March 2010 Archives

I know the White House has a subscription to the Sun-Times, so I'd like to think President Obama saw my picks. I know I saw his--and we agree on many things:
* We agree on three of the Final Four, including Kansas over Kentucky in the title game and VIllanova coming out of the South. His fourth Final Four team is Kansas State; I have Pitt.
* We also agree on how deep four of the five Big Ten teams will go: Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin to the Sweet 16, with Purdue one and done. I have No. 11 Minnesota winning their opener vs. Xavie; he has the Gophers one and done.
* We also agree on a number of early upsets, including No. 13 Murray State over No. 4 Vanderbilt, No. 12 Cornell over No. 5 Temple, and No. 10 Missouri over No. 7 Clemson. In the second round, we both see No. 6 Marquette over No. 3 New Mexico.
Well done, Mr. President. And good luck.

The President and I have one other basketball link in common. I used to play some pickup hoops with his adviser, David Axelrod, who was a very solid player. Not the quickest guy on the floor, but good mid-range jumper, good defensive positioning and rebounding. And unlike many players in that game, he would pass if the shot wasn't there. A good trait to have in Washington, especially when Rahm Emanuel is on your team.
And good luck, Mr. President, with that politically-correct women's bracket. Being a narrow hoops expert, I would be of no help in that area--or the NBA playoffs, for that matter. But I do have some suggestions for health-care reform that would be welcomed on both sides of the aisle, and would, if handled properly, ease the burden on the American taxpayer while reducing the cost of health care and extending coverage to all in need. It's so simple, I can't believe nobody else has thought of it. If you're interested, drop me an e-mail and I'll shoot it over to you.

There's a lot of talk about expanding the NCAA tournament. And while I would keep it right where it is, if they MUST tinker with the Big Dance, here's the least invasive way to do it.
The talk about a 96-team field is ridiculous. But four or eight teams might address the complaints of bubble-team coaches (and create a new set of complaining bubble-team coaches).
Here's my suggestion: Put these bubble teams in the play-in games. They would play into the bracket as 10th and 11th seeds, or maybe be dropped among the 10s, 11s and 12s.
This serves two purposes. It preserves the NCAA tournament experience for the small schools, who have done everything right, and played their way in. Second, it creates some play-in games that would generate more interest than the small-school games. If expansion is money-driven--and of course it is--how much money would eight play-in games among small schools generate? Bubble-team play-in games actually could generate some interest.
It comes down to what you think of these games.
Here's what they might have looked like this year.
The team that went to the NIT is listed first, matched up with the NCAA team it might have played:

NIT team vs. NCAA team
1 Illinois vs. Utah State
2 Va Tech vs. UTEP
3 Miss. State vs. San Diego State
4 Arizona State vs. Minnesota

5 Ole Miss vs. Washington
6 UAB vs. Misssouri
7 Rhode Island vs. Florida
8 Cincinnati vs. Georgia Tech

My thought is, half of these games would be played on Tuesday, half on Wednesday. And then they would feed into Thursday and Friday sites, accordingly. That does the least damage to the current setup. And three games in five days is better than three games in three days (or worse), which is what teams do at conference tournaments.
My other thought is, these games look a lot NIT games being inserted in the NCAA tournament, rather than the other way around. I wouldn't do it.
And they're not going to do it this way, anyway. They're going to take it out on the small schools, which is really a shame.
But the suspicion here is that, one way or another, they are going to do something.


Michigan's defense looked so passive against Evan Turner's game-winning shot Saturday that John Beilein may be wishing the Wolverines lost 99-68 instead of 69-68.
My thought: You have to contest in the backcourt, and you have to pay special attention to Turner. Let somebody else beat you.
Afterward, even Turner was surprised, saying, ``I thought they were going to crash or something like that. The whole game they were swarming me. I guess being open, it felt a little bit free. I had a lot of time to shoot the ball. I felt like I was in the gym by myself.''
And while I like Beilein--as a coach, as a gentleman and as a mentor who put together some excellent teams at West Virginia--I can't argue with the growing unrest in Michigan.
Here's what Drew Sharp had to say in the Detroit Free Press:
``The Clipboard Genius blew this one.
``Coach John Beilein offered no apologies, expressed no regrets in the aftermath of an emotionally wrenching finale to an especially disappointing season. He stood by his decision of no defensive backcourt resistance with U-M leading by two with 2.2 seconds left and Ohio State needing to advance the ball quickly just to launch a desperate, half-court moon shot for a 69-68 Big Ten tournament win.
``I don't think it would've made any difference [what defense used],'' Beilien said afterward. ``A half-court shot is a half-court shot.''
``You don't let the best player in the conference beat you that effortlessly -- even if it required a 37-foot shot barely before the buzzer. This was defensive passiveness reminiscent of U-M football.
Instead, Turner's incredible moment officially stamped the expiration date on Beilein's free pass.''

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Hats off to Northwestern for not backing down from physical Purdue. But once again, I find myself wondering if the Boilermakers, who push the mugging envelope on defense, will run into trouble with the wrong set of NCAA tournament referees. In a sense, that's less of a deal with Robbie Hummel, because Purdue figures to have trouble in many places. But if they try to guard harder to make up for losing Hummel, they'll need to be careful.
To a lesser extent, the rough-and-tumble defense is an issue for virtually all of the Big Ten's likely NCAA teams, because the league accepts physical defense throughout the season. With the right refs and plenty of common sense, it could be a plus for the Big Ten teams. But that's less likely than foul meltdowns.

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Minnesota's upset of Michigan State gives the Big Ten a shot at six NCAA teams. I believe Illinois' win over Wisconsin put it in. And the Gophers will be looking like an NCAA team if they can beat Purdue in the semi-finals.
Northwestern's NIT prospects, which were enhanced by the Thursday win over Indiana, also are looking good--especially with Illinois unlikely to be in the NIT mix.
Things can change. Depends on other upsets. But this hasn't been a big year for teams playing their way in. Around the country, seems like it's been going the other way.

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Bruce Weber's prayers were answered when Illinois' home finale against Wisconsin was moved to 1 p.m. from 11 a.m. by ESPN. Now Illini fans will have more time to attend church and pray for their team to pick up a win and get off the NCAA tournament bubble.
ESPN, which had originally expected to show a Big Ten game from the Eastern time zone, decided the change made sense for in-person fans and its viewers. It had planned to show bowling at 1 p.m.
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About the blogger

Herb Gould started with the Sun-Times in 1977 and has covered several teams, including the Blackhawks. He is a long-time beat reporter covering the Fighting Illini and the Big Ten for the Sun-Times.

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