2021 NCAA Tournament: First Four Preview

So, BSB might actually be back this time.   Doogan and I started this as an alternative to sending each other overly wordy, unabridged emails about sports.  And, since it’s been a long, hard winter for all of us, Doogan and I and our master admin, J, are in need of an outlet for “thoughts.”  So, let’s fire up the BSB machine again and even if it’s just a glorified email exchange, it will be cathartic for the three of us.

And,  is there a better time of year to start back up?  The NCAA Tournament, a Sixers playoff chase, the start of an interesting Phillies season…and, a ton of tennis tournaments and the Summer Olympics for me to write really long posts about to no one but myself!!!

So, let’s get this started with a preview of Thursday night’s First Four games.  I’ll get another one up tomorrow previewing Friday’s First Round games and then we’ll go from there.

#16 Mount Saint Mary’s (+1) vs. #16 Texas-Southern
 5:10 pm, truTV
Alright, alright, I recognize that these 16v16 games are kind of like tennis or the biathalon in that I care about and enjoy them WAYYY more than most of even the most ardent sports fans.  So, I’ll try and be short on them…I will probably fail at that attempt.  This game is one of those classic First Four games (if that phrase even means anything) with a (SWAC/MEAC) team vs. a non-champion from a bad league.  The winner of this game gets to get destroyed on national TV by Michigan on Saturday.

Mount Saint Mary’s
The best story from this game is the 5’7″ point guard on Mount St. Mary’s, Damian Chong-Qui.  Chong-Qui, who turned into the go-to guy just 6 games into the season when they lost Jalen Gibbs for the season, has a ridiculous backstory.  The Sun article is really good, but in summary, when Qui was 4, his family was the victim of a home invasion where his dad was shot once and stabbed five times and lost the use of his left hand.  Just TWO MONTHS LATER, his mother was randomly murdered, being mistaken for someone else.  When he was twelve, Qui’s dad dropped Qui off and went to get dinner for them.  While waiting for food, someone fired shots into a crowd and one of the random bullets struck the older Qui in the back and he is now paralyzed from the waist down.  And, a just year later, his son Damian, won the starting point guard job for powerhouse McDonough despite being only a freshman and standing a mere 4-feet-9-inches tall.  Qui, who says he “doesn’t believe in height” is now a budding star for MSM, averaging 14.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg (again, at 5’7”), and 5.6 apg.  He’s incredible!  They also have a strong, athletic frontline of 6’9″ JR Nana Opuku (10.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.0 bpg), 6’9″ JR Malik Jefferson (8.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 58% FG), and 6’8″ JR Mazie Offurum (9.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.0 apg).

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How successful was Ohio State’s season? …and other stories

WHAT’S THE VALUE OF AN NIT TITLE?
Ohio State played an strong game last night, topping off a pretty impressive run to an NIT title.  They beat a game UMass team 92-85, in which the Minutemen got the tempo they wanted and still could not beat the youthful Buckeyes.

This raises the question:  How successful of a season is one where you win the NIT?  A lot of people call the NIT champ the 66th best team in college basketball.  That is obviously not the case because there is no doubt that Ohio St. (or any season’s NIT champ) is better than, at the very least, a dozen automatic qualifiers, and probably quite a few more.  So, is it the equivalent of an Arizona (a first-round loss)–a sort of vindication of being left out of the field, so that you can say to yourself, “See, we should have been in?”  Or, because you won five straight games against quality opponents, can you say it is better than that?  Is it as successful as a UNLV-type team, that made the tournament and won a first-round game before bowing out to a much better team?

There is much to be said about setting the ultimate goal as getting to the Dance, and anything short of that (especially for a defending Final Four team in a major conference) is a disappointment.  So, even an Arizona or a St. Joe’s, who squeaked into the tournament and then got beat soundly in the first round, had better seasons than Ohio St.  I do not completely disagree with this argument, but I am not so sure that I completely agree.

To clarify my forthcoming answer, I think we need to clarify the question.  If the question is:  “Is it a more successful season to make the Big Dance than to win the NIT?”  Then, I agree, somewhat, on that premise.  But, if the question is:  “What is better for the health of a program, a NCAA berth or an NIT championship?”  Then, I would say, without a doubt, a major conference school (particularly one with young players) is better served winning the NIT than bowing out unceremoniously in the first round of the tournament.  In fact, for a young big conference team, I think winning the NIT may even come close to equalling a Sweet 16 appearance, as far as breathing life and health into a program–just look at the success of past NIT champs and what they went on to do in the next couple of seasons.

