January 11, 2013
Just about halfway through the college basketball season, we are beginning to find out who’s for real and who’s a pretender. After Arizona’s loss Thursday night to Oregon, there are only two more teams left undefeated; Duke and Michigan. Now were going to party like it’s 1992. Yes it’s been a little over 20 years since Duke played Michigan for the national title, with the “Fab 5” as freshmen. For Duke, almost nothing has changed, Mike Krzyzewski is still the head coach, and Duke is number 1 in the country. However, in Ann Arbor, pretty much everything has changed. The only slight similarity is the youth movement that features a starting 5 with 2 freshmen and 1 sophomore. The Big Ten has officially dethroned the Big East as college basketball’s top conference, and the ACC is having a down year without Florida State and North Carolina in the top 25. That being said, the Blue Devils will have to beat themselves to lose the ACC.
With that I give you the marquee matchups this weekend in college hoops:
1. Duke (15-0) (2-0 ACC) at 20. North Carolina State (13-2) (2-0 ACC) Saturday 12 noon (ESPN)
The Blue Devils are without starting senior forward Ryan Kelly who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. The Blue Devils don’t have the depth to replace a guy who averages 13.4 PPG and 5.4 RPG. The Wolfpack are balanced with 6 guys averaging double figures in scoring. Mark Gottfried’s club also ranks 1st in field goal percentage. Duke will have no answer for C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell on the interior. Prediction: Duke-69 NC State- 73
8. Minnesota (15-1) (3-0 Big Ten) at 5. Indiana (14-1) (2-0 Big Ten) Saturday 12 noon (BTN)
Since their lone loss to Duke on November 22nd, Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers have won 11 in a row including two big conference wins against Michigan State and Illinois. Indiana has won their last 5 since losing to Butler. The Gopher’s Andre Hollins may be the best point guard in the country. That in combination with Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams in the post is too much for the Hoosiers. The Gophers will do it by committee to pull the upset at Assembly Hall. Prediction: Minnesota-67 Indiana-63
2. Michigan (16-0) (3-0 Big Ten) at 15. Ohio State (12-3) (2-1 Big Ten) Sunday 1:30 (CBS)
There hasn’t been this much excitement in Ann Arbor since the “Fab 5”. The Wolverines have 4 guys averaging over 12 points per game. Their backcourt is the best in nation with Wooden Award candidate Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Big Blue’s frontcourt is also scary with two fabulous freshmen in Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. This balance will be too much for the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes are 12th in turnovers per game while the Wolverines are 2nd. The Buckeyes will struggle to find high percentage shots and Michigan’s depth will dominate from start to finish. Prediction: Michigan-66 Ohio State-58.
May 30, 2012
With news a few weeks back that the Big 12 and SEC were planning a major bowl game tie-in similar to the Big Ten and Pac 12 Rose Bowl, all sorts of guns were jumped in relegating the ACC to the Big East’s status. And when rumors floated that Florida State and/or Miami and Clemson could soon exit the conference for presumably greener pastures in the Big 12, the ACC’s death was all but written on a tombstone.
The only problem was that common sense was somehow lost in the melee.
The biggest factor is that considering Florida State, Clemson, and Miami all but gone is really taking a leap of faith. While it’s well known that Florida State wasn’t exactly in a state of euphoria about the ACC’s new long-term deal with ESPN, it’s still no guarantee they’re leaving the conference. Florida State is a better fit geographically in the ACC and all three leaving is an even bigger long shot.
Here’s one fact often forgotten in this whole mess. Many will quickly point to the schools’ distaste for North Carolina and Duke receiving special treatment in the ACC, but the trio would quickly discover that Texas reigns supreme in the Big 12. If they think they’d receive much more respect in a midwestern conference where Texas and Oklahoma are considered kings, they’ve got another thing coming.
The concern amongst fans of other ACC teams about the conference being left out of the discussion when it comes to playing in a potential playoff pitting four teams is also a bit misguided. Those making decisions in college football already get a ton of heat for not making the national championship open to enough schools. So now, they’re going to risk litigation by shutting out even more programs? Sorry, I just don’t see it. Right now, there are six power conferences that receive automatic bids – the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, ACC, and Big East. If the ACC were left out of a playoff scenario, you can bet that the Big East would have no shot at it as well. It’s difficult to imagine a national championship playoff with even fewer teams given access.
