by Terrence Mayrose
Coach of the Year Award has two candidates this season
The race for Player of the Year is a tight battle between viable candidates like John Wall, Wesley Johnson, and Evan Turner. Every voter would have a justifiable reason for picking any of these 3 fine players, which makes it hard to speculate who will walk away with the hardwood. The Coach of The Year award should not be as difficult. In the opinion of the T and 2, voters have a choice between Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon. There should be no other names even acknowledged on the ballots.
Boeheim has soured people on occasion this season, as he continues to talk about expansion of the NCAA Tournament, but when it comes to coaching his 26-2 team, he’s done a great job. The ESPN USA Preseason poll had the Orange slated #25, and the AP Poll didn’t even rank Boeheim’s boys to start the season. Entering the season you couldn’t really argue that Syracuse had lost some talent from the previous year. Cuse’ lost sharpshooter/trash-talker Eric Devendorf , powerful inside forward Paul Harris, and a kid named Jonny Flynn….we’re sure you know about him. It’s obvious this season that Boeheim put those losses in his rear view mirror, and hasn’t look back since. Taking the Gene Hackman “coach who I’ve got” motto, Boeheim has flourished with “who he’s got”. Who he’s got is superstar transfer Wesley Johnson, improved Rick Johnson, Andy Rautins, and returning from injury Scoop Jardine, a formidable squad to make a run deep in the tourney; and given the way Boeheim has meshed with this unit expect that deep run.
Pittsburgh has been a Big East powerhouse virtually the last decade. Winning two titles in 08 and 03, is a feat in itself, but appearing in 7 of the last 9 Big East Championship games…yes 7.. shows just how much of a mainstay Pitt is in America’s toughest conference. This season was likely to be the year Pitt would have no shot at continuing it’s dominance. In fact it’d be a stretch to even think Pitt could make the Semi-finals of such a loaded conference, given how much Pitt had lost. Departures of NBA bound Sam Young and DeJuan Blair, point guard Levance Fields, and forward Tyrell Biggs, left Dixon in a hole entering the new decade. Such a hole that Pitt was left off the AP and ESPN/ USA preseason polls. How does Jamie Dixon respond ? By channeling Chris “all he does is catch touchdown passes” Carter, and became Jamie “all he does is win basketball games’ Dixon. The name isn’t a stretch. He currently possesses a 77.9 winning percentage to date (184-52), which includes two 30 win seasons, two Sweet Sixteen’s, and an Elite Eight. This year’s squad is 21-7, in a large part to the improvement of Brad Wanamaker, Jermaine Dixon, Gilbert Brown and Ashton Gibbs who Dixon used as role players last year. It’s clear that giving them quality minutes last year has paid off dividends.
So why are Boeheim and Dixon the clear cut favorites ? Aside from terrific records in a year where many didn’t expect it, each of these coaches has showed that developing a system, convincing players to buy into it, recruiting kids who will stay for four years, and having a passion for your team is a respectable way of coaching…and as Boeheim and Dixon have clearly shown…winning.
It’s unfair to say that the players aren’t a factor in the programs success, but it should be noted that no matter what twelve players suit up for Boeheim and Dixon, they’ll find a way to win.
So you can root for the coaches with constant recruiting violations of “one and done players” who bounce from one school to the next just to collect a bigger paycheck if you want, but at least your cap to Dixon and Boeheim because they do it the right way.
Duke and Purdue on a collision course ? They should hope so.
#1 seeds seem to be shaping up towards the end of February. Kansas and Kentucky seem to be locked into a 1 seed barring an utter collapse in their Conference Tournaments, and Syracuse controls it’s own destiny now that Villanova and West Virginia have faded from the top line.
The last 1 spot is a toss up between Purdue and Duke. As the T and 2 sees it, it’s the best case scenario for both teams.
Based on the logic that the weakest #1 seed plays the toughest #2 seed, Duke and Purdue would likely be slated in the same region. The similarities between the two teams gives each a great chance to win the game because they will be playing a team similar to themselves. Purdue is not the quickest team in the nation, and none of Duke’s significant contributors has ever been mistaken for a track star so the speed of the game will favor each team. While both the Blue Devils and Boilermakers can defend, they are not lock down defensive teams which will allow Duke to shoot the three (their favorite thing to do on offense since Reagan was in office), and Purdue to move the ball inside for Robbie Hummel.
Ultimately what it comes down to is this. Regardless of who gets the #1 seed, Duke and Purdue should be hoping to be in the same region, because the T and 2 doesn’t seem either of them with a better matchup against any other #1 or #2 seed. Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse are in a league of their own and Sports Illustrtated’s Andy Glockner’s other current #2 seeds are Kansas State, West Virginia and Villanova. Each is loaded with big athletic players who will smother Duke or Purdue all over the court. So Boilermaker and Blue Devils fans have every right to root for that #1 seed, but you should root harder that the team you edge out is in your bracket.
Maryland will be dancing in March
The T and 2 talked about Maryland’s tourney hopes last week, and after Saturday’s win over Georgia Tech on a remarkable 2 buzzer beaters (Gary Williams called timeout just seconds before Grevias Vasquez threw one in from halfourt, only to come out of the timeout and see Cliff Tucker drill a three to win) Maryland may be in much better shape. A huge win on Wednesday vs. Clemson just about sealed the deal for Maryland as an at-large team. Even more impressive is that a win over Virginia Tech on Saturday keeps Maryland in the running to win the ACC regular season title over Duke, if they can knock them off next Wednesday.
