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ONIONS

Columnists | Message Board  | Onions Archive

By Adam Glatczak

arfboy37@yahoo.com

February 17th, 2006

College Basketball: "Onions" Weekly Review

- Sports fans have been conditioned to believe that ties are horrible things. We’re supposed to think that breaking ties in college football and, now, professional hockey is not only exciting, but the right thing to do, because a tie is just bad. How something that takes a subset-not even a full sample-of a game and can decide a winner based on it is the right thing to do is beyond some of us, but it also should be noted that some of the most unforgettable games in sports history have been ties. College football historians will no doubt cite the 1966 Notre Dame-Michigan State and 1968 Harvard-Yale games as some of the most memorable of all-time, and those were undoubtedly more intriguing than a six overtime game that sees a 17-17 regulation game become a 58-56 final.

What does this have to do with college basketball? We’ll get right down to it: there would be absolutely nothing wrong with there being a tie this year for national player of the year between Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick. It would not be spineless or cowardly for anyone to vote so, it would only be accurate. To try to measure one player’s performance as more impressive than the others is pointless because, even when one looks at all of the evidence, there is little to support either one over the other. The statistics are similar, the areas where one has a slight advantage over the other balance out, and both have come up clutch at the most important times for their teams.

We’ve heard all the arguments for one or the other, and none gives either one a significant advantage. First off, the schedules Duke and Gonzaga have played are more similar than many think. The ACC is certainly a better conference than the WCC, but the Bulldogs played an overall tougher non-conference schedule, with more road games and a more consistent grind than the Blue Devils. Redick still gets a slight overall advantage over Morrison in schedule, but it isn’t the advantage many have projected where every game Duke plays now is terrifying and every Bulldogs’ opponent is a pansy. Teams like St. Mary’s and San Diego aren’t nearly as far behind Florida State and Miami as some might think.

The statistics balance out evenly. Points and shooting percentages are about even, Morrison has slightly more rebounds, Redick has a better assist-to-turnover ratio. Redick is slightly better from the foul line, while Morrison actually has a little better three-point percentage. A wash any and every way you look at it.

The most important comparison, though, and the reason why you cannot mention one without the other, is how they’ve performed in the biggest games. There is no way to quantify one’s 38 points as better than the other’s 41; the bottom line is both Redick and Morrison have come up big this year when their teams needed it most, regardless of competition. Redick’s 41 against Texas will be remembered for a long time, and Morrison’s 12 points in three minutes against Stanford was every bit the equivalent because of its clutch nature. The ability of both players to seemingly score at will when needed is incredible and the kind of stuff we haven’t seen in a long time.

We know it’s not politically correct to promote ties, but there should be no complaining if it happens this year. If absolutely, positively forced to pick one or the other, we’d still go with Morrison simply because Redick is surrounded by more McDonald’s All-Americans and because Morrison doesn’t play as far from the basket, resulting in easier help defense on him, but those are the only reasons and they’re weak ones at that. In reality, Redick will probably win the awards simply because his team has been on TV in primetime more in January and February than Gonzaga, whose games you can only catch if at a bar near closing time. Regardless, this has been a special year led by two incredible performers, and the real point of watching these players should be watching two of the greatest individual seasons that we’ve seen in more than a decade and something we may not see in college basketball to this degree again for a long time.

- Were all set to say that after seeing Colorado get dumped badly at Iowa State and then lose at Texas A&M that it’s hard to take the Buffs’ record too seriously, and that after Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, there is not another NCAA Tournament-worthy team in the Big 12. Now, after CU went to Oklahoma and won, the Buffaloes are looking better, but we’re still not completely convinced and we’re not even sure if the Sooners really deserve an NCAA bid. (In this season, they still do; in others, possibly not) One right does not completely make up for two wrongs, and the team’s win before knocking off OU (beating Texas Tech by two at home) was more of an escape than a statement. It’s still hard to tell Colorado from Texas A&M from Iowa State from Nebraska. For the record, we hope that the senior-laden Buffaloes (ten on the roster) make the tourney, as long as it isn’t at the expense of teams that have proven more than CU has in the extremely mediocre Big 12. With just a few weeks left in the regular season, Colorado has just two wins against teams ranked in even the top 90 in the RPI (other than Oklahoma, the other was at home against NC-Wilmington).