Florida State, Clemson, and Miami should all recognize this. Problem is, though, there’s another factor in play – money. If those schools can make considerably more money in the Big 12 or SEC, they’d almost certainly consider it.
So with that in mind, let’s set up a hypothetical situation – say all three leave the conference … then what? Technically, I still think the ACC could survive. While those three are a large part of the conference, the basketball side of things would remain virtually unaffected. With North Carolina, Duke, Pitt, and Syracuse still around, the ACC would continue to be one of the most dominant basketball conference in college basketball. That’s got to count for something, right?
Football drives the bus, though, and I get it. The simple fact is that if all three bolted, the conference could be in serious trouble. But Virginia Tech has been the class of the conference on the gridiron and the ACC would still have them as a foundation. There’s also Georgia Tech, Pitt, North Carolina State, Virginia, North Carolina, Boston College, and Maryland. All of those teams have had solid seasons in recent memory and while none are powerhouses, there’s enough talent there to justify a playoff spot being given to an undefeated team. The ACC could also try to pluck additional mid-card schools such as UConn, Louisville, or Rutgers from the Big East. Smirk all you want at that group of schools, but the Huskies and Cardinals would bring even more basketball talent to the conference and Rutgers would include more eyeballs in the attractive New York/New Jersey market.
It’s still entirely too early to figure out how all of this plays out. But the safe bet is that the ACC stays alive throughout all of this.
March 8, 2012
Iowa vs. Illinois
Iowa was the only team Illinois beat in their last 9 games of the season. After opening with 10 straight wins, Illinois hasn’t been able to find its rhythm. With all of that being said, I like Bruce Weber to get Illinois ready and pull off the win in the opener.
Indiana vs. Penn St.
Penn State lost both contests they played against the Hoosiers this season, including a 73-54 blowout at Indiana. With the Big Ten Tournament taking place in Indiana, this should be close to another home game for the Hoosiers, so I am going with them in game 2.
Northwestern vs. Minnesota
Minnesota is very similar to Illinois, starting 12-1 only to drop 6 of their last 7 games, including a road game at Northwestern. The two teams split their season series, each with a lopsided win at home. Just as I think Weber is the key for Illinois, I will go with Minnesota because of Tubby Smith.
Purdue vs. Nebraska
Nebraska has had a rough transition to Big Ten basketball, going 4-14 in the conference this season. They lost to Purdue in the only game they played head to head this season, and I don’t see this game being any different. I think Purdue runs away with this one early.
Michigan St. vs. Illinois
Michigan State only has 7 losses on the season, and one of those comes in their only contest with Illinois. The game ended 42-41, which is a far cry from the 71.9 points per game Michigan State averages. Losing their last two games of the season and having to split the regular season title, you have to imagine the Spartans will have a bad taste in their mouth going into this game and will take it out on Illinois.
Wisconsin vs. Indiana
In what I think will be the best game of the tournament to this point, Indiana will look to avenge their loss to the Badgers earlier this season. I can see this game going either way to be honest, but I am going with the Hoosiers again. Indiana will have a tough challenge against Wisconsin’s defense, but if they can shoot anywhere near their 49% FG percentage, they should be just fine.
Michigan vs. Minnesota
Michigan defeated Minnesota in a tight game on New Year’s Day, but I think it is safe to say both teams have grown a lot since then. Michigan will be riding a high after finding a way to get a share of the Big Ten regular season title, but Beilein will keep them grounded. While I expressed my faith in Tubby Smith earlier in this post, I think the Wolverines will be too talented for Minnesota to overcome.
Ohio St. vs. Purdue
Purdue would love to boost its Tournament resume with a big win over Ohio State, especially after almost beating them in an 87-84 loss earlier this season. In that game, Ohio State forced a mere 4 turnovers (they average 17.5 per game) and Sullinger and Craft were in foul trouble. I think the Buckeyes had what it took to win then, and they will win this contest as well.
