Should SMU Have Been Left Out of the Dance?

Posted by CD Bradley on March 18th, 2014

One of the biggest stories of Selection Sunday was SMU missing the field. The Mustangs, which hadn’t made the Tournament in two long decades, were widely considered a lock for the field in the closing weeks of the regular season, particularly since winning at UConn on February 23. And yet they’ll be hosting an NIT game versus UC Irvine on Wednesday night. Did Larry Browns’ team deserve its unkind bracket fate?

As one could imagine, Larry Brown (center) and his SMU squad didn't have the best Sunday afternoon. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)

As one could imagine, Larry Brown (center) and his SMU squad didn’t have the best Sunday afternoon. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)

Selection committee Chairman Ron Wellman said that SMU was the last team out of the tournament. “As we looked at SMU, they certainly passed the eye test,” he told a conference call of reporters on Sunday night. “They’re a very good team, had a very good year.” Wellman continued:

When you’re making these selections, you’re looking for differentiators. Is there anything that stands out, on the positive side or negative side of the ledger, that will cause you to absolutely take that team or really look at prioritizing and selecting other teams? In SMU’s case their downfall, their weakness, was their schedule. Their non-conference strength of schedule was ranked number 302 out of 350 teams eligible for the tournament. It’s one of the worst non-conference strengths of schedule. Their overall strength of schedule was ranked 129. One-twenty-nine would have been by far the worst at large strength of schedule going into the tournament. The next worst at large strength of schedule was 91. Really the glaring weakness about SMU was their schedule.

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Evaluating AAC Non-Conference Schedules: The Good…

Posted by CD Bradley on October 29th, 2013

While major rivalries and national television match-ups get the most attention, the games against much lower profile opponents can make just as big a difference come Selection Sunday. Scheduling is with question an art, but it’s at least equally a science. Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn and Andy Glockner have both examined the equation for maximizing a schedule’s impact on RPI, and in turn the strength of an NCAA Tournament resume. Glockner succinctly summarized it thusly: “Don’t schedule terrible teams. Ever.” and “Don’t lose at home. Ever.” Simple enough. Expanding on that, he offered four guidelines for assembling a schedule designed to boost RPI: don’t schedule SWAC teams; play the best teams in small leagues; play neutral site games that really aren’t neutral; and remember that the consolation games in holiday tournaments can become much more important than they seem at the time.

Want to go dancing? Non-conference scheduling is crucial to punching your ticket.

Want to go dancing? Non-conference scheduling is crucial to punching your ticket.

Non-conference games account for roughly 40 percent of AAC teams’ regular season games, and closer to 35 percent of the games considered by the NCAA selection committee after the conference tournament. But these games play an oversized role because they largely determine the availability of quality wins within the league once conference play begins. Good performances against a solid non-conference schedule provides a strong RPI from the beginning, while a weak non-conference slate coupled with losses against bad teams can be very tough to overcome. If a schedule is bad enough, it can drag down the RPI of other teams in the conference, particularly in a league like the AAC with a true round robin schedule. If the league can avoid bad losses against decent competition, it can buoy the whole league, as the Mountain West showed last year with its top overall conference rating. As we will see, it’s unlikely that type of quality is present for the AAC this year.

With the elements identified by Winn and Glockner in mind, let’s take a look at the non-conference schedules facing AAC teams this season. First, the good. We’ll visit the bad and the ugly in a corollary post on Wednesday.

The Good

  • Temple: The Owls face what is clearly the best non-conference schedule of any AAC team. It lacks elite competition – unless a match-up against New Mexico materializes in the final or consolation game of the Charleston Classic, there’s probably not an RPI top 25 team here – but more than makes up for it by not including any terrible teams. Almost every team here is projected to finish near the top of its own league, and the ones that aren’t – Clemson and Texas – won’t hurt by virtue of their major conference affiliations. If everything breaks right, no team on this schedule should end up with an RPI above #200. There are winnable road/neutral games, too. It’s hard to envision a schedule more optimized to boost RPI, but can the inexperienced Owls take advantage this season?
  • Memphis: The Tigers take a different tack. Their schedule includes two Division II games, which won’t count toward their RPI; but they might have been better off scheduling a third rather than Jackson State, a second division SWAC team. They overcome some of the dregs with multiple elite opponents: at Oklahoma State, Florida in Madison Square Garden, Gonzaga at home, and a possible second match-up with the Cowboys in the Old Spice Classic final. All four seem likely to be RPI top 25 teams. At least two wins out of those four contests are key, because the Tigers will have so few additional opportunities; aside from those four games, the Old Spice semis against either LSU or St. Joseph’s might well be their only other top 100 foe.
  • UConn: More Temple than Memphis, the Huskies’ schedule features home tilts with probable top 50 RPI teams Florida, Stanford and Harvard. There are neutral court games against Maryland and Boston College (and possibly Indiana or Washington), as well as a home game with Patriot League favorite Boston University and a road game at Washington; all appear likely to end up in the RPI top 100. There a couple of 200+ types, but nothing so likely as to drag the whole ranking down. This is a solid non-conference schedule for Kevin Ollie’s first-NCAA Tournament eligible year.