-  George Mason is now getting our endorsement for an NCAA at-large bid, for whatever it’s worth. (Probably as much as if we took over for Fred McGriff endorsing Tom Emanski’s home instruction baseball videos) That’s regardless of their fairly average non-conference season and has something to do with the weak resumes of possible bubble invitees such as Arkansas and California, but the Patriots have been playing exceptionally well of late and the Colonial Athletic Association is the 10th-best conference in the country. At some point conference performance trumps the non-conference, and Mason reached that point when it went into Virginia Commonwealth and roared back from a 17-point second half deficit to beat a solid Rams team. The only condition to the Patriots at-large candidacy is that they win the CAA regular season title or at least tie for it, something they should do if they win their season finale against James Madison. GMU can afford losses at Hofstra and/or Wichita State, it can’t afford a loss to JMU or in a quarterfinal game in the CAA tourney. We’re guessing Jai Lewis, Lamar Butler and Jim Larranaga’s patented scramble defense won’t let that happen.

-  By the way, it’s getting to that time of year where people will start complaining about how conference tournaments are unfair to teams like George Mason. The solution: beat the teams in their tourney that they’re supposed to just like they did in the regular season to get a higher seed. Conference tourneys don’t need double-byes or any other gimmicks for the top seeds; those teams are rewarded enough by getting what is, based on the regular season standings, the easiest route to the championship. If they can’t get it done in the conference tourney and lose to a team seeded well below them, and their overall resume isn’t enough to deserve an NCAA bid, then it’s hard to have too much sorrow. In most cases, one loss in the conference tourney likely wasn’t the difference in getting an at-large bid or not, anyway.

The system is what it is, and as long as there are conference tournaments they should be true tournaments, not ‘rigged’ to ensure that top teams have substantially easier paths that include needing to play half as many games as some other teams would to make the final. This is one area where we don’t sympathize much with the conference champions of the non-football conferences. In a perfect world, the selection committee would do a better job of prioritizing at-large bids for conference champions, but it’s well known they will only do that to a degree, usually for top 10 conferences. In the meantime, if conferences can’t get their regular season champ into the NCAAs without an automatic bid, then they need to work on smarter scheduling, a la the Missouri Valley. The other option if conferences are worried about their top teams not getting to the NCAAs? Get rid of the conference tournament completely, or at most have a two-team, one-game championship playoff for the NCAA spot. That’s not something we don’t endorse-this writer enjoys the conference tourney atmosphere-but we do expect it to gain momentum sometime off in the future.

-  So Connecticut is far and away the best team in the country, huh? We’d like to now note the similarities between the Huskies and Texas. Just like the Longhorns a few weeks earlier, another trendy Final Four pick that got hot after a somewhat mediocre start, the Huskies went down just when everyone was again anointing them for sainthood. To this point, Duke is still the only team we’ve seen that consistently gets the job done. That doesn’t mean the Blue Devils will make the Final Four (it doesn’t even mean we like admitting how good they’ve looked) but they’re the only team that deserves to wear the label of “favorites” at this point.

-  A few people have taken notice of Matt Doherty doing well in his first season at Florida Atlantic. Almost no one has pointed out the job Buzz Peterson has done at Coastal Carolina. (Credit to Jay Bilas for pointing this out early this week in brief on ESPN.com) While the Chanticleers are a somewhat modest 14-9, that still ties for the most wins since the school’s 22 in 1993, the last year of CC great Tony Dunkin’s career and also its last NCAA appearance. Most impressively, Coastal Carolina has defeated Winthrop twice this year. Marquette may have beaten Connecticut at the Bradley Center but couldn’t beat the Eagles there. The Chants have beaten Winthrop at home and away.

-  Utah is down this year, but don’t expect it to continue. The young Utes are starting to assemble some talent again. 7-1 freshman center Luke Nevill may never become Andrew Bogut or Keith Van Horn, but if he can he can be even Michael Doleac, the Utes will be back at the top of the Mountain West soon. As for soon-to-be MWC champ San Diego State, the Aztecs are still hard to figure out. This year’s team certainly has more chemistry than most of Steve Fisher’s teams. We could see the Aztecs winning a game in the NCAA Tournament, if not necessarily any more games than that. SDSU has a dynamite inside-outside scoring combo in Brandon Heath and Marcus Slaughter and has one of those stats coaches love, having made more free throws than their opponents have attempted. What they don’t have is ball security (-1.5 turnover margin) or much depth inside, something that hurt in a home loss to Utah last week and would seem to make a meaty Midwestern team a tough matchup for them in the postseason. They had trouble early in the year not only against California and Leon Powe but also against teams like San Diego, Illinois-Chicago and Providence, so it’s hard to tell how much their 10-2 Mountain West mark really means, though the Aztecs do have some nice road wins in league play.