In short, I think if you asked the Ohio St. athletic director or any Buckeye fan whether they would trade their season for UNLV’s, they would quickly say refuse.  And, if you asked Thad Matta, he would also tell you he would take the UNLV season.  But deep down, I would be willing to bet that Thad sees the benefits of this run and probably believes that over the course of this class’s future at OSU, the Buckeyes are better served with this title then, maybe even, the Sweet Sixteen run of Villanova–or at least better than Big Ten rivals Purdue and Indiana.
ANOTHER ILL-DEFINED QUESTION
The AP named their National Player of the Year and National Coach of the Year yesterday.  This is also a matter that needs to clarify the question at hand before a clear answer can be given.  Let us start with the “player of the year.”  Is it the “best” college player?  Is it the “most valuable” player?  Is it the “most talented” player?  Is it the player that “most defines the ’07 – ’08 season?”  What is it? 

The award was given to Tyler Hansborough, which is very difficult to argue with no matter how you define the award, but let’s give it a try.  In my college basketball preview, I basically said that Hansborough was a “lock” to win this award.  Doogan disagreed and said that he would not be surprised to see a freshman win it.  Well, the reason I am not gloating right now is because it did not take me long to switch my opinion and side with Doogan.  I believe that Michael Beasley should have been the player of the year.  He was the inarguably the “best” player and arguably (very arguably, I admit) the “most valuable” player as well. 

Has anyone looked at the numbers Beasley put up?  Per game averages:  26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.3 steals, and 1.1 three-pointers.  Uh…wow!  Now, the naysayers will point to Hansborough’s slightly similar numbers (22.8 & 10.3), but these people fail to realize that the Tar Heels run-and-gun style led to their team averaging 89 points and 44 rebounds per game.  Kansas State, as a team, only averaged 78 points and 41 rebounds per game.  The next argument you will hear is that Hansborough’s numbers are only lower because the opposing defenses have several other quality players on which they must focus.  Well, I think this only strengthens Beasley’s case, in that all he had was Bill Walker and a cast of mediocre college players, so he had to do everything.  Beasley was consistently putting up games of 30-15 against double- and triple-teams.  He was better. 

One more quick point for all the Hansborough supporters:  does anyone believe that UNC would not have made the tournament without Tyler?  In fact, I think they may have still won the ACC.  Admittedly, they would not have been a #1 seed, and probably would not still be playing right now, but they still would have been a nationally-ranked, top 4-5 seed in the tournament.  Now, how is K-State without Beasley?  .500?  Worse?  Probably.  They certainly are not even in the discussion for an NCAA bid.  With Beasley:  the second round.

Despite all of these arguments, I think it is a very, very tough decision, and I am perfectly fine with the result.  In fact, I am kind of happy with it because Beasley has a ton of accolades in his future, and Hansborough seems like the type of kid that would really appreciate being named player of the year.  But, if I had a vote and a true mission to get it right, I would have voted for Michael Beasley.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Dr. Tom Davis was the coach of the year in 1987 at Iowa.  Yesterday, his son, Keno Davis, was named AP National Coach of the Year for his terrific season guiding the Drake Bulldogs.  Before last season only one first-year coach had ever won this award, but after Tony Bennett won it last year at Washington State, Keno Davis makes it two years in row.  Even more ironic may be the fact that this is the second straight year where a son that took over his father’s program has won it, as like Bennett, who followed his father, Dick, at WSU, Keno took over for Dr. Tom at Drake.

All in all, thought there are others that may have equally deserved this award (Trent Johnson, Ben Howland, Rick Barnes, even Coach K), I have no problem with this award going to Davis.  He did a terrific job at Drake, and is justly deserving of such an honor.

  
THE BEST CONFERENCE JUST GOT BETTER
The Pac-10 was, in my mind, the undisputed top conference in the country this year.  And, though it had a lot to do with the players, it may have even had more to do with the coaches.  It is no secret how I feel about Ben Howland, as a coach, but this conference is stacked with great coaching minds.  I have also written how I feel about Herb Sendek and Tony Bennett.  Tim Floyd is a terrific coach, and Trent Johnson did a phenomenal job with Stanford this year.

Well, next year, the conference will be even better as far as coaching talent.  Arizona replaces an overmatched Kevin O’Neil with the return of Hall of Famer, Lute Olson, but that is not to what I am referring here.  The University of California may have just hired the conference’s best coach.  According to a source close to the team (and reported on ESPN), the Cal Bears are about to name Mike Montgomery as their next head coach.  While at Stanford, I always considered Montgomery one of the five best coaches in the country for the program he built and sustained.  He made an ill-advised jump to the NBA, but now he’s back coaching kids in California.  That Cal team has a bright future with Montgomery at the helm.

