Seven Day Stretch: Championship Week Review

March 13th, 2008

The “Curse” bit Stanford, Valparaiso, Arizona and even me last week. That’s right; I was the victim of my own making. I went on a national radio show to talk a bit on the upcoming NCAA Tournament and when asked about which team I thought was “this year’s George Mason”, I talked about South Alabama. The Jaguars lost that very night on their home floor to put their NCAA status in serious doubt. Sorry, Jags…next time I’ll keep my mouth shut.

Seven Day Savior (Team): George Mason Patriots

Everybody’s darling of two years ago, (remember the Final Four run?), is back! Mason won the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament by defeating William & Mary this past Monday night. The Patriots are going to be a scary opponent for whoever draws them in the Field of 65. They still have five players from that Final Four squad, including two, Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell, who played significant minutes on that 2006 team. That experience, coupled with the solid coaching of Jim Larranaga, makes Mason a solid choice for a “Cinderella” getting past the first round. What makes this story even more unlikely is that the Patriots were only the #3 seed in the conference tourney and this was the first time that that any of the Patriot players had won the conference tournament title. Even the Final Four team had to get an at-large bid on Selection Sunday.

Honorable Mention to Davidson as the Wildcats were able to complete a perfect conference season, both regular and tournament. Davidson will be a difficult opponent, too, as close losses to North Carolina, Duke and UCLA can attest.

Seven Day Savior (Player): Michael Jenkins, Winthrop Eagles

After the week he had in the Big South Tournament, how could anyone not pick the Eagle senior? Jenkins, who has dedicated this season and Winthrop’s to a teammate who was killed last year, led the Eagles in the first two games of the Big South Tourney and then exploded in the title game. In that game, against a UNC-Asheville team that had already swept the Eagles in the regular season, Jenkins score 20 of his team’s first 30 points and finished with 33. Jenkins is clearly one of those kids that is going to be a handful for any BCS conference team in the upcoming NCAAs. It’s not as if Jenkins is the only good player on the Winthrop squad. Coach Randy Peele can count on scoring from several of Jenkins’ teammates should a team decide to take Jenkins out of the game. Jenkins is unselfish, he’s a leader and he has the look of a young man who will do whatever it takes to win his next game.

News of the Week: The Return of Lute

It was announced earlier this week that Lute Olson will return to the sidelines for Arizona starting next season. This has some serious ramifications, not the least of which is the probable end of Kevin O’Neill’s short term as head coach. Olson’s return goes deeper than that, though. Over the past several seasons Olson’s Arizona squads had fallen closer and closer to mediocrity. Olson, who is a proponent of the motion offense and zone defenses, had been consistently outcoached by his Pac-10 Conference brethren and it was only the talent that Olson had on his roster that prevented a full collapse. The only way to change that is for Olson to come back reenergized and committed to getting Arizona to the top of the Pac-10, let alone the nation, again. While he can still do that, the reality is that Olson isn’t getting any younger, a fact that other pac-10 schools will undoubtedly point out to recruits. Olson had been making recruiting mistakes over the past several years in that he was only going after blue-chippers and those “glue guys” that every good team needs to make a deep run in March weren’t getting much playing time. There is nothing that indicates that Olson will have changed his recruiting strategy.

Arizona had an opportunity to have Olson leave with dignity, and he still may. After all, a coach with his track record does deserve to leave on his own terms, but this is going to be a long-term problem for Arizona as Olson probably only has a few years left in him at best. With his return, Arizona will see the transfer in Pac-10 power, which is moving towards the California schools, become more pronounced, and it may take a long time for Arizona to fully catch up once Lute does call it a career.