That’s pretty much it for good non-conference slates in the AAC. More to come…

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Morning Five: 08.22.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 22nd, 2013

morning5

  1. When you have the facts, pound the facts. When you have the law, pound the law. When you have neither, pound the table. The NCAA would do well to remember this old legal axiom as it enters a dangerous stage of its lawsuit over image and likeness rights collectively known as the Ed O’Bannon case. On Monday of this week, the organization requested a 15-month continuance of the opening date of the trial — currently scheduled for June 9, 2014 — in a shamelessly transparent attempt to solidify its position by distancing itself from one of its most embarrassing gaffes in the past few years. Jay Bilas, anyone? EA sports and Collegiate Licensing Co., co-defendants in the case along with the NCAA, interestingly enough only requested a five-month continuance for the start of the trial. The federal judge overseeing this lawsuit, Claudia Wilken, had requested that the defendants come to a mutual agreement on trial date by Monday, but their inability to come to simple terms on that question may only serve to anger her as she weighs a number of important motions on class certification and other items that will seriously impact the case.
  2. And the hits just keep on coming. Mere days after a social media-fueled firestorm over the NCAA’s initial decision (subsequently reversed) to deny former US Marine Steven Rhodes from walking on to play football this year for Middle Tennessee, another controversy has enveloped the organization over an eligibility question that strains the limits of common sense. As The Star-Ledger‘s Tom Liucci writes, Iowa State transfer Kerwin Okoro was recently denied a waiver to play for Rutgers in 2013-14 because his medical hardships — Okoro’s father and brother each passed away last winter — are not current. The rule on receiving a medical hardship waiver states that the player must show “medical documentation of a debilitating injury or illness to a student-athlete’s immediate family member that is debilitating and requires ongoing medical care,” technically precluding Okoro from the benefit. But how about some big picture common sense here? While it’s true that Okoro will not be required to care for his now-deceased relatives, there are other compelling reasons involving his family’s overall healing process that should also be considered in such a decision.
  3. We’ve long known that Division I college basketball players are some of the best all-around athletes in the world, what with the core components of elite “athleticism” — speed, agility, strength, flexibility, stamina — all very well-represented in our sport. Several athletes who perhaps weren’t skilled enough for professional basketball found their way into other athletic sports — we’re thinking about NFL tight ends such as Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates here — but, as The Dagger‘s Jeff Eisenberg writes, a lesser-known version of football played in Australia is looking at college basketball as a nice pipeline to find its next generation of ruckmen. A what, you say? Well, a ruckman is someone in Australian Rules Football who is tasked with securing possession for his team after dead balls and scores through a modified jump ball situation. Who better than to fit that need for our friends Down Under than undersized big men with explosive hops and a knack for getting their hands on the ball. As the world becomes flatter in economics and sport, we imagine that we’ll start to hear more stories like these as the rest of the planet discovers just how athletic our basketball players — even those outside the NBA — actually are.
  4. One of the most discouraging stories of last offseason has resurfaced in a big way with the news on Wednesday that former Xavier-turned-Maryland guard Dez Wells, he of the rape allegations so absurd that the local prosecutor publicly stated they were “fundamentally unfair,” has decided to sue his old school for damage to his reputation and a good old-fashioned apology. In an environment where seemingly every semi-public figure claims that he will sue to protect his good name after getting blatantly caught telling bold-faced lies, it’s encouraging to see a situation where the justice system will be used to mete out some actual justice. Xavier expelled Wells from its school last summer, citing a decision made by its Conduct Board (and upheld on appeal) that predated the related criminal grand jury investigation; as a result, Wells has since suffered mightily from the school’s rush to judgment. That he’s bringing this case while he’s still playing NCAA basketball is rich with storyline possibilities — could he somehow face his legal adversary in a postseason match-up for the ages between the Terps and Musketeers? We can only hope…
  5. A lot of schedules have been releasing over the past couple of weeks, and the most notable in the last 24 hours were from a couple of conferences. First, the SEC released its conference-only schedule, featuring a bunch of mediocre teams that nobody pays attention to until February a solid balance of Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday night games with the standard Saturday smorgasbord but lacking the Kentucky-Tennessee battle in Knoxville that has produced so many great contests over the years. A special thank you goes out to Texas A&M and Missouri for that omission. On the other side of the continent, the WCC also released its conference schedule, which means that the only two games of true importance in this league — Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s, Acts I and II — should already be inked into your calendar (January 2 and March 1). Many more of these releases to come in the next few weeks.
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Morning Five: 10.04.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 4th, 2012

