In this inaugural episode, Justin takes an inside look at what we will think of the UCONN women’s basketball loss to Mississippi State in the years to come.
After many long years, Patrick Ewing is finally getting his shot to be a head basketball coach. Ewing has had his name mentioned with damn near every vacant head coaching job in the NBA over the last several years, yet has always been the bridesmaid. In that time, Ewing has been an assistant coach for many different teams, including the Rockets, Magic and Bobcats (now the Hornets). This is Ewing’s first head coaching gig at any level (not counting an interim gig in 2013) and seems to be the shot he has been waiting for all his post-playing life. What he does with this shot, and how short of a leash Georgetown gives him remains to be seen.
Luckily, the Hoyas seem to give their coaches a bit of time to sink or swim. We just saw with the previous Hoya regime under John Thompson III that they were willing to let him flounder, first through a few sad NCAA tournament appearances where his team was bounced in the first weekend, to eventually missing the tournament altogether, and not even playing that well in-season. Finally, enough was enough, and Thompson was let go. Does Ewing have a similar leash given what he means to the university? I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but the prevailing wisdom is that he will be given every opportunity to make this his own as just seeing the former Hoya patrolling the sideline should be enough to sell tickets for the first year or so.
On a personal level, growing up with Patrick Ewing as my favorite basketball player by a large margin (I even had an officially licensed Patrick Ewing basketball), I think it’s awesome that he has finally got this chance to show his talents in on the bench. It’s no big surprise that Ewing had a hand in crafting early Dwight Howard into a force for the Orlando Magic, and seeing what he could do with control of a whole team, especially in college basketball, where the big man is not as marginalized as they are in the pros nowadays. I am very excited to see what Ewing can do as a head coach in the Big East Conference and look forward to paying closer attention to Hoya basketball for the foreseeable future.
Unless you had a rooting interest in the North Carolina Tarheels, gambling or otherwise, you probably would have liked to see Gonzaga win the title game on Monday night. It would have been a great story. The long-time Cinderella finally getting over the hump with a team full of players that seemed full of life and ready to take on any challenger. Well, we can’t have nice things. North Carolina is not only the title winner we received. It’s the title winner we deserved. We deserved a smug, unlikable Roy Williams, and a blue blood program under NCAA investigation taking home the sport’s most prized possession. We deserved to see the Cobra Kai win and rub all of our collective noses in the fact that the little guys only get to sniff the title.
Remember Butler? The tournament darlings two years in a row that were able to get to the title game only to have national powers in Duke and Connecticut take them out? Remember all the excitement of watching new teams like South Carolina and Oregon make the final four this year along with the two title game participants? And to top it all off, who walks away victorious but the team making their eleventh title game appearance.
In a world where we want to see the superstar and not the team, where we want the face and not the work behind the face, where we value star power over chemistry, we got what we deserved. Yes, North Carolina played well as a team on Monday night, but they were more a collection of stars around Justin Jackson than a real team like you see out of the “mid-major” schools.
The NCAA tournament was like a buffet of incredible choices this year. An incredible amount of teams were in the tournament this year that had not been but one year ago. The Final Four was a continuation of that exotic buffet. With all those exotic food choices though, what were we left with at the end?
Exactly what we deserved.
A bologna sandwich.
“But Matt, they’re a number one seed.”
Bear with me.
“But Matt, they cruised to the title game.”
Bear with me.
“But Matt, they were number one in the country for a good stretch this year.”
I told you, just bear with me.
When I first started watching the NCAA tournament, Gonzaga was just bursting on the scene, and could legitimately be called a Cinderella story. Their carriage would always turn to a pumpkin within the first two weekends and we would all kind of forget about Gonzaga basketball for a year until Cinderella showed up at the ball again.
This year was no different, really. Sure Gonzaga was a number one seed, and they had spent time as the top team in the country (at least based on the polls) for a time this season as well. But raise your hand if you had Gonzaga even reaching the Final Four, much less the title game.
That’s what I thought. Most people (including both Just Average Sports Guys) had Arizona advancing to the Final Four out of the West region. Only when Xavier spanked Arizona did everyone start to think Gonzaga had a chance. Only when no real top-tier team emerged from the East bracket to meet the Bulldogs in the Final Four did we think Gonzaga would advance. Sure, South Carolina was a nice story, but as Gonzaga showed Saturday evening, they were the better team. Even at this point, who really believes in Gonzaga? Sure, they are only two point dogs to the Tarheels from North Carolina. Is that legit, though? Who thinks Gonzaga has what it takes to win the title (aside from me, since that was my prediction on last Thursday’s “Faces for Radio” https://www.spreaker.com/episode/11520434)?
This has been the narrative all year. “No one believes in the Gonzaga Bulldogs.” And it’s a narrative that Gonzaga and head coach Mark Few have used to a “T” to get to the title game. It’ll take much more than an “us vs. the world” mentality to stop the Tarheels (maybe a rebound or two, jeez Oregon!) and they should be well tested tonight. The fact that Gonzaga has never advanced this far in the tournament, coupled with the fact that they are generally never the prohibitive favorite (unless you’re from the pacific northwest I would assume) shows me that Gonzaga may be one of the most overlooked teams in the country (yes even in a season such as this one).