Michigan St. vs. Indiana
On Dec. 28th, Michigan State beat Indiana by 15 points, only to lose to them by the same margin on Feb 28th. To me, this charts just how far Indiana has come as the season has gone on. With that being said, Tom Izzo and the Spartans know what it takes to win, especially in March. This game should be close, but I like the Spartans to make the Final.
Michigan vs. Ohio St.
Coming into a season with high expectations for the first time in a while, the Wolverines have met and exceeded those, in my opinion. A legitimate threat in the Tournament this year, they have proven they can hang with just about anyone this season, including the Buckeyes. After saying all that, these teams split the season series, and both teams could easily win this game. I do like the Buckeyes, and I think they will meet Michigan State in the championship.
Michigan St. vs. Ohio St.
A rematch of the regular season finale that cost the Spartans their outright championship, both teams will be excited to play the rubber match of a split season series. Look for this to be a very physical game, and while both teams can score at will, rebounding and defense will be stressed by both coaches. In the end, I think Michigan State will come out on top, trying to prove once and for all they were the Big Ten Champions.
September 6, 2011
With recent news about the Big 12 potentially losing Texas A&M and other member schools, NCAA conference realignment got back into the news this past week in a big way. In case you’re not up to speed, the ten-team Big 12 conference could be on the ropes. Texas A&M’s planned departure isn’t the only thing to worry about, either. In recent days, additional schools have also been linked to other conferences as well – most recently, powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas have been rumored to potentially become a part of a PAC 16-conference. If the Big 12 ceases to exist, there could be a free-for-all unrivaled by anything we’ve ever seen before. Other conferences would be fighting for the remaining schools such as Missouri and Oklahoma State, which would strengthen any conference.
If the current Pac 12 expands to 16 teams, other conferences would likely follow suit. The question is, if others move towards expansion under the ‘Bigger is Better’ mantra, would that necessarily be good for college football?
My answer is yes.
Right now, there are a total of 66 teams that make up the six BCS football conferences – the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, and Pac 12. If each of those six became ‘mega’ football conferences to include 16 teams, a total of 96 programs would then fall under the BCS umbrella. If mega conferences ever became a reality, the more common scenario most discussed is that there would only be four or five of them. But if the BCS remains, I’m convinced that keeping six conferences would be a good thing.
So why would mega conferences help college football? Simply put, more college football teams would have an opportunity to play in the BCS bowls and in a national championship game. We’ve all seen it before – talented teams being left out of the national championship game or the BCS altogether. The 2004 Auburn Tigers finished their season going undefeated in the SEC, but couldn’t earn a spot in the title game. Then there were the 2006 Boise State Broncos that were the only undefeated team in college football, but still left out of the championship. While these kinds of injustices don’t occur every year, they have happened and will continue to do so.
It can also be argued that teams in smaller conferences don’t have the same opportunities as their BCS-conference brethren. By expanding the BCS conferences, though, those disadvantages would largely disappear. Not only would teams such as Boise State and BYU get their shot at winning a national championship by running the table in a more difficult schedule, but 28 more programs would get their chance as well. And while it could be argued that most non-BCS conference teams couldn’t realistically compete for a national championship, those teams could fight for spots in BCS bowl games.
Sure, mega conferences wouldn’t fix everything. Arguments from the remaining non-BCS conference participants would continue to exist. There would be cries from those left on the outside looking in just as there are every year in the NCAA basketball tournament. The difference, though, is that there’d be fewer of them and many non-BCS schools would have a difficult time putting together a strong case that they should be able to play in a BCS bowl – let alone a national championship.
Another argument against six mega conferences may be that teams wouldn’t get to face every school in their conference. But that already exists as things stand right now and with a short college season, playing every team simply isn’t realistic. Mega conferences would likely need to consist of two divisions where winners would meet in a conference championship game.
Mega conferences wouldn’t fix everything and in the eyes of some fans, the only way to go would be a playoff system. But as long as the BCS exists, finding ways to include as many teams as possible is the best thing to do.