Ironically, the lone scar on the Pac-10’s otherwise lofty collection of basketball programs took one on the chin yesterday, when Billy Grier turned down an offer to coach Oregon State.  Apparently, Grier felt that he wanted to stay at the better program–SAN DIEGO.  Yes, you know you are bad when you are in the best conference in the country and the coach of a school that no one had ever heard of until their improbable run to the NCAAs this year turns down your vacant coaching position.  Ouch!
 

ANOTHER GREAT HIRE
I love Indiana’s choice of Tom Crean to replace Kelvin Sampson as coach of the Hoosiers.  Crean is a flat-out winner, and a Midwest guy.  His coaching roots extend to one of the best, as he started as an assistant to Tom Izzo at Michigan St.  Now, he will be facing his mentor on the hardwood every year, as well as the recruiting trail.  He has vowed to close the borders of Indiana to poachers trying to take Hoosier talent away from the Hoosiers (IU fans wonder where he was two years ago, when they lost Oden and Conley to hated rival, Ohio St.).  That program is in danger of becoming very stagnant, but I do not think Crean, a fantastic recruiter (Dwyane Wade, Dominic James, etc.) and an outstanding game coach (averaging 20 wins per season in his nine years in the Big East with Marquette), will allow that to happen.  Great move for the Hoosiers.
 

COACH CAL, ALWAYS ABOUT DISCIPLINE AND CLASS
You have to credit Coach Calipari for how he handled the Andre Allen situation.  He decided on Thursday to suspend his backup point guard, not only for Saturday’s semifinal, but also for the final on Monday, if Memphis can get there without him.  Allen, not a starter, but still an important piece of the puzzle (14.1 minutes per game as the only pure PG to backup Rose), apparently pulled the ‘ole “undisclosed violation of team rules” at the worst possible time.  And Coach Cal did not waver, did not succumb to the pressure of winning, did not brush it under the rug (like probably happens quite often, but, by definition, we do not know about it).  He handled it with class and positive emotion.  Always a master of sports psychology, Calipari did what he felt he had to do, and used his famous mind games to try and minimize the impact of the loss.  Good for you, John.  Coach Chaney would be proud!

Yet Another Pet Peeve–Who is Looking Out for the Little Guy?

I have never claimed to be the protector of all things “mid-major.”  And, I am very much opposed to crazy conspiracy theories, so I am going to tread lightly on how I phrase today’s Pet Peeve.

I think the NCAA Committee, for the upteenth year in a row, screwed the “Little Guy.”  I am not claiming that this is a conscious intentional occurrence (though, there is a TON of money involved in the television deals that would undoubtably prefer the least possible small schools beyond the first round), but I believe it is happening, and it is having a major effect on the brackets that we love so much.

Take the following aspects of this year’s bracket:

  • Illinois St. and VCU were certainly in the “bubble” discussion.  I see the flaws in their resumes and also cannot really make a good case that either of them should be replacing someone who was chosen (though, personally, I would probably have taken Illinois St. over Villanova or Baylor, but I do not feel that strong either way). 
  • In my opinion, there are eight or nine quality “mid-major” teams in the field.  Just looking at it objectively, there are 9 mid-major teams that received a 12-seed or better.  Six of these teams are playing against another one of these eight.  In fact, of the four at-large bids given to mid-major schools, two of them are playing against OTHER MID-MAJOR SCHOOLS.  S. Alabama got a 10-seed, but drew Butler.  Gonzaga got a 7-seed, but drew Davidson (in Raleigh).  The other two mid-major at-larges were St. Mary’s, who is playing Miami, and BYU (not really a mid-major program, just in a mid-major conference), who drew Texas A&M.  Also, you have auto-bid Drake getting a 5-seed, but drawing mid-major auto-bid sleeper W. Kentucky.  I know the Committee has said repeatedly that they do not “set up matchups,” they just pick the seeds and the regions and plug them in, so I guess this is just a coincidence.
  • Only one of the “protected seeds” (1 through 4 seeds in each region are considered “protected”) went to a non-Big 6 Conference team–Xavier–and who do they draw as their 14th-seeded opponent?  An SEC team?  Granted a pretty bad SEC team, but still, Georgia just won the SEC tournament.  So, the only non-Big 6 protected seed draws the only Big 6 team in the below a 12-seed?  Again, probably another explainable coincidence.

I know, I know that each of these, by itself, is completely explainable and appears to be merely coincidental, but if taken as a whole, might there be reason to believe that the Committee just continues to protect the Big Guys even though the Little Guys have proven time and time again in recent years that they are just as good?  I am not saying that this is a conscious, vindictive, or even economically-driven “conspiracy” to get as few Little Guys in the later rounds as possible–and, honestly, I do not know if it doesn’t make for a better tournament sometimes–but is it not possible that this is just another indication of a subconcious bias against smaller programs?

Thanks for listening, friends…