All this does is fit the narrative that the Gonzaga Bulldogs have their feet firmly planted in a glass slipper. Maybe tonight they’ll finally get their happy ending.
Two years ago, Syracuse University, as they were being investigated by the NCAA for misconduct, self-imposed a postseason ban. They wound up receiving a harsh penalty for academic infractions that is still reverberating through the program.
Last year, The University of Louisville, as they were being investigated by the NCAA for misconduct, self-imposed a postseason ban. They wound up receiving a middling penalty for using strippers and prostitutes in their recruitment process.
This year, the University of North Carolina, as they are being investigated by the NCAA for misconduct, is playing in its second consecutive Final Four. The allegations against the University include creating fake classes, which were widely used by the men’s football and basketball programs to retain academic eligibility during their respective seasons.
What’s wrong with this picture?
First of all, the toothless monster that is the NCAA really needs to get their act together regarding the schools under their umbrella. The fact that three years in a row we are seeing these allegations emerge against major college programs (and that’s only the ones that have emerged, we’re not even talking about the shady things going on behind the scenes that aren’t out in the open, nor are we talking about other incidents like the Baylor Football scandal) shows that the inmates are kind of running the asylum. Sure, policing that many schools is not going to be easy, but swift, consistent and lasting punishment should be part of the process to prevent these kinds of things from happening. Taking away a coach’s wins (as they did with Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim) is a ridiculous, empty gesture. Taking away scholarships and postseason availability (which the NCAA also does), now that’s more of a longstanding punishment.
I actually commend UNC for fighting this, knowing that the NCAA is a wimpy organization in general. May they bring the hammer down on the institution and the men’s basketball and football programs? Maybe. But until then it’s apparently business as usual. The fact that the investigation by the NCAA and its ability to punish the universities in question takes so long to implement, means that the only students receiving said punishment usually have very little, if anything at all to do with the infraction.
Looking back at the Syracuse case, Rakeem Christmas, the lone senior on the Orange the year of their self-imposed postseason ban, was not a part of the allegations in question. In fact, all of the athletes that were had moved on to greener pastures by then. Christmas was then made the default fall guy as his senior season ended with no hope of postseason play. Granted, the ‘Cuse were not blowing anyone out of the water that season and probably were not looking at a deep tournament run, but that’s no reason to deprive the players, especially those that stay for four years, the opportunity to enter the tournament.
The question with UNC, at least for me, is what will become of them once this investigation finally concludes? Is Roy Williams (the UNC men’s basketball coach) squeezing out as much good-will with the top brass through multiple deep tournament runs in an effort to gain some favor if things go poorly and the NCAA drops the hammer? Is Williams just trying to pad his resume so he can hand-pick his next job if UNC lets him go when the hammer falls (or if he leaves, because really, a coach with his track record and at his age is not going to sit idly through a multi-season tournament ban and crippling sanctions)? Until then, will Williams just continue to steer the Tarheels to Final Four and Championship game appearances like nothing is wrong? Is the real problem here the fact that the NCAA takes so long with their investigations that they are unable to really exact any meaningful change? I was really looking to hammer North Carolina for pretending nothing is wrong when I started this article, and now I realize that it’s actually the NCAA that I have the issue with (okay, I’ve always had an issue with the NCAA, I just thought this time I would be able to direct my ire in a different direction).
So while we await a decision from the NCAA, North Carolina is going to just continue to do what North Carolina does.
The comedy of errors that has been the Syracuse University men’s basketball season has added another layer to the onion as longtime assistant and “Coach in Waiting” Mike Hopkins has decided to jump ship and head for the greener pastures of the University of Washington. Hopkins is one of the most well-respected assistants in the game and has had his fair share of opportunities to jump to the head coaching ranks before now. So what gives? A year away from taking over what one would assume is his dream gig, Hopkins bails. Is this an indictment on his mentor and boss Jim Boeheim? Does it have something to do with the academic misconduct that the NCAA crucified Syracuse for two years ago (penalties that the ‘Cuse still feel today)? Was the money Washington was offering, along with a supposed six-year contract, too much to leave on the table?
Personally, I feel like Hopkins has grown tired of being the coach in waiting. While Boeheim was supposed to be hanging up his clipboard after next season, was that a guarantee? If we’ve seen anything over the last few years, it’s that Boeheim does what Boeheim wants to do, on his terms. There’s a great chance, in my opinion, that Boeheim would put the brakes on the retirement talk next year, especially if the Orange had another disappointing season. Hopkins couldn’t be the bridesmaid any longer, so he decided to get as far away from Syracuse and that coaching job as possible. Now, Hopkins can start building his legacy his own way, and not follow in the shadow of a coach that has seen the rise and fall of his program.
This is just another kick in the junk for a Syracuse basketball program that was supposed to have a great season this year. That was one of the best teams Boeheim ever had, according to the coach himself at the beginning of the season, but could never gel for long enough to make a case for their inclusion in the big dance. A couple signature wins does not a season make, as we saw this year. Now, the Orange are reloading again, with their fifth year senior transfers heading out, as well as maybe some of their young guns if they get the draft itch. Can Boeheim reload for another deep tournament run next year without his right hand man on the bench? And now, after Boeheim decides to finally retire (despite what he says, he’s closer than not due to age alone) where does Syracuse go from there? One of the most secure transitions in the sport was just turned on its head.