  1. As everyone knows by now, the ACC is expanding from a 12-team basketball league to a 15-team behemoth. This move means that a semi-logical scheduling approach that included 18 conference games necessitates a substantial reconsideration. After toying with the idea of a nine-game football conference season and an even bigger basketball conference season, the league has settled on eight games in football and 18 games in basketball — so in an aggregate sense, no change. The key hoops difference is that each school will have two permanent partners that it plays home-and-home games with every season. The remaining 14 games will consist of two other rotating home-and-homes and single games against 10 other schools (five home and five away). This system ensures some degree of competitive balance in that every school will see every other league school at least once per season. New members Syracuse and Pittsburgh will play each other annually (SU will play former Big East mate Boston College every year too), while Notre Dame will be paired with its natural rival BC along with Georgia Tech (an odd duo).
  2. Sticking with the ACC, the good news is that Roy Williams is recovering nicely from a surgical procedure on his right kidney a couple of weeks ago — good enough to have flown to Chicago on Tuesday to visit the home of Class of 2013 stud, Jabari Parker. The not-as-good news is that Williams on Wednesday underwent a second procedure — this time on his left kidney — to determine whether a second tumor is also a non-cancerous mass like the first. If Williams receives more good news shortly, he’ll be more than ready to begin his tenth season at the helm of his alma mater a little over a week from now. If he’s not as lucky this time around, he’ll likely need another procedure to remove the affected tissue which could produce a minor setback for the gung-ho coach as he enters the official start of practice. When he’ll be back at 100% is still in question, but whether the 62-year old coach is walking into a frustrating season filled with pointed questions about his team’s academic prowess over the last decade is something that seems to be lurking on the horizon.
  3. One now-retired coach who knows a little something about receiving pointed questions and dealing with health scares is former Connecticut head man, Jim Calhoun. This news felt a lot like “no, but thanks for asking…”, but Connecticut says it has no plans to name its planned basketball training center after Calhoun, even though the program was essentially as relevant as Fairfield College before he arrived there nearly three decades ago. Athletic Director Ward Manuel put a punctuated end to some rumors that had spread this week, stating that the naming of the building had consistently been contemplated as a money-raising opportunity. One of Calhoun’s emeritus roles for the upcoming year will be to shore up additional funding for the facility, which is about $10 million short of where it needs to be to break ground on the project. Frankly, even though such a gesture would cause Geno Auriemma to lose his farkin’ mind (no, seriously, he would), Gampel Pavilion should probably eventually be re-named for the man who legitimized UConn basketball. Maybe they can compromise and call it Geno-Calhoun Pavilion.
  4. The Billy Gillispie era has come and gone at Texas Tech, yet with only days left before official practice begins, the school has yet to decide on a full-time interim head coach (Chris Walker has been the daily operations interim head coach since Gillispie resigned). According to Andy Katz, the school is expected to make a decision in a matter of days, but if athletic director Kirby Hocutt knows what he’s planning to do, he’s keeping it close to the vest. Katz says that the only reasonable choice for a program that has gone through so much turmoil is to promote Walker and spend the year evaluating him on stabilizing the program and fielding a team that competes hard every night. If his performance is based on what is likely to become a scarcity of wins, well, he’s a dead man walking after this season. Is Bob Knight still taking calls?
  5. Commitment days are fun no matter the players announcing, but this evening’s ESPNU special focusing on the Harrison twins (Aaron and Andrew) is filled with all kinds of drama. First, we’ve got the fact that the brothers are of course twins — a package deal of top five players the likes of which we may have never seen before (CollegeHoopedia has a comprehensive list of NCAA twins here). Next, we have a pairing of one school’s shoe company power and influence (Under Armour) versus, um, another school’s shoe company power and influence (Nike). Gary Parrish breaks down that particular dichotomy here. Then we have the issue of the Calipari effect — which, depending on the side of the fence you’re on — represents either shady backdoor dealings, or unbelievable marketing and player development. The national championship coach just doesn’t lose out on many recruits he targets anymore. Finally, we have a report of an 11th-hour lunch meeting between Mark Turgeon and the twins’ father, which could suggest that the deal was closed or that Maryland was making a last-ditch effort. The one thing we can be sure of at this writing is this — if Kentucky wins, Maryland fans will accuse Calipari of cheating to get their services (see: Davis, Anthony); if Maryland wins, Kentucky fans will cite the shady Under Armour influence to get their services (see: Muhammad, Shabazz). It’s going to be an interesting evening.
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Morning Five: 09.21.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 21st, 2012