No Turtle Power for Maryland because of weak ACC
Isn’t it kind of odd that a 20-7 team with a 10-3 conference record in a major conference, who’s still in the running to win the league title is on the bubble ? It’s odd because the ACC is simply that weak this year. Currently the conference has only 1 ranked team (Duke). The conference will (unfairly) likely get 5-6 teams into the tourney, but the T and 2 likes only 2 to see the Sweet Sixteen, Duke and Maryland. The latter a team I feel is highly underrated.
Northern Iowa may now forced to win Missouri Valley
#25 Northern Iowa lost to #226 (kenpom.com) Evansville Tuesday night 55-54. A severe hit to the squad’s bubble chances and every other team on the bubble. With the loss, Northern Iowa may now have to win the Missouri Valley Conference Title to make the field of 65. Every bubble team should be rooting for that because if the selection committee decides Northern Iowa is at-large worthy, that’s one-less spot that bubble teams will be vying for.
Every year around the end of February, “the bubble” is heard everywhere, and rightfully so. It’s the time of the year where it grows or shrinks by the day and sometimes by the hour. T and 2 has begun to evaluate just how big or small it could get, and who you should be rooting for to win conference tourneys. As mentioned above, Northern Iowa winning the conference tourney adds an at-large bid because it’s likely that they would steal one if they didn’t receive the at-large. The same goes for teams in the major conferences. Remember two years ago when Georgia came out of nowhere and stole the SEC title after playing two games in the same day like an AAU team ? The fact that Georgia won the tourney eliminated an at-large bid because there was no shot they would have received one otherwise. Basically, for the major conferences a team who has already proven to a lock to get into the NCAA tournament needs to win the the conference title.
So how many spots are available for bubble teams ? The T and 2 can help figure it out.
Based on SI’s Andy Glockener’s bracket. The ACC, Big East, and Big 12 will each get 7 teams into the NCAA Tournament. Given that three of those 21 teams(one from each conference) wins their respective tournament, the field shrinks from 65 to 62 after penciling in those three conference’s (ACC,BE,Big 12) automatic qualifiers. Then 62 becomes 44 after adding in those 18 teams with at-large spots.
The Big Ten, Atlantic Ten, and SEC are predicted to each get 5 teams into the tourney. Given that each conference champion is already one of the 5 predicted in, the field shrinks from 44 to 41. Then pencil in the other 12 teams as at large bids and you have 32.
( See how a team like (9-18) Iowa winning the Big Ten Championship could shrink a bid ? It only gets worse if that happens in multiple conferences. )
The Mountain West has 4 teams dancing according to Glockner, which shrinks to bubble to 28 given that one of those four wins.
In addition to “locks” winning from each of the major conferences, some mid-major’s are key to the bubble picture as well.
Butler (Horizon), Gonzaga (West Coast), in addition to Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley) all must win the conference title, because they essentially play in one-bid leagues. Taking the field down to 25 available spots left.
Butler,Gonzaga,and Northern Iowa are the three teams who essentially control the bubble. If they lose in the conference tournament (Butler, and Gonzaga especially), it knocks out another bubble team because Gonzaga or Butler will now be in the field as an at-large team (as we mentioned with Iowa above). This could be a devastating hit to a team like Louisville who’s currently sitting on the bubble.
Utah State (Western Athletic), Cornell (Ivy), Old Dominion (Colonial Athletic), Siena (Metro Atlantic Athletic ) winning, helps every team on the bubble because it makes each of these four teams an automatic qualifier instead of a bubble team. Which leaves 21 spots left.
Conference USA is a race between UTEP and UAB, but it’s in bubble teams best interest in UTEP locks up the title and keeps it a one-bid league. Leaving 20 spots left.
Now subtract the 16 conferences(Great West, SWAC, NEC, MEAC, Big South, Patriot, A.EAST, Summit, Southland, Atlantic Sun, Sun Belt, Ohio Valley, Big Sky, Southern, Big West, and Mid American) that will only get an automatic bid no matter what and you have 4 spots available.
Subtract the last automatic qualifier the Pac 10 champion, and you have 3 at-large bids still left on the table.
It’s debatable if 7 Big Twelve teams, and 5 A-10 teams will actually get into the NCAA tournament so the overall # of bids left may grow to 5-6 , but you get the picture…it’s a tight race for the last few spots. The only real way to seperate yourself from the pack ? Take Jamie Dixon’s approach and “just win basketball games” .
Efficiency separates contenders and pretenders
A quick look at the Pomeroy Efficency Ratings of the Top Ten teams in the ESPN/USA today poll :
Kansas OE-2 DE- 3
Kentucky OE-21 DE-9
Purdue OE- 23 DE-6
Syracuse OE-9 DE-13
Duke- OE- 1 DE-11
Kansas State OE-10 DE-22
Villanova- OE-3 DE-67
West Virginia OE-5 DE-32
Ohio State OE-14 DE-17
New Mexico OE-27 DE- 73
Kansas, Syracuse, Duke and Ohio State look like teams capable of a title, and Villanova, and New Mexico look like teams to be cautious about when filling out the brackets.