Sunday, March 8, 2009

Hoops, hoops and more hoops

An elite eight's worth of observations from a wild (and wildly entertaining) weekend of college hoops:

1. It doesn't mean they'll win the title, of course, but the Pitt Panthers are the best team in the country. They beat UConn twice, have three big-time difference-makers and lots of fine supporting actors. And they're not coached by Dave Wannstedt.

2. Nine teams can win the national championship: Pitt, UConn, North Carolina, Duke, Oklahoma, Louisville, Michigan State, Kansas and Memphis. I'm already completely psyched for the NCAA tourney.

3. Most assume Oklahoma stud Blake Griffin will be the national player of the year, but the MVP apparently is Dominic James. Before he broke his foot, my Marquette Golden Warrior Eagles were in first place in the nation's best conference, were ranked No. 8 in the country and were 23-4. Without him, they've gone 0-4 and almost surely won't be seeded higher than sixth in the NCAAs. How could we have known that a 5-foot-10 guy who can't hit 50 percent of his free throws could be so valuable? OK, so maybe they would have lost to UConn, Louisville, Pitt and Syracuse even with James, but ...

4. The Big East is the best conference in the country - and the contest isn't close. Even after the beastly Pitt-UConn-Louisville troika, any of the next four Big East squads would have a good chance of finishing in the top two of just about any other league. I like Memphis' style and coaching ... but really, where would the Tigers have finished if they had to play a Big East schedule instead of a Conference USA schedule? 

5. There's a bigger difference between Michigan State and the rest of the Big Ten pack than there is between any other Big Six conference leader and the rest of its field. Aside from Tom Izzo's lads, the Big Ten features several solid-but-severely-flawed teams that won't survive the opening weekend of the NCAAs.

6. On the one hand ... Chris Lowery has demonstrated why coaches want to get theirs when the opportunity arises. Early in his tenure at Southern Illinois, he had great success with Matt Painter's recruits and received some overtures from major programs. Lowery stayed put - after getting himself a nice raise - and now the program is sliding backward. You have to wonder if he has any regrets about sticking around.

7. On the other hand ... Billy Gillespie had it all at Texas A&M - a huge contract, respect in an excellent league, university support and a great pipeline into his state's prep talent. But when Kentucky came a'callin', he simply had to go, right? I mean, after all, it is Kentucky! Well, there's a lot to be said about being rich, winning big and building a program in a less pressure-filled environment. Gillespie is flaming out in Kentucky, and it won't be long before they come a'callin' again - for his head. It's one of those no-win jobs; I don't know why any coach would subject himself to it.

8. Nice try, Northwestern. For a little while there, it was almost as if you were, um, someone other than Northwestern.


  1. Minor edit we in Southern Illinois will notice — that's CHRIS Lowery. The Dawgs had a rough year, but they were down to eight active guys, minus defensive standout senior Mullins. They played four or five freshmen and some sophomores most of the minutes, so it was bound to be a learning experience.

    I'm sure Lowery and Co. will bounce back in fine fashion next year.

    By the way, while I miss your GateHouse columns, I think you've done quite well in the blog world. It's always a good read. Keep preachin' the baldest truth (:

  2. Fixed CHRIS Lowery's name - thanks for pointing out the error of my ways. After warm weekend, must have had PGA Tour's Steve Lowery on my mind!