-  Wisconsin is back playing well, having moved back to second in the Big 10, and believe it or not, Brian Butch is a big reason why. Butch has been much-maligned in Madison since he came into the program as an overhyped McDonald’s All-American (come on folks, a 6-11 guy with a nice touch and without much bulk is not exactly the recipe for immediate success in the Big 10). He’s getting tougher, though it hasn’t come easily, but most importantly for now he’s looking better after being bothered by an ankle injury for the last month. When he’s healthy he gives the Badgers another body and, importantly, someone to take some pressure off of Alando Tucker inside.

-  Nice to see Butler and UNC-Wilmington, two of our favorite teams from the 2003 NCAA Tournament, both playing well again. The Bulldogs, who made the Sweet 16 that year, are one of our favorites to watch anywhere because of the way they seize control and force opponents to play at their tempo, which is usually slow. If Butler and Temple played each other, the game might take an hour and a half, at most. (And if the Owls were on the road, it may be the lowest scoring game since Kentucky and Cincinnati played a 24-11 thriller back in 1983). The Seahawks, who in the great Brett Blizzard’s last game lost on that prayer shot to Maryland at the buzzer in the first round three years ago, play very similar to Butler and in particular play terrific team defense that keeps them in almost every game, regardless of opponents’ size, speed or athleticism. The Seahawks have already won 20 games and are hot on George Mason’s trail in the CAA and may have an at-large case for themselves by the time this season ends.

Back to Butler, it’s also nice to see anyone from the Horizon League playing really well. Wisconsin-Milwaukee has had a solid season, but nothing that’s going to threaten for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, regardless of what their pure RPI number is. After the Panthers, this is a league that has slipped from where it was a few years ago, when it was challenging for 2-3 NCAA bids a year. Detroit in particular is a program that is noticeable for its lack of excellence of late. The Titans won NCAA games in 1998 and 1999 and made the NIT Final Four in Rashad Phillips’s final season in 2001. Since then, though, UDM has fallen back to the HL pack, often having one solid scoring threat (Brandon Cotton this year) but seldom any more than that.

- UNC-Wilmington’s defense is similar to that played by Dick Bennett teams. We’ve always loved watching Bennett’s teams play-contrary to myth, his teams’ style is usually not ugly, the 2000 Wisconsin Final Four team being the exception, not the norm. Bennett’s style in fact is very fundamental, simple and team-based, not nearly as ugly as watching some of these teams whose entire offense is built on the ball screen and one-on-one moves. His “on the line, up the line” defensive philosophy, which is based on ball pressure, denying passing lanes and weak side defenders sagging into the post, makes so much sense that I cringe every time I see a defender locked onto an offensive player who is on the other side of the floor and nowhere near the ball or basket. As far as Bennett’s present, here’s hoping the Wisconsin coaching legend sticks around for at least another year at Washington State, because the Cougars are so close to breaking through in the Pac-10. One more consistent scoring option from the outside or a little more all-around offensive improvement and Wazzu would be very difficult to beat. It’s no surprise their discipline frustrated Washington twice this year; it’s also little surprise there are times they struggle to get over 30 in a game. Washington State has missed Derrick Low, injured since December; still, this is a very young team-no seniors and just three juniors-that could still squeeze out an NIT bid, which would be a fair accomplishment for such an offensively challenged club.

- By the way, guessing no one else has noticed this but me, but doesn’t Washington State forward Ivory Clark pass as a dead ringer for Omar Thomas, the sniper who led Texas-El Paso to the NCAAs the past two years? Same hair, same number, about the same size, though Clark is the more physical, glue-type player while Thomas was an offensive machine.

-  We’d really like to tell people that the U.S. women’s curling team has some cute young ladies, but by now almost everyone knows that. We would still like to note, though, the team’s Minnesota base (points for being in the upper Midwest) and will say that if others prefer the Johnson sisters, we’d gladly ‘settle’ for team second Jessica Schultz as the skip of our team. Terrible, but couldn’t resist.

-  Like to think we’re far from sexists here (unlike most, we enjoy watching women’s basketball and have little problem with Title IX), but as long as we’re making comments that may get some sensitive souls after us, we’ll say this: women’s hockey should not yet be an Olympic sport. When it’s so bloody obvious that there aren’t even six world class teams available to make for a semi-interesting tourney, then the sport should not be displayed in the Olympics. B-O-R-I-N-G. Not degrading the sport or the women who do play it, but from an objective standpoint, the world is simply not ready for it. (Side note: we’ll admit to being positively steamed when the USA Network pulled a Heidi on us and cut away from the U.S.-Russia curling match in the 11th end to show us the start of the U.S.-Sweden women’s hockey semifinal.)

