Spike Albrecht and other fresh faces of the NCAA Tournament

The Louisville Cardinals won the National Championship, but you knew with Michigan making it to the final game we would have plenty to talk about regarding fresh faces of March Madness as Michigan was the youngest team in the tournament. But while much of the talk going into the tournament surrounded freshmen Glenn Robinson III and player of the year Trey Burke, a sophomore, it was freshman Mitch McGary who was the story of the tournament. But that was before tonight, when an unknown freshman took over the game in the first half. You had probably never heard of Spike Albrecht before tonight, but by halftime that’s all anyone was talking about.

Spike Albrecht averaged less than two points per game during the regular season, and he hadn’t done much in this tournament until he put on a shooting clinic in the first half. He hit four three-pointers and didn’t miss any. One was a complete bomb from way beyond the arc. He scored 17 points in 20 minutes as he single-handily led Michigan to a 12-point lead while Trey Burke was sitting on the bench with a couple of fouls. He was also driving to the rim with reckless abandon. The kid was on fire and so was Michigan, but it wouldn’t last. His first half will be remembered for a long time, but Louisville was able to close the gap with a run before the half, as Michigan coach John Beilein left Burke on the bench as he seemed mesmerized by Albrecht like everyone on Twitter. The kid ran out of steam in the second half, but we’ll always remember that amazing first half run.

Like I said above, going into this game Mitch McGary was the story of the tournament. The freshman big man was the key to Michigan’s win over Syracuse as his play in the middle helped to counter the tough 2-3 zone that everyone was talking about before the game. His shooting ability was exceeded by his passing ability, and he had to turn some heads in NBA scouting departments with his performances. He finished that game with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 critical assists. Against Kansas and their impressive front line, McGary finished with a whopping 25 points and 14 rebounds. Remember his name come draft day. But tonight wasn’t his night as he got into foul trouble and wasn’t as effective against Louisville’s tough front line.

Even with these two Michigan freshman steeling all the headlines, Glenn Robinson III also had an excellent tournament for the Wolverines. He basically did everything well, as he was able to score and rebound, but he also played excellent defense and had some big steals as well. He also sank some critical free throws against Syracuse when it seemed like nobody on Michigan could hit one down the stretch when it mattered. He definitely lived up to his talent and all the hype surrounding his name.

The champs were a more veteran team, and that might explain their ultimate success, but they had one freshman in forward Montrezl Harrell who found ways to contribute throughout the tournament. He had a monster dunk tonight on a fast break, and he had eight big points against Wichita State. He also had a combined 19 points in the first two games of the tournament. He was an important cog of a truly impressive championship team.

Finally, apart from Louisville and Michigan playing an incredible final game, this tournament will be remembered for the excellent run by Wichita State and the excellent coaching from Gregg Marshall who urged the Shockers to “play angry.” Freshman guard Fred VanVleet was a big part of this run, scoring 13 points in the huge upset over #1 seed Gonzaga and then 12 points against #2 seed Ohio State. Unfortunately for the aptly named Shockers they couldn’t get past Louisville and VanVleet only had three points in that game. Still, he played very well in his first NCAA tournament, just like the other guys listed above.

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Can John Calipari finally win it?

I didn’t fill out a bracket this year. I haven’t done so in years. While the NCAA tournament is still fun to watch, it’s hard to keep up on college basketball with the yearly turnover on the best teams, so each year I’m learning about the teams as the tournament progresses.

Many experts seem to think Kentucky has a great shot, again, so we’ll see if John Calipari can finally get it done.

It’s your Dance, John Calipari.

This is your NCAA tournament. All you have to do is win it – nothing more, and especially nothing less.

It’s not necessarily now or never. But it’s absolutely now. In 20 years as a college head coach, you’ve never had a better chance to win a national title.

Wednesday, you named off the great teams you’ve coached – Massachusetts 1996, Memphis 2008, Kentucky 2010 and ’11. All came close to winning it all. None finished the deal. None had the advantages this one enjoys.

You have the best team, which is the most important thing of all.

Your seven-man rotation is nothing but NBA prospects, one through seven, including a couple of top-five picks. Don’t bother with the “young team” line because every coach in America would love to be burdened with the youth of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Calipari is a loudmouth, so I’ll be rooting for an epic fail.

My Buckeyes got a break when Syracuse lost their best player, so maybe this makes up for the monster bracket they had to endure last year when they were a #1 seed and got bounced by Kentucky. I like their chances of getting to the Final Four, IF they can shoot well. This team is hot and cold, and getting hot now is critical for them and every other team. Also, I love Thad Matta as a coach. He’s an incredible recruiter. But I hate how he sticks to a tight rotation, and I haven’t seen him outcoach his counterparts in the big games. Hopefully this is his year.

NCAA announces March Madness expansion…

INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05: A general view of the opening tipoff between Matt Howard #54 of the Butler Bulldogs and Brian Zoubek #55 of the Duke Blue Devils during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images);

…and it’s not as bad as we thought it was going to be.

The final four at-large teams and final four automatic qualifiers in the newly minted 68-team NCAA men’s basketball tournament field will meet for the right to enter the traditional 64-team draw, tournament selection committee chairman Dan Guerrero announced Monday.

The “First Four” will be played either the Tuesday or Wednesday after Selection Sunday. The winners of the four games will advance to what will now be called the “second round” on either Thursday or Friday.

