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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Final Four Preview & Picks

The Final Four is set. Heading into the Sweet Sixteen, it looked like we might end up with three or four Big East teams heading to Detroit, but Syracuse was blown out by Oklahoma on Friday and Louisville was upended by Michigan State yesterday. So while the Big East has two teams (UConn and Villanova), both the Big Ten (MSU) and the ACC (North Carolina) are represented.

What do these four teams have in common?

They all have a good point guard — North Carolina’s Ty Lawson, Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds, UConn’s A.J. Price and Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas.

It’s often said that guard play is a key component to NCAA success, and this year’s Final Four supports that thinking. Louisville, Missouri and Oklahoma all had some backcourt issues throughout the season (and the tournament) and it’s no coincidence that they ultimately lost to teams with a great point guard.

Let’s take a closer look at each of Saturday’s games…


Tip-Off: 6:07 PM
Sagarin Ratings: UConn (94.40), Michigan State (89.39)
Line: UConn -4

With Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien and Stanley Robinson, UConn might have the most imposing front line in the country. Thabeet averages 4.3 blocks per game, while Adrien and Robinson are two strong forwards who can score inside and rebound like crazy. A.J. Price anchors the backcourt, but the lightning-quick freshman Kemba Walker is the reason the Huskies survived a scare against Missouri. The Huskies are deep and talented, and other than a few minutes against Purdue and Mizzou, they have looked dominant and focused.

The wild card with this UConn team is how they handle the recruiting scandal of Nate Miles. It’s going to be interesting to see if the media presses the issue or if Jim Calhoun is successful in pushing off any further inquiry until after the tournament. Will the press take “no comment” as an answer? When a program is under attack, there is usually a “circle the wagons” mentality within a locker room, and depending on the makeup of the roster, it can bring a group of players even closer together.

On the flip side, the NCAA tournament has been a pleasure for the Michigan State Spartans. I didn’t think they had the firepower to make it to the Elite Eight, much less the Final Four, but this team has something that many others don’t — chemistry. Every player knows his role but doesn’t shy away when he is asked to make a play. They have the Big Ten POY in Kalin Lucas and group of guys willing to the little things like defend and rebound. The Spartans are an interesting matchup for UConn because of 6’10” center Goran Suton. Since he can hit the long ball, he should be able to pull Hasheem Thabeet out away from the basket, limiting his shot blocking. UConn may counter by putting Robinson or Adrien on Suton and letting Thabeet defend one of Michigan State’s forwards that isn’t a good shooter like Raymar Morgan or Draymond Green.

The Spartans are particularly adept at pulling up in the lane and hitting the 8- to 15-foot jumper which will be crucial if they hope to score consistently on the Huskies. It’s nearly impossible to take it to the rim when Thabeet is in the game, but the middle of the lane is usually pretty open since the Husky defenders are taught to feed their man to Thabeet. Defensively, the Spartans have shown the grit and effort necessary to stay with more talented foes, so Michigan State should be able to keep this one close. I don’t like the line, and I think UConn will ultimately triumph, but this has a good chance to be a game that is nip and tuck down the stretch. It doesn’t hurt that the Spartans will be playing about 75 miles from East Lansing. I’d expect a decent home crowd, though it’s tough to get any kind of home court advantage at the Final Four.

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Lawson’s toe seems fine, Tar Heels advance

When I filled out my bracket, I felt that North Carolina’s chances were tied to the health of Ty Lawson’s toe. And I still think so.

The ACC POY had to sit out the ACC tournament to allow the swelling to go down. And this wasn’t just any swelling; Dick Vitale said that the toe was “cartoonishly” swollen (and I think he just made that word up). This is obviously a huge concern for North Carolina.

He injured the toe on March 6 and played two days later against Duke, scoring 13 points (on 2 of 7 shooting) and dishing out nine assists. He sat out both of North Carolina’s ACC tournament games, and the Tar Heels lost to Florida State. They aren’t the same team without him.

I think that UNC can get past the first two rounds even if Ty Lawson isn’t 100%. But I’m not sure that they can get by Gonzaga without him playing at a high level. This is probably the biggest “IF” of the entire tournament. If Lawson can play at 90-95%, then the Tar Heels are probably the tournament favorite. If he can’t, then they could easily lose before the Final Four.