Game of the Week (The one you DON’T know about): Miami v. Virginia Tech

In order for this game to take place in the ACC Tournament, Miami first needs to take care of North Carolina State. Assuming that happens, this game could be huge. Depending on how things break, the ACC could be looking at only four bids to the NCAA Tournament. If that’s the case, that means that Miami, Va Tech and Maryland are fighting for one berth. This could change, of course, if two of these three teams make a deep ACC run. However, a game between the Hurricanes and the Hokies could have serious implications for both teams’ postseason aspirations. Miami is actually in a better position to suffer a loss and still receive an NCAA bid. That’s because, even though the Hokies finished higher in the final ACC standings, they did so because they only had to face the “tough” teams, (Duke and UNC), once each. Virginia Tech needs this game badly. At a time when most bracketologists are talking about the “bubble” games coming up in the Pac-10 Tournament, none of those may be bigger than this potential match-up.

Seven Days Under the Radar: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame finished in third place in the Big East, arguably the toughest conference in the country, yet no one has really talked up their chances in the Big East Tournament. That’s because the Irish are much better in the friendly home confines of the Joyce Center than they are on the road. However, the Irish did win five conference road games, and while only the Villanova win stands out at all, Notre Dame has slowly been gaining confidence away from home. They have a very good “go-to” player in Luke Harangody and they can shoot from beyond the arc. The only thing that Coach Mike Brey has to be able to do is convince the Irish that every defensive stop they can get is important. If the Irish play decent defense then they very well could be playing for the conference title on Saturday.

Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Sidney Lowe, North Carolina State

Lowe is only finishing his second season in Raleigh but this year has been a disaster as far as Wolfpack fans are concerned. Lowe took over a program that was becoming the consistent third power in the ACC behind UNC and Duke. However, fans thought that Lowe’s predecessor, Herb Sendek didn’t win enough and they didn’t like his methodical offensive system. When the head coaching position opened NC State took a run at several higher profile candidates, (like Steve Lavin), but ended up “settling” on Lowe. When I say “settling”, I mean that Lowe was clearly not NC State’s first choice. That being the case Lowe could have thought of himself as keeping the seat warm until someone else was ready. In other words, because he wasn’t the first choice, and in spite of his NBA coaching pedigree Lowe has a much shorter leash when it comes to rebuilding. But that’s Lowe’s problem; he shouldn’t be rebuilding. Most observers felt that NC State should at least be an NCAA Tourney team this season. One thing’s for sure, there isn’t anyone who pegged the Wolfpack for anywhere near last place and that’s exactly where they stand. Lowe will get some slack because he lost point guard Farnold Degand in late December to an ACL tear. Losing your point guard isn’t a good thing, especially when his only back-up is a true freshman. That was Lowe’s predicament heading into the New Year. However, that doesn’t explain the coaching blunders and the complete meltdown competitively by the Pack over the last three weeks. This doesn’t sit well in Raleigh. Lowe won’t lose his job at the end of this season, but anything less than a top three finish in the ACC next year will mean a pink slip.

Seven Days of Head Scratching: The “Curse”

I’ve made a great deal of “hay” about the “curse” that I “created” when I started the SDS column back in January. In all honesty, I have never really believed in it or any other real superstitious thing. I simply thought it was a fun thing to add to the column. However, except for one week, every team that I’ve either given the Seven Day Savior award to, either the team award or to a player on that team, has lost the following week. This has included small schools, like UNC-Asheville, which went on a three game losing streak the week of their selection as the Savior of the week, and big schools, like Stanford, which I selected as my Seven days Under the Radar team last week. The Cardinal proceeded to go out and lose two straight games in Los Angeles to close out their Pac-10 regular season. Because of these odd happenings, I am now really beginning to believe in the curse. Look let’s face it, I have people holding candle-light vigils now on the quads of their favorite school pleading with the powers-that-be in an attempt to prevent me from putting them in the dreaded Seven Day Stretch. I was thinking that once the brackets for the Big Dance come out, that I’ll write a supplemental SDS mentioning all the possible teams that my favorite team might face…that way I can do my part to help my school win a national title.

You know what I’ve really figured out over the years? There are people who really think like this. I also figured out that I take myself way too seriously sometimes. Everybody have a great weekend of college hoops, (really, is there any other kind?), and get ready to go dancing.

Man, I love my job!