The games will be televised on TruTv (formerly CourtTV), which is available in 93 million homes, said NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen, who manages the NCAA tournament. CBS, Turner, TBS and TruTV are in their first year of a $10.8 billion, 14-year television agreement.

There was a lot of talk about a possible expansion to 96 teams, which would just be an obvious money grab by the NCAA, but the entity showed some restraint and are only going to expand the tournament by three teams.

I don’t know what the hell TruTV is or if I even get it on DirecTV, but this is the way for a channel to put itself on the map.

But wait a second — the last few at-large teams (#10-#12) aren’t seeded as low as the last few automatic bids (#16), so how are the winners of the “First Four” going to be inserted in the rest of the tournament field?

Guerrero and Shaheen said the last four at-large teams would be put on the seed line the committee decided they earned. So, this could mean that two could be considered No. 12 seeds playing for the right to play a No. 5 and two could be No. 11s vying to play a No. 6 in the second round.

In its news release, the NCAA listed the 10th seed as a possible destination for the last at-large teams, something that has occurred in past years. It is unlikely that the committee will have one team seeded 10th, 11th or 12th to avoid having teams seeded differently playing in a First Four game.

Confused yet? Me too, but at least the NCAA has a plan. I just don’t know quite how it’s going to work. If these are #11 vs. #16 games, then potentially there would be a #16 vs. #6 matchup if the #16-seed won its “First Four” game. That is going to take some getting used to.

Hey, at least they didn’t expand it any further.

Expanding NCAA tourney to 96 teams is a bad idea

The NCAA is considering expanding its basketball tournament, and one option is to expand the field to 96 teams.

The NCAA is exploring whether to opt out of its current 11-year, $6 billion TV deal with CBS and expand the men’s basketball tournament field from 65 teams to 68 or 96 teams, according to a report in Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal.

The publication obtained a copy of a request for proposal sent from the NCAA to potential broadcast bidders late last year. In the 12-page proposal, the NCAA outlined a 96-team split format where an over-the-air network pairs with a cable network to broadcast the tournament. CBS and Turner Sports are in discussion for a joint bid. ESPN and Fox are considering whether to do the same.

In the proposal, a field of 68 would add three “play-in” games. In a 96-team field, 31 games would be added.

Florida coach Billy Donovan says “there is nothing wrong with expanding,” while FSU coach Leonard Hamilton says that many of the teams in the NIT are better than the teams that get into the NCAA tournament.

The idea has its opponents too, like Dick Vitale (who calls it “ludicrous”) and collegeRPI.com creator Jerry Palm (who says that expanding “would just add more unqualified teams to a tournament that is already full of them.”)

I could see how an 80-team field could work and it wouldn’t do much damage to the current format. Say you have 32 teams (16 games) on Tuesday night. Those winners would go on to join the top 48 teams and play on Thursday. Most of the teams playing on Tuesday night would be small conference champs that got an automatic bid, or the very last mid-major or power conference teams that barely got in.

The quick turnaround from the Sunday night selection would be tough. Those 32 teams would have to travel to a neutral site (or 16 visiting teams would have to play on the road) with only 24 hours notice.

An 80-team field would add 15 at-large bids which would more than compensate for the few teams every year that are snubbed. But all it’s going to do is create a new list of teams that are snubbed. That’s how it works.

The question is whether or not the current setup, which awards automatic bids to “inferior” schools from small conferences while passing over mediocre-to-good teams from bigger conferences is fair. Generally speaking, I think the current setup is fine. I can only remember one instance where a bubble team went on to the Final Four (George Mason, 2006), and teams that are passed over always have plenty of opportunity during the season to play themselves into an NCAA berth.

Plus, I worry that expansion is only going to make the regular season less important, which is something that BCS apologists argue with regard to a college football playoff.

You have a good thing going, NCAA. Just leave it alone.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Five things that need to change about college basketball

Despite the rather lackluster 2009 NCAA tournament, March Madness is – historically speaking – the most exciting sporting event in the country. Still, as I watched the games this year, I noticed that a few things need changing. Here are my top five gripes about college basketball:

1. No more one-and-dones.
I understand why the NBA wants an age limit, but the one-year-out-of-high-school rule is hurting the college game. Amongst the major programs, there is little continuity season to season and it has thrown blue-chip recruiting on its head. Some of the best coaches in the college ranks are reluctant to recruit the top players because they know they’re just going to have a hole to fill the following summer.

Players should be able to declare for the draft directly out of high school. But if they decide to enroll in college, they must stay a minimum of two seasons. Typically, high schoolers that are good enough to be drafted are good enough to stick in the league. If a high schooler enters the draft (but doesn’t hire an agent), he can always pull out and enroll in school if it doesn’t look like he’s going to be drafted in the first round. This is the same rule that college players have to follow. (And yes, I realize that this is the NBA’s fault, but it’s still a problem for college basketball.)

Roy, back up three feet. Your guys will be able to hear you just fine.

2. Get the coaches off the court.
One thing that drives me nuts about college basketball is the leeway that the officials give head coaches. They’re allowed to stomp around the sidelines like petulant children, throwing hissy fits anytime a call doesn’t go their way. Okay, so maybe the refs are instructed to give the coaches some slack on the proverbial leash, but that doesn’t mean that head coaches should be running onto the court to shout instructions to their teams. It seems like every game there is a near-collision between an official running downcourt and a head coach that is stepping on the sideline (or is on the court all together). I’d like to see the official call an automatic technical if he sees the coach step on the sideline – that would clean this up really quickly.

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