With the major conferences wrapping up regular season play over the weekend and preparing for their tournaments later this week, it’s the perfect time to address some outstanding college hoops issues.
All Conference Teams/POY Choices
The arguing about these things tends to be a little silly, but it’s generally the good, clean fun kind of silly. Things do get amplified a bit in the age of 8000 sports media outlets who all need to get their original take in, and thrown to another level with Twitter.
In the Big 12, for example, there was no clear-cut player of the year. Which opened the debate to at least four different players.
Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim swept the coaches and media awards. He had a great year and is certainly deserving of the award. Some have pointed out, though, that his rebounding numbers are inflated by the Cyclones’ fast pace. His signature performance of 48 points came against TCU, the only truly crappy team in the league. Finally, Iowa State was such a balanced team, I’m not sure his individual performance affected the team’s results that much. If he scored four fewer points and grabbed three fewer rebounds per game, they had other guys who could replace those stats.
KU’s Andrew Wiggins seemed to be Ejim’s closest competitor. Part of that was just the old “Best player on the best team” argument. But Wiggins was, to me, a more impactful player than Ejim. Wiggins freaking shut people down in defense. In fact, I think it’s an absolute crime he didn’t even make the All-Defense team, and he likely should have been the defensive POY over teammate Joel Embiid. The problem is Wiggins doesn’t play sexy defense. He doesn’t get many blocks or steals. Instead he just makes life miserable for whoever he is guarding, taking them out of games more often than not. But, he did have sub-par performances in a few big games, so I understand the arguments against him.
Marcus Smart was the advanced stats pick for the award. He stuffs multiple categories and had a profound impact on every game he played in. Which, of course, is the whole argument against him. While there’s no baseball Hall of Fame-like character clause, when you miss three games because of your behavior on the court, you likely lose any claim to the POY when you’re not head and shoulders better than the other candidates.
Finally, if the award was for most valuable player rather than POY, West Virginia’s Juwan Staten would be the easy and obvious choice. Only Smart meant as much to his team as Staten, and Oklahoma State would probably still be decent without Smart. West Virginia may well be looking for a new coach next week if they didn’t have Staten.
People can argue about these picks over drinks in the Power & Light district later this week. But in a year where there was no Blake Griffin or Michael Beasley or Kevin Durant, I can’t get too upset about any of these four winning over the others.
I hope all this back stuff is just the KU staff being extra cautious. Simply put, if Joel Embiid can’t play effectively when the NCAA tournament begins, KU won’t survive the first weekend. Hell, as bad as the perimeter defense is this year, they may not survive it even if he’s back protecting the rim.
I think a healthy, locked-in KU team is second only to Florida in where their ceiling is. Problem is KU’s been healthy and locked so rarely this year that it’s foolish to expect them to suddenly do so when the big dance begins. Whatever chance there is of that happening, though, requires Embiid being on the court for 25-30 minutes and able to score, rebound, and protect the rim. If he’s hobbled or just rusty, it’s going to be a challenge.
It’s starting. I expect the talk to really ratchet up next week if, as looks likely, Kansas and Wichita State both spend the first weekend of the tournament in St. Louis, and then perhaps the second weekend in Indianapolis.1
I’ve always been in the camp that there was no need to play Wichita State. They’ve sucked for most of the last 30 years. I don’t think anyone expected the Shockers to make last year’s Final Four or go undefeated this year. And while I have respect for Greg Marshall, how long will be be there and can he continue to do this beyond the crop of experienced players he has now? If Wichita State turns into a program that is in the top 25 every year, and helps KU’s strength of schedule, I will change my attitude. For now, though, I say let them bitch.
I can’t really make predictions until there is a bracket to study this time next week. But, it feels like an incredibly wide-open tournament. Other than Florida, who do you trust? I believe in everything Wichita State has done, but they’re not sneaking up on anyone this year and they have not played an elite team all season. They’ll have to battle to get past round three. KU can’t guard and has the big injury question mark. I’m not sold on Arizona given the strength of the Pac 12. Duke might be catching fire at the right time, but they also got pounded by Wake Forest last week. Syracuse may get the gift of not having to leave the state of New York until the Final Four, but they’ve fallen apart of late.2 What Virginia did in the ACC this year was remarkable. But do I trust them to win four games in my bracket?
Teams I think are sexy: Michigan and Cincinnati. I don’t know that either one is a title contender, but Michigan is so well coached and seem to make great plays in crunch time. Cincinnati is a ferocious, fearless defensive team. They have that feel of a sleeper that could make it to Dallas, or just as easily lose to someone that gets hot from deep in the first weekend.
If I had to pick a Final Four today, I’d say Florida, Duke and the field for the other two. Hello, cop out!
- Worth noting: if there is a KU-WSU regional final here, I will be watching from…Kansas City. We’ll be spending our spring break in KC this year. And I’m torn. I would love to see KU play live, although last time that happened was their Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State here in 2009. However, we watched KU play a regional final while visiting Kansas City in 2012. And that one turned out pretty great. ↩
- I continue to say the worst thing about how the NCAA tournament is run is how A) there are always games in North Carolina, giving Duke and UNC an annual shot at home court(ish) games and B) how they have multiple rounds of the tournament staged within the same state. A team should not be able to play in Greensboro and Charlotte, or Albany and NYC, or even Kansas City and St. Louis, to get to the Final Four. I think if a team should have to travel away from their home territory for either the first or second weekend of the tournament. Put Syracuse in Albany for week one? Fine, but send them to Memphis or Indy for the regionals. ↩