  1. On Thursday afternoon, Billy Gillispie trumped the inevitable by submitting his resignation from the head coaching position at Texas Tech, citing health concerns. It’s been a wild three-week ride for Gillispie and his employer, beginning with a frantic 911 call made from the coach’s house followed by near-mutiny conditions among the players, two serious hospitalizations, a directive from the university to stay away from the program, and finally, yesterday’s very predictable conclusion. We’ll have more on the meteoric rise and tragic fall of Gillispie later today (Dan Wetzel has a great read in that vein too), but at least one national columnist writes that Texas Tech’s unwillingness to monitor the troubled head coach after his prior troubles places just as much culpability on its management as it does on Gillispie himself.
  2. From bad news to good on the coaching front, as just one day after UNC head coach Roy Williams successfully endured a three-and-a-half hour procedure to remove a tumor from his right kidney, he headed home. Three weeks to the day before practices open around the country, it’s still unclear whether Williams will need another procedure for a tumor on his left kidney or if there will be any follow-up work necessary related to Wednesday’s surgery. It’s difficult to speculate too much about Williams’ prognosis short of facts about his specific medical condition, but InsideCarolina.com reached out to a former practicing urologist for additional insight into the situation. In short, he thinks from what he’s read and heard that Williams should be fine — with the caveat that he’s simply reading what is publicy available like the rest of us. We certainly hope he’s right.
  3. Much has been made this summer and fall about all the eligibility issues facing star recruits such as Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, Providence’s Ricardo Ledo, UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, and others. After the good news was released that NC State’s Rodney Purvis will be eligible to play this year, Thursday brought us a report from Adam Zagoria that UCLA’s Kyle Anderson is expected to be cleared by the NCAA prior to the start of practice in mid-October. Anderson was the best player on the Bruins’ recent trip to China (Muhammad did not play), and he will without question have a huge role in the height of the ceiling that Ben Howland’s team can reach next season. Hey, we want to see everyone play next season — the game suffers when the star talent doesn’t get a chance to suit up.
  4. It remains to be seen whether we’ll be having the same discussion with Jabari Parker this time next season, but let’s hope not. Regardless of that, the Class of 2013 superstar must really be a Kevin Ollie fan, as he recently added Connecticut to his list of 10 (now 11) schools. In fact, Ollie already has a home visit scheduled with the Parker family next week, following up on visits from Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski at the end of this week. According to the linked article, Parker may be looking at narrowing his list as soon as this weekend, and may be ready to make his decision by the fall signing period in November.
  5. With Notre Dame’s move to the ACC coming in the next couple of years, Irish head coach Mike Brey is already looking forward with scheduling and if his desires come to fruition, we should just go ahead and pencil in Notre Dame as the school with the #1 RPI rating for the foreseeable future. In addition to the mandated 18-game ACC schedule that his team will have to play, Brey would like to keep home-and-home series with several of the Catholic Big East schools in cities where the Notre Dame name still carries quite a bit of weight. The five he listed are: Marquette, DePaul, Georgetown, Villanova, and St. John’s. Presuming the Irish remain locked into the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, there won’t be much room left for the Savannah States of the world.
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Morning Five: 05.31.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 31st, 2012

  1. The NBA Draft Lottery was held on Wednesday evening immediately prior to the Eastern Conference Finals between Miami and Boston, and it appears that the winner of the Anthony Davis Sweepstakes will be the New Orleans Hornets. Interestingly, for the eighth straight season, the team with the worst record in the NBA — the Charlotte Bobcats this time around — did not receive the top overall pick. Michael Jordan’s team is relegated to the second slot, where a number of collegiate stars including Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, Florida’s Bradley Beal, Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Connecticut’s Andre Drummond will be in the mix. Keep an eye on NBADraft.net and DraftExpress over the next few weeks to track player movement up and down the board. Also keep in mind that we here at RTC are in the midst of breaking down the top 35 collegians as we head through June into draft season (with an assist from NBADraft.net). We’ve evaluated quite a few of the guys so far who are hovering at the bottom of the first round in most projections, with plenty more to come in the next few weeks.
  2. Conference realignment theater is the longest running show in college basketball, and Luke Winn takes the opportunity to examine a question that far too many schools — especially at the mid-major level — fail to ask themselves: Is an upgrade in conference affiliation actually better for our programs, especially our marquee ones? For a strong basketball mid-major from a one-bid conference like Davidson, would Bob McKillop’s program be better to position itself as the dominant program in a weakened SoCon (possibly losing College of Charleston and Appalachian State); or would the stronger play be to move up to the CAA and hope that the conference remains a multiple-bid league even after removing VCU, Old Dominion and Georgia State from its ranks? It’s a very tough exercise in risk assessment, and one that we don’t envy Davidson administrators having to make.
  3. From the department of they-take-themselves-way-too-seriously, it appears that Kentucky and Indiana still can’t play nice and learn to compromise with each other in a way that will give college basketball fans (which, at last check, was comprised of legions of UK and IU fans) what they want — a regular series between two regional rivals that rank among the top six programs in the history of the sport. After initial talks stalled, records show that Indiana suggested a four-year deal that included the next two games at neutral site Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, followed by a home-and-home the next two years. Kentucky rejected the offer, citing problems with the initial dates proposed and other red herrings as reasons to not play the game. All hand-wringingn aside, the bottom line is this — so long as Calipari remains in Lexington, the Wildcats will not return to Assembly Hall in Bloomington. It’s up to you to figure out why.
  4. We continue on with our SEC version of the M5 today with news that the league’s head coaches have agreed upon a scheduling format for the new 14-team conference beginning next year. We already knew that the league was moving to an 18-game schedule, but it remained unclear how they planned on instituting the rotation. The answer to that question is that each school will be paired with a ‘permanent’ rival that it will play twice each season, four other schools that it will play twice, and eight schools that it will play once to get to 18 games. The rivalry pairings — Kentucky-Florida, Tennessee-Vanderbilt, South Carolina-Georgia, Auburn-Alabama, Mississippi State-Ole Miss, LSU-Texas A&M, Arkansas-Missouri — make sense with the exception of the addition of the two former Big 12 schools. Forgiving geographic considerations of proximity, it probably would have been better to keep LSU-Arkansas as rivals and pair the two new schools together from our viewpoint. This format will result in an unbalanced schedule, but at least each team will see everyone else in the league once.
  5. Finally, one of those SEC schools goes by the name of Auburn, and at least on the hardwood, the Tigers have been an unmitigated disaster for the better part of a decade. If you’re interested in learning how a school with the financial resources of Auburn ($104M in revenue in 2010-11) cannot figure out how to back its way into an NCAA Tournament bid every now and again (last appearance: 2003), this article by AL.com traces its roots of futility back to an athletic department in chaos eight years ago. While we’re sure that there are downstream issues still present as a result of those mistakes many years ago, what is left out of the article is that basketball simply isn’t taken seriously at a place like Auburn. The fans and boosters don’t demand even so much as mediocrity; so a moribund program is what they’ve gotten.
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Morning Five: 05.25.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 25th, 2012