February 9, 2011
In an era focused on individual stars, one NCAA team reminds us that basketball is still a team sport: the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes are 24-0 and ranked No. 1 despite losing last season’s college player of the year, Evan Turner. In a well-respected Big Ten Conference and at a school best-known for football, Ohio State has quietly become a national power on the hardwood, winning 38 of their past 40 games. I have to think even Aretha Franklin would agree: It’s time for the Ohio State basketball program to start getting the respect it deserves.
Team basketball was meant to be played the Ohio State way. Four OSU players average double figures per game: Jared Sullinger (18.0), William Buford (13.6), David Lighty (12.5) and Jon Diebler (11.2). The Buckeyes can beat teams inside or outside, driving past defenders or shooting over them. If the defense collapses on freshman sensation Sullinger, Ohio State has four guys shooting more than 40 percent from 3-point range. If their opponents guard against the 3-pointer, Sullinger can destroy them in the lane.
And if Ohio State is off their offensive game, they can survive with athletic man-to-man defense led by sixth-year senior, Lighty—the best and most versatile defender in college basketball. At 6-foot-5, Lighty is quick enough to cover smaller guards and athletic enough to guard larger forwards, earning him value well beyond the box score. All in all, the Buckeyes are talented and selfless, a rare combination in today’s sports world.
Ohio State is the total package. I haven’t even mentioned Aaron Craft, the freshman point guard who comes off the bench and averages nearly 7 points, 5 assists and 2 steals while playing terrific defense. And true freshman Deshaun Thomas, the seventh guy in the rotation, is the third-leading scorer in Indiana high school history and averages nearly 9 points and 4 rebounds per game. Throw in defensive and shot-blocking specialist Dallas Lauderdale at the center position and Ohio State is one very complete team.
In the modern game, high school superstars often play only one season at the college level. Nobody knows this better than Ohio State coach Thad Matta who, in the past five seasons, has lost six freshmen and one senior to the NBA Draft. Since the most talented players leave early, any team wanting to make a national championship run needs to strike the right balance between talent and team leadership.
There are teams that take the opposite approach and avoid players likely to leave after only one year of school. Such programs attempt to beat teams consisting of raw superstars (e.g., Memphis) with solid veterans (e.g., Pitt). In this year’s Buckeyes, Matta has the best of both worlds. His seven-man rotation features three seniors, one junior and three freshmen. So the question remains, how do experienced teams with good players or inexperienced teams with great talent beat an Ohio State team with both? No one seems to know the answer.
I am not guaranteeing that Ohio State will cruise through March Madness en route to their first national championship since 1960, when some guys named John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas and Bobby Knight roamed the floor. Winning a national title takes talent and experience, but also good health and luck.
Truthfully, with seven regular season games remaining and the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments yet to begin, I feel comfortable saying Ohio State will not end the season undefeated. The last team to do so was the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. Theirs was an era of less parity, no conference tournaments and a 32-team NCAA tournament. Like a lot of things in life, “it was easier back then.”
The 1976 Hoosiers finished 32-0. In order to have a perfect season, Ohio State would have to go 30-0 in the regular season, 3-0 in the Big Ten tournament and 6-0 in the NCAA tournament, for a total record of 39-0. Such a feat would be the greatest team basketball achievement since John Wooden and the UCLA Bruins won 10 titles in 12 seasons between 1964 and 1975.
With the 14th ranked Wisconsin Badgers eagerly awaiting the Buckeyes’ arrival in Madison, Wisconsin this Saturday—a venue where Matta is 0-7 as Ohio State’s head coach—the Buckeyes face their toughest challenge of the season. A road test against Purdue and home games against Michigan State and Illinois still loom.
In the end, the odds of a perfect season are long and the road to perfection nearly impossible. However, the Ohio State basketball program is announcing its presence with authority on the national scene and deserves some well-earned R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
The respect of analysts and fans isn’t important to this team. The pursuit of an elusive perfect season is a dream for the players, but the ultimate goal is a national championship—perfection in itself.
To make it all the way, Norman Dale, coach of the Hickory Huskers in the iconic basketball movie, “Hoosiers,” has some advice that rings true for any basketball team competing at any level in any era:
“Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit: team, team, team. No one more important than the other.”
It may be the wrong state, but these Buckeyes are the right team. And they’re playing a brand of basketball not seen in years. March Madness can’t get here soon enough.