So how do we handle this? Well, for the purposes of a single bracket, I’m going to wager that a “cartoonishly” swollen toe isn’t going to be 90-95% healed in time for the tournament. I don’t particularly like Oklahoma or Syracuse to beat them unless Lawson is out or very limited, so I am going to put the Tar Heels through to the Final Four. If I were in two or more brackets, I’d have one where North Carolina loses in the Final Four semis, and one where they lose to Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen. The bottom line is that I’m betting that Lawson’s toe is not good enough for him to play at a high level for six games over the next three weeks.

If Lawson had been healthy heading into the tournament, I would have picked the Tar Heels over Connecticut for the title. I haven’t seen a guy play this well on a bum toe, so either it wasn’t ever as bad as it seemed, or Lawson has a tremendous ability to play with pain. I’m bummed about my bracket blowing up in my face (thanks, Pitt), but I feel like my original take sans health issues — UNC & UConn — was spot on, but I couldn’t in good conscience pick a team whose best player was gimpy with a bum toe. Simply stated, I guessed wrong on Lawson’s toe.

I think we’ll see a UNC-UConn final, but Michigan State and Villanova are both playing their best basketball of the season. It should be an interesting Final Four.

Spartans march on to Detroit

In the middle of the second half, Gus Johnson and Len Elmore started to talk about how Michigan State was “starting to believe,” but the term I like to use is that the Spartans could “start to taste it.” There comes a point in the game when an underdog has enough of a lead that they start to think that they’re about to pull off the upset. I think that point came at about the 7:18 mark in the second half when Draymond Green tipped in an offensive rebound to give the Spartans a 12-point lead. If you’re coming back from a deficit, you don’t want to be down by more than the number of minutes remaining, and if you’re holding on to a lead, you want to get to a point where you are leading by twice as many points as there are minutes remaining. That’s when you start to feel that you’re fully in control of the game.

Michigan State essentially played the perfect game. They played great defense (holding Louisville to 52 points and just 38% shooting from the field), didn’t turn the ball over (12), and shot great from long range (8 for 16). Goran Suton got hot early and finished with 19 points. In the second half, Durrell Summers and Kalin Lucas each made a pair of three-pointers. The Spartans did a terrific job of passing the ball around and the role players hit shots when they needed to.

The Cardinals’ second- and third-leading scorers, Samardo Samuels and Terrence Williams, combined to shoot 1 for 13 from the field for five points. It was a disappointing finish to a great season for Louisville. Now Rick Pitino has to answer the question about why he bought a house in Tuscon — is he going to be the next head coach for Arizona?

Michigan State heads off to the Final Four, which takes place about 75 miles from East Lansing, at Ford Field.

Pitt falls, UConn advances

It’s all right there in the title — my bracket is f*#kd.

The Pittsburgh Panthers played with fire for the entire tournament and they finally got burned. In the first three games, they showed tremendous poise in the clutch. But when they had a chance to put this game away, they blew it.

Up four with the ball and 2:56 remaining, Pitt brought the ball up against Villanova’s full court pressure. If Pitt converts there and goes up six or seven, it would be a tough road to hoe for Villanova. But Jermaine Dixon made a bad decision at half court, which led to a steal and eventually to a three-point play for Villanova. On Pitt’s next possession, Sam Young turned the ball over in the lane. And just like that, the Panthers’ four point lead turned into a one-point deficit.

Down four with 0:12 to play, it looked like all was lost, but DeJuan Blair slipped to the hoop for a bucket and the Wildcats turned the ball over going for the home run. Levance Fields was fouled and knocked down two free throws to tie the game with 5.5 seconds to play. One more stop and Pitt was going to force an overtime when they had absolutely no business doing so. But they made a mistake on the inbound play, allowing ‘Nova to catch the ball near halfcourt, where it was flipped to Scottie Reynolds who was streaking down the sideline. The long pass covered a lot of ground when Pitt should have forced Villanova to dribble the entire length of the court. Make them catch it in front of you!

Reynolds drove into the lane and hit a tough game-winner.


Give credit to Villanova for playing a great game. As a team, the Wildcats shot 22 of 23 from the free throw line, which is outstanding given the pressure of an Elite Eight game. It’s going to be fun to see them play in the Final Four.

In the other Saturday game, UConn fended off a feisty Missouri team with a 12-5 run over the last two minutes. UConn looked a little out of sorts in the second half, but freshman Kemba Walker scored 23 points off the bench to put the Huskies over the top.

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