  1. It wouldn’t be the Morning Five without a John Calipari mention, as the sport’s biggest newsmaker spins the media like a top with his almost-daily appearances, interviews, and social media missives. Yesterday on his website the Kentucky head coach wrote that his new scheduling strategy — pushing for more neutral site appearances against marquee opponents — will result in a one-year hiatus in the Kentucky-North Carolina series, but the home-and-home battle between two of the best programs in the country will return in 2013-14. The purpose of this move according to Calipari is to alternate years where the Wildcats will have to travel to Chapel Hill and Louisville, meaning that UK will play at least one tough non-conference road game each year. The Wildcats have also picked up a home/neutral series with Baylor starting next season that will allow them to play in Cowboys Stadium in 2013-14, the site of that year’s Final Four. Perhaps most interestingly, though, is that Calipari says that he’s in negotiations with Duke to begin an annual rotating neutral site game that he says would be on the same weekend each year and become “THE GAME” to watch. We certainly can’t argue with that.
  2.  What we can argue with was a curious comment that Calipari made in his post explaining why he’s so gung ho on scheduling future neutral site games in football stadiums: “I’m convinced we would have won the title two seasons ago if we would have played in a dome during the regular season. Our guys weren’t prepared for it.” At first blush, this sounds reasonable on its face. But closer examination suggests that the head coach is tailoring the facts of his argument to justify what he wants. First of all, the Wildcats lost to West Virginia in the Elite Eight in Syracuse in 2010, which means of course that they had to win a Sweet Sixteen game in the Carrier Dome two days prior — on the same floor, in the same dome, only against a different team (Cornell). Did John Wall and company forget what they’d learned about playing in a dome environment just 48 hours before the loss to WVU? Next, the 2012 team that just won the national championship in the Superdome didn’t play in a dome environment at all in this year’s regular season or in the SEC Tournament. Still, without that ‘necessary’ experience, the Wildcats successively rolled through Indiana, Baylor, Louisville and Kansas to win it all. All in domes. If Calipari wants to play the lack of experience card to forgive the failure of the 2010 Wildcats, he probably should be looking at the ridiculously soft schedule that his Wildcats ran through on its way to a 35-3 record that year. When both teams matched up in the Elite Eight, the Mountaineers were by far the best team UK had faced all season. Kentucky’s lack of experience in playing good teams was the problem; it wasn’t that they hadn’t played in a dome. [Ed. Note: It is unclear which team Calipari was referring to, but the 2010 team was a far superior team if he was talking about winning a national championship.]
  3. From a coach spewing nonsense to players doing likewise… Deadspin published a really interesting piece on Thursday examining in great detail documents from the cottage industry of companies who are tasked with monitoring college athletes’ social networking accounts. The article describes how it works: First, the schools get access to each player’s account through a special tracking mechanism that scans their pages regularly. Then, “once the computers gather all that data, the firms’ software searches it for trigger words and reports back to coaches and athletic department functionaries. This happens in near real-time.” It wouldn’t be Deadspin-worthy unless the examples were equal parts hilarious and horrifying, so we’d just suggest you set aside a few minutes of your time and get over there to poke around. Of particular interest is one company’s documentation and definition of many of the most common trigger words and phrases that could get players in trouble. Let’s just end this by saying that if you’re over 30 years old, you’re probably going to learn a few new slang words or acronyms to test on your buddies during the long weekend.
  4. More conference realignment! And it doesn’t involve yet another rumor about Florida State, Clemson or Miami. No, UT-Arlington, a Southland school who is (we’re not kidding) joining the WAC on July 1, will spend one year in that league before movin’ on up to the Sun Belt, effective next summer. You read that correctly — in a span of 366 days (from June 30, 2012 to July 1, 2013), UT-Arlington will be a member of three different conferences. At the mid-major level, it’s just short of impossible to keep up with who is heading where, but we think that the Sun Belt will also pick up Georgia State and Texas State to replace the losses of FIU, Denver, and North Texas to the WAC and Conference USA. Whether the WAC survives all of this re-shuffling remains to be seen.
  5. A couple of head coaching positions at the mid-major level were filled on Thursday, with Rider and Binghamton inextricably connected through the transition. Binghamton hired Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey to take over for Mark Macon, a former star player at Temple who was unable to dig out of the morass left by his predecessor, Kevin Broadus. Rider acted quickly to fill the vacuum, promoting assistant coach Kevin Baggett to the helm for purposes of continuity. Rider has averaged 18.5 wins per season in the six years that Baggett was an assistant for Dempsey, so it makes sense that the administration wants to keep the momentum moving forward.
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Calipari Pushes ‘Nontraditional’ Scheduling Agenda, A Loss For Everyone Involved

