they extend this beyond 2011. Dayton would get four NCAA Tournament games every year, quadrupling any economic spike they’ve enjoyed by hosting the PiG for the last ten years. As for the games themselves, two of them will involve the last four “at-large” teams that gained admission to the dance, and two of them will involve the last four automatic qualifiers. They’ll take place on Tuesday and Wednesday after Selection Sunday, which means that there is no longer that seemingly infinite wait from Sunday night to the tournament’s start on Thursday (yeah, we know, the PiG was on Tuesday). You get Selection Sunday, then Monday to crank out your brackets. The first round begins on Tuesday with the start of the First Four.

There is one final question, though, and that’s who plays when. Will the last four at-larges play on one night and the 16-seeds all play on the other? We communicated with David Worlock, the Associate Director of the Men’s Basketball Championship, who told us that “was still to be determined,” but the NCAA’s contract with CBS and Turner Sports allows for “maximum flexibility” in terms of scheduling the games. If TV is making the ultimate decision on this, we figure that they’d be getting maximum eyeballs each night by pairing a 16-seed game first with a “marquee” at-large battle second, using, say, the old 7/9:15 PM ET game windows. Nothing wrong with that.

It’s fun to be talking about this kind of stuff. And it’s going to be a fun way to start the Tournament, and we know the city of Dayton will get behind it.

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First Four Analysis: What About My Bracket?

Posted by rtmsf on July 14th, 2010

If you’re at all like us here at RTC, filling out your bracket is a anxiety-ridden experience that involves countless hours of research, googling, calculating, checking, flip-flopping, ripping, ruminating, stressing, and ultimately conceding.  From the moment the brackets are released at 6 pm ET on Sunday night until well after midnight on Wednesday/Thursday morning, we’re usually no better off in terms of the key toss-up games and later rounds than we were ten seconds after the matchups were announced. 

Does This Resemble You Every Selection Sunday?

You’d think with all the time we put into this sport year-round, we’d have a better initial feel for many of the matchups.  But therein lies the problem.  We have so much information in our heads and at our fingertips that inevitably paralysis by analysis takes hold, and we have to resort to other tried-and-true methods to pick a damn winner.  These methods could include, but are not limited to, playing “home” favorites (Baylor over Duke), picking on league strength (Louisville over Cal), being contrarian (UTEP over Butler), or preferring experienced coaches (Minnesota over Xavier).  Usually, though, late on Wednesday night, mere hours before the early tipoffs of the first round games on Thursday, we go with our gut.  Our gut, of course, meaning we pick up the phone and start calling people.  Because, as we all know, groupthink is always the best sort of think.   

A typical conversation goes something like this:

RTC: You ready to talk about this?
Friend of RTC: (long sigh) Ready as I’m going to be.  Bring it.
RTC: Dude, how are you liking that Florida-BYU game?
Friend of RTC: (even longer sigh) Man, this year is the hardest year we’ve ever had in terms of picking these damn first round games. (said every year
RTC: Right, but what do you see happening there?
Friend of RTC: BYU is going to win… Florida is overrated and Fredette is going to light them up.   That is, unless Donovan figures out that he is the only player that can beat them and actually convinces Boynton and Walker to play some defense.  But the last time I saw the Gators play defense, Joakim Noah was waving pompoms around and screaming like a banshee.  So, BYU.  That’s the clear pick there. 
RTC: (scribbling down Florida into the second round) Yeah, yeah, I think that’s right.

And so it goes.  On and on through every toss-up game until we get to the end and absolutely despise the huge steaming wad of a bracket that we’ve created.  We’re talking absolute, unadulterated loathing here.  How on earth can any self-respecting blogger of the sport have Villanova in the Final Four again — that team has been terrible lately.  Or Kentucky and all its NBA-bound stars losing to the likes of plodding Wisconsin in the Sweets — we must be out of our minds.

This is How We Feel About Our Bracket on Thurs Morning

So maybe the decision that the NCAA made this week to put meaningful games into the Play-In Opening First Round will help people like us, the folks who have trouble making bracket decisions without first seeing every possible word and stat written about the games.  You see, the only way we think that the ubiquitous office and online bracket pools will reasonably continue to work now is if the new deadline is set for Tuesday’s tipoff (presumably at around 7 pm ET).  Of the roughly 90 hours from the unveiling of the bracket to Thursday’s first game start, nearly half of those (42) have been shaved off.  This sea change in available bracket analysis time will require focus and discipline on the part of the uber-analyzers (us) and absolutely no change whatsoever for those who actually win office pools (everyone else).

We’re making a big assumption here, though.  We’re assuming that the standard office pool format will necessarily change to a Tuesday night deadline so as to incorporate those three extra games (two of which may actually impact the later rounds).  It’s worth a quick look to see what the options are as we see them for the pool developers (and keep in mind, we’re not that creative when it comes to this stuff, so offer your suggestions in the comments). 

Option 1 – Office Pools Incorporate First Round Games

Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 07.14.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 13th, 2010

  1. Of course the biggest news of the summer to date was Monday’s announcement that the NCAA Tournament “First Four” would include four auto-bids along with the last four at-large bids.  Mike DeCourcy got some immediate reactions on the configuration from head coaches Gary Williams, Trent Johnson and Scott Sutton.  Whether politically correct, a compromise, much ado about nothing, or a punt, the two decisions that the NCAA made in the past three months regarding the best thing this sport has to offer shows that they’re listening to the public.  For such a staid institution that has been heavily criticized over the years, this is not a bad thing.
  2. Next year’s DeMarcus Cousins could come in the form of Mississippi State’s Renardo Sidney, so circle your calendars for the December 18 debut of the talented big man in the Atlantis Paradise Island Invitational, where the Bulldogs seek to beef up their RPI standing with a possible game (contract pending) against fellow eternal bubbler Virginia Tech.
  3. New England high school basketball talent no longer an oxymoron?  According to this report by Bostonian Jeff Goodman, the long-underwhelming area of talent may be moving forward in much the same way that the Pacific Northwest has over the last five years.  We’ll have to remain watchful on this one.
  4. Wow, this description by John Feinstein on the book he hoped to do about legendary former UNC coach Dean Smith is stifling in its austerity.  Smith’s memory loss problems were publicly broken last week by the Fayetteville Observer, but it was Feinstein’s tales of trying to discuss past events with Smith for his book that really put things into focus.  Sad, sad story.
  5. Tennessee treasure and women’s head coach Pat Summitt’s son, Tyler, will walk on for UT beginning next season.  He had opportunities to play at the Division III level, but he will use his experience as a member of the men’s team to develop what he hopes will one day turn into a coaching opportunity.  The only question we have is whether he’ll try to coach men’s or women’s ball?
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