-  Most people in the country know by now that Stetson’s Chief Kickingstallionsims has the best name in college basketball, not to mention one worthy of his 7-1 frame. What we still haven’t found out is if the Hatters put the names on the back of their jerseys as they typically have in recent years. If so, we’re wondering just how ‘Kickingstallionsims’ fits on the back of those jerseys. Our personal hope is that the Hatters would’ve looked retro for what to do and copied some of those in the past who have put their first names on the back of their jerseys. Most famously this was done by Akeem Olajuwon at Houston and most recently by Field Williams at Cincinnati, but we think without a doubt a jersey with ‘Chief’ on the back would trump both of those.

-  Winners of ten in a row, Fairleigh Dickinson has taken control of the Northeast Conference, and can’t help but to think the Knights could be even better than their 16-8 overall record and 2 ½-game lead in the NEC show. In 7-0 Andrea Crosariol and 6-9 Gordon Klaiber, FDU has size that few Northeast teams can match up with. But the athletic Crosariol averages under 11 points a game and does not always look for offense. With his size alone, one would think he should average 15 a game just on garbage baskets, but unlike his defense (three blocks per game) his influence on the other end has been hit or miss. If Fairleigh Dickinson can make the NCAA Tournament, though, and if the big guy can stay out of foul trouble and get going like he did against Louisville earlier this year (21 points), the Knights will throw another scare into a team like they did to Illinois last year.

-  Watch a Kent State game this year, and you’ll notice that the Golden Flashes’ Kevin Warzynski bears a striking resemblance to Napoleon Dynamite without the glasses. You can’t make this kind of stuff up.

-  Steve Novak of Marquette and Nevada’s Nick Fazekas are known as tall guys who are excellent shooters from range. Nick Lewis of San Diego is another tall (6-10) who has a very nice outside touch. Lewis is shooting 46% from three and having an outstanding year for the Toreros and may well be the West Coast Conference’s best player if not for that Morrison guy.

-  What a job Ron Hunter continues to do at Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis. The Jaguars have run off and hid from the rest of the Mid-Continent Conference, and regardless of if some don’t enjoy his sometimes wacky sideline antics, it is high time he was recognized for the talent he finds, the way he gets the most out of his players and the way they rarely get engulfed by anyone. In recent years there has been a steady stream of quality players at IUPUI from Josh Murray and Matt Crenshaw, through Odell Bradley and Akeem Clark and now to George Hill and Brandon Cole. This year’s team, led by Hill and Cole, has rebounded from a series of early close losses to win 13 of 14 in the Mid-Con and is looking good for its second NCAA bid in four years. That IUPUI has become one of the top programs even in the Mid-Continent is remarkable. The school doesn’t have near the resources of Oral Roberts, Valparaiso or even a Missouri-Kansas City or Southern Utah. Yet Hunter has squeezed more than many would have thought imaginable from the school that offers students the option of degrees from either Indiana or Purdue. (No, the degree doesn’t say IUPUI) A few years ago the Jaguars went to Georgia Tech and won, and other conquests in recent years have come over Colorado State, Rice and Northwestern while the Jags have been close against  Dayton, Michigan and West Virginia in recent years, and only lost by eight at Vanderbilt this year.

-  Seeing Cal State-Fullerton play is a lesson in what a team might be able to do if it paid more attention to detail. The Titans came into this year off a 21-win season that included two wins in the NIT, and were heavy favorites to win the Big West but have slipped to the middle of the pack in a league that is even worse than expected. CSUF likely has a pair of All-Big West players in Bobby Brown and Jamaal Brown, possesses probably the best third- and fourth-options in the league (Frank Robinson and Jermaine Harper) and has the requisite dirty work men inside (Justin Burns) and outside (John Clemmons). What the Titans don’t have is good shot selection, a consistent commitment to defense and rebounding, or leadership. When a team’s point guard and star player (in this case, Bobby Brown) is seen on TV glaring at a teammate after a miscommunication causes a turnover, it’s pretty obvious the team truly does miss Ralphy Holmes and Yaphett King from last year’s team more than anyone thought. It’s also no wonder Fullerton can lose to less-athletic but more refined teams like Pacific, as the Titans did last Thursday on ESPN2.

-  Finally: UNLV has really ugly uniforms and has had such for several years now. It’s time Vegas stopped letting Nike make decisions for them and copied the example set by BYU football and went back to the uniform style that the school had in its glory years, in this case the classic threads worn during the Jerry Tarkanian era.

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