Posted by EJacoby on May 8th, 2012

By now, you’ve heard that two of college basketball’s traditional powerhouses have decided to end their annual tradition of playing each other. Kentucky and Indiana have combined for 13 national championships, are two of the strongest and historic programs in basketball history, and could easily both be ranked in the top five to begin next season. Last year they played in two classic games that included some of the best moments of the entire season. Yet, at the height of the rivalry in many years, the schools could not come to an agreement on how to continue their games. While fans on both sides continue to voice their displeasure (synopsis: IU says “convenient”; UK says “trust in Cal”) , the Kentucky coach has now explained his side of the story. Feeling emboldened by his newly-minted national championship, John Calipari wrote an extended blog post over the weekend about his scheduling needs and why they contradict with the purpose of the UK-IU rivalry. While Calipari should be praised for his direct communication with fans and refreshing transparency, his actual argument doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. He states that his primary focus is to best prepare his team for the NCAA Tournament, but in his new “nontraditional” approach he’s stripping his players of valuable competition and fans of exciting matchups to look forward to. Calipari stresses that UK is a players-first program, but the agenda that he’s pushing doesn’t actually seem more beneficial for the players, and it’s not good for college basketball fans, either.

Coach Calipari Directed a Message to UK Fans About Kentucky's Scheduling Tactics (ESPN Photo)

Calipari’s post reinforces the idea that his scheduling desires are motivated by what’s best for his team during each individual season. He says that Kentucky is “going through things that no other program in the history of college basketball has gone through. No other program is losing five or six players a year.” While this is technically true, it’s not logical to give up long-term scheduling deals with other schools just because his team will look different every year. The fact that his team does in fact look different each season (presumably filled with blue-chippers as long as he’s around) would instead lead us to believe that he needs to challenge his teams right away in order to prepare the Wildcats for the rigors of March. Kentucky may still have won the title last season if it hadn’t played a challenging non-conference schedule, but early games against Kansas (neutral), Louisville (home), North Carolina (home), and Indiana (road) seemed to help speed up the learning curve of his precocious freshmen.

No head coach, including Calipari, wants to lose non-conference games. Losing those games can severely impact the RPI, which – as flawed of a measure as we all know it to be – is still the underlying metric that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses to compare and contrast teams. For years fans around the country (with UK fans especially vocal) have decried the “Coach K Method” of scheduling, questioning why Duke rarely challenges itself in the non-conference season to play true road games in an opponent’s building. There’s truth to the criticism – outside of the ACC/Big Ten mandate, Duke might play one other “road” game each season, usually confined to the Duke-friendly alumni corridor of the Mid-Atlantic from DC (Georgetown) through Philadelphia (Temple) to New York (St. John’s). These look like hostile road trips on paper, but plenty of Duke fans who live nearby scoop up tickets to support the Blue Devils, making those games more neutral than you might think. Duke then fills the rest of its non-conference schedule with other neutral site games against teams it should beat and home games against solid mid-majors like Belmont and Davidson, earning wins and good RPI juice in the process.

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ACC Morning Five: 02.06.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on February 6th, 2012

  1. Blogger So Dear: Here’s part two of the long-winded chat on the state of Wake Forest basketball. The overwhelming opinion appears to be cautious optimism thanks to a deep incoming recruiting class. It’s interesting from an outside perspective to see (intelligent) fans react a school coming off one of its worst years in history. I agree with the consensus: Jeff Bzdelik was a bad hire; he appears to be on a decent track (though some signs are definitely negative); and he deserves one more season before making a final judgment. I definitely think coaches should get a couple of recruiting classes under them to establish their system and a foundation. Bzdelik’s first two years have been awful, but he’s also dealt with a lot of off-the-court issues.
  2. Washington Times: As I mentioned in Friday’s link about officiating, Mark Turgeon was ejected from Maryland’s game last week at Miami. He jokingly blamed his ejection on not picking up on his mentor Roy Williams’ “dadgum” vocabulary. But the important part of the game came after Turgeon’s ejection, when his team battled back from being down double-digits to tie up the game and sending it to two overtimes before conceding. You don’t hear many coaches happy after a loss, but Turgeon sounds much happier with his team’s fight now than he did at the beginning of the year.
  3. ACC Sports Journal: You may not know this, but ACC basketball on Super Bowl Sunday is a tradition going back nearly 40 years, starting back in 1973 when NC State’s David Thompson emerged on the national scene on Super Bowl Sunday. He would go on to lead the Wolfpack to an undefeated season (though they were banned from postseason play because of NCAA violations) followed by a national championship in 1974. That’s not really the point of the article, which addresses all the traditions sacrificed by conference expansion (rivalries, balanced schedules, etc.), but it was an interesting tidbit.
  4. BC Interruption: Speaking of hurt rivalries, Brian Favat points out that pretty much every ACC team was hurt by the new scheduling rules except Boston College. Seriously, think about it. Everyone else loses a meaningful rival (even if some are more than a little forced), but the Eagles lose home-and-homes with Virginia Tech and Miami. They only played the Hokies and Hurricanes because of the ACC’s first raid of the Big East. Now, they’ll play a more regional and actual rival in Syracuse. Syracuse will certainly bring more fans and better basketball to Conte Forum, although it’s unclear how many net wins BC will earn out of the switch.
  5. Greensboro News-Record and Asheville Citizen-Times: Looking for a couple of local criticisms of ACC basketball? You’ve come to the right place. Both articles focus on the recent mediocrity of ACC basketball. I admit it’s mediocre. I also admit it’s just sad when Virginia Tech can’t sell out a game against Duke and Wake Forest can’t sell out its game against North Carolina. But I think there has been a lot more compelling basketball than people are giving the league credit for. Sure, it’s not necessarily been at the highest level, but it’s often very exciting (see the Florida schools’ upsets over Duke for two examples).