So, thanks Coach Hop, for all you did for the program while you were here. You are going to leave a massive hole at the university, but us here at Just Average Sports Guys would like to wish you the best of luck as a Washington Husky.
Living in Central New York, an idea hit me after seeing how the brackets shook out this weekend. As we all know, Syracuse was left out in the proverbial cold this time after narrowly making it in last year (and going on to the Final Four, by the way). While the Syracuse faithful, and even casual basketball fans may be keeping up with the number one seeded Orange in the NIT, how are they going to approach the NCAA Tournament? If you are a Syracuse fan, or find yourself in a similar boat, fear not, as we are going to examine the different ways to watch the NCAA tournament.
- Root for your team. If this applies to you, great, but somewhere along the line, your team will probably be out of it, and you’ll have to change it up (just like I will this year as Michigan State just doesn’t look like it has a miracle run in them at this point).
- Root for your conference. This is pretty easy, and should be a lot of fun if you like the Big East or ACC that was able to put a bunch of teams in the dance. It will also give you a rooting interest in many different games, serving to keep you engaged in the tournament nearly throughout the whole thing.
- Root for upsets! This one is pretty self explanatory. The more chaos the better! The more people that are tearing up their brackets and lighting them on fire after the first weekend, the better. Serves the committee right for keeping your team out.
- Root for the best matchups. This usually means either all the one seeds make it through to the Final Four, or a majority of high seeds and maybe one team that is inexplicably hot (remember VCU?) This could provide some of the best basketball of the tournament, but not that unbridled holy shit moment of Mercer beating Duke, or Middle Tennessee beating Michigan State.
- With the Sound Off. This is just watching the tournament as you normally would, but with the sound off because the announcers are horrible.
- F%@# Duke. That one pretty much says it all.
So how are you watching the tournament this year (please don’t respond with “sans pants”)?
To say this Michigan State Spartans basketball season has been a disappointment so far is a bit of an understatement. The Spartans currently sit at 16-11, firmly on the bubble for the NCAA tournament and with a stark possibility of giving Tom Izzo his first sub 20 win regular season since the 2010-2011 season when they went 19-15. A huge boon to the Spartans chances at success this season would have been the presence of top recruit and player of the year candidate, and one-time Spartans commitment Caleb Swanigan. Swanigan, now a sophomore at Purdue is averaging 19 points and 13 rebounds per game for the 22-5 Boilermakers. What Tom Izzo could have done with Swanigan holding down the paint would have had him in the national coach of the year conversation, no doubt.
So why did Swanigan head to Purdue instead of playing for one of the best coaches in college basketball, for a program with a more storied history? Well, it all came down to an eighteen year-old’s demands. Apparently Swanigan and his guardian, Roosevelt Barnes, decided to de-commit from the Spartans because Michigan State has a policy that requires freshmen to live on campus, something that Swanigan and/or Branes did not like. The other driving force was the fact that Swanigan did not want to play center, something he may have had to dabble in as a Spartan (though thinking Izzo wouldn’t have moved him around a bit if he was as athletically gifted as he has shown seems silly).
The big question here is, should Izzo and Michigan State have moved heaven and earth to keep Swanigan and appease his guardian? There is no doubt that the Spartans would be well positioned for the NCAA tournament right now if they had Swanigan (the only Spartan forward averaging more than four points a game is Nick Ward at twelve, and he’s only pulling down six boards a game). On a guard-heavy team, Swanigan would have fit in perfectly. Is nabbing that top recruit worth bending your rules, though? Is it worth compromising what your program has been built on for years for the possibility of landing a game-changing player? Should the inmates be allowed to run the asylum as long as it breeds success?
While I want to hear your thoughts, let me offer my own first. As a long-time Michigan State fan, and an admitted Tom Izzo apologist, I say no. No to all of it. You can keep your recruit with his special requests. You can keep your recruit that has a “guardian” that also happens to be a former agent. You can keep all the trappings that come with entitlement. If Izzo wanted to coach those kinds of players, he would have jumped ship and taken the Cleveland Cavaliers job all those years ago. I will go to my grave saying that Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches of all time, primarily because he doesn’t have the top recruiting class each year. Michigan State is not Duke or Kentucky that pulls in the best player year after year and spits them back out after a single season. Tom Izzo creates basketball players at Michigan State. Draymond Green would not be a perennial all star in the NBA right now if he went through the Calipari NBA-factory that is Kentucky. Top recruits that think they are god’s gift to basketball would just serve to disrupt the basketball school that is Michigan State college hoops. I would rather, as a fan, suffer through a down year here and there, then get to back to back final fours with a group of mature basketball players than have a team I find it hard to be proud of.
Spartan fans, what say you? Duke and/or Kentucky fans, what about you? Are you okay with how your team does business because it breeds success, even though the players coming through are only there for a cup of coffee, so to speak?