EXTRA: This will be the final mention of Duke‘s student section woes, but Jeff Kovacs (the Mullet Man) wrote an editorial for Duke Basketball Report on the current complaints about Cameron Crazies. It’s worth a read.

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Morning Five: 02.06.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 6th, 2012

  1. In case you were fixated on Super Bowl coverage for the entire weekend, news released Friday that Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun would take a leave of absence from the bench for an undetermined amount of time (possibly the remainder of the season?) to deal with spinal stenosis, a painful back ailment that can become debilitating. Although the general consensus from the national pundits was that a Huskies team already on the brink of self-destruction could find the edge of the falls, it’s probably not in the competitive coach’s character and disposition to walk away from the game after yet another health problem. For what it’s worth, UConn dispatched Seton Hall at home on Saturday afternoon, but they must travel to Louisville for a Big Monday game tonight and, as Mike DeCourcy notes in his above piece, the Huskies are only 9-9 in games after the first that Calhoun is not available to coach. We certainly wish him a speedy recovery and hope to see the three-time national champion back on the sideline soon.
  2. The ACC has released its plans for a new basketball schedule once Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the conference, pushing league membership up to 14 teams. The first significant change will be the addition of two games to the conference schedule to get to 18 games (ACC teams currently play 16 games), and the second major change will be a pairing of natural rivals to play home-and-home series every year (e.g., Duke-North Carolina; Pittsburgh-Syracuse; etc.). Several long-time rivalries, especially among the “Big Four” North Carolina schools, will be scaled back in that the remaining schools will play home-and-homes with each of the other ACC schools on a revolving three-year basis. The good news within this system, though, is that at least every school will play the other 13 at least once per season.
  3. With Frank Haith‘s Missouri team already owning huge wins over Kansas and Baylor this season, is it fair to say that he’s the early February favorite for National Coach of the Year? Considering just how obviously mediocre his teams were at Miami (FL), this season has been nothing short of eye-opening, especially in light of the fact that he walked into a less-than-welcoming environment in Columbia AND he lost his star forward, Laurence Bowers, to a season-ending injury prior to the start of the year. As Gary Parrish writes in his own mea culpa offering to Haith, nobody but nobody saw this coming. No matter how this season turns out for Mizzou and its coach, perhaps everyone (ourselves included) will think a little harder before rushing to judge a coaching hire based solely on his past performance. Sometimes a change of environment can make all the difference.
  4. Remember the weird incident last Thursday night involving Cal’s Jorge Gutierrez and Arizona assistant coach Joe Pasternack where the Bears guard thought that Pasternack kicked at him when he crashed into the Wildcats’ bench? He thought it because it appears from the video that Pasternack may have let the heat of a close game get the best of him in the situation, kicking out at Gutierrez in a showing of immediate anger. Regardless of whether it was intentional or not, Pasternack released a statement on Saturday about the incdient: “I would like to clarify that my actions last night were a reflex in response to a player falling on top of me while running at top speed toward our bench… In no way was I deliberately attempting to engage him. My hope is that this statement will clear up any misconceptions about the incident and that we can move on in a positive fashion.” Take that for what it’s worth.
  5. This week isn’t just the first week without any football nonsense to get in the way of college basketball, it also happens to be the best week of the regular season to date in terms of the games on the docket. As Mike DeCourcy writes in his Weekly Walkthrough, the coming week is an “embarrassment of basketball wealth,” with games like Duke-UNC, Florida-Kentucky, Baylor-Kansas, UNLV-SDSU and Ohio State-Michigan State on the menu. There are only five weeks left until Selection Sunday — let’s all enjoy the remainder of the ride.
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Fourteen Is Such An Awkward Number

Posted by KCarpenter on October 13th, 2011

Whether you are against ACC expansion or a fervent proponent of a wildly dominant Atlantic Coast Mega-Conference, there is one thing that we can agree on: Fourteen is a really awkward number.  Mike Krzyzewski, supposedly one of the driving forces behind expansion, spent a good deal of Duke’s media day explaining the problem with fourteen team conferences. Citing a distaste for pods, he discussed a two-division based strategy for scheduling that, while reasonable, would yield a nineteen-game conference schedule and an uneven number of home and away games. While Krzyzewski kind of brushes it off, this is the kind of schedule imbalance that can end up deciding which team wins the ACC regular season title. In Krzyzewski’s mind, however, the problem with his plan just bolsters the case for a sixteen-team league.

Coach K Isn't Shy to Voice His Opinion

Of course, the problems don’t stop with the regular season conference schedule: Fourteen teams would significantly complicate the ACC Tournament. Craig Littlepage, the athletic director at Virginia, has broken down a number of possibilities for the conference tournament, none that really seem particularly appealing. His concerns seem legitimate in that it’s hard to make a fair bracket with fourteen teams. Unless the conference were to resort to some form of multi-round byes, we’re looking at an extra day of competition or morning games. Considering the fact that Thursday is a pretty sparsely attended part of the conference tournament, adding  Wednesday games might be stretching things out far too much. When the Big East had fourteen teams, the conference solved the problem by simply excluding the last two teams. This approach seems like it would be despised in the ACC, but it’s hard to see many other effective approaches. Obviously, there could be an elegant solution to the fourteen-team problem, but at the moment, no one can seem to put their finger on it.

The expansion of the Atlantic Coast Conference seemed to reach a point of stability in the last few weeks, despite the uproar over Boston College’s role in denying Connecticut’s admittance. It seems, however, that true stability on the basketball side might be impossible with fourteen teams. Fourteen is an awkward, challenging number. With all of the accompanying challenges, complications, and troubles, it’s easy to see that sixteen is a more appealing configuration. Things may not be as stable and set as they seem.

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Morning Five: 08.23.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 23rd, 2011

  1. Forgive West Tennessee residents if they feel like their beloved Memphis Tigers have taken on a colorful desert hue lately.  Head coach Josh Pastner announced on Monday that his open third assistant coaching position will go to former Arizona star and currently locked-out Los Angeles Laker, Luke Walton.  Walton continues the Wildcat theme on the banks of the Mississippi River, as Pastner and his two other assistants, Jack Murphy and Damon Stoudamire, are also UA graduates having come from the coaching tree of Lute Olson.  Walton will be responsible for big man instruction as well as some recruiting at Memphis, and the 31-year old who has only played intermittently because of nagging injuries the last two seasons, is probably looking for a comfortable landing spot once his playing career ends.  If you’re interested in more information on this, Pastner discusses the hiring of Walton in this clip.
  2. New Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers received great news with the completion of transfer paperwork for Southern Mississippi guard DJ Newbill on Monday.  Newbill, a native of Philadelphia where he was the Pennsylvania Class AA player of the year in 2009-10, had a fantastic freshman season in Hattiesburg.  He was selected as an all-CUSA frosh after a year where he contributed 9.2 PPG and 6.2 RPG while shooting 53.5% from the field.  His rebounding numbers are what sets him apart, though; at only 6’4″, 195 lbs, the lithe Newbill finished in the top 200 players nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (11.3%) and had six games of double-figure boards.  When he becomes eligible with three years remaining in 2012-13, Penn State fans are going to fall in love with the heart, effort and desire of this guy.
  3. It’s been a week since the Nevin Shapiro/Miami fiasco hit the media, and in the interim, Gary Parrish writes that Missouri brass have done exactly the wrong thing in leaving their new head coach (and subject of allegations) Frank Haith dangling in the wind.  By stating on the record that they are “waiting for the NCAA process to carry itself out,” they’re essentially cutting the legs out from under Haith’s ability to compete on the recruiting trail against schools that are without question using that uncertainty against him.  Of course, what Parrish argues makes complete sense here: Either you come out with full public support of your coach, or you don’t, but to leave him in a purgatory of pending is to effectively emasculate your own program.
  4. We talk a lot about the difficulties that mid-majors have in developing good schedules to improve their RPIs and, by proxy, their chances at the NCAA Tournament or the NIT.  But we rarely discuss the quandary that lower-level power conference teams face when setting their non-conference schedules.  As this piece by Brian Rosenthal at the Lincoln Journal-Star shows, Nebraska assistant coach Chris Croft called nearly every major basketball school in America in an effort to improve the Huskers’ schedule in 2011-12.  Most had no interest in a game with Doc Sadler’s team anywhere, and even fewer were inclined to travel to Lincoln during the winter.  Eventually they confirmed games against USC, Wake Forest and Oregon, but other schools, like Notre Dame (“stop calling”) and Duke (“only in Durham”) were considerably less interested.  Furthermore, with Nebraska’s recent move to the Big Ten and a less-than-amicable split from the Big 12 still fresh on everyone’s minds, the Huskers got a full Heisman from their old league — not a single school would play them next year, anywhere.  Go figure.
  5. Staying in the Big 12, Kansas announced on Monday that it would be holding an alumni game called “Legends of the Phog” on September 24 in Lawrence.  The NBA lockout has created a situation where NBA players have more available time for games like these (Kentucky, as you recall, had something similar in Lexington and Louisville last week).  The Boston Celtics’ Paul Pierce has already committed to the game, and you can bet that many of Bill Self’s recent Jayhawk stars such as Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich, Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers and others will be in attendance.  Some of the proceeds will go to charity, and tickets will go on sale the week after Labor Day.
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